Review: John E. Goldingay’s The Theology of the Book of Isaiah

The Book of Isaiah is often referred to as the fifth Gospel because of the frequency and clarity of its messianic prophecies. In a sense, nowhere else in the Old Testament is the gospel more clear. In this magisterial book are some of the most cherished Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ (e.g. 7:14, 9:6-7, and all of chapter 53). At the same time, this colossal 66-chapter book can also be puzzling because of the prophecies, historical context(s), and at times non-linear chronology. Good commentaries on Isaiah are plentiful but can be intimidating because of their length; books on the theology of Isaiah are virtually nonexistent.

In The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, Old Testament scholar John Goldingay offers an accessible guide to the book of Isaiah and its theology that is, incredibly, only about 150 pages. The first part of the book looks at the theology expressed or implied by each section of Isaiah. Each of these chapters contains helpful diagrams that aid the reader in grasping the structure and flow within each of these sections of Isaiah as well as in the book as a whole. Helpful information about the background as well as literary and historical context is provided as Goldingay draws out the theological themes of each section.
The second part looks at the theology of the book of Isaiah as a whole. For example, in tracing out one of the recurring features and dominant themes of Yahweh as “Israel’s Holy One” and “God of Armies,” Goldingay demonstrates how Yahweh’s utter holiness is a metaphysical category and how His absolute sovereignty is underlined by the epithet “Yahweh Armies.” The point is that Yahweh is the only God. Goldingay also shows how God’s utter holiness can constitute good news (Yahweh acting for you) as well as bad news (Yahweh acting against you), and how both implications are worked out in Isaiah.

There are a few aspects of this book that might give conservative evangelicals pause. One pertains to the unity and authorship of the book of Isaiah. Contra the traditional belief of the entirety of the book of Isaiah being written by Isaiah ben Amoz in the eighth century B.C., Goldingay sees three distinct authors or sets of authors for this book. To him it looks odd for Yahweh to transport Isaiah to the future in Isaiah 40-55 and to speak in terms of what Yahweh is doing in the present; therefore, this section is written by another author living a century and a half after Isaiah’s day. Similarly, Goldingay believes that Isaiah 56-66 was written by a “Third Isaiah.” This view of Isaianic authorship explains much of what is typically seen as supernatural fulfillment of predictive prophecy in a naturalistic way (i.e. “Second Isaiah” lived during the time of Isaiah 40-55 and was describing rather than predicting). While this critical view of Isaianic authorship might cause some to grapple with issues related to the authority of the Bible,  it doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the themes Goldingay draws out from the book called Isaiah.

The other area of concern is Goldingay’s hermeneutic in relation to predictive prophecy and New Testament use of Old Testament. While it’s difficult to tell what his approach is from this book alone, it is decidedly not redemptive-historic. Goldingay also seems to discount the supernatural element in the writing of Scripture. He implies that New Testament authors in quoting the Old Testament ignored the meaning in the original context as they looked back into Scripture for illustrations about Jesus (33-34), as if they had employed horrid hermeneutics in their writing of what we have in the New Testament. However, what the NT authors wrote and the way they employed OT texts was inspired by the Holy Spirit. In Goldingay’s hermeneutic, passages like Isaiah 53 are not prophecies concerning the Messiah. In fact, for him Isaiah 11:1-10 is the closest thing to a messianic prophecy in Isaiah (140).

Despite the potential concerns mentioned above, this book is an excellent introductory guide to Isaiah. Goldingay helps the reader grasp the literary flow throughout each section of Isaiah as well as the book as a whole, provides illuminating information regarding the context, and, most importantly of all to this project, elucidates the theology of each part of Isaiah as well as of the book as a whole. Due to both how short this book is as well as Goldingay’s more critical perspective, a conservative commentary should be employed for further study.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jennifer Guo is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the arts and is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo or read more reviews at her blog Jennifer Guo.