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dianoigo blog

Monday, 20 June 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (6): "I stretched out my hands all day long towards a disobedient people" (Isaiah 65:2)



The opening verses of Isaiah 65 introduce a speech by Yahweh about the rebelliousness of his people Israel:
1 I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
    to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that did not call on my name.
2 I held out my hands all day long
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices...  
6 See, it is written before me:
   I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps 
7 their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, 
   says the Lord [Heb. YHWH]; 
because they offered incense on the mountains 
   and reviled me on the hills, 
I will measure into their laps 
   full payment for their actions. (Isaiah 65:1-2, 6-7 NRSV)
Our main interest in this article lies with early Christian interpretation of the first line of v. 2. The Hebrew verb pāraś normally refers to spreading out one's hands in prayer, so the picture of YHWH with his hands spread out in supplication to Israel represents a paradoxical reversal, reflecting the extent of God's efforts to win over his people.1

The Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 65:2a follows the Hebrew closely, except that it adds a second adjective describing Israel: "I stretched out my hands all day long towards a disobedient and contrary people" (exepetasa tas cheiras mou holēn tēn hēmeran pros laon apeithounta kai antilegonta).2 The Hebrew verb pāraś has been suitably rendered with the Greek verb ekpetannumi, meaning to spread out, hold out, or stretch out, and with tas cheiras (the hands) likewise suggesting "an imploring gesture";3 it is used in Exodus 9:29, 33 LXX of Moses' intercessory prayer.

In its original context in the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 65 verses 1-2 are synonymous, both concerning Israel and referring to "the efforts to which God has made to win the faithless back."4 The sense of v. 1 is, "Although I was present and would have responded had they beckoned Me, they did not seek Me."5 Most interpreters thus take the Niphal forms here as permissive, reflecting God's readiness to be found by his disinterested people. The LXX, however, translates them with an effective sense: "I became visible to those who were not seeking me; I was found by those who were not inquiring about me,"6


Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1 and 65:2 in Romans 10:20-21 as part of his extended discourse in Romans 9-11 on Israel's unbelief in the Gospel message
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by [or, among] those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me [Isaiah 65:1].” 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people [Isaiah 65:2].” (NRSV)
Paul's wording follows the Septuagint, despite some minor changes,7 the most significant of which for our purposes is that the words holēn tēn hēmeran ("all day long") have been brought to the beginning of the clause for emphasis. Like the Septuagint, Paul has understood Isaiah 65:1 in an effective sense. This allows him to set Isaiah 65:1 and 65:2 in contrast,8 with 65:1 referring to the gracious finding of the message of salvation by those who had never sought it (particularly Gentiles), and 65:2 referring to the rejection of that message by most of Israel.9

Paul offers minimal comment on Isaiah 65:1-2, and since he simply attributes the words to "Isaiah," it is not clear whom he understands the speaker to be in this oracle. Commentators on Romans are in seemingly unanimous agreement that Paul understands the speaker to be God,10 which is understandable given that YHWH is the speaker of this oracle in Isaiah MT. However, I would like to explore the possibility—which admittedly cannot be proven conclusively—that Paul has understood Christ to be the Kyrios (Isaiah 65:7 LXX) who speaks these words.


Firstly, although Paul says almost nothing about the text beyond quoting it, it is already certain from what he does say that he is offering an early Christian reinterpretation of this prophetic text—either his own or one that was in circulation.11 This reinterpretation has divided vv. 1-2 into two parts fulfilled by two present-day events related to the message about Christ: "the Jews' general refusal of the gospel" (65:2) and "the Gentiles' eager acceptance of it" (65:1).12 Thus, it cannot be ruled out this reinterpretation had particularised other aspects of the oracle's meaning to the early Christian setting (including who the speaker is).

Secondly, it is generally recognised by Pauline scholars that Paul makes considerable use of the rabbinic exegetical principle known as gezerah shavah.13 This principle entails that two biblical texts that use the same word or phrase can be interpreted jointly, with the meaning of the term in one text informed by the other.14 A widely recognised Pauline use of gezerah shavah occurs in Romans 4:1-8, where Paul uses the occurrence of the verb logizomai ("count"; "impute") in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 31(32):1-2 LXX to infer that both passages are about forensic justification.15 So, what does gezerah shavah have to do with Romans 10:20-21? If we look at Paul's Scripture quotations in Romans 10:5-21 (and even the rest of the book) as a catena—a connected series—we will notice that important terminology recurs in multiple passages. Let us note a couple of interesting parallels.

(i) In Romans 10:6-8, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:12 LXX and interprets the generic reference to "the word" (to rhēma) there to mean "the word of faith that we proclaim," i.e. the gospel. Similarly, Septuagintal references to "bringing good news" (euangelizō, Isa. 52:7) and "our report" (ho akoē hēmōn, Isa. 53:1) are understood to refer to "the word of Christ" (rhēma Christou) in Romans 10:15-17, which—per Isaiah 53:1—some have rejected. Given that we know Paul followed a Christianised reinterpretation of Isaiah 65, would he not have likewise understood words such as "because I called you and you did not answer, I spoke and you misheard" (Isaiah 65:12 LXX) to refer to Israel's rejection of the Christian message?16

(ii) Another biblical phrase that is key to Paul's argument in Romans 10 is drawn from Joel 2:32(3:5): "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved". Although Paul does not quote the entire verse, it uses the verb euangelizō ("bring good news"), which links it via gezerah shavah to Isaiah 52:7. What is fascinating is that, while in the Hebrew Bible, Joel 2:32 refers to calling on the name of YHWH, Paul understands this "Lord" (kyrios in the LXX) to be Christ, as his interpretation in vv. 9-12, 14-17 makes clear.17 But the speaker of Isaiah 65:1 LXX says, "I was found by those who were not inquiring about me. I said, 'Here I am,' to the nation that did not call my name." We know that Paul understood these words to refer to the Gentiles' belief in Christ, and by connecting Joel 2:32 with Isaiah 65:1 (gezerah shavah), Paul could have concluded that both prophetic texts are referring to calling on the name of the same "Lord."18 Since we know that Paul understood this "Lord" to be Christ in Joel 2:32, it is possible, indeed likely, that Paul also understood Christ to be the "Lord" in Isaiah 65:1-7.


Having established the possibility—indeed, likelihood—that Paul identified the Kyrios who speaks in Isaiah 65:1-7 to be Christ, we will be "bold" like Isaiah (Rom. 10:20) and ask further how Paul might have understood the words, "All day long I stretched out my hands," if understood as spoken by Christ. There is admittedly an element of speculation here, but I think some intriguing observations can be made. 

Now, we already established that for the Lord (whether God or Christ) to "spread out his hands" to his people (Isa. 65:2) was an act of self-humiliation, since this was a reversal of the proper order whereby his people ought to "spread out their hands" to him in supplication. Now, Seifrid comments:
In contrast with the LXX, Paul fronts the adverbial expression 'all the day,' stressing God's abiding love for his people. The anthropomorphic language of Isaiah is dramatic and poignant, preparing Paul's readers for his following discussion of Israel's salvation: 'All the day I have stretched out my hands...'19
But if Christ is the speaker, then Paul is stressing Christ's love for his people, and the language need not be understood as anthropomorphic, since Christ had literal hands. Of course, the "day" when Christ most definitively spread out his hands was the day of his Passion, when in the ultimate act of divine self-humiliation, the One "existing in the form of God" "humbled himself" even to "death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-8).

Still more can be said. Seifrid adds that 
The expression ["all day long I have stretched out my hands"] indirectly also recalls the suffering to which believers in Christ are exposed according to Paul's citation of Ps. [43:22(44:23)] in 8:36 ('On account of you, we are put to death all the day').
Indeed, the quotation of Isaiah 65:2 in Romans 10:21 and the quotation of Psalm 43:22(44:23) in Romans 8:36 use the same Greek phrase, holēn tēn hēmeran ("all day long"), and Paul brings it to the front of his quotation of Isaiah 65:2 for emphasis. By gezerah shavah, Paul might well have connected these two passages. The full quotation in Romans 8:36 is, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered" (NRSV), which is interpreted as referring to, inter alia, the "persecution" and "sword" to which believers in Christ are exposed. But the comparison to "sheep to be slaughtered" obviously likens the suffering of believers to the suffering of Christ, who likewise "like a sheep... was led to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7 NETS).20 And this comparison is not lost on Paul, who earlier in the chapter stated, "we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom. 8:17 NRSV).

So we have the following hypothetical analogy between believers' suffering and Christ's:
Believers go as sheep to the slaughter [Romans 8:36/Ps. 43:22] //
  just as Christ went as a sheep to the slaughter [Isaiah 53:7] 
Believers are killed all day long [Romans 8:36/Ps. 43:22] //
   just as Christ stretched out his hands all day long (on the cross) [Romans 10:21/Isaiah 65:2]
Lastly, although less relevant to interpreting Paul, it is worth noting that the Gospel of John contains some significant parallels. In John, Jesus' death is described as his being "lifted up" (lemma: hupsoō, John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34) and "glorified" (lemma: doxazō, John 12:23; 13:31). These two verbs correspond to Isaiah 52:13 LXX, which says of the Servant figure that "he shall be exalted (lemma: hupsoō) and glorified (lemma: doxazō) exceedingly". It is well established in biblical scholarship both that John is alluding to Isaiah 52:13 and that he is using the verb hupsoō with a double meaning, by which Jesus' physical "lifting up" on the cross was also his "lifting up" in the sense of exaltation.21 This use of Isaiah 52:13 LXX by John closely parallels how we are suggesting Paul may have understood Isaiah 65:2 LXX. John has taken a verb from Isaiah 52:13 that originally had a metaphorical meaning (the Servant was "lifted up" in exaltation) and added a second meaning by extending it physically to Christ's crucifixion (being "lifted up" on a cross). In like manner, my suggestion is that Paul may have taken the phrase "All day long I stretched out my hands" in Isaiah 65:2, which originally had a metaphorical meaning ("I patiently implored") and added a second meaning by extending it physically to Christ's crucifixion (stretching out one's hands on a cross all day long). Furthermore, just as stretching out one's hands is a gesture (of imploring), so John also understands Christ's crucifixion as a gesture (of "drawing," perhaps as fish into a net, John 12:32). Finally, just as Paul drew a comparison between Christ's suffering and that of his followers, so John draws an implicit comparison between Christ's being "glorified" in his death (and God in him), and Peter's "death by which he would glorify God"—which, coincidentally, is said to involve Peter stretching out his hands (John 21:18).22

We have made the case at some length that Paul likely understood Christ as the Lord who speaks the words of Isaiah 65:2 and possibly understood the words "All day long I stretched out my hands towards a disobedient and contrary people" with reference to Christ's crucifixion. Again, neither of these claims can be proven conclusively; Paul simply does not give us enough information about his understanding of Isaiah 65:2 to verify them or rule them out. However, there is enough circumstantial evidence to make them an intriguing possibility.

What is certain is that the next-earliest Christian interpretation of Isaiah 65:2 that is on record does interpret it as a prophecy about the cross, and that this interpretation was widely held in the early patristic period. To this witness we now turn.



The Epistle of Barnabas is a homiletic text dating to the early second century A.D., probably c. 130, written either in Alexandria or Syro-Palestine.23 It was not written by Paul's associate Barnabas, and indeed does not claim to have been—it is anonymous. In surveying the Jewish Scriptures for testimony about baptism and the cross, the writer says,
But we should look closely to see if the Lord was concerned to reveal anything in advance about the water and the cross … In a similar way he makes another declaration about the cross in another prophet [cites 4 Ezra 4.33, 5.5, Exodus 17:8-13] … And again in another prophet he says, ‘All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient people that opposes my upright path.’ ... [continues by citing Numbers 21:4-9] (Barn. 11.1, 12.1, 12.4)24
It is clear from the way the quotation of Isaiah 65:2 is introduced that the writer has understood it to be a "declaration about the cross." Interestingly, Barnabas follows the same word order in the quotation as Paul in Romans 10:21, with holēn tēn hēmeran fronted for emphasis. This may indicate that Barnabas is following Romans,25 or that Barnabas and Romans are following a shared early Christian tradition concerning this text.


In his Dialogue with Trypho, writing about three decades after Barnabas (but with some material perhaps contemporaneous with it),26 Justin follows the same interpretation:
Isaiah likewise foretold the manner of his [the Lord’s] death in these words: 'I have stretched out my hands to an unbelieving and contradicting people, who walk in a way that is not good.' (Dialogue 97.2)27

Another two decades or so after Justin, the Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons) writes, 
And again, concerning His Cross, Isaias says as follows: 'I have stretched forth my hands all the day to a stubborn and contrary people'; for this is a figure of the Cross. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 79)28

The prolific Carthaginian polemicist wrote his work Against the Jews around the beginning of the third century, another two decades or so after Irenaeus. Once again, he interprets it as one of several biblical prophecies about Christ's Passion: 
From this it is also clear that the city was due to be destroyed at the same time as when its leader was having to suffer in it, in accordance with the writings of the prophets who say, ‘I have stretched out my hands for the whole day to a people who are stubborn and speaking against me and who walk not in a way that is good but after their own sins.’ Likewise in the psalms, ‘They have destroyed my hands and my feet. They have counted all my bones. Moreover, they themselves have seen and considered me’, and ‘in my thirst they have given me vinegar to drink.’ (Against the Jews 13.10)29

The Didascalia Apostolorum is a pseudepigraphic church order document, originally written in Greek but surviving only in Syriac. It is usually dated around the beginning of the third century with a Syrian provenance.30 The text says the following about our passage:
For when our Lord came to the People, they did not believe Him when He taught them, but put away His teaching from their ears. Therefore, because this People was not obedient, He received you, the brethren who are of the Gentiles… But concerning the People, who believed not in Him, He said thus: 'I spread forth my hands all the day long to a people that obey not and resist, and walk in a way that is not good, and go after their sins: a people that is provoking before me.' (Didascalia Apostolorum 21.15)31
It is certain that the author understood Isaiah 65:2 to have been spoken by "our Lord," Christ, concerning his rejection by the Jews. It is not clear whether "I spread forth my hands all the day long" is taken to refer to the cross or to his imploration of the Jews more generally.


Another early third-century work is Hippolytus of Rome's Blessings of Moses, which survives in Armenian and Georgian versions. No English translation has been published, to my knowledge; what follows is my translation of a French translation:
It is possible to hear this also of the future coming of the Lord. For he who on Mount Sinai appeared to Moses, he, with the Angels, will come and save the saints from their persecuting and oppressing enemies, thus sparing those who have hoped in him. For he says: 'All the sanctified ones (are) under your hands' [Deut. 33:3]. For cover and shelter for all, who could it be but the Lord who has stretched out his hands and sanctified all who run to him, as the hen (does) to cover her chicks? [Matt. 23.37] And Ezra, in a prophetic voice, said the same thing: 'Blessed is the Lord who has stretched out his hands and revived Jerusalem!' [4 Ezra 7.27] And, through Isaiah, He rails against the rebels and says, 'All day long have I stretched out my hands to the rebellious people.' And here Moses says, 'All the sanctified ones (are) under your hands, even these are under you.' (Blessings of Moses 320)32

It seems clear from the reference to the Lord's future coming with the angels and the likely allusion to Matthew 23:37 that "the Lord" here refers to Christ. It is not certain whether Hippolytus has understood Christ to have "stretched out his hands" on the cross or in a more general imploring sense.


Writing in the mid-third century, Novatian clearly interprets our text with reference to the cross.
(6) For Divine Scripture often mentions things that have not yet been done as already done, because they are eventually going to be done; and it foretells things which are certainly about to happen, not as though they are going to happen in the future, but rather as though they had already happened. (7) In fact, though Christ had not yet been born in the time of Isaiah the prophet, Isaiah stated: ‘For a child is born to us.’ And although Mary had not yet been approached, he said: ‘And I went to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son.’ (8) Though Christ had not yet made known the divine secrets of the Father, Isaiah stated: ‘And His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel.’ (9) He had not yet suffered, and the prophet declared: ‘He was led as a sheep to the throat-cutter.’ (10) As yet there had been no Cross, and he stated: ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to an unbelieving people.’ (On the Trinity 28.6-10)33
Novatian writes in Latin, but like the second-century Epistle of Barnabas and like Hippolytus (if the Armenian word order is true to the Greek), his word order in the quotation matches that of Paul in Romans 10:21.


Novatian's contemporary in North Africa quotes Isaiah 65:2 in a list of proof texts adduced to prove "That the Jews would fasten Christ to the Cross" (Ad Quirinum 2.20).34


The view that "I stretched out my hands all day long towards a disobedient and contrary people" (Isaiah 65:2) was a prophecy spoken by Christ was widely held in the second and third centuries, from Alexandria/Syro-Palestine in the East to Carthage, Rome, and Gaul in the West. Most of these writers are, furthermore, clear that they understand the prophecy to refer to Christ's crucifixion, the stretching out of his hands on the cross.

We cannot be certain about the origin of this exegetical tradition. It could stem from reflection directly on Isaiah 65:2 LXX, or indirectly via Romans 10:21. However, given what we argued in the first part of this article—that Paul himself likely understood it as a prophecy spoken by Christ and possibly even about the cross—the possibility cannot be discounted that the crucifixion interpretation of Isaiah 65:2 goes back to the Apostle to the Gentiles himself.

  • 1 Cp. Isa. 1:15; 1 Kings 8:22, 38; Ps. 143:6; Lam. 1:17. "However, in marked contrast with the other verses, which speak of human supplication vis-à-vis the Deity, here, paradoxically, the Deity is begging for the attention of inattentive humans" (Shalom M. Paul, Isaiah 40-66: Translation & Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012], 592); similarly, J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), 524.
  • 2 The translation follows Moisés Silva's, except that I have translated πρὸς with "towards" rather than "to" ("Esaias," in New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007], 874). Both are within the semantic range of pros + accusative. Greek text is taken from Septuaginta, ed. Joseph Ziegler (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), 14:355.
  • 3 BDAG 307; cf. J. Lust, E. Eynikel, & K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1992), 1:139.
  • 4 Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 400); "Admittedly, Isa. 65:1 speaks in the first instance of Israel's disobedience" (Mark A. Seifrid, "Romans," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], 665).
  • 5 Paul, Isaiah 40-66, 592.
  • 6 Silva, "Esaias," 14:355. The Greek terms are emphanēs egenomēn and eurethēn.
  • 7 In quoting Isaiah 65:1, the verbal expressions emphanēs egenomēn and eurethēn beginning vv. 1a and 1b have been inverted. The preposition en seems to have been inserted between eurethēn and tois, changing "by those" to "among those," although this is text-critically uncertain. "Among those" would imply that only some Gentiles had found God, not the Gentiles in general.
  • 8 "In their original context these words from Isaiah 65:1 (‘I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me …’) seem to refer to rebellious Israel; but, as in his application of the Hosea prophecy, Paul recognizes here a principle which in the situation of his day is applicable to Gentiles, and the LXX wording...lent support to this application"  (F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1985), 207–208).
  • 9 "The prepositional phrase πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραὴλ that introduces the final citation in this pericope should be taken as 'in reference to Israel' rather than as a direct address, 'to Israel.' The particle δέ appears again with the sense of 'but,' indicating that the address to the Gentiles in v. 20 shifts to Israel in v. 21" (Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006], 648–649); "πρὸς δὲ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ λέγει, 'but concerning Israel he says'... Paul specifies Israel as the target, thereby making still clearer the point that v 20 referred to Gentiles" (James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9–16 [Dallas: Word, 1988], 626–627).
  • 10 E.g., Dunn, Romans 9-16, 626-27; Jewett and Kotansky, Romans, 626-67; Seifrid, "Isaiah," 667; Joseph A. Fitzmyer S.J., Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, (New Haven; Yale University Press, 2008), 600; James R. Edwards, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 257–258; Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 858–860; Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 687–688.
  • 11 "The historical question of when Isa 65:1–2 was first divided into two parts—the first verse speaking about Gentiles who have responded positively to God; the second verse speaking about the people of Israel who have been 'disobedient and obstinate'—will probably never be answered. It may have been done by Paul himself here in Rom 10:20–21—or, perhaps more likely, by some earlier Christian apostle or teacher in the Jerusalem church or in the congregations of Syrian Antioch" (Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, 858–860).
  • 12 France, Romans, 208. Similarly, "Paul cites the text typologically in precisely this sense: God's dealings with Israel in the past have been recapitulated in the present" (Seifrid, "Romans," 666).
  • 13 "Traces of the apostle's Jewish identity can be seen in... the reception of manifold requirements and methods of Jewish biblical exegesis at the time (Qal Wa-homer in Rom 5.9f. and elsewhere; Gezerah shavah in Rom. 4.1-12 and elsewhere, Midrash-exegesis in Gal. 3.6-14 and Rom. 4; typology in 1 Cor. 10.1-13; allegory in Gal. 4.21-31)" (Oda Wischmeyer, Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters, trans. Helen S. Heron with revisions by Dieter T. Roth [London: T&T Clark, 2012], 77); "there can be no doubt that Paul does at times employ a Stichwort approach in adducing Old Testament citations (e.g. gezerah shavah)" (James M. Scott, "'For as Many as are of Works of the Law are under a Curse' (Galatians 3.10)," in Paul and the Scriptures of Israel, ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders [London: Bloomsbury, 1993/2015], 191).
  • 14 David Instone Brewer explains that gezerah shavah encompasses two rules. The first is "the definition of an ill-defined word or phrase in one text by its use in another text where its meaning is clearer. It does not attempt to survey all the possible uses of the word or phrase throughout the Scripture but it assumes that the meaning of a word in one text is always the same as its meaning in another." The second is "the interpretation of one text in the light of another text to which it is related by a shared word or phrase. The two texts are often concerned with the same subject, but the existence of the same word or phrase in two texts can suggest a relationship between them even if they are concerned with completely unrelated subjects" (Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 CE [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992], 17-18).
  • 15 "in Rom. 4:1-8 Paul combines Gen. 15:6 with Ps. 32:1-2 on the basis of the verb logizomai, which both texts have in common. This is an application of the rule called 'analogy' (gezerah shavah) by the Rabbis." (Klaus Haacker, The Theology of Paul's Letter to the Romans [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 102).
  • 16 "The LXX rendering [of Isaiah 65:2] may pick up the concrete expression of Israel's rebellion as it is portrayed in context, which includes dismissal of the 'word of the LORD' (Isa. 65:3-7, 12; 66:3-5; also 59:1-15)" (Seifrid, "Isaiah," 667).
  • 17 "if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord... you will be saved...the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him" (vv. 10, 12). Paul pairs the quotation from Joel with one from Isaiah 28:16 about the precious stone of which "the one who believes in him will not be put to shame". This can only be Christ in Paul's understanding; yet Paul identifies the referent of Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32 as the same: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?" (v. 14)
  • 18 "The nation refuses to 'call on the name of the (risen) Lord' (10:3-4, 13)—the very charge that the Lord brings in Isaiah (Isa. 65:1b; cf. 64:7)" (Seifrid, "Isaiah," 667).
  • 19 "Romans," 667.
  • 20 That is, according to the early Christian interpretation of the Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which we know that Paul followed, based on his quotation of Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:16 and his quotation of Isaiah 52:15 in Romans 15:21.
  • 21 See, e.g., Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 63-67; James M. Hamilton, Jr., God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 414f; Bruce R. Reichenbach, "Soteriology in the Gospel of John," Themelios 46 (2021): 578-81.
  • 22 The verb is a different one, ekteinō, meaning "extend" (e.g., to receive irons) rather than "spread out" as ekpetannumi in Isaiah 65:2. So the verbal parallel is not compelling, but it is interesting nonetheless that, for John, an action of extending the hands was suitable language to describe an apostle's death that glorifies God like Christ's did.
  • 23 So Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2:7-8.
  • 24 Trans. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, 2:53, 57.
  • 25 An early 20th century work on the use of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers rates it as "B" (highly probable) on a scale from A to D that the author of Barnabas knew Romans (A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology, The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905).
  • 26 c. 160 is the usual date for the Dialogue, but Timothy J. Horner argues that the Dialogue was a redacted version of an earlier "Trypho Text," an account of a real dialogue with Trypho, which he dates to c. 135 A.D. (Listening to Trypho: Justin Martyr's Dialogue Reconsidered [Leuven: Peeters, 2001]).
  • 27 St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls, rev. Thomas P. Halton (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 148; see also Dialogue 114.2; 1 Apology 38.1.
  • 28 St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. Joseph P. Smith (Westminster: Newman, 1952), 97.
  • 29 Trans. Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian (London: Routledge, 2004), 68-69.
  • 30 Joel Marcus, "The 'Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs' and 'Didascalia Apostolorum': A Common Jewish Christian Milieu?", Journal of Theological Studies 61 (2010): 600-602.
  • 31 Trans. R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929), 185.
  • 32 French original: "Il est possible d'entendre aussi ceci de la venue future du Seigneur. Car, celui qui, sur le Mont Sinaï, est apparu à Moïse, celui-là, avec des Anges, viendra et sauvera les Saints de leurs ennemis persécuteurs et oppresseurs, épargnant ainsi (à) ceux qui auront espéré en Lui, (la défaite). Car il dit: «Tous les sanctifies (sont) sous tes mains». Car couverture et abri pour tous, qui peut l’être, sinon le Seigneur qui a étendu ses mains et sanctifié tous ceux qui courent à Lui, comme la poule (fait) pour couvrir ses poussins? Et Esdras, d’une voix prophétique, a dit la même chose: «Béni est le Seigneur qui a étendu ses mains et fait revivre Jérusalem!» Et, par Isaïe, Il vitupère les rebelles et dit: «J’ai étendu mes mains tout le jour vers le people rebelle». Et ici, Moïse dit: «Tous les sanctifies (sont) sous tes mains, et ceux-ci sont sous toi»." (Maurice Brière, Louis Mariès & B.-Ch. Mercier, "Bénédictions de Moïse," in Patrologia Orientalis 27.1-2 [Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1954], 130-31).
  • 33 Novatian, The Trinity, The Spectacles, Jewish Foods, In Praise of Purity, Letters, trans. Russell J. deSimone (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), 96.
  • 34 Trans. A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1840), 3:56.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (5): "I too am a witness...and the Child whom I have chosen" (Isaiah 43:10)



As we continue our series looking at Christological interpretation of Isaiah in the early Church, we move back into the part of the book (chs. 40-55) known to biblical scholars as Second Isaiah, which mentions Cyrus by name and was therefore written long after the death of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah.1 The passage that concerns us here is part of a speech addressed by Yahweh to Israel (Isaiah 43:1-13).
10 You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I am the one who declared and saved and proclaimed, not some strange god among you; you are my witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God. 13 Indeed, since that day I am he; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can hinder it? (Isaiah 43:10-13 NRSV)
The translation above from the Masoretic Text (MT) conveys one of the Hebrew Bible's most emphatic biblical declarations of God's unique divinity vis-à-vis all other reality. The addressees, Israel, are named as God's witnesses to his divine identity and saving acts. However, in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures that was predominantly the Bible of the early Church, things take a different turn:
10 Be my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. I declared and saved; I reproached, and there was no stranger among you. 12 You are my witnesses; I too am a witness, says the Lord God. 13 Even from the beginning there is also no one who rescues from my hands; I will do it, and who will turn it back? (Isaiah 43:10-13 NETS)2
Notice that, unlike in the MT, in the LXX God declares himself to be a witness in vv. 10, 12. The change from "You are my witnesses...and the servant whom I have chosen" to "I too am a witness... and the servant whom I have chosen" introduces ambiguity over who this "servant" is. And this only adds one more to a series of references to an ambiguous "servant" in Second Isaiah.

References to Yahweh's "servant" (Heb. עבד, ʿęḇęḏ) abound in Second Isaiah. Over the past two centuries, biblical scholars have noted four passages that single out an anonymous individual "servant" who is celebrated for his sacrificial life that brings redemption to others.3 Scholars distinguish these four "Servant Songs" (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) from other Second Isaiah references to God's servant—including Isaiah 43:10 MT.4 While the latter seem obviously to refer to Israel/Jacob corporately, scholars have reached many different conclusions about the identity of the servant of the Servant Songs. It has even been called an "insoluble" problem.5

Christian interpreters of Isaiah, have, from the earliest times, interpreted most of the references to a singular "servant" in Isaiah—both inside and outside of the Servant Songs—to refer to Christ. Matthew 12:15-21, for instance, quotes the first Servant Song (Isaiah 42:1-4) and applies it to Jesus.6 And the fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is a key text that the NT writers use to understand the significance of Jesus' death.

An interesting feature of Second Isaiah LXX is that it consistently renders references to the ʿęḇęḏ into Greek as pais. This word has a broad semantic range that includes the meaning "servant" but also "child," either with a focus on prepubescent age or on the person's status as someone's offspring (hence "son"/"daughter").7 The LXX translator obviously intended pais to mean "servant," corresponding to ʿęḇęḏ, but once Christian interpreters had applied the word to Christ, whom they understood to be God's Son, the sense "child" or "son" would have come into mind. Indeed, this move would have been aided by the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 9:5 LXX—the text discussed in my previous article—where "child" translates paidion, a diminutive of pais that always means "child," not "servant."8 Where the Book of Acts refers to Jesus as God's pais (3:13; 3:26; 4:27; 4:30), with obvious dependence on Second Isaiah, it is not clear whether the sense "servant" or "child/son" is in view; English translations differ. However, given that David is also called God's pais in 4:25, "servant" is more likely.9 The qualification "whom I have chosen" (hon exelexamēn) might seem incongruous with "son," since one does not choose one's "son" except with adoption. However, in Luke's Transfiguration account, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be "my chosen Son" (ho huios mou ho eklelegmenos), and Luke clearly does not regard Jesus as God's adopted son.10


The statement ʾanî hûʾ ("I [am] he"), which occurs in vv. 10, 13 MT (along with a few other passages, mostly in Isaiah),11 is a succinct declaration of Yahweh's absolute deity that is typically translated in the LXX as egō eimi, "I am [he]". Such is the case here, in 43:10 LXX.12 The absolute declaration ἐγώ εἰμι is famously used seven times by Jesus in the Gospel of John, and New Testament scholars widely agree that it is intended to echo God's use of egō eimi in Isaiah LXX.13 But one can go further and argue that two of Jesus' egō eimi sayings in John are specifically intended to echo Isaiah 43:10. I have written about this literary dependency in greater detail elsewhere;14 for our purposes here, it suffices to point out the close parallel between the following:
so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he (hina gnōste kai pisteusēte kai sunēte hoti egō eimi, Isaiah 43:10 LXX)

and

...for unless you believe that I am he (ean gar mē piseusēte hoti egō eimi), you will die in your sins (John 8:24)

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe that I am he. (hina pisteusēte hotan genētai hoti egō eimi) (John 13:19)
While we lack any quotation of Isaiah 43:10-13 in the New Testament, John's allusions to it in the egō eimi sayings of Jesus show that he wants us to identify Jesus with God. The mysterious wording of Isaiah 43:10 LXX facilitates this. The line before the hina-clause just quoted reads, kagō martus, legei kyrios ho theos, kai ho pais, hon exelexamēn. An early Christian reader would probably have read thus:
I also am a witness, says the Lord God, and [so is] the Son, whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he.
The following rendering is, however, also syntactically possible:
I also am a witness, says the Lord God, and [I am] the Son, whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he.15
We cannot know which of these two readings John followed, but since he places on Jesus' lips a saying formed from the last clause of this verse, it seems clear that he has understood the full statement as applicable to the Son and not only the Father. That is, it is not just that the Son joins the Father as a witness to the Father's deity, but that the Son joins the Father as a witness to their joint deity.

Of course, we cannot be certain of John's interpretation of Isaiah 43:10, since we only have his allusions to it. However, further evidence that this interpretation had currency in the early Church can be found in early patristic writings.



The Ascension of Isaiah is a Jewish Christian apocalypse that scholars regard as a two-part work, with chapters 6-11 dating from the late first century, and chapters 1-5 from the early second century16—roughly contemporaneous, that is, with the date range usually assigned to the Gospel of John. Ascension of Isaiah 4 foretells the coming of an Antichrist figure named Beliar and states the following about him:
And he will do whatever he wants in the world; he will do and speak like the Beloved, and he will say, 'I am the Lord, and there was no one before me.' And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they shall sacrifice to him and serve him, when they shall say: This is the Lord, and besides him there is no other. (Ascension of Isaiah 4.6-8).17
The Beloved is Ascension of Isaiah's usual term for Christ. Thus, the apocalypse describes Beliar as speaking like the Beloved, but the words that it attributes to Beliar (and then to his followers as they worship him) appear to be a paraphrase of Isaiah 43:10-11 LXX:18
I am the Lord, and there was no one before me... This is the Lord, and besides him there is no other (Ascension of Isaiah 4.6, 8) 
...I am he. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. (Isaiah 43:10-11 NETS)
It would appear to follow that, if Beliar "speaks like the Beloved" when he arrogates to himself the words of Isaiah 43:10-11, the Beloved rightfully speaks the words of Isaiah 43:10-11 about himself. Thus, it seems that the author of Ascension of Isaiah agrees with the Gospel of John—again, only implicitly through allusions—that God's declaration of his deity in Isaiah 43:10 also applies to Christ.


Irenaeus of Lyons quotes from Isaiah 43:10 in his famous five-volume work Against Heresies. In Book 3 he writes,
Therefore neither the Lord nor the Holy Spirit nor the apostles ever called God, in the proper sense of the word, anyone who was not the true God; neither have they called Lord, in an absolute way, anyone other than God the Father, who rules over all things, and his Son, who has received from his Father sovereignty over all creation. (Adv. Haer. 3.6.1)19
Having quoted several OT passages to substantiate this, he continues:
So no one else, as I have just said, is called God or Lord, except He who is God and Lord of all things—he who said to Moses, 'I am who I am', and: 'Thus shall you speak to the children of Israel: He who is has sent me to you'—and his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who makes children of God those who believe in his name. It is still the same when the Son said to Moses: 'I came down to deliver this people.' It is indeed he, in fact, who descended and ascended for the salvation of men. So then, through the Son, who is in the Father and has the Father in him, the God "who is" manifested himself, the Father bearing witness to the Son and the Son announcing the Father, according to what Isaiah also says: 'I am a witness, says the Lord God, as well as the Child20 whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe and understand that I am.' (Adv. Haer. 3.6.2)
Irenaeus quotes from Isaiah 43:10 again in 4.5.1 and 4.20.8, but these passages add little to what is already evident from the above about how he understood the text. For Irenaeus, Isaiah 43:10 is a proof text about the absolutely unique deity of the Father and the Son.


This great third-century theologian refers to our text in four separate passages, of which we will discuss three.21 In his Commentary on John, as well as in his Exhortation to Martyrdom, Origen interprets Isaiah 43:10 to mean that the Father is a witness, and so is the Son:
For we have noticed that God confesses that he is a witness, and declares the same thing about the Christ, exhorting all to become imitators of himself and the Christ, insofar as they witness to the things to which it is necessary to witness. For he says, ‘Become my witnesses; I, too, am a witness, says the Lord God, and the servant22 whom I choose.’ (Commentary on John 2.209)23 
And in Isaiah the One who exhorts us to martyrdom joins in bearing witness to this with His Son. The passage reads, ‘You are my witnesses, and I am a witness, says the Lord God, and the Son whom I have chosen’. (Exhortation to Martyrdom 34)24 
Origen quotes the passage in a more technical theological context in the Dialogue with Heraclides, which requires some background. This text was only discovered in 1941 and "consists of the minutes of a discussion held at a synod of bishops summoned to discuss the opinions of a certain Bishop Heraclides whose orthodoxy has been called in question".25 After Bishop Heraclides opens with a credal statement, Origen begins his "cross-examination, which is designed to elicit from Heraclides a confession of the pre-existence and independent existence of the Son."26 The crux of it is thus:
Origen: Is the Father God?
Heraclides: Assuredly.
Origen: Is the Son distinct from the Father?
Heraclides: Of course. How can he be Son if he is also Father?
Origen: While being distinct from the Father is the Son himself also God? Heraclides: He himself is also God.
Origen: And do two Gods become a unity?
Heraclides: Yes.
Origen: Do we confess two Gods?
Heraclides: Yes. The power is one.
Origen: But as our brethren take offence at the statement that there are two Gods, we must formulate the doctrine carefully, and show in what sense they are two and in what sense the two are one God. Also the holy Scriptures have taught that several things which are two are one… 
Origen goes on to discuss Genesis 2:24, which says that a man and his wife become one flesh, and 1 Corinthians 6:17, which says that "anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." He continues:
The appropriate word when human beings are joined to one another is flesh. The appropriate word when a righteous man is joined to Christ is spirit. But the word when Christ is united to the Father is not flesh, nor spirit, but more honourable than these—God. That is why we understand in this sense ‘I and the Father are one.’
After condemning those who abolish the distinction between Father and Son and those who deny the deity of Christ, Origen asks:
What then do the divine Scriptures mean when they say: ‘Beside me there is no other God, and there shall be none after me,’ and ‘I am and there is no God but me’? In these utterances we are not to think that the unity applies to the God of the universe… in separation from Christ, and certainly not to Christ in separation from God. Let us rather say that the sense is the same as that of Jesus’ saying, ‘I and my Father are one.’ (Origen, Dialogue with Heraclides 4)27
The passages quoted are Isaiah 43:10 and Deuteronomy 32:39. Origen anticipates an objection to the binitarian theology he has just outlined, namely that if these scriptural texts apply only to the Father, the Son is excluded from being God. Hence, Origen argues that these statements are made by the Father and the Son as a unity. Had Origen elaborated on this interpretation, he probably would have noted—as he did in his other writings—that both the Father and his pais are named as witnesses in the former text.28


Eusebius' work Eclogae Propheticae ("Prophetic Extracts"), written in the early fourth century (before the Council of Nicaea) has not been translated into English. It makes a passing reference to our text, and my attempt at a translation is as follows:
‘Be my witnesses, I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the child29 whom I have chosen.’ And who might be the child whom the Lord God has chosen, whom also he reckons with himself that he will be a witness with him when they testify, or the one about whom also it had earlier been said, ‘Jacob is my child, I will lay hold of him’ [cf. Isa. 42:1], and the rest? Which things have clearly been prophesied about our Saviour and Lord Jesus. (Eclogae Propheticae 4.21)30
Eusebius does not comment on the Christological significance of the text here, merely echoing the widely held Christian viewpoint that the pais in this passage (and others in Second Isaiah) is Christ. Later, in his Commentary on Isaiah, he offers a more detailed comment, showing that he understands the Lord God to be identifying himself with his divine Servant (as per the second rendering suggested in section 2 above).
Let the witnesses of these events come, and let those who have testified be justified, since even I God will be their witness, and the servant whom I have chosen, concerning whom he said above: 'Behold, my servant whom I have appointed, my chosen one, my soul receives him favorably'. Therefore, God himself is even this servant, my chosen one, as the Savior made clear in the Gospels when he said: 'Whoever acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.' I will serve as a witness for my witnesses, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be after me... For if one is from the beginning, this one must be divine, as the theology concerning his one and only Son counsels. Continuing on with delivering his instruction, the Word says: I am God, and besides me there is none who saves. And he affirmed this when he proclaimed above: Even I, the Lord God, am the servant whom I have chosen, and so he does not fail to connect the present passage with the theological discussion above concerning the servant, whom he has chosen. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves, and I am the servant whom I have chosen. For he said that he was a witness, and the servant whom he has chosen, and so we conclude that this God who saves is also the servant, whom he has chosen. And although the text says: Besides me there is none who saves, it is not denying that the servant whom he has chosen is indeed a Savior. (Commentary on Isaiah 278-79)31
Although Eusebius is often said to have had Arian sympathies, his Christological reading of Isaiah 43:10 is actually bolder than those of Irenaeus and Origen, in that he has the Lord God saying, "I...am the pais whom I have chosen."


We have seen that the Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 43:10 introduced ambiguity into the identity of the Hebrew's text's "servant" (ʿęḇęḏ) in two ways. First, it changed the subject from second-person to first-person, so that God says "Be my witnesses. I too am a witness," rather than "You are my witnesses," which leaves the ensuing "and the servant whom I have chosen" unidentified. Second, it translated ʿęḇęḏ with the Greek word pais, which can mean "servant" but also "child" or "son." This—in the context of the wider Christological interpretation of the Servant in Isaiah 40-55—enabled early Christian exegetes to read Isaiah 43:10 as a statement about the Father and the Son:
I too am a witness, says the Lord God, and the Son whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he. Before me there was no other god, nor shall there be any after me. I am God, and besides me there is none who saves.
Significantly, early Christian exegetes understood both witnesses, Father and Son, to be testifying in their own person "that I am he. Before me there was no other god," etc. This exegetical move is evident already in the late first and early second century in the Gospel of John and the Ascension of Isaiah, and continues in the second- and third-century Fathers Irenaeus of Lyons and Origen of Alexandria.
  • 1 See Isaiah 44:28, 45:1, 13.
  • 2 Moisés Silva, "Isaiah," in Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (eds.), A New English Translation of the Septuagint (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 857.
  • 3 James M. Ward, "The Servant Songs in Isaiah," Review & Expositor 65 (1968): 433-446.
  • 4 See also Isaiah 41:8, 9; 42:19; 44:1, 2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 50:10.
  • 5 Leland Edward Wilshire, "The Servant-City: A New Interpretation of the 'Servant of the Lord' in the Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah," Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 356.
  • 6 Interestingly, Matthew translates the Hebrew text, whereas the Septuagint actually disambiguates the "servant" of the first Servant Song by identifying him as Jacob and Israel: "Iakob is my servant...Israel is my chosen" (Isa. 42:1 NETS). This would still not have stopped early Christian interpreters from identifying the servant with Christ, however, since Christ was regarded as the true Israel (cf. the interpretation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:14).
  • 7 See BDAG 750
  • 8 See BDAG 749. A diminutive is a suffix added to a word to show affection or emphasise smallness; for instance, "piglet" is a diminutive of "pig."
  • 9 The same is true in Didache 9.2-3, 10.2-3, where both David and Jesus are called God's παῖς. Cf. also 1 Clement 59.2-4; Diognetus 8.9-9.1; Martyrdom of Polycarp 14.1-3; 20.2. In the latter, παῖς almost certainly means "son": "God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed [παῖς] Jesus Christ"; "bring us all...into his heavenly kingdom through his only-begotten [pais], Jesus Christ".
  • 10 See Luke 1:35, for instance, which interprets the virgin birth as a proof (though not necessarily the cause) of Jesus' divine Sonship.
  • 11 See, e.g., Deut. 32:39, Isa. 41:4; 43:25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6.
  • 12 The ʾanî hûʾ in 43:13 is not preserved in the LXX translation.
  • 13 "An analysis of the application of ἐγώ εἰμι in its bipartite form in the Fourth Gospel leads one to conclude that the key to a proper understanding of these Johannine declarations is the distinctive use of this succinct expression in LXX Isaiah as a rendering for
    אני הוא ... Indeed, the interpretative process encountered in connection with Jesus' absolute ἐγώ ἐιμι statements can be described as an important witness to the fourth evangelist's familiarity with, and indebtedness to, Isaianic traditions, clearly extending far beyond the four direct citations taken from this prophetic book" (Catrin H. Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of ʾAnî Hûʾ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000], 299); "The Gospel of John...places on the lips of Jesus during his ministry another of the characteristically Deutero-Isaianic declarations of unique divine identity. The Johannine choice is the concise statement 'I am he', in Hebrew ʾanî hûʾ, usually translated in the Septuagint Greek as egō eimi ('I am'), the form in which it appears in John's Gospel... It is certainly not accidental that, whereas in the Hebrew Bible there are seven occurrences of ʾanî hûʾ and two of the emphatic variation ānokî ānokî hûʾ (Isa. 43:25; 51:12), in John there are seven absolute 'I am' sayings, with the seventh repeated twice (18:5, 6, 8) for the sake of an emphatic climax (thus seven or nine in both cases). The series of sayings thus comprehensively identifies Jesus with the God of Israel who sums up his identity in the declaration 'I am he'. More than that, they identify Jesus as the eschatological revelation of the unique identity of God, predicted by Deutero-Isaiah" (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008], 39-40).
  • 14 See also here.
  • 15 Because the verb "to be" is elliptical in God's initial statement, it could also be understood as elliptical in the statement about ho pais. Notably, in the Hebrew (where the subject is "you" rather than "I"), the syntax works this way: "You are my witnesses... and [you are] my servant, whom I have chosen..." However, this reading is rather unnatural, as it seems to conflate the speaker (God) with his pais. It would likely have been seen as risky after the rise of the Sabellian heresy in the early third century; yet we will see below that Eusebius follows it in the early fourth century.
  • 16 "the date of the apocalypse is now agreed within relatively close parameters... The dominant view is that the apocalypse contains some first-century material, and that this first-century element is given by the substance of chs. 6-11. It is disputed whether the material in chs. 1-5 comes from the first or the second century CE, the greater weight of scholarship preferring the second century." (Jonathan Knight, "The Christology of the Ascension of Isaiah: Docetic or Polymorphic?", in Jonathan Knight and Kevin Sullivan (eds.), The Open Mind: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland [London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015], 155).
  • 17 This is my translation from the Latin synopsis in Paolo Bettiolo, Alda Giambelluca Kossova, Claudio Leonardi, Enrico Norelli, and Lorenzo Perrone, Ascensio Isaiae: Textus (Turnhout: Brepols, 1995), 375, which in turn is translated from the Ethiopic in which alone this part of the book is preserved.
  • 18 Unfortunately a comparison cannot be made in Greek, since Ascension of Isaiah 4.6-8 survives only in an Ethiopic version. God makes similar statements in Isaiah 44:6, 45:5-6, 45:21, and 46:9 to the effect that "I am God, and there is no other beside me." Jonathan M. Knight describes Beliar's claim as "words which are parodied from Isa. 45.18, that 'I am the LORD, and before me there was no one'" (Disciples of the Beloved One: The Christology, Social Setting and Theological Context of the Ascension of Isaiah [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996], 50). Enrico Norelli states in his commentary (in Italian) that the language appears to from Isaiah 47:8-10, where the daughter of Babylon is said to declare blasphemously, "I am and there is no other". However, he goes on to argue that the language is drawn from that of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:7 (Ascensio Isaiae: Commentarius [Turnhout: Brepols, 1995], 251-52). However, it remains true that Isaiah 43:10 corresponds more closely to Beliar's words than any other biblical text. In no other Isaianic text does God say that there is no other before him, and the Decalogue statements are phrased in the second person. Of course, the Christological implications remain the same, no matter which definitive biblical statement of unique deity is being implicitly applied to Christ.
  • 19 Translations are based on the French translation of Adeline Rousseau, Irénée de Lyon: Contre les hérésies (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1984), based on his Sources chrétiennes critical text.
  • 20 Of course, as with the Book of Acts and other references in Greek literature to Jesus as God's παῖς, we cannot be certain whether Irenaeus understood the word in the sense "child/son" or "servant." That Irenaeus regards Isaiah 43:10 as a proof text concerning the Son's relationship with the Father suggests the reading "child/son," however.
  • 21 The fourth is Contra Celsum 2.9. Origen does not directly link our text to Christology, but discusses it in a Christological context: "To this we will reply that not even we suppose that the body of Jesus, which could then be seen and perceived by the senses, was God. And why do I say the body? For not even his soul was God; for he said of it: ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.’ However, according to the doctrine of the Jews it is believed to be God who says: ‘I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.’ And, ‘Before me there was no other God, and after me there will be none.’ He was using the soul and body of a prophet as an instrument. According to the Greeks, it is believed to be a god who is speaking and being heard through the Pythian priestess, who says ‘But I know the number of the sand and the measure of the sea, And I understand the dumb and I hear him that speaketh not.’ Similarly in our opinion it was the divine Logos and Son of the God of the universe that spoke in Jesus, saying: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, and ‘I am the door’, and ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’, and any other such saying. Therefore, we bring the charge against the Jews that they have not believed in Jesus as God, because he had been everywhere witnessed by the prophets as being a great power and a God like the God and Father of the universe. We say that it was to him that the Father gave the command in the Mosaic story of creation, when He said, ‘Let there be light’, and ‘Let there be a firmament’, and all the other things which God commanded to come into being. To him also He said, ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness.’ And when the Logos was commanded, he made everything that the Father enjoined him." (trans. Henry Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum [London: Cambridge University Press, 1953], 73).
  • 22 Again, it is the translator's decision whether to render the Greek παῖς as "servant," "child" or "son."
  • 23 trans. Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1-10 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989), 151.
  • 24 trans. Rowan A. Greer, Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works (New York: Paulist, 1979), 66. The Greek word translated "Son" by Greer is again παῖς.
  • 25 John Ernest Leonard Oulton and Henry Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," in The Library of Christian Classics, Volume II: Alexandrian Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 430).
  • 26 Oulton and Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," 433.
  • 27 trans. Oulton and Chadwick, "Dialogue with Heraclides," 438-40.
  • 28 With regard to the latter text, he might have pointed out that God is spoken of in the first person in Deuteronomy 32:39-42 and in the third person in 32:43, with the latter text being applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:6.
  • 29 Again, "child" translates pais, and could also be rendered "servant."
  • 30 Greek text in Thomas Gaisford, Eusebii Pamphili, Episcopi Caesariensis: Eclogae Propheticae [Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico, 1842], 202.
  • 31 Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah, trans. Jonathan J. Armstrong, ed. Joel C. Elowsky (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 217-18. It should be noted that Eusebius' Commentary on Isaiah is usually dated to after the Council of Nicaea, unlike the other works of Eusebius cited in this series. Armstrong suggests that the comments on Isaiah 60 allude to Constantine's baptism in 337, which would imply that the commentary was finished between that date and Eusebius' death in 339.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (4): "A child was born for us...named Angel of Great Counsel" (Isaiah 9:6)

Conclusion


Most Christians who hear the words of Isaiah 9:6 feel instinctively that they are hearing a prophecy about the birth and Messianic destiny of Jesus:
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Great will be his authority, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV)
Handel's Messiah has certainly reinforced the Christological interpretation of this text in the popular Christian imagination. It may surprise some readers, therefore, to learn that many biblical scholars today maintain that, at the grammatical-historical level, this text is not a prophecy about a future Messiah. H. G. M. Williamson's comments are typical:
...the passage as a whole seems to announce that its readers are living at a turning point in the [Davidic] dynasty's fortunes and that the long-hoped-for rule of justice and righteousness is about to begin. None of this implies a break in dynastic rule or a restoration of the monarchy. The predominant thought of the passage neither demands, nor is even particularly suitable to, a postexilic date.1
He argues that the birth or accession of a Davidic king, possibly Hezekiah or Josiah, adequately explains the historical occasion for this oracle. Joseph A. Fitzmyer similarly scolds scholars guilty of "reading [a Messianic] meaning into this...Isaian passage."2 And John J. Collins states that "Modern critical scholarship...has generally rejected a messianic interpretation" of this text.3

This observation underscores the distinction made in the first article in this series between the grammatical-historical, literal meaning of texts, which is the the primary interest of biblical criticism, and the spiritual meaning of texts, the sensus plenior, which is the primary interest of theologians and anyone reading Scripture through the mystical lens of Christian faith. It is the latter sense that is the focus of the series, but it is important not to fall into a false dichotomy between the two senses.

Strictly speaking, if we limit ourselves to the grammatical-historical sense, we will have to surrender Isaiah 9:6 and many of our other favourite Messianic texts, and admit that the New Testament writers and even Jesus himself were poor exegetes. Conversely, if we go beyond the literal sense to assign a spiritual, Messianic significance to Isaiah 9:6, we should likewise be prepared to do so for other texts, even if they are not quoted in the New Testament.4


It is immediately apparent from reading Isaiah 9:5-65 in the New English Translation of the Septuagint that the Septuagint Greek differs markedly from the Hebrew Masoretic Text:
5 because a child was born for us, a son also given to us, whose sovereignty was upon his shoulder, and he is named Messenger of Great Counsel, for I will bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health to him. 6 His sovereignty is great, and his peace has no boundary upon the throne of Dauid and his kingdom, to make it prosper and to uphold it with righteousness and with judgment from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord Sabaoth will do these things.
John J. Collins' essay, "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," provides a very helpful explanation of the nuances of the LXX translation. Collins comments on the titles given to the child in Isaiah 9:6 MT indicate the "ideal qualities" of a human king, "however hyperbolic they may be."6 The most striking of the titles, for Collins, are El Gibbor, "mighty God," and Abi ʿAd, "everlasting father." The LXX translation, however, "departs strikingly from the Hebrew at several points." There are indications in the preceding verses that the translator has readdressed the oracle "to a setting in the second century B.C.E. rather than to the time of Isaiah."7 The rendering of two different Hebrew words with the Greek παιδίον ("child") in Isaiah 7:16 and 9:5 points to an effort to systematise these two figures. Coming to the titles of the child in Isaiah 9:5(6), the Greek combines the two titles "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God" (MT פלא יועץ אל גבור) into one, megalēs boulēs angelos ("Angel/Messenger of Great Counsel"). The following titles, "Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (MT אביעד שר־שלום), are translated, egō gar axō eirēnēn epi tous archontas ("for I will bring peace upon the princes"). Collins notes, "The translator evidently read אבי as a verb and עד as a preposition."8 שר ("prince") may have been understood generically and thus made plural. There are some textual difficulties in the Hebrew at the end of the verse, possibly reflecting a lost fifth title of the child that the LXX translates with the added words, eirēnēn kai hugieian autō ("peace and health to him").

Scholars differ on the significance of angelos in the LXX translation—a word that, as we will see below, played a key role in early Christian interpretation of this text. By the time of the NT, angelos was largely a technical term meaning "angel," with the broader sense "messenger" having nearly faded at least in Christian circles.9 In the LXX, while angelos is the usual translation of Hebrew מלאך, it is also applied to human messengers with some frequency. Either way, the word emphasises the child's instrumental agency on God's behalf. Just as the Targum has demoted the child by taking his loftiest titles away and applying them to God,10 so the LXX translator may be demoting the child by reducing his status from "God" to angel or messenger. This is not necessarily a mistranslation of אל; Collins notes that the word is also translated angelos in Job 20:15,11 where the theological stakes are lower. Collins is inclined to translate angelos in Isaiah 9:5 as angel, and to understand it "not so much a demotion as a clarification of his status in relation to the Most High."12 To what extent the the LXX translator wished to assign the child to the category "angel" is unclear (just as it is unclear to what extent the original author wished to assign the child to the category "god").


Considering how easily an application of this oracle to Jesus arises in the minds of any Christian reader (even without Handel's help), and the almost universal messianic interpretation of the passage in the Church Fathers (as we shall see), it is surprising that Isaiah 9:6 is never quoted in the NT. This should remind us that the NT is nothing like a Christian commentary on the OT. It does not provide an exhaustive account of how the early Church interpreted the Jewish Scriptures; not even close. In many cases, we must rely on the testimony of the Church Fathers to learn how a particular passage was interpreted in the early Church.

Nevertheless, there is strong circumstantial evidence in the NT itself for a Christological interpretation of Isaiah 9:6. In particular, the Gospel of Matthew narrates how Jesus "left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali" (Matt. 4:13 NRSV), and interprets this event as having fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Matthew then quotes from Isaiah 8:23-9:1, which is the beginning of the same oracle that contains Isaiah 9:6. Moreover, there is a possible allusion to Isaiah 9:7 in Luke 1:32-33, although this Lucan prophecy about Jesus is probably based mainly on 2 Samuel 7:8-16.13


As the Septuagint was much more widely used than the Hebrew Bible in the early Church (at least, outside Jewish Christian communities in Judaea and surrounds), extant early Christian interpretations of Isaiah 9:5(6) relies on the LXX version, with its distinctive phrase "angelos of Great Counsel."14


The earliest extant Christian interpreter of our text is Justin Martyr. In his first Apology (c. 153 A.D.),15 Justin writes,     
1 And how Christ, after his birth, was going to escape the attention of other human beings until he grew to manhood, which in fact happened—hear the things that were said in advance with reference to this. 2 They are these: 'A child was born for us, and a young man was given for us, whose rule is on his shoulders,' signifying the power of the cross, on which he placed his shoulders when he was crucified, as will be shown more clearly as the discourse proceeds. (1 Apol. 35.1-2)16
Justin also cites our text twice in his Dialogue with Trypho (c. 160 A.D., but with some material possibly dating back to c. 135):17
And, in calling him angel of great counsel, did not Isaiah predict that Christ would be a teacher of those truths which he expounded when he came upon this earth? For he alone openly taught the great counsels that the Father intended for those who either were, or shall be, pleasing to him, as well as for those men or angels who withdrew from his will. (Dial. 76.3)18

if you had known who he is who at one time is called angel of great counsel, and Man by Ezekiel, and Son of Man by Daniel, and a child by Isaiah, and Christ and God [and] who is to be adored by David, and Christ and Stone by many prophets… you would not have blasphemed him who has come, and assumed human nature, and suffered, and ascended into heaven. (Dial. 126.1)
Justin understands angelos to mean "angel" in Isaiah 9:5 LXX. This is clear, not only from his distinction between "men or angels" in the immediate context, but also from Justin's repeated statements elsewhere that Christ is God, and man, and angel.19 Justin explains his use of this term for Christ in terms of Christ's function as the Father's agent in revelation:
I shall attempt to prove my assertion, namely, that there exists and is mentioned in Scripture another God and Lord under the Creator of all things, who is also called an Angel, because he proclaims to man whatever the Creator of the world—above whom there is no other God—wishes to reveal to them. (Dial. 56.4)
Justin later mentions that the one who appeared to Moses at the burning bush "is termed an angel and is God" (kai angelos kaloumenos kai theos huparchōnDial. 60.4).20 This is a case in point of what Charles A. Gieschen has famously called "angelomorphic Christology." Explaining his preference for this term over "angel Christology," Gieschen writes:
'angel' terminology also raises the ontological question that has moved some interpreters to dismiss a priori the impact of such concepts on early Christology. It is crucial to understand that distinctions which early Christian documents make between Christ and the 'created' angels do not preclude the use of angel-morphic traditions in expressing Christology. Angelic forms and functions do not of necessity imply a nature that is less than divine. This conclusion is evident from OT texts which equate God and his angel.21
Justin makes just such a distinction, by saying that the pre-existent Christ is called an angel because he brings God's revelations to man (functional), but is God (ontological).


The next writer to cite Isaiah 9:5 is Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, who wrote c. 180 A.D. What is fascinating about Irenaeus' use of this text is that, while he is aware of and interprets the LXX title "Angel of Great Counsel," he is also aware—uniquely, among ante-Nicene Christian writers—that the title El Gibbor appears in the Hebrew text, and makes full Christological use of this:
Thus, then, does the Word of God in all things hold the primacy, for He is true man and Wonderful Counsellor and God the Mighty, calling man back again into communion with God, that by communion with Him we may have part in incorruptibility. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 40)22
54 And again the same prophet says: A son is born to us and a child is given to us, and His name has been called, Wonderful Counsellor, God the Mighty. 55. And he calls Him ‘Wonderful Counsellor,’ even of the Father, whereby it is pointed out that it is with Him that the Father works all things whatsoever as we have in the first of the Mosaic books, which is entitled ‘Genesis’: And God said: let us make man according to our image and likeness. For He is here seen clearly, the Father addressing the Son, as Wonderful Counsellor of the Father. Now He is also our Counsellor, giving counsel—not constraining, as God, and nonetheless being ‘God the Mighty,’ he says—and giving counsel to leave off our ignorance and receive knowledge, and to go forth from error and come to truth, and to cast forth corruptibility and receive incorruptibility. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 54-55)
Interestingly, Irenaeus quotes the LXX version of the text almost as if it were a separate prophecy from Isaiah:
And again Isaias says: And they shall wish that they had been burnt with fire; for a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is set upon His shoulders; and His name is called Messenger of Great Counsel. For I will bring peace upon the princes, again peace and health to Him. Great is His empire, and of His peace there is no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to guide and to uphold with justice and right, from henceforth and for ever. For thereby it is proclaimed that the Son of God both is to be born and is to be everlasting king... But the words whose government is set upon His shoulders mean allegorically the Cross, on which He held His back when He was crucified; for what was and is an ignominy for Him, and because of Him, for us, the Cross, that, he says, is His government, that is, a sign of His empire. And he says Messenger of Great Counsel: messenger of the Father, whom he announced to us. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 56)
Irenaeus follows Justin in interpreting the reference to "shoulders" as a prophecy of the cross of Christ, and in interpreting "Messenger/Angel of Great Counsel" functionally.23 However, in commenting on the title "God the Mighty," he shows that he has access to a Jewish tradition of interpretation that was unknown to Justin.24


Tertullian cites our text in three of his works, two of which are discussed here.25 In Against Marcion, Tertullian echoes the view found in Justin and Irenaeus that "whose government is placed upon his shoulder" refers to the cross:
For although death reigned from Adam until Christ, why should not Christ be said to have reigned from the tree, ever since by dying on the tree of the Cross he drove out the kingdom of death? In the same sense also Isaiah says, Because to us a child is born: what is new in this, unless he is speaking of the Son of God? And, Unto us one is given, whose government is placed upon his shoulder: which of the kings ever displays the sign of his dominion upon his shoulder, and not rather a crown upon his head or a sceptre in his hand, or some mark of appropriate apparel? No, only the new king of the new ages, Christ Jesus, <the king> of new glory, has lifted up upon his shoulder his own dominion and majesty, which is the Cross, so that from thenceforth, as our previous prophecy stated, he did as Lord reign from the tree. (Against Marcion 3.19.2)26
In another work, Tertullian explains—like Justin before him—that Christ is called an angel in this text in a functional, not ontological, sense:
Certainly he is described as the angel of great counsel, 'angel' meaning 'messenger', by a term of office, not of nature: for he was to announce to the world the Father's great project, that concerned with the restitution of man. Yet he is not on that account to be understood as an angel, in the sense of a sort of Gabriel or Michael. For the son also is sent by the lord of the vineyard to the husbandmen, as the servants too had been, to fetch of the fruits of it: but the son must not be reckoned one of the servants just because he succeeded to the servants' task. So I shall find it easier to say, if I have to, that the Son himself was the angel (that is, the messenger) of the Father, than that there was an angel in the Son. (On the Flesh of Christ 14.3).27

Tertullian's line of interpretation is found again in Origen.28 Origen also seems to think that the Son "became" an angel, for the sake of making angelic appearances.29


While our text is cited in other ante-Nicene writings,30 for sake of brevity we will only consider one more author: Origen's third-century contemporary Novatian, a Roman presbyter.

In his work On the Trinity (more appropriately titled "The Rule of Truth"),31 Novatian argues at length that the angel who appeared to Hagar in Genesis 16 could not either have been God the Father nor an ontological angel, but rather one who is ontologically God but functionally God's angel or herald. Novatian uses Isaiah 9:5 as a proof text for the notion that Christ can be called "angel":
(7) Now Scripture portrays this angel as both Lord and God, for He would not have promised the blessing of progeny if He had not been both angel and God. Let the heretics try to explain away this passage. (8) Was it the Father who was seen by Hagar, or not? For it was stated that He was God. Far be it from us to call God the Father an angel, lest He be subject to another, whose angel He would be. (9) But they will say that He was an angel. If He was an angel, how could He possibly be God since this name has never been given to angels? However, if we examine both sides of the question, truth itself drives us to this conclusion: we must acknowledge that He was the Son of God. Because He is of God, He is rightly called God, since He is the Son of God; and because He is subject to the Father and herald of the Father’s will, he is proclaimed ‘Angel of Great Counsel.’ (10) Therefore, if this passage is not appropriate to the person of the Father, lest He be called an angel, nor to the person of an angel, lest He be called God, it does, however, suit the person of Christ, since He is not only God, inasmuch as He is the Son of God, but also an angel, inasmuch as He is the herald of the Father’s dispensation. Heretics must realize that they are acting contrary to the Scriptures when they say they believe that Christ was also an angel, but do not want to admit that He is also the God who they read came frequently to visit the human race in the Old Testament...It is quite evident, then, that it was not the Father who spoke to Hagar in the present passage but rather Christ, because He is God. The title of angel is also appropriate to Christ because He was made ‘the Angel of Great Counsel.’ He is an angel because He lays bare the heart of the Father, as John declares." (de Trinitate 18.7-10, 22)32 

Christian writers of the second and third centuries are united in interpreting Isaiah 9:6-7(5-6)—which, apart from Irenaeus, they appear to have known only via the LXX translation33—as a prophecy concerning Christ. The common themes that emerge from their exegesis include that (i) the reference to his rule being upon his shoulder foretells the power of Christ's cross and (ii) Christ is called Angel of Great Counsel, not because he is ontologically an angel, but because he, although God by nature, has the function of declaring the counsel of God the Father to God's creatures.


I was able to access Eusebius' Commentary on Isaiah only after completing this article, and thus here reproduce most of his lengthy and insightful interpretation on this text, without any comment.
What this is about he states next when he says: Because a child was born for us, and a son also given to us, whose sovereignty is on his shoulder: and he is named messenger of great counsel. And he was the one who was called son and child and Emmanuel. This is the third time in the same prophecy where the son is also called child... For this very reason the child is this son, who was given as a gift from God to those who have believed in him and who has many more names than those stated above. And he has been named messenger of great counsel. And although this name may seem rather ordinary, it points to something beyond mortal nature, even angelic. For he addressed him not simply as messenger, but as messenger of great counsel. And what else could the great counsel be except the counsel of the great God concerning the calling and salvation of all nations, which the messenger himself, our Savior, would minister in the benevolent counsel of the Father? According to the Hebrew Scriptures he has been honored with greater forms of address than messenger, for it is said that he bears the government on his shoulder. For the government of the prophesied child (that is, the glory and the honor and the kingdom) is the government that is on his shoulder and over all (clearly, the government should be understood as the arm of the divinity in him). He has been called messenger of great counsel because of his divinity, for he alone understands the secret things of the fatherly counsel, and he is the messenger to the worthy. We said that he has been deemed worthy of an even greater title than messenger, for the Hebrew text reads, as translated by Symmachus: And his name will be called marvelous, able to advise, strong and powerful, eternal father, ruler of peace; and Aquila says: His name is called wonderful, counselor, strong, powerful, father still, ruler of peace; and according to Theodotion's translation: And she called his name wonderful, counselor, strong, master, eternal father, ruler of peace.

But instead of strong, the Hebrew text has El, which means God. For there are many passages in Scripture where El stands for God, and the text at hand should likewise be counted among them, for through the wording of the Hebrew God is proclaimed to be the child born for us. Accordingly, in the above prophecy concerning the child born for us and the son given to us, along with the other names and El, according to the Hebrew text, it is clear that the prophecy makes him known to be God. And so he is called El Gibbor in the Hebrew tongue. But Aquila translates this phrase as strong, powerful, and  Symmachus does as well. Theodotion translated this phrase as strong, master, protector—among which titles it is probable that he included the name of God as the child born for us. And we would not miss the mark to translate the phrase powerful God, since it has been pointed out to us that the word El translates to 'God.' And so we have boldness to call him so. The phrase El Gibbor in the Hebrew tongue is translated strong, powerful in the Greek, and the name Emmanuel includes El in it and additionally takes on the phrase God with us. And such names of the revealed child present his nature as superior to that of a mere man. Now I suppose that there are those who distrust the Septuagint because it is silent concerning the true recipient of the portentous and surpassing greatness of these names, but in another way this is stated summarily in the literal meaning: And he is named messenger of great counsel. And how has he said father of the coming age, for we will understand that it is our father Adam who is being handed down who is of 'the present age' and of the mortal race of people. But 'just as in Adam we will all die,' according to the apostle, 'so we will all be made alive in Christ.' (Commentary on Isaiah 65-66)34
  • 1 "Messianic Texts in Isaiah 1-39," in King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, ed. John Day (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 257.
  • 2 The One Who Is to Come (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 38).
  • 3 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," in Scripture and Tradition: Essays on Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of Raija Sollamo, ed. Anssi Voitila and Jutta Jokiranta (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 205. Collins, for his part, avers that whether the passage is messianic is a question of definition. If by "Messiah" one means a figure who would restore the monarchy after it was broken by the Babylonian exile, or certainly a figure who would literally usher in endless peace, then this text is not messianic. However, it is nonetheless "a reaffirmation of the mythology of kingship in the historical context," due to its idealised picture of what kingship could offer (ibid., 212).
  • 4 I am making a subtle dig at unitarian apologists who argue, for instance, that since Genesis 1:26 ("Let us make man in our image") is agreed by biblical scholars not to be a statement spoken by the Father to the Son, it thus cannot be interpreted as such. These apologists are conflating the grammatical-historical sense with the spiritual sense.
  • 5 The versification differs in the LXX and MT from the English, so Isaiah 9:5-6 LXX/MT correspond to 9:6-7 English.
  • 6 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 211.
  • 7 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 215.
  • 8 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 216.
  • 9 See my article, When is an angelos not an angel? A critique of Christadelphian lexical semantics.
  • 10 "and his name will be called before Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, existing forever, 'The messiah in whose days peace will increase upon us'" (trans. Collins, "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 213).
  • 11 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 217.
  • 12 "Isaiah 8:23-9:6 and Its Greek Translation," 217.
  • 13 So David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, "Luke," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 260. Pao and Schnabel also comment on the "parallels" between Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:8-14, without claiming any direct literary dependence.
  • 14 It should be borne in mind that patristic references to this text do not always indicate whether the patristic author understood angelos in the sense of "Angel" or "Messenger." In some of the modern translations we will quote, the translation "angel" or "messenger" is just an educated guess by the modern scholar.
  • 15 So Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 44.
  • 16 Trans. Minns and Parvis, Justin, 177. They note the likelihood of a lacuna here (ibid., 177 n. 1), since Isaiah 9:5 has nothing to do with the hiddenness of Christ in his childhood, and Justin interprets it with reference to his death.
  • 17 c. 160 is the usual date for the Dialogue, but Timothy J. Horner argues that the Dialogue was a redacted version of an earlier "Trypho Text," an account of a real dialogue with Trypho, which he dates to c. 135 A.D. (Listening to Trypho: Justin Martyr's Dialogue Reconsidered [Leuven: Peeters, 2001]).
  • 18 Michael Slusser (ed.), St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Thomas B. Falls, rev. Thomas P. Halton (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 118. All subsequent translations of the Dialogue are from the same.
  • 19 "I prove from all the Scriptures that Christ is spoken of as a King, and a Priest, and God, and Lord, and an Angel, and a Man, and a Leader, and a Stone, and a Begotten Son..." (Dial. 34.2); cf. Dial. 56.4, 10; 59.1; 60.1; 61.1; etc.
  • 20 Text in Philippe Bobichon, Justin Martyr, Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Édition Critique, Traduction, Notes, 2 vols. (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2003), 1:346.
  • 21 Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 4.
  • 22 Trans. Joseph P. Smith, St. Irenaeus: Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (Westminster: Newman Press, 1952), 73. Other translations of this work below are from the same source.
  • 23 Irenaeus also makes a passing reference to this LXX title in his better-known work, Against Heresies (3.16.3).
  • 24 Given the prominence of "God" as a Christological title in Justin's writings, it is difficult to believe that he would not have mentioned the title "Mighty God" in the Hebrew of Isaiah 9:5, had he been aware of it—particularly when trying to win over Trypho the Jew.
  • 25 The third, in Against the Jews 10.11, is nearly identical to that from Against Marcion.
  • 26 Trans. Ernest Evans, Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 229.
  • 27 Trans. Ernest Evans, Tertullian's Treatise on the Incarnation (London: SPCK, 1956), 51.
  • 28 "'For no one has known the Father but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal him.' And to the extent that he is the Word, he is the 'messenger of great counsel' 'upon whose shoulder the authority' has come to rest, for he has become king because he suffered the cross." (Commentary on John 1.278, trans. Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1-10 [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989], 91).
  • 29 "217 The Savior, therefore, in a way much more divine than Paul, has become 'all things to all,' that he might either 'gain' or perfect 'all things.' He has clearly become a man to men, and an angel to angels. 218 No believer will have any doubt that he became a man; and we may be convinced that he became an angel if we observe the appearances and the words of angels when [some angel appears with authority] in certain passages of Scripture when the angels speak. For example, 'An angel of the Lord appeared in the fire of a burning bush. And he said, I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.' But also Isaias says, 'His name shall be called angel of great counsel.'" (Commentary on John 1.217-18, trans. Heine, Origen, 77). Elsewhere, Origen objects the notion that Christ was "some angel," which the pagan apologist Celsus was willing to concede for the sake of argument. Origen responds, "Next, as he supposes that he can say of the Saviour by way of a concession Let us assume that he really was some angel, we say that we do not accept this from Celsus as a concession. But we consider the work of him who visited the whole human race by his word and teaching, according as each one of those who believe him was able to receive him. This was not the work merely of an angel but, as the prophecy about him says, 'of the angel of the great counsel'. For he proclaimed to men the great counsel of the God and Father of the universe concerning them..." (Contra Celsum 5.53, trans. Henry Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum (London: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 305-306.
  • 30 Cf. Hippolytus, De benedictionibus Isaaci et Iacobi et Moysis 1-2; In Danielem 2.32.6; Traditio apostolica 4, 8; Gregory Thaumaturgus, In Origenem oratio panegyrica 4.42; Cyprian, Ad Quirinum 2.21; Victorinus, Commentarii in Apocalypsim Ioannis 10.1; Peter of Alexandria, Epistula canonica 5; Eusebius, Generalis elementaria introductio 1.17, 3.30, 4.7; Eusebius, Demonstratio evangelica 1.1.2, 4.10.17, 5.10.6, 7.1.135-153, 7.2.2-23, 9.8.1, 9.8.16, 10.3; Eusebius, Commentary on Isaiah at 9:6; Lactantius, Diuinae Institutiones 4.11.7, 4.12.10, 5.7.1.
  • 31 The work never uses the word "Trinity," so this title has probably been imposed on it retrospectively. It is basically a commentary on the Roman creed, focusing on those parts which were controversial at the time—above all, matters of Christology.
  • 32 Trans. Russell J. deSimone, Novatian: The Trinity, The Spectacles, Jewish Foods, In Praise of Purity, Letters (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), 68-69, 72. The phrase "Angel of Great Counsel" is quoted again in de Trinitate 21.3, 28.8, 31.16-18.
  • 33 Tertullian and Novatian wrote in Latin, and so presumably followed the Old Latin, which is close to the LXX.
  • 34 Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah, trans. Jonathan J. Armstrong, ed. Joel C. Elowsky (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 49-50.