dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Eusebius. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eusebius. Show all posts

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (7): "Who can describe his generation?" (Isaiah 53:8)

In this seventh installment of our series on Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian, we delve into what was perhaps the most famous celebrated Isaianic passage of all among early Christians: the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).1 The words of this oracle—much like those of Isaiah 9:5-6 ("Unto us a child is born...")—are assumed by most Christians to be a messianic prophecy. Well, they do not just assume this; they read it in the New Testament. Most famously, in Acts 8:26-35, an Ethiopian eunuch is at a loss to identify the Suffering Servant until Philip explains to him about Jesus. However, at a grammatical-historical level it is by no means obvious that deutero-Isaiah, the author who wrote these words around the time of Cyrus, had a future Messiah in mind. As Rosenberg writes,
Jewish exegesis sees the Servant most frequently as the Jewish people, or its pious remnant, while conservative Christian exegesis insists that he is the Messiah. Modern scholars have attempted to identify the Servant with Jehoiachin or Zerubbabel, with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Deuter-Isaiah himself, or with the 'prophet' class as a whole. None of these suggestions is completely satisfactory.2
Thus, we must reiterate a point made in the first article in this series: if we identify as Christians and affirm the authority of the New Testament, we cannot confine our interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) to the literal, grammatical-historical meaning, because the New Testament writers did not do so. If we seek to read Isaiah like an early Christian, we must also examine the Jewish Scriptures mystically through the lens of the Christ-event. This will enable us to find buried treasure: veiled references to Christ and his redemptive work.  To take the Song of the Suffering Servant as an example, the Gospel of John has understood the Servant's "lifting up" (52:13) as referring to the manner of Jesus' death (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34). Paul has understood the rhetorical questions in 53:1 as foretelling that many would reject the gospel (Romans 10:16). Matthew has understood "carried (away) our diseases" (53:4) as foretelling Jesus' healing ministry (Matt. 8:17). Peter has understood "he committed no sin" (53:9) as foretelling Jesus' sinlessness (1 Pet. 2:22-23) and "he was wounded for our transgressions" (53:5) as foretelling the atoning power of his death (1 Pet. 2:24). And so on.

Our interest in this article lies in a single clause of Isaiah 53:8. In the MT, it reads, weʾęṯ-dôrô mîy yeśôḥēḥ. Depending how one interprets the noun dôr (period; age; generation [of time or of people]; dwelling-place) and the verb śîâḥ (complain; muse; talk about; meditate; consider) here,3 numerous renderings of the Hebrew are possible: "Who could have imagined his future?" (NRSV); "Who could describe his abode?" (JPS); "Yet who of his generation protested?" (NIV); "And as for his generation, who considered...?" (NASB); "And who could even think about his descendants?" (ISV); "and who shall declare his generation?" (KJV).

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation disambiguates the Hebrew, rendering dôr with genea (generation [of time; of people]; race; family history) and śîâḥ with diēgeomai (tell; relate; describe);4. thus, tēn genean autou tis diēgēsetai;5 "Who will describe his generation?" (NETS)6 This rhetorical question is perhaps most naturally read as a futuristic lament, akin to, "Who will [be left to] relate his family history?" However, this is not the interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 LXX that gained currency in the early church. A future indicative verb in ancient Greek can bear a deliberative rhetorical function more commonly associated with the subjunctive,7 and thus tēn genean autou tis diēgēsetai could be read as, "Who can describe his generation?"

Compare the following instances where the italicised future indicative verb has a deliberative sense, closer to "can" than "will":

      The heart is deep above all else, 
         and so is man, 
         and who [shall? can?] understand him? (Jeremiah 17:9 NETS)

      Sand of seas and drops of rain 
         and days of eternity—who [shall? can?] enumerate? (Sirach 1:2 NETS)

      For who [shall? can?] say, “What have you done?” 
         Or who [shall? can?] withstand your judgment? (Wisdom 12:12 NETS)

BDAG lexicon notes that genea is "a term relating to the product of the act of generating and with special reference to kinship, frequently used of familial connections and ancestry".8 Indeed, the word has a close etymological relationship to gennaō (beget; give birth to). This rhetorical question was therefore ripe for interpretation in line with early Christian beliefs about Jesus' supernatural origin, akin to "Who can describe his lineage/origin?"

This rhetorical question is quoted once in the New Testament, in Acts 8:32-33, where the narrator quotes Isaiah 53:7-8 LXX to explain which passage of Isaiah the Ethiopian eunuch was reading (presumably in Greek). However, while it is obvious from Philip's response that he (and the author of Acts) understand the prophet to be speaking about Jesus, no specific interpretation of the rhetorical question is provided. While numerous NT writers (some cited above) understand the Song of the Suffering Servant messianically, unfortunately no divinely inspired interpretation of the rhetorical question in Isaiah 53:8b is preserved. All is not lost, however, since a number of early patristic writers have left their interpretations on record.

The earliest clear reference—after Acts 8:33—to our rhetorical question in extant early Christian literature is found in Justin Martyr's first Apology, written in the mid-second century.9 The apologist declares,
And in order that the prophetic Spirit might make known to us that the one who suffers these things has an ancestry that cannot be described and reigns over his enemies, it spoke thus: ‘Who shall describe his descent? Because his life is removed from the earth, he has come to death from their crimes. (1 Apology 51.1)10
In his later work, the Dialogue with Trypho, Justin refers to our text no less than five times. It refers to the "mystery of the birth of Christ," which is "inexpressible" (Dialogue 43.3; cf. 89.3); showing that he "did not have mere human origin" (63.2); "that he is not of human generation" (68.4); "that his origin is indescribable, and no mere man has such an origin" (76.2).11 Thus, for Justin, Isaiah 53:8b refers to the virgin birth, but also to Christ having an indescribable "ancestry" (Greek: genos) and being divine ("no mere man").

In his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus writes:
Then he says: Who shall declare His generation? Lest we despise Him as a man insignificant and of little account, because of His foes and because of the pains of His sufferings, this was said to put us right; for He who underwent all these things has a generation that cannot be declared, for ‘generation’ means His lineage, and that is, His Father is beyond declaration and expression. Recognise, therefore, even this as the lineage of Him who underwent all these sufferings, and despite Him not for the sufferings which He deliberately underwent for thy sake; but fear Him for His lineage. (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 70)12 
Irenaeus has, like Justin, understood genea in the sense "ancestry" or "lineage," which is indescribable because Christ was begotten by God himself.

The Acts of Peter is an apocryphal acts that focuses primarily on a wonder-working contest between Peter and the heretic Simon Magus. The composition of the text is usually dated to the late second century, although it survives only in a Latin version of the fourth century, whose faithfulness to the lost Greek original is a subject of some debate.13

In an exchange in the Acts concerning the deity of Christ, Simon Magus asks, "Men of Rome, is a God born? Is he crucified? Whoever has a master is no God." Peter responds, "Cursed be your words against Christ. You spoke in these terms whereas the prophet says of him, 'Who shall declare his generation?'" (Acts of Peter 23-24)14 Evidently, this work understands Isaiah 53:8 as attesting to the ineffability of Christ's origin, and thus as refuting Simon Magus' challenge, "Is a God born?"

Tertullian, writing around the beginning of the third century, interprets our text in a slightly more mundane way, as referring to people's inability to recognise Christ in his human condition, rather than to the incomprehensibility per se of his origin:
Then those who pierced him will know who he is, and will smite their breasts, tribe to tribe—because in fact they formerly failed to recognize him in the humility of human condition: ‘And he is a man,’ says Jeremiah, ‘and who shall know him?’ Because also, Isaiah says, ‘His nativity, who shall tell of it?’ (Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.7.6)15

Eusebius, in his work Proof of the Gospel, written a decade or less before the Council of Nicaea of 325 (which he attended), anticipates its language about Christ in his interpretation of Isaiah 53:8, which he understands to be about "the ineffable generation" of the Son (Proof of the Gospel 4.15.53).16 Indeed, this is a very important biblical passage for Eusebius:
I am accustomed to quote in every question that is debated about His Godhead, that reverent saying: 'Who shall declare his generation?' (Proof of the Gospel 4.15.53)17
The following excerpt captures his understanding of the verse, which is indebted to Origen's ideas on the eternal generation of the Son:
the scope of the theology we are considering far transcends all illustrations, and is not connected with anything physical, but imagines with the acutest thought a Son Begotten, not at one time non-existent and existent at another afterwards, but existent before eternal time, and pre-existent, and ever with the Father as His Son, and yet not Unbegotten, but begotten from the Father Unbegotten, being the Only begotten, the Word, and God of God, Who teaches that He was not cast forth from the being of the Father by separation, or scission, or division, but unspeakably and unthinkably to us brought into being from all time, nay rather before all times, by the Father's transcendent and inconceivable Will and Power. 'For who shall describe his generation?' he says, and 'As no one knoweth the Father save the Son, so no one knoweth the Son save the Father that begat Him. (Proof of the Gospel 4.3.13)18

Although the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) was being interpreted Christologically already in the earliest decades of the Christian movement, no canonical interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 LXX ("Who will/can describe his generation?") is preserved in the New Testament. Patristic testimony from the ante-Nicene period suggests that there was an established tradition of reading this question as pointing to the indescribable mystery of Christ's origin.  

  • 1 The full passage reads thus in the NRSV: "13 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. 14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals—15 so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. 53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with affliction. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."
  • 2 Roy A. Rosenberg, "Jesus, Isaac, and the 'Suffering Servant,' Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965): 381.
  • 3 BDB 189-90, 967.
  • 4 BDAG 191-92, 245.
  • 5 Joseph Ziegler (ed.), Septuaginta (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), 14:320.
  • 6 Trans. Moisés Silva, "Esaias," in New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 866.
  • 7 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 465.
  • 8 BDAG 191.
  • 9 There may be an earlier, albeit oblique, allusion to Isaiah 53:8b in the Odes of Solomon, a proto-Gnostic 'hymnbook' usually dated to the early second century. Of the Word of truth, the twelfth Ode says, "And he never falls, but stands firm. And not known (is) his descent nor his way." (Odes 12.6, trans. Franzmann 101). However, while this text may witness to a mystical interpretation of Isaiah 53:8b, the Word in the Odes is an abstract hypostasis not readily identifiable with the person of Christ.
  • 10 Trans. Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 209.
  • 11 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), 118.
  • 12 Trans. Joseph P. Smith, S.J., St. Irenaeus: Proof of the Apostlic Preaching (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1952), 93. Irenaeus also quotes our text in his better-known work (cf. Against Heresies 2.28.5). Here, he uses it against Gnostics who claim to delineate in crudely exact terms the manner of the Word's generation by the Father.
  • 13 Callie Callon, "Acts of Peter," in Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies (2021). doi: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0285
  • 14 Trans. J. K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 527-28.
  • 15 Trans. Ernest Evans, Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 189.
  • 16 Trans. W. J. Ferrar, The Proof of the Gospel, Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea (2 vols.; London: SPCK, 1920), 1:201.
  • 17 Trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:201.
  • 18 Trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:168. See also Proof of the Gospel 5.1.14-25.

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)


...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, 1 May 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (2): "God...will repay; he himself will come and save us" (Isaiah 35:4)

Let us continue our series on the Christological significance of Isaianic texts. In the last article we looked at Isaiah 48:16, observing that the speaker of this text is enigmatic, that the text is alluded to in the Gospel of John, and that early Christian exegetes (specifically Origen of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea) understood the speaker to be Christ.

In this article, we will look at Isaiah 35:4. Let us first consider the passage in its immediate context:
1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-6b NRSV)1
The Septuagint version of v. 4 reads, "Give comfort, you who are faint of heart and mind! Be strong; do not fear! Look, our God is repaying judgment; yes, he will repay; he himself will come and save us" (NETS). It is this last clause (autos hēxei kai sōsei hēmas in Greek) that demands our close attention. The statement places special emphasis on the subject; hence the translation "he himself will come and save us."2 Moreover, the verb hēkō does not merely mean "come" in a generic sense (like erchomai does) but, when used of persons, specifically means "to be in a place as the result of movement to, have come, be present".3 Focusing on the result of the movement more than the movement itself, it signals that God will come and be present with his people.4 While the text certainly does not make explicit reference to the Incarnation, this is one means by which God could have come to be present with his people and so heal their infirmities, as Jesus did according to the Gospels.

Given the emphatic use of autos here ("God...will repay; he himself will come and save us"), it is worth noting some similar language in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, a reference to Christ's second coming when he will raise the dead: "For the Lord himself (autos ho kyrios)...will descend from heaven..." "The Lord" here is obviously Christ; but why has Paul added autos for emphasis? It could, in fact, be an allusion to another Isaianic text:
But now the Lord will stand up to judge, and he will make his people stand to judge them. The Lord himself (autos kyrios) will enter into judgment with the elders of the people and with their rulers. (Isaiah 3:13-14 LXX, NETS)

It is possible that early Christian readers would have seen in the verb "stand" here an allusion to the resurrection.5 But what is clear is that the text foretells that "the Lord himself" will come and be present for judgment (the verb is again hēkō). "The Lord" in the context of Isaiah 3:13-14 is obviously God, but Paul apparently interprets it to refer to Christ. This provides at least prima facie evidence that Paul might have likewise understood the "God" who would himself come in judgment according to Isaiah 35:4 to be Christ.

Isaiah 35 in the New Testament

Isaiah 35 is a chapter that lends itself easily to eschatological interpretation. The image of the desert blossoming, associated with the people seeing the glory of God (vv. 1-2) is a picture of restoration (cf. Acts 3:21). The author of Hebrews, in calling his readers to perseverance that they may receive their eschatological reward, alludes to Isaiah 35:3 ("Be strong, you weak hands and feeble knees") in 12:12.6 The list of miracles in Isaiah 35:5-6 has certainly influenced statements about Jesus' healing ministry, especially in Matthew 11:4-5 and 15:30-31.7 The picture in Isaiah 35:10 of pain and sorrow and sighing having fled away forms part of the background to Revelation 21:4, which states that "mourning and crying and pain will be no more".8 Thus, while the NT never quotes verbatim from Isaiah 35, there is ample evidence that it was understood in the early Church to refer to the blessings of the Messianic age, including those inaugurated at Christ's first coming.

Isaiah 35:4 in the Early Church

At least five ante-Nicene Christian writers interpret Isaiah 35:4 (together with vv. 5-6) as a prophecy about Christ. The first of these is Tertullian (late 2nd or early 3rd century), who writes (within a polemic against the Jews):
Moreover, [I shall demonstrate] the feats of strength [Christ] was going to perform from the Father: ‘Behold, our God shall restore judgement, God shall come and make us well. Then the weak shall be cared for, the eyes of the blind shall see, the ears of the deaf shall hear, the tongues of the mute shall be loosened and the lame shall leap like the dear’, etc. 9.31. Nor are you denying that Christ has done these things, seeing that it is you who used to say that you were throwing stones at him, not on account of his works but because he was doing them on the sabbath. (Adversus Judaeos 9.30-31)9
Evidently, Tertullian takes the words "God shall come and make us well" as fulfilled in Christ's ministry, but does not explicitly state that "God" in this verse refers to Christ. In view of the reference to feats of strength that he performed "from the Father," it is possible that he meant that God (the Father) came vicariously in Christ, or that Christ (here called "God") came from the Father.   

Around 248 A.D., Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, wrote two books of Testimonia, that is, of "topically arranged proof-texts,"10 to one Quirinus. Having quoted many biblical texts (from both Testaments) to show "That Christ is God" (Ad Quirinum 2.6), Cyprian next marshals a series of texts proving "That Christ our God should come as the Enlightener and Saviour of the human race" (Ad Quirinum 2.7).11 The first proof text quoted is Isaiah 35:3-6. This leaves no doubt that Cyprian understood "God" in Isaiah 35:4 to refer to Christ, and thus to be a prophecy of the Incarnation.

At about the same time (c. 240-250), the Roman presbyter Novatian wrote his work de Trinitate, a polemical work defending the Church's doctrine "against the errors of Docetism, Adoptianism, and Modalism."12 Novatian discusses our passage at some length:
(4) The same prophet [Isaiah] says: ‘Be strong, you feeble hands and weak knees; be comforted, you that are faint-hearted, be strong, fear not. Behold, our God will render judgment: He will come and save us; then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shal hear; then shall the lame man leap as the hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be eloquent.’ (5) If the prophet says that these signs—which have already been wrought—will be the future signs of God’s advent, then let the heretics either acknowledge that Christ is the Son of God, at whose coming and by whom these miracles were wrought, or—defeated by the truth of Christ’s divinity and falling into the other heresy—inasmuch as they refuse to confess that Christ is the Son of God and God—let them confess that He is the Father. Since they have been restrained by the words of the prophets, they can no longer deny that Christ is God. (6) What, then, can they reply, when the miracles which were prophesied as taking place at the coming of God, were actually wrought at the advent of Christ? In what way do they think Christ is God? For they can no longer deny that He is God. Do they think He is the Father or the Son? If they accept Him as the Son, why do they deny that the Son of God is God? If they accept Him as the Father, why are they not following those who are seen to hold such blasphemies? At any rate, in this debate with them about the truth, it suffices for our present purpose that, no matter how they are refuted, they confess that Christ, whose divinity they wished to deny, is also God. (de Trinitate 12.4-6)13
Novatian, like Cyprian, believes that Isaiah 35:4 proves Christ's deity. If Isaiah refers to the coming of God and then describes healing works that were in fact performed in history by Christ, it follows that Christ is the "God" that Isaiah prophesied would come.

In the 268/9, a synod in Antioch deposed the Bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, in part for Christological heresy.14 A letter survives addressed to Paul by six other bishops, of whom Hymenaeus of Jerusalem is named first. This letter is known as the Letter of the Six Bishops or the Letter of Hymenaeus.15 I am not aware of any published English translation; what follows is my translation of the Greek.16 The bishops write,
But whomever would resist the Son of God, believing and confessing him not to be God before the foundation of the world, thinking two gods to be announced if the Son of God is declared God, we regard this as alien to the ecclesiastical rule, and all the catholic churches agree with us. For about him it is written…
The bishops proceed to quote a series of biblical proof texts that, in their view, establish that the Son of God is God. The first is Psalm 44(45):6-7, and the second is our text, Isaiah 35:4-6.

Finally, Eusebius of Caesarea discusses our text in his work Proof of the Gospel, written c. 314-324.17 After quoting from Isaiah 35 at length, he writes:
Now we have this prophecy fulfilled in the Gospels, partly, when they brought to our Lord and Saviour a paralytic lying on a bed, whom He made whole with a word; and partly, when many that were blind and possessed with daemons, yea, labouring under various diseases and weaknesses, were released from their sufferings by His saving power. Nor should we forget how even now throughout the whole world multitudes bound by all forms of evil, full of ignorance of Almighty God in their souls, are healed and cured miraculously and beyond all argument by the medicine of His teaching. Except that now we call Him God as we should, as One Who can work thus, as I have already shown in the evidence of His Divinity... For it is God and the Word of God, not one like Moses or the prophets, that was not only the Worker of the Miracles, but is also the Cause of your own strength. And the strongest confirmation of the Divine Power of the Saviour here foretold, by which He really used to cure the lame, the blind, the lepers and the palsied with a word according to that which is written concerning Him, is the power even now energizing through the whole world from His Godhead... And He is our God, since He is the Word of God, [as] it says, 'Gives judgment and will give, He will come and save us.'... He repays justly to the Jewish people the fit penalty for their presumptuous treatment of Him and His prophets, and ever saves in justice as well those who come to Him... And the judgment on them that shall be saved by Him is foretold next in the words, 'He will come and save us; then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf hear,' and that which follows." (Proof of the Gospel 9.13)18
Like Cyprian and Novatian before him, Eusebius saw in this text proof that Christ is God.


Isaiah 35:4 LXX declares that God himself will come and be present and save us. We have observed that Church Fathers both in the West (Cyprian, Novatian, possibly Tertullian) and in the East (Hymenaeus and other bishops, Eusebius) understood Isaiah this text to be a prophecy of the Incarnation, in which God truly did come and make himself physically present to us in the person of his Son, the Word Incarnate. This interpretation is supported by NT allusions to Isaiah 35—which show that the text was understood Messianically—and by the language used in the Septuagint Greek, especially when compared with Paul's language in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

  • 1 All biblical quotations herein, except those from the Septuagint, are taken from the NRSV. Quotations from the Septuagint are taken from Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (eds.), A New English Translation of the Septuagint (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) (hereafter NETS).
  • 2 autos is the third-person pronoun, i.e. "he." However, an ancient Greek sentence does not require a subject to be supplied explicitly, since it is implicit in the verb; hence hēxei kai sōsei hēmas already means "he will come and save us." The inclusion of autos thus places emphasis on the subject. Secondly, word order in ancient Greek is highly flexible; the sentence could have been worded hēxei autos kai hēmas sōsei and would still mean, "he will come and save us." Thus, that autos is the first word places further emphasis on the subject.
  • 3 BDAG 435.
  • 4 Of course, the Masoretic text is no less impressive in declaring, "Here is your God" (cf. Isa. 40:9-10).
  • 5 The verb histēmi ("stand") is the root of the verb anistēm(literally, "stand again") that is a technical term for "raise (from the dead)" in the NT.
  • 6 "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees".
  • 7 Matthew 11:4 "refers again to specific healing miracles as  having messianic significance, as already in the LXX of Isa. 29:18-19; 35:5-6; and 61:1" (Craig L. Blomberg, "Matthew," in Commentary on the Old Testament Use of the New Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 38). "The categories of sick people and the healings performed in Matt. 15:30-31 again recall the prophecies of the miracles that would demonstrate the arrival of the messianic age (esp. Isa. 35:5-6)" (ibid., 54).
  • 8 G. K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough, "Revelation," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1151.
  • 9 Trans. Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 90.
  • 10 Martin C. Albl, "And Scripture Cannot Be Broken": The Form and Function of the Early Christian Testimonia Collections (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 132.
  • 11 Trans. A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1840), 3:37.
  • 12 Russell J. deSimone (trans.), Novatian: The Trinity, The Spectacles, Jewish Foods, In Praise of Purity, Letters (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1974), 14-15.
  • 13 Trans. deSimone, Novatian, 50-51.
  • 14 "Paul rejects the idea that the Logos should be composed (σύνθετος) with a human body, for this would be equivalent to a kind of mingling which is contrary to his dignity or rank as the Son of God… Malchion insists that Jesus Christ is one, composed out of two simple elements, the God-Logos and the human body, which is from the seed of David. The charge laid on Paul is that his rejection of such a model of ‘composition’ implies a denial of the substantial union of the Son of God with the human body. It is insinuated that he conceives of the union in Christ as a participation, presumably of the man Jesus, in the divine Wisdom, who is said to dwell in the former. According to Malchion, Paul’s doctrine of the inhabitation of divine Wisdom is motivated by the intention to protect the Son of God from the humiliating consequences of his kenosis, i.e. from suffering the cost or loss (dispendium) of his being united with a human body." (U. M. Lang, "The Christological Controversy at the Synod of Antioch in 268/9," Journal of Theological Studies 51 [2000]: 66-67.
  • 15 Lang states that de Riedmatten has argued convincingly in favour of its authenticity ("Christological Controversy," 71).
  • 16 Greek text in Martin Josephus Routh, Reliquiae Sacrae, 5 vols. (Oxford: Typographeo academico, 1846-48), 3:291.
  • 17 According to Aaron P. Johnson, the Proof of the Gospel was written during the period 314-324 ("Narrating the Council: Eusebius on Nicaea," in The Cambridge Companion to the Council of Nicaea, ed. Young Kim [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 203). W. J. Ferrar dates the Proof of the Gospel to 314-318, reasoning that some of theological language is too "unguarded" to have been written after the Arian controversy erupted c. 319 (The Proof of the Gospel, Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea [2 vols.; London: SPCK, 1920], 1:xiii).
  • 18 Trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 2:178-79. The word "as" has been inserted in square brackets by me, since Ferrar's translation does not make sense without it. An alternative emendation would be, "And He is our God. Since He is the Word of God, it says, 'Gives judgment...'"

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (1): "The Lord has sent me and his Spirit" (Isaiah 48:16)

This is the first part of a series of posts in which I hope to explore the Christological significance of certain passages in Isaiah.1 Early Christians drew extensively on the Jewish Scriptures to form their understanding of the person and mission of Jesus Christ, and few books influenced them more in this respect than Isaiah. Some of this influence is attested through direct quotations of Isaiah in the New Testament. For example, all four Gospels quote from Isaiah 40:3 to explicate John the Baptist's role in the divine purpose.2 However, the New Testament (NT) does not contain a verse-by-verse commentary on the Old Testament (OT); indeed, the NT only provides us with an Christological interpretation for a relatively small number of OT texts.

Should we conclude that only those OT texts that are explicitly quoted in the NT are legitimate Messianic texts? Or when we read that Jesus "interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27) and that Apollos "powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus" (Acts 18:28), should we suppose that these Scriptures are strictly those cited elsewhere in the NT? Of course not. The OT, when read with the light of Christ, is saturated with Christological significance, and explicit NT quotations only scratch the surface of this.

In this article, we will examine Isaiah 48:16, an OT text that is never quoted in the NT but that (it will be argued) has enormous Christological significance. But before we turn to this passage, we need to ask a question: how can we know that an OT text is Messianic if the NT doesn't say it is? Are we not then merely imposing our own subjective opinions onto the text? Well, not quite. There are at least three lines of evidence by which such a claim can be evaluated objectively

These are: (i) mysterious or enigmatic features in the text; (ii) literary or conceptual echoes of the text in the NT; (iii) the witness of early Christian writers. First, the text may contain enigmas that point the reader toward some deeper significance. An NT example of this phenomenon can be seen in Acts 8:26ff. The Ethiopian eunuch is puzzled about the identity of the Servant figure as he reads Isaiah 53. The mysterious character of the text becomes an opening for the Spirit, speaking through Philip, to reveal the text's Christological significance. Second, even if a text is not explicitly quoted in the NT, there may be allusions or faint echoes that suggest that it had influenced the NT writer's ideas about Christ. Third, early post-apostolic Christian literature testify to how the early Church interpreted OT texts, and in some instances these writers are likely reporting traditional interpretations handed down to them from previous generations of believers. Thus, the temporal and linguistic proximity of these writers to the NT make their witness far more weighty than your or my private opinion.

One last thing needs to be said before we turn to Isaiah 48:16. To assert that a particular OT passage has a Messianic application is not to assert that this is its only meaning. Au contraire, there are arguably very few texts in the Jewish Scriptures that refer at the grammatical-historical level of meaning to the eschatological Messiah—and arguably none that refer to Jesus of Nazareth!3 Rather, Christological meaning, if present, operates as sensus plenior—a subtler spiritual, moral, or eschatological sense that may have been lost on the human author but was intended by the Divine Author. This distinction between grammatical-historical and theological interpretation must be borne in mind or misunderstandings are inevitable.4 One cannot accept the NT as Sacred Scripture and yet insist that the grammatical-historical sense is the only valid meaning of the text, because this is not how the NT writers interpret the OT.5

Isaiah 48:16 occurs in the middle of an oracle in which Yahweh addresses Israel concerning the people's disobedience and his divine mercy and redemptive purpose. It is clear that Yahweh is speaking in the first person:
12 Listen to me, O Jacob, 
      and Israel, whom I called:
     I am He; I am the first,
     and I am the last. 
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens; 
    when I summon them, 
    they stand at attention.6
The first-person address continues in v. 15: "I, even I, have spoken and called him..." and again v. 17 opens with "Thus says Yahweh..." But in v. 16 we have this:
Draw near to me, hear this!
From the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.
And now the Lord Yahweh has sent me and his spirit.
Considering only the first three lines, there is nothing to suggest that the speaker is other than Yahweh, who has been speaking throughout this oracle. Yahweh has been making calls to "Hear" and "See" throughout the oracle (vv. 1, 6, 12, 14). Yahweh emphasises throughout this and other oracles in Isaiah 40-55 that he has existed and declared things from the beginning (vv. 3, 5, 12-14),7 and has not spoken in secret (45:19). Yet the speaker of the last line is obviously distinct from Yahweh, as he says he has been sent by Yahweh.

Who then is the speaker? Even according to the grammatical-historical sense, this question has proven puzzling for biblical scholars; there is no consensus as to its answer. John N. Oswalt summarises the problem and the scholarly positions:
The first three cola of the verse are clear enough, as has just been explained; but the last two constitute a problem that, in turn, raises problems about the first three. The difficulty is in identifying the speaker. It clearly cannot be God, yet there is no indication of a change. Does this mean that the speaker in the first part of the verse is, despite initial impressions, not God? Four basic positions have been taken. (1) The subject of the entire verse is the prophet... (2) the subject of the first three cola is God, and the subject of the last bicolon is the prophet... (3) the subject of the last bicolon is the Messiah... (4) the last bicolon is disarranged from some other place, either accidentally or on purpose...8
According to Claus Westermann, "Editors are unanimous" that the words of v. 16c ("But now, the Lord Yahweh has sent me and his spirit") "cannot possibly be explained in their present context"; he concludes that this fragment is a late addition to the text.9

The Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of Isaiah, which dates to perhaps the second century B.C.,10 follows the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) closely.11 A translation of the Septuagint Greek is:
Draw near to me, and hear these things! 
From the beginning I have not spoken in secret; 
when it happened I was there, 
and now the Lord has sent me and his spirit.12
The Septuagint text proves that, if the last line of Isaiah 48:16 MT is due to a textual disturbance, this disturbance was established by the second century B.C. and was thus almost certainly part of the Scriptures as known to Jesus and the earliest Christians. If it is a corruption, it is a canonical corruption and thus its significance for Christian theology cannot be dismissed.

One question that arises from the last line of Isaiah 48:16 is whether the Spirit is the subject or object: is it "the Lord and his Spirit sent me" or "the Lord sent me and his Spirit"? It happens that the syntax is ambiguous in both the Hebrew and the Greek, but as Oswalt notes, "While the former is grammatically possible, it is unlikely, both syntactically and theologically. See 11:2; 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; 61:1, where in all cases the Spirit is the one sent."13

Thus, to summarise, both the Hebrew and Greek versions of Isaiah 48:16, as they were known at the time of Jesus, contain an enigmatic line in the midst of speech by God where an unidentified speaker said that he and the Spirit have been sent by the Lord.

We have already mentioned that Isaiah 48:16 is never quoted directly in the NT. However, in this section I will argue that echoes of Isaiah 48:16 can be heard in the Gospel of John, and that these echoes indicate that this Evangelist interpreted the unidentified speaker—not only of the last line but of the entire verse—to be the preexistent Logos, the divine Son.

We will observe that there are echoes in John of all four lines of Isaiah 48:16.

Draw near to me and hear these things.

Just as the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 calls on Israel to "Draw near to me" (pros me in LXX), so Jesus in John calls on people to "come to me" (pros me, John 5:40; 6:35, 37, 44, 45, 65; 7:37). Likewise, just as the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 calls on Israel to "Hear this,"14 so in John it is by "hearing" Jesus that people may have eternal life (John 5:24, 25; 10:3, 16, 27; 18:37). Now someone may object that there is no striking parallel here since coming near to and hearing are generic, commonplace ideas. But let us go on.

From the beginning I have not spoken in secret.

The speaker of Isaiah 48:16 declares that he has spoken from the beginning and not in secret (ouk ap' archēs en kryphē elalēsa). At his trial, according to John, Jesus tells the high priest that "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret (kai en kryptō elalēsa ouden)" (John 18:20). Moreover, Jesus in John is one who has spoken from the beginning: he is the Word who was in the beginning (John 1:1), and when asked, "Who are you?" he gives the enigmatic reply, "What I have told you from the beginning" (John 8:25).15 Jesus also tells his disciples that he did not tell them something from the beginning (John 16:4), which implies that he did tell them other things.

When it happened I was there.

The speaker of Isaiah 48:16 declares, "At the time when it happened (or, came into existence), there I was."16 This statement very closely parallels the language about the Logos in John 1:1-3, though it is only apparent from the Greek. In Isaiah 48:16 LXX, the line is hēnika egeneto, ekei ēmēn. The verb egeneto is an aorist of ginomai, which has a broad range of meaning including "come into existence" and "happen."17 Notably, egeneto is used frequently in Genesis 1 LXX to describe the happenings of the creation story.

The verb ēmēn, meanwhile, is an imperfect of eimi, meaning "be." Now here is the fascinating bit: just as in Isaiah 48:16 the aorist egeneto is juxtaposed with an imperfect of eimi, so also in John 1:1-3. Here we read that the Word "was" (ēn, third-person imperfect of eimi) in the beginning with God and that all things "came to be" (egeneto) through him. The shift in verb and tense implies a contrast: while everything else came into existence or happened, the Word simply was. The same contrast is found in Isaiah 48:16: when it came into existence or happened, there I was. The imperfect probably has a durative sense in both cases: things happened, but the Logos/I was there throughout.18

There are other Johannine texts similar to this line from Isaiah 48:16 in John 1:15, 30,19 John 8:58,20 and John 17:5,21 all of which contrast Jesus' primeval and continuous existence with the coming into being of some finite reality.

And now the Lord has sent me and his Spirit.

The theme of Jesus as the one sent by the Father is mentioned many times in the Gospel of John, and significantly, Jesus draws a parallel between the Father's sending of him and the sending of the Holy Spirit:
...the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me... the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:24, 26) 

But now I am going to him who sent me... Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:5, 7)
Isaiah 48:16 is, in fact, the only text in the entire OT that speaks of God sending two figures, one of whom is his Spirit. The order is also striking. In other texts, God sends his Spirit upon people, who then prophesy;22 but here the speaker is sent before the Spirit, just as the Son is in John.

To summarise, then, all four lines of Isaiah 48:16 are closely paralleled in the Fourth Gospel's depiction of Jesus. He is the one who calls people to come to him and hear him. He is the one who has not spoken in secret from the beginning. He is the one who "was" there when things "came to be." He is the one who is sent before God's Spirit. It is not a stretch to say that Isaiah 48:16 functions as a program statement for John's Christology, and has influenced John's view that Christ is both God and distinct from God (John 1:1, 18).

The earliest extant quotations from Isaiah 48:16 in Christian literature are found in the writings of Origen. In his work Contra Celsum, the great Alexandrian exegete writes:
Since, however, it is a Jew who raises difficulties in the story of the Holy Spirit's descent in the form of a dove to Jesus, I would say to him: My good man, who is the speaker in Isaiah that says 'And now the Lord sent me and his spirit'? In this text although it is doubtful whether it means that the Father and the Holy Spirit sent Jesus or that the Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit, it is the second interpretation which is right. After the Saviour had been sent, then the Holy Spirit was sent, in order that the prophet's saying might be fulfilled (1.46).23 
In a briefer comment in his Commentary on Matthew (13.32), Origen follows the same interpretation (the Father sent the Son and the Spirit). In his Commentary on John, however, he takes the opposite view on the "doubtful" issue mentioned above:
How is the Spirit honored, as it were, above the Christ in some Scriptures? In Isaias, Christ admits that he has not been sent by the Father alone, but also by the Holy Spirit (for he says, 'And now the Lord has sent me, and his Spirit')... And if our Lord says, according to Isaias, that he has been sent by the Father and the Spirit, it is possible even there to allege of the Spirit which sent the Christ, that he does not excel him in nature, but that the Savior was made less than him because of the plan of the incarnation of the Son of God which was taking place. (2.79, 81)24
For Origen, therefore, it is clear that the speaker of Isaiah 48:16 is Christ. A few decades later, the same interpretation is attested in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, who comments on the passage both in his Eclogae Propheticae ("Prophetic Extracts") and in his Proof of the Gospel, both of which are ante-Nicene works.25 Some of Eusebius' statements sound very Arian, and he would in fact defend Arius during the Arian controversy but ultimately accepted the creedal formula and anathemas of the Council of Nicaea.26

No English-language translation of the Eclogae Propheticae has yet been published, but—with some assistance from Dr. Logan Williams, for which I am most grateful—I have attempted a translation of the relevant passage below:
‘Draw near to me, and hear these things: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; when it came to be, I was there. And now the Lord, the Lord has sent me and his spirit.’27 Seeing as the person who is speaking these things is one, now who else might be the Lord ‘who created heaven and established it, and made the earth firm,’28 who says, ‘I am the first, and I am forever,’29 and sets things in order, according to all those having interpreted the divine Scripture, ‘and now the Lord God has sent me, and his spirit,’ or [might it be] the sacred Word of God, the first God named after the uncreated beginning of all created things, about whom also it is written elsewhere, ‘he sent his word and healed them,’30 for he is the one ‘through whom all things came into being,’31 even ‘things in heaven and things on earth, whether visible or invisible,’32 whom also the Lord God the Father sent—and with him also the Holy Spirit—so that he will steward the salvation of men? 
But it may be that what is stated is adapted toward the Jews, teaching that the other is the Lord who crafted all things with the God of all, by whom he confesses to having been sent, saying, ‘And now the Lord has sent me,’ and it may be he by whom the Father commanded nature, [saying] ‘Let there be light,’33 at the creation of the world, and ‘Let there be some things and other things,’ and, ‘Let us make man according to our image,’34 for this also in Psalms is inscribed, ‘He spoke and they came into being, he commanded and they were created.’35 For it is evident that the one commanding and saying something commands and orders another besides himself. Indeed really, to examine each word of the passage does not belong to the present undertaking. (Eclogae Propheticae 4.23)36
Eusebius later offers a similar interpretation in his Proof of the Gospel,37 and still later in his Commentary on Isaiah (which post-dates the Council of Nicaea).38

Thus, both extant Christian interpretations of Isaiah 48:16 from the ante-Nicene period hold that the speaker of this scriptural text is Christ, the pre-existent Word. One might object that two witnesses does not constitute overwhelming evidence. Perhaps not, but on the other hand there is zero evidence for any non-Christological interpretation of this text in the early Church.

We have seen that there are three lines of evidence supporting a Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 48:16: (i) the enigmatic character of this text in the original Hebrew; (ii) the echoes of this text in the Gospel of John; and (iii) the testimony of two early Church Fathers, namely Origen of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea. If we accept that Christ is the speaker in the sensus plenior of this passage, what are the Christological implications? Firstly, the text implies Christ's pre-existence, not only because he is able to speak through the words of an OT prophet who prophesied long before his birth, but also because he expressly declares that he has been speaking from the beginning—meaning, in the Isaianic context, the beginning of creation. Secondly, the text implies Christ's divinity, because—apart from the last line about being sent—the speaker of this text claims prerogatives that deutero-Isaiah elsewhere says are exclusively God's. Thirdly, Christ does not make himself God in a Sabellian sense (as though he is the Father himself), but distinguishes himself from God and his Spirit. Just as the Gospel of John says, he is God but also sent by God. In fact, what we have here is an explicit mention of all three Trinitarian persons together, in the Old Testament!
  • 1 See my previous article on Isaiah in John for some background on the Book of Isaiah and "deutero-Isaiah" in particular.
  • 2 Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23.
  • 3 By grammatical-historical meaning, I mean the sense that the human author of the text intended to convey to his contemporary readers.
  • 4 See the Introduction to my article on Genesis 1:26 for a case in point.
  • 5 For two obvious examples, see Matthew's interpretation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 and Paul's interpretation of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10.
  • 6 Bible quotations are from the NRSV unless otherwise indicated, with the exception that "LORD" is substituted with Yahweh for linguistic clarity.
  • 7 Cf. similar statements in Isaiah 40:21, 41:4, 41:26-27, 43:10-13, 45:18-19, 45:21, 46:9-10.
  • 8 The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 278. Oswalt's own view is that the oddity results from "the close identity between God and the prophet"; the prophet switches temporarily from speaking Yahweh's words to speaking in his own person.
  • 9 Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1969), 202-203.
  • 10 Rodrigo F. De Sousa observes that the translator understands "Tarshish" in Isaiah 23 to refer to Carthage. This may indicate that the destruction of Carthage by the Romans in 146 B.C. was regarded as a fulfilment of this prophecy, in which case the translation must be no earlier than 146 ("Isaiah," in The Oxford Handbook of the Septuagint, ed. Alison Salvesen and Michael Timothy Law [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021], 249).
  • 11 One difference is that, while אדני and יהוה are each usually rendered by kyrios in the Septuagint, אדני יהוה is here translated with a single kyrios rather than κύριος κύριος. Interestingly, the Greek text known to Eusebius of Caesarea (discussed below) does have a double kyrios, and Eusebius sees great theological significance in this, as highlighting the superiority of the Father's Lordship to the Word's: "And yet though the Word of God is Himself proclaimed divine by the word ‘Lord,’ He still calls One Higher and Greater His Father and Lord, using with beautiful reverence the word Lord twice in speaking of Him, so as to differentiate His title. For He says here, ‘The Lord, the Lord has sent me,’ as if the Almighty God were in a special sense first and true Lord both of His Only-begotten Word and of all begotten things after Him, in relation to which the Word of God has received dominion and power from the Father, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and therefore Himself holds the title of Lord in a secondary sense" (Proof of the Gospel 5.6, trans. W. J. Ferrar, The Proof of the Gospel, Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea [2 vols.; London: SPCK, 1920], 1:251).
  • 12 Moisés Silva, "Esaias," in New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 861-62. The Greek text is as follows: προσαγάγετε πρός με καὶ ἀκούσατε ταῦτα· οὐκ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ἐν κρυφῇ ἐλάλησα· ἡνίκα ἐγένετο, ἐκεῖ ἤμην, καὶ νῦν κύριος ἀπέσταλκέ με καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ. (Septuaginta, ed. Joseph Ziegler [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983], vol. 14.)
  • 13 Book of Isaiah, 274 n. 61.
  • 14 In the MT the verb is שמע, used famously in Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema.
  • 15 This translation occurs in a footnote in the NRSV; the main translation is, "Why do I speak to you at all?" The Greek of Jesus' reply, tēn archēn ho ti kai lalō humin, is notoriously difficult; see my comments here, where I argued that "What I told you at the beginning" is a plausible translation.
  • 16 The adverb hēnika has the sense "at the time when" (BDAG 439).
  • 17 Here, it translates a form of היה, the Hebrew verb meaning "be" (but which, like ginomai, can also mean "happen"). Incidentally, the divine name Yahweh is etymologically related to the verb היה, as is evident from Exodus 3:14.
  • 18 The Greek imperfect conveys the incompleteness of the action, and often indicates duration over time. For instance, in Job 29:5 LXX, Job reminisces about former days "when I was (ēmēn) very much a person of substance and my children were around me" (NETS).
  • 19 Here, John the Baptist—who is first introduced in the Gospel with the verb egeneto in 1:6 (literally, "there came into existence a man")—says that the one coming after him has surpassed him, because "he was (ēn, imperfect) before me."
  • 20 Here, Jesus declares, "Before Abraham was (genesthai, aorist infinitive), I am (eimi, present tense)." I have commented in more detail on this text here.
  • 21 Here, Jesus petitions the Father to glorify him "with the glory that I had (eichon, imperfect) in your presence before the world existed (einai, present infinitive)."
  • 22 See, e.g., Num. 11:29; 3 Kgdms 10:6; 2 Chr. 20:14-15; Isa. 59:21.
  • 23 Trans. Henry Chadwick, Contra Celsum: Translated with an Introduction and Notes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 42.
  • 24 Trans. Ronald E. Heine, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel according to John, Books 1-10 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989), 114-15.
  • 25 According to Aaron P. Johnson, the former work (which is the surviving part of Eusebius' General Elementary Introduction) was written before Eusebius became Bishop of Caesarea in 313, while the Proof of the Gospel was written during the period 314-324 ("Narrating the Council: Eusebius on Nicaea," in The Cambridge Companion to the Council of Nicaea, ed. Young Kim [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 203). W. J. Ferrar dates the Proof of the Gospel to 314-318, reasoning that some of theological language is too "unguarded" to have been written after the Arian controversy erupted c. 319 (The Proof of the Gospel, 1:xiii).
  • 26 Eusebius has sometimes been accused of selling out on his theological convictions at the Council of Nicaea, but Johnson ("Narrating the Council") argues that the Council's language was in fact compatible with Eusebius' theology.
  • 27 Isaiah 48:16. Eusebius actually quotes Isaiah 48:12-16 but for sake of brevity my translation begins from v. 16.
  • 28 Isaiah 42:5.
  • 29 Isaiah 48:12.
  • 30 Psalm 106:20 LXX.
  • 31 Cf. John 1:3, 10.
  • 32 Colossians 1:16.
  • 33 Genesis 1:3.
  • 34 Genesis 1:26.
  • 35 Psalm 32:9; 148:5 LXX.
  • 36 Greek text in Thomas Gaisford, Eusebii Pamphili, Episcopi Caesariensis: Eclogae Propheticae [Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico, 1842], 205-206.
  • 37 "See now how He that says, ‘I am the first, and I am the last. He that established the earth and the heaven,’ clearly confesses that He was sent by ‘the Lord, the Lord,’ calling the Father Lord twice, and you will have undeniable evidence of what we seek. And He says that He is first among beings begotten in all reverence since He allots Being, original, unbegotten, and beyond the first, to the Father. For the customary meaning of first in the sense of ‘first of a greater number,’ superior in honour and order, would not be applicable to the Father. For the Almighty God of course is not the first of created things, since the idea of Him does not admit of a beginning. He must be beyond and above the first, as Himself generating and establishing the First, and the Divine Word alone is to be called the First of all begotten things. So if we ask with reference to the words, ‘He spake and they were made, he commanded and they were created,’ to which of the begotten beings He gave the command to create, we see now clearly that it was given to Him, Who said, ‘My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand has made the heaven strong’: Who also confesses that He was sent by One greater than Himself, when He says: ‘Now the Lord, the Lord has sent me, and his Spirit.’ And it must be the Word of God Who said also, ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made firm,’ if we compare the Psalm. And yet though the Word of God is Himself proclaimed divine by the word ‘Lord,’ He still calls One Higher and Greater His Father and Lord, using with beautiful reverence the word Lord twice in speaking of Him, so as to differentiate His title. For He says here, ‘The Lord, the Lord has sent me,’ as if the Almighty God were in a special sense first and true Lord both of His Only-begotten Word and of all begotten things after Him, in relation to which the Word of God has received dominion and power from the Father, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and therefore Himself holds the title of Lord in a secondary sense" (Proof of the Gospel 5.6.1-7, trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:250-51); "You have here the Lord sent and the Lord sending, that is to say the Father and God of the Universe, entitled Lord twice as was usual" (Proof of the Gospel 6.22, trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 2:43-44).
  • 38 Eusebius indicates that it is "the Word" who is speaking in this passage, and comments, "For when the Father planned these things, I was with him, and now the Lord himself, who is God over all, sent me his Spirit of holiness in order that I might accomplish once and for all the things that he has ordained." (Eusebius, Commentary on Isaiah 305-306, trans. Jonathan J. Armstrong, Eusebius of Caesarea: Commentary on Isaiah [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013], 239).