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Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Perspective

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 Edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser

The prophetic writings of the Old Testament include some of the most challenging and illuminating passages in the whole canon. The interpretation of these prophetic passages in the New Testament provides a lens by which we understand the coming of Jesus. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is a collection of rich essays by evangelical scholars focusing in on the value of Isaiah 53 for academic and apologetic discussion. The book's divisions are threefold: Interpretations of Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53 and Biblical Theology, and Isaiah 53 and Practial Theology. What I found to be very helpful in these divisions is the insistence in bringing together various interpretations of Isaiah 53 and the role these understandings have on belief (in and outside the church).

Part I of the book relates interpretations of Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian thought with analysis taking into consideration non-evangelical sources as well. Richard Averbeck's diagram taken from the work of Franz Delitzsch was helping in pointing out three levels in understanding the Servant Songs (a single servant, a remnant, and the elect nation as a whole, 37). Furthermore, against the tide of mainstream scholarship Averbeck argues for a single authorship of the book of Isaiah with a unique twist. He writes, "..yet I add that this one Isaiah went through a number of distinct stages in his life and prophetic activity" (38). I think this is an important issue because it brings out some coherency and consistency within the message of the prophet of Isaiah that could lost if we were to take a multiple author view of Isaiah. Overall, this first part was good in providing a foundation in understanding for why Jewish people see Isaiah 53 as having already been fulfilled or still waiting to be fulfilled.

Part II was important in providing rationale for the importance of Isaiah 53 in the New Testament. Michael J. Wilkins points out that its much more than just direct quotations from Isaiah 53 that we find in the Gospels, but allusions and echoes scattered throughout the narratives. Wilkins goes on to point out that in Matthew 8 that "Matthew draws upon this prophecy to link Jesus' healing ministry with the substitutionary atonement theme of Isaiah 53" (122). The healings of Jesus by various sick people point towards the ultimate healing that people will find in the death of Jesus for sin. This second part of the book is remarkable in taking the quotes and illusions of Isaiah 53 in the NT and shedding light on the whole of God's plan for all of creation.

The last part of the book looks at the way in which Isaiah 53 can be used to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen Ministries, an organization with a view to evangelizing Jews gives some important keys to talking to Jewish people. He points out that using Isaiah 53 alone usually will not lead to change, but the ideas of making a friend, being a servant, and seeking to avoid monologues goes a long way in providing a voice for the good news (245-246). The reminder of Francis Schaeffer is helpful here that the gretest apologetic tool one can give is the witness of a life devoted to Christ.

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 was a remarkable work! I had not even considered seeing the apologetic value of using Isaiah 53 in talking to people about Jesus before. The great takeaway for me from the book was the unmistakable connection between a sound interpretation of Isaiah 53 in its own context and the willingness to see how it was used in the NT as creedence for the coming of Jesus. There is great value in seeing that understanding the specifics of Isaiah 53 and applying them to Jesus works much better than just seeing Israel as the suffering servant. Interpreting Isaiah 53 as speaking proleptically of Jesus is not out of line with a good interpretation of the prophet, but speaks more clearly of all the details involved in the Servant Songs. I hope this book has a wide reading in Christian and Jewish circles. Secondly, this book is a great resource for those wanting to start conversations with those from a Jewish background.

Much thanks to Kregel Publications for the complimentary review copy of this book.

 For more information on upcoming Kregel Academic and Professional book see the website below:


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