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Isaiah the Prophet

The Orthodox Church commemorates Isaiah the Prophet on May 9. Isaiah is often considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Christians often refer to the Book of Isaiah as the “fifth Gospel. ” The Book of Isaiah is quoted 411 times in the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke (4:16-19) reports that when Jesus began his public ministry he read from the Book of Isaiah (chapter 61:1-2, and the entire chapter is worth reading).

Christian readers have made a direct connection between the prophecies of Isaiah and Jesus Christ. We heard those prophecies very strongly during Lent and Holy Week, especially as they relate to the theme of the Passion of Christ. For example, read the entirety of chapter 53. We also hear them at Christmastime. For example, read chapter 9. And of course, read chapter 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. ‘Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’”

In our Liturgy, we hear the words of Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3). We connect the reception of Holy Communion with the moment in the same chapter when a Seraphim places a burning coal from the altar and places it on the mouth of Isaiah, saying “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7). The clergy recite these words after they receive Holy Communion.

The Book of Isaiah is well worth studying in depth. Before beginning your study, it’s always a good idea to read the introduction to that book of the Bible that the editors have prepared. You can learn a great deal, such as what is known about the author, when the book was written, what are its major themes, and other useful things. For example, Isaiah actively preached for about forty years, between roughly 740-690 BC.

Trying to place a date on a text that is more than two millennia old is difficult. Scholars look for clues in the text that can connect it to other events. They also consider the themes and language being used in the text. From their investigations, scholars have presumed that multiple authors wrote parts of the Book of Isaiah at different times. As a result, they refer to chapters 1-39 as First Isaiah, 40-66 as Second Isaiah, and some believe chapters 55-66 might even reflect a third author, thus a Third Isaiah. First Isaiah is assigned to the time of Isaiah himself. The remainder can be timed to roughly 539 BC. Look up the Great Isaiah scroll on line to see an almost entire text of the book that was found in 1947 at Qumran, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

While this is all very interesting, we have to accept the Book of Isaiah as it has come down to us, as a whole text. As you study the book and the writings of this great prophet, as exemplified in the passages referenced above, you will find a call to justice and the promise of a restored Israel, and the promise of a savior of the people. 

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