Friday, November 2, 2012

A Review of the Gospel According to Isaiah 53

(The fine folks at Kregel Academic sent me this review copy. Having said this, I have done my best to offer an objective review of the volume's contents.)

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser (eds), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2012).

This volume is unique in many ways. First, it has an evangelistic focus in that Chosen People Ministries and Mitch Glaser has envisioned this project to “reach Jewish people with the message of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, as he is described and extolled in Isaiah 53 (22).” Thus, it should be no surprise that evangelical scholars such as Darrell Bock, Walter Kaiser, Robert Chisholm and a host of others teamed up to organize and recruit the other contributors to this volume. The volume is divided into three parts: Interpretation of Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology, and Isaiah 53 in Practical Theology. The first part is kicked off by Richard Averbeck, Director of the PhD Program in Theological Studies and Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Averbeck kicks off the volume by examining Isaiah 53 by examining Christian interpretations of Isa 52.13-53.12. Averbeck, using Franz Delitzsch’s three-level pyramid on interpretive choices on Isaiah 53, helpfully lays much of the groundwork for his essay, as he looks at options such as the servant denoting a broad reference to Israel as an elect nation, a remnant within Israel, and a single servant who suffers vicariously on behalf of Israel. Overall, I found agreement with Averbeck’s position that Jesus takes up the role of the latter in a representative role on behalf of Israel.

 Next, Michael L. Brown looks at Jewish rabbinic interpretations of the servant in Isaiah 53. While he notes that most of the rabbi’s view the Servant as Israel, he does note some exceptions that narrow this figure to an individual. In section two, Walter Kaiser kicks off the proceedings with a chapter that examines the identity and mission of the Servant of the Lord. Like most things I have read by Kaiser, I found myself a bit perplexed at the exegetical gymnastics that he performs to argue his point. For example, Kaiser, in this reader’s opinion, undermines the first-person plural pronouns in Isaiah 53, which represents Israel, by stating that the Holy Spirit may have deliberately left the identity of the speaker vague “so that anyone could read these verses and put themselves in the same confession” (100).

Following Brown, Michael Wilkins contributes an essay that examines the role of Isaiah 53 in the Gospels with a special focus on Matthew, where most of the allusions occur. I had no major quibbles with Wilkins work, as I too share his opinion that Jesus’ self-identification is to be found in the role of the suffering servant of Isa 53. After Wilkins, Darrell Bock contributes an interesting essay on the ways in which the MT and the LXX of Isaiah 53 may have impacted Acts 8. This may be the most technical essay of the entire volume but it pays a careful reading.

 Next, Craig Evans contributes a chapter that looks at the remainder of the NT and also provides an interesting survey of the ways Isaiah 53 has impacted the theologies of Peter, both in Acts and his letters, Paul, and lastly, John. For Evans, the Suffering Servant Hymn laid at the heart of early evangelism aimed at the synagogue. David Allen’s contribution, despite repetition with the others in this work, lies in his reading of Leviticus 5-7, 16 as atonement, thus comparing Isaiah 53 role of the Servant to this conclusion allows him to see Jesus’ sacrifice as one of atonement for the nation of Israel.

 Robert Chisholm concludes this section by looking at the themes of forgiveness and salvation in Isaiah 53. Language such as “lifting up” and “taking away” are examined here. Chisholm concludes that the Servant’s redemptive work entails release from exile and restoration to the Promised Land, while making forgiveness of sins and covenant renewal possible. Part III, an area of the volume that I did not read thoroughly has contributions from John Feinberg on Post-Modern Themes in Isaiah 53, Mitch Glaser in using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism, Donald Sunukjian on Preaching Isaiah 53, and a conclusion by Darrell Bock which attempts to draw the disparate essays together in the end.

Conclusion: Like many volumes, essays can tend to be uneven in terms of the level of writing, scholarship, etc. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is no exception. However, there is some real gems in this volume, Bock’s and Evans’ essays immediately spring to mind. That being said, this book is forthrightly evangelical. The contributors of this volume make no apologies for this, but one needs to be aware that this is the presuppositional starting point. This may grate on some nerves when approaching this volume, as it tends to take on apologetic overtones, see especially the contribution by Kaiser. Overall, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 makes a fine contribution to the ongoing discussions as to the identity of the Servant, but will probably not be the final or definitive word on this hotly contested topic.

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