Prophet Isaiahby Richard D. Draper
It is the emphasis on Isaiah's words in LDS scripture that necessitates a treatment of his writings under four titles:
The article Authorship deals with the issue of the single authorship of the book of Isaiah in light of the existence of an Isaiah text possessed by Book of Mormon Peoples as early as 600 B.C. The article Texts in the Book of Mormon focuses on the question of what can be learned about the history of the text of Isaiah's book from the portions preserved in the Book of Mormon. Many of Isaiah's words that are preserved and commented on in LDS scripture have to do with the latter days, a matter that is taken up in the article Interpretations in Modern Scripture. The resulting LDS interest in Isaiah has led to a number of studies that are treated in the article Commentaries on Isaiah.
Authorship of Isaiahby Victor L. Ludlow
Of the writings in the Old Testament, the message of Isaiah enjoys high priority among Latter-day Saints. The attraction derives primarily from the extensive use of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Secondarily, chapter 11 of Isaiah was quoted to Joseph Smith in a vision in his earliest days as a prophet (JSH 1:40) and became the subject of a section in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 113). In addition, Jesus Christ has given revelations about, and prophets and apostles of the latter days have frequently quoted from and commented upon Isaiah's words when instructing the Saints.
Traditionally, the book of Isaiah has been ascribed to a prophet living in the kingdom of Judah between 740 and 690 B.C. In Germany during the late 1700s, several scholars challenged this view, claiming that chapters 40-66 were written by one or more other individuals as late as 400 B.C. because of the specific references to events that occurred after Isaiah's death. This outlook now permeates many Bible commentaries and has led to the postulation of a second prophetic writer who is commonly called in scholarly literature "Deutero-Isaiah." Indeed, a wide variety of theories regarding the date and authorship of Isaiah now exist. However, LDS belief in revelation and the seership of prophets, along with the quotations from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and its admonitions to study his writings, have reinforced Latter-day Saints in the traditional view concerning the date and authorship of Isaiah, in the following ways.
First, while some scholars argue that prophets could not see the future and that, therefore, the later chapters of Isaiah must have been written after Isaiah's time (e.g., Isa. 45 concerning Cyrus), Latter-day Saints recognize that prophets can see and prophesy about the future. In chapters 40-66, Isaiah prophesies of the future, just as the apostle John does in Revelation 4-22, and the prophet Nephi1 in 2 Nephi 25-30.
Second, the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi and his family left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and took with them scriptural writings on plates of brass that contained much of the Old Testament, including Isaiah (1 Ne. 5:13; 19:22-23). Book of Mormon prophets taught from the brass plate records, not only from chapters 1-39, which are usually assigned by scholars to the prophet Isaiah of the eighth century B.C., but also from the later chapters, the so-called Deutero-Isaiah. For example, Isaiah chapters 48-54 are all quoted in the Book of Mormon, with some passages mentioned a number of times (1 Ne. 20-21; 2 Ne. 6:16-8:25; Mosiah 12:21-24; 14; 15:29-31; 3 Ne. 16:18-20; 20:32-45; 22). Hence, the existence of a virtually complete Isaiah text in the late seventh century B.C., as witnessed by the Book of Mormon, negates arguments for later multiple authorship, whether those arguments be historical, theological, or literary.
Finally, other significant witnesses exist for the single authorship of Isaiah, including Jesus Christ in particular (cf. Matt. 13:14-15; 15:7-9; Luke 4:17-19; 3 Ne. 16, 20-22). Indeed, after quoting much from Isaiah 52 (3 Ne. 16:18-20; 20:32-45) and repeating Isaiah 54 in its entirety (3 Ne. 22), the resurrected Jesus Christ admonished his Book of Mormon disciples to study Isaiah's words and then said, "A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel" (3 Ne. 23:1-2).
Jewish and Christian traditions from the earliest times have supported the single authorship of Isaiah. The Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient texts also give no hint of multiple authorship. Latter-day Saints accept the words of the risen Jesus that Isaiah was a seer and revelator whose prophecies, as recorded throughout his book, will eventually all be fulfilled (3 Ne. 23:1-3). Particularly from Jesus' attribution of Isaiah 52 and 5 4 to the ancient prophet have Latter-day Saints concluded that the book of Isaiah is the inspired work of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.
Adams, Larry L., and Alvin C. Rencher. "A Computer Analysis of the Isaiah Authorship Problem." BYU Studies 15 (Autumn 1974):95-102.
Anderson, Francis I. "Style and Authorship." The Tyndale Paper 21 (June 1976):2.
Gileadi, Avraham. A Holistic Structure of the Book of Isaiah. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.
Kissane, E. J. The Book of Isaiah, 2 vols. Dublin, Ireland, 1941, 1943.
Ludlow, Victor L. Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Salt Lake City, 1981.
Tvedtnes, John A. "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon." In Isaiah and the Prophets, ed. M. Nyman. Provo, Utah, 1984.
Young, Edward J. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1949.
Texts In the Book of Mormon
by Legrande Davies
The Isaiah texts quoted in the Book of Mormon are unique. They are the only extant Isaiah texts that have no "original" language source with which the translation can be textually compared. These English texts date to the translation and initial publication of the Book of Mormon (1829).
These Isaiah texts were quoted and paraphrased by many Book of Mormon prophets who had a copy of Isaiah on the plates of brass. Attempts to determine the authenticity of those Book of Mormon Isaiah texts by comparing them with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts of Isaiah hold interest, but such efforts are moot because the ancient texts behind the Book of Mormon Isaiah translation are not available for study. However, much can be learned by comparing the numerous ancient versions and translations of Isaiah with the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts. Such comparisons result in granting the Book of Mormon Isaiah full recensional status.
The Isaiah materials in the Book of Mormon exhibit many similarities to those in the King James translation of the Bible, which would seem to indicate that both share a Hebrew Masoretic origin. However, many other peculiarities in the Book of Mormon texts point to an origin related to texts similar to those from which the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate were derived. These peculiar readings are significant enough that they preclude relegating the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts to being a mere copy of the King James Version. The Isaiah texts found in English translation in the Book of Mormon possess a distinctive character that indicates a unique textual origin. The important question is not, "Are the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts authentic?" Rather, the issue is, "Do the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts provide clear evidence of variant texts besides those normally acknowledged?" Should they not be considered as valid as, say, the Dead Sea Isaiah texts?
One of the major criticisms of the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts is that they contain parts of what have come to be termed "First Isaiah" and "Deutero-Isaiah" by Bible scholars. It is evident that the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts provide evidence contravening modern theories of multiple authorship of Isaiah's book (see Isaiah: Authorship); for if the origins of the Isaiah material in the Book of Mormon are accepted as stated by its authors, then by 600 B.C. the book of Isaiah was essentially as it is today. The chief value of textual criticism, in this case, is to help identify special themes and language patterns, that is, to provide a better understanding of the message, not a determination of authorship. The most viable and certainly the most productive option for determining the origin of the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts is therefore an internal examination.
The Book of Mormon indicates that in "the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" (1 Ne. 1:4) the prophet Nephi1 and his brothers retrieved from Jerusalem a "record" written by their ancestors on plates of brass (1 Ne. 3- 4), which they carried with them to the Western Hemisphere. Included in the record were prophecies of Isaiah (1 Ne. 19:22-23; cf. 5:13). All of the Isaiah texts in the Book of Mormon are quotations from that record, except perhaps those cited by the risen Jesus (cf. 1 Ne. 16, 21- 22). Whether quoting directly or paraphrasing, Book of Mormon prophets were trying to do two things: "persuade [people] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer" (1 Ne. 19:23) and reveal the plans of God for his people, as noted by the prophet Isaiah (e.g., 2 Ne. 25:7; Hel. 8:18-20; 3 Ne. 23:1-2). These features give a singular quality to the Isaiah texts of the Book of Mormon, because it preserves almost exclusively the texts pertaining to salvation and saving principles and ignores Isaiah's historical material. The concerns of Book of Mormon prophets were doctrinal, and passages were utilized to expound their testimonies. Moreover, the passages that concern salvation from the later chapters of Isaiah are presented to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah (cf. Mosiah 13:33-15:31, which cites Isa. 53; 52:7, 8-10). While nineteenth-century biblical scholarship held that the concept of a "saving Messiah" arose after the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.) and therefore the later chapters of Isaiah are to be dated to the end of the sixth century or later, the Book of Mormon texts obviously undermine that theory.
Minor changes in the Book of Mormon Isaiah texts have been made since the publication of the work in 1830. These changes in recent editions have attempted to correct early errors in printing and to bring the Isaiah texts of the present edition into "conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith" ("A Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon," 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon). None of these changes has been substantive.
Eissfeldt, Otto. The Old Testament: An Introduction, pp. 303-346. New York, 1965.
Nibley, Hugh. Since Cumorah, pp. 111-34. In CWHN 7.
Sperry, Sidney B. Answers to Book of Mormon Questions. Salt Lake City, 1967.
Tvedtnes, John A. "The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon." F.A.R.M.S. Paper. Provo, Utah, 1981.
by Monte S. Nyman
Isaiah was one of the most important prophetic writers in the Old Testament. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, modern LDS scriptures, confirm this assessment and contain extensive commentaries on his writings. The Book of Mormon quotes 425 verses and paraphrases many others from the book of Isaiah, taken from the plates of brass, a record brought to the Western Hemisphere by the prophet Lehi and his family (c. 600 B.C.). The Book of Mormon quotations from Isaiah are accompanied by the interpretations of Nephite prophets and the resurrected Jesus Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants likewise contains quotations and paraphrases of Isaiah, many illuminating the setting for and relevance of the fulfillment of his prophecies.
THE BOOK OF MORMON. The prophets in the Book of Mormon explicitly praise the writings of Isaiah and provide a thorough commentary thereon. Besides three early Nephite prophets, Nephi1, Jacob, and Abinadi, who quoted extensively from and explained the meanings of Isaiah, the resurrected Jesus Christ, when he visited the Nephites (A.D. 34), commanded his hearers to "search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah" (3 Ne. 23:1). Most Book of Mormon citations of Isaiah concern two themes: (1) the testimony that Jesus Christ would come into the world to save it (1 Ne. 19:23; cf. 2 Ne. 9:5-12), and (2) pronouncements that even though the Lord would scatter Israel, he would gather and restore them, fulfilling the covenants that he made with Abraham and Israel (2 Ne. 6:5; cf. 9:1-2).
Concerning the house of Israel, Nephi's earliest citation of Isaiah (chaps. 48-49) emphasized two types of scattering: that of large segments of the tribes of Israel, and that of small groups among the nations of the earth (1 Ne. 22:3-5; cf. Isa. 49:1-13). Scattered Israelites of both types would be nursed temporally and spiritually among the gentiles. The temporal assistance to Israelites would lead to a dependency on Gentiles for survival. The spiritual nursing would come through a "marvelous work" that would gather Israel out of obscurity and darkness and bring them to the knowledge of their Redeemer (1 Ne. 22:6-12).
Nephi presented his longest quotation of Isaiah 2-14 (2 Ne. 12-24) as a third witness of Israel's Redeemer. Nephi, his brother Jacob, and Isaiah had each seen the Redeemer (as the premortal Jesus Christ) face to face (2 Ne. 11:2-3; cf. 2 Ne. 16:1-7). Nephi's own vision (1 Ne. 11:13-20) clarified Isaiah's words pointing to the coming of Christ (cf. 2 Ne. 17:14; 19:6-7 [i.e., Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7]).
Nephi's commentary on Isaiah 2-14 describes what was to happen to the Jews (2 Ne. 25:9-21; cf. Isa. 3:1-15; 5:1-7), to Nephi's own people (2 Ne. 25:22-26:11; cf. Isa. 29:1-4), and among the Gentiles (2 Ne. 26:12-28:32; cf. Isa. 3:16-4:1). Nephi knew by revelation that when the Book of Mormon would come forth among Gentiles, churches would be lifted up in pride and learning, secret combinations would prevail, and priestcraft would flourish (2 Ne. 26:14-33; cf. Isa. 3:16-4:1; 2 Ne. 13:16-14:1). By contrast, he foresaw that beautiful branches of Israel would be cleansed and grow in both Zion and Jerusalem and that they would be protected by the Lord (Isa. 4:2-6; 2 Ne. 14:2-6). Expanding Isaiah's prophecy, Nephi prophesied that Gentiles who repented would be numbered with the house of Israel and become heirs of the promised blessings (2 Ne. 30:1-3). He affirmed that his own people would again receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and become a pure and delightsome people (2 Ne. 30:4-6). He foretold the gathering of Jews to Jerusalem, as they would begin to believe in Christ, and also as a delightsome people (2 Ne. 30:7).
The prophet Abinadi (c. 150 B.C.) said that all the prophets had spoken concerning Christ's coming (Mosiah 13:33-35), and he quoted Isaiah 53 as an example (cf. Mosiah 14). In one of the most lucid explanations of the ministry and Atonement of Christ, Abinadi explained that chapter 53 of Isaiah underscored that "God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people," and that, because of his redemption, he would stand "betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, and satisfied the demands of [God's] justice" (Mosiah 15:1-9).
During his first visit among Book of Mormon Peoples, the resurrected Jesus cited Isaiah 52 and 5 4 among his principal texts. He declared that when the words of Isaiah were fulfilled, the covenants made to the house of Israel would be fulfilled (3 Ne. 20:11-12). The gospel will be taught to Jews in their scattered locations and, after they accept it, they will return to Jerusalem and teach their own people (3 Ne. 20:29-35; cf. Isa. 52:8-10). Jesus gave his hearers a sign that the restoration of Jews to Jerusalem would indicate that the restoration had already begun among other Israelites in Zion, the Americas (3 Ne. 21:1-7; Isa. 52:1-3, 6-7, 11-12). In a reference to the "marred" servant of Isaiah 52:13-15, he spoke of the servant's "marvelous work." While the marred servant was clearly the mortal Jesus (Mosiah 15:1-9), Isaiah's words form a dual prophecy because the resurrected Jesus said that it also referred to a latter-day servant. Latter-day Saints believe that this servant was the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the marvelous work referred to was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel (3 Ne. 21:8-11).
While expanding on Isaiah's words, Jesus foretold the building of the New Jerusalem in the Western Hemisphere by a remnant of the house of Israel, assisted by converted Gentiles (3 Ne. 21:22-25; cf. 20:22). The gospel is to be preached among the various groups of the house of Israel, including the Lamanites and the lost tribes (3 Ne. 21:26).
THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS. Also a rich source for interpreting and applying the prophecies of Isaiah, the Doctrine and Covenants has over seventy quotations from or paraphrases of Isaiah. Two themes are prevalent: the gospel will be restored, and Israel will be gathered. For example, the "marvelous work and a wonder" (Isa. 29:14) is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (D&C 6:1); God's "strange act" (Isa. 28:21) refers to the restoration of the Church and its temple ordinances (D&C 95:4); the "good tidings" published "upon the mountains" (Isa. 52:7) consist of the preaching of the gospel to all nations (D&C 19:29); and the restoration of the tribes of Jacob from among the nations (Isa. 49:6) means the return of scattered Israel to their lands of promise (D&C 133:26-33).
Other themes include the building of the latter-day Zion and her stakes (Isa. 54:1-2; D&C 82:14) as well as the old Jerusalem (Isa. 52:1-2; D&C 113:7-10); verification that Jesus is the only Savior of the world (Isa. 43:11; D&C 76:1); and details of his second coming (Isa. 63:3-6; 64:1-5; D&C 133:37-52). Finally, many anticipated events are interpreted to be millennial occurrences (Isa. 65; D&C 101:30-31).
Ludlow, Victor L. Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Salt Lake City, 1982.
Nyman, Monte S. Great Are the Words of Isaiah. Salt Lake City, 1980.
by Ann N. Madsen
The book of Isaiah is one of the most frequently cited prophetic works within LDS scripture. When the Book of Mormon people left Jerusalem, they carried records on plates of brass that contained many Old Testament books predating 600 B.C., including Isaiah. Early in their narratives, Nephi1 and his brother, Jacob, quoted extensively from Isaiah. Later, the resurrected Jesus admonished his hearers in the Americas to search the words of Isaiah diligently, for "great are the words of Isaiah" (3 Ne. 23:1).
Latter-day Saints see many of Isaiah's prophecies fulfilled in contemporary events. When the angel Moroni appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith on September 21-22, 1823, he quoted Isaiah 11 and said it was "about to be fulfilled" (JSH 1:40). Isaiah 29 is also seen as a prophecy anticipating the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith's teachings contain many references to Isaiah, especially about the last days before the second coming of Christ. Additionally, Isaiah is often quoted in the Doctrine and Covenants (e.g., 45:10; 50:10-12; 64:34-35; 133), and in some cases interpretations are added (e.g., D&C 113).
Several books written by LDS authors since 1950 have sought to assist Church members and others to understand Isaiah's words. Some of these commentaries addressed a scholarly audience and others were written for general readers.
In 1952 Sidney B. Sperry commented on Isaiah in the first ten chapters of his book The Voice of Israel's Prophets (Salt Lake City). Its chief purpose was to offer commentary from an LDS perspective, including Joseph Smith's views, and to analyze the entire book of Isaiah historically and philologically. Sperry included Book of Mormon interpretations of various passages and a discussion of a unified authorship. He also utilized the Septuagint and his mastery of Hebrew to explain and sometimes retranslate passages. Although the earliest such study, it remains a classic of its kind.
In 1982 Avraham Gileadi published The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah (Provo, Utah), a fresh translation of the Hebrew text with interpretive keys for general readers. The book's contributions include his translation and his Jewish-Mormon perspective. In 1988 he published a second volume, The Book of Isaiah (Salt Lake City), which included his earlier translation and an enlarged introduction containing four interpretive keys that he derived from the Book of Mormon. This work notes alternate readings in the dead sea scroll Isaiah text and the Septuagint.
Two volumes have served as textbooks. In 1980 Monte S. Nyman published Great Are the Words of Isaiah (Salt Lake City) as a commentary and study guide. The book's most distinctive contribution is a collection of references to Isaiah from Joseph Smith's writings, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and LDS General Authorities. In 1982 Victor L. Ludlow authored Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet (Salt Lake City). Important features are his chapter-by-chapter commentary, suggested multiple interpretations of some passages in the text, helpful maps and historical notes, and LDS doctrinal discussions using various translations of the text.
Other books were written for nonscholarly LDS audiences. L. LaMar Adams's The Living Message of Isaiah (Salt Lake City, 1981) aimed at helping his readers appreciate Isaiah's prophecies. Its distinctive contribution is its appendix on the apocryphal Ascension of Isaiah.
In 1984 W. Cleon Skousen published Isaiah Speaks to Modern Times (Salt Lake City) with the intent of assisting an LDS audience to understand Isaiah as one who saw and spoke of the modern era.
Elder Mark E. Petersen is the only General Authority who has written a book on Isaiah, Isaiah for Today (Salt Lake City, 1981). His purpose was to help a nonscholarly LDS audience relate Isaiah's prophecies to present-day events.