The question

It might (or might not) be useful to review this related question before tackling this one.

In this excellent but imperfect paper the author points to the many instances where Paul explicitly cites (or evidently relies on) Isaiah's prophecies to explain the events of his own day which was the Messianic age.

But was Isaiah actually talking about Cyrus? Or the events of his own day? Based on how Paul uses Isaiah, what did he presume about Isaiah's vision's subject?

Optional clarification

What I'm investigating is the evidence that Isaiah was NOT writing about the events of his own time but rather the events in Paul's day OR if perhaps Paul was merely drawing on the events as a "template" for the 1st century.

Luke-Acts-Peter as well as Jesus seemed to think that ALL the prophets spoke of the 1st century:

[Act 3:24 KJV] 24 Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.

To illustrate the issue, consider Jude's assertion that Sodom and Gomorrah (and the surrounding cities) were examples of cities being destroyed by divine fire:

[Jude 1:7 KJV] 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Now, we know that the cities were destroyed by fire from God and that they served as the pattern of the destruction of Jerusalem:

[Isa 1:7-10 KJV] 7 Your country [is] desolate, your cities [are] burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and [it is] desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

So that would be an example of appealing to a completely historical event from the distant past that makes no predictions concerning the future, IE: about the first century.

So my question is, was Isaiah written about the age of the Messiah or was it all about the 6th century BC and Paul just used it as a type?

The author of the paper give the following list of citations by Paul (and the 4 or so citations of Isaiah by other authors):

Isa-text Paul’s citation Other NT citations

1:9 Rom 9:29 ―
8:14 Rom 9:33 1 Pet 2:8
10:22-23 Rom 9:27-28 ―
11:10 Rom 15:12 ―
22:13 1 Cor 15:32 ―
15:8 1 Cor 15:54 ―
27:9 Rom 11:27 ―
28:11-12 1 Cor 14:21 ―
28:16 Rom 9:33 1 Pet 2:6 & Rom 10:11
29:10 Rom 11:8 ―
29:14 1 Cor 1:19 ―
29:16 Rom 9:20 ―
40:13 Rom 11:34 ― 1 Cor 2:16
45:23 Rom 14:11 ―
49:8 2 Cor 6:2 ―
52:5 Rom 2:24 ―
52:7 Rom 10:15 ―
52:11 2 Cor 6:17 ―
52:15 Rom 15:21 ―
53:1 Rom 10:16 John 12:38
54:1 Gal 4:27 ―
55:10 2 Cor 9:10 ―
59:7-8 Rom 3:15-17 ―
59:20-21 Rom 11:26-27 ―
64:4 1 Cor 2:9 ―
65:1-2 Rom 10:20-21 ―

So was Isaiah prophesying about the Messiah/Anointed of the first century or about Cyrus in his own day and Paul took advantage of the template that it provided for his own writings?

It seems less contrived to read it as history that Paul simply exploited but as I was pondering Isaiah 1 it struck me that Isaiah was not just having a tiff with Israel and was not just talking about Cyrus but was actually talking about THE Messiah/Anointed one, and about 70ad. Like Daniel, Isaiah's vision went beyond his own day to the first century.

One clue is that in 1:9 he refers to the leaders of Israel as "you rulers of Sodom" and "you people of Gomorrah":

[Isa 1:10 KJV] 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

And the second clue is that he accuses Israel of being "rebellious children" who were subject to stoning:

[Exo 21:17 KJV] 17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. [Lev 20:9 KJV] 9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood [shall be] upon him.

Their lampstand will be removed:

[Pro 20:20 KJV] 20 Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.

Proverbs seems to refer to a particular generation:

[Pro 30:11-14 KJV] 11 [There is] a generation [that] curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. 12 [There is] a generation [that are] pure in their own eyes, and [yet] is not washed from their filthiness. 13 [There is] a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. 14 [There is] a generation, whose teeth [are as] swords, and their jaw teeth [as] knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from [among] men.

He not only accuses Israel of being rebellious children but he seems to be saying that they are already being stoned! So he will not kill them just yet and holds out hope if they repent:

[Isa 1:2-9 KJV] 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: [but] Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. 5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head [there is] no soundness in it; [but] wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7 Your country [is] desolate, your cities [are] burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and [it is] desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

So Isaiah is describing Israel being stoned to death with the exception of a remnant. It is very easy to see this describing their exile but then again it is rather easy to see it as referring to 70ad. Plus it is very hard to see how Cyrus has anything to do with most of the prophesies about the Messiah.

So was Isaiah talking about the exile of 6th century BC and Paul used it as a "sermon template" of some kind? Or was Isaiah actually looking ahead to the day of YHVH as we see in the other prophets? Was Isaiah about the Great Jewish Revolt of 70ad?

  • 1
    I agree this is VERY broad but will attempt an answer because it is an important question.
    – user25930
    Jan 13, 2019 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


The inspired prophets of the NT often used OT material in "creative" ways that are not available to uninspired people like myself.

  • Direct quotes that say something like, "this was fulfil the words of the prophet … ", eg, Matt 2:6, 16, 3:15, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17-21, 13:13-15, 35, 21:4, 41, 42, 26:24, 52-56, 27:8, 9, 35, Mark 1:2, 9:13, 14:21, 49, Luke 3:4, 4:17, 12;14, 24:25-27, 44, 45, John 4:25, 26, 29, 12:38, Acts 2:29, 30, 8:31-34, 18:27, 28, Rom 1:1, 2, 1 Cor 15:3, 4.
  • There are occasions when an OT prophecy or simple incident about something is taken as a metaphor or prophecy of Messiah in the NT. Isa 7:14 is a perfect example of where Isaiah's wife was predicted to have a son that would be called Immanuel; but Matt 1:22 reworks this and treats Jesus as the Immanuel. (This is NOT Hermeneutics by the Bible writers but inspiration by the Holy Spirit.) For modern exegetes, this is often the most confusing. Another example is Psalm 22 (about David's troubles) that NT writers rework as messianic prophecies.
  • An allusion to an incident that serves to illustrate the point the writer is making. For example, Jude 7.

Now, let me turn to your list.

  • Isa 1:9 is part of a passage about spiritual degeneration of Judah in the 8th century BC. Isaiah laments this. In v9 he introduces the concept of the "remnant" - people miraculously saved that would otherwise be destroyed like, Noah, Lot, Elijah's 7000, etc. This theme is taken up by Paul in Rom 9:29.
  • Isa 8:14 is a prophecy about the destruction of Damascus and Isaiah's children, which Paul, in Rom 9:33, reworks as a prophecy about Messiah. Peter does the same.
  • Isa 10:21-23 is a prophecy about a faithful remnant following the looming invasion of Judah. Paul cites this in his developing theme about the remnant.
  • Isa 11:10 is a prophecy about the Assyrian invasion in the 8the century. Paul uses this in Rom 15:12 as a Messianic prophecy showing that Messiah came from the remnant of Judah.
  • Isa 22:13 - is part of a prophecy about the fate of Jerusalem that Paul quotes in 1 Cor 15:32 about the futility of life without the hope of resurrection.
  • Isa 28:11, 12 is a prophecy about the chastising of Israel and Ephraim by foreign nations that Paul quotes in his teaching about the gift of tongues in 1 Cor 14:22 - a very creative use of OT that could only be done by an inspired prophet!
  • etc.

The only direct reference in Isaiah to Cyrus is the extended prophecy about him in Isa 44:24-45:7. Most of the rest of the material can be broadly divided into several parts.

  • Isa 1-23 - prophecies about Judah's looming invasions and captivity and the fate of surrounding nations.
  • Isa 24-35 - prophecies about the Great day of the LORD
  • Isa 36-39 - Historical Section
  • Isa 40-53 - prophecies about confidence in God and encouragement to return to God
  • Isa 54-62 - Prophecies about the return of the remnant following the Babylonian captivity
  • Isa 63-66 - prophecies about the Messianic Kingdom
  • Okay, so like Daniel, part is strictly historical, some Messianic? And Paul and the NT writers used the Messianic sections as is but "re-heated" the historical events of the 6th century BC as "examples" in the same way as Sodom was used? I think you've demonstrated well that that is probably the sensible hermeneutic that Paul (and others) used. Thanks. +1 and accepted as the answer (unless someone blindsides us both with a more accurate answer which I don't anticipate).
    – Ruminator
    Jan 13, 2019 at 22:18

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