The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish & Christian Theology
The Greatest Resource on Isaiah 53!!
Having actually attended the lecture series Ã¢ÂÂThe Gospel According to Isaiah 53Ã¢ÂÂ in March 2009 at Irving Bible Church in Texas, where theses papers were submitted I have been eagerly anticipating the publication of this volume for some time. The published workÃ¢ÂÂs aim and clear intent is to equip Christians to evangelize and give a theological apologetic for the use of Isaiah 53 for witnessing to Jewish people. The book contains 11 chapters each written by a prominent scholar in each of their own respective fields discussing a particular theme in Isaiah 53. The volume is divided into three major parts: Interpretation of Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology, and Isaiah 53 in Practical Theology.
The chapter I found most enjoyable was Mitch GlaserÃ¢ÂÂs on Ã¢ÂÂUsing Isaiah 53 in Jewish EvangelismÃ¢ÂÂ. Glaser addresses how to practically communicate this passage evangelistically and not as a proof text necessarily but as a persuasive starter to fruitful dialogue about Christ. He shares his own conversion experience and how Isaiah 53 was instrumental and how it has impacted Jewish evangelism in the past. Mitch Glaser set out to offer a series of scholarly evangelical essays on Isaiah 53 that would be humbly apologetic yet evangelistic at the core. I believe they have succeeded in this very enjoyable volume.
November 6, 2012
Thorough treatment of a key passage of Scripture
"Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest prophecies of Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. This chapter has changed the lives of thousands of people--both Jews and Gentiles--who have read the text and believed in the One who fulfilled these prophecies in glorious detail."
Thus begins Mitch Glaser's Introduction in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. In three parts the book expounds how the prophecies of Isaiah 53 relate to and are ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus. (The full passage the book treats is Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53.)
The first section, a sort of exegetical prelude, discusses "Christian interpretations" and "Jewish interpretations" of Isaiah 53. The second section is a biblical theology of Isaiah 53 (with particular attention to its use throughout Scripture). The third and concluding section speaks to "Isaiah 53 and Practical Theology," with an emphasis on how to preach the passage, both from the pulpit and in conversation.
The book is "designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people."
The first thing I noticed about the book is that it's just as much an apologetic for Jesus-as-suffering-servant as it is an academic study of Isaiah 53. It's not that it lacks academic substance, though. This is a meaty book, and pleasingly so.
Regarding the book's explicitly evangelistic intent--there may be some who are uncomfortable with the description of Chosen People Ministries' "Isaiah 53 Campaign" (including 75,000 postcards to Jewish homes and 40,000 voice blasts=robo-calls?). I'll admit that I question the potential efficacy of pre-recorded phone messages for reaching anyone with the Gospel (though God can use anything!). But there is still something to be commended in the blending of the academic and evangelistic enterprises, something this book does well.
A few contributor names to highlight are Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock (one of the co-editors), Craig A. Evans, and Donald R. Sunukjian. I particularly appreciated the book's treatment of the New Testament use of Isaiah 53. The chapter by Michael J. Wilkins lists the quotations of Isaiah 53 in the NT and additional allusions to it in the Gospels. (He makes a key point, that Jesus himself understood "his mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53.") Darrell Bock goes in depth with a comparison of the Greek and Hebrew texts of Isaiah 53:7-8, highlighting its use in Acts 8 where Philip explains the passage to the Ethiopian eunuch.
Something to critique in this book is that there were a few generalizations of Jews that I found to be unfair, particularly in the chapter "Using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism." Mitch Glaser writes: "I think I can safely say that, in the United States, most Jewish people would recognize Isaiah as the first name of a professional athlete sooner than they would recognize the prophet of biblical literature."
Granted, he is operating from the assumption that "most Jewish people are not Lubavitch, Hasidic, or Orthodox," but still.... What was more surprising to me: "Most Jewish people do not understand or believe in biblical prophecy" and, "Most Jewish people do not believe in sin." Glaser does (only later) qualify these with, "We must note that all of the above does not apply to those who hold to traditional Jewish theological positions," but he would have been better off saying something like "many secular or ethnic but non-religious Jews..." or at least supporting his statements with statistics from surveys rather than anecdotal evidence. Glaser himself is a converted Jew who has a compelling conversion story, but I still found those characterizations to be frustrating. I wonder how helpful such statements could be in advancing an evangelistic cause in conversation with another Jew.
This next thing to highlight may seem a small point to some, but as someone seeking to keep my Hebrew and Greek going, I appreciated the actual Hebrew and Greek fonts throughout the book (i.e., not just transliteration), which are clear and easy to read. I did think, however, about an intended audience of "pastors and lay leaders" who may have desired transliteration, too. (All Hebrew and Greek is translated into English.)
Darrell Bock's conclusion summarizes all the essays of the book, with key quotations. Having this there was a big help in piecing everything together again. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 will not be far from my reach in coming months and years. I expect I will often reference this compendium of biblical scholarship on a vital text. My hesitations about the characterizations of Jews above notwithstanding, there is a good deal here that can be useful for Christian-Jewish conversations about the Suffering Servant.
I received a free copy from Kregel of The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 with the only expectations of providing an (unbiased and honest) review.
September 5, 2012
important book but somewhat disjointed and heady
Perhaps no chapter in the Old Testament is more foundational to the cause of Jewish evangelism than Isaiah 53. In "The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology" editors Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser bring together an impressive group of scholars to discuss this text in full detail. The result is an academic work that aims to equip church leaders for effectively using this pivotal chapter in Jewish evangelism.
The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 coves Christian and Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53. These first two chapters were most informative and really are worth the price of the book. Richard Averbeck surveys a wide variety of Christian interpretations, and Michael Brown masterfully gives a thorough treatment of Jewish opinions on this passage.
Part 2 is a collection of various essays on Isaiah 53 and is the weakest part of the book in my opinion. The essays themselves are fine, but there is repetition and disparity between them. Most of them spend some time discussing whether the Suffering Servant is collectively understood as Israel or should be viewed as an individual Messianic figure. These essays are written independently and not situated in the flow of the book well, so we cover the same ground over and over again. That being said, the articles do make some important points and cover different points of emphases when it comes to Isaiah 53Ã¢ÂÂ²s development in the New Testament.
Part 3 covers Isaiah 53 in practical theology and is quite good. Mitch GlaserÃ¢ÂÂs piece on using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism is excellent. His explanation of orthodox Jewish objections to Isaiah 53Ã¢ÂÂ²s use by Christians as opposed to the average Jewish personÃ¢ÂÂs more secular outlook to the passage is priceless. Too often, we assume that Jews think like Christians when it comes to GodÃ¢ÂÂs holiness and personal sin, blood atonement and the like, and Glaser assures us this is not the case.
The book ends with an odd concluding chapter, in which Darrell Bock excerpts several paragraphs from each of the chapters in the book. It seems a strange way to conclude a book, but I wonder if it is an attempt to forge a greater unity between disparate pieces? An appendix then includes two sample sermons on Isaiah 53.
The book points us to numerous additional resources throughout, and really does cover Isaiah 53 well. It definitely accomplishes the task it sets out to achieve. Yet the book is clearly directed toward a more scholarly audience and I believe this will limit its effectiveness. There are no transliterations of Hebrew and Greek terms provided, and sometimes there are not even short lexical definitions of them included either. The interaction with scholarly literature, too, is much more than the average lay leader is equipped to handle. Still there is a lot of value to be had in the book, and I was thankful to be reminded of how important this single chapter is for Jewish evangelism.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Kregel Academic. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
September 3, 2012
Digging Deeper Into Isaiah 53
The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is a collection of essays from different authors, each exploring a different aspect concerning Isaiah 53. The bookÃ¢ÂÂs purpose was a surprise. Ã¢ÂÂThis book, The Gospel according to Isaiah 53, was written to help readers to utilize the truths of this magnificent chapter in bringing the Good News to those who do not yet know Jesus. It is designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish peopleÃ¢ÂÂ (p. 21). The book further declares, Ã¢ÂÂThe Gospel According to Isaiah 53 grows out of the desire of Chosen People Ministries, a mission to the Jewish people, to equip fellow believers for the task of Jewish evangelismÃ¢ÂÂ (p. 21). The introduction clearly sets the tone that these essays are intended to deepen the readerÃ¢ÂÂs knowledge of this prophecy so the reader will share its gospel message to those who do not accept Jesus to be the prophesied Christ.
The essays are scholarly and quite valuable. As a minister I found the essay, Ã¢ÂÂJewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53Ã¢ÂÂ to be very useful for understanding how various rabbis and Jewish commentators have dealt with this prophecy. There are three essays that explore the New Testament usage of Isaiah 53. There are also many useful essays for the preacher, including Ã¢ÂÂPreaching Isaiah 53Ã¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂUsing Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism.Ã¢ÂÂ The appendix also contains two sermons from Isaiah 53.
The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 finds its place as an excellent resource for consulting when studying, teaching, or preaching Isaiah 53. It is not an easy read of the gospel message from Isaiah. The book intends to plumb the depths of this great prophecy, exploring every question, difficulty, and interpretation. If you are looking for a scholarly resource on Isaiah 53 with an evangelistic aim, this book is strongly recommended for you. I look forward to using this resource to teach a fuller, deeper gospel message from Isaiah 53.
*This book was provided to me free of charge from Kregel in exchange for an unbiased, honest review.
August 30, 2012