Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Pete Enns Is Wrong About Isaiah 9

See his article here. He's wrong about what Isaiah 9 refers to in its original context, and he's wrong about how the earliest Christians viewed the passage. On the original context, see here and here. On how the earliest Christians understood the passage, see here and my other posts since then that discuss the issues further.

The fact that Isaiah 9 opens with an eighth-century B.C. backdrop doesn't suggest that the entire passage will be fulfilled at that time or shortly after. It can be relevant to an eighth-century B.C. audience and be sufficiently understood by them without being entirely fulfilled at that time or shortly after and without being entirely understood by that initial audience. Jesus' fulfillment of the passage centuries later, without any fulfillment by Hezekiah or somebody else earlier, doesn't mean that the passage has "no relevance to Isaiah’s audience", as Enns claims. It has a lot of relevance, much as unfulfilled eschatology and other types of predictions not yet fulfilled have a lot of relevance to modern Christians.

Enns writes that "It is striking, though, that Matthew doesn’t go on and cite the rest of Isaiah 9, especially verses 6-7". He doesn't need to. It would be absurd to think that Jesus is the figure of the first two verses of the passage, but that verses 6-7 refer to somebody else. Verse 7 refers to David's throne. Jesus' Davidic Messiahship is a major theme in Matthew's gospel. It would be ridiculous to suggest that he thought Isaiah 9:6-7 refers to somebody other than Jesus. Similarly, Jesus only needs to cite a portion of Psalm 22 in order to suggest that the whole Psalm applies to him (Matthew 27:46).

Enns goes on to tell us that Matthew "is only one of two New Testament writers who bother to even tell us about Jesus’s birth". See here regarding the material on Jesus' childhood outside of Matthew and Luke. John's gospel, for example, tells us a substantial amount about Jesus' childhood, including his fulfillment of Isaiah 9. And notice that Jesus' appeal to the opening verses of Isaiah 9 in John 8:12 comes in the context of responding to allegations about issues like his ancestry and birthplace (John 7:41-42, 7:52), which implies that Jesus is intending to appeal to the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole, not just the opening verses. The closing verses of the Isaiah 9 passage, not the opening ones, are the verses that refer to birth and Davidic ancestry (with the implication of a Bethlehem birthplace, for reasons I've gone into elsewhere). The evidence suggests, then, that Jesus is applying the Isaiah 9 passage as a whole to himself in John 8:12. So, Enns' claim that "Connecting Isaiah 9 to Jesus was the work of later church theologians" is false.


  1. Pete Enns is wrong about so much it's hard to catalog. His work with BioLogos is some of his worst.

  2. Thanks for this.
    Alex Motyer's commentary has all of the good stuff that Enns manages to sneak in without the garbage.

    Its funny how liberals like Enns want their cake and to eat it to. If it is wrong to connect it to Jesus as allegedly later church fathers did, as well as Matthew, then on what basis can we say its fulfilled in Christ by looking backward? You can't have it both ways.

  3. Par for the course for contemporary biblical studies: immense pomposity at their gift at being unable to muster the most basic literary skills to think through the meaning of the texts allegedly making up their expertise. Not to mention the inexcusable and shameful logical howlers peppered throughout their writing. Enns' argument against it having a distant messianic referent is circular. Authors produce texts of relevance to their audience. Enns assumes that 1) Isaiah (or as he would prefer, the "authors of Isaiah") is not consciously contributing to a canonical literary tradition whose audience extends far beyond the present and 2) that relevance to his audience is identical with nearness in time. The latter point is just asserted without a whit of reasoning, and it doesn't even superficially appear to follow.

    The first point is interesting. Isaiah's repeated descriptions of giving prophetic words to communities of disciples who would reflect upon what is written and "wait for the LORD" is programmatic for the thematic center of the prophetic work. Add that to the internal evidence from the Tanach that a canonical arrangement of texts from Genesis to Chronicles (ala Sailhamer, Dempster) was in the view of at least a number of the authors and the total nonexistence of any evidence for the conventional narrative of how the OT canon developed in the third century BC and onwards and we have another reason to not take secular biblical criticism very seriously.