Feast upon the Word Blog

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Isaiah Commentaries

Posted by Robert C. on May 31, 2008

[Gregorio sent in the following review of some Isaiah commentaries—thanks Gregorio!]

Here are some of my favorite Isaiah commentaries. Many of these are available free through a number of services, such as those which provide free PDF downloads, e-Sword, and other. I also consult a number of books by LDS authors, but will post a list on these at another time. Also, there are several invaluable books on specific chapters of Isaiah, to be included in a future post.

Very Excellent

1. Joseph Addison Alexander (1809-1860), Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (2 volumes, an abridgment of the author’s critical Commentary on Isaiah by Joseph Addison Alexander with an introduction by Merrill F. Unger). If I could only purchase two commentaries on Isaiah, it would be this one and the one by Ebenezer Henderson. Alexander brings piety, knowledge of Hebrew, and a thorough understanding of previous commentaries to this work.

Very Excellent
2. Ebenezer Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Translated from the Original Hebrew; with a Commentary, Critical, Philological , and Exegetical (2nd Edition, 1857). Like Alexander, Henderson brings a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and other languages to bear on this thorough commentary. As mentioned, if I could only purchase two commentaries, this one would be one of them.

3. William A. Kay, The Bible Commentary (Isaiah), or The Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611) with an explanatory and critical commentary and a rebision of the translation, by bishops and other clergy of the Anglican Church, published in New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892. Kay and Rawlinson (see next) never cease to impress in terms of their insights.

4. George Rawlinson, The Pulpit Commentary (Isaiah, 2 Volumes). published in New York by Funk & Wagnalls Company. Rawlinson and Kay see above) never cease to impress in terms of their insights into Isaiah.

5. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (2 Volumes, 1949, published by Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan). This is a solid commentary that offers insights into the Hebrew. Despite its excellence, I have two complaints, namely: 1) sometimes gives the Hebrew in transliterated English, which makes it more difficult to read; and 2) several verses are combined under one reference, which adds time when one is searching for something specific.

6. Robert Lowth (1710-1787, Isaiah: A new translation with preliminary dissertation and notes, critical, philological, and explanatory). Thomas Tegg & Son, London. 1835. At times somewhat controversial, Lowth takes some liberties in terms of the Hebrew text. Lowth seems to have had access to numerous Hebrew manuscripts that point out alternative words in the text. Lowth discovered the existence of Chiasmus in the Old Testament.

7. John Gill (1697-1771, John Gill’s Commentary on the entire Bible). One valuable contribution is his understanding of Hebrew and references to such exegetes as Joseph Kimchi, Gijsbert Voetius, and Johannes Cocceius.

8. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament: Explanatory and Practical (Isaiah, 2 volumes), published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979. This is one of my favorite commentaries on Isaiah as Barnes does an excellent job of talking about ancient traditions of the middle east, helping the reader make better sense of some of the more difficult verses. Note that not all books in the Barnes on the Old Testamen series were written by Albert Barnes, and they certainly do not match the insight and quality of Barnes. There are included a few attractive drawings to illustrate some points.

9. C. Edward Naegelsbach, Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical (Isaiah), published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, originally published in 1871. Each section of scripture is divided into a discussion of the Hebrew text (Textual and Grammatical) as well as an exegetical section. Naegelsbach often has, like Kay and Rawlinson, excellent insights.

Very, very good
10. T. K. Cheyne, The Prophecies of Isaiah: A new translation with commentary and appendices (2 Volumes), published by Kegal Paul, Trench, & Co., 1884. Despite Cheyne’s belonging to a liberal thelogical perspective, this is a valuable work with excellent insights on the meaning of Isaiah’s writings.

Very, very good
11. Abraham (ben Meir) Ibn Ezra, The Commentary of Ibn Ezra on Isaiah: edited from manuscripts and translated, with notes, introductions, and indexes by M. Friedländer) published by Philipp Feldheim, Inc., New York as well as the Society of Hebrew Literature in England. First published in the years 1873-1877. The commentary is included in one volume, but there are three other volumes associated with this work that include The Anglican Version of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah amended according to the commentary of Ibn Ezra (Volume II); a glossary of Hebrew terms used by Ibn Ezra, as well as the commentary in Hebrew (Volume III); and finally, a book with essays on the writings of Abraham Ibn Ezra. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra contributes important insights on the book of Isaiah.

Very good
12. John Calvin (1509-1564), Calvin’s Commentaries (Isaiah). This is a very interesting and impressive commentary.

Very good
13. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Volume IV, Isaiah-Malachi, published by AP&A, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Henry often makes excellent suggestions in terms of living a better life as well as valuable exegetical comments. His love for God comes through in his pages. One criticism is that verses are lumped together making it difficult to easily and quickly distinguish where to go when studying verse by verse.

Very good
14. Andrew Faussett (1821-1910), Jamieson, Faussett & Brown. This is a classic commentary.

Of interest
15. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (Lectures on Isaiah, 2 Volumes, 16 & 17), published by Concorida Publishing House, Saint Louis, 1972.

Of interest
16. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (3 volumes), published by Eerdamns, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Unfortunately uses transliterated rather than Hebrew characters when talking about the text. Useful annotated bibliography of other commentaries.

Of interest
17. J. Glentworth Butler, The Bible-Work Old Testament: The Revised Text arranged in sections; with comments selected from the choicest, most illuminating and helpful thought of the Christian centuries (Volumes 7 & 8), published in New York by The Butler Bible-Work Company in 1894. Volume 7 includes the 4 historical chapters, Isaiah 36-39, while Volume 8 contains all the remaining chapters, i.e., 1-35; 40-66. The list of commentators cited is a veritable who’s who of commentators.

Gregorio Billikopf

14 Responses to “Isaiah Commentaries”

  1. Robert C. said

    Again, here’s a link to Gregrio’s site with his own online Isaiah commentary, which I’ve found very helpful and informative: http://pages.sbcglobal.net/bielikov/HolyScriptures/Isaiah.htm

    Also, I’m still several weeks behind, but I’ve been enjoying Joe’s seminary podcasts on Second Isaiah: http://othonors.mypodcast.com/200804_archive.html

    I hope others will post more thoughts on other Isaiah commentaries. If I remember right, Joe (who I think is out of town for a bit longer) highly recommends Brevard Childs’ commentary for Second Isaiah and Wildeberger for first Isaiah—Childs because he has an insightful and imaginate hermeneutical approach to Second Isaiah, and Wildeberger for his sheer completeness (3 volumes just on chapters 1-39!).

    Of Mormon authors, I’ve read (though not in their entirety) Gileadi’s work (The Literary Message of Isaiah, which is his magnum opus on Isaiah) which I think is very interesting—my one complaint is that he seems a bit too preoccupied with interpreting Isaiah as literally (through types) prophesying of specific last days events. I don’t deny that Isaiah might’ve seen the events of our day and wrote in a way that reflects this, but somehow focusing on that as his primary purpose seems to miss the historical relevance of Isaiah in his own time. That is, by reading Isaiah with more of an eye toward history, I think we can learn more about what’s going on in the text, and thus in a way that is more accurately relevant to our day in (relevant in more of a typological and thematic way, but I think this is spiritually more important than a kind of prophetic code for specific events that are to come—I think this is quite a can of worms I’m opening, because I think this is the most common way members read Revelation, though maybe I’m just saying that because I grew up where fundamentalist types of views were particularly common, but it’s always struck me as . . . well . . . let me just say a not particularly satisfying way to read these apocalyptic books).

    I’ve also used Ludlow’s more recent book on Isaiah (sorry, the title’s not handy) and it’s been helpful though not particularly impressive when compared to other commentaries by non-LDS scholars.

    Also, in support of Gregorio’s recommendations, I think that in many ways the older scholars on Isaiah are more valuable than a lot of the more recent scholarship that has been rather preoccupied with the question of compilation and multiple authorship (i.e., trying to tease out when and by whom what passages were written). This is another can of worms, of course, but I think many scholars have recently been coming to recognize the kind of violence to the book as a whole this modernistic project inflicts. One issue that Joe’s done a particularly good job of discussing in his seminary classes is the difference it makes whether we read Second Isaiah (who, again if I’m remembering correctly, Joe takes as the same author as First Isaiah, it’s just convenient to use these names for chapters 1-39 and 40-55, respectively—and it does seem there’s good evidence to read some sort of structural break between these sections of the book) as a prophecy as opposed to a . . . well, let’s say a after-the-fact, rewritten history, or something. Especially because (though not solely because) so much of Second Isaiah is found in the Book of Mormon, I think Mormons should be particularly inclined to read Second Isaiah as a prophecy of things to come (viz., events leading up to the exile), and the problem of many modern commentaries is that they don’t really take this aspect of the book very seriously (in their efforts to demystify and “unredact” the texts…). These older commentaries seem to do a better job of actually reading the text closely and thinking about the spiritual meaning of the text.

    Well, that’s my 2 cents plus change anyway.

  2. Todd Wood said

    Hi Robert.

    Thanks for the post.

    Would you like for me to add some more to the list? :)

    Have a good weekend.

  3. Todd, I believe that is the whole purpose of the conversation, to have everyone who is interested add to the list of commentaries that others may find useful. Or to agree or disagree with all or part of what others have said.

    I forgot to say this about the suggested commentaries. The words the Lord gave the Prophet Joseph Smith about the Apocrypha may well be applied to many books: “There are many things contained therein that are true … There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men … Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth … And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom” (D&C 91: 1-5). I keep updating my own commentary all the time.

    Robert, I am a strong proponent of the unity of Isaiah and Zechariah. Among my favorite commentators, of course, there are those who hold the opposite view. I like what you said, Robert, about the importance of understanding the historical perspectives, also. As we have a better grasp of the historical and geographical aspects, it is so enriching. Even though it is not a commentary per say, I want to add another book to the list of suggested readings on Isaiah. I will continue to add others to the list.

    Very excellent.
    Margalioth, Rachel. The Indivisible Isaiah: Evidence for the Single Authorship of the Prophetic Book. Sura Institute for Research, Jerusalem Yeshiva University, New York, 1964. This is a truly brilliant book in which the author shows how the second part of Isaiah fits in with the language and expressions of the first. One particular section of her book is called Thesis and Antithesis. In it she goes on to show, a wonderful quote from the Talmud. “[In Midrash Exodus Rabbah 15:29 we read,] ‘The mouth that said, Ah SINFUL NATION (1:4), is the mouth that said: Open ye the gates, that the RIGHTEOUS NATION … may enter in (26:2). The mouth that said: A PEOPLE LADEN WITH INIQUITY (1:4), is the mouth that said: THY PEOPLE ALSO SHALL BE ALL RIGHTEOUS (60:21). The mouth that said: CHILDREN THAT DEAL CORRUPTLY (1:4), is the mouth that said: AND ALL THY CHILDREN SHALL BE TAUGHT OF THE LORD (54:13). The mouth that said: A SEED OF EVIL-DOERS (1:4), is the mouth that said: AND THEIR SEED SHALL BE KNOWN AMONG THE NATIONS (61:9). The mouth that said: YEA, WHEN YE MAKE MANY PRAYERS, I WILL NOT HEAR (1:15), is the mouth that said: And it shall come to pass that, BEFORE THEY CALL, I WILL ANSWER (65:24). The mouth that said: Your NEW MOONS and your appointed seasons My soul hateth (1:4), is the mouth that said: And it shall come to pass, that from one NEW MOON to another (66:23).’ In this midrashic statement the sages point to Isaiah’s custom of prophesying solace in the same words and expressions he employs in his rebukes. This method of turning phrases of rebuke and evil portent into blessing and consolation is common … to all the prophets. In the case of every prophet we find prophecies of consolation expressed in the same vocabulary he employs for evil, and which is peculiar only to him.” And here is a different type of example: “For ye SHALL BE LIKE an oak whose leaf fadeth, AND LIKE a garden WHICH hath no water,” and contrasts this to a verse in the second half of Isaiah. Whereas here in Isaiah 1:30 the comparison is towards misery, its companion scripture turns it into a thing of good: “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou SHALT BE LIKE a watered garden, AND LIKE a spring of water, WHICH waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11). Like Hebrew words have here been rendered by the same English word. (I am not implying that the same Hebrew word needs to always been translated the same way into English, by the way.)

    Gregorio Billikopf

  4. joespencer said

    I have only a moment or two this morning to respond to this for now.

    Thanks, Gregorio, for this list. I would very much like to take a look at many of these commentaries, and I imagine I have access to most of them in the library of the local bible college.

    Yes, Robert, I very much enjoy Wildberger’s commentary for First Isaiah and Childs’ for Second Isaiah. Wildberger does not at all believe even in the unity of First Isaiah, but his interpretive commentary is simply remarkable. Childs is brilliant, though I wish his commentary would get into the texts themselves more and into the lists of important interpreters less.

    Margaret Barker’s little commentary on Isaiah, published as a chapter in Eerdmans Bible Commentary, is fascinating, though it is not at all to be taken as definitive in any sense!

    And there are all the standard commentaries, none of which I have time this morning to discuss or comment on. More soon, I hope.

  5. […] June 1, 2008 by Todd Wood Robert gives a list of Isaiah commentaries. […]

  6. Robert C. said

    Todd, always good to hear from you, and I’d be esp. interested in your thoughts on Isaiah commentaries.

    Joe, if you do find time, I for one would be very interested in your thoughts on “the standard commentaries” (or at least a list of what the standard commentaries are!).

  7. Steven B said

    Thank you all. This info is very helpful. For 30 years I’ve never quite gotten over Isaiah.

  8. Todd Wood said

    To add more commentaries to the many of those that I already have on John C.’s list: Harry Bultema (A Christian reformed pastor who switched to premillennial dispensationalism); J.A. Motyer, John Goldingay (the higher textual critic); Geoffrey W. Grogan, John N. Oswalt, and Bryan E. Beyer.

    You guys ought to be familiar with the last two.

    Bryan Byer’s book, Encountering the Book of Isaiah (2007), is just a historical and theological survey; but you will like the pictures and the intriguing sidebars almost on every other page.

  9. Robert C. said

    Thanks, Todd, very, very helpful….

  10. A large number of the Isaiah commentaries I have listed above can be found using the free links here:


    Or to use the tiny URL version, http://tinyurl.com/6bws2l

    Thanks for the other commentary suggestions that have been offered by Robert, Joe, and Todd.



  11. jupiterschild said

    Why are there virtually no modern commentaries here? Blenkinsopp? Baltzer?

  12. joespencer said

    Blenkinsopp is fine, but too historico-critical for my own tastes; or rather, the introductions to his volumes are very helpful, while his verse by verse analysis is less than satisfying. I’m not familiar with Baltzer’s commentary.

    I mentioned Wildberger, Childs, and Barker in my comment above.

    I’ll add here that I also very much like Paul Hanson’s commentary on Second and Third Isaiah, and Brueggemann’s commentary on the same is quite worth reading. Watts’s commentary is good in many ways, but obviously quite flawed in others. Westermann’s commentary on Second and Third Isaiah is standard. Sweeney’s commentaries are fantastic, I think.

    What else?

  13. jupiterschild said

    I’m mostly curious (actually curious, not disdainfully curious) to know why the list is so heavily weighted toward eighteenth and nineteenth century commentators. It strikes me that all commentators listed here are known more as theologians than straight-up historical-critical scholars, and I’m wondering what about these commentaries in particular makes them more valuable than what current scholars consider to be standards (and I agree with joespencer about Westermann). What rings the interpretive bells?

  14. Robert C. said

    (jupiterschild, my sense is that Gregorio indeed has a strong preference for older scholarship, I’m guessing because of a single-author view and desire for reading the text for theological rather than historical-critical purposes. I’m personally more inclined toward modern scholarship, but I do think older commentaries typically get shorter shrift than they deserve—but I’m also more interested in theology than in history per se….)

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