The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, editors. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2012. Paperback. 334 pages.
Darrell L. Bock (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is research professor of New Testament Studies and professor of Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He has published academic commentaries on Luke and Acts, volumes on the historical Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels, and other academic and popular books. He is past president of the Evangelical Theological Society (2000-2001) and an editor-at-large for Christianity Today.
Mitch Glaser is president of Chosen People Ministries of New York, New York. With Bock in 2009 he wrote To the Jew First: The Case of Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and in History. He has also taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. He has worked extensively in Jewish evangelism and helped start a Christian congregation among Russian Jewish immigrants in New York.
Bock and Glaser (briefly interviewed on camera about the book) got nine leading conservative Evangelical scholars to write this book with them. Each scholar wrote an essay relating to his specialty. Many of the scholars aimed at refuting pseudo-Christian, pseudo-scholarly interpretations of Isaiah 53, such as
- it does not teach the Messiah’s substitutionary atonement and resurrection, or
- Christ did not see himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53
The book’s main goal, though, is to equip pastors, missionaries, and lay leaders to reach out to Jewish people with the truths of Isaiah 53.
More specifically, the authors want to help Christians “in the trenches” understand questions like:
- How do Jewish rabbis tend to interpret Isaiah 53?
- How did the New Testament writers interpret Isaiah 53?
- How can Isaiah 53 be used well today in preaching and in Jewish evangelism?
The book complements thorough explanations of Isaiah 53 from commentaries such as Oswalt’s or Lessing’s. Under three main headings (“Interpretation of Isaiah 53,” “Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology” and “Isaiah 53 in Practical Theology”) along with two appendices featuring sermons on Isaiah 53 and an index, the book aims to do more than the average exposition of Isaiah 53:
“The underlying purpose for the book is to equip fellow believers in using Isaiah 53 as a tool to share the gospel with Jewish people in a sensitive and effective way.”
You may not have much of a Jewish presence in your community. In that case, this book may not be your first pick-up. A better source for preaching through Isaiah 53 might be the out-of-print CPH volume from Christopher Mitchell, designed for a Lenten series.
This book, still, abounds in exegetical insights and features a thorough bibliography in the various essays’ footnotes, as well as a 16-page Scripture index and 8-page subject index. The contributions of Walter Kaiser (“The Identity and Mission of ‘the Servant of the Lord,’” chapter 3), Michael J. Wilkins (“Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” chapter 4), Craig Evans (“Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews and John,” chapter 6) and Robert B. Chisholm, Jr. (“Forgiveness and Salvation in Isaiah 53”) are particularly thorough and helpful. The authors of chapters 1 and 3–8 often cite and discuss specific Hebrew and Greek words. Ample footnotes lead the interested reader to further detail in reference works, books, scholarly journals and the like. Typefaces for Greek and Hebrew are easy to read throughout. The whole book is well laid-out on the page, and has several helpful charts.
The book has a few drawbacks: Darrell Bock’s essay (“Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” chapter 5) is erudite and instructive, until he wraps up by trying to apply the example of the Ethiopian eunuch today. Bock puts the onus on us, ultimately, and robs us of baptismal comfort: “Potentially, Jesus has cleared the way to remove guilt and defilement and provide the gift of life through the Spirit of God by removing the obstacle that sin generates between people and God. The application of that removal requires that we accept the gift of God’s work through Jesus, asking that his forgiveness be applied specifically to us […] Our text ends with the eunuch asking to be baptized. This act symbolizes the cleansing and entry into the new life described above”(143–144, emphasis added).
John Feinberg also misleads: “God doesn’t just want a relationship with his people. He also cares about his Servant who makes that relationship possible” (219, emphasis added).
A typo needs correcting: William “Hendricksen” (footnote on page 188), should be “Hendriksen.”
More importantly, several authors have a dispensational pre-millennial outlook, but finding it in this book, thankfully, is not easy. Feinberg says in a footnote on page 215 that Zechariah 12:10 predicts Israel’s “national turning to Christ,” to come in the future. Feinberg is wrong. When the Lord says through the prophet, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child,” he speaks of Jewish people turning to the Messiah in repentant faith ever since the first Pentecost. God does not speak in Zechariah 12:10 of some specific mass future conversion connected to Christ reigning for 1,000 years on this earth.
Mitch Glaser writes one of the book’s most winsome chapters. On 229, Glaser points out that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is not in standard, appointed synagogue readings, so many Jews have never heard it. But he seems right when he says that this omission may not have sprung from sinister motives. As with our lectionaries, the Bible gives us more than we could easily read to the average congregation. The weekly Haftorah portions (the weekly sections rabbis picked long ago to fit with the section of the Torah to be read that week) “skip” many parts of the prophets.
One cannot help but be grateful for the persistence and zeal of a man like Glaser, whose mother and father kicked him out of their home when he became a Christian. On 230 he tells the story of trying to read Isaiah 53 to his mother, “fully expecting her to see the prophet’s reference to Jesus.”
His mother acceded, but when asked what she thought, replied, “I told you not to read the New Testament to me.”
Glaser: “Though that may seem like a strange statement, it is not. Most Jewish people are unfamiliar with the Bible, and even those who are familiar with the Torah would still find the book of Isaiah somewhat foreign.” Glaser’s pointers on the main contemporary Jewish objections to Isaiah 53 on 239 to 248 and how to deal with them lovingly are very helpful.
Yet Glaser’s model of witnessing means in the end, “popping the question” (248, his phrase): “Now that you know what you know, would you be willing to commit your life to the Messiah?” His subsequent wording could be worse, but it could be far better. Synergism is insidious and dangerous.
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