The book of Isaiah contains many amazing prophecies that were intended to strengthen our faith, by providing an objective witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 5:39, Luke 24:27). However, one of those prophecies – Isaiah's witness to the completed canon of Scripture – remains largely unnoticed, ignored, and sometimes emphatically denied. Does the book of Isaiah testify to the completed canon of Scripture? I will present the evidence, you must decide for yourself.
During the Middle Ages Jewish scholars noticed a difference in style between the first thirty-nine chapters of the book of Isaiah and the final twenty-seven chapters. In time that observation was communicated to Christian scholars, and over the centuries has been the basis of much conjecture. Moreover, it is usually assumed that the difference between the two sections is a difference in individual writing style. However, what I see is not a difference in writing style, but a difference in emphasis. The first thirty-nine chapters have an emphasis on the law, while the final twenty-seven chapters have an emphasis on the gospel.
The difference I am speaking of is not difficult to see. While both sections contain law as well as gospel, chapter forty's positive message of comfort and glory to God stands out in stark contrast to the chapters that precede it. With the exception of a few bright spots the first thirty-nine chapters are rather gloomy, being dominated by warnings of God's wrath and judgement. In contrast, the final twenty-seven chapters have a much more positive message noted for its many references to Christ and salvation
In order to illustrate this difference in emphasis, I ask you to compare the first lines (reproduced below) from twenty-six different chapters of the book of Isaiah.
23:1- “The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish;”
40:1- “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,”
24:1- “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste,”
41:1- “Keep silence before Me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength:”
25:1&2- “O Lord, Thou art my God; I will exalt Thee… For Thou hast made of a city an heap.”
42:1- “Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth;”
26:1- “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah;”
43:1- “But now thus saith the Lord… Fear not: for I have redeemed thee,”
27:1- “In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish”
44:1&2- “Yet now hear, O Jacob… Fear not,”
28:1- “Woe to the crown of pride,”
45:1- “Thus saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus,”
29:1- “Woe to Ariel,”
46:1- “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth,”
30:1- “Woe to the rebellious children,”
47:1&4- “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon… As for our redeemer, the Lord of hosts is His name,”
31:1- “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help;”
48:1- “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob,”
32:1- “Behold a king shall reign in righteousness,”
49:1- “Listen, O isles, unto Me,”
33:1- “Woe to thee that spoilest,”
50:1&2- “Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement… have I no power to deliver?”
34:1&2- “Come near, ye nations, to hear… For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations,”
51:1- “Hearken to Me, ye that follow righteousness,”
35:1- “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them”
52:1- “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion;”
If you noticed that several chapters in the first section of Isaiah begin with the word “woe”, it may interest you to know that the word “woe” appears twenty times in the first section of Isaiah, but only twice in the final twenty-seven chapters. Likewise, the phrase “in that day” is found forty-one times in the first thirty-nine chapters, but only once in the final twenty-seven chapters.
The difference in emphasis between the two sections of Isaiah creates a parallel between the book of Isaiah and the Bible. Just as the sixty-six chapters of the book of Isaiah are divided into a thirty-nine chapter section and a twenty-seven chapter section, our sixty-six book Bible is divided into a thirty-nine book Old Testament and a twenty-seven book New Testament. Just as the Old and New Testaments both contain law and gospel, the first emphasizing the law and the second emphasizing the gospel; both sections of Isaiah contain law and gospel, the first emphasizing the law and the second emphasizing the gospel.
However, even though the parallel that I have just drawn may be interesting, the evidence presented up to this point is not conclusive. Nevertheless, if that evidence is valid a closer examination of what Isaiah wrote should yield more compelling evidence.
When we examine chapter forty – the chapter in our parallel that corresponds to the first book of the New Testament – we find that it begins with a prophecy of John the Baptist, that is fulfilled and quoted in the first book of the New Testament (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:3).
Turning to the last chapter of the book of Isaiah – the chapter that corresponds to the last book of the Bible – we find a similar parallel between that chapter and the book of Revelation. Not only do both end with a prophecy of a new heavens and a new earth, but both personify Jerusalem as a woman in travail. (Isaiah 66:7-12, Revelation 12:1-6&17, Galatians 4:26, Isaiah 66:22, Revelation 21:1)
Concerning this parallel the Keil-Delitzsh Commentary makes the following statement, “It [the final 27 chapters of Isaiah] commences with a prophecy, which gave to John the Baptist the great theme of his preaching. It closes with the prediction of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, beyond which even the last page of the New Testament Apocalypse cannot go. And in the center the sufferings and exaltation of Christ are proclaimed as clearly, as if the prophet had stood beneath the cross itself, and had seen the Risen Saviour.” (Volume 7, Page 130)
While the parallel between the New Testament and the final twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah is not difficult to see, at first glance there does not seem to be a corresponding parallel between the Old Testament and the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah. However, that changes when we realize that because the Jews arrange the books of their “Old Testament” in a different order than we do, the Hebrew Old Testament ends with Second Chronicles rather than Malachi. And, there is a clear parallel between Second Chronicles and the thirty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, for both speak of Hezekiah and the coming Babylonian captivity.
In contrast, there is no parallel between the first chapter of Isaiah and Genesis. However, God may have planned it that way in order to prevent the parallel from being discovered too soon. Had the parallel been discovered before the canon of Scripture was established, His endorsement of the finished canon would have been called into question by the possibility that the books of the canon were tailored to make them fit the pattern found in Isaiah. As it is, such a claim is impossible.
The facts I have just presented take the parallel between the book of Isaiah and the completed canon beyond the realm of coincidence. A single parallel between one chapter and one book of the Bible would prove nothing. However, a series of parallels arranged in just the right sequence needed to give us a picture of the completed canon requires design. Just as a mousetrap consists of only a few parts, this parallel consists of only a few parts. However, intelligence is required to arrange those parts in just the right order necessary for them to work. It could not just happen by chance.
If you believe that God is all knowing, then you must believe that He knew this parallel would exist before He moved Isaiah to write the first word. And, if He knew this parallel would exist, then He planned it that way.
While I have presented the parallel between the Bible and the book of Isaiah, you must decide what conclusions to draw from it. However, I would like to point out that far more wisdom went into the design of this parallel than at first meets the eye. First of all, for this parallel to be a convincing witness to the completed canon of Scripture, the division of Isaiah into two parts had to be discovered before the first sixty-six-book Bible went to press. At the same time, the parallel between the book of Isaiah and the completed canon had to remain unnoticed until long after the sixty-six-book canon was established.
Had the division in the book of Isaiah been discovered too late, men would assume that it had been dreamed up to support the sixty-six-book canon. On the other hand, if the parallel had been noticed too soon, men would claim that the books of the Bible had been tailored to make them fit the pattern found in Isaiah. However, that did not happen. The division in the book of Isaiah was discovered by Jews who reject the New Testament, and, therefore, could not have seen any parallel between the Bible and the book of Isaiah. At the same time, the devotion of the Catholic churches to a seventy-two book translation prevented them from seeing the parallel. Furthermore, neither Luther, Tyndale or any of the other Reformation era translators planned to produce a thirty-nine-book Old Testament or a sixty-six-book Bible. Those numbers accidentally resulted from the fact that they translated from the original Hebrew (which did not contain the apocrypha), while following the Latin Bible in their division and arrangement of the books.
This parallel is a divine testimony to the inspiration of the entire Bible. Because of it, we can be certain that the Bible is complete, that no books have been lost, and that it does not contain any books that do not belong there. However, could it also be an endorsement of the Reformation text and the manuscripts from which the first sixty-six-book Bible was translated? After all, the fact that the Reformation produced the first Bible that matched the parallel given by Isaiah implies that the Reformation text was acceptable to God.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the translations were inspired. We know that the translators were not inspired because they wrote, crossed out, erased, and revised. That does not happen when someone is writing under divine inspiration. I am not even saying the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were exactly like the original. I am simply raising a question. If the Reformation Bible came into existence in fulfillment of prophesy, isn’t that fact a divine endorsement of the Reformation Bible?
Although I have presented the evidence, it is up to you to decide what conclusions to draw from that evidence. However, because God’s purpose in creating a parallel between the Bible and the book of Isaiah was to comfort believers, not convince unbelievers, we should not expect the evidence to be overwhelming. At the same time, the fact that such a parallel exists is evidence that God is in control, that He knew from the beginning exactly how many books the Bible would contain, and that those who reject His Word will not escape His judgement.