The history of the Korean Church is marked by its unfailing enthusiasm toward the Bible in general and Old Testament Prophets in particular. Well before Protestant Christianity was introduced to Korea through missionaries, some members of the Korean gentry themselves had already read the Bible in the late 18th century through their contact with French Roman Catholic missionaries working in China. Some Korean traders and merchants assisted John Ross, the Scottish missionary who was sent to China and Manchuria, in his translation of the Bible into Korean.1) There was even a Confucian noble man, Yi, Soo-Jung, who translated the Gospel of Luke as early as the late 19th century in Japan. No wonder Korean Christianity has been called a Bible-loving or Bible-committed one. Faced with the decline of their mother country, Korean Christians (both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians) put their trust in the OT especially and its bountiful promises and prophecies designed to sustain the people of Israel in their national crises and tribulations. The OT provided Korean Christians with many inspiring lessons and convictions because of its apparently nationalistic tone and universal vision of a peaceful world full of freedom, justice, and equality.
The book of Isaiah has been one of the most widely read OT books in Korea since Protestant Christianity was first introduced to Korean people in the late 19th century. This is for several reasons: its messianic hope, its sociopolitical oracles, and its frequent quotations and salient fulfillments in the NT. A survey of the uses and interpretations of the book of Isaiah in the Korean church illustrates how Korean Christians and Bible scholars have adopted its message in direct response to their contemporary sociopolitical challenges and ecclesial needs.
The present article examines how both the Korean Church and academia have read and interpreted the book of Isaiah these past two centuries with special attention to how the socio-religious milieu of Korea influenced Korean people’s reading and interpretation of the book. To this end, the present article examines Isaiah commentaries, monographs, and important books of sermons which deal with the book of Isaiah with attention to their themes and methods.
For this reason the present article takes a historical approach to major works on the book of Isaiah and categorizes them into several types in accordance with their interpretive method and focus.
1)Lee Mahn-Yol et al., 대한성서공회사 I [History of the Korean Bible Society. I](Seoul: Korean Bible Society, 1983), 23-89.
It is necessary to survey briefly how both Korean Roman Catholic3) and Protestant Christianity read and interpreted the Prophets, taking into account those works produced during the last century from 1918 to 2001, before embarking on the research history of the Book of Isaiah in Korea. The reason for making 1918 a starting period is that in 1918 Walter C. Erdman (어도만), the American missionary and OT professor of Pyeonyang Theological Seminary, published the first OT text book on the Prophets entitled
The total number of works dealing with the Prophets produced from 1918 to 2009 amounts to more than 2500 including books, articles, translations, Th.M theses, and short essays contributed to journals and magazines written by pastors and lay scholars, conservative-evangelicals and liberals alike. A comprehensive survey of works on Isaiah will help us establish a democratic and ecumenical forum for analyzing these studies of the Prophets. Below, we will divide the works according to major streams of study of the Prophets and give an overview of their interpretive focus and methods.5)
About 10% of these total works are mostly expository commentary and about 5% are monographs. Ph.D and Th.D theses occupy less than 2%, Th.M. theses a bit more than 10%. Translated works amount to 17%, which is 1.6 times the amount of works by Korean scholars. About half of the total works are about the three major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Among others, studies on the Book of Isaiah make up the majority (about 470 works), including translations.
For convenience sake we divide works on the Prophets into five periods with attention to their respective traits: 1918-1945, 1946-1969, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and onwards. Works produced before the 1945 emancipation of Korea from the Japanese regime occupy 10.7%, works from 1946-1969 9.1%, works from the 1970s 9.9%, works from the 1990s and later 51.2%. The majority of works on the Prophets were published during these past two decades. The earliest expository commentary on the Prophets is 포로시대 후 션지셔 강해: 학개 세가리야 말나기 by W. C. Erdman.6) As previously mentioned, the first monograph on the Prophets is W. C. Erdman’s 1918 이사야 공부긔. The first Korean scholar’s Ph.D was Yunkuk Kim’s 1956 Western Theological Seminary (Pittsburgh) Ph.D., entitled “The Trial of Hosea.” The first Th.M. thesis was Kim Jae-Joon’s 1932 Th.M. Thesis, entitled 오경 비평과 주전 팔세기 예언운동 [Pentateuchal Criticism and the 8th century BC Prophetic Movement] which was submitted to the same seminary. The first essay on the Prophets was Frederick S. Miller (민로아 선교사)’s ‘이사야’[Isaiah], contributed to Shinhakjinam 신학지남2/2 ([July 1919, Vol. 6], 32-35).
According to Moon Hee-Suk (ed.), 한국교회구약성서해석사 1900-1977 [Research History of the Old Testament in the Korean Church 1900-1977] (1977), about 30 different authors were found to have produced at least one work on the Prophets from 1900-1977. They were mostly theologically trained scholars and pastors. However, Park Dong-Hyun found many more works on the Prophets by including works written by lay authors and non-academics. According to Park, about 700 authors produced at least one work on the Prophets, including 198 works by non-Korean authors. Given that the number of publishing scholars has rapidly increased since 1977, Park’s numbers seem to be more accurate. Nowadays more than 100 OT Ph.D.-holding professors teach in over 50 seminaries and Christian colleges in Korea. Most of them earned their doctoral degree after the 1990s. Over one fourth of them have written a doctoral dissertation on the Prophets in eight different countries.
For the sake of brevity, the present article does not examine the works of lay scholars on the Prophets such as those of Ryu, Hee Se (21 essays) and Lee, Byung-Ryol (96 essays), except to include them in a general directory of Isaiah studies and works by Koreans. It also does not examine commentaries by pastors with academic weight (Kim Kyung-Won, Park Yo-Il etc) except for those of Bang Ji-Il and certain Isaiah commentaries.
One thing worth noting here is that translated commentaries have been in greater use among Korean Christians than any Korean commentaries or monographs on the Prophets. Another thing worth mentioning is that most works by Korean scholars and pastors on the Prophets have been heavily dependent on foreign studies. As is the case with other fields, Korean works on the Prophets unhesitatingly reveal their overdependence on Western scholarship in terms of both methodology and hermeneutics. They tend to regard themselves as academic retailers, content with merely importing foreign academic merchandise and selling it to domestic consumers. Few scholars have published a book or commentary independently of western traditions. Both Park, Yune Sun (1957) and Lee, Sang Keun (1991) have written commentaries on the Prophets by lumping together a variety of western scholars’ theories, but not fully engaging with the Bible texts. They of course well reflect their contemporary Zeitgeist, namely unlimited respect and admiration for western Christian civilizations and their theological heritage.
Most Korean pastors and preachers have been using serial commentaries translated from English or German works, or edited versions suited for Korean readership. They include Ryu Hyung-Ki’s Bible Commentaries (1965), Uzzimura Ganzo’s Bible Commentaries (1957-1977), Beacon Bible Commentaries (1976-1989), Calvin’s Bible Commentaries (1978), Henry Matthew’s Bible Exegesis (1979), Keil-Delitzsch’s Exegesis (1981), Baker Bible Exegesis (1982), Hesed Exegesis (1986), Hoekma Synthetic Exegesis (1989), Grand Synthetic Exegesis (1991-1996), Lange Exegesis (1978), International Bible Exegesis (1981-1992), USA’s Interpretation series commentaries, and Word Biblical Commentaries.
The Korean Church’s studies of the Prophets, since its beginning, are largely marked by three characteristics: a tendency toward nearly precritical and supercessionistic readings, historical-dogmatic (Christological reductionism), and eschatological and moralizing readings. Even in the midst of these dominant trends, however, there has been a divergent minority, namely, a historical-critical reading of Isaiah beginning with the 1934 Abingdon Press One Volume Commentary in the translation of which Chae, Pil Keun, Song, Chang Keun, and Han, Kyung Jik were involved. In the period from 1945 to the early 1980s, both
Overall, works on the major prophets number over 1,300, including over 200 translated works and 150 commentaries (100 translations), 30 monographs, 25 Ph.D. theses, 160 Th.M. theses, 800 essays and articles (90 translations). After the 1990s translations occupy a much smaller percentage (13.3%), which means that the number of Korean works has rapidly increased. About 42.4% of the works deal with Isaiah. Of over thirty or so doctoral dissertations on the Prophets that have thus far been produced, about twenty dissertations were written about the three major prophets, and of those twenty, about ten dissertations deal with the Book of Isaiah. This testifies also to the Korean church s enthusiasm towards Isaiah.
2)I am using this word in a Christian sense, referring to the 15 OT books from Isaiah to Malachi. 3)Korean Roman Catholic bicentennial commentaries on the OT have started to appear and Yim Seung-Pil’s translation of Isaiah catches our attention (1995). Few works have been produced by RC scholars or priests, perhaps because of their relative lack of emphasis on the Bible. For this reason, the present article does not deal further with these works. 4)Walter C. Erdman (어도만), 이사야 공부긔 [A Study of Isaiah] (Kyungsungi Chosun Christian Press, 1918). 5)Refer to Park Dong-Hyun’s 박동현의 이야기방 (http://dhpark.net) and Appendix no. 1 at the end of 예레미야서 연구 [Study of the Book of Jeremiah] (Seoul: Korean Bible Institute, 2003), 201-384 for more detailed statistics of Korean people s studies of the Prophets conducted from 1918 to 2001. 6)Kyungsungi Chosun Christian Press, 1920.
This article traces the Korean Church’s commitment to the Book of Isaiah back to its earliest period, revealing how the Korean Church’s studies and readings of the Book of Isaiah were conducted in direct response to the surrounding socio-political milieu. Many of the Korean readings and interpretations were dominated by Christological reductionism and messianic or eschatological hope. As noted above, Korean theological students at Pyeongyang Theological Seminary used text books that were written or translated by foreign missionary professors to teach Korean seminarians. These texts include John Ross’ Chinese Isaiah commentary, Charles Erdman’s Isaiah commentary, and Charles A. Clark’s Isaiah commentary.
It was in the 1910s that Korean Christians started to study the Book of Isaiah both theologically and academically. The first book on Isaiah was a Chinese commentary written by a Scottish missionary in China and Manchuria. It was 舊約以賽亞註釋 [The Conference Commentary on Isaiah, 1910], 中國聖敎書會), which was published in 1910 (耶蘇降世一牛九百零十年) as part of a series of commentaries designed to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Chinese missionary activity conducted by western overseas mission boards. The centennial mission conference held at Shanghai in 1907 originally decided to publish a series of Chinese OT commentaries for Chinese Christians from 1909 to 1914. The Chinese Church published OT commentaries from 1909 to 1914.
Since back then there was no Korean book on the Prophets, Pyeongyang Presbyterian Seminary had to use John Ross’ Chinese Commentary which was published in 1910. In accordance with the theological line of mission theology of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, Ross (羅約翰), well versed in Chinese Confucian canons, revealed himself as a progressive evangelist with a deep respect for the traditional cultures of both China and Korea (refer to his 1903
Ross’ commentary divides the Book of Isaiah into two major parts (chapters 1-39 and 40-66). After a very brief introduction of the prophet Isaiah and the historical background of his prophetic activity, it divides chapters 1-39 into three smaller units. The first part deals with the devastation of Jerusalem for her sins against God: Chapters 1-12 deal with the history of Judah BC 740-701; chapters 13-35 deal with the survival and restoration of Judah in and through the judgment of God against all foreign nations; chapters 36-39 deal with the history of Hezekiah King of Judah. The second part (chapters 40-66) deals with the restoration of Judah coterminous with the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven. This commentary gives each smaller section a summarizing rubric and each chapter a relevant title. It is marked by its verse-by-verse exposition and relatively rich information of historical and chronological circumstances. This commentary fundamentally reads the Book of Isaiah as a scripture for the Church named a new Israel, but not fully exploring it in its proper historical context. For example, it reads Chapter 4 as a prophecy about a great restoration of the Church (敎會大興). Overall, it reads the Book of Isaiah from the perspective of a Protestant doctrine, justification by faith, placing emphasis on the inability of human beings to save themselves (入舞自救之九) and on the grace of God to redeem them from sin and death. It submerges the Book of Isaiah under the 16th century Reformation motto,
In 1918 the Presbyterian Society of Literature (예수교서회) published 이사야 공부긔, a Korean textbook on Isaiah, which was a very brief monograph on the Book of Isaiah by Charles R. Erdman.8) It was not a commentary or monograph in a strict sense, but an outline study guide, which, dividing the Book of Isaiah into 12 sections, was something of a pocket-book on the Book of Isaiah.
Charles Erdman’s 1918 Isaiah commentary was translated by Rev. Kim, Kwan Suck as a textbook on Isaiah. Its original version had been used in Korea since the 1930s. This commentary divides the Book of Isaiah into three major parts: Part I (Chapters 1-35) prophecies of punishment and judgment; Part II (Chapters 36-39) the historical section; Part III (Chapters 40-66) prophecies of restoration. Each part is divided into smaller parts. Part I consists of 7 units (chapters 1-5, Judah’s sins; chapter 6, the call of Isaiah; chapters 7-12, a book of prophecy on Immanuel; chapters 13-23, destiny of all nations; chapters 24-27, the day of Yahweh; chapters 28-33, a book of prophecy on a catastrophic disaster; chapters 34-35, the redemption of God’s people). Part III consists of 3 smaller units (chapters 40-48, the power of Yahweh; chapters 49-57, The Servant of Yahweh; chapters 58-66, God’s perfected Kingdom).
This commentary interprets the Book of Isaiah from two foci: the redeeming and self-sacrificial ministry of Yahweh’s Servant (the people of Israel, the remnant, the Suffering Messiah) and God’s perfection of his Kingdom through his suffering servant. It views Luke 4:17-21 as a fulfillment of Isaiah chapters 58-66. After a brief discussion of the historical background (the periods of four Judean kings from Uzziah to Manasseh), the prophet Isaiah, and his biography (royal counselor for Judean kings), it first shows a deep appreciation of the poetic value of Isaiah’s oracles as well as their revelatory depth. Generally speaking, it also takes a Christologicalreductionist approach to the Book of Isaiah. For example, it argues that Chapter 6 is talking about the pre-incarnate Christ, the Son God of the Trinity. It even goes as far as to say that Isaiah encountered the triune God here by connecting this chapter with John 12:40-41. This commentary is marked by its terse yet intertextual connections. Nearly every Isaiah verse is related to and connected with NT verses or OT verses in a meaningful and heuristic manner. For example, 6:4 is connected to Joshua 5:13-14, Ezekiel 1:28, Daniel 10:5-11, and Luke 5:8. 6:6 is related to I John 1:9. 6:7 is connected to Matthew 28:19 and Mark 1:17. 6:8 is interlocked with Romans 12:1 and Acts 26:19. This Reformed principle of Bible interpretation (the Bible interprets itself) is very thoroughly employed especially for commenting on chapters 11-12 in a very sermonistic way (Isaiah 26:19 with Hebrews 11:13-16; 27:1 with Psalm 74:14).
Additionally, George T. B. Davis’s book Fulfilled Prophecies That Prove the Bible was translated into Korean by T. S. Soltau (So, Yul Do, Korean name) as 예언의 응험 (예수교서회, 1934). Davis played an active role in the 1910 One Million Souls Saving Movement of the Korean Church, participated in the world-wide revival movement, and especially took the lead in spreading One Million New Testaments to the Chinese. He advocated a dispensationalist and pre-millennial kingdom eschatology and Zionism as well. His understanding of the Prophets and eschatology greatly influenced the then Korean Christians of that time as they read the Prophets. This book was written to assure Korean Christians and readers that the Bible is God’s Word and that this Word was faithfully fulfilled in the devastations of pagan cities (Tyre, Sidon etc) and in the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem after 1948.9) It argues that the Bible proved itself a collection of fulfilled prophecies based on Isaiah 41:22-29, which declared that God’s prediction of the things to come through OT prophets is a proof of God’s omnipotence and wisdom. Thus, one can believe that the Bible is a collection of God’s fulfilled prophecies in view of its own stated criterion “prophecy and fulfillment”(Deut. 18:21-22). This book consists of 14 chapters beginning with “the destruction of Tyre”and ending with “The Bible being a divine wonder to the whole world”Chapters 13 (devastation of Jerusalem) and 14 (“rebuilding of Jerusalem”) are devoted to proving by providing photographs that God’s prophecies concerning Jerusalem were amazingly fulfilled. In a similar vein, W. L. Swallen (So, An Lon)’s
Lastly, Rev. Charles Allen Clark’s 이사야서 연구 (a translation of his
7)I am indebted to two colleagues for a survey of research history of the Prophets in Korea: Kim Young-Jin et al., [Introduction to the Old Testament: Most Recent Studies in Korea] (Seoul: Korea Christian Society of Literature, 2004), 761-785 (chap. 29 “The Prophets and Korean Theology”) (in Korean); Park Dong-Hyun Park, [Study of Jeremiah] (Seoul: Bible Institute, 2001) (in Korean). See also the following website for more detailed information: http://tong.nate.com/roiland/12797058. 8)Charles R. Erdman, The Book of Isaiah. An Exposition (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Rowell Company, 1918), 1-160 = Charles R. Erdman (어도만), 이사야 주석서 [The Book of Isaiah. An Exposition] (Seoul: The Christian Literature Society, 단기 4290 ). This book was used by Pyeongyang Seminary to teach its students before it was translated into Korean. Therefore, I included it here in the discussion of pre-1945 studies of Isaiah. 9)George T. B. Davis, Fulfilled Prophecies That Prove the Bible, trans. by So, Yul Do (T. S. Soltau) as 예언의 응험 (Seoul: The Christian Literature Society of Korea, 1934), 1. 10)Charles A. Clark, Expository Commentary on Isaiah (Seoul: The Christian Literature Society of Korea, 1958), 1-264. 11)Ibid., 264.
About 500 works were produced on Isaiah in this period (70 translations, 70 commentaries, 12 monographs, 10 Ph.D. theses). Of these, 68 works were produced before 1945, 37 works in the period from 1946 to 1969, 32 works in the 1970s, 84 works in the 1980s, and 250 works after 1990. Several works on Isaiah were published before 1945. As aforementioned, Erdman had published his commentary on Isaiah in 1918 as a textbook for Pyeongyang Seminary. This indicates that the Korean Church, from very early on, held the Book of Isaiah in high esteem. Then came Clark’s 1948 Isaiah commentary, followed by Joseph Hopper (趙夏潘)’s 1954 Standard Bible Commentary on Isaiah. It was followed by Kim Chan-Kook’s 1980 A
About 10 Korean students wrote a Ph.D / Th.D. dissertation on Isaiah after 1990. Ma, Won Suck’s 1996 dissertation deals with the Spirit of God in the Book of Isaiah. Song Byung-Hyun’s 1997 dissertation takes a textuallinguistic approach to God’s exaltation and the humiliation and restoration of human beings in the Book of Isaiah, Yim Chang-Il s 1997 dissertation deals with the creation motif in Isaiah s idea of Restoration, Oh Taek-hyun’s 1998 dissertation deals with Deutero-Isaiah and its relationship to Deuteronomy, Kim, Hae Kwon’s 2001 dissertation deals with the Plan of Yahweh in First Isaiah, and Park Kyung-Chul’s 2001 dissertation deals with Israel’s Righteousness and Salvation of Gentiles with a focus on the final text of the Book of Isaiah.12) Kim, Keun Joo has recently written a dissertation at Oxford on the position of Egyptians in the Book of Isaiah.
Here I will examine Joseph Hopper’s translated commentary, the works of Korean Bible scholars and pastors on Isaiah. In 1954 Hong Chun-Kim translated Joseph Hopper’s commentary on Isaiah as part of the Standard Bible Commentary13) planned by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea. This commentary begins by declaring itself as a biblicalpastoral commentary rather than a critical commentary. This commentary used the 1938 Korean Revised Version of the Bible and American Revised Version of the Bible. Hopper stated that his book was written for an evangelistic minister under the guiding principle of two verses from 2 Timothy (2:5; 4:2). He confessed that his commentary owed a great deal of insight and inspiration to several preceding works:
On the other hand, Park, Yune Sun’s Isaiah commentary is characterized by its Christological-reductionist and supercessionist approach to the Book of Isaiah.15) He consistently deprives Isaiah’s messiah and his future kingdom oracles of their contemporary meaning and reference. By doing so he plucks most of Isaiah’s oracles out of their proper historical context and forges them into a collection of predictions about Jesus Christ and his redemptive ministry. This means that most of Isaiah’s oracles concerning the messiah meant nothing to his own contemporary audience. This extreme Christological reductionism is found in his interpretation of Isaiah 7-9. Park reads the Immanuel prophecy as directly pointing to the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary without attempting to place it in its immediate historical context.16) He never mentions clearly here the Syro-Ephraimite War, against which Isaiah clearly proclaimed a series of salvific oracles to the house of David. This tendency is slightly corrected in Lee Sang-Keun’s commentary.17) Park Yune-Sun consistently seeks a supercessionist interpretation by replacing the historical people of Israel with the Church, namely, a new Israel (cf. Rom 11:25-26). For example, this hermeneutical stance is clear in his interpretation of 9:1. The darkness described in this chapter serves to forecast a pre-messianic age which is remote from his immediate audience. Those who are sitting in the shadow of death simply refer to those people who are spiritually dead. He dehistoricizes the prophecy of Isaiah about a messianic time by negating its immediately historical referentiality. He thinks that verse 4 dealing with the day of Midian simply points to Jesus’ redemption of sinners from sin and death, not a particular deliverance of the Israelites from Assyria.18) This spiritualizing tendency is seen in his interpretation of Isaiah 40:1, which he asserts does not necessarily predict the return of the Babylonian exiles in the 6th century BC, but a future conversion of the Gentiles to Jesus Christ in the NT times. In his view, chapter 40 simply envisages a glorious future of his Church.19)
Overall, Park reads the Book of Isaiah exclusively from a Christian viewpoint without being aware of its position in God’s overall plan of redeeming the entire world including the people of Israel from sin and death. No wonder Park discredits Bernard Duhm’s historical-critical division of the Book of Isaiah into three Isaiahs. He shows himself heavily dependent on E. J. Young and Lange concerning the historical development of the Book of Isaiah. Interestingly, Park sometimes quotes and mentions the views of a vigorous historical critic, Karl Marti, in order to dispute such a historical-critical understanding of certain passages. In summation, Park’s Christological-reductionist interpretation of the Book of Isaiah impoverishes the inspirational dimension (2 Tim 3:16-17; 4:1-2) of Isaiah s oracle necessary for understanding a progressive and organic redemption of God running through various stages of human history. One thing to commend in his commentary is that he interpolates sermons or sermonic reflections in the middle of exegesis or at its concluding part in order to make the prophecies of Isaiah relevant to readers.
Lee, Sang Keun’s Isaiah commentary shares some features with Park’s commentary:20) Christ-centered interpretation, pre-critical stance, and heavy dependence on western scholars. However, Lee’s commentary is slightly different from Park’s work and more balanced than it in some ways. First of all, after evaluating various theories in arguing against or for the unity of Isaiah, he concludes that the Book of Isaiah can be read as a unified book. Furthermore, he combines biblical ideas and insights drawn from Isaiah with dogmatic teachings about God, human beings, and salvation history. Lee points out four goals of the Book of Isaiah, though unimpressively:21) its warning against idolatry, emphasis on political neutrality and isolationism, prediction of the birth of Christ, and preparation of the people of God for his coming into the world. Lee defines Isaiah as a prophet commissioned to pave the way for the Messiah Jesus Christ to come into this world. According to him, the Book of Isaiah contains both the oracles predicting the first coming of Christ (9:2, 6; 53:1-12) and the oracles concerning his second coming (2:1-5, 9:7, 11:1-16, 35:1-10, 54:11-17). Christ’s redemption begins with his first advent and will be consummated with his second coming. In this way Lee argues for the unity of the Book of Isaiah. He believes that Isaiah 40-66 was written during a latter stage of the prophet’s life, namely, after his retirement from public ministry.22) Like Park, Lee interprets most of the messianic oracles (Chapters 2, 9, 11, 53)23) in terms of how they were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ Jesus or will be fulfilled in his second coming without situating them in their original historicaltheological context. For example, Lee regards Isaiah 53 as solely predicting the suffering and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels. He thus is forced to retroject Matthew 8:17, Mark 15:28, Luke 22:37, John 12:37-38, Acts 8:32-33, Romans 10:16, and 1 Peter 2:24-25 back into this chapter, showing little interest in its historical anchorage. One exception to this tendency is found in his understanding of the Immanuel prophecy in 7:14. He basically sees it as fulfilled in the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:23. However, he tries to position it in its immediate historical context. He argues that the baby named Immanuel was one of Isaiah’s sons and his mother was his second virgin wife (cf. 8:1-4).24) He applies a theory of double perspectives here to interpreting this oracle. But he does not consistently attempt this way of reading when interpreting other messianic oracles.
On the other hand, Rev. Bang, Ji Il’s two-volume Isaiah commentaries take a more balanced approach to the Book of Isaiah in that he explores the historical depth of Isaiah’s oracles and their theological relevance to their original audience while anticipating their final fulfillment in the saving life of Jesus Christ (2:1-4 a Kingdom of Christ, Church; 54:1) and their more perfected future fulfillment.25) He believes that the Book of Isaiah as a Gospel of Redemption and Forgiveness is an OT equivalent to the Epistle to the Romans and at the same time is a book of revelation that helps the reader or audience cope with various real-life issues. For example, he claims to find a biblical diagnosis of current family problems in 4:1 such as the numerical imbalance between women and men. According to him, 9:5 warns against modern nations’ military armaments and equipment designed to save themselves from any potential enemies. Like Park, Bang occasionally interpolates a sermonic reflection or exhortatory notes where necessary. In commenting on 53:3, Bang is critical of his contemporary pastors who are capitalizing on the saving cross of Jesus Christ in order to secure private gains such as money and power.26) In exegeting 54:2, Bang says that stretching the curtains of the tent means taking a broad-minded and inclusive attitude toward others with different standpoints. Overall, Bang seeks to steer a middle path between rigid traditionalists and progressive liberals in terms of theological posture towards other religions or denominations.27) All in all, nearly all the commentaries in the period from 1945 to 1980 are pastoral, expositional, moralistic, and christologicalreductionist ones.28)
12)I shall not discuss here Koreans’ doctoral dissertations in details, because the present essay deals with works written in Korean. 13)Joseph Hopper, The Standard Bible Commentary on Isaiah, trans. Hong, Chun Kim as 표준주석 이사야 (Seoul: The Theological Seminary and the Board of Christian Training of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, 1954). Park Hyung-Ryong was commissioned to serve as a general editor of the PCK’s standard commentary series. Park thus was erroneously credited with having written this commentary on Isaiah. 14)Ibid., 65-66. 15)Park, Yune Sun, A Commentary on Isaiah. Vols 1-2 [in Korean] (Seoul: Yungeumsa, 1991). 16)Ibid., 91-92. Park grudgingly identifies the baby named Immanuel with the people of God in Isaiah’s time (8:8; 66:7-14). 17)Lee, Sang Keun, Lee’s Commentary on Isaiah [in Korean] (Seoul: Sungdeung Press, 1991), 83-85. 18)Ibid., 107-108. 19)Ibid., 148. 20)Lee, Sang Keun, Lee’s Commentary on Isaiah [in Korean] (Seoul: Sungdeung Press, 1991). 21)Ibid., 10. 22)Ibid., 16-17 23)Ibid., 102, 122, 419. 24)Ibid., 90-91. 25)Bang, Jil Il, 이사야서 강해I (Isaiah 1-33) [A Commentary on Isaiah. I] [in Korean] (Seoul: The Board of Education of PCK, 1976); idem, 이사야서 강해 II(Isaiah 34-66) [A Commentary on Isaiah. II] [in Korean] (Seoul: The Christian Press, 1977). 26)Bang, Ji Il, [A Commentary on Isaiah. II], 321. 27)Bang, Ji Il, [A Commentary on Isaiah. II], 341. 28)One exception to this trend may be mentioned, namely Kim, Eung Jo, 이사야 예레미야 주석 [Commentary on Isaiah and Jeremiah] (구약성서 대강해 7; 서울: 대한성경교회출판부, 1961), which interpreted the Book of Isaiah from the historical-critical perspective.
This part examines several post-1980 works on Isaiah that were produced by those scholars or preachers who are alive and active in the church and academia as well. First of all, Chung Hack Bong’s commentary29) does not accept B. Duhm s historical critical divisions of the Book of Isaiah, while admitting to the division of the Book into three larger sections. He interprets the Book of Isaiah under one clause of the key verse 1:18, “Let us Reason Together.”He claims that the Book of Isaiah is an invitation of God for the people of Israel to engage in debate with God, whose aim is to renew and rehabilitate them by awakening a heart in them for divine eternity (Eccl. 3:11). In a nutshell, this commentary reads the Book of Isaiah from certain systematic theological viewpoints. Chapters 1-13 comprise commentaries in a proper sense and Chapters 15-20 discuss several doctrines of systematic theology such as doctrines of God, human beings, and history. This book unhesitatingly reads the theological tenets of Romans into Isaiah. In this sense, it is heir to Park Yune-Sun and Lee Sang-Keun.
One may still examine some other works on Isaiah that resemble these two works in terms of method and exegetical principles. Park, Chul Soo’s Isaiah commentary claims to find a threefold structure in the Book of Isaiah, not necessarily accepting the historical critical division of it into three independent books.30) It seeks a historical-grammatical, salvation-historical, and theological understanding of the Book of Isaiah. The theme of Isaiah, in his view, is God’s healing of Israel, the elected people and his redemptive work through Jesus Christ. He blatantly christianizes the Book of Isaiah, leaving unexplored most of the Isaianic oracles addressed to the prophet’s contemporary audience.
Yoo, Do Sun’s The Isaiah Panorama offers a panoramic overview of Isaiah 1-39 by intertwining it with the Book of Revelation with attention to two central ideas predominant in both the books: the Lamb of God (Isa 53) and God’s Throne (Isa 6).31) It argues that the essence of Isaiah’s theology can be summarized in a verse: “Our salvation lies in our God and his Little Lamb enthroned together.”32) This book claims that the purpose of Isaiah’s oracles was not to proclaim God’s plan to restore the Judean exiles from the Babylonian captivity, but to restore all the posterity of Adam back to the garden of Eden.33) While admitting that the OT does bear witness to Christ’s two-fold comings, Yoo still submits that Isaiah’s prophecies are bifocal, predicting first the return of the Babylonian exiles and then God’s consummated redemption of human beings through the two-fold comings of Christ. Both scenes a ppear to overlap with each other.
Rev. Kim, Chang Yin’s six volume Isaiah commentaries merit discussion.34) These comprise a collection of 195 sermons which were delivered to Choonghyun Church during about 8 years from 1969 to 1977. He is very careful to make the prophecy of Isaiah bear on the real life of an individual Christian or a congregation.
There are still other works on Isaiah which are not dealt with at length here because of their obscure nature. Kim Kyung-Rae published 내 백성을 위로하라 [Comfort My People] in 1998, which consists of dozens of short devotional essays and several comments on Zionism and the final destiny of Israel. He seems to be sympathetic to and supportive of Zionism.35) Yoo, Haeng Yeol produced a small book named 아, 감미로운 말씀 [Ah! What a Sweet Word!] in 2009.36) Cho, Seong Wook has published a short book on Isaiah which invites the reader to enjoy several Hebrew passages of Isaiah. The author collects several essays and reflections derived from closer readings of Hebrew texts into a book. This book lacks its compositional unity and coherence. However, its discussion of the Seraph image in Isaiah is somewhat illuminating, though offering tantalizing comments occasionally.37)
Now let me turn to examine Jang, Se Hoon’s 한 권으로 읽는 이사야서 [Reading Isaiah as a Whole], which attempts a synchronic and canonical reading of the Book of Isaiah as one book without being entangled in thorny disputations with historical-critical theories concerning its compositional history. Part I offers a concise discussion of recent trends in favor of reading Isaiah as a whole. Part II shows his thematic studies to support the unity of the Book of Isaiah.38) Part III consists of exegetical essays that explore chapters 7-9, 1:2-9, 2:1-16, and 54:4-8. In conclusion Jang firmly argues for the compositional unity of the Book of Isaiah by saying that the 8th century BC Isaiah substantially authored it.39)
Finally I will discuss two books on Deutero-Isaiah and one commentary on First Isaiah. Both Jang, Il Sun and Chong, Joong Ho are agreed in accepting the historical-critical divisions of the Book of Isaiah initiated by B. Duhm. Jang is inclined to date the final production of the Book of Isaiah to the 2th century BC based on the reference of Ben Sirach (BC 2th century) to the Isaianic authorship of the Book of Isaiah.40) He thinks that the servant of Yahweh in the four songs of the Servant of Yahweh, authored Deutero-Isaiah. Jang is careful not to read the songs of the Servant of Yahweh as solely depicting the work and saving ministry of Jesus Christ. To his credit, Jang endeavors to situate the four songs in an immediate historical context in order to gain a proper understanding of them.41)
In a similar vein, Chong Joong-Ho’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66 combines a moderate historical-critical approach with a canonical way of reading.42) He is specially interested in exploring the meaning and significance of Deutero-Isaiah’s sensual language through his analysis of sensual expressions and metaphors. Chong suggests that we should take in multimedia and cyber reality in interpreting the Bible in a postmodern society like ours. In interpreting Isaiah 53, Chong grapples with the identity of the suffering servant and argues that the suffering servant was an anonymous prophet who suffered persecution for his vigorous execution of God’s prophetic task and at the same time anticipated the humiliation of Jesus Christ and his exaltation.43) This way of reading is attempted in interpreting Isaiah 61:1-4.44)
Kim, Hae Kwon’s commentary on Isaiah 1-39 largely takes a historical approach to the Isaiah texts, but attempts the historical-critical approach to a few Isaianic texts such as Isaiah chapters 13-14 and 36-37.45) This commentary is interested in situating Isaiah’s oracles in the matrix of the prophet’s own times and activities in order to make as many as oracles in First Isaiah bear on the life of his contemporaries. It makes sure that the oracles of Isaiah should be understood first to address his own contemporary audience prior to them being summoned to predict only the coming of Jesus Christ. This commentary places emphasis on exploring how much Isaiah’s oracles impacted his contemporaries. Overall, this book places all the messianic oracles of First Isaiah (chapters 2, 7-9, 11, 33) in their immediate historical settings. It devotes little space, however, to making a dialogue between biblical exegesis and dogmatics.
29)Chung, Hack Bong, 평신도 성경강해. 우리가 서로 변론하자 [Let us Reason Together: Layman’s Bible Commentary on the Book of Isaiah] (Seoul: Jordan, 1980), 11-16, 7-151. 30)Park, Chul Soo, 구약강해 이사야 [A Commentary on Isaiah] (Seoul: Youngsung, 2000). 31)The word “throne” occurs 44 times in the Book of Revelation and “the little lamb of God”occurs 29 times in it. 32)Yoo, Do Sun, 이사야 파노라마 [The Isaiah Panorama] (Seoul: The Capstone, 2007), 238-255. 33)Ibid., 15. 34)Kim, Chang Yin, 강해설교 이사야 1-6권 [Expository Commentary on Isaiah vols. 1-6] (Seoul: Choonghyun Church Press, 1986-1987). 35)Kim, Kyung Rae, 내 백성을 위로하라 [Comfort My People] (Seoul: Daejanggan, 1988), 234-268, 273-277. 36)Yoo, Haeng Yeol, 아, 감미로운 말씀 [Ah! What a Sweet Word!] (Seoul: Handeul, 2009). 37)Cho, Seong Wook, 이사야와 차 한잔을 [Teatime with Isaiah] (Seoul: Korea Bible Institute, 2008), 59-68. 38)Ibid., 87-142. 39)Ibid., 33-42. 40)Jang, Il Sun, 이사야 II [Isaiah II] (Seoul: Jeonmangsa, 1993), 16, 98. 41)Ibid., 101. According to Jang, Isaiah 53 deals with three themes: the possibility of God’s fulfillment of justice after his servant’s tribulations, forgiving through enduring sufferings, and glorification after humiliation. At the same time Jang comments on its possible reference to Jesus Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, burial, and exaltation. 42)Chong, Joong Ho, 성서주석 이사야 II [A Commentary on Isaiah II] (대한기독교서회 100주년기념성서주석 시리즈; 서울 : 대한기독교서회, 2003), 30, 227. 43)Ibid., 219. 44)Ibid., 319. 45)Kim, Hae Kwon, 성서주석 이사야 I [A Commentary on Isaiah I] (대한기독교서회 100주년기념성서주석 시리즈; Seoul : The Christian Literature Society of Korea, 2006).
The pre-1945 Korean Church studied the Prophets as a systematic education of the Bible in its earliest stage. The post-1945 Korean Church approached the Prophets with various questions and concerns such as the understanding of Korean people’s tribulations represented by the 1948 separation of Korea and the subsequent Korean War (1950-1953), advocacy of human rights for the oppressed people in the industrialization period, pursuit of socioeconomic justice and peace, commitment to the reconciliation of South and North Korea, attending to the rights of imported laborers, critique against the injustice of political and religious authorities, and redressing gender inequality. The Korean Church has sought to find solutions to these questions through its studying of the Prophets. It is very likely that these questions will continue to propel the Korean Church to listen to God’s guiding voice in and through the Prophets. In this process the Prophets will provide the Korean Church with the opportunity to be empowered by God and enable it to renew itself and to transform a secular Korean society into a more humane and just one, nearing the perfected Kingdom of God as envisioned in Isaiah 11 and 65.
Most pre-1945 works on Isaiah tended to interpret the Book of Isaiah in terms of its fulfillment in the life of Jesus Christ, not fully paying attention to the oracles of Isaiah as they impacted his own contemporaries and historical situations. Of course, nearly all the works on Isaiah maintained a 19th century pre-critical stance toward the compositional history of the book and its messianic oracles. While highlighting the normative and moral aspects of Isaiah’s oracles, they did not seek a historical-grammatical understanding to the fullest.
Likewise most works produced from 1945 to 1980 made no significant progress in terms of method and exegetical depth. Park Yune-Sun, Bang Ji-Il, and Lee Sang-Keun were faithful followers of the pre-1945 works on Isaiah in terms of method and theological direction. However, post-1980 Korean scholars cautiously applied form-critical, tradition-historical, redaction-historical, and synchronic approaches to the text of Isaiah. Most of the Korean works on Isaiah may be categorized as historicalchristological, historical-pneumatic efforts. Strictly speaking, no significant historical-critical exegetical commentary thus far has appeared in Korea. Most of the Korean commentaries on the Book of Isaiah are simply expository commentaries without text-critical endeavors. It is as if 19th century historical criticism has never reached Korea. One may wonder why. I think that biblical exegesis in Korea was done always in close response to various external pressures. In the colonial period under imperial Japan, the Korean Church tended to reduce all the sociopolitical oracles of Isaiah to a set of spiritualized and moral tenets so that Korean readers would not be propelled to act against the Japanese regime. This external and oppressive atmosphere caused Korean commentators to dehistoricize and spiritualize all the political oracles dealing with justice and righteousness on earth. This situation continued in the period of military dictatorship in the 1960-1980s and has became worse even now. Though Korea has been liberated from the Japanese bondage and has grown to become a democratic state, Korean scholars and commentators are not interested in making Isaiah’s harsh condemnation against corrupt upper-classes such as priests, kings, landlords, and high-ranking state officials relevant to their own society. They are not bold enough to highlight the historical-revelatory dimension of Isaiah’s oracles so that they may address our own situations. What caused the dehistoricizing interpretation of Isaiah’s oracles now? I think that the ecclesial power of the Korean Church has put a big bridle on the mouth of biblical commentators and scholars so that they may not read the Bible afresh so as to deconstruct the status quo of the Korean Church. The conservative and status quo-maintaining atmosphere prevalent in the church, I think, is at least partly responsible for the dehistoricizing and eschatological interpretation of the Book of Isaiah. Dehistoricizing, Moralizing, and Eschatolizing of Isaiah’s oracles deprive the prophet Isaiah of his prophetic function to confront and challenge, encourage and refresh us now and here so that we may seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s Righteousness. I am inclined to believe that the wide gap between academic studies of the Book of Isaiah and pastoral ministry will still remain unbridged, as long as this dehistoricizing tendency dominates Korean people’s engagement in the Book of Isaiah. I hope a fuller exploration of the historical and earthly dimension of Isaiah’s sociopolitical oracles will result in a substantial and effective dialogue between lay people and Bible scholars, academic research and the needs of pulpits.