Exploring the Interpretation of Isaiah 53 by Early Ante-Nicene Theologians


The goal of this paper is to survey all major citations of Isaiah 53 from the time of the apostolic fathers until Tertullian. A second paper will be required to finish the task of examining the later ante-Nicene fathers from Origen forward. During this early ante-Nicene era, only six theologians cite Isaiah 53: Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Other ante-Nicene theologians, which include Mathetes,[1] Polycarp,[2] Ignatius,[3] Papias,[4] Hermas,[5] Tatian,[6] Theophilus,[7] and Athenagoras,[8] were considered, but their major surviving works did not provide any direct citations to Isa 53.[9]

It may be surprising to many Christian interpreters that there are only seven citations that are three verses or longer.  In comparison with other texts, such as Gen 1:1, Gen 1:26, Ps 110:1, John 1:1-5, John 1:14, Phil 2:5-11, and Col 1:15-20, Isa 53 is lacking in the surviving writings of the patristic theologians.  Nevertheless, as this paper will demonstrate, Isa 53 did play an important role in the Christology and hermeneutics of the early Church even if its contribution is limited. As we examine the selected theologians chronologically we will see three common interpretive aspects emerge. The first is ethical, meaning that Isa 53 was used to exhort Christians to behave like Jesus, who is tightly associated with the Suffering Servant. The second is Christological, meaning that Isa 53 was used as a proof text for the divine/human nature of Jesus, which includes the virgin birth, the Incarnation, and the development of Trinitarian doctrine. The third is prophetic, meaning that Isa 53 was considered to be a predictive prophecy of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  Of course many of the theologians combine one or more of the above aspects in any given treatment. For example, often ethical exhortation is predicated on a Christological interpretation, which is seen through the lens of predictive prophecy. In all cases a Jewish-Christian dialogue is often present. This paper will identify and analyse the six aforementioned ante-Nicene theologians and then make some concluding remarks about the role of Isa 53 in early Christian interpretation.

  1. Clement of Rome (30-100 C.E.)

It is recorded that Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome, knew the apostles of Christ personally and that his writings were considered for inclusion in the New Testament canon. Therefore we begin our journey exploring the Christian uses of Isa 53 in the very first generation of the Church.[10]

1.1. First Clement

The earliest existent Christian full length quotation of Isa 53 does not come in the New Testament Scriptures, but in the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians.[11] Clement cited all of Isa 53:1-12[12] in order to encourage the Corinthians toward unity and humility as they imitate Christ, who is the true Suffering Servant.[13] Clements did very little to introduce the quotation, but simply stated: “Our Lord Jesus Christ… did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him. For He says…”[14] and then immediately flows Isa 53. Clement made no effort to defend his connection of Isa 53 with Jesus, but simply stated it as self-evident fact. Clearly, therefore, Clement demonstrated an early Christian usage of Isa 53, which linked it to the historical experience of Jesus of Nazareth.[15]

It has been suggested that Clement’s subtle shifting of the dative, “to our sin,” which is exhibited by the Codex Alexandrinus, to the genative, “for our sin,” in Isa 53:6 may have been intentional. If this is the case, then there might have been an inclination to adapt the Greek rendering in order to bring Isa 53 in line with New Testament passages, such as 1 Cor 15:3, or for liturgical purposes.[16] Intentional or not, 1 Clement provides us with a very early indication that the Church had seamlessly appropriated Isa 53 for two purposes: to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of prophetic expectation and to exhort humble self giving behaviour among Christians.[17]

Summary of Clement of Rome

According to Harnack, 1 Clement became a very important document as it circulated among the early Church.[18] This being the case, Clement either set or continued a now lost precedent for the Christian interpretation of Isa 53 as both ethical exhortation and as an example of prophetic fulfillment. Therefore, Clement established the embryonic basis for Christian uses of this text. As Markschies writes: “We will not underestimate the influence of 1 Clement upon the ‘victory parade’ of Isaiah 52:13–53:12 in patristic argumentation.”[19]

             2. Barnabas (1st Century)

Tradition holds that the Barnabas who penned the surviving epistle is the same Barnabas who traveled with Paul. Few scholars today, however, hold to the view that the letter we have today was actually written by Barnabas.[20]

2.1. Epistle of Barnabas

The only other reference to Isa 53 among the existing canon of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers is found in the Epistle of Barnabas.[21] This epistle was concerned to distinguish what Barnabas considered to be the true faith of the Christians from the heretical beliefs of the Jews.[22] The letter opened by arguing that the Jewish sacrificial system had been abolished because the crucifixion of Christ made it obsolete, that the fasts of the Jews are not acceptable to God, and that since the anti-Christ was soon to come into the world that Christians ought to purify themselves from all wickedness and error. Such wickedness and error, according to Barnabas, included the false system of Judaism. It is in this context that Barnabas quoted Isa 53:5 and 7 from a Greek source that is not consistent with any surviving copies of the LXX.[23]

There is an interesting introduction to the quotation of these verses. Barnabas wrote, “For it is written concerning [Christ], partly with reference to Israel, and partly to us,”[24] and then he proceeded to quote Isa 53:5 and 7, “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities: with His stripes we are healed. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb which is dumb before its shearer.”[25] The antecedent of “He” from Barnabas’ use of Isa 53:5 is clearly Christ. Therefore, it is evident that Barnabas perceived Isa 53 to be a soteriological passage that is fulfilled by the crucifixion of Jesus.[26] Barnabas’ reference to Israel was to the Jews who had rejected Jesus as Messiah and his reference to us was to the Christians.

This is interesting on a number of levels. First, at the time of this letter there seems to already be a clear distinction between the Church and Judaism. As Paget writes: “On one reading Barnabas might be said to reflect an absolute division between the two communities. On another reading the letter could be seen to reflect a complex form of interaction.”[27] Though Barnabas was writing in a context that did not consider the Jesus movement to be a Jewish sect, it seems that theological discourse between Jews and Christians continued.

A second point of interest is that in this polemical and antagonistic letter to the Jews, Barnabas acknowledged that the death of Christ is effective for both Jews and Christians.[28] This open hand to the Jews, however, is short lived. In the following paragraph Barnabas accused the Jews of killing both Christ and the prophets who preceded Him: “The Son of God therefore came in the flesh with this view, that He might bring to a head the sum of their sins who had persecuted His prophets to the death. For this purpose, then He endured.”[29] The remaining pages of the epistle allegorize the Old Testament while condemning the Jews who have been, in Barnabas’ view, superseded by the Church.[30]

Barnabas cited Isa 53:5 and 7 briefly within a longer diatribe against Judaism. His purpose seemed to be to demonstrate that the Jews were in error in the interpretation of their own prophetic Scriptures and that Jesus is the Messiah that they were waiting for. He extended a short and subtle invitation to the Jews to see and embrace the connection between the Suffering Servant and Jesus, though he quickly moved to rebuke them for killing both their prophets and their Messiah.

Summary of Barnabas

The reason that Barnabas quoted from Isa 53 was to show that by his crucifixion Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. His letter is polemical against the Jews, though he did invite the Jews to perceive the connection and receive Jesus as their Messiah.

  1. Justin Martyr (100-165 C.E.)[31]

Justin Martyr is an important figure in the study of ancient Christian uses of Isa 53 because he appealed to it frequently and at length. Justin is one of the earliest theologians outside of the group known as the Apostolic Fathers. One of Justin’s great contributions to Christian theology was his philosophical training and bent. As a gentile convert Justin was comfortable conversing with pagans and Jews alike, appealing to both Jewish Scripture and Greek philosophers.[32]

3.1. The First Apology

In The First Apology, which is addressed to the “Emperor Titus Aelius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar,” his family, the Roman senate, and the Roman people, Justin attempted to clarify common misunderstandings about Christian faith and practice in order to diminish Roman persecution of the Church by defending the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and Jewish Messiah.[33]

In chapter fifty Justin cited Isa 53:12,[34] the final verse of the fourth Servant song, and then immediately quoted Isa 52:13–­53:8a, rightly identifying Isa 52:13 as the beginning of the passage, rather than Isa 53:1.[35] In the next chapter, Justin picked up where he left off at Isa 53:8b, which he quoted until the end of the passage at Isa 53:12.[36] His purpose was to demonstrate that the Christian confession is rooted in the predictive prophecy of the Jewish prophets.[37] In his introduction to this citation from Isa 52:13–53:8a, Justin wrote:

The Jews having the prophecies, and being always in expectation for the Christ to come, did not recognise Him; and not only so, but even treated Him shamefully. But the Gentiles, who had never heard anything about Christ, until the apostles set out from Jerusalem and preached concerning Him, and gave them the prophecies, were filled with joy and faith, and cast away their idols, and dedicated themselves to the Unbegotten God through Christ.[38]

The intent of these two chapters in Justin’s apology seem to be twofold. First, Justin was attempting to provide proof that Jesus is God’s son and not a sorcerer or magician.[39] Second, by using the Jewish prophets to make his point, Justin was arguing that Christians are continuing rightly in the ancient Jewish faith, which was a recognized and legal religion within the Roman Empire.[40] Put simply, Isaiah was quoted to these pagan interlocutors in order to tie Christianity to Judaism as proof of Jesus’ divine identity and to tie Christianity to Judaism. The length of the citation and its placement in the letter demonstrate that Isa 53 was a pivotal text for Justin’s understanding of atonement and Christianity’s relationship to Judaism.[41]

3.2. Dialogue with Trypho

Concerning Dialogue with Trypho Childs has written: “[It] is the first lengthy example of Christian exegesis of the Old Testament since the New Testament apart from a few Gnostic fragments, an occasional sermon (Melito), and scattered references from the Apostolic Fathers (e.g., Barnabas).” Justin’s purpose for writing Dialogue with Trypho was quite different from his purpose for writing his First Apology.[42] Whereas Justin attempted to illustrate the closeness and interrelatedness of Judaism and Christianity in the First Apology, in the Dialogue with Trypho Justin endeavoured to articulate the disparity between the two religions.[43] What remained constant was Justin’s view that Christianity is the true fulfillment and expression of Jewish prophecy. Therefore, according to Justin, Christianity is superior to Judaism because it has rightly interpreted the Jewish Scriptures whereas Judaism has not.[44]

Very early in the Dialogue with Trypho, following a discussion about his conversion, Justin quoted Isa 52:10-54:6 in its entirety from the LXX.[45] This is the longest uninterrupted Scriptural reference in the entire document. Its privileged placement at the beginning and its great length suggest that this text was foundational for Justin’s case that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah promised by Isaiah and the Jewish prophets.[46] Furthermore, Justin continued to appeal to Isa 53 more than any other text throughout the Dialogue with Trypho.[47] The only other text given similar emphasis is Ps 22, which will receive more commentary and thereby occupy more pages. The reason that Isa 52:10-54:6 does not receive much commentary is that Justin seemed to assume that its description of Christ’s crucifixion was self-evident.[48] Whether or not this stemmed from an existent Christian use of the text cannot be discerned from this Dialogue with Trypho, though Clement of Rome and Barnabas had established a similar interpretive framework, of which Justin was probably well acquainted.[49] Regardless, Isa 53 seems to have constituted a foundation for Justin’s argument, which is that the Jewish prophets themselves bear witness to the fact that Jesus is the promised Messiah.[50]

There are other more minor uses of Isa 53 in the remaining pages of the Dialogue with Trypho. Having provided an allegorical interpretation for the bells that hang from the priest’s robe (Ex 28:33), which to Justin symbolized the dependent relationship of the twelve apostles with Christ, Justin proceeded to quote Isa 53:1-2 as if coming from the mouth of the apostles themselves: “Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? We have preached before Him as if a child, as if a root in a dry ground.”[51] The intent here was to argue that the apostles and their spiritual descendents had preached the true Gospel to the Jews, but the Jews did not understand or receive it.[52] Justin’s use of this passage was without concern for even the immediate context of the Suffering Servant. Rather, he plucked these verses from their place in Isaiah and he put them in the mouth of Christian evangelists.

In the next chapter of the Dialogue with Trypho, Justin drew from Isa 53:8 to defend the doctrine of the virgin birth. The key words leveraged from this verse are: “Who shall declare His generation?”[53] Context suggests that Justin’s intended purpose for this verse was the question: Who is able understand how it is that Jesus was conceived and born?[54] As Markschies has noted:

The Suffering Servant is destined to have no future descendants or “generation” (genea&). This prompts Isaiah’s rhetorical question, th_n genea_n au)to~ t&ij dihgh&setai; “Who will declare (or describe) his generation?” However, Justin applies this phrase not to the Servant’s future but to his origin; not to his descendants but to his own descent.[55]

 Markschies’ understanding is well supported by Justin’s text: “The men who believe in Him may possess the knowledge of the manner in which He came into the world.”[56] He then jumped to a better suited prooftext, Isa 7:10-17 with Isa 8:4 inserted in the middle of verse 16.[57]

Twenty short chapters later Justin returned to Isa 53:8 in order to quickly reaffirm the virgin birth and then to introduce a defence about Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. The emphasis therefore shifted to the second half of the verse: “For His life is taken away from the earth.”[58] Justin’s exegetical method, which included the use of subjective Christological prooftexting permitted him to draw these conclusions without feeling the need to explain the original historical context or Sitz im Leben of the text.[59]

Justin’s conversation with Trypho eventually proceeded to entertain the topic of whether or not it is blasphemy to claim that God Incarnate took on the curse of the Law by hanging on a tree.[60] In the midst of a conversation about crucifixion Justin quickly cited Isa 53:9, “His burial has been taken away from the midst, and I will give the rich for His death,”[61] as prophetic evidence that God would vindicate His sinless Christ by raising Him from the dead. The focus then returned to crucifixion. To defend the idea that the sinless Christ was crucified and killed, Justin explored Ps 22,[62] the sign of Jonah,[63] and various types from the Old Testament (two goats of Lev 16, the Passover of Ex 12, and Joshua the son of Nun).[64] In these pages Justin quoted Isa 53:7, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,” twice, each for a different purpose. The first was to affirm that the Passover is a type of Christ.[65] The second was educate Trypho about the prophetic perfect tense, which, according to Justin is a perfect verb that indicates the surety of an action that will come to pass in the future:[66] “Sometimes [the Holy Spirit]  uttered words about what was to take place, as if it was then taking place, or had taken place. And unless those who read perceive this art, they will not be able to follow the words of the prophets as they ought.”[67]

Summary of Justin

The way in which Justin used Isa 53 indicates the flexibility he attributed to the prophetic Scriptures. In the First Apology, Justin appealed to Isa 53 in order to connect Christianity with Judaism in order to justify and defend the existence of the Church to the Roman authorities. Likewise, the opening arguments of Justin’s apologetic Dialogue with Trypho were taken from Isa 53 with the same intent to show the true meaning of the Jewish Scriptures.[68] In the Dialogue with Trypho, however, Justin used Isaiah as a polemic to distance Christianity from a Judaism that has rejected Jesus as Messiah.[69]

Like Clement of Rome and Barnabas before him, Justin understood Isa 53 to be predictive prophecy about the passion and resurrection of Christ. Similar to Barnabas, Justin never leveraged Isa 53 for Christian ethical exhortation as Clement had. Justin’s unique hermeneutical contribution was to drop Isa 53:1-2 into the mouths of the apostles and subsequent Christian evangelists as a prooftext against the Jews for having rejected their Messiah.

  1. Irenaeus (130-200)[70]

Many consider Irenaeus to be the most important theologian of the second century.[71] Irenaeus stood in the tradition of the apostles and theologians who came before him, including Justin, whose works seemed to be of some influence.[72]

4.1. Against Heresies

The influence of Justin is immediately noticeable in Against Heresies. In step with Justin, Irenaeus used Isa 53:8, “Who shall describe His generation?” to advocate for the miraculous existence of the Logos, which is Christ.[73] Whereas Justin’s primary concern for this verse was the virgin birth, however, Irenaeus was more intent on rebuking anyone who professed to understand the great mystery of God’s eternal existence and the eternal existence of the Logos with the Father. His argument was that we ought not to profess to have knowledge that is beyond revelation or beyond our capacity to know. To describe the “generation” of the Logos is, according to Irenaeus, to separate Him from God, which is a heresy.[74] Later in Against Heresies, Irenaeus circled back to a fuller discussion of the eternal existence of Christ and of the virgin birth. In his discussion about the virgin birth he quoted Isa 53:8 with much the same argumentation as Justin had in the Dialogue with Trypho.[75]

In a long chapter recounting the Acts of the Apostles, Irenaeus described the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, attributing his salvation to a right understanding of Isa 53:7-8.[76] The primary emphasis, as expounded by Irenaeus, was that Christ “had been led as a sheep to the slaughter.”[77] Much later in Against Heresies, while making the point that the prophets clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah centuries earlier, Irenaeus again appealed to Isa 53:7 as indicating the way in which the Messiah would die.[78] And again he later returned to Isa 53:7, as well as Isa 53:3, Zech 9:9, Ps 118:22, Ex 17:11, Isa 11:12, as a key text for understanding the crucifixion of Jesus. Therefore, Irenaeus clearly drew a straight line between the prophecy of Isa 53:7 and the passion of Jesus, having seen in the crucifixion a fulfillment of this ancient oracle.

More than that, Irenaeus seems to have used Isa 53:7 as a sort of short hand by which he implicitly includes all prophetic utterances that point to the crucifixion of Christ. This is made evident by the statements that follow immediately after his writing of Isa 53:7 in each case. In the first instance Irenaeus added: “…and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him.”[79] Here there is no question that Isa 53:7 is serving as an exemplary shorthand for unlisted Jewish prophecies which can be attributed to the passion of Christ. At the second instance, he added: “…and all the rest which the prophet proceeded to relate in regard to His passion and His coming in the flesh, and how He was dishonoured by those who did not believe Him.”[80] In this case, “all the rest” is not as clearly defined. Irenaeus might have been limiting himself to the full prophecy of Isa 53 and no other, or he may have intended a broader collection of Jewish prophecy. Either way, we clearly see Isa 53:7 working as a quick reference for more prophecy concerning Jesus. In the third case, the inclusion of Isa 53:7 in a short list of prophetic verses that is not exhaustive highlights the elevated role that it played in Irenaeus’ thinking. In all instances we see the centrality of Isa 53, and specifically Isa 53:7, in Irenaeus’ understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus and its relationship with Jewish prophecy.

There are two final references to Isa 53, whereby Irenaeus explained why the Messiah had to die. The first reference in this section is a direct allusion to Isa 53:3: “He became a man subject to stripes, and knowing what it is to bear infirmity.”[81] The second is a combination of direct citation and indirect allusion of Isa 53:3 and 4 in reverse order: “He shall take our weaknesses, and bear our sorrows… as a weak and inglorious man, and as one who know what it was to bear infirmity.”[82] By these references to Isaiah, Irenaeus defended the present and future healing that awaits all who believe in Christ for their salvation.[83] The broader argument within which this more immediate discussion was taking place is the unity of both Old and New Testaments, which, according to Irenaeus, is established by single divine authorship and fulfilled in Christ.[84] In other words, according to Irenaeus the crucifixion of Jesus, which is recorded by the New Testament, brings to fulfillment the predictive prophecy of the Old Testament, thus uniting both Testaments as a single historical and theological unit.[85]

Summary of Irenaeus

There are many similarities between the way in which Justin and Irenaeus used Isa 53. Irenaeus endorsed Justin’s hermeneutic of predictive prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion, using Isa 53 as an ideal passage to make this point. Whereas Justin quoted the entire passage, Irenaeus preferred to cite Isa 53:7 as a way to reference the entire passage, and like passages. Both theologians seemed to believe that the power of their argument was, to a certain degree, self evident.  Therefore, Isa 53 was used to prove that Jesus is the Christ anticipated by the Jewish prophets and Scriptures. Irenaeus also leveraged Isa 53:8 to defend the doctrine of the virgin birth.

  1. Clement of Alexandria (150-215)[86]

As the Church approached the end of the second century Clement of Alexandria emerged as an ancient practical theologian who wrestled with doctrine in order to exhort Christians to behave according to a proper ethic. He also stood against the growing influence of Gnosticism and attempted to demonstrate that faith and philosophy are not necessarily pitted against one another.[87]

5.1. Pedagogue

In Book One, which promotes and defends that the Logos is the supreme Instructor for Christian life and behaviour in every sense,[88] Clement made two passing references to Isa 53.[89] The context of the first is that Jesus, the Logos, “is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God.”[90] In this capacity, Jesus loves us with a holy love and has charge over us, feeding us with the truth of His Word so that we might be children of God who walk in all truth.[91]

Clement then proceeded to explore the truth that Jesus is also the Judge who hates and punishes sin. To prove this point, Clements cited Isa 53:6, “The Lord has assigned Him to our sins.”[92] Clement’s use of this verse is that Jesus is commissioned by God to stop us from sinning, not that He has taken our sins into Himself. Clement continued:  “[Jesus is assigned…] plainly as a corrector and reformer of sins.”[93] He further explained that Jesus warns of punishment while patiently withholding punishment for a time so that the fear itself would inspire us not to sin. Therefore, Clement’s appeal to Isa 53:6 was pragmatic not ontological, meaning that it identified the enduring task of Christ to lead us away from sin rather than to suggest the finished work of Christ to take our sin by crucifixion. Clement understood this verse to have a perpetual fulfillment in the ministry of the resurrected and glorified Christ, not a final fulfillment of atonement by the Cross.

In Book Two, Clement cited Isa 53 a single time also. The purpose of quoting Isa 53:1-2, “And we saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness; but His form was mean, inferior to men,”[94] was to encourage Christians to pursue inner rather than outer beauty. True inner beauty and sexual purity is the topic that opens Book Two and occupies the first nine chapters.

5.2. The Stromata

Similar to his interpretation of Isa 53:1-2 in Pedagogue, Clement quoted Isa 53:3 in The Stromata to demonstrate agreement between Greek philosophy and Christian theology that true beauty comes from wisdom rather than physical appearance.[95] He proceeded to argue that true wisdom springs forth from faith, thus faith is the “greatest mother of the virtues”[96] and thereby the true source of beauty. He transitioned to a more concentrated conversation about faith with a lament from Isa 53:1: “Lord, who hath believed our report?”[97] Clements’ use of this verse came closest to Justin’s, though Clement used it to decry the challenges of Christian instruction, whereas Justin was trying to prove a point exegetically.

Summary of Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria’s documented use of Isa 53 is limited and it functioned pragmatically to encourage his audience not to sin lest they be judged and to pursue inner beauty in the likeness of Christ. From Clement came a true pastoral theology that appealed to Scripture and doctrine in order to exhort behaviour in the life of believers. His pragmatic rather than ontological exegesis of Isa 53:6 is unique among the early ante-Nicene fathers and it almost requires its own category. However, Clement’s larger purpose was pastoral and therefore it falls into the stream of Christian ethical exhortation.

  1. Tertullian (160-225)[98]

Tertullian was the first of the Latin Christian theologians whose work has survived to the present day.[99] As we examine these writings, it is shocking to see how infrequently Tertullian appealed to Isa 53, relatively speaking. It is also surprising to discover how difficult it is to find secondary literature about Tertullian’s use of Isa 53. For example, in his essay about the use of Isa 53 in patristic literature Markschies jumped from Irenaeus to Origen, passing over Tertullian without mention or explanation.[100] This is especially odd considering the thorough treatment that Markschies gives to other theologians, who might be considered less influential or enduring than Tertullian. It makes sense, however, when we recognize two facts about Tertullian. First, Tertullian’s canon is immense, encompassing thirty one major works.[101] Second, Isa 53 did not feature as a major text in Tertullian’s writing. Add to that Tertullian’s sullied reputation on account of his Montanist leanings and it is not surprising that there is so little, if any, scholarship that focuses on Tertullian’s use of Isa 53.

Nevertheless, in order to finish the objective of this paper, I will identify and analyse Tertullian’s direct use of Isa 53 in all of his existing works, thereby bringing this survey of early ante-Nicene use of Isa 53 to completion. With very little secondary support, however, much of the work to be done will not benefit from extensive dialogue with other scholarly partners.

6.1. On Idolatry

We begin with On Idolatry.[102] In his discussion about idolatry Tertullian appealed to Isa 53:2 in much the same way Clement of Alexandria had in Pedagogue. In a chapter near the end of the book, Tertullian suggested that dress and attire are connected with idolatry insofar as what we wear promotes positions of political and social power, which can displace God in the heart and worship of men and women. To defend his point, Tertullian reminded the reader that Isaiah  had “fore-announced” that the Messiah would be “inglorious in countenance and aspect.”[103] Therefore, just as Christ rejected pompous attire, so the Christian ought to dress humbly lest he or she encourage or fall into a form of idolatry. Tertullian’s appeal to Isa 53 is terse and exclusively for the purposes of ethical instruction.

6.2. An Answer to the Jews

Tertullian, like Justin, composed an apology to the Jews which endeavoured to prove that Jesus is the true fulfillment of the Jewish prophets and Scriptures. Tertullian began by listing the idolatry and abominations of the Jews recorded in the Scriptures. He then proceeded to argue that God gave the law universally to all nations, though it remained unwritten except in the case of Israel through Moses. The supercession of circumcision, the Sabbath, sacrifices, and the ceremonial law by Christ and His Church was then outlined. Then, to prove that the Jewish Messiah had come, Tertullian advanced an argument about the fullness of time by demonstrating that the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman imperial histories had prepared the world for the coming of God’s Messiah. Within this broader historical context, Tertullian situated Jewish prophecy, which, he argued, culminates in the Person of Jesus.

Within the list of prophecies that Tertullian cited to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah is a series of verses from Isa 53. The function of Isa 53 was to connect the predictive prophecy of the Suffering Servant’s death with the death of Jesus. In fulfillment of Isa 53:3 and Isa 53:7, Tetullian identified Jesus, by His crucifixion, as “a man set in a plague, and knowing how to bear infirmity who was led as a sheep for a victim; and as a lamb before him who sheareth him, opened not his mouth.”[104] And, in accordance with Isa 53:9, Tertullian argued that “Christ spake not guile from His mouth” even while he was crucified unjustly.[105] Later in this same chapter Tertullian appealed to Isa 53:8-10, 12, with Isa 57:2 dropped between verses 10 and 12, with explicit purpose:

For I desire to show, in one utterance of Isaiah, His death, and passion, and sepulture. “By the crimes,” he says, “of my people was He led unto death; and I will give the evil for His sepulture, and the rich for His death because He did not wickedness, nor was guile found in his mouth; and God willed to redeem His soul from death,” and so forth. He says again, moreover: “His sepluture hath been taken away from the midst.” For neither was He buried except He were dead, nor was His sepulture removed from the midst except through His resurrection. Finally, he subjoins: “Therefore He shall have many for an (sic) heritage, and of many shall He divide spoils.”[106]

Though he weaved freely through these verses, which were taken from the LXX, Tertullian’s point is clear. In accordance with his interpretation of Isa 53 he sought to convince the Jews to recognize the congruence between Isa 53 and the historical experience of Jesus on the cross.[107]

In the final chapter of An Answer to the Jews Tertullian asserted that the reason that the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah is that they are unaware of the two advents of the Messiah, the first to be in sacrificial humility and the second to be in glorious majesty. Therefore, since they expected a glorious Messianic reign they missed the meek first coming as foretold by Isaiah (53:7 and 53:2): “When He has to be led ‘as a sheep for a victim; and, as a lamb voiceless before the shearer, so He opened not His mouth,’ not even in His aspect comely.”[108] By quoting these verses, Tertullian attempted to demonstrate to the Jews that Isaiah and the prophets did, indeed, foresee an inglorious mission for the Messiah. This he separated from a second glorious return mission, as has become orthodox Christian doctrine. In addition to Isa 53 Tertullian cited Ps 8 and Ps 22.

6.3. Five Books Against Marcion

Likewise, in Book Three Against Marcion, Tertullian chained Isa 53:7, 53:2-3, Isa 52:14, and Isa 53:3-4 together to defend the doctrine of two advents of Christ, the first lowly and the second magnified.[109] The above cited references prove the point that the Messiah would come as a Suffering Servant in accordance with Jewish prophecy. In Book Four Against Marcion Tertullian made the exact same point, quoting Isa 53:5, “‘with His stripes we should be healed,’ that by His humiliation our salvation should be established.”[110] The overarching point that Tertullian was making in both instances is that the Old Testament prophecies are required in order to fully understand the twofold Messianic mission and to identify Jesus of Nazareth as that Messiah. In contrast to Marcion’s position, which was a denial of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, Tertullian stressed that the miracles of Jesus are not sufficient to identify Him as Messiah. The added weight of fulfilled prophecy is necessary.

As a part of Tertullian’s discussion about the double advent of Christ, he asserted that Isaiah foretold Israel’s rejection of their Messiah because they would not expect a lowly man who suffered. Thus, he quoted Isa 53:8, “who shall declare His generation?” Tertullian’s use of this verse was different from Justin and Ireneaus, who used this same verse to defend the virgin birth. Here, Tertullian used this statement to say that Israel would deny the generation, the coming, of their  Messiah in Jesus because they expected a glorified king and not a Suffering Servant. This is the same theme that emerged in Tertullian’s discussion in An Answer to the Jews, as discussed above.

Several chapters later, Tertullian proceeded to list prophecies and Psalms to prove that the Messiah was to come in humiliation at His first advent. Included in this list is Isa 52:14, Isa 53:2, Isa 53:3, Isa 53:7, and Isa 53:4.[111] Two chapters after that Tertullian composed a similar list about prophecies that point to the death of Christ and included in this list was Isa 53:12.[112]

In the second to last chapter of Book Three Against Marcion, Tertullian argued against Marcion’s claim that Jesus was not the Messiah expected by the Jews.[113] To do this he listed prophecies that he insisted envisage the Diaspora and the suffering of the Jews, which, according to Tertullian, were occurring as judgment for their rejection of Christ. He then posed the question: Why should the Jews presently suffer if they had not rejected their Messiah? He elaborated by explaining that had Judas and the Jews not betrayed their Messiah then there would be no reason for their God to punish them.[114] To underscore his argument Tertullian quoted Isa 53:9 in two parts, imbedded in longer phrasing:

See how manifestly He was defended by the Creator: there were given to Him both “the wicked for His burial,” even those who had strenuously maintained that His corpse had been stolen, “and the rich for His death,” even those who had redeemed Him from the treachery of Judas, as well as from the lying report of the soldiers that His body had been taken away.[115]

Tertullian’s use of Isa 53:9 in this instance is difficult to decipher. Clearly it is blatant prooftexting. Nevertheless, his purpose seems to have been to demonstrate that as a reward for being buried and killed Christ was given authority from God to punish unbelieving Israel. Tertullian proceeded to link Christ’s right and authority to punish those responsible for his death with the destruction of Jerusalem, the Diaspora of the Jews, and the many sufferings endured by the Jews since the time of the crucifixion. He concluded by writing: “Restore to Judaea its former state, that the Creator’s Christ may find it, and then you may contend that another Christ has come.”[116]

To summarize this confusing chapter: Tertullian forcefully suggested that the Jews rejected and killed Jesus and therefore God gave the resurrected Jesus authority to punish unbelieving Israel. Tertullian then connected the unfolding history of Israel with his hypothesis and exegesis. Without question Tertullian’s use of Isa 53:9 in this context does not seem natural. Moreover, it is difficult to situate this interpretation within the three main streams established in the introduction of this paper. However, the greater context for this convoluted use of Isa 53:9 is the passion of Christ and therefore I reticently situate it on the fringe of that stream.

Moving on, in Book Four Against Marcion Tertullian quoted Isa 53:4, “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”[117] Surprisingly, he did not attribute this verse to the crucifixion but rather to the healing by Jesus during the three years of His earthly ministry. This interpretation introduces categorical challenges as well. However, it seems to fit within the stream of Jesus’ divine identity, which Tertullian began to develop more than any theologian who preceded him.

Also in Book Four is a double quote from Isa 53:7. The first instance was to demonstrate that Jesus is the antitype of the Jewish Passover (Ex 12).[118] The second was to establish that Jesus directly fulfilled the prophetic utterances of Isaiah.[119] Both citations are part of a larger argument against Marcion, which was that the Old Testament is required to fully understand the identity and mission of Jesus and that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament.[120] This usage is easily categorized as one of predictive prophecy.

6.4. On the Flesh of Christ

The next work to be examined is On the Flesh of Christ. In this book Tertullian conducted a thorough treatment of the humanity of Jesus. As a part of his argument, Tertullian alluded to Isa 53:2 to demonstrate that Jesus body was not glorious, even by human standards.[121] In a similar argument a little later, he cited Isa 53:3, that Jesus was “a man of suffering and acquainted with the bearing of weakness.”[122] These were each given to refute the Valentinian heresy, which stated that Jesus merely appeared human, but was in fact exclusively divine.[123] It is interesting to note Tertullian’s use of Isaiah in this treatise. Unlike in An Answer to the Jews and in the Five Books Against Marcion, here Tertullian assumed that the reader accepts the connection between Isa 53 and Jesus. Therefore no energy is spent to try and prove the correlation.

To close this chapter Tertullian pitted Isa 53:3, “[He] had no form nor comeliness, but His form was ignoble, despised more than all men, a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of weakness,” against Ps 8:6, “Thou madest Him a little less than angels,” to explain the root of the heretics’ mistake. He writes: “Here they discover a human being (Isa 53:3) mingled with a divine one (Ps 8:6), and so they deny the manhood.”[124] The proper response, according to Tertullian, is to hold both human and divine simultaneously in the one Person of Christ.[125]

6.5. On the Resurrection of the Flesh

In an insightful chapter in On the Resurrection of the Flesh Tertullian defined his prophetic hermeneutic. The heretics, he writes, claim that prophecy is merely allegory. In response, Tertullian listed several prophecies that may have figurative language, but are rooted in literal fact. Among those listed is Isa 53:7, which he attributes to the passion of Christ. According to Tertullian, it is clear that when Isaiah wrote that the Servant was “led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” he was not writing about a sheep but about a man.[126] To Tertullian, this is an obvious simile of Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate. Therefore, the figurative language is not ambiguously applied, but clearly fulfilled in actual history that is plainly understood. Tertullian listed several other examples to confirm his hermeneutic along this line.

6.6. Against Praxeas

Tertullian employed Isa 53:1-2, among other passages, to argue for a Trinitarian understanding of God in contrast to Praxeas’ conception of God as a monad.[127] He wrote: “Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? We brought a report concerning Him, as if He were a little child, as if He were a root in a dry ground, who had no form nor comeliness.”[128] The point that Tertullian was trying to make by these verses is that the Father, who is “Lord,” and the Son, who is “Him,” and, “He,” are distinct Persons. Otherwise, according to Tertullian, Isaiah ought to have written, “We brought a report concerning You, as if You were a little child, as if You were a root in a dry ground, who had no form nor comeliness.” Tertullian concluded his discussion by writing, “In these few quotations the distinction of the Persons in the Trinity is clearly set forth. For there is the Spirit Himself who speaks, and the Father to whom He speaks, and the Son of whom He speaks.”[129] Tertullian here was employing a very subtle exegesis rife with assumptions about the subject of Isa 53:1-2, which is consistent with his overall approach.[130]

Having established a basis for understanding God as a Trinity of distinct Persons, Tertullian proceeded to argue that there is only One God.[131] In order to do this, he quoted many of the same passages, including Isa 53:1, “Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”[132] In order to show unity among Father and Son, Tertullian attributed the first “Lord” to the Father and the second “Lord” to the Incarnate Son. In so doing he identified two distinct Persons who are both equally One Lord: “Now he would most certainly have said Thine Arm, if he had not wished us to understand that the Father is Lord, and the Son also is Lord.”[133]

In a final word against Praxeas Tertullian demonstrated the necessary distinction between Father and Son by appealing to the crucifixion. Though he did not quote directly from Isaiah, he did allude to Isa 53:5-6 as a major part of his argument:

The apostle also perceived, when he writes to this effect: ‘If the Father spared not His own Son.’ This did Isaiah before him likewise perceive, when he declared: ‘And the Lord hath delivered Him up for our offences.’ In this manner He ‘forsook’ Him, in not sparing Him; ‘forsook’ Him, in delivering Him up.[134]

Tertullian’s point was that the Father did not deliver Himself up for our offences. The Father offered up His Son, who is the Incarnate Jesus. Therefore, the Father and the Son must be distinct from one another.

            6.7. De Fuga Persecutione

Tertullian’s final reference to Isa 53 comes from a discussion he recorded with Fabius about persecution. Fabius had asked Tertullian whether the Christian ought to flee persecution or welcome it.[135] In response, Tertullian quoted Isa 53:7, “[Jesus] was led as a sheep to be a sacrifice, and just as a lamb before its shearer, so opened He not His mouth.”[136] Tertullian used the sacrifice of Jesus, which he connected with the Suffering Servant of Isa 53, as an example for the Christian. According to Tertullian the Christian is neither to flee from persecution nor pay money to escape persecution.[137] Rather, just as the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 (who is, according to Tertullian, Jesus Christ) suffered without attempt to escape or cry out, so too the Christian ought to endure suffering and persecution.

Summary of Tertullian

We see from the citations of Isa 53 in Tertullian’s writing a wide variety of uses, encompassing all three aspects introduced at the outset of this paper. Tertullian exhorted Christians toward ethical behaviour, seeking to persuade Christians to dress modestly in On Idolatry and arguing that Christians ought to stand firm through times of persecution in De Fuga Persecutione. He used Isa 53 to develop a highly nuanced Trinitarian Christology in his treatise On the Flesh of Christ and in Against Praxeas. And, Tertullian argued forcefully that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of predictive prophecy in An Answer to the Jews, Five Books Against Marcion, and On the Resurrection of the Flesh.


This paper has explored all of the existing major citations of, and direct allusions to, Isa 53 by the key theologians of the Church from the first two centuries. A second paper investigating the use of this text from Origen until the Council of Nicaea would be an intriguing next step in this study.

The fruit of this exercise has been to observe the development of a Christian interpretation of this prophetic text. Though a level of interpretive diversity exists among the early ante-Nicene fathers a general trend is apparent, with three aspects of interpretation standing out most prominently. First, Isa 53 was used to exhort Christians toward a particular ethical standard, which is exhibited in like measure by the Suffering Servant and Jesus Christ. Second, Isa 53 was leveraged to argue for the divine and human nature of Jesus. By the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian, Isa 53 had even become a significant Trinitarian text. Third, Isa 53 was an important apologetic text used to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who fulfilled Jewish prophecy.

Though we may not entirely agree with the hermeneutical approach taken by these early ante-Nicene fathers in every instance, we are indebted to them for establishing an enduring trajectory for the Christian interpretation of Isa 53. Clearly this chapter of prophecy has been an important text for Christian faith and practice since the inception of the Church. Therefore, may we continue in the tradition of these fathers, as we bless one another through the public reading and exhortation of this sacred text.



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                [1] Mathetes, “Diognetus.”

                [2] Polycarp, “Philippians;” and “Martyrdom.” Markschies (“Man before God,” 241-242) briefly explores a subtle, potential allusion in Polycarp’s “Martyrdom.”

                [3] Ignatius, “Ephesians;” “Magnesians;” “Trallians;” “Romans;” “Philadelphians;” “Smyrnaeans;” “Polycarp;” “Spurious Epistles;” and “Martyrdom.”

                [4] Papaias, “Fragments.”

                [5] Hermas, “Shephard.”

                [6] Tatian, “Greeks.”

                [7] Theophilus, “Autolycus.”

                [8] Athenagoras, “Plea;” and “Resurrection.”

                [9] Markschies (“Man before God,” 274-281) explores more subtle allusions to Isa 53 by Melito of Sardis, who died in 190 C.E.

                [10] For more about Clement of Rome, see: Benedict, Fathers, 1-4;  Taaffe, Church Fathers, 9.

                [11] Gamble (Books, 109) dates Clements’ letter to the Corinthians near the end of the first century; Gregory (“1 Clement,” 28-29) challenges this, dating the letter closer to the deaths of Peter and Paul sometime in the 70s; There is much debate about the authorship of 1 Clement. Such a debate is outside the scope of this paper. See: Moreschini and Norelli, Early Christian, 101-104; Gregory, “1 Clement,” 21-24; Taaffe (Church Fathers, 9) states that Clement likely knew the apostles Peter and Paul personally and that his letter to the Corinthians is the earliest Christian writing outside of the New Testament “for which the dates and position of its author are critically verified.”; First Clement is preserved in Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) and Codex Hierosolymitanus (1056 C.E.): Gregory, “1 Clement,” 22.

                [12] Clement’s Greek does not correspond exactly with any existing manuscript of the LXX. Therefore, Clement may have reproduced this from memory (contra: Knopf, Apostolischen Väter, 69) or it may be proof that there was no standard authoritative Greek text in the first generation of the Church (so Powell, “Clemens,” 113).

                [13] Clement, “Corinthians,” 9.

                [14] Clement, “Corinthians,” 9.

                [15] Markschies (“Man before God,” 236) suggests that Clement appealed to Isa 53 in order to accomplish pastorally the same end as Paul in Phil 2:2-11.

                [16] Markschies, “Man before God,” 238; See also: Jaubert, Corinthiens, 70.

                [17] Sawyer, Fifth Gospel, 54.

                [18] Markschies (“Man before God,” 239) quotes Harnack (Kleine Schriften, 40).

                [19] Markschies, “Man before God,” 239.

                [20] For more about Barnabas, see: Paget, Barnabas.

                [21] The complete Letter of Barnabas is preserved today in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Hierosolymitanus (1056 C.E.): Paget, “Barnabas,” 73.

                [22] Sawyer (Fifth Gospel, 48) writes: “The author of the Epistle of Barnabas, for example, quotes Isaiah (not Paul or Jesus) to prove the error of Jewish understanding of texts on circumcision, sabbath and the like.”

                [23] Aitken (Jesus’ Death, 102-3) suggests that Barnabas is quoting early Christian hymns that are based on Isa 53; Prigent (Testamonia, 158-159) and Kraft (“Barnabas’ Isaiah,” 371-373) suggest that Barnabas is quoting Christian testimonial sources; Paget (Barnabas, 86) writes: “If Barnabas was making use of the LXX when he composed his letter he was a lax copier. What is more he was inconsistent in his laxity. So, in some instance he is in precise agreement with the LXX. Elsewhere there are only minor variations. However, sometimes there exist very real deviations.”

                [24] Barnabas, “Epistle,” 139.

                [25] Barnabas, “Epistle,” 139.

                [26] Markschies, “Man before God,” 239-240.

                [27] Paget, “Barnabas,” 80.

                [28] Paget (Epistle of Barnabas, 126) briefly discusses this point. Citing Kraft (“Review”) and Prigent (“Testamonia”), Paget questions in what way Isa 53:5 and 7 can be for the Jews. The context demands that Barnabas is using Isaiah soteriologically and therefore this would seem to exclude the Jews, since they have rejected the crucifixion of Jesus as a means of salvation. Prigent’s hypothesis is that Barnabas cites Zech 13:6-7 twelve clauses later in reference to the Jews killing of Jesus. Therefore, according to Prigent, Isa 54:5,7 is the part for Christians and Zech 13:66-7 is the part for Jews. However, by the time Barnabas quoted Zech 13:6-7 the context has moved well beyond “partly in reference to Israel and partly to us.” Furthermore, “Israel” is listed before “us” which makes it highly unlikely that Barnabas is thinking about Zech 13:6-7. In my opinion, the best way to understand the phrase, “partly in referent to Israel and partly to us,” is that according to Barnabas, Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for both Jews and Christians, and is the only means of salvation.

                [29] Barnabas, “Epistle,” 140.

                [30] Paget, “Barnabas,” 76-77; Haag (“Gottensknecht,” 346) makes the observation that it is surprising that Barnabas appeals to Isa 53 so little, since the epistle is filled with Christian interpretations of Old Testament passages. We might expect Barnabas to leverage Isa 53 more than he does. Markschies (“Man before God,” 239, footnote 49) directed me to Haag’s work.

                [31] Dates for Justin taken from: Childs, Isaiah, 32.

                [32] For more on Justin read: Allert, Justin, 27-31; Barnard, Justin, especially 1-74; Minns and Parvis, Justin, 32-70; Munier, L’Apologie, 1-7, 41-94.

                [33] Gamble (Book, 112) alerts us that many scholars believe that apologetic writing, such as this Apology of Justin, was never actually intended to be delivered to Roman authorities, but only to be used within Christian communities. I disagree.

                [34] According to Skarsaune (Proof, 63) Justin’s wording of Isa 53:12 does not come from the LXX but from a slightly modified Christian “testimony source.” This is interesting because it demonstrates an intentional tweak to the wording in order to more clearly match Isa 53 with the Christian understanding of atonement accomplished by the crucifixion of Jesus; Skarsaune (Proof, 63) also observes that Justin’s wording is consonant with Luke’s wording in Luke 22:37; Using Chilton’s translation of the Isaiah Targum (Targum, 105) Markschies (“Man before God,” 249) recognizes a closeness between Justin’s Greek and the Aramaic of the Isaiah Targum, which may indicate an Aramaic influence on early Christian interpretation of Isa 53:12. The rest of Justin’s quotation follows closely with the LXX; Childs (Isaiah, 33) writes: “[Justin’s] citations represent a Greek Septuagintal text tradition that reflects an early Jewish recension that sought to bring the Greek text into line with a developing normative Hebrew text. On the other hand, there is a non-Septuagintal text, derived most probably from early Christian circles and reflecting some form of a written collection or testimony.”; On the other hand, Gallagher (Hebrew Scripture, 175-176) recognizes that Justin was familiar with the LXX and that he made use of it over and against the Hebrew text. Clearly there is no scholarly consensus.

                [35] Justin, “First Apology,” 179; Markschies (“Man before God,” 229) notices that Justin properly identifies the beginning (Isa 52:13) and end (Isa 53:12) of the fourth Servant Son.

                [36] Justin, “First Apology,” 179-180.

                [37] Munier, L’Apologie, 76; Throughout this paper I refer to Old Testament prophets as “Jewish prophets” rather than “Old Testament prophets” or “Hebrew prophets.” I do this with sensitivity to the role of Isa 53 within patristic apologetics to the Jews and because the prophetic texts in use by these theologians are written in Greek, not Hebrew.

                [38] Justin, “First Apology,” 179.

                [39] Markschies, “Man before God,” 247.

                [40] Moreschini and Norelli (Early Christian, 334) confirm that Justin aimed to connect Christianity and Judaism: “As can be seen from the works of Justin, Tatian, and Athenagoras, it was traditional to base the defense (sic) of Christianity on the antiquity of Jewish antecedents, the purity of the new religion, the rigorous moral code that distinguished its followers, and their loyalty to the authorities of the state, especially the emperor.”

                [41] Markschies, “Man before God,” 251.

                [42] Contra Cosgrove (“Justin Martyr”), Hengel (“Claimed by Christians”), and Voss (Dialog, 38-39). Cosgrove (“Justin Martyr”) argues that Justin’s First Apology was written to pagans and Dialogue with Trypho was written for Christians. I do not dispute that Christians are one of the intended audiences for the Dialogue. However, it seems to me (also: Childs, Isaiah, 34; Marcovich, Iustini, 64-65, Skarsaune, Proof, 371) that Justin is also consciously endeavouring to write a persuasive apology for a Jewish audience. Markschies (“Man before God,” 242-243) alerted me to these sources. See also: Allert, Justin, 16-19.

                [43] As in interesting side note, this dialogue is the earliest preserved interaction between Christians and Jews concerning the interpretation of Isa 53: Markschies, “Man before God,” 245; Moreschini and Norelli (Early Christian, 200) mention that according to Maximus the Confessor (7th century), an earlier Christian-Jewish dialogue, entitled Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus, did exist. However, we no longer have a copy.

                [44] Taaffe, Church Fathers, 25.

                [45] Markschies (“Man before God,” 229) notes that Justin’s quote is remarkably similar to the modern borders of what we call the fourth Servant Song.

                [46] According to Markschies (“Man before God,” 252): “References and allusions to Isaiah 52:13–53:12 occur more frequently in this Dialogue than in any other work of early Christian literature.”; Likewise, Osborn (Justin, 103) writes: “It is remarkable that nowhere in previous Christian literature is such citation use, except for one reference in 1Clement.”

                [47] Blenkinsopp, Sealed Book, 129; Childs, Isaiah, 34; Sawyer, Fifth Gospel, 110.

                [48] Childs, Isaiah, 35.

                [49] There are three incidental pieces of evidence that suggest that Justin did not provide extraneous commentary because he believed that this passage required no explanation, even to a non-Christian Jew. One, Justin’s conversation partner is the Jew Trypho. Whether Trypho is an historical man or a literary creation of Justin is not important. Either way, throughout the dialogue Justin is careful to expound the proper Christian understanding of the Jewish Scriptures, without assuming that Trypho would immediately be able to do so on his own. Two, the probable intended audience for this document is Jewish (as well as Christian). Justin is not expecting that his Jewish audience is familiar with the Christian tradition. Three, Justin goes to great lengths to explain the relevance of Ps 22 and other Old Testament passages. Therefore, it is likely that the connection between Isa 53 and the historical experience of Jesus was so clear to Justin that he felt that all he had to do was point it out.

                [50] Sawyer, Fifth Gospel, 48-49.

                [51] Justin, “Trypho,” 215.

                [52] Blenkinsopp, Sealed Book, 133.

                [53] Justin, “Trypho,” 216.

                [54] Wilken (Isaiah, 414) suggests that Justin’s understanding of Isa 53:8 became common throughout the patristic period: “53:8, Who will describe his generation?, was given two interpretations. It could refer either to the eternal generation of the divine Logos from God the Father or to the mystery of Christ’s human birth of a woman.”

                [55] Markschies, “Man before God,” 262.

                [56] Justin, “Trypho,” 216.

                [57] Justin defended the use of the LXX to appeal to the virgin prophecy of Isa 7:14. As Gallagher (Hebrew Scripture, 175) writes: “Certain passages in [Justin’s Dialogus cum Tryphone] are concerned with establishing the accuracy of the LXX version of Isaiah 7:14, with its translation parqenoj (‘virgin’) instead ofnea~nij (‘young woman’), this latter reading being supported, Justin says, by contemporary Jewish teachers and their new translation/interpretation.

                [58] Justin, “Trypho,” 229.

                [59] See: Childs, Isaiah, 33-35, 37-42; Skarsaune, Proof.

                [60] Justin, “Trypho,” 246.

                [61] Justin, “Trypho,” 246.

                [62] Justin, “Trypho,” 248-252.

                [63] Justin, “Trypho,” 252-253.

                [64] Justin, “Trypho,” 253-256.

                [65] Justin, “Trypho,” 254.

                [66] Blenkinsopp, Sealed Book, 166; Moreschini and Norelli, Early Christian, 201.

                [67] Justin, “Trypho,” 256.

                [68] For more on Justin’s use of the Jewish prophets, see: Chilton, “Justin.”

                [69] Sawyer (Fifth Gospel, 109) makes the following statement about Jewish-Christian relations reflected by the Dialogue: “It is in this very long and influential work that [the Jews] are unambiguously accused, for the first time in the history of Jewish-Christian relations, of deicide.”

                [70] Dates for Irenaeus taken from: Childs, Isaiah, 44.

                [71] Childs, Isaiah, 45; Payton (Irenaeus, ix) has written: “Irenaeus of Lyons was the greatest theologian to arise in the Church since the time of the apostles.”

                [72] For more on Irenaeus read: Grant, Irenaeus, 1-54; Parvis, “Who Was Irenaeus?”; Payton, Irenaeus, 1-26;  and Slusser, “Irenaeus’s Theology.”

                [73] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 400; Wilken (Isaiah, 414) suggests this interpretation of Isa 53:8 became normal throughout the patristic period.

                [74] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 400.

                [75] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 449.

                [76] Tertullian (“Baptism,” 678) makes the identical point. I mention this here rather than in the section on Tertullian because it functions merely as a footnote within Tertullian’s treatment on Baptism and therefore does not require a full explanation by this paper.

                [77] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 433.

                [78] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 494.

                [79] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 433.

                [80] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 494.

                [81] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 506.

                [82] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 510.

                [83] Irenaeus make much the same point Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching. As Childs (Isaiah, 49) writes: “As one would expect, the treatment of Christ’s passion and glorification, which is the subject matter of paragraphs 67-85, is dominated by a careful interpretation of Isa 52:13–53:12. The exegesis continually probes into the theological significance of Christ’s abasement. Irenaeus sees the judgment affecting salvation for some and destruction for others. He enriches his interpretation of chapter 53 with references to other familiar prophecies (Zech 13:7; Hos 10:6), but especially from Psalms 2, 22, and 118.”

                [84] Irenaeus, “Heresy,” 505-513.

                [85] Childs (Isaiah, 53) suggests that “Irenaeus’s (sic) biblical approach… attempted to recover a holistic reading of the Bible that united both testaments within a history of salvation.”

                [86]Dates for Clement were taken from: Childs, Isaiah, 56.

                [87] Childs, Isaiah, 57.

                [88] For a detailed analysis of Clement’s purpose for writing Pedagogue and Stromata see: Wagner, “Another Look.”

                [89] Childs (Isaiah, 57) states that one of the main purposes for Pedagogue was “to justify the Christian faith to his pagan Hellenistic world as being intelligent and rational.”

                [90] Clement, “Instructor,” 210.

                [91] Clement, “Instructor,” 211-215.

                [92] Clement, “Instructor,” 226.

                [93] Clement, “Instructor,” 226.

                [94] Clement, “Instructor,” 272.

                [95] Clement, “Stromata,” 352.

                [96] Clement, “Stromata,” 352.

                [97] Clement, “Stromata,” 353.

                [98] Date for Tertullian taken from: Dunn, Tertullian, inside page.

                [99] Benedict, Fathers, 32.

                [100] Markschies, “Man before God,” 280-284.

                [101] Dunn, Tertullian, 7.

                [102] Gallagher (Hebrew Scripture, 178) suggests that Tertullian worked from the LXX and that he considered it to be an accurate translation of the Hebrew. For more on Tertullian’s use of the LXX see: Rajak, Translation, 43-36.

                [103] Tertullian, “Idolatry,” 73.

                [104] Tertullian, “Jews,” 164.

                [105] Tertullian, “Jews,” 165.

                [106] Tertullian, “Jews,” 166.

                [107] Dunn, Tertullian, 48.

                [108] Tertullian, “Jews,” 172.

                [109] Tertullian, “Book Three,” 326-327.

                [110] Tertullian, “Book Four,” 382.

                [111] Tertullian, “Book Three,” 335-336.

                [112] Tertullian, “Book Three,” 338.

                [113] Moreschini and Norelli (Early Christian, 338) affirms Tertullians reason for writing Book Three: “The third book refutes Marcionite Christology, which claimed that the Christ who came was not to be identified with the Messiah of the Jews, for whom they were still waiting.” So also: Dunn, Tertullian, 48.

                [114] Here Tertullian is mimicking Marcion with “their Messiah” and “their God,” since Marcion believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God as the New Testament and therefore that the Messiah and God of the Jews was not the same Messiah and God of the Christians. It is this very idea that Tertullian is refuting.

                [115] Tertullian, “Book Three,” 341-342.

                [116] Tertullian, “Book Three,” 342.

                [117] Tertullian, “Book Four,” 354.

                [118] Tertullian, “Book Four,” 418.

                [119] Tertullian, “Book Four,” 420.

                [120] Ramsey, Beginning to Read, 42-43; Dunn, Tertullian, 35-36; Moreschini and Norelli (Early Christian, 338) affirm Tertullian’s purpose for writing Book Four: “The fourth book is devoted to refuting the heretic’s interpretation of the gospel of Luke, the only one the Marcionites regarded as authentic; Tertullian shows that the teaching on Christ in that Gospel was not opposed to the teaching of the Old Testament.”

                [121] Tertullian, “Flesh,” 530.

                [122] Tertullian, “Flesh,” 534.

                [123] Dunn, Tertullian, 37.

                [124] Tertullian, “Flesh,” 534.

                [125] Ramsey (Beginning to Read, 80) affirms that Tertullian went to great pains to describe Christ “as being exactly like every other human infant.”

                [126] Tertullian, “Resurrection,” 559.

                [127] Dunn, Tertullian, 36; Moreschini and Norelli (Early Christian, 337-338) affirm Tertullian’s purpose for writing Praxeas: “Tertullian wrote it because he had encountered a new and no less dangerous heresy, which we may call ‘modalism,’ simplifying here for brevity’s sake, later developments and restructurings. This heresy, which originated in Asia Minor and spread mainly in that region, was hostile to any theology of the Logos. It was especially insidious because it brought to light the discomfort caused by the Christian doctrine that there are three divine ‘persons.”

                [128] Tertullian, “Praxeas,” 606.

                [129] Tertullian, “Praxeas,” 606.

                [130] Nevertheless, Tertullian’s defence of the Trinity advanced the Church’s understanding. As Davis (Councils, 44-45) writes in his prologue to the Council of Nicaea: “Western theologians were greatly indebted to Tertullian for enriching theological vocabulary with new terms, none more important than ‘substance’ and ‘person.'”; See also: Wilken, Christian Thought, 96-100.

                [131] Ramsey (Beginning to Read, 53) credits Tertullian (as well as Irenaeus) with one of the earliest recorded defences of the doctrine of the Trinity in his defence against Praxeas.

                [132] Tertullian, “Praxeas,” 607.

                [133] Tertullian, “Praxeas,” 60; Benedict (Fathers, 33) affirms that Tertullian played a key role in the defence and development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

                [134] Tertullian, “Praxeas,” 627.

                [135] Benedict (Fathers, 34) writes: “He demanded heroic behaviour from [Christians] in every circumstance, above all under persecution.”

                [136] Tertullian, “Persecutione,” 123.

                [137] Tertullian, “Persecutione,” 122.

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