The book of Isaiah is mentioned 250 times in the New Testament, more than any other Old Testament book, according to biblical scholar Ben Witherington III.
“The Isaiah citations are used as source texts, proof texts and subtexts, echoing and alluding to Isaiah’s prophecies,” Witherington said.
Witherington, who gave a lecture over the weekend at the Spring Bible & Archaeology Fest 2022, hosted by the Biblical Archaeology Society, spoke about the prophet in the New Testament specifically, and how New Testament writers viewed Old Testament prophecy in general.
Witherington is considered by many to be one of the world's top evangelical scholars.
He is on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland and Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he received an M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Durham University in England.
Witherington said that most of the citations are from Isaiah chapters 40 through 66, emphasizing judgment and restoration. He said that the themes used from Isaiah in the New Testament are reflective of the fact that the New Testament writers believed they were living in the eschatological age, the age of prophecy fulfillment.
“They believed Jesus was the hermeneutical key to understanding the Old Testament, especially the prophets,” he said.
“The Old Testament promises are being fulfilled in the Ecclesia, composed of both Jews and Gentiles united in Christ,” Witherington continued. “Only some of the promises are still outstanding, and they will be fulfilled when Jesus returns.”
He said that overall, the major theme is “the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation and the identity of Jesus as servant, messiah and Lord.”
Subthemes, he added, include the hardening of Israel, God’s righteousness, the inclusion of Gentiles, divine reconciliation and restoration, and Israel’s second chance when Jesus returns.
Where is Isaiah most mentioned in the New Testament?
Within the four Gospels, Witherington showed that Luke and Matthew cited Isaiah more than John or Mark. From the New Testament Epistles, 1 Peter, 1 Corinthians and Romans cite Isaiah the most.
“This information is based on citations, not allusions,” Witherington stressed.