Use of Isaiah in the Pauline letters: with special reference to his self-conception of being an apostle to the gentiles
Kwok, Hon Lee
Many may have noticed that Paul employs large number of passages from the book of Isaiah in his various Epistles. Some of those Isaianic texts are used as explicit citations whilst others are used in a more nuanced manner such as allusions and intertextual echoes. Yet, in spite of the importance of Isaiah in Paul’s letters and the centrality of Paul’s vocation as an apostle to the Gentiles in Paul’s life, no specialized study of the relationship between these two significant aspects has appeared to date. More specifically, amongst those who notice the significance of Isaiah in Paul’s Epistles, it has been widely held that Paul identifies himself with the Isaianic Servant in the way that he sees himself as the fulfilment of the Isaianic Servant. The present study seeks to explore how Paul reads Isaiah as reflected in Galatians, Romans, and 1 and 2 Corinthians, four of his undisputed authentic letters, where explicit citations and clear allusions are detected. It is not so much a study of the mechanics of citation or allusion per se as of seeing Paul as a reader and interpreter of the scriptural text. Special attention is paid to the interplay of Paul’s reading of the Isaianic texts, the role of the servant figure portrayed in Isaiah 40-66, and his understanding of Jesus as well as his own Gentile mission in the light of Isaiah. Based on a slightly modified model set out by Richard Hays, the study proceeds by looking at some of the major instances of Paul’s using of Isaianic texts within the larger literary contexts, both in Isaiah and in the flow of Paul’s argument. The goal of the study is fourfold: First, to see whether Paul’s use of these ancient texts is ‘atomistic’, taken the text out of context and applied it to his argument to serve his own purpose or given consideration of the wider context of the original text. Second, to explore how Paul reads Isaiah in the light of his special called ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles, and how the reading of the scriptural text provides him insights to God’s ongoing salvific work in the history of Israel and the person of Jesus. Third, to clarify Paul’s sense of identification with the Isaianic servant figure in relation to the ministry of Jesus and his own mission; and finally, how Paul views the Gentile mission in which he is involved in relation to the final salvation of Israel and humanity. Particular attention has been paid to Paul’s identification of the Isaianic Servant. It has been argued that he sees Jesus as the eschatological fulfilment of the Isaianic Servant. Jesus’ death and resurrection established the foundation of hope and provided a paradigm for his apostolic existence. He sees himself as the Isaianic servant in the sense that he lives a life in total identification with that of Christ, who, though experiences suffering and death, will be vindicated eventually by God.