Joseph Spencer Shares 3 Ways to Make Isaiah Clear and Enlightening, Not Confusing

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Earlier this year, we had an amazing opportunity to interview Joseph Spencer, BYU professor and author of The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record. Soon after, Spencer provides us with more insights into Isaiah in his LDS Living article,
“3 Ways to Make the Isaiah Chapters Clear and Enlightening, Not Confusing.” Within the article, he offers some advice to help us all overcome the Isaiah roadblock.

Isaiah is important. We hear it over and over. Prophets, old and new remind us of its importance. Isaiah is powerful. The Lord told the Nephites: Great are the words of Isaiah. Even on this very website, there are countless articles depicting Isaiah’s importance and power. Yet, every time we encounter Isaiah in the New Testament or Book of Mormon, we are left scratching our heads. So, what are we missing? How can we access this power and how do we come to realize Isaiah’s importance in our own lives? Joseph Spencer offers us some answers to that question with his three simple tips to make Isaiah more clear.

Use a Modern Translation

The first piece of advice Spencer gives us in his article is to “take a look at a recent translation.” He points out that even the King James Version, a version we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints heavily rely on, is outdated—over four centuries old. In my personal scripture study, I often times feel disconnected and confused due to the language barriers. Not only do we experience new words, but words that we think we know have changed meanings over time. To help with these barriers Spencer tell us to “Get your hands on a copy of the New Revised Standard Translation.” With this translation he advises us to first “read it like you’d read a book” and then, second, compare that text with the King James Version. With these comparisons, we can better discover the meaning of the text and familiarize ourselves with Isaiah’s language patterns.

Learn the Historical Context

The Second tip Spencer provides, “learn just enough about the relevant history” is the most challenging for me. However, his wording ‘just enough’ gives me hope. In many other books, and articles, scholars, such as Ann Madsen, give similar advice, but to learn and understand a whole historical period seems like a large task. Spencer makes this an easier assignment as he advises us to “spend just an hour or so making sure you understand the basics of Israelite history.” An hour of historical preparation seems a much simpler task in comparison to the daunting Wikipedia and scriptural research we attempt to decode. He further aids our task as he offers websites and books to help including, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament. Spencer even provides an explanation as to why this historical background is pertinent to our understanding. “Context can make reading Isaiah a good deal easier.” In my own research, I have found this to be true. Knowing the historical context further allows me to liken the times and struggles of Isaiah to modern times.

The Messiah and More

The final advice Spencer includes in his article is “look for the Messiah, but look for a lot more besides the Messiah.” Spencer discusses how we are trained to find the prophecies and verses pertaining to the Messiah and redemption. While these prophecies are integral to our scripture study, in Isaiah, there are limited prophecies of the redeemer. Spencer raises an important query on this point. The Messiah is not the sole focus of Isaiah. Therefore, “we ought to be asking what the rest of the book is about”. Various pertinent themes and stories fill Isaiah. If we have a narrow focus, we may miss a hidden gem within the chapters. Spencer hints at some of these other themes as he discusses Israel’s destiny. He writes that Isaiah concerns, “the relationship between Israel and the gentile nations, with the possibility of introducing peace and right worship to the whole world.” Even this short synopsis helps Isaiah seem more exciting and less like a chore.

With these three simple tips, Spencer helps chip away at our mental Isaiah roadblocks. Isaiah is the most quoted prophets of all the prophets, and why? Following Spencer’s advice, let’s figure that out for ourselves. We are grateful to have had the various opportunities to read and hear his words of advice on Isaiah.

This article provides you with a basis of Spencer’s advice. The full article offers further insights to help with your Isaiah study and comprehension. Read the full article here: http://www.ldsliving.com/3-Ways-to-Make-the-Isaiah-Chapters-Clear-and-Enlightening-Not-Confusing/s/89198

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