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Insight #186 — Great Isaiah Scroll Predates Jesus

An entire scroll of Isaiah was hidden in a desert cave for two millennia. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are fragments; but the Great Isaiah Scroll is virtually complete with all 66 chapters. Predating Jesus by at least a century, the scroll is now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

The scroll of Isaiah and all the other biblical texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls are now available to the public in English (1). Believer and unbeliever want to know how the Dead Sea Scrolls compare with our present-day Bibles. Do they read differently? In some cases, yes. This is to be expected. Ancient manuscripts (“written by hand”) always have variant readings. A Bible with good footnotes puts some of these differences at your fingertips. If you have ever checked a New Testament quote of an Old Testament passage, you are already aware of textual differences. So, of course, there are variants in the Dead Sea Scrolls when compared to other manuscripts.

The big news is that we now have Hebrew manuscripts 1,000 years older than those previously available. John Allegro, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, after discussing variants in the scrolls, says: “In any case, the whole question must be seen in a proper sense of proportion… The differences are matters of detail” (2). Another scholar, discussing the variants, states it more colorfully: “No one has ever seriously suggested that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain anything like an eleventh commandment” (3).

Read in the Great Isaiah Scroll or in your own Bible: “Zebulun… Naphtali… Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:1-2). Not Judea, but Galilee, was the major receptor of the Light of the world. Matthew says Jesus labored there “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.” See Matt. 4:12-16. What a great light Jesus was in “Galilee of the nations (Gentiles),” termed such because its inhabitants were not all as pureblooded Jews as those in Judea were. Yet, Jesus himself and His apostles were all Galileans. Galilee saw the Light. Isaiah predicted it seven centuries earlier.

One Sabbath in his hometown synagogue, Jesus was given the book (scroll) of Isaiah. We assume it was similar to the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is 11 inches high and 24 feet long. Jesus had to unroll it most of the way to find these words (as recorded in the Great Isaiah Scroll): “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, and to bind up the brokenhearted…” (Isa. 61:1). Compare Luke 4:18 in your Bible. In essence, identical. That day, Jesus declared He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.

A century before Jesus, a scribe copied these words into the Great Isaiah Scroll: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). Check out Acts 8:32. In essence, identical. One day, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, an Ethiopian was in his chariot reading these words in his copy of Isaiah, but he did not understand. Philip came by, “began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Isaiah 53 is a perfect text from which to preach Jesus. Isaiah predicted the submission of God’s “Servant.” When He was falsely accused, “He did not open his mouth.” “He was despised and rejected.” They crucified Him.

However, Isaiah 53 predicts more than Messiah’s unjust suffering. Clearer than any other OT text, Isaiah predicted why God’s Servant would suffer. “He was wounded for our transgressions… the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… make His soul an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:5, 6, 10). The ancient Dead Sea Scroll reads the same as our Bibles. We sing it: “What can take away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Praise God. With the Great Isaiah Scroll, we now have a hard copy, predating Jesus, which substantiates Paul’s declaration: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). Chapter 53 of the Isaiah Scroll is chief among those Scriptures.

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(1) “The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible; the Oldest Known Bible translated for the First Time into English,” Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, 1999.
(2) “The Dead Sea Scrolls, a Reappraisal,” John Allegro, 1964, pg. 83.
(3) “Searching for the Better Text; How Errors Crept into the Bible and What Can Be Done to Correct Them,” Harvey Minkoff, in “Bible Review,” August 1999, pg. 25.