CLAIM: Critics often argue that Paul quotes the OT out of context. Specifically, in this citation, we cannot find a clear OT citation for this passage—though Isaiah 64:4 and 65:16 are possible passages. What is Paul quoting from? And why does he cite this specific passage?
RESPONSE: Let’s consider the two questions above:
What is Paul quoting from?
This citation isn’t explicitly from Isaiah 64:4. Consequently, some have argued that this is a citation from the Apocalypse of Elias or the Ascension of Isaiah. This seems altogether unreasonable for two reasons: (1) we do not possess either of these books, and (2) Paul never uses the formula “As it is written…” to refer to non-canonical books.
Others argue that Paul could be quoting from a saying of Jesus that wasn’t recorded in the gospels (cf. Acts 20:35). However, this wouldn’t fit with Paul’s formula, “As it is written…” This would imply that sayings about Jesus were written down—sayings that we do not possess. Therefore, such a concept is utterly speculative. Morris writes, “It seems best to think of this as a rather free citation of Isaiah 64:4, with reminiscences of other scriptural passages.” We can compare Paul’s citation like this:
1 Corinthians 2:9
|“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man.”||
(Isa. 64:4) From days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
…all that God has prepared…
|…nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf…|
|…for those who love Him.||
…the one who waits for Him.
As you can see, Paul is not citing this passage verbatim. But the concepts are parallel. Some scholars believe that Paul is also incorporating the LXX version of Isaiah 65:16 as well.
Why does Paul cite Isaiah 64:4 (and possibly 65:16)?
In Isaiah 64, the Jews were being judged, and they were told to wait for God’s promise of redemption and rescue, which results in Isaiah 65:17 (i.e. the new heaven and new earth). In the same way, Paul is saying that Christians have to wait for God’s ultimate promise: heaven. While this isn’t a one-to-one fulfillment of prophecy, Paul is essentially showing a comparison between these events. For example, if you were counseling someone to wait on God for a spouse, you might quote them the story of Joseph, who had to wait years for years, while languishing in prison. While Joseph didn’t need to wait on a spouse, he still needed to wait on God. Paul is handling the OT text in the same way.
Exegesis of the passage in context
“As it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man…’” In context, Paul explained that human rulers missed the culmination of God’s wisdom through the Cross (1 Cor. 2:6-8). The first portion of this citation from Isaiah shows that God has kept certain things hidden from humans. The second half of the verse goes on to explain what they have not specifically seen or heard.
“‘All that God has prepared for those who love Him…’” In context, Paul was writing about the crucifixion of Christ (v.8) and our glory (v.7). This is what the rulers of this age could not see.
 Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.