Thoughts on Jeremiah
Over the years I’ve heard stories about people who lost their faith at Bible College. It made no sense to me. I understood there were liberal lecturers, but really, how could they make someone lose faith?
Then I went to Bible College myself. The first few years I found faith affirming. The history of the church and theology made me feel that my beliefs were on solid ground. I still had no clues as to why someone would lose their faith, until I began studying Prophetic Literature. It was the middle of Jeremiah, I realised the problem. It wasn’t Jeremiah accusing God of being deceptive, or God telling Jeremiah he need to get over his self-pity. Rather it was the way the book of Jeremiah came to us.
The book of Jeremiah was first written over two and a half thousand years ago. It was collated from prophesies that Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites living in Jerusalem prior to and during the Babylonian siege which took place around 500 BC. Most of the book was originally written in Hebrew.
Two versions of the book have survived the years. One is the Greek translation which became part of an Old Testament called the Septuagint. In Luke 4:16-19 Jesus read from the Septuagint, though it is believed other translations were also available at the time. The other version we have is the Hebrew edition called the Masoretic text which is usually the translation that our Bibles today are based on. However the Septuagint version of the book is 15% shorter then the Masoretic text. So is the extra 15% inspired? The prophesies are recorded in a different order in the Septuagint to the Masoretic text, is this important?
It has also been found in many of the prophetic books that scribes have added dating clues and geographical markers, but at other times making alterations and adding information which would have been unknown to the person who wrote the original. Were these scribes inspired by God to do this?
The book itself gives some clues to its composition. ‘So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them‘ (emphasis added) (Jeremiah 36:32).
If our faith in the Bible is shaken by these historical discoveries, then our faith in God is also on shaky ground. Liberal theologians like to point out these discrepancies but often fail to mention how amazing it is that we have so many identical copies of Old Testament books that were put together so long ago or that these additions and alterations don’t alter the theological meaning of the books.
I believe the Bible we have today is the book God intended us to have. God works through the frailty of human hands and minds but he protects his message. Today we have a book, while not exactly the same as the original, is remarkably close.
Often, in our churches, we act as though the Bible has come to us by magic and we have the exact words that the prophets spoke. The problem surfaces when our young people go to Bible College and they become disillusioned because we haven’t been honest in explaining the Bible’s own history.