The Prophet Jeremiah and the Status of the Original

In this series we have looked at the themes of inspiration, transmission, and textual criticism from Jeremiah 36. If you remember, Jeremiah is told to write the words of God in a scroll which will pronounce divine judgment upon Jehoiakim, king of Judah. The text tells us that Jeremiah did not write these words himself, rather his servant and scribe Baruch did the honors. We then say that once the text was read in the ear of the king that the text was cut into pieces and cast into a nearby fire.

Subsequently God commands that Jeremiah write the same words again. The Bible says,

“Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah had burned.”

Jeremiah 36:28

First, God commands Jeremiah to write all the words that were written in the scroll that is now destroyed, reduced to ashes in the fire. Has anyone accidently deleted an email or Facebook post your were working on? But it was so good so you tried to duplicate it. How did it go? Do you think you wrote every word in the order in which you first wrote them? Here Jeremiah by inspiration does exactly that. He wrote “all the former words that were in the first roll.” So now we have two originals. One that was burnt in the fire and this new one.

Second, Baruch was again the one to write the text. The Scripture reads,

“Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah.”

Jeremiah 36:32

So not only did Jeremiah not forget one single word, but Baruch once again wrote with perfect affinity to Jeremiah’s dictation. Does anyone think that Jeremiah violated Baruch’s will by dictating to him the words of God? It is difficult to say that Jeremiah did anything of the sort. What kept Baruch from committing an error in two different texts? Was Baruch also inspired along with Jeremiah? If not was Baruch providentially preserved from committing a single error in both the first original and then the second original?

Third, which is the original? Jeremiah first wrote a text that was destroyed and then another text was made with all the words from the first but with additions. The Scripture reads Baruch wrote all the words of Jeremiah,

“and there were added besides unto them many like words.”

Jeremiah 36:32

Suppose someone made a perfect copy of the first scroll before it was burnt up in the winter house of Jehoiakim and affirm that Jeremiah has now written a second text. So which of the two manuscripts is the oldest? The burnt up one. Which one of the two manuscripts is shortest? The burnt up one. Which one is the original? The newer longer one and not the oldest and shortest one. We’ve known this story for thousands of years and yet many Christians are convinced that oldest, shortest, and hardest is the best reading. Here the Bible tells us that is not the case. In fact, oldest, shortest, and hardest is not regarded a criteria at all here in Jeremiah. The only criteria is that the words brought to the king are the words of the LORD by the prophet Jeremiah and the truth regarding those words can only be known by reading the actual words of God by faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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