Have Christians got Jeremiah 29:11 all wrong? by Irene Lancaster for Christian Today
Jeremiah 29:11 has become the most popular verse on social media, according to a recent analysis.
In the version known by many Christians, it says: ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
However, G-d is not prophesying in English. He is actually speaking in Hebrew around 2,500 years ago to a Jewish prophet of exile from Israel called Jeremiah, speaking to the Jewish people in Babylonian exile.
Here is a more accurate rendition of the original, bearing in mind Hebrew grammar and syntax, context, history, Jewish commentaries and what we know about Jeremiah. My own explanations are in square brackets.
‘For I [in contrast to the false prophets] know the thoughts that I am thinking about you,’ says the Lord, ‘thoughts of peace and not towards evil, to give you closure and hope’ [‘closure’ here could be ‘something to hang on to’, but doesn’t mean this literally].
So what does Jeremiah really mean in chapter 29:11? How do we go about interpreting G-d’s Hebrew word through His Jewish prophets?
A necessary condition for any Bible interpreter – absolutely essential in fact – is to know Hebrew as taught by people who are immersed in Judaism. In the past too many university teachers of Hebrew in this country have come from a classical public school background of Greek and Latin. They were taught to treat the Hebrew Bible as the dead letter of a dead deity that had now been replaced by the living Christian deity.
In addition, and tragically so for those of us who have been involved in clergy training for over 40 years, part of the contemporary mutation of Christian replacement theology is that Christians continue to regard themselves as the new people of G-d.
So a scholarly and reverential approach to the word of G-d, steeped in knowledge of Hebrew and related subjects, is nowadays often replaced by the latest vernacular sound-bite which makes people feel good.