“At that time, declares the LORD, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. 2 And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. 3 Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, declares the LORD of hosts. 4 “You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? 5 Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return. 6 I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. 7 Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD. 8 “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. 9 The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? 10 Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. 11 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. 12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD. 13 When I would gather them, declares the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” 14 Why do we sit still? Gather together; let us go into the fortified cities and perish there, for the LORD our God has doomed us to perish and has given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
This text is one of the most commonly cited by Islamic apologists—well, let me modify that. One verse is, specifically, verse 8, “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.'” The assertion is that this is a plain, incontestable assertion in the Bible itself that its own text has been corrupted (and, by extension, that the Bible is not the Word of God). Is this what Jeremiah is saying?
One thing you can almost never accuse Islamic apologists of is taking into consideration the context of any biblical passage when citing from the Christian Scriptures. We saw that repeatedly in reviewing Shabir Ally’s debate with Sam Shamoun, even to the point of his directly admitting he did not need to worry about interpreting the Bible in its own context. And though I have heard multiple Islamic apologists citing the text in debates and on websites, I have yet to hear one who shows any knowledge of the context of the text and its function in the prophecy of Jeremiah.
Let us first consider how utterly unlikely it is that the Islamic interpretation offered by certain apologists has any merit whatsoever. If Jeremiah were actually accusing the scribes of altering the actual text of the Torah, the Mosaic Law, so that it was no longer available or knowable, can we imagine him doing so in one verse, and them moving on? But surely that is not his purpose, for he continually assumes the possession of, and knowledge of, the law of Yahweh, holding those very people accountable to it. It is simply beyond the realm of logic to think Jeremiah himself believed that law had been corrupted and lost as well. Consider well that Jeremiah will later prophecy the writing of God’s law upon the hearts of His people in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33), but he says nothing about it having to be re-inspired or revealed again so as to be able to do so. And consider this passage as well:
Jeremiah 44:23 “Because you have burned sacrifices and have sinned against the LORD and not obeyed the voice of the LORD or walked in His law, His statutes or His testimonies, therefore this calamity has befallen you, as it has this day.”
How could they be held accountable for not walking in His law if they did not possess His law (it having been destroyed or corrupted by the scribes?). No, the universal testimony of the prophets (and of the Lord Jesus Christ, who likewise held men accountable to the same revelation) is that God’s Word is inviolable, it will not pass away (Isaiah 40:8). So to what does Jeremiah refer? Keil and Delitzch put it well:
The words are not to be limited in their reference to the efforts of the false prophets, who spread their delusive prophecies by means of writings: they refer equally to the work of the priests, whose duty it was to train the people in the law, and who, by false teaching as to its demands, led the people astray, seduced them from the way of truth, and deceived them as to the future. The labours both of the false prophets and of the wicked priests consisted not merely in authorship, in composing and circulating writings, but to a very great extent in the oral teaching of the people, partly by prophetic announcements, partly by instruction in the law; only in so far as it was necessary was it their duty to set down in writing and circulate their prophecies and interpretations of the law. But this work by word and writing was founded on the existing written law, the Torah of Moses; just as the true prophets sought to influence the people chiefly by preaching the law to them, by examining their deeds and habits by the rule of the divine will as revealed in the Torah, and by applying to their times the law’s promises and threatenings. For this work with the law, and application of it to life, Jer. uses the expression “style of the Shoferim,” because the interpretation of the law, if it was to have valid authority as the rule of life, must be fixed by writing. Yet he did not in this speak only of authors, composers, but meant such as busied themselves about the book of the law, made it the object of their study. But inasmuch as such persons, by false interpretation and application, perverted the truth of the law into a lie, he calls their work the work of the lying style (pen). (Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (Vol. 7, Page 645). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
The context confirms this, for the very next verse says the wise men “have rejected the word of Yahweh,” not that they have somehow managed to corrupt and destroy it. It must exist and be knowable for them to reject it.
Likewise, it should be noted that the Hebrew term used, rq,v, is primarily used by Jeremiah to refer to “deception” and “falsehood” not in the sense of textual corruption or anything like it. For example, it appears in Jeremiah 9:5 in the rq,v, / ll;T’ pairing, “Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity.” And directly to the point, Jeremiah 23:26, “How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart.” False prophets abound, but their false prophecying and false teaching can never alter God’s inspired Word.
And so we invite our Muslim friends to stop misusing Jeremiah’s words in contradiction to his own views. The apostle Paul was surely speaking in the tradition of all of the prophets of God when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).