Is It the Autograph, a Copy, or Something Else?

Posted By on August 20, 2008

Ivan has surfaced again!

Ivan emailed me this missive yesterday, so I thought I’d post it.  Ivan spotlights some very interesting content in Jeremiah that pertains to our discussion. That book of Jeremiah just seems to play with our minds!

Here’s Ivan, between >>


I never really thought much about this story before, but we know the book of Jeremiah has a pretty tortured textual history, and we know that Baruch had something to do with the production of the text, because the text tells us this repeatedly.

Jeremiah 36:1-2, 4 – 1 In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today….” 4 Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD that he had spoken to him. (ESV)

– So, is the production of a copy, or the production of an autograph? If a copy, why did Jeremiah have to “dictate” (Heb, DBR)? Why not just copy directly from the scroll? If an autograph, does this mean that Jeremiah had not previously written any of these things down? We’re apparently talking about YEARS worth of oracular material here (“from the days of Josiah until today”). The text just says that Jeremiah spoke (from memory?!) and Baruch wrote; it doesn’t say anything about any filling of the Spirit or any trances. Only Jeremiah is speaking here, not God. Not to mention that in verse 10, they’re called “the words of Jeremiah”, not “the words of God” or “the words that God spoke to Jeremiah”.

Then Baruch goes and reads the scroll in the temple, because Jeremiah is banned from its precincts.

Jeremiah 36:16-18 – 16 When they [various temple officials] heard all the words, they turned one to another in fear. And they said to Baruch, “We must report all these words to the king.” 17 Then they asked Baruch, “Tell us, please, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” 18 Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, while I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” (ESV)

– Same questions as above. Particular emphasis is given on Jeremiah speaking and Baruch using “ink” to write on the scroll.

Jeremiah 36:21-23 – 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. (ESV)

– Oops! There goes the autograph, right? Or was it just a copy? But then if it wasn’t the only copy, why do this:

Jeremiah 36:27-28 – 27 Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28 “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. (ESV)

– Then God tells them to add some stuff about Jehoiakim burning the scroll, and a curse against him. Fair enough. But apparently, Jeohoiakim burned the only copy. So what happens the SECOND time they do the whole dictation thing?

Jeremiah 36:32 – 32 Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. (ESV)

– Wait? “And many similar words were added to them”? Seriously? So there were two DRAFTS of these oracles? And the second draft not only contained the extra stuff that God TOLD them to add, but other stuff, too? What other stuff? How much longer did it get second time around?

– Not to mention that this is a standard case of Moses writing about his own death: This is the book of Jeremiah, commenting on how (part of) the book of Jeremiah was created. How did that story get in there at all, unless Jeremiah was written in multiple passes? If, that is, the “scroll” in question here has anything to do with the production of Jeremiah the canonical book at all – which would be an interesting theory to say the least.


Let me add just one more.  We all know Jeremiah has 52 chapters.  Look at how chapter 51 ends (51:63-64):

63 When you finish reading this book, , tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, 64 and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’ ”

Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.

Hmmm . . . “To this point, these are the words of Jeremiah” – so what about chapter 52? Who wrote THAT?

Obviously, this is another clear example of editing in the Bible. Frankly, I wish all the scribes that touched the text had been as clear as this guy!  Just more data that needs consideration when you try and hammer out a doctrine of inspiration.

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13 Responses to “Is It the Autograph, a Copy, or Something Else?”

  1. rode says:

    wow, that was excellent.

    why is it so hard to just accept the fact that the bible has been editing by humans?
    if we accept this, does the message of the bible change in anyway, or is this what we are afraid of?

  2. Chet Silvermonte says:

    I’ll play angel’s advocate here: I don’t quite get Ivan’s point. He seems to want to use this to illustrate the very human process of composition, but it starts with “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations”. So to the extent that Jeremiah faithfully executes God’s command, aren’t the words of the first scroll God’s? And the additional material in the second scroll that Ivan finds so interesting, well – time had passed, is it possible that God told Jeremiah more things to write in the intervening time? Must we read this as if the prophet is finishing in the flesh what was begun in the spirit? It’s a cool passage, but does it really resolve anything?

  3. MSH says:

    @rode: beats me. As moderns of the enlightment / empiricist tradition, we just want everything (including God) in a box or a file folder, tucked away without frayed edges.

  4. Rairdan Brannach says:

    I don’t know what Ivan is trying to accomplish here besides misdirection.

    The motif of writing prophetic words, from the spirit, an angel, or someone else as part of a larger writing is not only found in Jeremiah. It’s in apocalyptic writings like Revelation. Check Rev 1.19 and also the seven letters — Rev 2.1, 8, 12, 18; 3.1, 7, 14.

    And look at the Shepherd of Hermas as well. In the “Visions”, Hermas writes down what the Lady tells him, later content in the book reviews the words of the Lady. Much of the book is reporting of the back-and-forth between Hermas and other prophetic/spirit type entities. But the book is the book, the transcripts and copies written by Hermas (if they ever existed) are merely source. Likely, though, the whole thing is a motif for the larger work.

    Doesn’t this book-writing (and sometimes book-eating, see Ezekiel 2.8-3.3 along with Rev 10.9) need to be interpreted sensitive to genre and context? And does it have *anything* to do with the concept of inspiration (hint: the answer is “no”).

    In Ezekiel and Revelation, the book-eating is in the context of visions so we don’t think twice about the content of those scrolls/books being part of the inspired portion of writing included in those books. Why would we think other mention of books/scrolls in writing (in Jeremiah, prophetic writing at that) would somehow have something to say about the autograph?

    What about Luke’s sources (Lu 1.1-4)? Would those have something to do with determining Luke’s ‘autograph’? It seems he’s claiming himself as one of his sources. What about the letters Luke quotes in Acts (e.g. Ac 15.23-29; 23.25-30)? Would the original of such letters be inspired, or are they only inspired in the context of their use in Acts? (hint: it’s the latter, not the former; I don’t think Claudius Lysias has any apostolic witness credibility).

    Why can’t Jeremiah’s ‘scrolls’ (if they’re even historical) be sources used in the composition of the book we today recognize as canonical?

    I just don’t see what Ivan’s wowie-zowie revelation is here. So Jeremiah references other stuff that has Jeremiah as its origin (spoken by him, written down by a scribe). Big whup-de-doo. Other canonical books mention and even cite other material, either sourced by the same author, copied by the same author but sourced to a divine entity, or from some other entity altogether. Such stuff has nothing to do with canonicity/inspiration of the sources.

    I mean, was Epimenides really speaking under inspiration of the spirit (Titus 1.12)? No, but the quotation in context was divinely inspired.

  5. DJR says:

    I have read that this verse was added and is actually not part of any original manuscript? What are we to make of this verse in light of the inerrancy discussion?

    1 John 5:7 – For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. KJV

  6. MSH says:

    @DJR: Short answer: If it’s not part of the original (and it wasn’t, at least with respect to the data we have at present in the roughly 6,000 MSS of the NT), it’s not a problem for inerrancy. Inerrancy does not extend to copies, but to that which was initially produced at the end of the process of inspiration. While early church fathers used similar language to that found in 1 John 5:7, it is absent from all early Greek manuscripts.

    Long answer: (Using LOGOS!) Here’s the excerpt on 1 John 5:7-8 from Bruce Metzger’s textual commentary (Metzger was an expert in NT textual criticism):

    5.7–8 μαρτυροῦντες, 8 τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα {A}
    After μαρτυροῦντες the Textus Receptus adds the following: ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ Πατήρ, ὁ Λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἔν εἰσι. (8) καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ. That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain in the light of the following considerations.
    (A) External Evidence. (1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate. Four of the eight manuscripts contain the passage as a variant reading written in the margin as a later addition to the manuscript. The eight manuscripts are as follows:
    codex Montfortianus, dating from the early sixteenth century.
    a variant reading in a sixteenth century hand, added to the fourteenth-century codex Regius of Naples.
    a variant reading added to a tenth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
    a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Wolfenbüttel.
    a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Naples.
    a sixteenth-century manuscript at the Escorial, Spain.
    an eighteenth-century manuscript, influenced by the Clementine Vulgate, at Bucharest, Rumania.
    (2) The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.
    (3) The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied a.d. 541–46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before a.d. 716]) or (c) as revised by Alcuin (first hand of codex Vallicellianus [ninth century]).
    The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chap. 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or to his follower Bishop Instantius. Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation that may have been written first as a marginal note that afterwards found its way into the text. In the fifth century the gloss was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the text of the Epistle, and from the sixth century onwards it is found more and more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate. In these various witnesses the wording of the passage differs in several particulars. (For examples of other intrusions into the Latin text of 1 John, see 2.17; 4.3; 5.6, and 20.)
    (B) Internal Probabilities. (1) As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions.
    (2) As regards intrinsic probability, the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.
    For the story of how the spurious words came to be included in the Textus Receptus, see any critical commentary on 1 John, or Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp. 101 f.; cf. also Ezra Abbot, “I. John v. 7 and Luther’s German Bible,” in The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and Other Critical Essays (Boston, 1888), pp. 458–463.

    Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (647). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

  7. MSH says:

    @Rairdan Brannach: Good notes on the need for context, and I’d think that at least some (likely a lot) of the content of the second offering from Jeremiah is in the book of Jeremiah. But I think Ivan was targeting the IDEA that God directed something to be written, then did it again with additions (like, why couldn’t / didn’t he do that the first time?).

  8. DJR says:

    Thanks Mike for the reply and it looks like I have some data to mine. :)

  9. Rairdan Brannach says:

    Doc H —

    The same sort of thing happens in the Shepherd of Hermas. Here’s Vision 5.5-7. Vision 5 is the last ‘vision’, the following sections are called the ‘commandments’ (or ‘mandates’) and ‘parables’ (or ‘similitudes’). The speaker is a heavenly being, the one being spoken to is Hermas. Note the content in “>>>…<<>>First of all, write down my commandments and parables;<<>>So I wrote down the commandments and parables, just as he commanded me.<<>>All these things the shepherd, the angel of repentance, commanded me to write as follows.<<<”

    Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (375). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

    Now — the rest of the book is two sections, “commandments” and “parables”, and is written as dialog between Hermas and the shepherd (the heavenly being in the above excerpt).

    The question: When we read Hermas, most will say that the dictation from the heavenly being didn’t really happen, that it is a contrivance of the author. It is a structure or tool the author used to give his writing a particular flavor, so the reader would hear and understand it in a particular way. We don’t get bogged down in whether or not it happened the way the book recorded it.

    How do people handle the similar content in Jeremiah? Instead of seeing it as a structure within the text to achieve a particular purpose, we get bogged down on if it really happened, what it means that God apparently revised himself, and what that means for how we receive a text or consider inspiration/inerrancy.

    Is Jeremiah treated differently because it is “inspired”, but Hermas isn’t? Is ‘inspired’ text treated and analyzed differently? Do we come to ‘inspired’ texts with different presuppositions than others? This sees to be putting the cart before the horse. Jeremiah isn’t driving home a point in the inspiration/inerrancy debate; he’s delivering the judgment of God to the people. That’s the part (you know, the judgment) that we should be concerned about.

    On your comments on Ivan’s motives, you say:

    “But I think Ivan was targeting the IDEA that God directed something to be written, then did it again with additions (like, why couldn’t / didn’t he do that the first time?)”

    Again, it is the wrong question and it is focusing on a red herring in the context of the inerrancy. If this material in Jeremiah is to be taken literally, then it happened. The resultant material that we know as the book of Jeremiah was composed and intended not as Jeremiah’s proclamation of God to his contemporaries, but as Jeremiah’s proclamation of God for posterity.

    In other words, if Jeremiah’s oracles were written on a scroll, that’s great. If the scroll was destroyed and then rewritten, that’s great too. If it was expanded/revised, that’s fine too. At this point, isn’t the saga of the scroll(s) a part of the larger story/prophecy/dialogue of the book of Jeremiah? And if so, does it have anything (directly) to do with our view of inspiration/inerrancy?

    I don’t see how it does.

  10. Rairdan Brannach says:

    Comment just for Doc H:

    Looks like the Hermas quote got hashed (at least in display, the marks are likely being interpreted as an invalid tag and simply removed for display because they don’t parse.

    Here’s the full quote; modify it and the comment to delimit the text however you see fit.

    (5) But he answered and said to me, “Don’t be confused, but strengthen yourself in my commandments, which I am about to give you. For I was sent,” he said, “that I might show you again everything that you saw previously, the most important points, those useful to you. First of all, write down my commandments and parables; but write down the other matters as I show them to you. This is why,” he said, “I am commanding you to write down first the commandments and parables, in order that you may read them at once and be able to keep them.” (6) So I wrote down the commandments and parables, just as he commanded me. (7) If, then, when you hear them you keep them and walk in them and carry them out with a clean heart, you will receive from the Lord whatever he promised you. But if after hearing them you do not repent, but continue to add to your sins, you will receive from the Lord the opposite. All these things the shepherd, the angel of repentance, commanded me to write as follows.

    Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (375). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

  11. MSH says:

    @Rairdan Brannach: Your points are well taken, especially the Hermas parallel. You suggested: “Is Jeremiah treated differently because it is “inspired”, but Hermas isn’t? Is ‘inspired’ text treated and analyzed differently?” I think this is on target, and as such, this Jeremiah incident likely has little to offer toward articulating (in any convincing way) a better statement of inspiration and inerrancy.

  12. Dude says:

    Hi, I’m enjoying reading the posts and comments on this site. I have started a similar discussion on another site, feel free to stop by:
    I also posted a link to send people here.


    Theo Logia: Preamble

    As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you O God
    My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God
    When shall I come and behold the face of God?
    My tears have been my food day and night
    While people say to me continually: Where Is Your God? PSALM 42:1-3

    LT. Dan: Have you found Jesus yet Gump?
    Gump: I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.

    “There used to be one Pope on seven hills. Now there are seven popes on every dung hill in Germany.”

    And if I have propehetic powers and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing. 1CO.13:2

    Theology. God/Words. Words About God. The “scientific, systematic study of the scriptures” relating to who God is, what He’s done, and and all other major subjects of the Bible.

    Lewis Sperry Chafer makes this statement regarding Theology in the Preface of his monumental work Systematic Theology: “What is the specific field of learning that distinguishes the ministerial profession if it is not the knowledge of the Bible and it’s doctrines?”

    All of this sounds good to me. As christians we should know what we’re talking about. Preachers in particular should be expert in the Bible. But despite all the efforts made to categorize and compartmentalize and arrange the things of God in a neat tidy package, in our century I wonder how truly effective these systems are.

    For starters, there appears to be no theological system whose title contains the words God or Jesus or Christian. Or if it did the title was soon modified by the theological system which disagreed with it. We have Catholic, Augustinian, Aquinian, Lutheran, Calvinist, Arminian. We have Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Covenant, and Dispensational. Dude-ism. (sorry.) Human systems with human titles. And it seems the minister must not only pledge allegiance to God and the Bible but also to the denominational system or theology of the institution granting him his ordination.

    How effective is this method of arranging the Bible by subject, or “categories” as we were once taught? I heard a christian talk program where the listener asked a question regarding Ps. 25:14 “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him.” Almost without breathing and with the proficiency of a semi automatic weapon the well meaning preacher quoted several verses on the subject from the New Testament as the answer to the question. Ps.25:14 was never discussed, it wasn’t even read. There was no explanation or definintion of what FEAR means, no discussion of the verse in the context of the Psalm 25. Did something in the writers life and times give him a reason to make that statement? Ultimately the “meaning” didn’t resemble what was simply stated in the verse. I still don’t know what it means, which I guess is better than thinking I know what it means after listening to what someone else said about it.

    There was a time when theological systems as we know them today didn’t exist. A minister, or a Rabbi for that matter, would pretty much have to know the whole thing. In the original language. It often seems “sytematic theology” is a shortcut for a sharp guy with a photographic memory to become “expert” in the Bible in a short period of time. He receives his ordination as the result of a test score, or simply starts out on his own with only his popularity and ability to string together verses in a moments notice “evidence” of God’s endorsement. To challenge the belief system of such a person is to engage in an argument usually settled along the lines of “I quoted more verses than you.”

    Also overlooked is the fact that it is absolutely possible to know what the Bible says and yet have no knowledge at all of it’s actual subject: God. There is evidence of this all around us. Religious fraud and misrepresentation of the love of God abound in the 21st century and we have been victims of it ourselves. It appears to be so easy for the well meaning sheep to be taken in by the Bible quoting “expert.”

    If the Bible is indeed a work inspired by God then perhaps there is a reason He handed it to us the way He did. It didn’t come to us in 12 volumes arranged by subject, in alphabetical order, or with an index. The Bible is a book of Stories. It took centuries to write it down. It is an epic piece of literature containing all the literary devices used by great writers. It contains historical information, letters, songs, poetry, proverbs, sermons, conversations, arguments, construction diagrams and even a piece of erotica. It contains words of wisdom and acts of folly. It is a record of spiritual beliefs and experiences of the people who wrote it as well as their superstitions. It contains moral guidelines, civil laws, procedures for medical quarantine, and a healthy diet plan. It’s heroes are people of good character and people with personality disorders, bold adventurers and cowards, intellectuals and simple folk. It speaks of a supernatural world not detected with normal human perception. It can lift your spirit or scare the crap out of you. It says God visited Earth wearing a human body. It is the ancient foundation of our beliefs. It is a great book. It is the best selling book of all time.

    Has our effort to understand the Bible by arranging it “systematically” in fact resulted in an oversimplification of what it means to believe in the Christian God? Has our effort to eliminate error by having “correct doctrine” resulted in an even greater error? Do we honestly believe we know everything there is to know about God?

  13. MSH says:

    @Dude: I think you’re disenchantment with systematic theology stems from a yearning for biblical theology. The two are not the same. The latter should be the data which the former organizes, but too often systematic theology is purely based on the English Bible. Languages (real exegesis) is only used when the systematizer needs an argument to make some passage “work” within the system. It’s sadly self-serving. However, one of the main reasons for this problem is that those who can work in the text often care little about theology, and so they aren’t working with the goal of producing exegetical theology.

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