The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Jeremiah 36

Jer 36:9

Cp Dan 1:1 with Dan 2:1: at the same time that the king of Judah was burning the word of God, the king of Babylon was listening to it!

Outward contrition.

Jer 36:22

WINTER APARTMENT: Lower part of house, insulated and protected from elements. December -- very cold in Jerusalem.

Jer 36:23

WHENEVER JEHUDI HAD READ THREE OR FOUR COLUMNS OF THE SCROLL, THE KING CUT THEM OFF WITH A SCRIBE'S KNIFE AND THREW THEM INTO THE FIREPOT, UNTIL THE ENTIRE SCROLL WAS BURNED IN THE FIRE: God's Word is a burning fire (Jer 20:9)! We can warm ourselves by it, but not in the way Jehoiakim did! Do we cut up and cast aside and burn God's Word?

The "scribe's knife" in the NIV is translated as "penknife" in the AV. Alan Hayward has an interesting comment about the use of a penknife, in much more modern times, which strangely echoes this incident: "A very interesting book was published in the year 1900: 'A Bible Hand-book for the Use of Unbelievers.'

"It is an astonishing document. It contains nearly two hundred pages of Bible quotations, arranged by two atheists to provide ammunition for other atheists to shoot at Christians. So-called contradictions, absurdities, indecencies, atrocities -- they are all there.

"Nearly all of them can be answered quite successfully. I use the book to give my senior Sunday School scholars something to cut their teeth on. What concerns me at this moment is the thirty-four pages of 'unfulfilled prophecies and broken promises.'

"This is an accusation to be taken very seriously. If true, it would undermine the Bible-believer's foundations. If the Bible is full -- as that book alleges -- of promises that have been broken, how can we trust it? How can it be inspired? And if it contains lots of unfulfilled prophecies, what then?...

"Relax. There is nothing to worry about.

"In their preface the atheist writers said that, to ensure accuracy, they cut all their quotations out of printed Bibles with a penknife. Unfortunately, this is not the way to treat the Bible. Bible verses only make sense if you study them in their context, that is, their setting. You need to read the verses on either side of the verse in question. As I have pointed out on several occasions, you also need to make allowance for Hebrew idiom.

"These authors have done neither. They have treated each verse as an isolated statement of literal English. In consequence the interpretations they put on many passages are quite ridiculous. For example, they quote the words of Jesus, which were obviously meant to be symbolic: 'Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life' (John 6:54). Alongside this they print the absurd comment: 'Cannibalism to secure eternal life' " (GT ch 20).

It is plain to see that the Bible cannot and should not be cut up into small pieces, with a penknife or by any other means. (Not even by computer and word processor!) Just like the old saying about real estate, it's all about location, location, location! Every verse in the Bible is meant to be studied in its proper setting, comparing verse with verse, and chapter with chapter, in its immediate context. And then, broadening the scope a bit, every book in the Bible is meant to be studied alongside the other parts of the Bible -- law compared with history, and history with prophecy, and gospel with gospel, and New Testament fulfillment with Old Testament prophecy. Any form of "study" of the Bible that cuts the word of God into small, distinct pieces -- or that attempts to take lessons from single verses or short passages cut off from their setting -- will only lead to confusion or worse. Most every "false doctrine" that is believed, anywhere, can be "proven" by such a "penknife" method!

Or, as it has been said, a "text" without a "context" is merely a "pretext" -- and one more way of cutting up the word of God, and making it meaningless.

A true story, illustrating the above point: A Christadelphian sister was attempting to show her mother the true teaching of the Bible. It was not the first time the older lady had been distressed to find that the very words of her own Bible contradicted, in plain terms, what she had been taught by her church. On this occasion, she had told her daughter, "You can't tell ME that the 'soul' is not immortal!" It was an easy matter, of course, for her daughter to point her to Eze 18:4 (one among many such passages): "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This last bit of information was simply too much for the disappointed lady. So she took the page that held the offending verse and ripped it out of her Bible! "Well, it's not in MY Bible," she retorted. End of conversation.

Jer 36:31

Jehoiakim's end, so far as is recorded: 2Ch 36:6; cp Jer 22:19: the burial of an ass, by prophecy.

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