A DESTRUCTIVE MESSAGE TO A GULLIBLE AUDIENCE
People flock to hear what they want to hear. During the 1st Century, Paul warned Timothy of this very thing in 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV), “3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” Across America, as well as through the world, huge “supposedlyChristian” churches and movements explicitly say that, “It is God’s will forevery believer to become whole, healthy, and successful in every area of life.” One primary Scriptural citation for these claims is Jeremiah 29:11. See David Platt’s article of August 24, 2019, entitled “Does Jeremiah 29:11 Guarantee Us Health and Prosperity?” on the website Radical (link: https://radical.net/articles/does-jeremiah-2911-guarantee-us-health-and-prosperity/ ). On its face alone, the language of Jeremiah 29:11 strikes a chord with those who have “itching ears” and seek advice to suit their “own passions.” After all, Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) reads:
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for
evil, to give you a future and a hope.
A gullible person will hold tight to Jeremiah 29:11 in his or her quest for the “American dream”, but an honest interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 reveals that this verse does not teach the “American dream.” A gullible person who holds tight to a false hope based on a false message is on the road to disaster.
A DESTRUCTIVE MESSAGE THAT IGNORES THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE
A biblical interpretation to be valid must read Jeremiah 29:11 in its proper historical context and literary context. Article XV teaches that one must interpret the Bible according to the grammatical-historical sense, which is the “meaning which the writer expressed.” The exposition of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics reads [in part]:
Formal Rules of Biblical Interpretation – The literal sense of each passage should be sought by the grammatical-historical method, that is, by asking what is the linguistically natural way to understand the text in its historical setting. Textual, historical, literary, and theological study, aided by linguistic skills – philological, semantic, logical – is the way forward here. Passages should be exegeted in the context of the book of which they are a part, and the quest for the writer’s own meaning, as distinct from that of his known or supposed sources, must be constantly pursued.
As Kay Arthur et al. write at page 18 in their book How to Study Your Bible [(1994, 2010, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon] (italics in original):
One of the most important principles of handling the Word properly and studying the Bible inductively is to interpret Scripture in light of its context. Why? Because context always rules in interpretation.
Any interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 in the absence of its historical context is intellectually dishonest.
The historical context shows that Jeremiah 29:11 was a promise God made to His people while they were in exile between 607 B.C. and 537 B.C. God’s people were suffering when Jeremiah penned Jeremiah 29:11 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. During their exile, God promised to bless His people, but that promise was for a specific people in a specific location at a specific time in the past. Jeremiah did not make a direct promise to the 21st Century Christian.
The ESV translates the Hebrew word sa·lom as “welfare,” and the root means “The general meaning behind the root š-l-m is of completion and fulfillment—of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship.” See Carr, G. L. (1999). 2401 שָׁלֵם. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 930). Chicago: Moody Press. The Logos 8 sense of this word is a contented state of general welfare.
Some translations use the phrase “to prosper,” e.g., the New International Version (NIV) and the New English Translation (NET). Yet, this ought not to imply financial success. Note that most English translation translates sa·lom to read “peace” or “welfare.” See a listing at the website bible gateway (link: https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Jeremiah%2029:11).
To interpret Jeremiah 29:11 as a guarantee of health and wealth to the 21st Century Christian runs afoul of the historical context at the time of its writing and the meaning of the key Hebrew word sa·lom.
A DESTRUCTIVE MESSAGE THAT IGNORES THE ANALOGY OF FAITH
Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics teaches that “the Bible’s own interpretation of itself is always correct.” In other words, “because Scripture will never contradict Scripture, the best interpretation for Scripture is other Scripture.” See Arthur et al. at page 73. What Arthur et al. say is along the lines of the analogy of faith, which teaches that the interpreter must use a clear passage to interpret an unclear passage. One very brief definition reads:
ANALOGY OF THE FAITH. Conferring with other Scriptures to interpret unclear sections by the clear ones.
Swanson, J., & Nave, O. (1994). New Nave’s Topical Bible. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
Any interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 about prosperity for 21st Century Christians that does not consider other relevant texts, especially passages that are clear on this subject, is wrong.
The New Testament teaches that believers will suffer. The article at bible.org by J. Hampton Keathly III entitled “Why Christians Suffer?” presents a great explanation of the reasons behind Christian suffering (link: https://bible.org/article/why-christians-suffer ). He lists four general causes of suffering. First, we live in a fallen world where sin reigns in the hearts of people. Second, our own foolishness and bad decisions can result in our suffering (e.g., Galatians 6:7-9). Third, God sometimes must discipline us through suffering (e.g., Hebrews 12:6). Finally, Christians may suffer persecution because of our faith (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:12).
It is irresponsible to preach and teach that Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise of health and wealth for the 21st Century Christian because to do so runs counter to a vast amount of biblical teaching to the contrary.
A DESTRUCTIVE MESSAGE AND ITS TRAGIC FALLOUT
It does not take much imagination to foresee the tragic results from a false hope based on a false message. David Platt writes:
Then when it doesn’t happen, when the healing doesn’t come, when the finances aren’t there, when the divorce becomes final, people are left wondering, “Did I not have enough faith?” Or worse, “Is God actually there? Or if He is there, can He actually be trusted?”
As a result of the misuse of Jeremiah 29:11, people doubt their faith and even question God.
In his article “5 Reasons I Hate the Prosperity Gospel” of December 3, 2018 at the For the Gospel website (link: http://www.forthegospel.org/5-reasons-i-hate-the-prosperity-gospel/ ), Costi Hinn, points out that the prosperity gospel blasphemes God’s Word:
If you love God’s word, the Bible, would you ever want to lie to people about what it really says? One of the most hateful and abusive things happening in the church-world today is when a person opens the Bible and uses it as a tool for deception. This is blasphemy. This is what prosperity preachers do.
The misuse of God’s Word – the very words of God spoken to mankind – is a tragedy of epic proportion.
THE ENCOURAGING MESSAGE OF JEREMIAH 29:11
Should 21st Century Christ-followers just disregard Jeremiah 29:11? No. As Rev. Kevin D. Gardner writes in his article on Jeremiah 29:11 (link: https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/08/jeremiah-2911/) in Tabletalk Magazine:
We simply cannot apply this verse directly to ourselves. It was not originally written to us; it was written to a particular group of people living in a particular place at a particular time. Does that mean that this verse has no application at all to us as Christians? No, it does not. In fact, the application to us is glorious but indirect.
Yet, even though this verse does not have direct application, it has indirect application to the 21st Century Christ-follower. Rev. Gardner concludes his article:
So, while we will likewise suffer during our earthly sojourn, we are blessed through the work of the Holy Spirit, and we will be raised with Christ and enjoy unspeakable blessings in the presence of our Lord. This is ultimately what is meant by God’s promise of “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And it is so much better than any promise of worldly prosperity.
What Rev. Gardner is consistent with the encouragement by David Platt:
Light is coming. In this fallen, hurting world, weeping may tarry for the night, but God guarantees that joy is coming in the morning. God not only guarantees that suffering will eventually come to an end, He promises to get you to that end. God’s plan calls for patient trust and God’s plan comes with persevering grace. Remember the language in Jeremiah 29 here: “I will restore you. I will gather you. I will bring you back from this place.” God does not say, “You’re on your own in your suffering. Hopefully you can make it through this.” No, God says, “You’re in My hands and I take responsibility for bringing you through your suffering, which means I’m going to give you all the grace, all the strength, all the wisdom, all the help you need.”
BIBLE STUDY TAKEAWAYS
There are three basic Bible study takeaways. First and foremost, every interpreter must abide by the rule that context governs all biblical interpretations. The preceptaustin.org website presents a great statement about context and pretext (link: https://www.preceptaustin.org/the_key_inductive_study_pt2):
Remember that a text taken out of context potentially can become a pretext (a fictitious or false reason given in order to conceal the real one or given in order to justify an action … – It follows that using Scriptural pretext is a major “tool” of the cults or non-Biblical systems of belief about life, death, eternity, etc.
The historical context cuts against what prosperity preachers preach using Jeremiah 29:11.
Second, the Bible student must be willing to look up the meaning of the original word. It can be helpful to compare a variety of English translations. When there is a difference, the student ought to take the time to carry out a word study. The student should pay attention if a majority of translations translate a word in a certain way. The meaning of sa·lom does not provide clear support to the prosperity gospel message using Jeremiah 29:11.
Third, the interpreter must employ the analogy of faith. This interpretive tool is a reliable guard rail to make sure that an interpretation hasn’t “gone off of the rails.” Many Scriptures teach that a believer will suffer and this runs counter to how prosperity proponents use Jeremiah 29:11.
The 21st Century Christian can rely on Jeremiah 29:11 for a great long-term future. But, it is a huge mistake to accept the prosperity preacher’s promise of short term health and wealth.
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