“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” (Jeremiah 8:8 ESV).
I was in a business in Khulna, Bangladesh and read aloud the words lettered on the front window in Bangla. One of the workers scoffed and said, “You are reading the English words” (which were written on the other window). I answered, “No, they are not the same.” My Bangla friend who was with me confirmed that I was right. Whether by design or through limited knowledge of English the two signs, though similar, did not say the same thing.
When I am in other countries I am often concerned as to whether the things that I preach, teach, or simply say in serious conversation are accurately translated. Sometimes the translator may not hear my words clearly. At other times he may not understand the English meaning correctly. And sometimes one may find a translator who is willing to change a statement to reflect his own beliefs or to accomplish his own purposes rather than those of the speaker.
Jeremiah dealt with some of those latter interpreters during his prophetic ministry in ancient Jerusalem. Called by God to deliver a message of judgment to the people of Judah, he was aggressively opposed by the political and religious establishment of his day. At times he was imprisoned, beaten, starved, and threatened with death yet he persisted in his effort to call the people to repentance (Jeremiah 20:1-2).
Even when Jeremiah was not suffering physically he had to overcome the lies and false prophecies of his opponents (Cf. Jeremiah 14:13-14; 28:1-4). The biblical copyists (scribes) were publishing what they claimed to be the “Word of the Lord” but were in fact false prophecies and deceptive assurances of safety to the people. Jeremiah therefore condemned “the lying pen of the scribes” which turned God’s Words into a lie (Jeremiah 8:8).
The NET Bible offers this translation of the verse: “How can you say, ‘We are wise! We have the law of the Lord?’ The truth is, those who teach it have used their writings to make it say what it does not really mean” (Jeremiah 8:8).
When one examines modern religious writings and even some purported translations of the Bible, he or she will quickly realize that such false writers were not limited to the Old Testament period. God’s Word continues to be revised, made “relevant to modern culture” and accommodated to political, sociological, and religious pressures of our day. In many cases what comes in the guise of biblical teaching clearly says what the original writers (guided by the Holy Spirit – 2 Peter 1:20-21) did not mean.
We may condemn those who handle sacred Scripture carelessly or dishonestly, but we have little control over them. What we can control is our own acceptance of their work. It is probable that there has never been an era when serious Bible study by “ordinary” Christians was as important as it is today. We are undeniably in the “perilous times” of “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need God’s truth more than ever.
Thankfully, we have more resources to help us in our study than have been available to any other generation. Like the Bereans of old let us “search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things (those which we are taught and believe) [are] so” (Acts 17:11). If we accept the lying pens of the scribes, we will suffer their judgment. Each one of us is accountable for his or her beliefs and practices. Let us ensure that we know and follow the truth (John 8:32).