When Translations Become a Lie

“‘How can you say, “We are wise,
    for we have the law of the Lord,”
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
    has handled it falsely?

Jeremiah 8:8 (NIV)

Lying – Is Jeremiah indicating that the scribes have lied – that they have corrupted the law by writing into it lies? It would appear so if we read the NIV version of this verse. The NIV suggests that the scribes have lied with their pen and handled the law falsely. This is quite serious! How can we possibly trust that the Torah is true if the scribes have been seeding inaccuracies into the text?

When verses appear that cause one to doubt the integrity of Scripture, I always like to review other translations, especially the Hebrew. Oh, and always read in context to what is happening at the time. But first, let’s take a look at the King James Version.

How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.

Ah! This translation seems to offer up another meaning. It is not in lies, but perhaps in vain that the law was written. Comparing this to an earlier verse in Jeremiah 7 helps us gain insight into what is going on.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these.

Rather than amending their ways and turning in obedience to God, the people are claiming that since they have the temple, they must be doing well. But in truth, they are far from God. The same is going on in Jeremiah 8:8. The people are still far from God, and yet claim that they have the Torah, so they must be good. But in reality, they are not committing to the teachings of God found in the Torah. The scribes have written it in vain because it is not being used to cause repentance, but rather as justification for living disobediently. It is not the text that lies, but the people.

This teaches us that it is always the people that are the problem, not Scripture, not the law. We see this repeated in Hebrews.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

God found fault with the people, not the covenant. It is our fault if we cannot align ourselves with Torah, no one else’s. It is our fault that we fall short. The Torah is accurate, holy, spiritual, and true. May we conform our lives to it, to the Word of God as exemplified by His Son, Yeshua.

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