These Preachers are Liars

These Preachers are Liars February 3, 2016

Jeremiah The Message

This paraphrase of Jeremiah 14:14 is striking. I’m often in two minds about The Message. What do you think of its rendering of this particular text?

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  • CrazyDogLady

    At the head level, it makes me want to sit for another hour thinking of the differences between Old Testament prophets and today’s preachers (today’s choice of procrastination instead of finishing documents for work. Thanks for that.). At the gut level, it makes me want to yell, “Yeah! Preach it, dude!”

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I think the gist is great, but I’m not as crazy about the interpretive leap that casts OT prophets as preachers. I think one way of bringing this narrative into -our- experience could be to think about preachers who just try to mollify their congregations with pleasant words, and there are certainly NT passages to that effect.

    But the problem with making that interpretive maneuver in the actual text is that it leaves behind the particular historical contingencies of Israel at the time. God’s wrath is coming against Israel, and the prophets who traditionally make God’s case against Israel for Him in order to call them to repentance are instead actively predicting that no wrath will come. They have turned the prophet’s role on its head, and instead of saving people from the coming destruction are ensuring its coming, instead.

    This sets the stage for Jeremiah doing what a prophet ought to do and, in lamenting on the people’s behalf before God, receives and delivers the word that repentance will avert the coming wrath – thus establishing Jeremiah as a true prophet over and against the false ones and sets the stage for the prophecies about Israel’s restoration – prophecies that will be taken up in the NT as part of Jesus’ identity and mission.

    You lose all that if the text is just about preachers preaching bad sermons.

    • There is something of an interpretative leap, but it may not be as much of a stretch as it first seems. Here’s a link to a blog post from last year about prophets as preachers and vice versa: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/07/the-prophets-of-our-time.html

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I agree it isn’t much of a stretch. I think I’m just sensitive to modern evangelicalism’s tendency to jettison Israel’s story and self-narrative in favor of our own, and when I see Israel’s prophets being presented as preachers giving sermons, I feel like that’s getting institutionalized in the text, when I would rather have the text reflect Israel’s narrative and leave it to an actual preacher giving an actual sermon to determine the best way to define his own congregation’s story.

        I think if someone didn’t know better, and their concept of Israel’s prophets was like their pastor giving a sermon, some important differences get lost in favor of demonstrating the similarities, which exist, as you capably pointed out in your post.

    • histrogeek

      I think it’s an important understanding for modern Christians to get that in ancient Israel the prophets would appear more like modern preachers. There is too much belief that the prophets were closer to oracles or fortune tellers. It also divorces the prophet’s message from its historical context.
      This is especially bad in the case of Jeremiah when the historic issues are clear and well-attested by multiple sources. His book shouldn’t be seen as some Delphic oracle that the people of Israel didn’t understand a la King Croesus of Lydia. They understood Jeremiah but the Court and people didn’t like what he was saying (which to be fair was very rough).

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I agree too many people think of prophets as fortune tellers. But I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say, “It also divorces the prophet’s message from its historical context.” Do you mean seeing the prophets as oracles or fortune tellers does that? If so, I’d agree as well. I agree they appear -more like- preachers than soothsayers.

        But my fear is that making the text actually say preachers, sermons, etc. divorces the prophetic office and activity from its historical context. This is making a sort of analogous, interpretive connection for the reader and substituting it for the actual thing. I’m not a priori opposed to that, but in this case, I fear it might cover some of the historical contingencies. Like, if my preacher preaches a sermon I don’t like, I just go home and forget about it. Or try to look for things that are valuable in it, anyway. Or something. The import of his sermon preaching activity has very little ramification outside the church walls on Sunday morning except what a hearing individual chooses to ascribe to it.

        I’m not saying the analogy is wrong, or even that it’s wrong to write the text that way. I’m just not sure that’s the best thing to do. I guess I’d rather say “prophet” and have people work through what that means than just say “preacher” and import all our cultural ideas about what that means back into Israel’s situation. It’s like calling David the President of Israel.

        • histrogeek

          When I said “divorcing their message from its historical context,” I meant that when readers see prophets as soothsayers, the reader looks for reasons to believe that the prophets’ words are riddles about the reader’s own time. End-time predictors are the worst for this.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Oh, yeah, absolutely.

  • The general idea seems good. But I think “preacher” is a bit too broad. After all, James McGrath could be said to be a preacher, using this blog as a pulpit.

    I do think it fits pretty well with “fire and brimstone” preaching, with “doom and gloom” preaching.

  • Arlene Adamo

    I can see how many Christians would be frustrated that Christian discourse has been seized by right-wing politics. As a result, it’s causing harmful negative stereotypes of Christians. Sometimes just mentioning the name Jesus makes people look at you as ‘oh one of them.’ The name of Jesus is being dragged through the mud of hatred, fear, anger and arrogant self-righteousness. Could anything be more offensive to a Christian?

    I think it’s good that Christians who hold real Christian values, as specified by Jesus, are demanding their voices be heard.

    Jeremiah is a good choice. He was a progressive monotheist Prophet in the midst of a religious power structure steeped in idol worship. If you create for yourself a Jesus of convenience to match your politics of greed and insolence as opposed the Living Jesus presented in the the Gospels, are you not an idol worshiper also?

    • rationalobservations?

      When considering the historical record of christianity (right back to the brutal and murderous methods by which it was imposed upon the world in the 4th century) – I always shudder when anyone makes reference to “christian values” or “doing the christian thing”. It provokes visions of the massacre of every man, woman, child and baby by crusaders and the centuries of inquisitions when ever more sophisticated instruments of torture were developed designed to intensify and prolong agony for the longest possible time before the welcomed death and non-existence finally came to those millions of innocent victims of “the church”.

      As soon as Christianity was legal (315), more and more pagan temples were destroyed by Christian mob. Pagan priests were killed.

      Between 315 and 6th century thousands of pagan believers were slain.

      Examples of destroyed Temples: the Sanctuary of Aesculap in Aegaea, the Temple of Aphrodite in Golgatha, Aphaka in Lebanon, the Heliopolis.

      Christian priests such as Mark of Arethusa or Cyrill of Heliopolis were famous as “temple destroyer.”

      Pagan services became punishable by death in 356.

      Christian Emperor Theodosius (408-450) even had children executed, because they had been playing with remains of pagan statues.

      According to Christian chroniclers he “followed meticulously all Christian teachings…”

      In 6th century pagans were declared void of all rights.

      In the early fourth century the philosopher Sopatros was executed on demand of Christian authorities.

      The world famous female philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria was torn to pieces with glass fragments by a hysterical Christian mob led by a Christian minister named Peter, in a church, in 415.

      Already in 385 C.E. the first Christians, the Spanish Priscillianus and six followers, were beheaded for heresy in Trier/Germany.

      Manichaean heresy: a crypto-Christian sect decent enough to practice birth control (and thus not as irresponsible as faithful Catholics) was exterminated in huge campaigns all over the Roman empire between 372 C.E. and 444 C.E. Numerous thousands of victims.

      Already in the 4th and 5th centuries synagogues were burned by Christians. Number of Jews slain unknown.

      In the middle of the fourth century the first synagogue was destroyed on command of bishop Innocentius of Dertona in Northern Italy. The first synagogue known to have been burned down was near the river Euphrat, on command of the bishop of Kallinikon in the year 388.

      17. Council of Toledo 694: Jews were enslaved, their property confiscated, and their children forcibly baptized.

      I delight in the fact that more and ever more secularists are adopting higher secular moral values and increasingly shunning all anti-humanitarian religion based taboos and discrimination by doing the “humanitarian thing” while shunning the “christian values” and all other taboo based acts of anti-humanitarian discrimination, persecution, prejudice and egomania.

      You have yet to reveal which version of “the gospels” you make reference to, Arlene?

      There are so many diverse and different, confused and contradictory, historically inaccurate and scientifically absurd bibles that go right back to the very first xtian bible produced after the “council of Nicea” in the 4th century.

  • Jeremiah IS what he is decrying in this passage. Whether you paraphrase the word as “preachers” or the more commonly translated “prophets”, it has to be recognized that Jeremiah himself, is a preacher/prophet, but he certainly doesn’t want the listener to see him as one of “those” prophets “prophesying lies” in the name of Yahweh.

    There were clearly competing prophets and prophetic groups in Judah at the time. The easiest way for one prophet/preacher to denounce the other? Prophecy that God calls the “other” a liar. End of argument.

    You can still see this ugly sort of rhetoric at work today, whenever preachers/prophets – by fiat, with no evidence but their own “revelation” – accuse those who practice other faiths – or no faith – of lies, wickedness, sinfulness, or rebelliousness.

    • histrogeek

      It’s true that this is an ongoing problem, though the “proof” ultimately is that Jeremiah’s predictions came true and Haniniah’s, his main rival, didn’t. Not very helpful for the people of Judah obviously. I might argue that Jeremiah’s argument, that Egypt was unreliable and would be fail in the face of Babylonian imperialism, was pretty well-attested by recent history.

      Thanks to the problems Jeremiah and other prophets like Elijah (and in other traditions like the Cassandra myth) had, there is a weird tendency to believe that the “true” prophet is the one who is the least popular. The tendency is slightly understandable since why would people put themselves through the slings and arrows of unpopularity except that they were compelled to by the call of truth.

      • No – “prophecies” in the book of Jeremiah are hardly “proof” of anything given the large variations between the Septuagint and Hebrew versions of the text, and the scholarly consensus that Jeremiah was subject to heavy exilic and post-exilic redaction.

        Your argument that Egypt is “unreliable” according to prophecy would work for any nation in world. All nations have been “unreliable” at some moment in their history (if not most moments in their history).

  • Shiphrah99

    The Message is a travesty and it sure as hell isn’t a translation, but rather paraphrase – and a bad one at that, aimed at an audience that wants simple and easy shallow theology, cheap discipleship, if you will. The Hebrew clearly says “prophets” and “prophesy.” I went over to Bible Hub and looked at the various translations. I think NIV has it closest, particularly with “delusions of their own minds.” If we’re going to paraphrase this verse, it’d be more faithful to the text to talk about “self-appointed, jumped-up, so-called prophets.” Heschel’s observation that not one of the prophets wanted the job, begged God to choose someone – anyone! – else informs this verse, condemning these prophets who run after the job, despite God not having spoken to them.

    I’m eager for Robert Alter to tackle the later prophets – what he’d do with Isaiah! – and would be curious to see how he’d render the alliterative aspect of the usually redacted phrase, “v’elul v’elil, v’tarmut v’tarmit.” In Genesis 1:1 “tohu va’vohu,” usually translated as “formless and void,” Alter translates as “welter and waste” to try to catch that aspect. He also has written about the tendency of modern translators to *explain* the Bible, rather than translate it.