Ten Christian Prooftexts:
The misuse of Hebrew Scriptures
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Etrnl. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Etrnl. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their Gd, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the Etrnl, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Etrnl. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of a 'new covenant,' and the term 'covenant' means 'testament.' So, in these verses, Christians see a prophecy of their New Testament.
Have you ever seen an advertisement on television where a manufacturer has come out with the new and improved version of a product they are already known for, like a laundry detergent? They might say that it is the new and improved version of the old laundry detergent, and the implication is that one is to no longer use the old version. This is the meaning of the term 'New Testament' in relationship to the 'Old Testament,' that the 'old' has been replaced by the 'new.' The term 'testament' means 'agreement,' or 'contract,' or 'covenant.' When Christians use the term 'New Testament,' it is a way of referring to the new covenant that they feel exists between Gd and believing Christians, which replaced the old contract, or old covenant, the old testament, between Gd and the Jews.
For this reason, Jews who respect their own faith and their own Hebrew Scriptures should never refer to their own Scriptures as the 'Old Testament.' The reason is that the term is insulting to Judaism and to Jews. We don't believe in a New Testament, and so we certainly should not call ours the 'Old Testament.'
Jeremiah 31:31 speaks of a 'new covenant.' But one could ask the question, 'is this new covenant a covenant which replaces any of the covenants that Gd made with the Jews beforehand?
When Gd makes a new covenant with the Jews, it is only to re-establish and re-affirm the covenants with the Jews that came before. The covenant Gd made with Isaac did not replace or break the covenant Gd made with Abraham. The covenant that Gd made with Jacob did not replace or break the covenant Gd made with Isaac or with Abraham. One example of this can be seen in Leviticus 26:42, where the Jews were told in the verses just before verse 42 that when they sin, they will be punished for their sins, but then they are told that Gd's covenant with them is eternal:
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. [Leviticus 26:42]
Had the covenants that Gd made with Isaac and Abraham been made null and void by the covenant Gd made with Jacob, there would have been no need to have specified the covenants Gd had made with Isaac and Abraham in the verse above.
The covenant that Gd made with the People of Israel through Moses, did not replace or break the covenant Gd made with Jacob, or with Isaac, or with Abraham. Every subsequent covenant that Gd makes with the Jews, re-affirms and re-establishes the covenant that Gd made with the Jews before it.
The covenant that Gd made with the Jews is an eternal covenant, and it is a covenant made with them, with their descendants, and with all those who convert to Judaism. Gd's promise to the Jews, that His covenant with them is eternal, is repeated over and over again throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Here are just a few examples::
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a Gd unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. [Genesis 17:7-8]
See also Genesis 17:12-13, Genesis 17:19
O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob His chosen. He is the Etrnl our Gd: His judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant. [Psalm 105:6-10]
The above verses from Psalm 105 are also found in I Chronicles 16:13-17.
More importantly, that the covenant between Gd and the Jews is eternal is also found immediately following the very passage in question, of Jeremiah 31:31-34, beginning with the very next verse:
Thus saith the Etrnl, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Etrnl of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Etrnl, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. [Jeremiah 31:35-36]
If ever the sun and the moon and the stars, as well as the sea and the waves ever ceased to exist and stopped following the laws governing them, then, of course, the People of Israel would not exist, because all of life would no longer exist.
So the covenant between Gd and the Jews is an eternal covenant, and when Gd makes a new covenant, it is with the Jews, and it only reaffirms and reestablishes the earlier covenants which Gd had made with the Jews, as we saw regarding Leviticus 26:42 above.
Again, let us look at the first verse of our passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34:
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.
This is considered a prophecy because of the first words of the verse, 'Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl.' However, immediately before these few verses that begin with verse 31, there are additional verses that also begin the exact same way, with the words, 'Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl.' When Christians refer to Jeremiah 31:31-34, they are leaving out half of the prophecy because the whole prophecy actually begins with verse 27. As you will read, when one looks at the whole prophecy of Jeremiah 31:27-34, this passage could not be referring to Christianity at all. Here is the whole passage:
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Etrnl. In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Etrnl. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Etrnl. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their Gd, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the Etrnl, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Etrnl. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
These verses are, indeed, speaking of the Messianic age, however, they are not speaking of the coming of Jesus and Christianity.
Verse 27 speaks of a time when the House of Israel is reunited with the House of Judah, and when they increase in size as well as in resources.
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. [Jeremiah 31:27]
Then Gd states that just as He watched over the Jews when He saw fit to punish them, so, too, will He continue to watch over the Jews as everything gets better:
And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Etrnl. [Jeremiah 31:28]
The next verses actually deny the most basic belief of Christianity, that Jesus can die for your sins:
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. [Jeremiah 31:29-30]
Verses 29-30 above are saying that in this future time, no one will continue to believe that one person can die and thereby take away the guilt for another person's sins. This is shown by those who recite an old saying (also found in Ezekiel 18) that the father eats sour grapes, but that it is the children who taste the sourness. This old saying expressed the erroneous belief that the parents would sin, but that it was the children who inherited the guilt of their parents’ sins. Instead, Jeremiah is saying that when those days come, all will recognize, as the Bible has said repeatedly (See Exodus 32:30-35; Deuteronomy 24:16; and Ezekiel 18:1-4) that the person who sins will always be the only one who gets the punishment for that sin. This is what it states quite simply in Deuteronomy 24:16, No man shall be put to death for the sins of his children, no child will be put to death for the sins of his father. Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
This description of this messianic age continues with Jeremiah 31:31, which is the passage that Christians usually quote without the verses that come before it. Just a simple overview of these verses indicates that what it describes has not happened yet.
The first verse of the passage reads:
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.
However, the House of Israel, which was made up of the Ten Lost Tribes, have been lost and scattered around the world since the fall of the Northern Kingdom around 721 B.C.E.. The House of Israel, the Ten Lost Tribes, cannot be re-united with the House of Jacob, because the House of Israel has not been around for thousands of years, That is why they are called the Ten LOST Tribes. This passage in Jeremiah is describing a Jewish People where all of the descendants of every tribe thrives, and has made their way to the Promised Land. Because it speaks of both the House of Israel and the House of Judah together, with Gd, in a single new covenant, and since the House of Israel cannot be unified with the House of Judah, this entire passage has not happened yet, and cannot refer to Christianity or their 'new covenant.'
There is another reference, also in Jeremiah, in the 23rd chapter, that describes the same thing, where all the Jews have returned to the Promised Land, and which also begins with the same words found in Jeremiah 31:27 and 31:31
Behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Etrnl Is Our Righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Etrnl, that they shall no more say, 'The Etrnl liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;' But, 'The Etrnl liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the House of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. [Jeremiah 23:5-8]
This leads us, now, to look at the next two verses of our passage:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Etrnl: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Etrnl, I will put my Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their Gd, and they shall be my people. [Jeremiah 31:32-33]
What these verses are saying is that everyone will no longer need to look in any book, neither a 'New Testament,' nor even the Hebrew Scriptures, to tell them what is Right and what is Wrong. They will know it instinctively because it will be in their hearts, truly making Gd their Gd, and in turn, truly making them Gd's People. Certainly this has also not happened yet, and so this passage cannot be referring to Christianity, nor can it be referring to their New Testament.
What, precisely, does it mean to have Gd's Torah written in our innermost parts?
I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy Torah is within my heart. [Psalm 40:8]
Because Gd's Torah is within us, we know what we are to do, and we are happy to do it.
Please also read carefully. Jeremiah 31:33 does not say 'I will put my NEW Torah in their inward parts' It says, 'I will put my Torah in their inward parts.' The laws of Gd do not change or get changed, they are eternal as Gd is Eternal:
The secret things belong unto the Etrnl our Gd: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Torah. [Deuteronomy 29:29]
The Torah of the Etrnl is perfect, converting the soul:
The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.
As a matter of fact, Ezekiel 11:17-20 reflects the ideas found in Jeremiah 31:27-34: that Gd's laws will be in our hearts, not books, in the messianic age, which will last forever:
Therefore say, Thus saith the Etrnl Gd; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their Gd. [Ezekiel 11:17-20]
As I wrote above, this new covenant that Gd speaks about in Jeremiah 31 is not talking about a new covenant, a new contract, and He does not mean a new set of laws, a new Torah, a new scripture. It means the covenant between Gd and the Jews and the laws of that covenant are eternal.
Finally, the text from Jeremiah 31 reads,
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Etrnl: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Etrnl: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. [Jeremiah 31:34]
This new covenant means that no one will have to missionize anyone to 'Know the Etrnl,' because the whole world will already believe in Gd. This part of the passage especially has not happened yet, and this is proven because had it already happened, then Christianity would have no need to missionize anyone! Since they spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year, just to missionize the Jews, just to get the Jews to 'Know the Lord,' then this prophecy in Jeremiah 31 has not happened yet, and these Christian missionaries prove it every day.
Questions? Email Rabbi Stuart Federow