Can I Trust The Bible? (Part 29)
The next books of the Apocrypha we’re going to look at are the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. Baruch ben Neriah served as scribe to the prophet Jeremiah and appears several times in the protocanonical Book of Jeremiah.
“So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison.” Jeremiah 32:11-12
Baruch helped Jeremiah purchase a field from the prophet’s cousin Hanameel, which was a symbol of hope for the future of Judah.
“Then I charged Baruch before them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.’ For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.” Jeremiah 32:13-15
Baruch is mentioned several more times in the Book of Jeremiah. Baruch was a close friend and confidant of Jeremiah and helped him many times, including the dangerous work of reading from the scroll of Jeremiah’s warnings against Israel, Judah, and all nations. “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3) Jeremiah was confined and not able to read the scroll to the nation’s leaders, so Baruch read from the scroll in the Temple. When Judah’s wicked King Jehoiakim heard a portion of what Jeremiah had dictated to Baruch, the king cut the scroll with a knife and burned it in a fire. The Lord instructed Jeremiah to write the words again on another scroll and include an even harsher warning to Jehoiakim.
“Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch had written at the instruction of Jeremiah,the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: ‘Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And you shall say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘You have burned this scroll, saying, ‘Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here?’ Therefore thus says theLord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: ‘He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. I will punish him, his family, and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring on them, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the men of Judah all the doom that I have pronounced against them; but they did not heed.’ Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the instruction of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And besides, there were added to them many similar words.” Jeremiah 36:27-32
You can read more about Baruch in Jeremiah chapters 43 and 45. The reason I share this with you is to establish that Baruch was an important figure in the protocanonical Book of Jeremiah, which was written during the time of the end of the 7th century and beginning of the 6th century BC. What we have in the Book of Baruch is from the deuterocanonical books of the Apocrypha. It claims to be the writings of Baruch when he was in Babylon.
The Book of Baruch consists of two parts. The first is prose with a historical introduction. It includes confession of national sin, recognition of the justness of its punishment as a nation, and a prayer for God’s mercy. The second part is poetic and consists of an exhortation to Israel to learn wisdom and wait hopefully for God’s salvation. Even though the book claims to be written by Baruch in the early part of the 6th century BC, most scholars believe an unknown writer penned the book in the latter part of the 2nd century BC. Many believe the book was most likely written by two or three writers since the prose and poetry sections are so different in style.
Our concern here is whether this book rises to the level of Scripture. Is it God’s Word? There are difficulties with some of the historical facts between the events and people listed in the books of Jeremiah and Daniel and the Book of Baruch. Let’s begin with the first 14 verses of Baruch from the King James Version.
“And these are the words of the book, which Baruch the son of Nerias, the son of Maasias, the son of Sedecias, the son of Asadias, the son of Chelcias, wrote in Babylon, In the fifth year, and in the seventh day of the month, what time as the Chaldeans took Jerusalem, and burnt it with fire. And Baruch did read the words of this book in the hearing of Jechonias the son of Joachim king of Juda, and in the ears of all the people that came to hear the book, And in the hearing of the nobles, and of the king’s sons, and in the hearing of the elders, and of all the people, from the lowest unto the highest, even of all them that dwelt at Babylon by the river Sud. Whereupon they wept, fasted, and prayed before the Lord. They made also a collection of money according to every man’s power: And they sent it to Jerusalem unto Joachim the high priest, the son of Chelcias, son of Salom, and to the priests, and to all the people which were found with him at Jerusalem, At the same time when he received the vessels of the house of the Lord, that were carried out of the temple, to return them into the land of Juda, the tenth day of the month Sivan, namely, silver vessels, which Sedecias the son of Josias king of Jada had made, After that Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon had carried away Jechonias, and the princes, and the captives, and the mighty men, and the people of the land, from Jerusalem, and brought them unto Babylon. And they said, Behold, we have sent you money to buy you burnt offerings, and sin offerings, and incense, and prepare ye manna, and offer upon the altar of the Lord our God; And pray for the life of Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon, and for the life of Balthasar his son, that their days may be upon earth as the days of heaven: And the Lord will give us strength, and lighten our eyes, and we shall live under the shadow of Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon, and under the shadow of Balthasar his son, and we shall serve them many days, and find favour in their sight. Pray for us also unto the Lord our God, for we have sinned against the Lord our God; and unto this day the fury of the Lord and his wrath is not turned from us. And ye shall read this book which we have sent unto you, to make confession in the house of the Lord, upon the feasts and solemn days.”
Some of the historical challenges to the authenticity of the Book of Baruch come from 2 Kings 25:14-15, Daniel 5:1-4 and Ezra 1:7-11. At issue is whether Baruch could have gotten hold of the the silver vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to Babylon to return them to the land of Judah. The protocanonical Books present a history of those vessels being in Babylon until 538 BC, even though Baruch was supposedly written 50 years earlier. Another problem is the idea that a high priest and other Jews living in Jerusalem could have used those silver vessels to offer sacrifices on the altar of God. Jerusalem was in ruins, the Temple had been burned, and most Jews had been taken captive or scattered across the ancient world. 2 Kings 25 makes it clear that the only people remaining in Jerusalem after its destruction were “the poor of the land.” (verse 12) The captain of the Babylonian guard took the chief priest, the second priest, three Temple doorkeepers and many officers and chief people from Jerusalem to meet with the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. The king put them all to death – “Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land.” (verse 21).
Another historical problem concerns the Babylonian king’s treatment of Judah’s defeated king Jeconiah in exile. Baruch presents Jeconiah with a certain amount of freedom that he did not receive until many years later. Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was not released from prison until the 27th day of the 12th month of the 37th year of captivity. That’s when Babylonian King Evil-Merodach spoke kindly to Jeconiah and gave him a prominent seat among other captured kings who were with him in Babyon. (2 Kings 25:27-30)
Another major problem in the Book of Baruch is that he wrote about living under and praying for King Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) and his son Balthasar (Belshazzar). The historical problem with this is that King Nebuchadnezzar died in 561 BC and Belshazzar’s father Nabonidus did not seize the throne until 556 BC. Nabonidus named Belshazzar as a co-regent in 553 BC, eight years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar. Major problems indeed. Even though some early Church fathers quoted from the Book of Baruch (e.g. Thomas Aquinas, Clement of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers), the problems cited above cause me great pause to accepting it as Holy Scripture.
The last chapter of the Book of Baruch is often called The Letter of Jeremiah (also known as the Epistle of Jeremy) because it is viewed as being a dictation from the prophet Jeremiah to his secretary Baruch. “A copy of an epistle, which Jeremy sent unto them which were to be led captives into Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to certify them, as it was commanded him of God.” (Letter of Jeremiah 1) It is similar to the 29th Chapter of the protocanonical Book of Jeremiah – “Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1)
The Letter of Jeremiah is short (70 verses) and deals with what the captive Jews would witness in Babylon, including the Babylonian worship of gods – “Now shall ye see in Babylon gods of silver, and of gold, and of wood, borne upon shoulders, which cause the nations to fear. Beware therefore that ye in no wise be like to strangers, neither be ye and of them, when ye see the multitude before them and behind them, worshipping them. But say ye in your hearts, O Lord, we must worship thee.” (Letter of Jeremiah, verses 3-5) It is questionable that Jeremiah dictated a second letter to the captives in Babylon. Also at issue is that the earliest manuscripts of the Letter of Jeremiah are all in Greek and dated from the 1st Century BC. Some scholars believe the original letter was written in Hebrew or Aramaic and later translated into Greek, but that seems doubtful in light of all the manuscripts that have been found of ancient Hebrew writings.
Another and bigger problem with the Letter of Jeremiah is what is written in verse two: “So when ye be come unto Babylon, ye shall remain there many years, and for a long season, namely, seven generations: and after that I will bring you away peaceably from thence.” This deuterocanonical prophecy of the Letter of Jeremiah has the captives from Judah remaining in Babylon for “seven generations” before being released peaceably to return to Judah. That does not match what Jeremiah prophesied in the protocanonical Book of Jeremiah – ” For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10) 70 years in captivity is a lot different than seven generations. A generation was the number of years from birth to procreation – viewed by ancient people as somewhere between 25 and 40 years. Seven generations would have been three to four times as long as the 70 years Jeremiah prophesied in the Book of Jeremiah. Which prophecy is correct? Protocanonical Jeremiah or deuterocanonical Letter of Jeremiah? I choose protocanonical Jeremiah, a prophet and Holy Book referred to by name in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 2:17-18; 16:14; 27:9), quoted by Jesus Christ (e.g. Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Revelation 17:10) and the Apostle Paul (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 10:17; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17).
In the next part of our study we will look at three Apocryphal books that are additions to the Book of Daniel.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”