Problem: God forgets about burnt offerings
Verses: Exodus 20:22-24, Jeremiah 7:22; Status: Minor

In Exodus 20:22-24, God instructs the people concerning burnt offerings:

And the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. (ESV)

And yet, in Jeremiah 7:22, he appears to forget about this:

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. (ESV)

One suggestion is that "the day" literally means a specific 24-hour period, and a different one from the day when Moses spoke to God on Mount Sinai. I'm not sure this is the natural reading: "the day" here seems to mean a more broad and vague period, similar to English phrases like "back in the day when men were men". But it's hard to criticise Biblical literalists for taking the Bible too literally.

On a different tack, Tektonics gives a complicated argument that when God says he didn't speak of burnt offerings, he really means that he didn't place much emphasis on them. Again this is not a natural reading, but may have made more sense in the original Hebrew.

The NIV, making stuff up?

The New International Version instead solves this problem in its own unique way, by adding the word "just" to Jeremiah, so it becomes "I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings". It's clear that the NIV translators have no textual authority for the word "just". However, it seems to be their attempt at getting across what they perceive to be the actual intent behind the words, and perhaps is not as dishonest as it first appears. However, they are definitely interpreting for the reader, when they should really just give a straight translation.

Updated: Summer 2008

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