Question: Jeremiah 8:8 says that the scribes who copied God’s Word sometimes falsified it. If this is true, how can the Bible be trusted at all if it can’t be trusted in part?
Here’s the text:
Jer. 8:8 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?
To understand this verse, two questions need to be addressed: (1) Who were these “scribes;” and (2) what is meant by the phrase, “the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely”?
The scribes of the Bible were typically chosen from the tribe of Levi.
2Chr. 34:12b-13 …The Levites—all who were skilled in playing musical instruments—had charge of the laborers and supervised all the workers from job to job. Some of the Levites were secretaries, scribes and gatekeepers.
Their task was to study, teach, and explain the meaning and application of “the Law of the Lord” —meaning the first five books of the Bible, plus all of the commands, teachings, rules and regulations found elsewhere in God’s Word. They were Bible scholars, the Bible experts who advised how to apply God’s “law” to everyday life. Ezra is a classic example of a good and godly scribe.
Another responsibility of the scribe was to provide accurate copies of God’s Word. In that capacity, they were the equivalent of today’s copy machines. They worked in teams, copying biblical text onto a new surface, such as vellum or papyri, checking and correcting each other’s work. This highly respected and trusted role in the community continued on into New Testament times and beyond.
The “Lying Pen”
God accused certain specific scribes of misinterpreting the law of the Lord in such a way that would make some unacceptable, sinful behaviors appear to be acceptable to God. God did not condemn the scribes as a whole, but specifically those who abused their responsibilities.
Were these irresponsible scribes actually changing the text of Scripture as they copied the old to new? Not likely. For one thing, others carefully edited each scribe’s work in order to ensure against copying errors—intentional or otherwise. Several sets of eyes helped to insure the incredible accuracy of the Scriptures.
“The lying pen” refers to the written interpretations of the Scriptures the scribes compiled to suit their own opinions. In the Gospel of Matthew (20:41-44), for example, Jesus challenges the teaching of the scribes on Psalm 101:1 as a misinterpretation. He then warns His disciples:
Matt. 20:45-47a “Beware of the teachers of the law [i.e., “scribes”]. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.”
If anything, Jeremiah 8:8 proves how trustworthy the Bible is, for God does not ignore those who seek to abuse it, change it, or misrepresent it. As Jesus concluded in Matthew 20:47b, “These men will be punished most severely.”