The Depth of Sin: A Reflection on Jeremiah 17:1

I’m reading Preston Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited. He says the Old Testament contains “two different paradigms of restoration.” One of them is the Deuteronomic model “where Israel’s restoration precedes God’s restorative action (forgiveness, blessings, renewed relationship).” The second model is the Prophetic model “where God’s restorative action is unilateral; it is preceded by nothing on Israel’s part.” (38) The latter model is found predominately in books like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and presumes a strong view of sin which makes people incapable of responding to God. One passage he points to is Jeremiah 17:1-3. I found it to be a compelling illustration of the depth and power of sin:

“The whole section is pertinent, but the main point can be seen clearly in verses 1 and 9. ‘The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars’ (Jer. 17:1). Three observations are important. First, the metaphor of a ‘pen of iron’ with a ‘point of diamond’ portrays an engraving that is irreversible. Sin is etched into the humanity of the Judeans. Second, the reference to their sin being engraved on the ‘horns of their altars’ nullifies any hope of atonement through sacrifice. Their means of forgiveness—the altar—is invalidated. And third, the word ‘tablet’ (lûaḥ) may allude to the Mosaic law along with the heart of the Judahites. In itself, ‘tablet of their heart’ is quite odd, and twenty-nine of the forty-three occurrences of lûaḥ refer to the tablets of the Mosaic law. In any case, the reference to the law ‘written on their heart’ in Jeremiah 31:31 is probably intended to contrast with Jeremiah 17:1, solving the problem of the sin-etched-into-the-heart condition of Judah. ‘The notion of God writing on the heart,’ says Harry D. Potter, ‘was in response to what the prophet saw written already there; only so radical an intervention as one by God himself would suffice.’” (54-55)

Paul & Judaism

For those with an interest in Paul and especially the issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul this is a book to put on your reading list. The bulk of the book is an attempt to answer the question as to “whether or not we can see evidence of either a Deuteronomic or Prophetic pattern of resolution in Paul and Qumran.” (68) Sprinkle is conversant with all the major Pauline scholars (E. P. Sanders, Douglas Moo, N.T. Wright, Simon Gathercole, Thomas Schreiner, J.D.G. Dunn, Francis Watson, Stephen Westerholm, and Scot Hafemann, to name only a few) and equally so with the Qumran documents. With this contribution Sprinkle becomes an important and significant voice in Pauline studies.

Paul and Judaism Revisited is from IVP Academic. It is paperback with 256 pages and sells for $24.00.

Preston M. Sprinkle (Ph.D., New Testament, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland) is associate professor of biblical studies at Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley, California.



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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