Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Negation Idiom: Part II
03/02/2005 - James WhiteIn the preceding installment we addressed J.P. Holding's claim that Paul is using a "negation idiom" in Romans 9:16, based upon his particular interpretation of Jeremiah 7:22. We demonstrated that there is no reason to accept this argumentation, and good reason to reject it, from the text of Romans 9 itself. But there is another good reason to reject it: one simply does not need to read Jeremiah 7:22 as containing such a "negation idiom." Below I provide the commentary of Keil and Delitzch on the text. Yes, it involves Hebrew, but despite that, it is worth the read. If I may summarize the point being made: the context determines what God is referring to, and He is referring to the making of the covenant. The context determines the meaning. One does not need to read "not" as meaning something other than "not" when we limit the scope of the creation of the covenant in the ten commandments. Here is the commentary:
To show the reason of what is here said, Jeremiah adds, in v. 22, that God had not commanded their fathers, when He led them out of Egypt, in the matter of burnt and slain offerings, but this word: “Hearken to my voice, and I will be your God,” etc. The Keri ayciAh is a true exegesis, acc. to 11:4; 34:13, but is unnecessary; cf. Gen. 24:30; 25:26, etc. This utterance has been erroneously interpreted by the majority of commentators, and has been misused by modern criticism to make good positions as to the late origin of the Pentateuch. To understand it aright, we must carefully take into consideration not merely the particular terms of the present passage, but the context as well. In the two verses as they stand there is the antithesis: Not xb;z")w" hl'ÞA[ yrEîb.DI-l[; did God speak and give command to the fathers, when He led them out of Egypt, but commanded the word: Hearken to my voice, etc. The last word immediately suggests Ex. 19:5: If ye will hearken to my voice, then shall ye be my peculiar treasure out of all peoples; and it points to the beginning of the law-giving, the decalogue, and the fundamental principles of the law of Israel, in Ex. 20–23, made known in order to the conclusion of the covenant in 24, after the arrival at Sinai of the people marching from Egypt. The promise: Then will I be your God, etc., is not given in these precise terms in Ex. 19:5ff.; but it is found in the account of Moses’ call to be the leader of the people in their exodus, Ex. 6:7; and then repeatedly in the promises of covenant blessings, if Israel keep all the commandments of God, Lev. 26:12, Deut. 26:18. Hence it is clear that Jeremiah had before his mind the taking of the covenant, but did not bind himself closely to the words of Ex. 19:5, adopting his expression from the passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy which refer to and reaffirm that transaction. If there be still any doubt on this head, it will be removed by the clause: and walk in all the way which I command you this day (~T,ªk.l;h]w: is a continuation of the imper. W[åm.vi). The expression: to walk in all the way God has commanded, is so unusual, that it occurs only once besides in the whole Old Testament, viz., Deut. 5:30, after the renewed inculcation of the ten commandments. And they then occur with the addition font size="4">~k,(l' bj;îyyI ![;m;Þl., in which we cannot fail to recognise the ~k,(l' bj;îyyI ![;m;Þl. of our verse. Hence we assume, without fear of contradiction, that Jeremiah was keeping the giving of the law in view, and specially the promulgation of the fundamental law of the book, namely of the decalogue, which was spoken by God from out of the fire on Sinai, as Moses in Deut. 5:23 repeats with marked emphasis. In this fundamental law we find no prescriptions as to burnt or slain offerings. On this fact many commentators, following Jerome, have laid stress, and suppose the prophet to be speaking of the first act of the law-giving, arguing that the Torah of offering in the Pentateuch was called for first by the worship of the golden calf, after which time God held it to be necessary to give express precepts as to the presenting of offerings, so as to prevent idolatry. But this view does not at all agree with the historical fact. For the worship of the calf was subsequent to the law on the building of the altar on which Israel was to offer burnt and slain offerings, Ex. 20:24; to the institution of the daily morning and evening sacrifice, Ex. 29:38ff.; and to the regulation as to the place of worship and the consecration of the priests, Ex. 25–31. But besides, any difficulty in our verses is not solved by distinguishing between a first and a second law-giving, since no hint of any such contrast is found in our verse, but is even entirely foreign to the precise terms of it. The antithesis is a different one. The stress in v. 23 lies on: hearken to the voice of the Lord, and on walking in all the way which God commanded to the people at Sinai. “To walk in all the way God commanded” is in substance the same as “not to depart from all the words which I command you this day,” as Moses expands his former exhortation in Deut. 28:14, when he is showing the blessings of keeping the covenant. Hearkening to God’s voice, and walking in all His commandments, are the conditions under which Jahveh will be a God to the Israelites, and Israel a people to Him, i.e., His peculiar people from out of all the peoples of the earth. This word of God is not only the centre of the act of taking the covenant, but of the whole Sinaitic law-giving; and it is so both with regard to the moral law and to the ceremonial precepts, of which the law of sacrifice constituted the chief part. If yet the words demanding the observance of the whole law be set in opposition to the commandments as to sacrifices, and if it be said that on this latter head God commanded nothing when He led Israel out of Egypt, then it may be replied that the meaning of the words cannot be: God has given no law of sacrifice, and desires no offerings. The sense can only be: When the covenant was entered into, God did not speak yrEîb.DI-l[;, i.e., as to the matters of burnt and slain offerings. yrEîb.DI-l[; is not identical with rEîb.DI-l[; hl'ÞA[ yrEîb.DI are words or things that concern burnt and slain offerings; that is, practically, detailed prescriptions regarding sacrifice.
The purport of the two verses is accordingly as follows: When the Lord entered into covenant with Israel at Sinai, He insisted on their hearkening to His voice and walking in all His commandments, as the condition necessary for bringing about the covenant relationship, in which He was to be God to Israel, and Israel a people to Him; but He did not at that time give all the various commandments as to the presenting of sacrifices. Such an intimation neither denies the divine origin of the Torah of sacrifice in Leviticus, nor discredits its character as a part of the Sinaitic legislation.?12? All it implies is, that the giving of sacrifices is not the thing of primary importance in the law, is not the central point of the covenant laws, and that so long as the cardinal precepts of the decalogue are freely transgressed, sacrifices neither are desired by God, nor secure covenant blessings for those who present them. That this is what is meant is shown by the connection in which our verse stands. The words: that God did not give command as to sacrifice, refer to the sacrifices brought by a people that recklessly broke all the commandments of the decalogue (v. 9f.), in the thought that by means of these sacrifices they were proving themselves to be the covenant people, and that to them as such God was bound to bestow the blessings of His covenant. It is therefore with justice that Oehler, in Herzog’s Realencykl. xii. S. 228, says: “In the sense that the righteousness of the people and the continuance of its covenant relationship were maintained by sacrifice as such—in this sense Jahveh did not ordain sacrifices in the Torah.” Such a soulless service of sacrifice is repudiated by Samuel in 1 Sam. 15:22, when he says to Saul: Hath Jahveh delight in burnt and slain offerings, as in hearkening to the voice of Jahveh? Behold, to hearken is better than sacrifice, etc. So in Ps. 40:7; 50:8ff., 51:18, and Isa. 1:11f., Jer. 6:20, Amos 5:22. What is here said differs from these passages only in this: Jeremiah does not simply say that God has no pleasure in such sacrifices, but adds the inference that the Lord does not desire the sacrifices of a people that have fallen away from Him. This Jeremiah gathers from the history of the giving of the law, and from the fact that, when God adopted Israel as His people, He demanded not sacrifices, but their obedience to His word and their walking in His ways. The design of Jeremiah’s addition was the more thoroughly to crush all such vain confidence in sacrifices.
(Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (Vol. 7, Page 645). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
Hence, if this reading is correct, the entirety of Holding's very slim foundation is removed: not only can, and should, Jeremiah 7:22 be read differently, but without providing any meaningful connection to Romans 9 other than purely wishful thinking, Holding stands convicted of eisegesis, and his position stands refuted.