Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most well-known and frequently quoted verses in the Bible. It is however, a verse, which can be misunderstood when taken out of context. We’ll take a look at the historical and textual context of this verse a little later, but first let’s consider the authorship.
Who wrote Jeremiah 29:11?
Scholars love a debate and you can always find differing views about the authorship of a particular Biblical text, but in this instance the consensus is pretty strong that the Book of Jeremiah, was written by the prophet Jeremiah. The prophecies give us a unique overview of the life, mind and heart of a man who dedicated his life to spreading the word of God, despite great adversity and threats to his life. Jeremiah was a priest from the village of Anathoth, a few miles from Jerusalem. He began his prophesying as a young man, in about 627 BC and for the next 50 years his prophecies were recorded by his scribe Baruch. Frequently a prophet of doom, he prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem, he was also a prophet of the New Messiah and his prophecies are referred to in the New Testament.
What is the meaning of Jeremiah 29:11?
Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version
‘ “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ’
It is not hard to see why so many Christians take comfort from this verse, as it is translated here in the New International Version. The knowledge that God has a plan for us enables us to endure the vicissitudes of life, confident that ultimately we will achieve salvation. It is, however, easy to misread this text. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,’ is not a promise, by God, to us as individuals, that we will be shielded from suffering and that we will prosper. It was a promise made by God to the people of Israel, collectively. It is still a promise of hope but it is not a ‘get out of jail’ card, being a Christian does not mean that you will avoid suffering. We’ll look at this a little more when we consider the context of this verse.
Jeremiah 29:11 King James Version
‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.’
Written in 1611 by around 50 scholars, this is the most widely read version of the Bible and the translation which dominated Christian thought up until the 20th century. What is most striking about this translation is the absence of the word ‘plan’, the very word that is such a source of comfort to contemporary Christians. In this version the emphasis is on God’s intention: peace as opposed to evil. The conclusion of the verse refers to ‘an expected end’; this relates specifically to the people of Israel and refers to their desire to return from exile. We would need to study the original Greek text in order to decide which translation is closer to the meaning of the original, but it is clear that the King James Version is much more historically specific.
Jeremiah 29:11 New American Standard Bible
‘ “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’
In this version, ‘prosperity’ is contrasted with ‘disaster’, a much stronger term than the NIV word ‘harm’. A very real disaster had befallen the Jews and God is consoling them by telling them to look beyond their current plight: we should not misconstrue this verse as meaning that we will avoid disaster and always prosper.
Jeremiah 29:11 The Message
‘I know what I’m doing, I have it all planned out-plans to take care of you, not to abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.’
Putting the words of God into user-friendly contemporary colloquial American, however well intentioned, is always going to run the risk of making God sound like a reassuring dad. This version of the verse makes no mention of the peace versus evil contrast but emphasizes the fact that God will not abandon us and as such I think it is actually much clearer than some of the other modern variants.
Jeremiah 29:11 in context
As I have mentioned before, context is particularly important when considering this verse. Jeremiah is passing on the word of God to Jews who were living under the subjugation of first the Egyptian and then the Babylonian empires. Eventually they would be exiled from Jerusalem and taken to Babylon. Previously, Jeremiah had been speaking out against the false prophet, Hananiah, who’d been preaching the populist message that the Jews would soon return to Jerusalem. By contrast, Jeremiah told them that they would remain captives in Babylon for at least 70 years, meaning that the people for whom this verse was written would all die as slaves.
Reflections on Jeremiah 29:11
Just like the Jews, to whom Jeremiah’s words were addressed, we all want a quick fix to our problems, but this is not what God promises: what this verse tells us is that God is always in control, even when it seems that he isn’t. If you read this verse as God’s promise to you as an individual, then I think, you are mistaken. This is God’s promise to the Jewish people, a promise, which because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can all share in. What do you think?
Read next: What Does Exodus 14:14 Mean? “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” The Bible repeatedly talks about the Lord fighting for Israel, starting in Exodus 14:14. What is its meaning?