Does Jeremiah 8:8 imply that the Bible is corrupted?
Even though the Qur'an states there is “guidance and light” in the Torah(Sura 5:43), many Muslims often quote Jeramiah 8:8 as proof that the Torah has been “corrupted.” The text says: “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?” (Jeremiah 8:8)
It is important to look at the context. The above verses are part of Jeremiah's "Temple Address" in Jeremiah 7:1-10:25. The first important clue is that God through the prophet Jeremiah states in verse 7: "My people do not KNOW the requirements of the LORD.” He does NOT say that they do not HAVE them. Then in verse 8, he takes up the false security of those scribes who claim that they have the law, although they do not obey it and distort it with their false interpretations. The next verse gives us the context of how legitimate these scribes were: "The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9)
It is surprising that somehow our Muslim friends ignore the context in verse 9. The accusation is that the scribes in Jeremiah’s time falsely handled Scripture by rejecting the word of the Lord. In the context of Jeremiah 7-10, we find what this “lying pen” is all about. The context does not say their lying pens are making the Torah into a lie by altering its text. It says they are writing things that are false, as though they came from God's law, and teaching them to the people.
These lying teachers were telling the people "peace, peace" although Jeremiah, the true prophet, told them there is no peace and will be no peace. God has announced His judgment on Jerusalem for its idolatry and disobedience. The enemies are coming and God will NOT help. This happened; the enemies came and God did not help them defeat their enemies.
This verse has nothing to do with altering the books; it has to do with certain scribes teaching false practices and giving false prophecies, claiming them to be based on the Lord's law. The law of God, which clearly speaks of punishment for sin, is disregarded. The people are told about the promises of God's goodness -- which are in the Law too, but each has the condition: obedience to God’s laws.
In this passage, they were claiming to be wise because they have the law, but God says that they have handled it falsely by false application of it. Rejecting here implies not following the instructions. It is important to note that almost 200 years after Jeremiah, people had access to the Torah, the Law, which shows that it was not corrupted. For instance, we find this written in the book of Nehemiah:
“They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read … On the second day … they gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to … Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God …” (Nehemiah 8:13-14,18)
Now for Ezra to read from the Law of Moses and expound on it presupposes that a true, uncorrupted copy of the Torah was available at that time.
Fast forward to the days of Jesus and his followers, we find they quoted from the Torah, as we know it today, and never assumed that it was corrupt (see Matthew 4:4,7:10; 22:31-32; 1 Timothy 5:18). Jesus never doubted the Torah or the books of the prophets or Psalms being corrupted. In fact, we find passages within the Bible that show that the word of God is not changed. Jesus for example says that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). He said that not one jot or tittle would disappear from the law (Matthew 5:18).
So the only credible appropriate meaning is that the scribes were misleading the people, either through their oral teachings or were writing down erroneous interpretations of the Law. A similar situation existed in the time of Jesus Christ. He delivered a similar judgment against the scribes as recorded in Matthew 23, for example, Jesus said, 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.' (Matthew 23:2-3)
Jesus would never have told the people to listen to the teachers of the Law if the very law they were teaching had been changed and was not as pure as God gave it. No, textual corruption was not an issue at all.
Arguing from the passage in Jeremiah 8 that the Torah is “corrupted” in its text would be going against the testimony of Jesus, against the testimony of the whole of God's prophets, and is an argument from silence, since it does not say so at all. The context makes it fully clear that this speaks about false interpretation and application of the word of God.
It is therefore quite clear that Jeremiah was rebuking the scribes for their traditions that led people astray from the word of God. They were manipulating the law to try to get it to fit their lifestyles and to make justifications for their sin, thus seeing the Law as being a mere code of ceremonial observances.
If Jewish people had corrupted the Scriptures, they would have taken out the bad and ugly things they have done. However, the bad and ugly things the Children of Israel have done, plus God's warnings to them and His punishing their disobedience, are recorded for all posterity to see.