I really don’t know what the incessant need is for people to quote Jeremiah 29:11.   Well recently I spoke with one person who told me that God’s plan for humanity could be summed up in that verse. She then went on to tell me how God wanted me healthy and want to give me stuff (insert here money) . I disagree. The overall meta narrative of scripture is not about God wanting to give me bling or to make me a/ the living example of a salad bar with legs.  The basic gospel truth of Scripture as John Chapman in Nick Pollards book Evangelism made Slightly less difficult, says this  

  • Genesis 1 and 2: God set it up
  • Genesis 3:We mucked it up
  • Genesis 4-Malachi : God called us back
  • Matthew to John: God came himself
  • Acts to Jude: God grows relationships
  • Revelation: Gods going to sort it out.  

  Yes its simple and you could argue its intricacies i.e. wasn’t God growing relationships in Genesis?  but it gives us  a look at the whole metanarrative, and that is what is sorely missing from the Jeremiah 29:11 club on the whole.   

As a side note it turns out the word for Prosper as quoted in this verse is actually the Hebrew word Shalom which means ‘peace’ (ahh yes the Hebrew, it always gets you doesn’t it!)   

The context of this letter was Jeremiah writing to Judah to urge God’s people to turn from their sins and to turn back to God. Here I thank Coty Pinckney for his great summary: Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylon, attacked Jerusalem for the first time in 605 BC. The king of Judah paid tribute and promised $$ get Nebuchadnezzer to withdraw. The Babylonian did so, but took away some exiles to Bablyon , Shortly before Nebuchadnezzer attacked, Jeremiah prophesied that it would happen, and that the exiles would remain in Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25). Seven years later, Nebuchadnezzer returns, after the Judean king stopped paying tribute (silly man). This time he deposes the king, sets up his own puppet from the Judean royal family, and takes thousands more into exile. Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem. The Jeremiah 29:11 bit comes from when Jeremiah was writing to the exiles in Babylon in 594 BC, three years later. False prophets in Babylon and Jerusalem were claiming that the captivity was going to be very short – that God would break the power of Nebuchadnezzer and send the captives back to Jerusalem very shortly. In effect, they were saying, “God will prosper both you and Jerusalem.”  Jeremiah clearly says, “No! God is NOT going to prosper Jerusalem during the next several years. Don’t think you’re coming back soon – live out a normal life in Babylon!”

I wonder if the prolificness of this verse as a favourite among evangelical’s is, in part, due to the fact of the lack of study of the Bible where Christians read Books and chunks and look at context as their form of scripture intake, instead  of relying on catch phrases to ‘get them through’.   I think if Tertullian and Athanasius were around they would probably be in great shock at how  much this trend (of catch phrases) resembles the Gnostic controversy in some ways. My thanks to Alistair McGrath,  Christian Theology p. 14 – for the following –  in fact I think Tertullian has a couple of good points to enlighten us on the Jeremiah 29:11 Club  

Scripture, he argued {Tertullian} , is capable of being understood clearly, provided that it is read as a whole. However , he conceded that controversy over the interpretation of certain passages was inevitable. Heretics, he observed gloomily , can make Scripture say more or less anything that they like. For this reason, the tradition of the church was of considerable importance, as it indicated the manner in which Scripture had been received and interpreted within the church. The right interpretation of Scripture was thus to be found where true Christian faith and discipline had been maintained.’