Stop Taking Jeremiah 29:11 Out of Context

It's one of our favorite verses—but we've gotten it all wrong.

It’s written on graduation cards, quoted to encourage a person who can’t seem to find God’s well and doled out like a doctor explaining a prescription: Take Jeremiah 29:11 a few times, with a full glass of water, and call me in the morning. I think you’ll feel better.

“‘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’” Jeremiah 29:11 tells us—possibly one of our most beloved, yet most misunderstood, verses in the entire Bible.

Sure, it might make a person feel better, but this verse as we often prescribe it is being taken completely out of context. It doesn’t mean what people think it means. It’s time to back up and see what the author of Jeremiah is actually saying.

We misinterpret Scripture when we are too familiar with the passage to look at it with fresh eyes.

When it comes to reading the Bible, we can sometimes be so familiar with the words on the page that we read them, but we don’t really understand them. We see the words and hear the words, but we don’t make any sense out of them. Familiarity can breed laziness, and so many of our misunderstandings about the scriptures happen because we are too familiar with the passage to look it with fresh eyes. If we would come to the Word of God with fresh eyes more often, we would realize that some of our most common interpretations of Scripture passed down to us don’t make much sense when viewed within the context of the passage.

Like any author worth his salt, the writer in Jeremiah begins by stating the subject of the passage: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ... “ (Jeremiah 29:4).

This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with vocation or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire nation. For all the grammarians out there, the “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t singular, it’s plural. And you don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to realize that “one” versus “many” is a big difference.

And the verse just before it is perhaps even scarier. For in Jeremiah 29:10, God lays down the specifics on this promise: that He will fulfill it “after seventy years are completed for Babylon.” In other words, yes, God says, I will redeem you—after 70 years in exile. This is certainly a far cry from our expectation of this verse in what God’s plans to prosper us really mean. He did have a future and a hope for them—but it would look far different than the Israelites ever expected.

So what? Some of you may be thinking. Even when the verse is taken out of context, it still offers value, right? God does know the plans of individual people, so it’s just as well to keep prescribing Jeremiah 29 for those seeking God’s plan for their life, right? Well, yes and no.

We need to let the Bible speak to us, not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures. If Jeremiah 29 is speaking to the nation of Israel, and not just one person, then we should start with the truth in the Scriptures. Context matters—God speaks at a particular moment in time, to a particular people group, for a reason.

We need to let the Bible speak to us, not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures.

What this means is that God has plans for a whole group of people, namely the nation of Israel. And if we read on in the Scriptures we find that this promise was fulfilled: those in exile returned, and the nation of Israel was restored for a time. God made a promise through the prophets, and that promise came true.

But that’s not the end of the story, either. There is something to the out-of-context prescriptions that so many make using this verse. God is a God of redemption, after all, and He wants to redeem people and put them on a path of wholeness, just as He wanted the nation of Israel to be redeemed and whole again.

As John Calvin says about this passage, the prophet is speaking not just of historical redemption, for that period in time, but also of “future redemption.” For the Israelites, God listened to their prayers when they sought Him with all their heart, and in His time, He brought them out of exile.
But how does any of this apply to us today? Can we still take heart in such a beautiful promise—even though it was spoken to people long ago, people in a far different situation than ours?

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First and foremost, we are all in this together. This verse does not apply to isolated individuals or to a broad community. It applies to both, together, functioning as one. The image painted here is one of individuals in community, like the Body of Christ which Paul talks about. Here are a bunch of people, worshiping God together, hoping for a future redemption.

The theologians Stanley Grenz and John Franke explain in their book Beyond Foundationalism just how a community “turns the gaze of its members toward the future.” The future in Jeremiah is one that is bright—one that everyone in the community through prayer and worship seeks as their collective future hope. Many of us want to desperately know the plan that God has for each one of us as individuals, but let the prophet Jeremiah remind us that it’s not all about us, and it might not look like what we think.

Even more important than our decision about which college to attend, which city to move to or what job offer to take is the future hope of the Kingdom of God foretold by the prophets and fulfilled in the reign of our now and coming King. In this way, the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is bigger than any one of us—and far better.

Top Comments

Ashleigh Dowden


Ashleigh Dowden commented…

I want to thank you so much! All of this time I was thinking, "Not only does this passage have powerful spiritual meaning for my husband and myself but it is also an especially poetic sounding verse! I feel full of God's love!" But, now I can let that go because you have shown me the "truth." I can't just read love into the bible when it pleases me. I may only feel God's love through the Bible when a scholar approves.
(ok i admit sarcasm is a weak tactic but you have rufffled my britches)
Look, I spent my time in grad school, I learned to deconstruct, re-contextualize and argue both sides of the theoretical arguments concerning the relationship between author, text, and reader. I was only studying criticism and theory of theatre but I did my fair share of time with texts of faith. You need to seperate your academic side from your how to interpret spiritual text side. Seriously-this is the actual word of the Lord-you have to be a little less smug when pointing out "errors in interpretation." I am allowed to seek and hear God's love wherever I seek it. It is ok if I feel like He is speaking directly to me. You are obviously a super sharp guy who likely sports an impressive CV, you HAVE TO BE AWARE of the damage we have done through the millenia when we begin to tell people the Bible must be understood in "a certain way." I could understand if you were pointing out passage that people used to justify hate, prejudice or subjagation of another. But in this case you are bursting people's God love bubble and it comes across as offensive and kind of mean spirited. Sir, go forth and share the light! Use your blessings of intellect, knowledge and skill to correct the misuse of God's word to validate evil-it's EVERYWHERE! Just leave the stuff alone that makes people feel good and have reason to mess with that. In the end it's about Love....there is nothing else.



Jeff commented…

This is a very interesting article and some good points of truth in it. We really do need to understand the scriptures in context to what the original authors, ie Jeremiah, was saying to his people when he addressed them. HOWEVER, I also like very much what Nate Fox (commenter her) said so eloquently in his reply, which is just as true.

With this being said, I think that we can take old or new testament scriptures, ie Jerm 29:11, which was meant to be a comforting prophesy to the nation of Israel at that particular time period and later fulfilled, in context with God's will for each individual believer IN CHRIST. For instance; does God want each one of us who reside IN CHRIST, to have a future and a hope? Does God have plans for each of us who make Him Lord of our lives? Why, sure He does! The new testament is full of scriptures that confirm our hope and future in Christ. So, if this is true, then God would still honor this beloved old verse of Scripture in Jeremiah that people stand on. He wants for us to stand on the scriptures for hope! Otherwise, he would not have had the Apostle Paul write:

2 Tim 3:16-17

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The key is living your life IN CHRIST on a daily basis in order for God to honor these promises in our lives. You cannot live your life like a non believer living in sin (Mon-Sat) and expect for God to honor Jerm 29:11 in your life on Sunday? Thus, as Nate quotes:

2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

As for the prosperity message and standing on those scriptures; you have to do this in context with the rest of God's Word too. For instance, if you want to prosper, are you giving a tenth of your income to the storehouse? Are you being honest and keeping your word to your customers and associates? Is integrity the most important virtue in your business affairs or are you deceptive with others because of your lust for money ? God's blessings will never reside with a lying two faced thief, no matter how many scriptures he is standing on until he truly repents and turns his life around!

God honors His principles as stated in NT and well as OT above all things and He will honor every scripture if you are honoring Him with your life! He wants our lives to overflow with abundance to make a point to those who don't believe. What He doesn't want is for us to covet wealth above His will for our individual lives. For this would violate the Ex 20:1-5.

So, if you are IN CHRIST (obeying the scriptures), you can say "yes!" and "amen!" to ALL His promises as stated in the Word for your life and stand on them!


Lisa Shawnai


Lisa Shawnai commented…

I will agree that Jeremiah 29:11 is taken out of context sometimes and this is a verse that my grandmother wrote on my high school graduation card when I was 17. Funny thing is when she put Jeremiah 29:11 on the card I never went to look for in the Bible or read it. ( I was a teenager ya know) I did not care about the things of God...however, I remember going through some very tough times when I my daughter was born and she was an infant....and guess what, I found that high school graduation card from 10 years ago (at that time), and when I saw Jeremiah 29:11, I looked it up and read brought tears to my God word is powerful and Jeremiah 29:11 is scripture that can be used by God to comfort anyone whether it is a group of people or one person...and Revelant Magazine you guys should not act as the authority on how the Holy Spirit reveals God's word to comfort, encourage and help his children.

Dianna Levine Miller


Dianna Levine Miller commented…

September 22, 2016

Taking Jeremiah 29;11 Out of Context

Mr. Turner, your commentary is the one out of context. Incorporating Jeremiah 29:11 into the entire context of the bible you will KNOW what God's plan for us is, you will know how God wants us to prosper and to have a future and hope. Once you realize that the entire Christian Bible, regardless of version, is about Jesus dying on the cross from Genesis to Revelation for the remission of our sins then you know that God's plan for us from the beginning is to restore us to Him, to reconcile us to God, to be in fellowship with God, to be His people so that He can be our God. God's plan for us is clearly spelled out in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

From the Study Bible under the BibleHub” Death in Adam, Life in Christ: Romans 5:18-19

…18Therefore, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for all men. “ That scripture lets me know that our Heavenly Father is a master chess player since He was already way ahead of us for by the shed blood of the Lamb we, Jews first then Gentiles are reconciled back to God if we confess our sins and as it says in the book of Romans 10:9-10," that if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” For our God said through the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “21God made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him (Jesus Christ) we might become the righteousness of God.
Hebrews 13:8 states that, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” And if Jesus Christ being God the Son and of the same similitude as God the Father then the logical line of reasoning is that if Jesus Christ Who Is God the Son and is the same yesterday, today , and forever that line of reasoning means that God the Father is the Same yesterday, today , and forever. And if God had a plan for the nation of Israel as well as each individual that made up the nation of Israel as His chosen ones then the logical line of reasoning follows that we, the Gentiles, who follow the path of Christ and that we have confessed with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and we , the Gentiles , believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead we shall be saved. That same line of reasoning leads us to believe that because we believe and have faith it follows that we believe the word of God when the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:2, “2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
And if you follow that line of reasoning of the Word of God you will know that God the Father who is the same yesterday, today, and forever you will know that God “11 knows 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.” And in applying that verse in context that the bible is about the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made of himself for the remission of our sins so that our fellowship with God would be restored and we would be forgiven and reconciled back to Him. Now being reconciled back to God the Father and being His sons , His children , we know that His plan for us is that we be reconciled back to Him and that we have eternal life and that we become His righteousness, and in being His righteousness He will Prosper us according to the riches of His glory by Christ Jesus and we will not be harmed , and while on this earth we are to have life and have it more abundantly so that we have hope AND a future. Now please, when God says He will prosper us that does not necessarily mean material things. That is not to say you won’t have them but you will be supplied those things according to your need in Christ Jesus. I just want you to understand that prosperity is so much more than material things that are here today and gone tomorrow. You can be prosperous in your health, your family, your loved ones , your friends , your home, your job, being able to take the kids and wife on vacation once a year and then taking wifey on a anniversary “honeymoon” once a year. Prosperity is more about creating memories to warm your spirit during the winter of your long days here on earth.
It is my sincere hope that the words and scripture that the Holy Spirit guided me to have helped you to understand that Jeremiah 29:11 was for the nation as well as the individual Israelites yesterday , as well as today and now includes ALL of His Chosen Ones even the Gentiles, and that it is for those who invite Him into their lives tomorrow and become His righteousness just as He originally planned for His people who are called by His name.

Be Blessed in the Lord God Jehovah always.
Dianna L. Miller

Dustin Thomas


Dustin Thomas commented…

I agree we should take it in context, in fact let's look at the verses right before it. Jeremiah 29:8-9

8For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. 9For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD

Something to think about the next time you feel the need to tell people how they should interrupt the word of God. There's also a few verses in the Bible about not knowing the mind of God and one or two on hubris that you might want to look into. That, however, is between you and God so I'll let him have that talk with you.

Jason Elkin


Jason Elkin commented…

I get where you're coming from but there's a problem with the logic.

The letter is not addressed to the whole Jewish nation, but only to some of it. At this point not all of the Jews are in exile (Jeremiah himself being a case in point as he is having to send this letter to Babylon).

Also, we know that not all the Jews in Babylon (or elsewhere) actually come back even though v14 states that "I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you".

Combined with the fact that Jeremiah documents so vividly the breaking of the old covenant, and prophesies the coming of a new one, this must mean that the events that Jeremiah/God is talking about haven't happened yet. We are talking about promises that will be fulfilled under the new covenant.

In which case, the context is not specific to the exiled Jews living in Babylon but is relevant for all people(s) under the new covenant.

In which case it's impossible to take this verse out of context. It is simply a true statement.

Dreama Buck Pritt


Dreama Buck Pritt commented…

Amen! It's so frustrating to see it taken so far out of context. My daughter and I wrote a poem about this very thing for her high school graduation baccalaureate service.

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