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What does the phrase "stealing the word" really mean as used in Jeremiah 23:30?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. (ESV)

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Jeremiah's work as a prophet of the YHVH began in the 13th year of King Josiah (Jer. 1:2) sometime around 627 BC crying forth the coming judgment of Judah in the Babylonian captivity. He was about 20 years of age when he began his work for the Lord, and he continued until about 582 BC, just 4 years or so after the first destruction of Jerusalem (about 586 BC).

So the immediate context of Jeremiah was the warning of the 1st destruction of Jerusalem, and the fuller meaning (sensus plenoir) of the Messianic fulfillment of the 2nd destruction of Jerusalem that would come during the end of the old covenant in the first century AD.

So keeping in mind the time frame of Jeremiah, God had a few statements to make about the "shepherds" who were leading his people astray.

"Wo to shepherds destroying, And scattering the flock of My pasture, An affirmation of Jehovah. 2 Therefore, thus said Jehovah, God of Israel, Against the shepherds who feed My people, Ye have scattered My flock, and drive them away, And have not inspected them, Lo, I am charging on you the evil of your doings, An affirmation of Jehovah." (Jer 23:1-2, YLT)

There were false prophets who were misleading the people, and in order to sound as though they were true prophets of God, they borrowed his words, strung them together in different ways to sound authentic, and preached lies to the people.

"And in prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing, Committing adultery, and walking falsely, Yea, they strengthened the hands of evil doers, So that they have not turned back Each from his wickedness, They have been to me -- all of them -- as Sodom, And its inhabitants as Gomorrah." (Jer. 23:14, YLT -cross ref Rev. 11:8 for the identity of Jerusalem)

"30 Therefore, lo, I [am] against the prophets, An affirmation of Jehovah, Stealing My words each from his neighbour." (Jer. 23:30, YLT)

Stolen words- "thus sayeth the Lord" or "the burden of Jehovah" - words that the true prophets used when calling out to the people.

Excerpt from Benson Commentary on Jer. 23:30-32,

"“That imitate the true prophets, speaking in my name, as they do, and saying, Thus saith the Lord, (see Jeremiah 23:31,) and using their words, but applying them to their own purpose: or, it may be, adding their own inventions to them.” So Lowth. Others paraphrase the verse thus, “That conspire together what to say to deceive the people, and to steal what they say one from another.” Or, perhaps the meaning rather is, That utter, as revelations made to themselves, things which they have learned, and, as it were, stolen from others. That use their tongues, &c. — That take their own tongues, as Blaney renders it, and say, He (the Lord) hath said. “The phrase of taking their own tongue,” he observes: “is, I think, very easily to be understood of those who, without any inspiration, took upon them to deliver messages to the people, and pretended that they came from God." Source: Biblehub

The false prophets used phrases, bits and pieces of God's words that were familiar to the people and deceived them, just as many false prophets are doing today.

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  • It would be good if you would leave out comments about the present situation ("just as many false prophets are doing today") and later developments which are not necessary to understand the text and are controversial ("the end of the old covenant in the first century AD"). – user2672 Oct 1 '18 at 8:31
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    I guess the word "plagiarism" would be appropriate. +1 – Ruminator Nov 17 '18 at 14:15
  • @Ruminator - I think so, too. – Gina Nov 17 '18 at 16:29
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"prophets,... who steal my words from one another." (Jer 23:30 ESV) Simply put, those prophets do like many religious leaders. Namely, religious leaders I have witnessed who (to give themselves credibility and enhance their popularity, influence and authority) repeat clever teachings and sayings from other religious leaders without giving them credit, which amounts to stealing. In this way, many religious leaders steal words from one another. The false prophets Jer 23:30 refers to did likewise, but regarding each others' false prophesies.

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