“The words of Jeremiah” are not arranged in any chronological order. Moreover, there is no logical progression of thought running from the beginning to the end of this book. This lack of a proper order and arrangement is a real difficulty in our attempt to study the theology of Jeremiah. However, the book preserves a “form” with at least three clearly identifiable sections. The first section (1:1-25:13a) for the most part contains the oracles of Jeremiah, which he preached during the first twenty-three years of his ministry (25:1-3, 13; see also ch. 36, which gives the account of the writing of a scroll in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim). Obviously 21:1-10; 22:24-23:8; and 24 come from a later period. This section contains the prophet's condemnation of Judah's apostasy, warnings of Yahweh's judgment, and his call for repentance. A distinct group of oracles within chs. 11-20 is labeled “confessions” (11:18-12:4; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13, 14-18), because these sayings contain expressions of Jeremiah's emotional outbursts in the form of complaints, laments, and prayers.
The second section (chs. 30-33) contains the message of hope to both Judah and Israel; it is sometimes called “The Book of Consolation.” Chs. 30-31 are mostly in poetry with emphasis on the restoration of Israel to their own home land. Chs. 32-33 continue the same theme, mostly in prose, based on Jeremiah's purchase of a piece of land, which expressed his conviction of the future restoration of Israel's fortunes.
The third section (chs. 46-51) contains Jeremiah's oracles of judgment pronounced against foreign nations. These oracles are found in the Septuagint after 25:13a; hence the arrangement of the Septuagint after 25:13a is significantly different from that of the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text).
These three sections (1:1-25:13a; 30-33; 46-51) provide us with a basic form of the book. The remainder of the book (chs. 26-29 and 34-45) contains mostly biographical accounts; these are placed between the first and second and the second and third sections. The biographical accounts do not follow any chronological order (for a chronological arrangement of these chapters, see Bright's Jeremiah in the Anchor Bible). The biographical accounts are also strongly theological in character. Judah's political decisions are a proof of their unfaithfulness to God. Therefore, the nation is under judgment. Jeremiah's own actions, on the other hand, are a testimony to his faithfulness to Yahweh. Yahweh preserves his life in the midst of national disaster. This is Yahweh's faithfulness to him.
Scholars have observed three major literary types of materials in the book of Jeremiah, labeled as A, B, and C. “A” materials are for the most part the poetic oracles, which contain the first-person speeches of Yahweh. The biographical accounts make up the “B” materials. These accounts usually provide us with some chronological data. Jeremiah is addressed in these accounts in the third person, which leads us to believe that a biographer is responsible for compiling these materials. The third type (“C”) is Jeremiah's prose discourses which are scattered throughout the book and mingled with poetic oracles and biographical materials (e.g., 7:1-8:3; 11:1-17; 16:1-18; 18:1-12; 19:1-12; et al.). The style, language, and theology of these discourses closely resemble that of the book of Deuteronomy.
The existence of these three distinct literary types of materials has prompted scholars to raise questions about the authorship of the book. See discussions of this matter in other commentaries. The present writer follows the view that the book as a whole is a record of the ministry and teachings of Jeremiah. The poetic oracles and the prose sermons preserve Jeremiah's words. The biographical accounts come from a biographer (most likely Baruch). It is highly unlikely that those among whom the words of Jeremiah were circulated would have attempted to create a “Jeremianic theology” different from the basic theological convictions of the prophet. Though political conditions changed after Jeremiah uttered his words, one cannot be certain that Jeremiah's own words, or words about him, were revised, edited, or even reshaped to make them relevant to a late exilic or postexilic situation. The basic spiritual needs of God's people have remained the same throughout Judah's history. This view, however, does not dismiss the activities of later “editors” who were responsible for giving the book its present canonical form.
The process through which the book received its present canonical form is not known. It is likely that the various sections of Jeremiah were put together in the form of a “book” soon after the catastrophe of 587 b.c. Differences between the Hebrew and the Greek texts of Jeremiah (the latter is about one-eighth shorter than the former) point to the existence of two divergent lines of textual traditions. It is plausible, as recent studies have proposed, that the textual basis for the Greek translation was a shorter edition of the book. The expanded edition of the book is preserved in the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text). Though it is within the realm of conjecture, we may conclude that this later edition was also the work of the prophet, which he sent to the exiles in Babylon from his Egyptian home. Most likely these two text traditions existed side by side in the mid-sixth century b.c.