How the Book of Joel was Preserved

Published on 04/23/16

The doctrine of preservation falls within the issue of authority. If God’s word has been imperfectly preserved to any degree, it is lacking that much in authority. Contrary to certain men’s opinions, the Bible does teach both the fact and means of its own preservation.

The entire ministry of the Old Testament (OT) prophet was based upon the authority of the word of God. The book of the prophet Joel opens with an introduction that functions as a summation of how the Hebrew Scriptures were preserved for subsequent generations. This section includes the fact of inspiration and the role and responsibility of the nation Israel in preservation.

“The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1). Joel opens with a phrase that occurs five other times in the OT (1). The phrase contextualizes the author’s respective book within the OT canon. All of the Tanak is the word of Jehovah; this book is the word of Jehovah which to Joel.

The phrase “the word of the LORD which came” employs two very common Hebrew words. The first is dabar, the noun which corresponds to the Greek logos and which signifies not an abstract idea or concept, but a word, expression, or matter. It first occurs in Genesis 11:1, where it is translated “speech.”

The second word is hayah, which is the Hebrew form of the “to be” verb. This book, then, is the word of Jehovah which was (given or come) to Joel. That Joel uses such a general word in referring to the inspiration of his book shows the miraculous nature of verbal, plenary inspiration, and how the process cannot be perfectly understood by the finite mind of man. Despite all the theories seeking to dissect how inspiration took place, the Bible believer must ultimately receive the fact of it by faith.

Joel, like all of the OT prophets, never seeks to prove the inspiration of his book to the reader. He simply declares his writing to be “the word of the LORD.”

“Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” (Joel 1:2). Joel begins his message with the imperative “hear this”. The demonstrative pronoun “this” ultimately refers to the entire book of Joel, which the prophet no doubt delivered as a series of sermons. The nation of Israel, beginning with the elders, was responsible to hear, that is, give ear, to the word of God. This would of course necessitate the declaring of the word by the prophet.

The phrase, “in your days, or even in the days of your fathers,” is a literary device Joel uses to draw his listeners’ attention back in history. Joel is challenging his listeners to recall the darkest day they have in their memories or have ever heard of, and to realize that it cannot compare to the day of the LORD which is to come.

“Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” (Joel 1:3). Joel follows up the first command to hear with a second command to tell. This is an intensive (2) imperative from sahfar, used in the sense of accurate recounting. From this Hebrew root comes the word “book”. (3) The prophet told the Jews to “book it.” Joel’s use of this verb was no doubt instruction to his listeners to write down his words to insure their accurate transmission to subsequent generations.

The word order is “of it to your children tell, and your children, and their children the generation after.” This is another expansive statement in Joel for literary purposes. Joel’s point is that the nation of Israel had the responsibility to hear his inspired words and to insure that the next generations would have these words. Quite simply, that is how we possess in our hands today the book of Joel, and by extension, the entire canon of the Hebrew Scriptures.

(1) Cf. Jeremiah 14:1, 47:1, 49:34, Hosea 1:1, and Micah 1:1

(2) This is the Piel stem, which signifies intensified action.

(3) The NT book of Matthew begins with the word “book.”

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