Friday, May 25, 2012

NOT ONE JOT OR TITTLE?

Not One Jot or Tittle


Jesus says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

At the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by establishing that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. In the King James version of this same verse the phrase “one jot or one tittle” shall pass from the Law.

But, what did Jesus mean to communicate in this sentence? Did he mean, as some suggest, that the Old Covenant Law should be observed until the return of Christ? Or did Jesus intend to say something different?

We must first look at the context in which Jesus spoke these words. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking primarily to his disciples about the Kingdom of God that he has come to inaugurate. His Beatitudes establish a new set of values that stand in stark contrast to the values of this World. He lays out a set of expectations for his followers to go above and beyond the Old Covenant laws to embody a more radical expression of God’s love to the World.

So, when Jesus pauses at the beginning of his Sermon to say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”(v. 17), he is preparing them to hear what is about to come next. Namely statements that appear to contradict the Old Covenant Laws but in fact take them to another level. Statements like:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (v.21-22)

Additionally, we have to take into account the qualifier that Jesus adds at the end of his “jot and tittle” statement when he says “until everything is accomplished.”

Let’s first ask ourselves, “Has anything from the Old Covenant Law ceased or passed away?”

The answer, of course, is “Yes.” We don’t observe animal sacrifice any more. We don’t observe the Sabbath anymore. We don’t support a Levitical priesthood with our tithes any longer. We don’t keep Jewish festivals or feasts or observe holy days any longer. We don’t insist on circumcising male children on the 8th day. These are parts of the Law that have since passed away.

So, what’s up? Is Jesus wrong? Or maybe the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled? Let’s see what Paul says about this:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

The shadows were summed up in the Old Covenant dietary commands to avoid pork and shell fish, and to observe religious festivals, including the Sabbath day. But these all pointed us to the Messiah – the reality – who has already now come. Because he has come and because Jesus has fulfilled these shadows of the Old Covenant they are now obsolete and we are under a New Covenant. As it says it Hebrews:

“By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)


“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (Hebrews 8:6-7)


“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1)

So, while Jesus does affirm to his disciples that the Old Covenant Law and the word of the Prophets will not pass away, he clarifies that they will stand until they are fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled them. Now they are passing away.

This means we are no longer under the Old Covenant. I know that for some of you this isn’t big news. But for many, many people this is a very strange concept. I’m constantly running into people (mostly online) who continue to return to the Old Covenant scriptures to make a point about how a Christian should behave, or to quote Old Testament prophets to settle an argument about how we should interpret Jesus. This is bass-ackwards (as my father would say). We should never interpret Jesus or Paul or any of the New Covenant scriptures through the lens of the Old. Instead, we should always take the words of Jesus as authoritative and interpret the Old Covenant in light of the new revelation we have received through Christ.

To do any less is to put ourselves back into bondage to the Law. As Paul says, this is foolish:

“Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” (Colossians 2:18-19)


“These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:22-23)

Now that Jesus has come and now that he has fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets we are truly set free. God has written His laws upon our hearts. He has called us to be His people and for us to call Him our “Abba”.

We are no longer bound by those Old Covenant regulations and laws. We are children of God. We are co-heirs with Christ. We are Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

-kg

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Part 2

Also, If Matthew 5:17 is “proof’ that Jesus came to “fulfill” the law, in the sense of bringing it to an end, He then goes on to condemn, or at least diminish Himself. Verse 19 reads:

19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches [a]others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever [b]keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

It should be clear that He did not come to void the Torah of God. The religious leaders of the day were always accusing Jesus of teaching heresy. Jesus never teaches against Torah. He does teach against the “fences” that the religious leaders built around Torah. These fences were “add-ons” that the religious leaders implemented to make sure that they didn’t transgress. They were the “traditions of men’ and put a heavy burden on the people.

There is more that I could write in response to your post, but I’ll only make a couple more points. In the OT book of Jeremiah, the prophet tells of a day when the Lord would make a “new covenant” with His people. In chapter 31 describes it in this way:

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “ I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

What Law? As far as I know, there is only one. I submit that the “new” covenant is the Torah of God written in our hearts and that Jesus’ sacrifice empowers us to live it. We see in the example of the Jewish people that it is impossible to do it without the indwelling power of the Spirit. Jesus came and taught us how to LIVE. He was the Living Torah!

Finally, I find it interesting that you would post this on the eve of Shavuot (Pentecost). The fact that the disciples were all gathered in an upper room on this night is further indication that they did not understand Jesus to have taught that the law was null and void. The traditional observance of Shavuot includes staying up all night to pray and seek God. They were observing the feast of the Lord!

The modern non-Jewish church traces its roots back the Rome—the very Rome that systematically severed itself from any trace of Judaism. This Rome created a new religion that was not so much based on the truth as revealed in Scripture, as it was one that would benefit EMPIRE. We’ve GOT to see this as the body of Messiah, lest we degenerate into the same pool of error as did many of the religions Jews of the first century, who elevated a religion they could control (much of rabbinic Judaism), over the revealed faith of Scripture (Biblical Judaism). My great fear...and sad realization, is that we are already there and have been for centuries. Christianity is largely a religion of the traditions of men, as opposed to the faith proclaimed in Scripture. Many of our traditions and practices have no foundation in Biblical truth. Today’s Christianity would be wholly unrecognizable to Jesus.

radio copywriting said...

It was interesting to hear from your thoughts about the verse. But it's good to remember that these translations are from different people of different perspectives. It's difficult enough to establish one certain meaning behind his speech about the fulfillment of these laws. It's a complicated process to keep the correct way of translation considering the translations from the original language it was written from.

Keith Giles said...

Radio: Do you mean the words of Jesus, and Paul and the writer of Hebrews? So, we've simply misunderstood all of them and they all really don't mean what we think they mean? Interesting theory, but I don't think I agree.

Keith Giles said...

Anonymous: to fulfill means to complete, not to void.

Jesus fulfilled the promises and Scripture verifies this.

Anonymous said...

None of what I wrote above makes sense without the first part which, for some reason did not post. Here it is:


In light of the idea that “the Law” is no longer relevant, I thought that perhaps we needed something to help us understand our new found freedom from “the Law”. Perhaps they could be called “The 10 Liberties” and would read something like this:


1. You may now have other gods before me. You’ve always found Buddha oddly attractive. Go for it!!

2. It’s okay to make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; If you want, you can bow down to them and serve them. What do I care? I’m not the jealous type.

3. You can take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Go ahead. What in a name anyway?

4. Completely ignore the Sabbath day, no need to keep it holy. Engage in reckless debauchery. It’s just a day.

5. Why should you honor your father and your mother? They pissed you off when you were 10 anyway. Treat them like crap.

6. You can murder. Kill anyone who gets in the way. Go ahead and gun
them down. You’re not under the law!

7. You may commit adultery. Your spouse will just have to get over it.

8. Steal! If you like it, take it!

9. Lie and bear false witness against your neighbor. Maybe it will teach them to mow their lawn!

10. Covet your neighbor’s house, it’s bigger. Especially covet your neighbor’s wife, She’s really cute and has kept her figure. Covet all of your neighbor’s stuff and #8 gives you license to steal it if you want to.


It should be clear that these are ridiculous…as should be the idea that God voided His Law. The first problem lies in the fact that we translate that word “law”. It immediately conjures up thoughts of rules and regulations that, if broken, would really tick God off. The Biblical understanding of that word is not found in the Greek nomos, but in the Hebrew Torah. God’s Torah is not a list of rules and regulations but instruction in how to live in righteousness before God. .

What about Mt. 5:17? This verse is the perfect example of why it is so important to understand the Bible within its cultural and historical context. We read the Bible like Gentiles! The Bible is FULL of Hebraic idioms that we don’t understand, so we interpret them based on our mindset instead of the one in which they were taught. That’s what’s going on here. Regarding Matthew 5:17:

The common translation of this text is: “Do not think that I come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. However the rabbis used the expression “abolish” and “fulfill” to mean “taught the Scripture incorrectly” and “taught the Scripture incorrectly” hence the “translation’ herein correctly conveys their Hebrew idiom. [Ref: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Destiny Image Publishers, Revised Edition, 2001, pg 111-115]

“Destroy” (or abolish) and “fulfill” are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation. When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are destroying the Law!’ Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed. What was ‘destroying the Law” for one sage was “fulfilling the Law” (correctly interpreting Scripture) for another. [Ref: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Destiny Image Publishers, Revised Edition, 2001, pg 111-115]

If you are not inclined to believe Messrs. Bivin and Blizzard, even a cursory online search will reveal that this is a widely held interpretation of that passage. Search on Google for “to abolish or fulfill the Law Hebrew idiom” and you will find agreement amongst scholars from many different streams of Christendom. You can also look into Jewish writings of the time and find that this was a common form of rabbinic “argument’.

Anonymous said...

In response to your reply to Radio (who I am sure is capable of commenting for his/herself): YES! There are many, many instances where the church has misunderstood the words of Jesus and of Paul because they have ripped them out of cultural and historical context. It is difficult to get people to even consider this fact because, often we choose to elevate tradition over truth. We don't want to look and see if it is true because it confronts what we've always believed.

Keith Giles said...

Is the Old Covenant obsolete?

Keith Giles said...

Jesus "fulfilled" the law by accomplishing the reality of it in Himself.

In the same way a child is the shadow or promise of an adult, once the child becomes an adult it has "fulfilled" this promise. If you look at the person now, you can no longer see the child, but only the adult.

This is the same way that Jesus fulfilled the promise of the Old Covenant.

Those Scriptures pointed to Him.

I think some of these comments unfortunately either misunderstand in what way Jesus fulfilled those Old Covenant scriptures, and/or misunderstand what I'm saying in this article.

It's not a mystery in what way Jesus fulfilled and in what way the OT was a shadow if we read the plain text of Hebrews, Galatians, Romans, etc.