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For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 5:17-20; The Fulfillment of the Law (Cultural Commentary)

In the modern practice of the Christian faith, we often live as though the New Testament has abolished the Old Testament, and therefore the Old Testament can be ignored. That was not Jesus’ view.

“Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished,” he said, as recorded in Matthew 5:18. But what did that mean to his original hearers? Those listeners at the Sermon on the Mount would have known immediately that the “smallest letter” Jesus referred to here was the yod (sometimes translated as “jot”) in the Hebrew alphabet, and that its use was often optional in a text. Likewise, “the least stroke of a pen” (keraia in the Greek) referred to minor strokes a writer added to help the reader distinguish one letter from another.

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Both of these literary notations were considered generally insignificant. For Jesus to lift them up as examples emphasized his commitment to both the sovereignty and divine complexity of all of Scripture.

Jesus was not alone in this viewpoint, or in using this kind of example. Later rabbis taught a fable about Abraham’s wife to communicate that same message. As the legend goes, God removed the yod when he changed her name from Sarai to Sarah. The yod complained about this for centuries until God finally relented and added a yod into the name of Joshua.

The point of the yod in Matthew, however, was not that this “smallest letter” was so important, but that Jesus was determined to honor—and fulfill—even the most seemingly trivial inclusions in the Old Testament Scriptures. We would be wise to do the same.

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Works Cited:

[ID2, 820; BBC, 57-58]

 

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