by Mike Ratliff
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 NASB)
Some have used the passage above to teach that Christians must still keep the whole Law, but a careful reading of the passage clearly shows that it is conditional. Did Jesus come to destroy the law or the prophets? No, He came to fulfill them. What does that mean? This speaks of fulfillment in the same sense that prophecy is fulfilled. Our Lord Jesus indicates the He fulfills the Law in all its aspects. He fulfills the moral law by keeping it perfectly. He fulfills the ceremonial law by being the embodiment of everything to which the Law’s types and symbols pointed. Our Lord fulfills the Judicial Law by personifying God’s perfect justice (Matthew 12:18, 20). In any case, the emphasis here is not that all who are true Christians must also perfectly keep the Law. Aren’t you glad? If you doubt that then read the book of Galatians carefully. Actually, our Lord is emphasizing His high view of Scripture and its authority as the inspired Word of God in this passage. Those who reject it as such are those whose righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees and they shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Think of the apostates who are walking into heresy even teaching and embracing heretical doctrines because they have rejected God’s Word as the authoritative, inspired Word of God.
Here is Matthew 5:18 from the NA28 Greek text and my translation:
18 ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν· ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. (Matthew 5:18 NA28)
18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter or one stroke may pass from the law until everything is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:18 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
We will concentrate on the two words translated as “letter” (ἰῶτα) or iota and “stroke” (κεραία) or keraia. The word ἰῶτα refers to the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The Lord Jesus is saying that not even the smallest letter of God’s Word will pass away until all of it is fulfilled. Even smaller though is the “stroke” or κεραία, which comes from the word κέρας or keras which was used to refer to the horn of an animal and the projections on altars. It was used in reference back to the Hebrew Alphabet to refer to the small lines or projections on Hebrew letters that would change the entire meaning of words.
Therefore, our Lord is saying that not only is every letter and every word important, but so is every little stroke of the pen. Not one stroke of the pen will “pass away,” that is, vanish or perish. There is nothing wrong with textual criticism of the Greek and Hebrew texts. That is what we are doing here on a very small scale. However, there is something called “higher criticism” that is the tool of liberal theologians to attack the Word of God in every way possible to deny its authority and inspiration. However, it is texts like Matthew 5:18 that are the final nail in their coffin.
I have listened to their arguments as they debate Biblically sound apologists. It is sad really. All of their argumentation is from philosophy while they accuse Christians who do hold to God’s Word as authoritative and inspired of using “circular reasoning” when they argue that the Bible speaks of itself as being inspired. They charge that those passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 were added later by some second-century successor to the apostles and merely reflect his view of the Scriptures; while these verses tell us that the inspiration of Scripture was the teaching of the early church, they still do not prove the reality of the claim.” That is their charge. However, this text we have at the top of this post is from our Lord Jesus Himself. It and many others show us without question that Jesus Christ Himself declared the inspiration of Scripture and the Apostles obediently taught what He had taught them.
Soli Deo Gloria!