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Amplified: Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
KJV: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
NLT: "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Philips: "You must not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to complete them. (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: Do not begin to suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Wuest: Expanded Translation: Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: 'Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets -- I did not come to throw down, but to fulfill;
|DO NOT THINK THAT I CAME TO ABOLISH THE LAW OR THE PROPHETS; I DID NOT COME TO ABOLISH: Me nomisete (2PAAS) hoti elthon (AAI) katalusai (AAN) ton nomon e tous prophetas; ouk elthon (AAI) katalusai (AAN) (Luke 16:17; John 8:5; Acts 6:13; 18:13; 21:28; Romans 3:31; Ro 10:4; Galatians 3:17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24)
Charles Simeon - To have just sentiments on religion is a matter of incalculable importance. Whilst we are mistaken respecting any fundamental truths, we not only lose the benefit and comfort of those truths, but are in danger of rejecting them when proposed to our consideration, and enlisting ourselves amongst the avowed enemies of the Gospel. The Jews were almost universally expecting a temporal Messiah. Hence, when our blessed Lord appeared in such mean circumstances, and inculcated doctrines so opposite to their carnal expectations, the people thought either that he was an impostor who deceived them, or that he was come to subvert and destroy all that had been delivered to them by their forefathers. Our blessed Lord anticipated and obviated their objections: “Think not,” says he, “that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Read the entire sermon - Matthew 5:17-18 The Law and the Prophets Confirmed by Christ)
Think (3543) (nomizo from nomos = law, custom) means to suppose, assume, regard or acknowledge as custom.
The way this is phrased indicates that Jesus must have sensed that some of the audience thought he was advocating an overthrow of the Old Testament Law. On the other hand, considering the heavy burden that had been placed upon them by the Pharisees, they may have been hoping that Jesus would abolish the Law and the rigid requirements that the Pharisees had established in order for one to be righteous. In this context, the King gives His unforgettable disclaimer, which sets down for all time His relationship to the Law. It is interesting that Jesus had yet to mention the word "Law" in his discourse.
A B Bruce: These words betray a consciousness that there was that in His teaching and bearing which might create such an impression, and are a protest against taking a surface impression for the truth. (Matthew 5 Commentary)
In Mt 5:21-48 Jesus focuses attention on the Law and clearly shows that the external keeping of the Law is not enough. There has to be a corresponding internal or heart change (one OT term was circumcision of the heart, cp Dt 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4, Ro 2:29-note). Some in His audience might feel as if He opposed to the Law, since His interpretation was not the same that they had heard from the Pharisees. And so for several reasons, Jesus explains He would not abolish but fulfill the Law.
Spurgeon - The life, work, and words of Christ are not an emendation of the Old Testament, or an abrogation of it. It stands fast and firm, fulfilled, carried to perfection, filled to the full in Christ.
Stephen was accused of speaking against the Law, Luke recording that
Paul was accused of opposing the Law…
And again Paul was falsely accused of opposing the Law…
In Romans 3 Paul affirms Jesus' declaration asking…
In Romans 10 Paul explains the relationship of Christ to the Law writing that…
Abolish (2647) (kataluo from kata = down + luo = loose, untie; release, set free) means to set aside, to destroy, pull down, to break up, to loosen down (disintegrate), to demolish. The idea is to abrogate (to abolish by authoritative action) or set aside in the exercise of legislative authority. To the religious Jew even the thought of such a thing would be a profanity.
Kataluo - 17x in 16v - Matt 5:17; 24:2; 26:61; 27:40; Mark 13:2; 14:58; 15:29; Luke 9:12; 19:7; 21:6; Acts 5:38f; 6:14; Rom 14:20; 2 Cor 5:1; Gal 2:18. NAS = abolish(2), destroy(5), destroyed(1), find lodging(1), guest(1), overthrow(1), overthrown(1), tear down(1), torn down(4).
A B Bruce - A Greater than the OT, than Moses and the prophets, is here. But the Greater is full of reverence for the institutions and sacred books of His people. He is not come to disannul either the law or the prophets. (Matthew 5 Commentary)
The Law or the Prophets - Note that Law and prophets is connected by "or" not "and". The point is that Jesus is not signifying the entire Old Testament. (see all NT uses - click), but as distinct parts. Jesus indeed had come to fulfill both parts, the Law (He kept it perfectly and took it's penalty of death for breaking it) and the Prophets (He fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies), but since His great conflict with the Pharisees was over the Law, He focused His remarks on that aspect of the OT teaching.
Law (3551) (nomos, torah in Hebrew) is related etymologically to something parceled out, allotted, what one has in use and possession; hence, usage, custom). Generally, "the Law" refers to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT. More generally however, the law can mean a wide variety of things – a commandment, a principle, an instruction, etc. The meaning of the law, therefore, is best determined by examining its use in context.
Calvin wrote that did not abolish the Law but "He only restored it [the Law] to its integrity by maintaining and purifying it when obscured by the falsehood, and defiled by the leaven of the Pharisees.
Albert Barnes - Our Saviour was just entering on his work. It was important for him to state what he came to do. By his setting up to be a teacher in opposition to the Scribes and Pharisees, some might charge him with an intention to destroy their law, and abolish the customs of the nation. (Matthew 5)
Sinclair Ferguson makes an interesting observation that "By this point in His sermon, Jesus has made it very clear what belonging to the kingdom of God means. What he has said is startling enough. But in some ways, what he has not said is even more startling. He has said nothing about the law and the importance of keeping it. He has said nothing about the traditional interpretations of the law, and the importance of observing them. No statement has issued from his lips encouraging reverence for the scribes and the Pharisees. Did this mean that Jesus was overthrowing the law? He certainly was teaching that the way of salvation and entry into God's kingdom was not by merit gained through obedience to the law. Rather than feeling that they had achieved merit, Jesus' followers were poor in spirit, mourned for their sins, and received comfort and the kingdom of God. To the listening scribes and Pharisees, this must have sounded for all the world like the abolition of religion and of everything they stood for. So far, Jesus had said people could enter God's kingdom by God's grace; he had made not one single mention of the law! (Ferguson, Sinclair: Sermon on the Mount :Banner of Truth)
Prophets (4396) (prophetes from pró = before or forth + phemí = tell) means to speak forth or speak before (in time). In the NT uses, prophetes referred usually to a person in the OT who spoke under divine influence and inspiration thus foretelling future events or exhorting, reproving, and threatening of individuals or nations as the ambassador of God and the interpreter of His will to men. Hence the prophet spoke not his own thoughts but what he received from God, retaining, however, his own consciousness and self–possession.
Note that the Old Testament Law can be thought of in three divisions (although in fairness it needs to be stated that not all conservative evangelical commentaries agree with these subdivisions):
1) Moral Law - as in the 10 Commandments (only the keeping of the Sabbath is not commanded in the NT)
2) Ceremonial Law - as seen in the shadows and types in the Tabernacle, the Jewish sacrificial system, the Feast days
3) Civil Law - the judicial laws that governed the nation of Israel in the OT - e.g., the cities of refuge, stoning for certain offenses, etc
Jesus fulfilled all of these aspects of the Law. In the NT, only the moral law remains applicable to the believer. The ceremonial and civil law are not abolished but as Jesus stated "fulfilled" in Him. And yet many Christians remain confused and uncertain about significance of the Law even after sitting in church for years. They have no firm grasp of what role the Law plays in their lives today. So that will be the thrust of this lesson. (Click for more commentary on "Law and Believer")
In regard to the moral aspect of the Law, the Holman NT Commentary writes that…
Two pivotal passages (Jeremiah 31:31, 32, 33, 34; Ezekiel 36:26, 27) explain how, under the New Covenant, the same law (the very character of God) is not to be an external standard, but its values are to become an intrinsic part of newly recreated people. In a way, Jesus was teaching something that was not yet completely possible for people to follow. It is good to say, "People should move from external obedience to an obedience motivated by the law written upon the heart." But this is an impossibility until the heart is transformed and the very person of God himself, along with his righteous character as expressed in the law, comes to abide in one's heart. What Jesus taught would become a reality in the lives of God's people after his death sealed the new covenant and made possible the promised internal transformation. (Weber, Stuart, Max E. Anders, Ed: Holman New Testament Commentary: Matthew)
John Newton the converted slave trader wrote that "Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most of our religious mistakes."
Is this statement by Newton all too true? How many Christians are still confused and uncertain about the law even after sitting in church all their life. They have no solid concept of what role the law plays in their lives today.
Not (3756) (ou) indicates Jesus' absolute denial ("absolutely no way") that He had come to do away with the Law and the Prophets (OT).
Spurgeon comments that…
BUT TO FULFILL: alla plerosai. (AAN) (M 3:15; Psalms 40:6, 7, 8; Isaiah 42:21; Romans 8:4; Galatians 4:4,5; Colossians 2:16,17; Hebrews 10:3-12)
But to fulfill - Jesus came not as an Abrogator but as a Fulfiller of the Law. He fulfills the Law by realizing in theory and practice the ideal to which the OT Law and institutions all pointed. He was the Substance and very Form of which the Law was only a pale or weak shadow (Col 2:17-note), Heb 10:1-note).
Fulfill (4137) (pleroo [word study] from pleres = full) be completely filled indicating a completed state. It means to fill out or to expand. Here pleroo means to make complete in every particular. To complete the design. To fill up what was predicted. To accomplish what was intended in the Old Testament.
Pleroo - 86x in 86v in the NAS - Matt 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35, 48; 21:4; 23:32; 26:54, 56; 27:9; Mark 1:15; 14:49; Luke 1:20; 2:40; 3:5; 4:21; 7:1; 9:31; 21:24; 22:16; 24:44; John 3:29; 7:8; 12:3, 38; 13:18; 15:11, 25; 16:6, 24; 17:12f; 18:9, 32; 19:24, 36; Acts 1:16; 2:2, 28; 3:18; 5:3, 28; 7:23, 30; 9:23; 12:25; 13:25, 27, 52; 14:26; 19:21; 24:27; Rom 1:29; 8:4; 13:8; 15:13f, 19; 2 Cor 7:4; 10:6; Gal 5:14; Eph 1:23; 3:19; 4:10; 5:18; Phil 1:11; 2:2; 4:18f; Col 1:9, 25; 2:10; 4:17; 2 Thess 1:11; 2 Tim 1:4; Jas 2:23; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:12; Rev 3:2; 6:11
J C Ryle wrote that…
M De Haan wrote that "Jesus did not DESTROY the law, but He fulfilled it. When He arose, He proved that He had paid the death penalty of that Law. The Law has not failed—but man failed under the Law. The Law is still as perfect as ever, still as “just” as ever, and will condemn the sinner. The only hope lies in abandoning all hope of saving one’s self, and casting one’s self on the Grace of God, and God alone. We repeat, Jesus did not destroy the Law. It remains and ever will remain, the perfect demand of a righteous God for all who would save themselves. Since the sinner cannot keep it, the Law condemns him. But Christ fulfilled all its demands, and so while the Law is not dead, the believer is dead to the Law, and alive unto God. (Studies in Galatians)
John Phillips - "The Jews counted 613 separate edicts in the Mosaic law and there never was a single moment when the Lord Jesus did not absolutely fulfill in every detail every commandment. As a baby and as a boy, as a teenager and in the prime of life, at home, at school, at work, at play, as a son and as a brother, as a neighbor and as a friend, as a village carpenter, as an itinerant preacher, in secret and in public, when surrounded by family and friends and when confronted by formidable foes—at all times, in all places, in all ways, He kept the law of God. He kept it in letter and in spirit. He kept the law in its injunctions and in its intentions. He kept it because it was His nature to keep it. He would never dream of not keeping it. It was His Father's will and Jesus always did those things that please the Father (see John 8:29). (Phillips, John: Exploring Matthew: An Expository Commentary)
Jesus was the "full flavor" and "full ear" to use Ryle's terms. As Mt 5:21-48 clearly shows Jesus intention was not to abolish but to explain fully the original intent of the Law, which the Jews had sadly managed to miss for some 14 centuries (the Old Covenant having been given to Israel at Mt Sinai about 1440BC). The religious leaders such as the Pharisees thought the Law was not sufficient and so added many oral traditions. (or tradition -- Mt 15:2, 3, 6; Mk 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13; 1Co 11:2; Gal 1:14; Col 2:8; 2Th 2:15; 3:6) As an aside, although the majority of Israel failed attain God's perfect righteousness (i.e., most of Israel in the OT was not saved as we use the term today - cp Ro 2:27, 28, 29-note), not all misunderstood and misused the Law, for God had always preserved a righteous remnant in every generation. And so here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had no desire to annul any of the Law nor to add to it.
As David explained in Psalm 19:7 "the Law of the LORD is perfect" (Spurgeon's note) or complete in all its parts and in need of nothing to be added to make it more complete (cp Ro 7:12-note). Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:1, 14), the very personification of the living and active word, came to clarify its true meaning, the meaning God had originally intended.
Spurgeon in his sermon The Perpetuity of the Law expounds 3 ways that Christ fulfilled the Law…
How did Christ fulfill the Law and the Prophets? (1) Fulfilled all the OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, (2) kept the Law perfectly without one committing one sin (3) was the substance of the OT shadows in the ceremonial Law including the Tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the feasts, special days, etc.
Jesus perfectly fulfilled the over 300
Old Testament Messianic Prophecies
See related study on Messianic Prophecy
Matthew records for example that…
Since the "Law or the Prophets" refers to the entire OT, in one sense, the entire OT had a prophetic function that was fulfilled in Christ.
Some of that function was clearly predictive prophecy (e.g. Micah 5:2 Jesus' birthplace, etc) Other parts of the OT are not as clearly predictive but can nevertheless be seen to have been fulfilled in the Messiah as for example in Matthew 2:15 recorded above. In that passage Matthew quotes from Hosea 11:1, but if one were reading that OT passage without knowledge of Matthew's quotation, it would be difficult to state that it was a clear prophecy of the Messiah.
Paul summarizes Jesus' fulfillment of all the promises of God including the Messianic prophecies writing…
Sinclair Ferguson explains that…
Isaiah records that…
Paul writes that God…
The writer of Hebrews concurs that…
Peter writes that believers
His sacrificial death fulfilled the demands of the Law for perfect obedience (cf Heb 10:1-10). In so doing Jesus demonstrated the holiness of God's Law by bearing the penalty of breaking the Law. He took upon Himself the curse we deserved (Gal 3:13, cf 2Cor 5:21). When He cried out ""ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Mt 27:46) in the darkness of that terrible day we see the depth of the penalty for the breaking God's Holy Law. But in so doing Jesus once and for all condemned Sin in the flesh so that the Holy requirement of the Law could now be fulfilled in us who walk according to the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:3, 4-see notes Ro 8:3; 8:4).
The ceremonial law embodied in the teaching on the Tabernacle (see the second column under "Old Covenant" for study of Shadows of Messiah in the Tabernacle ), the sacrificial system, the Jewish feasts in some way all were shadows (Co 2:17-note, Heb 8:5, 9:9, 23, 10:1- see notes Hebrews 8:5, 9:9, 9:23, 10:1) which were fulfilled in the substance of Christ and His once for all sacrifice.
Jesus in fact is the consummation of the 3 major Biblical covenants as schematically depicted in the table below…
Paul speaks of this fulfillment in Romans recording that…
Kent Hughes has novel explanation for what the OT sacrifices should have been for the Jews writing that…
Carl Henry writes that…
Although we have alluded to this earlier, you may still be asking "What about the ceremonial laws, such as the burnt offerings, the sacrifices, the dietary restrictions, keeping of feasts, new moon festivals and days"? Didn't Jesus abolish them? The answer of course is no. He did not abolish them but He was the ultimate fulfillment of them. For example in Colossians Paul explains..
The Law of Moses is but a shadow pointing to Christ. The ceremonial aspects of the Law were abolished because their ultimate purpose was to foreshadow the once for all sacrifice that Christ Himself would make. The writer of Hebrews explains that…
Since Christ has made the perfect sacrifice for sin, once for all time, there is no further need for OT sacrifices and thus the ceremonial aspect of the Law is no longer binding.
Jesus for example was constantly accused of being a Sabbath breaker and therefore a lawbreaker, not a law keeper (or law fulfiller). It is interesting that even the Jewish rabbis realized how much they were adding to the straightforward teaching of the OT about the Sabbath. As one of them wrote
Jesus did away with the need for the religious leader's "mountains" of legalistic detail by perfectly fulfilling every requirement and every detail. This truth however was not understood immediately and so even the early church only gradually came to see that Jesus had abolished the ritual teaching of the Old Testament on 'clean' and 'unclean' animals and food. (cf Acts 11:4-10, Mk 7:19, Ro 14:14-note).
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary has an excellent summary of the meaning of the Sabbath to Christians today (and in the future) writing that…
Amplified: For truly I tell you, until the sky and earth pass away and perish, not one smallest letter nor one little hook [identifying certain Hebrew letters] will pass from the Law until all things [it foreshadows] are accomplished. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
KJV: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
NLT: I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Philips: Indeed, I assure you that, while Heaven and earth last, the Law will not lose a single dot or comma until its purpose is complete. (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: For assuredly I am saying to you, until the heaven and the earth pass away, not one smallest letter nor smallest letter-marking shall pass away from the law until all comes to pass. . (Wuest: Expanded Translation: Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: for, verily I say to you, till that the heaven and the earth may pass away, one iota or one tittle may not pass away from the law, till that all may come to pass.
|FOR TRULY I SAY TO YOU, UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, NOT THE SMALLEST LETTER OR STROKE SHALL PASS AWAY FROM THE LAW, UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED. (Mt 5:26; 6:2,16; 8:10; 10:15,23,42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18:3,18; 19:23,28; 21:21,31; 23:36; 24:2,34,47; 25:12,40,45; 26:13,14; Mark 3:28; 6:11; 8:12; 9:1,41; 10:15,29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9; Mk 14:18,25,30; Luke 4:24; 11:51; 12:37; 13:35; 18:17,29; 21:32; 23:43; John 1:51; 3:3,5,11; 5:19,24,25; 6:26,32,47,53; 8:34,51,58; 10:1,7; John 12:24; 13:16,20,21,38; 14:12; 16:20,23; 21:18) (Mt 24:35; Ps 102:26; Isaiah 51:6; Luke 16:17; 21:33; Hebrews 1:11,12; 2Peter 3:10-13; Rev 20:11) (Psalms 119:89,90,152; Isaiah 40:8; 1Peter 1:25)
Expositor's Greek Testament - Jesus expresses here in the strongest manner His conviction that the whole OT is a Divine revelation, and that therefore every minute precept has religious significance which must be recognized in the ideal fulfillment… Christ though totally opposed to the spirit of the scribes, would not allow them to have a monopoly of zeal for the commandments great and small. (Matthew 5 Commentary)
Truly (281) (amen from aman = be firm, steady) was a term of strong, intense affirmation and means firm, trustworthy, surely. Amen acknowledges that which is valid and binding. The OT often used "Amen" at the end of a sentence to confirm the preceding words and invoke their fulfillment.
Only the Lord Jesus uses "Amen" at the beginning of a sentence and when He began by saying in essence "I tell you the truth" it was time to be quiet and listen for this is a weighty statement that you need to hear.. "Amen" thus guarantees the truth of His saying and affirms His authority. In the present context Jesus uses "Amen" to confirm the special importance of what He was about to say. Jesus was saying, “I say this to you absolutely, without qualification and with the fullest authority.”
Amen - 129x in 103v - Matt 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18:3, 13, 18f; 19:23, 28; 21:21, 31; 23:36; 24:2, 34, 47; 25:12, 40, 45; 26:13, 21, 34; Mark 3:28; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30; 16:8; Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43; John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24f; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20f, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18; Rom 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 15:33; 16:27; 1 Cor 14:16; 2 Cor 1:20; Gal 1:5; 6:18; Eph 3:21; Phil 4:20; 1 Thess 3:13; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 13:21; 1 Pet 4:11; 5:11; 2 Pet 3:18; Jude 1:25; Rev 1:6f; 3:14; 5:14; 7:12; 19:4; 22:20. The NAS renders amen as - Amen(31), truly(99).
Hughes makes an interesting observation…
Heaven (3772) (ouranos) in the physical sense is the over-arching, all-embracing heaven beneath which is the earth and all that is therein. It is in a spiritual sense, the abode of God.
In this context Jesus is referring to the end of the history of this present world. Peter wrote that…
Jesus is saying that the Law and the Prophets, God's Word, would outlast the universe which as Peter teaches will one day cease to exist.
Not the smallest letter or stroke -
Not is a double negative (ou = absolute negation) plus (me = relative negation)
Christ did not require less than the Law but demanded all the Law required.
Spurgeon comments that "No cross of a “t” and no dot of an “I” shall be taken from God’s law. Its requirements will always be the same; immutably fixed, and never to be abated by so little as “one jot or one tittle.”
Letter (KJV = jot) (2503) (iota) is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet and is used as an equivalent. Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet and is used to express smallness or the minutest part of something.
Here iota is used for the jot or yod (yodh) which is the tenth and smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet and which looks like an apostrophe ('). There are approximately 66,420 yods in the Old Testament! Jesus believed in the literal inspiration of the Bible, even in what might seem small unimportant details. Nothing in Scripture, even the smallest stroke, is without significance. Not only the words, but even the letters are divinely inspired.
Vincent - Jot is for jod (or yod), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Tittle is the little bend or point which serves to distinguish certain Hebrew letters of similar appearance. Jewish tradition mentions the letter jod as being irremovable; adding that, if all men in the world were gathered to abolish the least letter in the law, they would not succeed. The guilt of changing those little hooks which distinguish between certain Hebrew letters is declared to be so great that, if such a thing were done, the world would be destroyed. (Matthew 5 Greek Word Studies)
Stroke (KJV = tittle) (2762) (keraia from kéras = a horn) means something horn-like and is specifically the apex, point or extremity of a Hebrew letter, these small marks helping to distinguish one Hebrew letter from another.
Keraia was a small extension of a letter similar to a serif (any of the short lines stemming from and at an angle to the upper and lower ends of the strokes of a letter) in modern typefaces. The analogy is the small stroke at the bottom of an R which serves to distinguish it from a P. In the KJV keraia is translated "tittle". Not one of the innumerable little "serifs" will pass from the Law (which includes the Law and the Prophets) The Lord's point is that every letter of every word of the OT is vital and will be fulfilled. The Jewish teachers (rabbis) had emphasized the importance of retaining every slight stroke and the smallest letter in the written Law of Moses. Jesus made it clear that He completely concurred with the rabbis’ respect for the Law. Not even the smallest dot over an “i” would disappear until the Law was fulfilled.
A T Robertson writes that…
“Tittle” is from the Latin titulus which came to mean the stroke above an abbreviated word, then any small mark. It is not certain here whether kerea means a little horn, the mere point which distinguishes some Hebrew letters from others or the “hook” letter Vav. Sometimes yod] and vav were hardly distinguishable.
“In Vay. R. 19 the guilt of altering one of them is pronounced so great that if it were done the world would be destroyed” (McNeile).
There is one other use of keraia in Scripture…
Luke 16:17 "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter (keraia) of the Law to fail.
Smallest letter in KJV is "jot" which ISBE describes as follows…
Jot (Revised Version, later editions of the King James Version) is a corruption of iote (early editions of the King James Version, Geneva, Rheims, Bishops'--pronounced i-o'te), an English transliteration of iota, the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet (Matthew 5:18 parallel). "Iota," in turn, is the nearest Greek equivalent for the Hebrew yodh ("y"), the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in New Testament times being little larger than an English accent ('). The tittle ("stroke" in NAS) is the smallest part of a letter (not part of a y, however). Consequently, thinking of the law as written out, the sense of Matthew 5:17, is: "From this code, so written, not the smallest letter nor part of a letter--not an `i' nor the crossing of a `t'--shall be erased until all things come to pass." The reference is to the synagogue rolls, which were written in Hebrew, so that the passage has no bearing on the language used by Christ. (Orr, J, et al: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1915)
Stroke in the KJV is "tittle" which ISBE describes as follows…
A small stroke or mark, specifically on a letter to denote accent, or as a diacritical mark; used only in Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:17. In the first passage it is used in connection with iota, or jot, i.e. the very smallest thing, and in both it refers to the minutiae of the Law. It is well known that the scribes paid the greatest attention to such marks attached to the letters in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Massoretic Text of which abounds in them. (Orr, J, et al: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: 1915)
Albert Barnes comments regarding a "stroke" (tittle) that…
In short Jesus is teaching not only that all Scripture is inspired but that it is immutable. He is not just saying that the Old Testament "contains truth" (as some say) but that the Scripture "is truth" and it will not change. Jesus referred to the Old Testament some 64 times, and always as authoritative truth. In the course of defending His Messiahship and divinity before the unbelieving Jewish leaders in the Temple, He said that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35) (See related study on the Authority of God's Word)
John MacArthur explains that…
Luke records a similar declaration by Jesus…
It is also important to note that the NT the phrase "it is written" (60x in the NAS - Matt 4:4, 6f, 10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:24, 31; Mark 1:2; 7:6; 9:12f; 11:17; 14:21, 27; Luke 2:23; 3:4; 4:4, 8, 10; 7:27; 10:26; 19:46; 24:46; John 6:31, 45; 8:17; 12:14; Acts 1:20; 7:42; 13:33; 15:15; 23:5; Rom 1:17; 2:24; 3:4, 10; 4:17; 8:36; 9:13, 33; 10:15; 11:8, 26; 12:19; 14:11; 15:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor 1:19, 31; 2:9; 3:19; 9:9f; 10:7; 14:21; 15:45; 2 Cor 8:15; 9:9; Gal 3:10, 13; 4:22, 27; Heb 10:7; 1 Pet 1:16; 5:12; 1 John 2:21; Rev 1:3) some 60 times in the NAS - click) is virtually always in the Greek perfect tense which speaks of permanence. The idea is that "it was written at a specific time in the past and is written now and always will remain written."
Jesus equates His own words with the Scriptures and declares they are more enduring than the creation…
Kent Hughes explains that
Law (3551) (nomos, torah in Hebrew) is related etymologically to something parceled out, allotted, what one has in use and possession; hence, usage, custom). Generally, "the Law" refers to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT. More generally however, the law can mean a wide variety of things – a commandment, a principle, an instruction, etc. The meaning of the law, therefore, is best determined by examining its use in context.
Accomplished (1096) (ginomai) in this context conveys the meaning of becoming or taking place.
Arthur Pink comments that
In Exodus 20 (see Ex 20:1-2, 3-4, 5, 6, 7-9, 10, 11, 12, 13-16, 17, 18) we find the "Ten Commandments" which embody the essence of God's Law. For simplicity one can divide the OT Law into the following 3 categories (although in fairness it should be noted some commentators recognize only a moral and ceremonial division)…
The moral law is still in force for believers but as explained below is now written on our hearts and is to be obeyed in the power of the Spirit and under grace (not "under law").
The ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ, Who was the substance of all the OT shadows (see Col 2:16, 17-note, Heb 10:1-note). As we see especially in the book of Hebrews, all of the types and shadows pointed to and are fulfilled in Christ. E.g., Jesus Lamb the Father provided for the sacrifice, so there is now no need for a better or fuller sacrifice for sin. In short, the ceremonial law vanishes with the coming of the One it was designed to foreshadow.
The civil law specific to Israel is no longer relevant to the NT believer. And yet so many NT believers today remain confused about their relationship to the OT Law and issue addressed in this "excursus".
Why did God speak to Israel from the mountain ( the "Ten Commandments") in Exodus 20:20?
Clearly God gave the Law to His chosen people that they might not sin. For Israel, the fear of the Lord and the commands of the Lord truly were vital as a beginning to obedience (cp relationship of holy fear and obedience - Job 1:1, 28:28, Neh 5:5, Ps 34:11, 12, 13, 14-note, Pr 8:13, 14:27, 18:6, Eccl 12:13, 14, Acts 5:11, 9:31, 2Co 7:1-note, 1Pe 1:17-note). Someone has suggested that we might visualize the Ten Commandments in terms of protection: protection of health in man’s relationship with God, and the protection of health in man’s relationship with other men. Notice that God clearly does not state that He gave the Law that they might be saved but in order to show Israel their sinfulness.
Commenting on Exodus 20:20 J Vernon McGee writes…
How does David describe the Law?
Thus the Law is without flaw and has perfect integrity, and is capable of restoring, reviving, converting and refreshing. The Law can result in the conversion of the sinner (see below) and can restore the saint when he wanders.
Paul writes explains the purpose and character of the Law…
Dwight Pentecost explains the "holiness" of the Law noting that…
Ray Stedman has a nice illustration of the power of the Law to awaken the sleeping giant called "The Sin" within every man writing…
Paul explains the purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25…
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
In summary the purpose of the Law includes the following...
1). Law reveals sin for what it was… until the Seed (Christ) should come (Gal 3:19). "Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Ro 3:17-note, cp Ro 7:7, 8, 9-note - Though the law is not itself sinful [Ro 7:12-note], it arouses sin in me.)
Matthew Henry - There is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin, which is necessary to repentance, and therefore to peace and pardon, but by trying our hearts and lives by the law.
2). Law shuts up (shut in on all sides, describes fish caught in a net) all men under sin… (until they enter) "by faith (into) Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:22)
3). Law keep men in custody (military term for soldier on guard, the Law keeps unbelievers under protective custody - they cannot escape) under the Law (Gal 3:23) "until we could put our faith in the coming Savior" (NLT)
4). Law serves as a tutor (the "pedagogue" had the responsibility of taking a child to the schoolmaster in the morning and leaving him there) to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24) "until Christ came" (NLT)
Related Resource: See summary of Purpose of the Law
Martin Luther explains how the law can drive one to the depths of despair so that all that they can do is cast themselves upon God's grace…
Earlier in Galatians Paul had explained the relationship of the Law and justification (being declared righteous) writing…
Note the repetition of the phrase "works of the Law". Clearly the Law was never given to man that he might achieve justification before God by keeping the Law. James makes this impossibility clear recording that…
And the penalty for stumbling, even if only on just one point of the Law, is stated by Paul who writes that…
Paul went on to record the solution for the curse all men were under writing that…
In Galatians 2:16 Paul had explained that we are justified or declared righteous by faith in Christ Jesus and not by keeping the Law. The problem that existed at the time Jesus presented His Sermon on the Mount was that the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees had devised a legal system that consisted of manmade additions and perversions of God's original "holy and righteous and good" Law. The legal system of the Pharisees was designed to circumvent the requirements of the holiness of God and the demands of His Law as He intended it to be kept - from the heart and not based on external observances. And so the Pharisees had categorized the Old Covenant into 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments. They taught that if men kept all 613 laws, they would be righteous and thus acceptable in the sight of God.
So if no one could keep the Law and be made righteous, how would a sinner become righteous before a holy God? Paul alluded to this in Galatians 2:16, but further explained it in Romans 8 writing that…
There it is - sinners "fulfill" the requirement of the Law by placing their faith in the One who fulfilled all "the Law and the Prophets" (Mt 5:17). Who are these people? Paul explains here in Ro 8:4-note that they are those who habitually conduct their lives according to the Holy Spirit and not those who walk continually according to the flesh. Obviously saved sinners still sin, but Paul's point is that this is not their lifestyle (cf Paul's explanation of why licentiousness can no longer be a genuine believer's lifestyle - Ro 6:1,2, 3, 4-see notes on Ro 6:1-3, 6:4)
The Pharisees should have been aware that God had prophesied about this glorious provision in the Old Testament. Their problem was the same as it is today in every unbeliever --.the heart of the problem is the problem with our heart as recorded by Jeremiah…
Jehovah through Jeremiah prophesied of the New Covenant declaring…
In Ezekiel God explained the "heart transplant" further, declaring…
Paul writes a perfect parallel to Ezekiel 36:27 in his letter to the Philippian saints…
In summary not only did God promise sinners who placed their faith in Christ a new heart but He also promised them His Spirit Who would ensure that the the saved sinner, now a saint, would be able to walk according to His statutes. His Spirit now indwells us and is not only our power to keep the Law but also our seal and pledge of future inheritance
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1Cor 6:19-note, 1Co 6:20-note)
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed (official mark of identification that placed on an important document usually made from hot wax and impressed with a signet ring which officially identified the document with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged. God owns the signet which sealed believers!) in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge ("earnest" = a down-payment guaranteeing full payment ~ God's Spirit is the down-payment giving us a foretaste and guarantee of the coming glory of heaven. In Greek today this word is used for an engagement ring!) of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ep 1:13, 14-notes)
Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant on the night He was betrayed…
And although the promise of a New Covenant was originally given to the Jews (cf Jeremiah 31:31), the covenant was extended to the Gentiles, who with the Jews were reconciled into one body (the church) through the Cross so that both Jews and Gentiles now have their access in one Spirit to the Father through the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus. (see Ep 2:11-22-note, especially Eph 2:14, 15-see notes Ep 2:14; 15). Writing to the predominantly Gentile church in Corinth Paul instructed them
THE RELATIONSHIP OF
Let's review. Where does this leave believers today in regard to the Law? Jesus fulfilled the Law and inaugurated the New Covenant in His blood. In this New Covenant, the Law has not been abolished for us as believers but is written on our hearts, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit -- "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it" (Jer 31:33, cp 2Co 3:5,6). Now when we as believers walk by the Spirit and not under the Law (Ro 7:6-note, Ro 8:4-note, Gal 5:16, 17, 18, 25-notes on Ga 5:16, 17, 18, 25), we will fulfill the desire of the Spirit and not the desire of the flesh. Enabled by the indwelling Spirit and amazing grace (cp 1Co 15:10, 2Co 12:9-note, 2Co 12:10-note), we now can carry out what the Law requires (Jas 1:25), motivated by reverential fear (cp 2Co 7:1-note, 1Pe 1:17-note), love for our heavenly Father and a desire to be pleasing to Him, not out of legalism or a cringing fear of condemnation. God's Law is no longer an external rule that we find burdensome (cf Mt 23:4, 23; Gal 5:18-note). Because God has given us a new heart committed to Him, we desire to please Him by obeying Him (2Cor 5:9). Whereas when we were still in Adam, before we were regenerated by grace through faith and placed into Christ, we struggled and fought against God's Holy Law, now we find that we have a heart to obey it and a desire to be holy as He is holy (1Pe 1:15, 16-notes; 16, Php 2:12, 13-see notes Php 2:12; 13 where God even gives us the "want to", the desire to obey - note our part in those verses) and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48-note), having obtained in Christ a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees. No, beloved, our obedience is not yet perfect, but the general tenor of our life is ever Godward toward our true home in the Kingdom of Heaven, for our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Php 2:12, 13-see notes Php 2:12; 13, cf Re 11:15-note).
Although we have alluded to this above, let us ask again what was the problem of the Scribes and Pharisees? They knew that the Law was good and spiritual and sought to keep it. Their problem was the same problem that all men had -- their hearts were "uncircumcised" (spiritually speaking). Ro 2:29 (see note) explains that a real Jew (one in the Kingdom of Heaven) is one who has experienced "circumcision… of the heart (the same thing Ezekiel called a "new heart" in Ezek 36:26), by the Spirit, not by the letter (Law)". The religious leaders of Jesus' day were futilely attempting to deal with their sinful hearts inherited from Adam (cf Ro 5:12-note) by living according to the letter of the Law. They were blind to the prophet Ezekiel's teaching that promised them a new heart. As explained above, the Law could not change the Scribes and Pharisees on the inside where they needed change. The problem was their flesh which refused to cooperate with God's holy Law. What was the solution? They desperately needed to see the poverty of their flesh (Mt 5:3-note) that they might enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Note that although keeping the law won't get one into heaven, those who are in the kingdom of heaven by grace are not free to live lawlessly. That is the fear of the legalist who says that if you take away the law as a means of earning merit, then there is no reason to keep it. They say believers will live as they please for the Law is no longer able to check their behavior (anti-nomian = against the law). Someone has composed a rhyme which echoes this fear…
Free from the law, O blessed condition!
I can sin as I please, And still have remission.
Clearly from Jesus' teaching in the Beatitudes this is not what He is saying. Christians are to be those not who live morally loose but who are continually poor in spirit depending on His Spirit, who mourn over their sins against a holy God, who continually hunger and thirst for righteousness and who are single mindedly living for God. Genuine citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven therefore can hardly be characterized as those who continue to live lawlessly or licentiously!
Paul anticipated a similar argument from the Romans and so rhetorically asked…
Sinclair Ferguson summarizes the relationship the Christian to the Law writing that…
In Christ, God's love was expressed and His law was satisfied.
Though freed from the law with its stern demands--
John MacArthur (in his highly recommended commentary on Matthew) gives an excellent summary of the believer's relationship to the Law…