Matthew 5:18 MEANING

Matthew 5:18
(18) Verily.--The first occurrence in the Gospel of the word so common in our Lord's teaching seems the right place for dwelling on its meaning. It is the familiar Amen of the Church's worship--the word which had been used in the same way in that of the wilderness (Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15) and of the Temple (Psalm 41:13; Psalm 72:19, et al). Coming from the Hebrew root for "fixed, steadfast, true," it was used for solemn affirmation or solemn prayer. "So is it," or "so be it." For the most part, the Greek LXX. translates it; but in 1 Chronicles 16:36, and Nehemiah 5:13, it appears in its Hebrew form. From the worship of the synagogue it passed into that of the Christian Church, and by the time the Gospels were written had become so familiar that it was used without hesitation by all the Evangelists, sometimes singly, sometimes (uniformly in St. John) with the emphasis of reduplication.

Till heaven and earth pass.--The formula was probably one in common use by our Lord to express the unchangeableness of the divine word. It was afterwards used, we must remember, by our Lord, with even augmented force, in reference to His own words (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).

One jot or one tittle.--The "jot" is the Greek iota (0, the Hebrew yod ('), the smallest of all the letters of the alphabet. The "tittle" was one of the smaller strokes, or twists of other letters, such, e.g., as distinguished (D) from (R), or (K) from (B). Jewish Rabbis used to caution their scholars against so writing as to cause one letter to be mistaken for another, and to give examples of passages from the Law in which such a mistake would turn a divine truth into nonsense or blasphemy. The yod in its turn was equally important. It distinguished Joshua from Hoshea, Sarai from Sarah. The Jews had indeed a strange legend that its insertion in the former name was given as a compensation for its exclusion from the latter. The meaning is obvious enough," Nothing truly belonging to the Law, however seemingly trivial, shall drift away and be forgotten until it has done all that it was meant to do."

Till all be fulfilled.--Literally, Till all things have come to pass. The words in the English version suggest an identity with the "fulfil" of Matthew 5:17, which is not found in the Greek. The same formula is used in the Greek of Matthew 24:34. The "all things" in both cases are the great facts of our Lord's life, death, resurrection, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. So taken, we find that the words do not assert, as at first they seem to do, the perpetual obligation even of the details of the Law, but the limit up to which the obligation was to last; and they are therefore not inconsistent with the words which speak of the system of the Law as a whole as "decaying and waxing old, and ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). The two "untils" have each of them their significance. Each "jot" or "tittle "must first complete its work; then, and not till then, will it pass away.

Verse 18. - Cf. Luke 16:17, "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the Law to fail" (Revised Version). The words are so similar that the two evangelists probably record the same utterance, the difference in the form of the sentence pointing rather to an oral than a written common source. St. Luke places it in an attack on the Pharisees, who had scoffed at our Lord for his parable of the dishonest steward. Verily; ἀμήν (אמן, literally, "established," "sure"). It has hardly been sufficiently noticed by commentators that the New Testament usage of the word "Amen" often slightly differs from that found in the Old Testament. "Amen" in the Old Testament always involves the personal acceptance of the statement to which it refers ("so be it"), whether this be a statement upon oath (Numbers 5:22, perhaps), or a statement of penalties incurred under certain circumstances (Numbers 5:22, probably; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Nehemiah 5:13); or a statement expressing a pious hope uttered either by another (1 Kings 1:36; Jeremiah 28:6; Jeremiah 11:5 (?); cf. Nehemiah 8:6; cf. also 1 Corinthians 14:16); or by one's self (Psalm 41:13). Hence the LXX. either leaves it untranslated or, with but one exception, translates it by γένοιτο. In Hellenistic Greek, however, it became often used as little more than a mere asseveration ("verily"). The earliest trace of this usage is found in Jeremiah 28:6, where the LXX. renders אמןby ἀληθῶς (Aquila much better πιστθήτω, though generally elsewhere πεπιστωμένως), and it is frequent in the New Testament, cf. especially Luke 9:27, λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ἀληθῶς, with parallels, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν (cf. also Luke 12:44 with Matthew 24:47, and Luke 21:3 with Mark 12:43). Yet this usage of "Amen" in Hellenistic Greek does not seem to have ever spread into Hebrew or Aramaic. W. H. Lowe ('Fragm. Pesach.,' p. 70) says, and apparently truly, "The Jews never used 'amen in the sense of 'verily.' They say באמת, be'emeth', 'in truth,' הימנותא, hemanutha, 'Faith!' or אמנם, 'omnam, 'verily.'" If so, the fact is interesting, for it implies that, notwithstanding the usage of "Amen" in Greek, our Lord himself, as speaking Aramaic, probably did not use it in the mere sense of strong asseveration, but rather always with its connotation of his entire concurrence in the statement he was making. In his mouth, that is to say, it always emphasized the thought of his personal acceptance of the statement with its legitimate issue. Observe that it makes no difference (cf. Jeremiah 28:6) whether the "Amen" comes at the beginning or at the end of his utterance. N.B. - Ναί (Luke 11:51; cf. Matthew 23:36) may be taken as intermediate between ἀληθῶς and ἀμήν. Ἀληθῶς states a truth; ναί assents with the intellect; ἀμήν, in at least Hebrew and Aramaic usage, accepts it with all its consequences (cf 2 Corinthians 1:19, 20). Till heaven and earth pass; Revised Version, pass away (παρέλθῃ); and so in the next clause. The same almost archaic sense of "pass" recurs in Psalm 148:6, Authorized Version (Revised Version, "pass away"). Observe that our Lord does not say that the Law will then pass away. He says, not till then; i.e. he affirms, as in Luke 16:17, that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the Law. For, in fact, as being constantly fulfilled in its ideal and therefore permanent character, it must necessarily remain in the new world; cf. 1 Peter 1:25 (the everlasting duration of the word of the Lord); 1 Corinthians 13:13 (love); 2 Peter 3:13 (righteousness); cf. Meyer. The belief in the permanence of the Law which the Jews had (vide references in Meyer, and especially Weber, 'Altsynag. Theol.,' §§ 5, 84) here finds its true satisfaction. "The least element of holiness which the Law contains has more reality and durability than the whole visible universe" (Godet on Luke). Comp. also Mark 13:31, "My words shall not pass away" - a claim only seen in its full three when put beside these words about the Law. One jot. The permanence of even every yod (y, j), though the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is not infrequently referred to by Jewish writers (cf. e.g. in Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.;' Edersheim, 'Life,' 1.537). Observe:

(1) The mention of yod, evidently because of its small size, is one proof of the fact that the Hebrew characters in use in our Lord's time were much more similar to the usual form under which we know them (Quadrate schrift) than to the form found on the Moabite Stone (Phoenician), where the god is no smaller than other letters (vide Euting's very complete table of forms of the Hebrew alphabet in Chwolsen, 'Corp. Inscript. Hebr.,' 1882; vide pp. 404-415 of the same work for Chwolson's much-controverted theory of the gradual development of the Quadrat-sehrift, roughly from the time of Ezra till the eighth or ninth century A.D., out of old Aramaic forms slightly removed from Phoenician; and for the early history of the Hebrew alphabet generally, see the introduction to Driver's 'Samuel.'

(2) We may, perhaps, see in our Lord's reference to yod and a "tittle" an indication that even already scrupulous care was taken of the text. The objection to this, derived from the non-literal quotations in the New Testament is due to a misunderstanding of Jewish methods of quotation. Or one tittle. So Wickliffe and Tyndale downwards; "apparently a diminutive of tit, small" (Aid. Wright, 'Bible WordBook'); κεραία (κερέα, Westcott and Heft, vide Appendix, p. 151), probably "a horn," then anything projecting like a horn. Used by the early Greek grammarians, like apex by the Latin, to designate:

(1) A little projection in a letter, especially the top, the apex; Nicander, "the top and bottom are each called κεραία (κεραία λέγεται τὸ ἄκρον καὶ ἔσχατον; gloss, κεραία γράμματος ἄκρον); cf. Plutarch, "disputing about syllables and κεραιῶν (λογομαχεῖν περὶ συλλαβῶν καὶ κεραιῶν); " vide Wetstein.

(2) Accents. So Thayer's Grimm; cf. Sophocles' 'Lex.' (1870) s.v. κεραία, "Apex, a mark over a letter, as in 5 (Philon., 2:536. 27);" but Philo in this passage only refers to κεραίαν ἑκάστην, without defining it. This double use of the Greek word forbids absolute certainty as to what our Lord was referring to, especially as the Hebrew word (קוצ, literally, "thorn") of which κεραία is a translation has itself a double sense, viz.:

(1) The end of a letter, especially the "thorn-like" small upward stroke of yod. So most interpreters since Origen (in Wetstein), who says that the Hebrew letters eaph (כ) and beth (ב) differ only by a short κεραία. They also quote the well-known Jewish examples (e.g. in Wetstein) of the effect of negligence in writing similar letters; e.g. if one writes resh (ר) for daleth (ד), "one" (Deuteronomy 6:4) becomes "another;" if heth (ח) for he (ה), "praise" (Psalm 150.) becomes "profane." It must be noticed that the extremities of such Hebrew letters as we possess, which were actually written in our Lord's time on earth, are much more "thorn" "horn"-like than those of our printed texts. I cannot, however, find קוצ actually used in this sense of other letters than yod.

(2) Some distinguishing mark over a letter to indicate care in writing and reading it, or to remind readers of some interpretation or rule attached as a peg to it or to the word of which it forms a part. It was much later, indeed, that such marks became very elaborate, but it is probable that the rudiments of them were known in our Lord's time (for such קוצים, cf. Weber, 'Altsynag. Theol.,' § 27, 2 a, and the article on Akiba in 'Dict. of Christian Biogr.'). If it be objected that our Lord could hardly refer to these marks of traditional explanation as of such permanence, the answer is that in so far as these expressed legitimate issues (vide infra, ver. 21) of the Mosaic Law, he could place them on the same level as that Law itself. Till all; Revised Version, till all things; i.e. all things in the Law - all the requirements of the Law, in contrast to the one "jot" or "tittle" just mentioned. Till all be fulfilled; Revised Version, be accomplished (γ´ενηται). The clause is probably epexegetical of "till heaven and earth pass away." Nothing in the Law shall pass away till heaven and earth pass away, when, with a new heaven and earth, all the contents of the Law will be completely realized (cf. Nosgen) so that even then nothing in the Law shall pass away (vide infra). On the contrary, every part of it, moral or ceremonial (Weiss), shall then, by being fully understood and obeyed in its true meaning, enter on its full and complete existence (γένητα).

5:17-20 Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God's holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ's justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian's rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ's disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ's righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man's temper and conduct.For verily I say unto you,.... Or "I Amen say unto you", which is one of the names of Christ; see Revelation 3:14 or the word "Amen" is only used by Christ as an asseveration of what he was about to say; and which, for greater confirmation, is usually doubled in the Evangelist John, "Amen, Amen", or "verily, verily". The word is used by the Jews (w) for an oath; they swore by it; and it is a rule with them, that whoever answers "Amen" after an oath, it is all one as if he had pronounced the oath itself. The thing so strongly affirmed in this solemn manner is,

till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. The "or jot", in the Greek language, answers to "jod" in the Hebrew, the least of all the letters in the alphabet; hence a little city is called by this name, and this reason is given for it, (x) , "because that jod is the least among letters". We read also of Rabbi Jod (y), perhaps so called because , he was little, as the author of Juchasin observes (z). This shows in what language the law was written; not in the Samaritan language, for the jod in that is a large letter, but in the Hebrew, in which it is very small; and particularly is written in a very diminutive character, in Deuteronomy 32:18 "by one tittle" some think is meant one of those ducts, dashes, or corners of letters, which distinguish one letter from another, that are much alike; others have thought that one of the pricks or vowel points is intended; others, one of those little strokes in the tops of letters, which the Jews call (a) "crowns" and "spikes", is here meant, in which they imagined great mysteries were contained; and there were some persons among them, who made it their business to search into the meaning of every letter, and of everyone of these little horns, or pricks, that were upon the top of them. So says R. Meir (b),

"in the time of the prophets there were such who very diligently searched every letter in the law, and explained every letter by itself; and do not wonder at this that they should expound every letter by itself, for they commented , upon everyone of the tops of each letter.''

Such an expounder was Akiba ben Joseph (c). To which custom Christ is here supposed to have respect: however, certain it is that he speaks very much in the language, and agreeably to the mind of the Jewish doctors; and some things in their writings will serve to illustrate this passage,

"If, (say they (d),) all the nations of the world were gathered together, "to root one word out of the law", they could not do it; which you may learn from Solomon, who sought to root "one letter out of the law", the letter "jod", in Deuteronomy 17:16 but the holy blessed God said, Solomon shall cease, and an hundred such as he (in the Talmud (e) it is a thousand such as he) , "but, jod shall not cease from thee (the law) for ever".''

And elsewhere the same expression is used (f), and it is added,

"ljbm ynya Kmm huwqw, "but a tittle from thee shall not perish."''

The design of Christ, in conformity to the language of the Jews, is to declare, that no part of the law, not one of the least commandments in it, as he explains himself in the next verse, should be unaccomplished; but all should be fulfilled before "heaven and earth pass" away, as they will, with a great noise and fervent heat, as to their present form and condition; or sooner shall they pass away, than the least part of the law shall: which expresses the perpetuity of the law, and the impossibility of its passing away, and the superior excellency of it to the heavens and the earth. It is a saying of one of the Jewish doctors (g), that

"the whole world is not equal even to one word out of the law,''

in which it is said, there is not one letter deficient or superfluous.

(w) T. Hieros. Kiddushin, fol. 60. 4. Misn. Bava Kama, c. 9. sect. 7, 8. T. Bab. Shebuot, fol. 36. 1. Debarim Rabba, fol. 242. 2. Maimon Hilch. Shebuot, c. 2. sect. 1.((x) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 21. 2. & Gloss. in ib. (y) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 22. 2.((z) Fol. 93. 2.((a) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 29. 2.((b) In Semitis fidei, fol. 104. 4. & 105. 1. apud Capell. in loc. (c) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 29. 2.((d) Vajikra Rabba, fol. 160. 3. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol 20. 2.((e) T. Hieros. Sanhedrim, fol. 20. 3.((f) Shemot Rabba, fol. 96. 1.((g) T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 15. 4.

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