on Matthew 5 :18
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven - In the very commencement of his ministry, Jesus Christ teaches the instability of all visible things. "The heaven which you see, and which is so glorious, and the earth which you inhabit and love, shall pass away; for the things which are seen are temporal, προσκαιρα, are for a time; but the things which are not seen are eternal αιωνια, ever-during," 2 Corinthians 4:18. And the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.
One jot or one tittle - One yod, (י), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. One tittle or point, κεραια, either meaning those points which serve for vowels in this language, if they then existed; or the seraphs, or points of certain letters, such as ר resh, or ד daleth, ה he, or ח cheth (as the change of any of these into the other would make a most essential alteration in the sense, or, as the rabbins say, destroy the world). Or our Lord may refer to the little ornaments which certain letters assume on their tops, which cause them to appear like small branches. The following letters only can assume coronal apices, ץ tsaddi - ג gimel - ז zain - נ nun - ט teth - ע ayin - ש shin. These, with the coronal apices, often appear in MSS.
That this saying, one jot or one tittle, is a proverbial mode of expression among the Jews, and that it expressed the meaning given to it above, is amply proved by the extracts in Lightfoot and Schoettgen. The reader will not be displeased to find a few of them here, if he can bear with the allegorical and strongly figurative language of the rabbins.
"The book of Deuteronomy came and prostrated itself before the Lord, and said: 'O Lord of the world, thou hast written in me thy law; but now, a Testament defective in some parts is defective in all. Behold, Solomon endeavors to root the letter yod out of me.' (In this text, Deuteronomy 17:5. לא ירבה נשים lo yirbeh, nashim, he shall not multiply wives). The holy blessed God answered, 'Solomon and a thousand such as he shall perish, but the least word shall not perish out of thee.'"
In Shir Hashirim Rabba, are these words:
"Should all the inhabitants of the earth gather together, in order to whiten one feather of a crow, they could not succeed: so, if all the inhabitants of the earth should unite to abolish one י yod, which is the smallest letter in the whole law, they should not be able to effect it."
In Vayikra Rabba, s. 19, it is said:
"Should any person in the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is אחד achad, One Lord, change the ד daleth into a ר resh, he would ruin the world." [Because, in that case, the word אחר achar, would signify a strange or false God].
"Should any one, in the words of Exodus 34:14, Thou shalt worship no Other, אחר achar, God, change ר resh into ד daleth, he would ruin the world." [Because the command would then run, Thou shalt not worship the Only or true God].
"Should any one in the words of Leviticus 22:32, Neither shall ye Profane תחללו techelelu, my holy name, change ח cheth into ה he, he would ruin the world." [Because the sense of the commandment would then be, Neither shall ye Praise my holy name].
"Should any one, in the words of Psalm 150:6, Let every thing that hath breath Praise, תהלל tehalel, the Lord, change ה, he into ח cheth, he would ruin the world." [Because the command would then run, Let every thing that hath breath Profane the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of Jeremiah 5:10, They lied Against the Lord, ביהוה beihovah, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would run, They lied Like the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of Hosea, Hosea 5:7, They have dealt treacherously, ביהוה beihovah, Against the Lord, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would run, They have dealt treacherously Like the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of 1 Samuel 2:2, There is none holy As the Lord, change כ caph into ב beth, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would mean, There is no holiness In the Lord].
on Matthew 5 :18
Verily - Truly, certainly. A word of strong affirmation.
Till heaven and earth pass - This expression denotes that the law never would be destroyed until it should be all fulfilled. It is the same as saying everything else may change; the very earth and heaven may pass away, but the law of God shall not be destroyed until its whole design has been accomplished.
One jot - The word "jot," or yod (י y), is the name of the Hebrew letter I, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
One tittle - The word used here, in the Greek, means literally a little horn, then a point, an extremity. Several of the Hebrew letters were written with small points or apices, as in the Hebrew letter, shin (שׁ sh), or the Hebrew letter, sin (שׂ s), which serve to distinguish one letter from another. To change a small point of one letter, therefore, might vary the meaning of a word, and destroy the sense. The name "little horn" was given to these points probably from the manner in which they were written, resembling a little horn. Professor Hackett says of a manuscript which he saw a Jew transcribing: "One peculiarity, that struck me at once as I cast my eye over the parchment, was the horn-like appearance attached to some of the letters. I had seen the same mark, before this, in Hebrew manuscripts, but never where it was so prominent as here. The sign in question, as connected with the Hebrew Letter Lamedh (ל L) in particular, had almost the appearance of an intentional imitation of a ram's head. It was to that appendage of the Hebrew letters that the Saviour referred when he said, "'Not one jot or little horn' (as the Greek term signifies, which our version renders 'tittle,') 'shall pass from the law until all be fulfilled.'" - Illustrations of Scripture, p. 234. Hence, the Jews were exceedingly cautious in writing these letters, and considered the smallest change or omission a reason for destroying the whole manuscript when they were transcribing the Old Testament. The expression, "one jot or tittle," became proverbial, and means that the smallest part of the law should not be destroyed.
The laws of the Jews are commonly divided into moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral laws are such as grow out of the nature of things, and which cannot, therefore, be changed - such as the duty of loving God and his creatures. These cannot be abolished, as it can never be made right to hate God, or to hate our fellow-men. Of this kind are the ten commandments, and these our Saviour has neither abolished nor superseded. The ceremonial laws are such as are appointed to meet certain states of society, or to regulate the religious rites and ceremonies of a people. These can be changed when circumstances are changed, and yet the moral law be untouched. A general in an army may command his soldiers to appear sometimes in a red coat and sometimes in blue or in yellow. This would be a ceremonial law, and might be changed as he pleased. The duty of obeying him, and of being faithful to his country, could not be changed.
This is a moral law. A parent might permit his children to have 50 different dresses at different times, and love them equally in all. The dress is a mere matter of ceremony, and may be changed. The child, in all these garments, is bound to love and obey his father. This is a moral law, and cannot be changed. So the laws of the Jews. Those designed to regulate mere matters of ceremony and rites of worship might be changed. Those requiring love and obedience to God and love to people could not be changed, and Christ did not attempt it, Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:37-39; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9. A third species of law was the judicial, or those laws regulating courts of justice which are contained in the Old Testament. These were of the nature of the ceremonial law, and might also be changed at pleasure. The judicial law of the Hebrews was adapted to their own civil society. When the form of their polity was changed this was of course no longer binding. The ceremonial law was fulfilled by the coming of Christ: the shadow was lost in the substance, and ceased to be binding. The moral law was confirmed and unchanged.
on Matthew 5 :18
5:18 Till all things shall be effected - Which it either requires or foretells. For the law has its effect, when the rewards are given, and the punishments annexed to it inflicted, as well as when its precepts are obeyed. Luke 16:17; 21:33.