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Not One Jot or Tittle - Understanding the Meaning Behind Christ's Words
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Not One Jot or Tittle – Understanding the Meaning Behind Christ’s Words

The phrase “not one jot or tittle” originates from the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew 5:18 of the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible:

“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

This intriguing phrase warrants a deeper look into its meaning and significance. As followers of Christ seeking to gain greater insight into His teachings, it is important that we carefully examine the full context of Scripture.

Key Takeaways:

  • A “jot” refers to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  • A “tittle” refers to the small decorative strokes on certain Hebrew letters.
  • Together, “not one jot or tittle” emphasizes that even the smallest details of God’s laws and commandments are completely authoritative and binding.
  • Jesus Christ is affirming the full inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures.
  • God’s moral laws and principles do not change; His standards are eternal.
  • Bible prophecy will be fulfilled down to the smallest detail.
person writing on white paper

Understanding the Context

The phrase “not one jot or tittle” is nestled within Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7. Jesus had just begun his public ministry, preaching repentance and the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ expounds on Kingdom living and righteous conduct for His followers.

Prior to the “jot and tittle” statement, Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will by any means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV)

Here we gain insight into the context. Jesus makes it clear He did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the Prophets – the major divisions of the Old Testament Jewish Scriptures. Rather, He came to fulfill them.

The Law of Moses consisted of the detailed legal code and covenant obligations given by God to Israel. The Prophets contained God’s direct revelation through inspired spokesmen who often called Israel back into covenant obedience.

By affirming the permanent authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus was validating the fact that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). The entirety of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is inspired by the Holy Spirit and speaks with divine authority.

Jesus was essentially doubling down on the supreme authority and applicability of God’s written Word. And He used a vivid illustration involving the smallest Hebrew letters and pen strokes to drive His point home.

Defining a “Jot” and “Tittle”

To fully grasp what Christ meant, we need to understand the definitions of the key terms used.

Jot

The word “jot” refers to the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew language was used to write the Old Testament Scriptures. Specifically, a jot refers to the letter yodh, which looks similar to an apostrophe. In our English translations, a jot represents the smallest lowercase or uppercase letter.

The Hebrew letter yodh

In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the equivalent letter is iota. Hence some Bible versions translate this as “not one iota.” It carries the same meaning.

Tittle

The word “tittle” refers to the small decorative strokes or horns on certain Hebrew letters. These markings differentiated between letters that looked similar. Hebrew was originally written without vowels.

For example, the letters bet and kaph only differed by a tittle:

Hebrew bet vs. kaph

A tittle could distinguish a specific letter, and thus change the meaning of a word. Just like how a serif or line can differentiate a lowercase “l” from an uppercase “I” in English.

The Significance of the Illustration

Jesus chose an illustration His hearers would instantly understand. As ancient Hebrew texts were meticulously hand-copied from one scroll to the next, precision was required to distinguish letters and tittle markings. A missing jot or tittle could potentially change Scripture’s meaning.

Christ emphasized that the Old Testament – every single letter and stroke – was authorized by God. No part could be deleted, discounted, or disobeyed. God’s Word was preserved through humble scribes who carefully transmitted it across centuries.

This tells us some key truths:

The Bible is Inspired and Authoritative

Since no jot or tittle will pass from the law until fulfilled, every detail matters. Every word is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). No matter how small or obscure a Bible passage may seem, we cannot ignore or disobey it. Scripture in its entirety holds absolute authority.

God’s Truth is Unchanging

God’s moral standards do not shift like changing culture or personal opinions. His Word is eternal and unmoveable. What was sinful in Old Testament times remains sinful today. God’s righteousness remains the same across all generations.

Bible Prophecy Will be Fulfilled

Many prophecies were given regarding the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains that these will perfectly come to pass – every last specification. We can have total confidence in God’s prophetic Word. No promise or prediction will fail, down to the smallest detail.

God is Consistent and Faithful

Across centuries of human history, filled with turmoil and uncertainty, God remains steady. His faithful character and moral standards are unshakable. He has proven Himself trustworthy by preserving His Word through centuries of transmission. What He ordained before, He upholds and fulfills now.

Common Questions About this Phrase

  1. Is this phrase only about God’s moral law, or all Scripture? Jesus referenced the “Law and the Prophets” which encompasses all Old Testament Scriptures. The jot and tittle principle seems to apply to the entirety of God’s Word, not just commandments.
  2. Does this mean the Old Testament law still applies to Christians today? While moral principles behind God’s law remain, Jesus fulfilled the communal, ritual, and civil laws of ancient Israel (Ephesians 2:15). We are now under the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) expressed through the new covenant.
  3. Do we need to know Hebrew and Greek to fully understand the Bible? While knowledge of the original languages can provide insight, God preserves His Word across translations. Accessible translations in modern languages can be trusted as authoritative. What God intends to communicate is not lost in translation.

Putting it Into Practice

How should Christ’s statement impact us practically as believers today?

  • Study the Word diligently – Don’t ignore difficult passages. Assume each jot and tittle holds purpose.
  • Obey God’s commands – Don’t compromise on areas Scripture confronts. Align with God’s standards, not changing culture.
  • Exalt Christ – Fulfillment of prophecy concerning Jesus proves the Bible’s reliability. He upholds the authority of Scripture.
  • Trust God’s sovereignty – No detail is too small for God’s purposes. What He says will come to pass.
  • Preserve Scripture faithfully – Don’t distort God’s Word. Handle it accurately. Pass it on intact for future generations.

Conclusion

Jesus assured us that Scripture – down to the smallest letters and markings – is authored by God. We can have complete confidence in the Bible’s relevance, accuracy, and authority. God’s truth endures forever! May we delight in His Word until every last promise is fulfilled.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.