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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Column: First Truths from the First Gospel by David Hall

Not the Smallest Letter

September 8, 2014 •

Matthew 5:18

Jesus, the Giver of Grace, shows his respect for the eternal and binding authority of the Old Testament when he states that not even in the slightest respect will the Old Testament Law remain unfulfilled. Consider a few details of verse 18.

  • ‘Amen’ means “Seriously!” or “I tell you soberly.” It is a warning of a forthcoming solemn declaration. When Jesus uses this term, listeners are to mark it with serious attentiveness.
  • ‘Until heavens and earth’—includes the whole created order, the cosmos or until God’s creation passes away. That certainly had not happened at Jesus’ time nor in ours today.
  • ‘Neither iota’ (which was the smallest Greek pen stroke, like dotting an “i” or like the Hebrew yodh, the smallest Hebrew character.
  • ‘nor one serif or tittle’—these were partial strokes or tails on Hebrew letters or like crossing a “t.”
  • ‘shall not (an emphatic negation) pass away until all the law is accomplished.’

Jesus is saying that not one of those tiny marks will fall or fail until all the God has said comes about. One scholar estimated that there were over 66,000 yodhs in the Hebrew text. The Scriptures are trustworthy to that degree of accuracy.

In this passage as in others (Luke 16:29,31; Luke 24:27, 44) the phrase “Law” (and the similar phrasing “Law and prophets” elsewhere) stands for the sum total of the Old Testament writings. By Jesus’ time, for convenience, the Hebrews had sub-divided the OT into three sections: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (or sometimes “Psalms”). This shorthand phrase, “Law” or “Law and Prophets”, is a comprehensive term for the entire OT canon. If anyone wishes to claim to follow Christ and also reject the OT as errant, they run into a serious conundrum. For Jesus, without exception, places his stamp approval on OT miracles, history, characters, and passages. Was he routinely misguided or lacking in omniscience?

Whenever he cites the Old Testament he does so with reverence and belief that it was true. Re-read the gospels sometime and note Jesus’ love for the Old Testament. The only fair conclusion one can reach is that Christ believed all of the Old Testament—not just parts! He treats them as if they were totally and factually true. 

In the wilderness he fought Satan with eternal truths and words of Scripture. Jesus undoubtedly believed that God had authored the Old Testament Scriptures and that they were so infallible that sooner would the cosmos be dissolved than they would be proven false. Christ himself believed that the whole of the Old Testament originated with God and was revealed by him. If we ever question whether a verse is true we must question Christ himself who clearly placed his imprimatur on the whole Old Testament. This is why we can trust the Scriptures: Because Christ, who co-authored them, also states that they are of more certain nature than even the external universe which we take for granted.

Not the smallest stroke of error will be allowed by our Sovereign God into the texts of Scripture until it is time for this earth and heavens to pass away. Thus we can trust our Old Testament, we can read it, profit from it, and be instructed from its eternal truths for our lives today. The notion that there is a chasm of authority between the God of the Old Testament and New Testament is a fiction!

Can you read the OT now and have that level of confidence? If you follow Christ and these Gospel first truths, you absolutely can; and indeed, to follow Christ fully, you must.

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