WHAT IS A “JOT?” WHAT IS A “TITTLE?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Lord Jesus Christ famously announced in Matthew 5:18: “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.” Exactly what is a “jot?” What about a “tittle?”
“Jot” is the transliteration of the Greek word “iota” (the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet), equivalent to “jod” or “yod” (the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet).
Psalm 119 is a gigantic acrostic containing 176 verses—eight verses for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. While not apparent in our English Bible, each first word of the first eight verses of the Psalm begins with the Hebrew letter “aleph” (equivalent to our “A”), the first word of each of the next eight verses starts with “beth” (comparable to our “B”), and so on. In most Bibles—especially printed ones—you will see a Hebrew letter heading before verse 1, another one before verse 9, yet another before verse 17, and so on. When you come to the tenth eight-verse section (verses 73-80), you will notice the Hebrew letter “jod” (it looks like this: י).
Jod resembles an apostrophe, or a raised comma. It is quite tiny—the smallest Hebrew letter (like our lowercase “i”). In many Hebrew words, it can be removed without changing meanings or sounds. Understandably, jod can be easily overlooked and discounted as insignificant. In English, conveying the idea of the Greek letter, we say, “There is not one iota of evidence,” meaning there is not even the smallest bit of proof.
The “tittle,” in the Hebrew language, is a small, horn-like projection on certain letters to differentiate them from the rounded letters. For instance, the Hebrew letters “cheth” and “he,” “daleth” and “resh,” “beth” and “kaph” are all distinguished by means of the little horn-like “tittle.” The English equivalent of a tittle is the tiny line on the letter “Q” that distinguishes it from the letter “O.” Another example is the horizontal bar placed on a lowercase “T” to differentiate it from a lowercase “L.”
We read Matthew 5:18 again: “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.” In Greek, “in no wise” is doubly negative (emphatic)—“ou me.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says: “Me: a particle of negation, which differs from ou (which is always an adverb) in that ou denies the thing itself (or to speak technically, denies simply, absolutely, categorically, directly, objectively), but me denies the thought of the thing, or the thing according to the judgment, opinion, will, purpose, preference, of someone (hence, as we say technically, indirectly, hypothetically, subjectively).”
Summing it up, here is the teaching of Matthew 5:18: Every intricate detail of the Old Testament prophecies will fully come to pass. Jesus Christ Himself said that the smallest particle not being fulfilled is an impossible scenario, something not even worth thinking about. Not even the smallest letter or stroke of God’s prophecies will fail to be accomplished, for He Himself has come to see to it that all be fulfilled. Luke 16:17, the companion verse, says: “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
The God of the Bible is meticulous. He did not utter broad, sweeping statements through the Old Testament prophets. These were rather specific events predicted in minute detail—a virgin of the house of David would conceive, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Judaea at a specific time, He would perform miracles and teach the pure Word of God, He would be utterly rejected, He would die with His hands and feet pierced, His clothes would be divided, He would thirst while dying, He would be buried among the rich, He would rise again the third day, and so on.
According to the Lord Jesus Christ, every last part of the prophets’ writings would be fulfilled—each and every type fulfilled, each and every promise fulfilled, everything completely brought to pass. It would be utterly impossible for something therein not be accomplished. “Never, ever (ever, ever, ever!) think that God’s Word will not be fully brought to pass!” Whatever Christ did not fulfill at His First Coming, He will bring it to pass at His Second Coming. By the way, He fulfilled approximately 300 specific prophecies during His earthly ministry! Therefore, He could rightly say…
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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” (Matthew 5:17-18).
SUPPLEMENTAL #1: MATTHEW 5:18 AND THE SEPTUAGINT
The concepts in Matthew 5:18, particularly the tittle, concern the Hebrew alphabet (not Greek). There is no reference to the Septuagint (or “LXX”), the supposed “before Christ Greek translation of the Old Testament.” It is commonly taught that the Lord Jesus and His Apostles quoted the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) instead of the Hebrew Old Testament. Matthew 5:18 does not support that idea. In fact, the Septuagint itself has highly questionable (legendary!) origins, and it contains large apocryphal books scattered throughout the divinely-inspired writings. Matthew 5:18 indicates that Jesus Christ appealed to the Hebrew Old Testament, not the Greek (Septuagint).
SUPPLEMENTAL #2: MATTHEW 5:18 AND BIBLE VERSIONS
According to Matthew 5:18, God the Holy Spirit considers every part of His Word important— every Book, every chapter, every passage, every verse, every sentence, every word, every letter, every stroke of every letter, and even every punctuation mark. He even cares if there is an “s” on the end of a word (Galatians 3:16), and builds a doctrine on its singular form as opposed to its plural sense! Notice how He constructed a doctrine on a single word in Psalm 82:6 (cf. John 10:34-35).
Therefore, it should greatly concern us when people question and/or omit Scripture. It does not bother them to correct it, to remove a word, to insert a word, or cast doubt on a verse. However, it should trouble us. This twisted mentality drives the Bible versions issue. There is a constant push to overthrow the (Protestant) King James Bible and its manuscript family, and replace it with a Roman Catholic text (which contains the Septuagint, by the way!). “This verse should be this, this word should be that…” is a complete disregard for minute details in God’s Word. It is not faith but doubt. Either we believe the Bible, or we do not. It is hypocritical for us to claim to love the Bible and then tear it apart with the idle speculations of lost men!
God the Holy Spirit is interested in bringing 100 percent of His Word to pass. He is a stickler for the text because He is a careful planner. He will not fulfill 99 percent of prophecy but 100 percent of prophecy. He will not bring 99.999 percent of prophecy to pass; He will bring 100 percent to pass. Consequently, we inflict great damage on the Bible text with even one change. A textual alteration for the worse means that a prophecy can be fulfilled but it will not be apparent to us because we tampered with the applicable Scripture!!
“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
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