The Significance of Jesus’ Words “Not One Jot or One Tittle Will Pass from the Law” (Matt. 5:18)

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"Jot" and "tittle" are not everyday words in English. What do they mean and how should Jesus' words in Matthew 5:18 be understood? Jerusalem Perspective's editor-in-chief, David Bivin, tackles these questions on behalf of a subscriber's request for help.

This article was inspired by a question from Jane Allen about David Bivin’s Hebrew Nuggets, Lesson 1: Jesus’ Hebrew Name (Part 1).

In a statement about the continuing validity of the Torah, Jesus uses a difficult-to-understand idiom. The Greek reads: ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου (“…until pass away the heaven and the earth, iota one or one point by no means will pass way from the law…”; Matt. 5:18).

Most English translations have not helped readers understand the idiom:

“Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law…” (KJV)

“…till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law…” (RSV)

“…until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law…” (ESV)

What Is a “Jot” and What Is a “Tittle”?

Behind the translation “jot” is the word ἰῶτα (iōta), the name for the tenth letter of the Greek alphabet (ι), and behind “tittle” is κεραία (keraia). Presuming that Jesus originally made the statement recorded in Matt. 5:18 in Hebrew, iota would stand for י (yod), the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But what is the meaning of keraia, and what might have been its Hebrew equivalent?

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The featured image shows the text of Matt. 5:18 in The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall Tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by his Majesties Special Commandment Appointed to be read in Churches Imprinted at London by Robert Barker Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie Anno Dom. 1611 (also known as The King James Version).

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