Heaven and Earth Pass Away

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Jesus claimed his interpretations would bring out the true intention of the Torah’s commandments without rendering a single verse, word, letter, or even pen stroke superfluous.

How to cite this article:
Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “Heaven and Earth Pass Away,” The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction (Jerusalem Perspective, 2023) [https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/26517/].

(Matt. 5:17-18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33)

(Huck 21, 176, 221; Aland 54, 226, 293;
Crook 34, 273, 333)[1]

לֹא תִּהְיוּ סְבוּרִים שֶׁבָּאתִי לְבַטֵּל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה לֹא בָּאתִי לְבַטְּלָהּ אֶלָּא לְקַיְּמָהּ אָמֵן אֲנִי אֹמֵר לָכֶם נוֹחַ לַשָּׁמַיִם וְלָאָרֶץ לַעֲבֹר מִלְּיוֹד אֶחָד אוֹ לְקוֹץ אֶחָד מִן הַתּוֹרָה לִיבָּטֵל

“My purpose is to ensure that every word of the Torah is interpreted correctly so that it can properly be obeyed according to its true intention. My purpose is not to weaken the Torah with interpretations that rob it of its vitality or power, as some others have done before me.

“Indeed, I can assure you that the whole universe will sooner perish than that a single yod—or even a qotz!—belonging to the Torah will be deleted on account of my faulty interpretation.[2]


A reproduction of our reconstruction in an ancient Hebrew script. Font, based on the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran (1QIsaa), created by Kris Udd.




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In Heaven and Earth Pass Away Jesus played on two senses of the verb בִּטֵּל, which could mean both “nullify” and “strike from a text.” In rabbinic parlance “nullify” could be used as a criticism of faulty exegesis that failed to bring out the unique contribution of every scriptural verse or that failed to make the most of every word and every letter. The opposite of “nullify” was “establish” (קִיֵּם). Proper exegesis established the worth of each verse and found significance in every letter. Thus, when Jesus claimed that he did not come to “nullify” the Torah but to “establish” it, he meant that he intended to bring out its meaning to the fullest. Jesus went on to say than not even one letter nor even one pen stroke will ever be deleted from the Torah, thus playing on the other sense of בִּטֵּל (“strike from a text”). Given the manner in which scribal practices evolve and the inevitability of copyists’ errors, Jesus’ declaration was obvious hyperbole. His point in making this exaggerated claim was simply to reinforce (“Amen! I say to you…”) his stated commitment to interpret the text of the Torah with faithfulness and precision.

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“The Course of Empire: Desolation,” painting by Cole Thomas (1836). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). Joshua continued his studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he obtained a Master of Divinity degree in 2005. After seminary…
    [Read more about author]

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
    [Read more about author]

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