“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.
One of the finest articles ever written on rabbinic parables and the parables of Jesus was published in 1972 in the now defunct Christian News from Israel. The article is a classic, but, unfortunately, no longer available. Jerusalem Perspective is pleased to resurrect this milestone article together with the responses of founding Jerusalem School members, the late Robert L. Lindsey and David Flusser.*
Mark’s placement of Jesus’ “no longer dared” comment is very awkward: first, because the comment comes in the middle of a lovefest between Jesus and a scribe; and second, because the comment immediately follows Jesus’ appreciation of the scribe’s wisdom: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In a beautiful statement that probably referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, according to Luke, that “many prophets and kings” desired to see and hear what they (his disciples) are seeing and hearing. Matthew preserves the same saying, but in Matthew’s account the doublet is, “prophets and righteous persons.” The wording of Jesus’ saying in these two accounts is so similar that it appears likely that their slight differences reflect literary, or editorial, changes rather than different versions of the saying uttered by Jesus on different occasions. If so, which of these gospel accounts preserves the more original form of Jesus’ saying? Did Jesus say “prophets and kings” or “prophets and righteous persons”?
When the argument is advanced for a Hebrew “undertext” behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels, the evidence may be separated into two categories: internal and external. Internal evidence refers to evidence that is contained within the Greek text such as Hebraisms and the presence of parables or other types of rabbinic literary forms. External evidence refers to statements preserved in other ancient literature that affirm that Jesus’ life was originally recorded in Hebrew. The most important external evidence is a statement made by Papias, bishop of Hierapolis.
The Bible texts were originally written down in three languages: the Jewish Bible in Hebrew and a bit of Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. However, none of the extant manuscripts is the original document written by one of the authors of the books of the Bible.
There are about 1,500 scribal errors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The letters vav and yod, for instance, were often confused by ancient copyists of the Bible. The two letters are so similar that they are easily confused. In fact, writing by mistake a vav instead of a yod, or vice versa, is the most common scribal error.
A careful reading of the New Testament suggests that Jesus was a scholar learned in the Scriptures and religious literature of the period, which was vast and varied. Yet the popular Christian view of Jesus is that he was a simple, uneducated character from the provinces. This misunderstanding is due in part to a number of disparaging statements made about Nazareth and the Galilee such as, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46), and “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’” (Acts 2:7).
Jewish teachers of first-century Israel lacked the sophisticated methods of mass communication we have today. Consequently, the sages of Jesus’ day spent much of their time traveling throughout the country, much like the biblical prophets, to communicate their teachings and interpretations of Scripture.