In Matthew 5:17, Jesus assures His audience on the mount that He had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; rather, He had come to fulfill them. Then, in verse 18, Jesus emphasizes the eternal nature of God’s Word: “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” (KJV). His statement naturally prompts the question of what’s a jot? And what’s a tittle?
Most of us are unfamiliar with jots and tittles because most of us do not read the Hebrew language. Jots and tittles have to do with letters and pen strokes in Hebrew writing.
A jot is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest. It was written above the line and looks to us rather like an apostrophe: Jot
is related to our modern English word iota
, meaning “a very small amount.” The Hebrew spelling is yod
. Many Bibles have a picture of a yod in Psalm 119. Check out the section title coming just before verse 73.
A tittle is even smaller than a jot. A tittle is a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another. An example can be seen in the comparison between the Hebrew letters resh and daleth (or dalet):
The resh (on the left) is made with one smooth stroke. The daleth (on the right) is made with two strokes of the pen. The letters are very similar to each other, but the distinguishing mark of the daleth is the small extension of the roof of the letter:
That extension is a tittle. See Psalm 119:25 and 153 for pictures of the daleth and resh, respectively.
When Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” in Matthew 5:18, He was stating emphatically that God’s Word is true and trustworthy. God has spoken, His words have been written down accurately, and what God has said will surely come to pass. Fulfillment is inevitable. Even the smallest letter of the Law will be fulfilled. Even the smallest pen stroke of the Prophets will be accomplished. The NLT translates the verse this way: “Until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.”
Doubters will doubt, and mockers will mock, but God’s Word will not change: “Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). The gospel changes lives: “‘The word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). God is reliable, and so is His Word—every jot and tittle of it.