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“Holding forth the Word of Life” Philippians 2:16
“Holding fast the Faithful Word” Titus 1:9
The two most important passages that record Jesus’ words on the perfect preservation of the Scriptures are Matthew 5:17–18 and Matthew 24:35. However, in these days many claim that these passages do not refer to the perfect preservation of the Bible. So, we shall revisit these passages and learn what they teach us.
Jesus said, “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.”
Meaning of some key words
The word “think” (nomisete) means “to suppose, assume, to regard or acknowledge as custom, to have and hold as customary.” Its verbal form is aorist subjunctive, and when it is used with the Greek word for “not” (me), it forbids the initiation of an action. Hence, we know that the Lord Jesus Christ was saying, “Do not even begin to think …”
The word “destroy” (chatalusai) comes from a root word, which indicates the act of demolishing something, just as one would demolish a building, which is already in existence. Jesus states absolutely that He did not come to destroy or demolish the Word of God.
The word “fulfil” (plerosai) means “to fill out, complete, make perfect, accomplish an end.” So the Lord Jesus “did not come to demolish” but “to make complete or perfect.”
The word “pass” (parelthe) is used metaphorically to mean “pass away, perish,” and also in an absolute sense in a general way. That means, heaven and earth may perish, but God’s Word shall never perish!
The phrase “no wise” (ou me) is a double negative with the aorist subjunctive of parelthe. This is an emphatic future negation. The aorist subjunctive with the double negative “ou me” is used to strongly deny that something will happen. The word “never” may be used in the translation.
The word “fulfilled” (2nd aorist 3rd person singular subjunctive of genetai) has the following meanings, “to have come into existence” or “simply to be.” In the aorist and perfect, it has the sense of “to have begun to be, to have come into existence, meaning simply to be, to exist.” This tells us that every jot and tittle of God’s Word will continue to exist from the moment it comes into existence with an emphasis on its eternal existence.
Explaining Matthew 5:17–18
From the context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7), the meaning of Matthew 5:17–18 is that Jesus emphatically pointed out to the assembly gathered at the Mount that they must never begin to think that He came to destroy the law or the prophets. The law had been grossly abused and misinterpreted and misapplied by the religious leaders at that time. The purpose of Jesus’ coming was never to destroy the law and the prophets (Jesus was referring to the words of God in the Apographs because the Autographs were not in existence at that time after more than 1,400 years) but to fulfil, i.e., to complete. For with great certainty, Jesus said that even till heaven and earth are completely destroyed, one jot (smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet) or one tittle (the tiny little extension of the letter “daleth” in the Hebrew alphabet) of God’s law shall never (use of the double negative “ou” and “me” for emphasis) pass away or perish till all come to pass or come into existence, i.e., as KJV rightly translated it “be fulfilled.” The finality and degree of God’s preservation extends beyond the words! It even includes the smallest letter and the tiny little extension of the letter “daleth” in the Hebrew alphabet.
Matthew 5:17–18 clearly teaches the doctrine of perfect preservation! How can God’s Word be fulfilled if its words can be lost? Jesus said that it shall never be destroyed, even when heaven and earth are destroyed. Heaven and earth have only the appearance of eternality when compared to the Word of God. The minute details of every word of God even to the smallest letter of the alphabet, including the tiny parts of the letters, will remain forever! No part, including the smallest part of God’s Word, will ever be lost or destroyed! (The Lord Jesus Christ is not referring to someone who burns the Bible. Someone was foolish enough to think that the Word of God can be destroyed if he burns the whole Bible! If God’s Word does not, at least, last as long as this present heaven and this present earth, which will one day be destroyed by fire, then Jesus would be wrong to make such an assertion with regard to the eternality of His Word. But Jesus is most definitely not wrong!)
The contrast is between the largest (heaven and earth) which will perish (be destroyed) and the smallest (jot and tittle) which will not perish (never be destroyed or lost). The preservation and promise from the Lord Jesus Christ is that even the minutest detail of His Word (no such thing as insignificant and significant) will be fulfilled, i.e., nothing will be lost but all will be preserved even when heaven and earth pass away!
Matthew 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33 repeat this promise word for word. The promise is found in all three synoptic gospels in the same context of the Second Coming of Christ for a triple emphasis and a treble confirmation.
Meaning of some key words
The first “pass away” comes from pareleusontai. When heaven and earth pass away in the future, the words of God shall not! Note the plurality of “words” which emphasizes “all the words.”
The second “pass away” comes from parelthosi. The use of the aorist subjunctive of the verb with the double negative, “ou me,” means “to strongly deny that something will ever happen.” The word “never” may be used in the translation. The double negative with the subjunctive makes the statement an emphatic future negation. This means that the words (plural, not just the “word”–singular, in the general sense) shall never, never pass away, i.e., be lost or perish!
Explaining Matthew 24:35
The two Greek words for “pass away” have the same root as Matthew 5:17–18 (parechomai) which means “to perish” in the absolute way. The immediate context is on the two questions posed by the disciples to the Lord Jesus Christ. When will the destruction of the temple (Herod’s temple) and the sign of Christ’s coming and of the end of the world (cf. Matthew 24:1–3) be? Jesus tells His disciples and all future disciples that even that which appears so eternal, like the heaven and the earth, will not outlast God’s words. They will perish first. Does that mean that after heaven and earth have perished, God’s words would also perish? God forbid! Jesus adds with a definite adversative “but” for contrast, “my words shall not pass away.” The use of the double negative with the aorist subjunctive means that even when heaven and earth are destroyed, God’s words, to the last letter, including jot and tittle, will never pass away or perish or be lost! In other words, to restate it positively, God’s words will forever be preserved in its minutest detail!
Can Matthew 24:35 mean that only the prophecies concerning the Second Coming of Christ would not perish but the rest of God’s Word could perish or be lost? Limiting the meaning of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 to His Second Coming prophecies only is to commit the hermeneutical fallacy of wooden literalism. It is like saying that 2 Timothy 3:161 refers only to Paul’s second epistle to Timothy since the immediate context refers to that letter alone and not the whole Bible. Or can it be that it refers to the Old Testament only since most of the New Testament was not written yet? Would one then say that the rest of the New Testament Scripture which has not been written yet, e.g. the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation, were all not inspired? Of course not! In addition, when the Apostle John warned that no one must add to or subtract from God’s Holy Word,2 is it correct then to conclude, using the woodenly literal method of interpretation, that it only warns against the adding to and subtracting from the Book of Revelation and not the other 65 books of the Bible? It goes without saying that interpreting the Scriptures in such a way is preposterous!
By the application of proper hermeneutical principles, the inspiration of God’s Word would definitely include the entire Bible! Using the same understanding, anyone who adds to God’s Word (any part of God’s Word including Revelation) will face the judgment of God. Anyone who subtracts from any part of God’s Word would have his name removed from the Book of Life. Likewise, the perfect preservation of God’s Word as taught in Matthew 24:35 includes the words of Christ regarding His Second Coming as well as all the Words (every jot and tittle) of the entire Bible.
When one begins with God and His wisdom, then it is easy to see that the Bible clearly teaches that God has promised to preserve for us His inerrant, infallible and divinely inspired Word, even to the very jot and tittle.
It is important to understand that the doctrine of the perfect or special providential preservation of Scripture is not based upon the knowledge of the process but only on the Word of God. The Bible says that God has preserved and will continue to preserve His Holy Word. What God says and what God does must be perfect. To argue that one must know the process first before one can believe that the Word of God is perfectly preserved is very dangerous. This line of argument is based upon modernistic rationalism where man’s reason is supreme. If man cannot understand or explain it, then it cannot be true. Man can never understand the process of inspiration, yet it is true because God says that it is true. The final product is not the words of man but the very Word of God. Faith is to believe in what God says, period. There is no necessity to know the process first before believing.
1 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
2 Revelation 22:18–19, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Rev Quek Suan Yew is pastor of Calvary Bible-Presbyterian Church (Pandan), and lecturer in Old Testament and Contemporary Theology at Far Eastern Bible College.
– Published in Bible Witness, Vol 5 Issue 2 (March – April 2005)