Jesus’ Gordian Knot Undone?

Don’t you just love it how the Sprit can open your eyes to the reading of God’s word? I just saw something I never noticed before. Readers of this blog are certainly aware of the controversial nature of this quote from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5:

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (ESV)

Now I have no problem interpreting ‘fulfill’ as ‘bring to their intended completion’, but Theonomists insist that, in juxtaposition with ‘not abolish’, ‘fulfill’ must mean something more along the lines of ‘affirm’. How do we decide? Well, before we give up (and before we turn to the witness of the rest of the bible), we use the immediate context, namely v18, where Jesus continues “truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law.” That’s bad news for everybody. Bad news for the non-Theonomist, because it looks like Moses’ law remains valid until the second coming. Bad news for every true Christian, however, because with all the ‘iota & dot’ (jot & tittle) language, it looks like Moses’ law remains valid in the very letter — thus we all better go buy some sheep, and start keeping kosher, and get circumcised!

But take a closer look at v18: my quotation in the middle of the last paragraph ended before the verse ended (and exactly where my memory always left off when thinking of this verse). It continues with “until all is accomplished”.

What? The jots & tittles will not pass away (a) until heaven and earth pass away, or (b) until all is accomplished? Read that whole sentence carefully, and you will find that the grammar doesn’t even make sense, with those two until clauses in there. In the KJV, the word ‘accomplished’ is rendered as ‘fulfilled’. Sound familiar? This is a different greek word (ginomai vs. pleyroo), and it shows up various ways, for instance: Mat 5:45 “That ye may be children of the Father…”; Matt 4:3 “…command these stones to be made bread” Matt 6:10 “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”,

Most interestingly, we have another verse in which ginomai and pleyroo are in close proximity: Matt 1:22 “Now all this was done [ginomai], that it might be fulfilled [pleyroo] which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet…”. So it is not inconceivable that ‘accomplished’ in v18 is linked to ‘fulfill’ in v17.

Let me note also that “truly, I say to you” is a formula that Jesus repeats often, basically to add emphasis (since obviously nothing he says to us is false). I contend that “until heaven and earth pass away”, which is separated from the rest of the sentence on both sides by commas, is also an emphasizer, applying to “truly, I say unto you”, and the other until clause applies to the jots and tittles. Hence I give you the RRV (RubeRad Version) translation of Matt 5:17-18:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; for I come not to abolish thm, but to fulfill them. I tell you something which is eternally true: not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away until all is fulfilled.

(Note, by the way, that the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets is something I will accomplish in just a few short years… stay tuned!)

I’d like to have someone who actually knows Greek give me some feedback on this. BTall? If this interpretation is unsustainable from the Greek, I’ll be back in paradoxland!


22 Responses

  1. I’ll assume that you’d like somebody that knows Greek, with the exception of DOCTOR Greg Bahnsen inform you on this. Since many of these ideas of yours are not just ‘not new’ but repeats of issues that Bahnsen very adequately addresses in his doctoral thesis. Of course you know this, but refuse to familiarize yourself with it, though it is by far the best work on this matter in general and these verses in particular one could ever find. He addresses this very line of reasoning, including a very detailed look at the Greek in this passage. Oh, and COMPLETELY refutes this line of reasoning as well.

    But instead, it is so much easier to decide you don’t like a conclusion, and so argue vehemently against something you barely understand in spite of the fact that you are not yet even close to being fully informed about nor have you fully investigated it. It’s much easier to knock down something that you’ve informed yourself about by only listening to a few 1 hour lectures given to a general church population to ‘introduce’ theonomy, and discuss with a devoted follower (myself), who is not even close to the master.

    I’ve done my best to represent and communicate theonomy to you all the while asking you, suggesting to you, and now pleading with you, to pick up Bahnsen’s work, “Theonomy in Christian Ethics,” and try and refute that. You WON’T be able to. Nobody else has.


  2. [RR: There used to be some comments here, which had nothing to do with this thread. Therefore, I moved them over thisaway]

  3. Rube,

    Forgive me. I tend to anger easily if I’m not careful. I’m not taking back the substance of post #1 above, just the anger.

    [Maybe when I’m your age, I’ll have better control. ;) he he ]



  4. I actually have read Bahnsen’s exegesis on Matt 5:17–, and as you can see, I was not convinced. He fails to reconcile the passage with the fact that the bulk of the jots & tittles (letters, shadows) of Moses’ law have indeed passed away.

    Also, in the quotes from Bahnsen you have pasted into various comments around here, I am highly troubled by his use of out-of-context scriptural citations. For instance, here you quote Bahnsen trying to support the claim “Through Israel these laws were to be made known to the other nations as a model for justice and righteousness everywhere” by citing Deut 4:5-8, and here I complain that if you actually read the chapter and verse, it means the opposite of Bahnsen’s claim. Even worse: here (scroll, search for “Thes”) you quote Bahnsen using 2 Thes 2:4 to support a similar claim from the New Testament, and here (search for “read on through v12”) I show how the full context is obviously antithetical to his point.

    So what makes you think if I read or listen to more Bahnsen, I will become more favorably disposed to his arguments?

    [This comment crossed Jeff’s last in the internet ether — I accept your retraction of anger, and please know that much anger, sarcasm, and witty diatribe was already removed from this comment in consideration for your feelings.]

  5. Note, in deference to fair argument, I have changed this title to have a question mark, instead of an exclamation point. That truly is the spirit in which I originally intended the post (as evidenced by my plea for Greek expertise). I hope the change doesn’t destroy the complex web of links that holds together Blogorrhea!

  6. Rube,

    So you’re telling me you’ve read his 657 page thesis on theonomy? The 48 page chapter that goes into exhaustive detail on these 3 verses found in that book?

    You’ve read his whole work on this, not short excerpts that I’ve been able to cut and paste for you? Last we talked about this, you still hadn’t given it a second thought. Maybe you just didn’t tell me you read it yet.

    Regarding the quotes you “complain” about, I haven’t really gone back to comment on them before now. But, I’ve re-read those verses and I do not agree at all with you that they’re taken out of context or that he’s using them to cite a truth that isn’t found in those verses. Deut 4:5-8 was the beginning of a series he gave to argue as a whole, but you only argue against the one scripture itself, thus taking Bahnsen himself out of context. Regarding the ‘man of sin,’ I happen to know that Bahnsen was of the preterist persuasion, which is an entirely different discussion. I agree with this persuasion as well, and there is an awful lot of background for arriving at that belief. However, the only point that Bahnsen is making in that citation of 2 Thess, is that this person who places himself in the seat of God (taking authority, so it’s not a stretch to say he is a civil ruler) is a man of lawlessness and THAT is why he is judged. Again, not a horrific injustice to the word of God. Sometimes you can pull a truth out of God’s word, even though the context is not what you’re concerned with. For example, see Hebrews 2. It tells us that ” every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,” and goes on to make a point. We can use that since it is a statement of fact to note that Moses’ law saw to it that all the punishments therein WERE JUST. But that’s not what that context in Hebrews 2 is concerned with.

    I am not really saying that if you read Bahnsens’s doctorate (Theonomy in Christian Ethics) that you will become more favorably disposed to his arguments. What I AM saying is that THAT is where you’ll find the fully developed, exhaustive, THESIS that you want to refute and an exhaustive defense of it as well. Every single one of your complaints so far has been addressed by him in the first book alone. And then, if you still find fault, you’ll have a much stronger ground to reason from.

    I am also saying that the amount of time and effort you’ve so far put into these threads is way more than enough to have familiarized yourself with the book, especially the major first chapter that he advances the thesis in (only 48 pages).

    [ emotions notched back a couple of rungs here :) ]

  7. The only part I read was chapter 2, dealing with Matt 5:17-19. I’m not sure now whether I read the whole thing — certainly not all the footnotes.

    As for the ‘man of lawlessness’, whether preterist or not, whether civil magistrate or not, the passage clearly states that he is restrained by God, until the time that God appoints to release him, and in the end God will judge him. In other words; the lawlessness is (a) completely regulated by God, and (b) consciously allowed by God! I don’t see how this says anything about what civil governments should be doing — if anything, it says what civil governments should NOT be doing, which is setting themselves forth as God, which (I would argue) is exactly what a civil government would be doing if they tried to make God’s judgments for him.

  8. I am just so smiling and laughing now.

    I see it completely backwards to your last sentence. This is so funny.

    If civil governments reject God’s law, then that is when they are setting themselves in His seat, because now they are the ones that are deciding what is right and what is wrong. You yourself said there is two kingdoms (and none other, right?). So, if they won’t be informed by God, then they take His place to determine good and evil themselves.

    There is a ‘deduction’ to be made from that verse. IT DOESN’T SAY what “governments should be doing.” The argument is that this man is judged by God for ‘being lawless’ and ‘setting himself in God’s seat.’

    I’ll pause here: Is that right? Is that why he’s being judged?

    I submit that you can deduce that being condemned for being lawless MEANS that one in his position SHOULD NOT be lawless?

    Let’s just stop and make sure that I’m being clear in this line of reasoning. Let me know.

    Gonna watch some TV now. See you tomorrow p.m.


  9. While it is on my mind…

    Back to Matt 5:17-19 and your issues with it. Would it help if you were to understand ‘not one jot or tittle’ as not so literal, but a WAY of saying that every detail is very important? That there is (maybe was) a very good reason for every little detail? Then when you look at the detail of the sheep, its being spotless, its shedding of blood, etc., that we can see that the principle even of this restorative precept is still binding today, and so really not one jot, not one tittle, will pass away “until heaven and earth pass away,” until ALL things are done?

    I’ll also point out something about your wanting to make Jesus’ teaching about Moses’ law valid only until the New Covenant was established. Basically, you are completely rendering any ethical teaching Christ gave as irrelevant to us in your line of reasoning.

    Regarding your quoting the divorce statement and the others in the sermon on the mount, I’d just like to reiterate what Ron has pointed out. NONE of these were new. Jesus was bringing them BACK to a right understanding of the law, not establisthing new ethical commands. And, they mis-quote the law regarding divorce.

    I’m tired. Gotta go.

    See ya.


  10. Sure, hate violates the O.T. command to “love your neighbor”, but where in the O.T. is hate equated with murder? Likewise, lust is clearly against the 10th commandment. But where in the O.T. is it equated with adultery? And if ‘they’ misquoted the law regarding divorce, did Jesus misquote the law? Where does the O.T. preach “love your enemies” or “turn the other cheek”? Through Moses came the law, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

    Also, your suggestions for Matt 5:17– don’t help. By suggesting that the pureness/spotlessness of the sheep, pointing to Christ’s sacrifice, are the jots&tittles, all you are doing is saying is that the underlying realities of God’s Law are what will never pass away, while the literal sheepness does pass away. I.e. “don’t take jots & tittles so literally” = “‘jots & tittles’ is figurative language”, which I suggested here. And a figurative interpretation undermines the Theonomic thesis, because Jesus is then no longer talking about literal maintenance of the Mosaic law, but only the realities underneath (i.e. God’s true Law).

    But all this is beside the point anyways.  I don’t grant the Theonomic premise that Mosaic law was intended as a political model for other Old Testament nations, so I still reject the concept that Mosaic law is a model for nations under the New Covenant.  Basically, I reject the notion that the Bible at all is meant as a guide to secular life, which gets back to the discussion we never quite had: who was 1 Corinthians written to?  Who was all of the Bible written to?  To God’s elect covenant people.  To the elect nonbeliever, the Holy Spirit will make effectual the message of the gospel, but to all others (without the quickening of the Holy Spirit), all of the Bible is but dead letters, serving only to confirm their condemnation, by the fact that what they read, they reject.

  11. The Mosaic (Sinaitic) covenant and its stipulations (Mosaic Law) were modeled after suzerainty treaties and their stipulations (laws) of neighboring nations – not the other way around.

  12. Just preached on Philippians 3 Sunday night, before communion, and all through my study time was so refreshed by a “super-rabbi” calling his legalistic observance of the law, “excrement”, compared to being found in Christ and knowing Christ. I think we would be hard-pressed not to see Paul’s conclusions in Philippians and in Galatians as “less law and more Jesus”.

  13. I hate to even ask but why are you guys even “discussing theocracy or not theocracy?” So say for instance Jeff is correct in his interpretation and we should be using God’s laws and His punishments for breaking His laws, who’s going to begin to enforce it? Are you going to create your own society where these laws will actually be enforced? Last time I checked we live in America and the punishment for adultery is not death. This may be a really dumb question but I would really like to know.

  14. Good question. But I am not going to answer it. I’ll let those who are the theonomists around here give an answer. But I will say this much: whatever the answer is, America and its system of government/freedoms shouldn’t or won’t come into play at all in that answer. One size theonomy fits all: North Vietnam, Venezuela, Luxembourg, Vatican, Chile, Phillipines – same golden age of Christendom everywhere.

  15. Jeff may come along and give his own spin on the answer, but I can try to honestly and without prejudice represent what I believe the Theonomist’s answer would be:

    America has gone away from its Christian roots (for instance, in the beginning you couldn’t run for public office anywhere unless you were a member in good standing of some Christian church). Theonomists don’t want the church to conquer society with the sword, but through the spread of the gospel, and the growth of the Kingdom of God, eventually society will be Christian (enough) to desire to implement God’s laws. That is obviously way, way in the future, probably not long before Christ returns to a fully-saved earth. (Thus you have to be postmillenial to believe that Theonomy could be more than an abstract, unattainable goal)

  16. That’s accurate (enough). Thanks Rube.


  17. This was an interesting dialogue. I don’t think I agreed with one thing I read but I do appreciate the dedication and whole heartedness of your arguments. I do not believe the world will ever become “Christian (enough) to desire to implement God’s laws.” The last I remember the world is filled with many more Muslim believers then Christian believers. Unless we overwhelm the Middle East with devasting military weaponry I do believe Theonomy will be an unattainable goal. Thankfully as far as I’m concerned.
    the catholic from north of connecticut,

  18. What does being Christian have to do with it? As far as I have learned, Muslims are theonomic and wholeheartedly adopt the tenets of the decalogue, having their own, substantively identical, version in their Koran. (With sabbath observance probably being the only exception).

  19. What does being Christian have to do with it?

    Apparently not much. All the ‘people of the book’ claim Moses in common, so I guess Jews, Christians, and Muslims should equally be able to implement Theonomic laws. So when Muslims want to behead a man for converting to Christianity, I guess they are to be lauded for their committment to God’s law. They’ve got the right idea, but they’re just missing the understanding that Christianity, not Islam, is the true successor of O.T. Judaism.

  20. I don’t mean to “open up a can of worms” but what I receive from reading 2Tim 3 is that we as Christians will be persecuted more than we ever have in history and that we will be defending our faith even more so “In the last days.”It sounds like more of a warning or a “heads up” if you will of the things to come until that glorious day that Christ returns.What I do NOT get from reading the Word is that we will someday be living in a society where once again God’s(original) Law prevails on earth. Take for example California’s recent battle with public schools.Our government is not only teaching tolerance (that seemed to be the theme 10 years ago when I was in school) but now escalating to the PROMOTING of “others”.Make no mistake this world will get darker which will in turn appear to make our light brighter. We are fighting with the government on the right for our children to be able to say the word’s “one nation under God” at school. I can see the Liberals in Sacramento laughing uncontrollably at the idea of going back to God’s original Law.

  21. Do a study on the phrase “last days.” You’ll see that there is even a reference from one of the apostolic writers indicating that ‘they’ themselves were “in the last days.”

    I am at work and don’t have time to look up the references and such, and this isn’t a discussion on eschatology anyway.

    However, I am very convinced that the scripture is referring to “the last days” of the Old Covenant administration of the sacrifices, the temple, etc. which finished in 70 AD. Those were the last days. Not now. Not in the future. (And yes, this IS a can of worms.)


  22. I guess I’ll have to wait until that discussion comes up. They were living in “the last days” just like we are living in “the last days.”

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