Inerrancy and the absence of whoops in Jesus’ assessment of the Old Testament.
Matthew 5:17-20 “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. For 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. Therefore, 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
1. The Master’s intention (17)
To fulfill it is an impressive goal. I assume He meant both the precepts of the Law and the prophesies. Not only has nobody ever done it, making this claim to the ability to do it audacious, but only one is imagined to be able to and that one is their Messiah. Only one will match the requirements found wrapped up in the intricacies of the sacrifices to outperform the rallied hopes the former system fueled.
We might call Him a superman. If He can pull off fulfilling the Law in its details and slightest directives, then it would be like leaping over the tallest building. The impossibility of anyone other than Him accomplishing the fulfilment of the Law of Moses on this level of perfection led the Lord to say through the pen of the Apostle Paul,
“No flesh shall be justified by the works of the Law (Romans 3:20).”
2. The Master’s impression of the Law (18)
Not one jot or tittle, not one iota is to pass until all is fulfilled indicates He valued it all even to its finer point as the Law of God when it was first given to Moses and now just the same in the first century 1400 years later. Of course, this is His high view of Scripture as it consists in his day. His elevated view is also perceived in His warning to those that might try to diminish the Law and cause their children and students in university to think lightly about it. He regarded the force of the Law to be as potent then as it ever was. It had lost none of its relevance for the modern Jew, or for the world at large in search of the true nature of God and an accurate accounting of Him.
It would probably be helpful to the discussion on the question of inerrancy as it applies to modern translations in circulation today to note that the Old Testament version most likely in use by Jesus’ audience for this message was the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from around about 200-130 BCE. It is also true that the Hebrew Scriptures themselves had undergone numerous rewrites or copies and errors were made, human errors such as what we now call typos. Copyists had strict rules to go by for their process, but errors are us and they occurred. Yet Jesus used the jot and tittle reference despite this and insisted we get past that issue and regard it - as He apparently did - insignificant to the question of inerrancy.
When it comes down to it, the bigger question to answer is whose word will we take as Gospel on the matter?
3. The Master’s indictment (20)
The Master’s indictment of us who may be judged under the justice of it appropriate anywhere in the world, is seen in His comparison using the Pharisees as His high mark. His representation of the Pharisees as achieving a high level of proficiency in keeping the Law of Moses means He perhaps regarded them as the best there is at it. He might have meant in His day for the sake of example for his contemporary audience, but maybe He means they rank up there with the best of the best ever. Anyway, they were impressive that way. The other inference in His words that is really more than mere inference, is that anyone who thought they needed to be perfect in keeping the Law to make it in the kingdom of God, every Jew’s happy hope, were going to be disappointed. To be more righteous, or using the wording in the text, to “have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees,” is set the bar so high in the view of the common Jew as to put it out of reach. The Pharisees were not, for all their effort and emphasis upon it perfecting the life-by-Law ticket themselves.
Is He pointing then to something, or someone else we should set our hope upon?
Here’s a clue or two…
"Now, apart from the Law a righteousness from God is disclosed... which is through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ..." Romans 3:21, 22 [NET]
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh for sin…” Romans 8:3
[The flesh literally means our body, but metaphorically our human frailty prone to indulgence; Likeness to sinful flesh but without sin Himself - cf. Hebrews 4:16]
“For God loved the world in such a way as to give His unique son that whoever believes in Him should not die without hope but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16 [paraphrasing mine]
Enjoy your Bible with an absence of whoops
Grace today y'all