Jots and Tittles

As our Ministerial Student Mike Fenimore preached on Sunday, Jesus says some amazing things affirming the continuing authority of the law of God. One of the strongest statements from Matthew 5:17-20 comes when Jesus promises that “not one iota or dot” will perish from the law until all is accomplished. An “iota” is the Greek form of the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, called “yod”, which corresponds to the English letter “i”, which in Greek looks like this: ι . When connected with another vowel, the iota becomes even smaller, and hides underneath the vowel, as it does under this alpha, or Greek letter “a”: ᾳ . In Hebrew, the yod looks like this: י .

A “dot” (KJV has the amusing word “tittle”) is used today to describe the small circular mark placed above the English letters “i” and “j”, which, in handwritten letters especially, helps to distinguish the i from an l. The Greek word Jesus used, keraia, means “little horn” and refers to an extremity that would distinguish certain Hebrew letters from others: the Hebrew “v”, or vav, looks like this: ו , while the Hebrew “z”, zayin, looks like this: ז . The letters are distinguished by the fact that zayin has a “little horn” on both sides of the vertical stroke, while vav only has a “horn” on the left side.

The point is that Jesus affirms that not even the tiniest little pen mark will disappear from the law. By focusing on those little letters and strokes, Jesus is pointing not to the skill of the scribes in making copies, because they often made mistakes, especially with these two tiny marks. He is not pointing to the enduring quality of paper, as if the scroll would never be misplaced (2 Kings 22) or destroyed (Jeremiah 36). Instead, Jesus is pointing to God’s preservation of His law. God will not allow iotas and dots to be lost. Jesus wants us to understand that if God so protects the smallest strokes of the law, then surely He won’t simply throw out the entire law! If God polishes the buttons on the dashboard radio, He certainly won’t drive the car off a cliff!

And while this highlights the abiding nature of God’s law, it also points us towards the nature of God’s words, which point us even deeper to the nature of God Himself. Isaiah 40:8 says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Why does the Word of God not change or fade away? Because God’s Word is an expression of His nature, and God Himself does not change. (James 1:17). Isaiah began by praising the everlasting Word, and he draws his speech in Isaiah 40 to a close by praising the everlasting God: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28).

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2 Responses to Jots and Tittles

  1. Very interesting! I like the way you tie together the Hebrew letter yod (often pronounced “yud” — rhymes with “stood”), the Greek iota, the English iota, jot, dot, and title, as well as the little horns. I will use this with my Hebrew students. I might add that yud corresponds to the English letter ‘j’ as well as ‘i’, e.g., Ya’akov = Jacob.
    Question: What is your favorite way of inserting non-roman letters into your English text? I’m relatively new to WordPress and blogging, and still searching for the best way of combining Hebrew and English on my mainly-English blogs.

  2. Hi Natasha, thanks for stopping by, and for highlighting yud’s range when it comes to English letters. As for non-roman characters, I write first in a word processing program, and try to find a font with a large character set. Times New Roman may be boring, but it contains the full range of characters for Greek, Hebrew, and more. Then I just copy and paste, modify the code a very little bit, and hope for the best! Others have probably found a better way, but mine has served me well so far.

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