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Jots and Tittles

Can some Christian who is into Biblical literalism explain this bit to me?

In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus says: “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. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

This law, the law of Moses, is defined clearly in the Old Testament. According to it, you may not:

  • Charge high interest rates when lending money (Leviticus 25: 35-36)
  • Eat fat (Leviticus 3:17)
  • Eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:12)
  • Trim a beard (Leviticus 19:27-28)

And you must:

  • Cease agricultural activity every seven years (Leviticus 25:3-4)
  • Sacrifice a goat or a cow to atone for sin (Leviticus 1:2, Leviticus 4:27-29)

And that’s just Leviticus, mind you. Exodus says all kinds of stuff, like how you can’t make pictures of anything that’s in water (Exodus 20:4). He may be the LORD thy God, but he sure as heck is a weird one.

Now, I don’t see any Christians gnashing their teeth over the widespread consumption of pork rinds and shellfish. I see a lot of clean-shaven Christians. And I don’t see too many sacrifices of goats and cows out in front of the local Church. Why is that, if Christians are really serious about following Jesus? At least for the Biblical literalists out there, you can’t deny what Jesus said: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law.” Not one jot! Not one tittle!

Christians tell me that they don’t have to pay attention to the Law of Moses any more, because according to Paul Jesus came to sweep away the old requirements of the law and supercede it with just one requirement: that you worship Jesus (see Galatians, for instance). But the thing is, Jesus didn’t say that. Jesus said exactly the opposite, in very clear language. Paul was the only guy in the Bible to say that Mosaic law was now defunct.

So what’s up with “Christians” ignoring the words of Jesus Christ himself and listening instead to a latter-day religious salesman? Can you explain this, please?

Can you also explain why it is that some of the same Christians who are going around in their clean-shaven, fish-drawing-and-sketching, lobster-and-lard-eating, goat-and-cow-sparing ways are so vehement in their insistence that government pass laws mandating the posting of big graven monuments to the so-called “Ten Commandments” (there are more than ten, I count at least thirteen in Exodus 20 alone, and loads more in the rest of Exodus and Leviticus too, I’m talking scores of direct quotes from the LORD thy God, man!)?

I just don’t get it! Jots and tittles, indeed.

13 thoughts on “Jots and Tittles”

  1. John Stracke says:

    Isn’t there someplace else in the Gospel that contradicts this? IIRC, someone asked Jesus what law they should follow, and he said there were only two: love God, and love your neighbor?

    I’ll grant you it’s a lot less tittlating.

  2. J. Matthew says:

    Well, not exactly. Mark 12:28-34 reads:

    28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
    29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
    30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
    31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
    32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
    33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
    34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.

    Jesus is not saying here that there are only two commandments, he is identifying what he considers to be the two primary ones, which is not to say that there are not others.

  3. Acheron says:

    I think the man said a lot of things that contradict with modern denominational christianity. I also believe that you can find justification for just about any behavior in the bible whether you take it literally, or you “interpret” it as you see fit. (i.e. “Welcome to the compound, brother, here’s a bible and an assault rifle, now relax and pray for the ‘end times'”) I had always heard that the Mosaic law was too hard to follow and that the reason for Christ was to break away from that Mosaic law and the new covenant. (i.e. Paul’s ministry) Well, this didn’t sit to well with the jews back then, so you had Paul who turned to the Gentiles. I can’t quote chapter and verse, because I’m still in therapy from years of sunday school (We’re making progress…) but there is also the passage that Jesus states that his message is not for the gentiles, but for the jews. Thus the woman replies that “even dogs get the scraps from the master’s table” or something like that and thus you have the setting for Paul to minister to the gentiles. Now some devout christian who has a “W” sticker on his car, is on his third wife, and all the while waiting for it to trickle-down to him so that he can finally reap the rewards of his voting record will no doubt fill in the Chapter and verse for me, and probably scold me for not knowing the exact passage, but that’s another story, and I’m rambling ’cause I’m trying not to get caught on a free-thinking web site at work, and thus be shunned and forced to wear the scarlet “I” for “Independent Thinker” again. You bring up an interesting argument, and it is merely one example of the contradictions which are present between Jesus’ actual words (at least as they were recalled some 60-90 years after his death when the gospels may have been written) and the actions of modern Christians. Just look at what he said on divorce and adultery. That ought to make a few people nervous at least. However, in re-reading the passage of Matthew you cite, it appears that even the law breakers may have a spot in the kingdom of heaven. The question is, does “least” mean least in heaven or in hell, in other words does the kingdom of heaven encompass hell? Or do you get there and just get assigned a lesser level of heaven due to your inability to resist the temptation of that cruel and vile harpy known as “Lobsterfest”. At least its good to know that those money changing bastards at MBNA will be right there with me.

  4. musafir says:

    No Bible scholar, I. Reading about the Pentecostals, Armageddon,
    and the “left behind” crowd convinced me to stay as far from them as possible. Hope they ascend to heaven…soon.

  5. Sarge says:

    In my younger days, when I was dragooned into sabath obsevance, I noticed the selective interpretations. It seemed that the only people who were solidly behind a place being “dry” were the baptists and bootleggers. In North Carolina I was told that smoking isn’t actually a sin because it isn’t mentioned in the bible. Drinking now…well, the people who MAKE the stuff say “MODERATION” is what’s called for, not abstainance.

    Then, a group which I performed with was down in the East Tennessee mountains and we played after a very firey diatribe about sin and its punishments, particularly dancing, played after the service…and people, including the preacher got up and danced. Now, a couple other reluctant observers mentioned the seeming hypocracy, but they straightened us right out. THEY WEREN’T REALLY DANCING! It’s only dancing, therefore sin and punishable by hell, if one crosses a leg in front of the other. They avoided that, so it was only rhythmic movement, and while possibly suspect, was NOT DANCING. Plus some people put stones in their shoes to MAKE SURE they didn’t enjoy it. And these people think I’M strange.

  6. HareTrinity says:

    Dancing: What evil people, like young people who ENJOY themselves (maybe even physically, shock horror), or those of a different (i.e. EVIL and Satanic) religion, do.

    I’m pretty sure that’s what the dictionary says anyway. Yeah…

  7. HareTrinity says:

    Actually, it would explain a LOT if the fundamentalists have “different” and “evil” as synonymous in their vocabulary.

  8. Zero Haven says:

    Just a note about the Exodus part. The point was not to make pictures of anything and then WORSHIP said graven images. i.e. make a statue is ok, just don’t pray to it.

    This is my favorite part because I often used it to baffle the psychos. In the English version it says to not make graven images of anything in the sea, on the land, or “in the heavens” – which means sky to the educated. To the psycho-door-knocking-at-8am christians I would ask “Are Jesus and Mary in Heaven?” Then follow by telling them that those statues of Mary and crosses of Jesus were graven images – therefore they are sinning by praying to them.
    This argument really worked well. Scary.

  9. MK says:

    Good to hear that there are others working to overcome the scars of a fundamentalist upbringing. Well, not good, but…. you understand.

    The human mind, if pressed, can justify anything. I mean anything at all. Especialy if your entire self-worth and world view are tied to whatever belief it is.

    I’ve debated enough Christians to know that it is mostly a useless exercise. I firmly believe that fundamentalist Christians are mentally ill. They hear voices, believe things that are scientificaly impossible, and deny any and all attempts to convine them they are delusional. I call it “The Purple Dragon” syndrome. If I told people there was a purple dragon that only I could see living in my bathtub and I listend to it to make my decisions in life, they would lock me away or at the very least suggest psychological treatment.

    However, if I could convince enough people that my puple dragon was real, then the people who did not believe would be looked upon as odd.

  10. HareTrinity says:


    Always nice to hear from someone who’s read the Bible and noticed a few of its oddities. Like your recent post in the forums, on the Bible’s mention of sex, too.

    And yeah, some Shakespearian in lessons has made me glance around to see if anyone else had noticed, too. Archaic English is full of odd things.

    And MK; I believe in your purple dragon! Do the people who don’t not realise that they will have their soles burnt to ash sent down the plughole for their sins?

  11. J. Matthew says:

    You mean you have a Purple Dragon in your bathtub, too?

    Thank Zeus! I thought I was the only one!

  12. Sarge says:

    A colleague with whom I play the harp is a professional story teller, her answering machine tells the caller that she’s in her garden playing with her unicorns. Who knows?

  13. Eric Abrahamson says:

    Why don’t Baptists have sex standing up?

    Because someone might think they were

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