Matthew 5:17-18 (less cryptic version)

From: Watt1997 (
Date: Tue Apr 14 1998 - 08:23:53 EDT

Apologies to all, it seems that in trying to compose a succinct post I
succeeded in being cryptic. Let me try again.

What I am proposing or asking is if it would be legitimate to represent
Matthew 5:17-18 approximately as follows:

1. Don't think I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets.
2. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil (them), believe it or not,
until heaven and earth pass away.
3. Not a jot or tittle will disappear from the Law until everything is

Let me explain why I began to explore this possibility. It raises questions
about a series of assumptions. As a post-beginner (and some might question the
"post") I am a little out of my depth.

Many people seem to adopt an assumption that the "Truly I say to you"
constructions normally/always begin a sentence. That appears to be assumed to
be true whether it is an AMEN GAR or AMEN, AMEN construction. However, some
believe that the Greek NT is a translation or record of Aramaic conversation.
In Hebrew/Aramaic it seems that OMAYN generally (always?) follows the material
to which it refers. The English "Amen" following a prayer is used similarly. I
then began to look at the use of AMEN constructions in Greek, and it seemed
that a terminal position might be applicable in some situations. Matthew
5:17-18 was one example.

With regard to the specific example of Matthew 5:17-18 I spotted another
aspect which I think is unique in the Greek NT - the use of a double hEWS AN
construction. There is no other double hEWS construction in the NT other than
in Matthew 18:22 where it is used as an obvious contrast. So Matthew 5:17-18
seems unique in the NT.

I also questioned what the purpose of the double hEWS AN construction was. The
second hEWS AN construction seems to me to add nothing if, as is generally
assumed, the "until heaven and earth pass away" rightly belongs with "not a
jot or tittle shall disappear from the Law".

Also I looked at the sentence position of HEWS constructions and found that
these (almost) invariably came at the end of a sentence. None of the reference
texts I consulted actually said anything helpful about this issue. The two
possible exceptions (2nd Corinthians 3:15; 1st Timothy 4:13) need not be
exceptions since the hEWS constructions might legitimately (particularly in
Timothy), in my opinion, be appropriately attached to the "preceding"

In summary, Matthew 5:17-18 as traditionally interpreted seems to have three
aspects which might give rise to question:
1. The AMEN construction need not begin a sentence.
2. The double hEWS AN construction seems to be unique in NT Greek
3. The hEWS construction seems normally to end a sentence.

In addition GAR frequently refers back to what has preceded it. That raises
interesting issues regarding AMEN GAR. I could find only 4 examples in the NT
(the others are Matthew 10:23; 13:17; 17:20). In each case the AMEN GAR seems
to me to be clarifying or developing what has preceded it.

I have always found Matthew 5:17-20 less than straightforward theologically.
It seems to me that many Christian commentators effectively put it to one side
on the assumption (derived implicitly or explicitly from Pauline theology)
that the Law is past. Messianic Jewish interpreters, by contrast, use the
passage as a "proof" of the eternality of the Torah/Mosaic Law and its
continuing applicability to believers. Both interpretations seem to me to have
problems. I mention those theological issues simply to set the context of the
question. I could develop those at much greater length, if thought

Thus the traditional split of Matthew 5:17-18 seems to me to have several
questionable aspects. The split proposed at the beginning of this post seems
to me to possibly provide a more credible position (at least with respect to
the points mentioned above) than the traditional split. I would like the views
of those on the list regarding whether the split I propose is credible, and if
the opinion is that it is not credible on what grounds its possible
credibility is rejected.

I hope that in this lengthier version of the question that what I am asking is
signficantly clearer.

Andrew Watt

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