By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
You know what, Scripture makes it plain that Christ staked his life on the Word of God. But how about this?: even more, Christ staked his life on even obscure details in Scripture. Some scholars have occasionally accused conservative Christians of being too detail-minded about Scripture, too focused on the minutia. Now, it’s no doubt that such a thing can happen, as Jesus’ strong attack on the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23 proves. In that text, Jesus charges,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt 23:23–24).
Very strong words. When Jesus said in verse 24 that they “strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel,” his charge is that they have been so focused on tiny details of Scripture that they completely missed the bigger picture. Some scribes in Jesus’ time, for example, were given astonishing assignments, like counting the number of letters in a book of the Bible and marking the middle letter. That kind of time-consuming frivolity is surely not the reason Scripture was given by God to people. A modern day equivalent might be seen in Grant Jeffrey’s book The Mysterious Bible Codes, in which computer analysis of letter intervals in the Hebrew text reveals the Hebrew names for Hitler, Eichmann, and Auschwitz.
However, just because Jesus wouldn’t have supported counting letters for bizarre statistics and findings like that, that doesn’t mean he would have supported any of God’s letters dropping out from the text. Letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, and these paragraphs were given by God to transform our minds. The One who constructed this massive, amazing universe out of tiny atoms knows the significance of single letters.
And that’s what we get from Jesus in Matthew 5: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (vv 18–19).
The NIV translation “smallest letter” and “least stroke of a pen” might better be understood literally as “jot and tittle” (or “iota and dot”). The “jot” is the translation of the Greek word “iota,” which is how the Hebrew letter “yodh” is translated. And the “yodh” looks much like a tiny apostrophe. The “tittle” is the serif or little hook-like projection at the end of a Hebrew letter—a small stroke of a pen that may distinguish one letter from another. Jesus says all of those pen strokes will be preserved by the power of God until the end of the world.
No one can then argue that Jesus didn’t think details were important. As a matter of fact, three straight examples will show that Jesus though every part of Scripture was equally the Word of God—from the most obscure (Psalm 82) to the smallest (one word in Psalm 110) to the details (one verb tense in Exodus 3:6). In this post, we’ll deal with the most obscure—Psalm 82. In two later posts, we’ll deal with the others.
In John 10, after Jesus made his extraordinary claim to deity—“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)—the Jews then picked up stones to try to kill him. Jesus’ life was being threatened, and he was under immense pressure. What did he reach for to save his life? Nothing more (or less) than Psalm 82. Now, Psalm 82 is not one of the most famous psalms in the Bible. Psalm 23 is probably that. Others, like Psalms 1, 8, 22, 24, 27, 32, 37, 51, 84, 100, 103, 119, and 139 have some very well-known passages in them. Very few people have ever considered Psalm 82 their favorite Psalm. It’s truly obscure, yet it’s truly part of inspired Scripture. Jesus, in the midst of the threat of stoning, reaches for a passage from Psalm 82 to save his life.
The text states, “And again, the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? When then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?’” (John 10:31–36).
When Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 for his defense (“I said you are gods”), he is seeking to save his life from stoning. Yet it was about this Scripture that Jesus said what we quoted in an earlier post: “Scripture cannot be broken.” The argumentation is somewhat difficult to follow, but Leon Morris explains it like this: “His argument runs not ‘Psalm 82 speaks of men as gods; therefore I in common with other men may use the term of myself.’; but rather, ‘If in any sense the Psalm may apply the term to men, then how much more may it be applied to him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world’” (The Gospel According to John, NICNT, 527–28).
Whether we can follow Jesus’ argument or not, it’s still astonishing that—at such an incredibly tense moment, with his life hanging in the balance—Jesus reaches for a single phrase in an obscure psalm, saying of that single phrase, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” How, then, can Jesus’ view of the perfection of all Scripture be any clearer?
Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; and (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment by All Scripture.
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