The Authority Of One Jot And Tittle.
As anyone familiar with the debate surrounding the place of the old covenant civil code under the new covenant administration will acknowledge, Bahnsen’s ‘Theonomy In Christian Ethics’ has never been adequately refuted. (In fact I put this out as a challenge to any and all – don’t read it if you are hell bent on opposing his thesis, because it is so thorough your conscience will give you no rest till you change your mind). In his famous defence of Matthew 5:17-20 he proves conclusively that whatever ‘fulfill’ means, with respect to both the law and the prophets, it does not mean ‘abrogate’.
Here I would make this further point, with the help of one of my favourite authors – Dr E. J. Carnell. Jot and tittle refers to the least stroke of a letter. Authority therefore is based on the precise meaning of each and every word, with the level of distinction going to the level of a stroke of the pen. One must ask the obvious question – how can you have authority without inerrancy, when the very meaning is based upon the least stroke of a pen? In particular, Jesus said this of the old covenant scriptures.
“Jesus assigned authority to the details, as well as to the whole, of the Old Testament.” Carnell then quotes the following from Kuyper’s ‘Principles Of Sacred Theology’. “In Matt xxii.44, the strength of Jesus’ argument hangs on the single word ‘Lord’. ‘The Lord said unto my Lord’; yea, even more precisely, on the single iod. The emphasis falls on the ‘my Lord.’ In John x.35 the entire argument falls to the ground, except the one word ‘gods’ have absolute authority. In the same way it can be shown, in a number of Jesus’ arguments from the Scripture, that in the main they do not rest upon the general contents, but often upon a single word or a single letter. The theory therefore of a general tendency in the spiritual domain, which in the Old Testament should merely have an advisory authority, finds no support in Jesus.” [Carnell ‘The Case For Orthodoxy’ (36) – Kuyper (435-436)]
For those who suggest that we should rest our authority in Jesus and not in the bible, they repudiate what Jesus Himself taught. Furthermore, “since Jesus rested his Messianic office on the authority of the Old Testament, a Christian offends consistent procedure if he accepts Christ’s Messianic office, but rejects the divine authority of the Old Testament. In John, ch. 10, for example: ‘Jesus’ defense takes the form of an appeal to Scripture; and it is important to observe how he makes his appeal. In the first place, he adduces the Scriptures as law: ‘Is it not written in your law?’ he demands. The passage of Scripture which he adduces is not written in that portion of Scripture which was more specifically called ‘the law,’ that is to say. the Pentatuech; nor in any portion of Scripture of formally legal contents. It is written in the Book of Psalms; and in a particular psalm which is as far as possible from presenting the external characteristics of legal enactment (Ps. lxxxii.6). When Jesus adduces this passage, then, as written in the ‘law’ of the Jews, he does it, not because it stands in the psalm, but because it is part of Scripture at large. In other words, he here ascribes legal authority to the entirety of Scripture, in accordance with a conception common enough among the Jews (cf. Jn. xii.34)….But our Lord, determined to drive his appeal to Scripture home, sharpens the point to the utmost by adding with the highest emphasis: ‘and Scripture cannot be broken.’ This is the reason why it is worth-while to appeal to what is ‘written in the law,’ because ‘the Scripture cannot be broken.’…It is impossible for the Scripture to be annulled, its authority to be withstood, or denied. The movement of thought is to the effect that, because it is impossible for the Scripture…to be withstood, therefore this particular Scripture which is cited must be taken as of irrefragable authority. What we have here is, the strongest possible assertion of the indefectible authority of Scripture.” (Carnell (36-37) – Warfiled, ‘The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible’ (138-14).
One can thank Dr. Carnell for saving one from reading 400 pages to get to these points – although both are surely worth the read. The point is a simple one. That there is no grounds for liberalism in Jesus teaching, (which would ultimately require them to redact out these elements of his authority), there can be no doubt. However, there can also be no doubt that the pure unadulterated understanding of the word also casts the neo-orthodox like Barth, and the neo-Evangelicals like Donald Bloesch in the same light. When the latter writes about ‘The Essentials Of Evangelical Theology’, let us be very clear that he is redefining the meaning not only of the words of Scripture, but of the historical meaning of the word ‘Evangelical’. Is this not the bearing of false witness? Authority does not exist without verbal inerrancy – to every jot and tittle.