The Jot, the Tittle and Liberalism:
The Retaining of the Law of Moses in Armstrongist Theology
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. Acts 15:5, KJV.
“Paul shows right here that Gods law is not abolished — that it is "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart" (II Cor. 3:3). God's laws — His commandments, statutes and judgments — are to be in our hearts — we are to live them by the power of God's Spirit.”
– Rod Meredith in “Is Obedience to God Required for Salvation?”
“GOD’S MESSAGE is NOT one of LICENSE, BUT one of OBEDIENCE. For God says, “One jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5: 17-18). EVERYONE everywhere, who would live forever, MUST COME TO LIVE BY ALL THE LAW!”
– Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, Lesson 23, p. 3.
Armstrongist theology requires that the Mosaic Law kept by adherents to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. Not only must the Law of Moses be kept in toto but it is also written on the heart under the New Covenant. This means not only the preservation of the letter but any greater stringency that is exegeted out of, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount. Given this doctrinal position in Armstrongist theology, it is worthwhile knowing what Jesus was speaking of in Matt 5:18 – the jot and tittle verse. He was talking about nothing less than the full Mosaic Law – including not only laws, statutes and judgments but also ritual, sacrifices and other prescribed elements of liturgy. Further, the compliance with some of this litigation required the context of the Temple in Jerusalem. Required Temple worship was removed from Judaic practice in Rabbinical Judaism after 70 AD - not in the Bible.
Later, after the sacrifice of Jesus, both the animal sacrifices and the ministration of death were excluded from the New Covenant. So Jesus in Matt 5:17-18 was not speaking of the New Covenant law that would be instituted in the future for the church but the intact Mosaic Law that he kept when he was living under the Old Covenant. And the jot and tittle constraint immediately underwent revision after Jesus’ death. Other laws such as circumcision were magnified to become spiritual principles.
Rhetorically, why then would Armstrongists use Matt 5:17-18 that refers to a transitional and superseded condition pertaining to Jesus’ life on earth to move elements of the Mosaic Law into the New Covenant? For instance, Matt 5:17-18 is cited as part of the Armstrongist argument for retaining the Old Covenant tithing law as a New Covenant church requirement for salvation. But by using Matt 5:17-18 to retain tithing, Armstrongists make themselves doctrinally liable to keep the entire Mosaic Law – every jot and every tittle. They target tithing and the Sabbath and other select laws, for instance, but seem to almost inadvertently open the door to the full scope of the Mosaic Law as a requirement for salvation. Re-read the quotation from the Ambassador College Correspondence Course above.
The frightening (for Armstrongists) issue is that they have bound up their salvation in the keeping of the Mosaic Law in its full scope by misapplying Matt 5:17-18. Whereas, they have readily adopted tithing and the Sabbath, what about this law of equal status and written also on their hearts:
"Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'” (Leviticus 13:45, NIV)
The term “defiling disease” is in Hebrew tzara’at. It is not clear what this means medically but the Jewish Study Bible analyzes it extensively and concludes that it refers to a “scale disease” or “surface affection.” It does not refer to leprosy. How many Armstrongists follow this law, for instance, when their teenagers develop acne? The only way you can get around this would be to claim that it falls below the threshold of being a jot or a title and, hence, can be disregarded. (Note: I see in this scripture the endorsement for using masks to prevent the spread of diseases – at least as translated in the NIV.) So here is an example of a law in the Old Testament, written on the heart and required for salvation, that no Armstrongist keeps.
So how do Armstrongists reduce the cognitive dissonance – the uneasy state of mind stemming from the discrepancy between what the Law of Moses states and what they actually do? From what I learned when I was an Armstrongist is that they resort to liberalism. They void the jot and tittle principle by brazenly modifying what Herman Hoeh taught was God’s eternal, moral law. This is a radical liberal approach. A conservative approach is to retain every jot and every tittle just as Jesus defined the scope. HWA many times used the term “liberal” as an epithet. One wonders why. A radical liberal revisionist approach is to believe that the Mosaic Law can be modified at will. So the jot and tittle principle is nullified and now Armstrongists can stay at a nice hotel rather than experience the rigors of a scripturally prescribed brush arbor. To make it clear, Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:17-18 encompasses the idea of staying in a brush arbor only. And so apparently for Armstrongists God’s Great Moral Law is not really so eternal after all. It only lasts until there is a need to change it for convenience.