What to Make of Matthew 24:35

As you read through biblical commentaries over the centuries, you will begin to note a rising incursion of secular rationalism into the commentary as the comment moves from the interpretation of the Scripture as a settled standard to a comment that offers alternate, non-exegetically based readings and interpretations. That is, scientific categories – theological, linguistic, historical —  not the Spirit, Word and Covenant keeper began to take precedence and then decide what the Scripture says and means. Most of the commentaries posted on StandardSacredText may seem unusual to the modern mind in that the critical work of the Post-reformation dogmaticians and Protestant Orthodox was positive, aimed toward reinforcing the common faith once delivered unto the saints. The Scripture itself was considered Scripture’s best exegetical and theological “commentary,” theology, linguistics, and history, subject to the self-attesting Scripture.

What follows is a brief comment on Matthew 24:35. As you read it, ask why, considering the simple reading of the passage, someone would assert there is no verse in Scripture teaching the providential preservation of the text. The meaning of the passage seems conspicuous, almost intuitive. How is the Church edified by rejecting this passage as grounds for providential preservation? If there was once a time when the interpretation or providential preservation was maintained by the Church, what philosophical, theological, ecclesiastical, etc., event or events took place to reject the rendering as valid?

Also note that the theology of providential preservation is based on the exegesis of the passage. That is, the idea of providential preservation is not imposed on an unwelcoming passage but that the passage demands such a rendering. If the exegesis of the passage is correct, what transpired to render the diction, grammar, and syntax in a contrary manner?

Thirdly, this interpretation is not sectarian but has been received historically by the orthodox Protestant Church as indicated by well-respected commentators of the Christian religion.

Matthew 24:35

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away

ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν

Exegesis and Exposition

            The “words” in this passage refer to the words of God in general, that unique set of words that were given by immediate inspiration of God. These words in one sense preclude what we call a “text,” a text being one of many representatives of varying worth attempting to capture the inspired words of God. The word parelqwsi translated “pass away” in the second instance is an ingressive (cf., inceptive) aorist tense verb from parercomai. The ingressive indicates an entrance into a state or condition. (Also see John 1:14; Acts 15:12). When expressing prohibition in the form, aorist tense, subjunctive mood and mh, the ingressive aorist conveys the meaning, “don’t start” or “don’t begin” the action referred to, which in this case is to “pass away.” Scripture in the most definite and unambiguous language tells us that though creation as we know it will go out of existence, the words of God will not. Given the historical context of creation’s past and present existence, not one word of God has “disappeared” or “come to an end.” James Morrison, in his commentary on Matthew observes,

What an immeasurable height here must have been within the self-consciousness of our Lord, when he thus contrasted the imperishableness of his own words with the perishableness of the heaven and earth! It is to his prediction in the preceding verse that he specially refers. Its fulfillment might be absolutely depended on. It would not fail. It was not liable to any casualty or transformation. And what was true of the words of this prediction, is equally true of all our Savior’s words,–of the sum total of his teachings. “The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away,” the sun and moon and stars shall pass away, “by the word of the Lord endureth forever.” (1 Pet. I, 25.)[1]

In the covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 15, the stars of heaven stand as testimonies to God’s faithfulness and power to bring His promises to consummation. This biblical truth is again attested to in Matthew 24:35 and parallel verses in the synoptic gospels.[2] The verse reads, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Reference to the testimony of “heaven and earth” is a common reinforcement to the certainty of the covenant and its fulfillment. In Genesis 15:5, God illustrates for Abram the numerical prosperity of his descendants by asking Abram to gaze into the sky to consider the number of the stars. This passage quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:3 solidifies the continuity of salvation and the common saving faith of Abraham, those who lived before the coming of Christ, with the saving faith of believers who lived after the death and resurrection of Christ. The stars were made a comparison by God with Abram’s posterity, a comparison Abram believed “and it was counted to him for righteousness.” “Stars” in Genesis 15 were not hyperbole but objects God used to do the work of faith in Abram’s heart. In this passage, the formula is creation/covenantal/salvific.

In Deuteronomy 30:11-13, the covenant is not off in the distant heavens nor beyond the sea, “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” Here, the created order is spoken of in spatial terms; that the covenant is not vast distances away but lives within the covenant keeper. Here, the formula is creation/covenantal/sanctifying.

Again, creation is presented as an empirical testimony to the validity of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:35-37 which reads, “Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” In this passage the formula is creation/covenantal/protecting

            Referring to Matthew 24:35, Calvin comments, “To win faith for His words, He illuminates their certainty with a comparison which, certainly, is based more firmly and surely than the fabric of the entire world”[3] and Matthew Henry says,

Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (v. 35 [the events]); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God’s ordinance, but they shall not continue forever (Ps. cii.25, 26; 2 Pet. iii.10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, the Word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he not spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power and virtue. See 1 Pet. i.24, 25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke xvi.17. Compare Isa. liv.10…. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.”[4]

Isaiah 54:10, reads as follows, “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” Here, the formula is creation/covenantal/kindness, peace, mercy.

Note again Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph in Genesis 49:25 where El Shaddai, the Almighty, “the God of the mountains” are bound together with Jacob’s lengthy covenantal blessing upon his son and posterity: “who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb. The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills” (or the place of blessing upon the “everlasting hills.”)

In Matthew 5:18, Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 16:17 and Luke 21:33 Jesus follows and expands upon this Old Testament formula. Rather than stars, mountains, seas and heavens, Jesus says “heaven and earth.” In these Old Testament passages, we see the unconditional, covenantal language of salvation, sanctification, protection, blessing, kindness, peace, and mercy. The mountains, seas, and heaven and earth stand as a witness to the faithfulness of God in the preservation of His covenant people through His word. This is also the larger theme of Psalm 12. Written as a reminder to Israel of the unconditional covenant first made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and rehearsed to the Patriarchs and throughout the Old Testament, the existence of the mountains and hills are witnesses to Jehovah’s kindness.

That Jesus follows this model in his teaching ministry should awaken our senses to recognize that the jot and tittle preservation of his word is not simply a theological issue to debate. The preservation of God’s Word is the preservation of God’s unconditional promise of salvation, sanctification, protection, blessing, kindness, peace, and mercy to the Church. Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) was an Italian-born theologian during the early years of the Reformation who expressed the following foundational theological truth, writing,

Thus says the Lord” (Dominus dixit) ought to be held as a first principle (primum principium) into which all true theology is resolved. This is not, moreover, an evidence derived from the light of human senses or from reason, but from the light of faith, by which we ought to be most fully persuaded, and which is contained in the sacred writings…. Christ himself teaches us, as it is said in Matthew 24, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will never pass away”; and it is repeated everywhere that “the word of God stands forever.[5]

Augustus Strong, in his Systematic Theology, cites this passage in the section that deals with the Trinity being “essential to any proper revelation”[6] and specifically that Christ is the only Revealer of God by linking Christ and His words by arguing the following:

The Christian on the other hand regards Christ as the only Revealer of God, the only God with whom we have to do, the final authority in religion, the source of all truth and the judge of all mankind. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Mat. 24:35).[7]

Citing Matthew 24:35 Strong adjoins the person of Christ as the “Revealer of the Father” from His message as the “source of all truth” with special reference to Scripture’s preservation. In other words, because Christ is the immutable Revealer of the immutable Father, so also His word is immutable. Because Christ is the eternal Revealer of the eternal Father so also His word is eternal. Because Christ is the Holy Revealer of the Holy Father, His word is holy. Christ is the immutable, eternal, holy “judge of all mankind” and will judge according to the dictates of his word.

[1] James Morrison, Matthew’s Memoirs of Jesus Christ: or a Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew (Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1873), 531. http://0-search.ebscohost.com.newlibrary.wts.edu/login.aspx?


[2] See 1 Peter 1:24-25 and Isaiah 40:6-8.

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, edited by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 98.

[4]Matthew Henry, Commentary vol. 5 (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1721), 360-61.

[5] Vermigli, Loci communes, I.vi.2. as cited in Richard A. Muller, “Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology,” Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), 342.

[6] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1993), 349.

[7]  Strong, Systematic Theology, 349-350.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “What to Make of Matthew 24:35

  1. I think the idea that you shared that Christ is the teacher of all truth and that all truth if found in the Scriptures is foreign to so many Christians today even those who hold to the WCF & 1689 LBC. Most people believe that empiricism and rationalism are also sources of truth and that Scripture must be interpreted through those lenses, which reduces the Scripures to being one source of truth among many others. The Trinity Foundation has an excellent resource that supports your conclusions. “Concerning The Teacher” by Augustine and “Lord God of Truth” by Gordon Clark. These two short but edifying books are printed together in one volume. Blessings.


    1. Thanks Ron for the note. The transition from Truth being sourced in man rather than God has been a patient and subtle subterfuge. And now, as Trueman points out it makes up the social imaginary and drives expressive individualism. It’s just the way people see the world and themselves. That little distinction can be made if any between the Church and society incriminates the Church and it is because the the spectacles of Scripture, that have given Christians a true understanding the world have been replaced with the rosy glasses of self. Kuyper’s quote that follows is one of my favorites:

      “It is unfortunate, however that in the olden time so little attention was paid to the formal principium [Holy Scripture]. For now it seemed altogether as though the still darkened understanding was to investigate Scripture as its object, in an entirely similar way to that in which this same understanding threw itself on plant and animal as its object. At first this compelled the understanding to adapt and accommodate itself to the authority of the Holy Scripture, which then maintained a high position. But, in the long run, roles were to be exchanged, and the neglect of the formal principium was to bring about a revision of the Scripture in the sense of our darkened understanding, as has now actually taken place. For if faith was considered under Soteriology, and connection with faith the ‘illumination,’ what help was this, as long as theology itself was abandoned to the rational subject, in which rational subject, from the hour of his creation, no proper and separate principium of knowing God has been allowed to assert itself?” Abram Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954, 1898), 347-348.

      Liked by 1 person

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