The Law

The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 4)

Read the series.

The Meaning of “To Fulfill”

In my previous post I addressed the meaning of “to abolish” in Matthew 5:17. Now I interpret the meaning of “to fulfill” in 5:17 with a view to understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (emphases mine throughout).

What Jesus meant by “to fulfill” has been the subject of much debate with several differing views offered. At first, I considered discussing the various views and then presenting my particular understanding all in one post. But that is far too much for one entry. So my purpose here is to positively present the view I think is accurate.

Pleroō in the New Testament

The Greek term for “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 is plērōsai, coming from the verb, pleroō. A form of pleroō occurs 90 times in the New Testament. There are several ways the word is used (list is not exhaustive):

  • To fill up
  • To fill to the full or top
  • To complete or accomplish
  • To carry through to the end
  • To make complete or perfect
  • To show a correspondence with heightening
  • To realize or bring something to realization

Because the term is used 90 times, sometimes in differing contexts, the interpreter must determine which sense of pleroō is the precise meaning in any given example.

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 3)

Below is Part 3 of an ongoing series on “The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19.”

With my last post, I argued that “the Law or the Prophets” and “Law” in Matthew 5:17-18 referred to the Old Testament in its entirety. This is contrary to the popular idea that Jesus was addressing the Mosaic Law only, especially with Matthew 5:18. The purpose of this post is to examine the term, “abolish,” in 5:17. What did Jesus mean when He said that He did not come to “abolish” the Law or the Prophets?

A Word about Word Studies

This study and the one after this will focus on the meanings of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17-18. But first a note about words and word studies is appropriate.

As with all words, there is usually a range of meaning for a term depending on how it is used. If used extensively, most words have two or more meanings. That is how language usually works. For example, the Greek term pneuma in the New Testament, often translated “spirit,” can refer to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), wind (John 3:8), breath (2 Thess. 2:8), the immaterial part of a person (Luke 8:55; Acts 7:59), angels (Heb. 1:14), demons (Matt. 8:16), and other things. Context will decide which sense was in the author’s mind.

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 2)

Understanding “the Law or the Prophets”

In Part 1, I mentioned that a decision must be made concerning what Jesus meant by “the Law or the Prophets” in Matthew 5:17 and “Law” in 5:18. While this issue might not seem that significant at first glance, it is important for a correct understanding of Matthew 5:17-19. The purpose of this post is to survey the issues here and comment on what I think is the best understanding.

Before we start, though, I understand that the issues we are beginning to discuss are heavily debated And reasonable people can disagree with my findings.

To begin, note Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-18:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 1)

I have had a desire for some time to write on the meaning of Matthew 5:17-19. As I began to construct a blog post, it quickly became clear that a one-part entry would not be sufficient. So I am addressing this passage in a series, with this being Part 1.

The purpose of this post is to introduce Matthew 5:17-19, and point out five key interpretive decisions that must be made here. 

For clarification, I am not offering a comprehensive biblical theology or systematic treatment of the Law of God in the Bible. That would take a large book. Nor is this a comprehensive examination of every view of Matthew 5:17-19, although I will mention some of the various views later. My goal primarily is to understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17-19. We must let an accurate understanding of Matthew 5:17-19 inform our understanding of the Law and not force a predetermined view on this text.

Let us begin by reciting the text:

Matthew 5:17-19

 In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus states:

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (NASB)

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What Shall We Do with Moses?

A couple of weeks back Bob Jones University made the news by apologizing for statements made a generation ago suggesting that homosexuals should be subjected, like they were during the Mosaic economy, to capital punishment. This mea culpa was a welcome one insofar as the offending statement was insensitive, vindictive, even hateful. But among the tweets and chatter that ensued, it was surprising to see how many bloggers (critics and defenders of BJU alike) made no apparent differentiation between the words spoken in 1980 and the words written in the 15th century BC. Moses is apparently guilty of hate speech, too!

This is a troubling sentiment, I think, and one that seriously erodes Old Testament credibility and authority. Surely as inerrantists we must conclude that Moses was right to write what he did! It is in view of this fact that I ask today, What should we do with Moses and his copious assignment of capital punishment for seemingly trivial crimes (or in some cases, perhaps, for no crime at all)? Shall we defend him? Blush for him? Distance ourselves from him by denouncing the Law as inherently evil and, to our great relief, dead and gone?

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No Hell?

Satan’s encounter with Eve in the Garden is fascinating and very important for us to understand. His temptation of Eve, recorded in Genesis 3, represents several firsts:

It is the first instance of an epistemological alternative to God’s design. Satan offers to Eve a different way to have God-like knowledge. Satan argues that God is actually deceiving Eve into ignorance by keeping her from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s plan was both clear and appealing: Be like God by the assertion of your own will, and be free from God’s restrictive design. Declare your independence from God by doing it your own way—the result will be the same.

Satan’s temptation of Eve is also the first instance of a hermeneutic alternative to God’s design. Satan’s temptation of Eve was the first recorded instance of a non-literal interpretation of God’s word. Satan asks Eve, “Has God said … ?” and then proceeds to distort what God had actually said (3:1). In contrast, Genesis 1-12 represents roughly 2,500 years of history, and during that time, of the roughly 31 references to God speaking, this is the only instance (besides Eve’s fumbling in response to Satan’s challenge) in which God’s word isn’t taken at face value.

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