Read the series.
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.
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):
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.
A sermon delivered on Good Friday morning, March 29, 1861, by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
“Christ Jesus whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:25).
We commenced the services in this place by the declaration that here Christ shall be preached. Our Brother who followed us expressed his joy that Christ was preached herein. He did rejoice, yes, and would rejoice, and our friends must have observed, how, throughout the other services there has been a most blessed admixture not only of the true spirit of Christ, but of pointed and admirable reference to the glories and beauties of His Person. This morning, which is the beginning of our more regular and constant ministry, we come again to the same noble theme. Christ Jesus is today to be set forth! You will not charge me for repeating myself—you will not look up to the pulpit, and say, “Pulpits are places of tautology.” You will not reply that you have heard this story so often that you have grown weary of it, for well I know that with you, the Person, the Character, and the work of Christ are always fresh themes for wonder!
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?
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.
If you ask a conservative Christian how many wills Christ has had since the incarnation, he will likely respond, “one will!” This sounds good, but is it true? Orthodox Christology teaches that Christ, the Divine Person, has eternally existed. Each person has a specific nature, which can be described as a “complex of attributes.”1 A nature is, if you will, the constellation or package of attributes that color and shape you as a “person.” Personhood entails possession of this host of attributes, no matter what particular shape they take in your own life.
But, in the incarnation, something changed. Now, Christ’s divine complex of divine attributes (his divine nature) was coupled with a human constellation of human attributes (his human nature). Where does the idea of a volitional “will” fit into this picture? If you assume a “will” is an essential part of a person’s nature, then (logically) it follows that Christ must have two wills; the human and the divine.
This is the conundrum the Sixth Ecumenical Council met to discuss, and it was at this council that the doctrine of monothelitism (one will in the incarnate Christ) was condemned. Below is the full text of the decree of this council,2 so you can read the matter for yourself:
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.
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:
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)