The Red-Letter Words of Yeshua ~ Part 25

Sermon on the Mount ~ Part E

We continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Mattityahu 5:17.

Yeshua Came to Fulfill the Law ~ Part 1

17 “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.

This is an essential verse for us to wrap our minds around. Briefly, Yeshua states that He wants to make the meaning of the Torah and the Prophets complete. David Stern provides some further insight for us:

The Hebrew word “Torah,” literally “teaching, doctrine,” is rendered in both the Septuagint and the Brit Hadashah by the Greek word “nomos,” which means “law.” Greek has had a more direct and pervasive influence on English and other modern languages than Hebrew has, and this is why in most languages, one speaks of the “Law of Moshe” rather than the “Teaching of Moshe”. It is also part of the reason why the Torah has mistakenly come to be thought of by Christians as legalistic (see Romans 3:20b, Galatians 3:23b).

In Judaism, the word Torah may mean:

  1. Chumash (the Pentateuch, the five books of Moshe); or
  2. That plus the Prophets and the Writings, i.e., the Tanakh (known by Christians as the Old Testament; see 4:4–10; or
  3. That plus the Oral Torah, which includes the Talmud and other legal materials; or
  4. That plus all religious instruction from the rabbis, including ethical and aggadic (homiletical) materials.

Here it means the first of these, since “the Prophets” are mentioned separately.

The word “Prophets,” capitalized, refers to the second of the three main parts of the Tanakh (both Major and Minor). When the Tanakh prophets as persons are referred to, the word is not capitalized; “prophet” in the singular is never capitalized. By mentioning both the Torah and the Prophets, Yeshua says that He has not come to modify or replace God’s Word, the Tanakh. Compare Luke 24:44–45.

The Greek word for “to complete” is plêrôsai,” literally, “to fill”; the usual rendering here, however, is “to fulfill.” Replacement theology, which wrongly teaches that the Church has replaced the Jews as God’s people, misunderstands this verse in two ways.

First, Yeshua’s “fulfilling” the Torah means that it is unnecessary for people to fulfill it now. But there is no logic to the proposition that Yeshua’s obeying the Torah does away with our need to obey it. In fact, Sha’ul, whose object in his letter to the Romans is to foster “the obedience that comes from trusting” in Yeshua, teaches that such trusting does not abolish Torah but confirms it (Romans 1:5, 3:31).

Second, with an identical lack of logic, Yeshua’s “fulfilling” the Prophets is thought to imply that no prophecies from the Tanakh remain for the Jews. But the Hebrew Bible’s promises to the Jews are not abolished in the name of being “fulfilled in Yeshua.” Instead, fulfillment in Yeshua is an added assurance that everything God has promised the Jews will yet come to pass (see 2 Corinthians 1:20).

It is true that Yeshua kept the Torah perfectly and fulfilled predictions of the Prophets, but that is not the point here. Yeshua did not come to abolish but “to make full” (plêrôsai) the meaning of what the Torah and the ethical demands of the Prophets require. Thus he came to complete our understanding of the Torah and the Prophets to try more effectively to be and do what they say to be and do.

We will learn in verses 18–20 three ways in which the Torah and the Prophets remain necessary, applicable, and in force. The remainder of chapter 5 gives six specific cases in which Yeshua explains the fuller spiritual meaning of points in the Jewish Law. In fact, this verse states the theme and plan of the entire Sermon on the Mount. Yeshua completes, makes fuller, the understanding of His talmidim concerning the Torah and the Prophets so that they can more fully express what being God’s people is all about. [1]

Well, we didn’t get very far in our study of this complete passage, but we’ll pick it up next time around.

18 Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah – not until everything that must happen has happened. 19 So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers and P’rushim, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  ~ Mattityahu 5:17-20.

In our next post, we continue to explore the Sermon on the Mount from Mattityahu’s Gospel.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

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