A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


July 15, 2012

Matthew 5:17

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."  


      I picked this verse to discuss today because I feel that it has often been misinterpreted.  I am not a Bible scholar, or a theologian, but I think the meaning is simple and clear when you understand it within the context Jesus meant it.     
     The "Law or the Prophets" that Jesus is speaking about here, is what us Christians consider the Old Testament.  In the Hebrew Bible it is called the Tanakh, which consists of the Torah, which, in one aspect, refers to the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), in which Moses received the Law from God.  The Tanakh also consists of the Prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.) and the Writings (Books such as Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, etc.).  I believe Jesus specified the Law and the Prophets for a reason.  They both have important implications for Believers.
     He is clearly saying that He did not come to abolish or do away with the Old Testament.  Remember, Jesus was (and still is) a Jew.  He was speaking largely to Jewish audiences.  So when he said he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, they understood him to mean the Hebrew Tanakh, or the Old Testament.  He is telling them (and us) that the moral and ethical commands established by God in the Old Testament (in the form of His laws), are not to be discontinued or voided.  They still have relevance today!  AND He embodies what it means to meet the demands for obedience to God as invoked by the Prophets.  
     Jesus is speaking directly to this generation of Christians who think that only the New Testament has relevance for us.  He wants us to know that He came not so we could ignore the Law OR the Call to Obedience.  But He came to complete the purpose of why we were given the Law; and to show us what it looks like to be obedient to the will of God.  He came to "fulfill" them, or a better translation is the Hebrew "to make them full", or complete.
     What he DIDN'T say is, "You don't need to pay attention to any of those old rules, or listen to the warnings of the Prophets.  Your sins are forgiven and that's all you need to be concerned about."  What he DID say is, "It's still important for you to follow God's ways as specified in His laws; and I've come to show you what the Prophets were talking about; why it is important to know all that obedience entails." 
     Finally, to me, this verse tells me that, yes, He is full of the Mercy and Grace of the New Testament.  But the lessons of the Old Testament are not to be cast away.  There are ethical and moral laws we are to obey; and if they are ignored, then the warnings and judgments given by the Prophets will play a role in our lives.  He personifies the fullness of the entire Bible.

3 comments:

  1. This became long - so I am splitting this into two parts....

    Here is Part 1
    Rory

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    Belle,

    This scripture verse(s) is one of the most important for today’s Christians and all believers to “get”… I have heard much of “the law is nailed to the cross” (whatever that means), and the like…. Much of current church teaching minimizes the importance of what actual scripture says, to that of a Constantinian type religion.

    Please though reference also verse 5:18-19 – it has much impact and consequences when tied with 5:17 of Matthew:

    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.

    “Words mean things…..” all I have to say is a big ‘Wow’ to verses 18 and 19!!!

    I have studied Hebraic Roots for well over a decade and wish to add some thoughts to this topic – which I find totally fascinating. No, I am NOT a ‘legalist’, but one who actually believes what God’s Word REALLY says….

    Here is the summary of my thoughts:
    1. Matthew 5-7 is one ‘Midrash’ – or Sermon, it is called the Sermon on the Mount. We will see a STARTLING conclusion when we look at what it really says.
    2. The word ‘Law’ is a quite poor translation of the word ‘nomos’ – but it is the words in our Bibles (check out the Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern for a good translation from a Hebraic perspective – also available online at biblestudytools.net ). When the word ‘nomos’ is used, it is referring to the word ‘Torah’ – which a better translation would be the word ‘Teaching’.
    3. Hebraic Idioms are COMPLETELY missed in our current Church teachings – Matthew 5:17 is one of those Idioms that is again fascinating to delve into.

    First off – Matthew 5-7 is the Sermon on the Mount – or a Jewish ‘Midrash’ (breaking down the word). Notice that Jesus starts out with the beatitudes, then goes on to make the statement in Matthew 5:17 –

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Or the Complete Jewish Bible says this:

    "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.

    Notice, Stern uses the word “Torah” instead of “Law” – as the word ‘Torah” is what Yeshua (Jesus) was referring to – which is the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

    Please note, Yeshua in the Sermon on the mount states this opening statement about His own Word, the Torah, yet then goes on to get past the legalistic stage, and actually adds in the spiritual part and makes it ‘harder’! He adds in the color and the actual MEANING of the words in the rest of chapters 5, 6, and 7…. Yet when he wraps up the Midrash, or Semon, he includes the following:

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  2. Part 2


    Matthew 7:18 "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 "So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles ?” (NASB)

    Please note that in verses 21 and 22 people are confused, these are practicing believers of Yeshua, whom have been doing many ‘good’ things – these are not dummies who did not know any different (which is how I had learned in a church). These people were earnestly confused and hurt that they were not accepted into the Kingdom! Wow… but what does God say to them? Verse 23 explains clearly:

    23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (NASB)

    You will see some bibles use the word ‘iniquity’ for ‘lawlessness’ – which somewhat minimizes the impact of the word….

    In the Greek – when ‘nomos’ is used, it is likened to the word ‘Law’. The word ‘anomia’ – which is the condition of without the law – contempt and violation of the law….

    So with Matthew 5:17 and Matthew 7:23 acting as bookends, Yeshua directly reinforces the importance of the “Law” or His own very Torah (Teaching).!!!! I believe most of Christendom misses this concept completely….


    Secondly – the word “Law” is a poor translation of ‘nomos’ from Greek to English.

    http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/12_torah.html

    The above website does a good job of discussing the etymology of the word ‘Torah’ – which is based on a Hebrew root word ‘Yarah’ – which is likened to shooting an arrow to a definite target – or aiming for a definite goal. As discussed in the article – a Hebraic definition of Torah is “a set of instructions from a father to his children……” (see article for the rest).

    Hence, I attempt to counsel Christians and other Believers to use the word “Teaching” whenever they see the word “Law” – this is LOVING teaching – not harsh teaching.

    Unfortunately in Christendom, because of poor teaching and exegesis, people think automatically “Grace good, Law bad….” Well, it’s ALL God’s own Word, to me, it’s all good!!!


    Thirdly, the Idiomatic meaning of Matthew 5:17 – again the verse reads:

    "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

    If one chooses to read much of Jewish literature (extra biblical type sources – Mishna, etc) – you will find the Jewish Rabbi’s discussing, and arguing very technical points of the Torah and other Hebraic scriptures – sometimes in mind-numbing detail. Yet their hearts were attempting to understand all that God had to say on various topics. Yet in heated debate, frequently the Rabbis would argue with interpretations of Torah they disagree upon as “YOU ARE DESTROYING THE LAW!!!!, I AM TRYING TO FULFILL – YET YOU DESTROY!!!!”

    Destroy would mean misinterpreting the Law – whereas Fulfill would mean interpret correctly… Interestingly, note how Yeshua used these same words in scripture!!!

    You can find a paper of idioms in Matthew here (scroll down a bit to find the discussion on Matthew 5:17-18).

    http://www.healing2thenations.net/papers/hebrewmt.htm

    Bivin and Blizzard’s book on this topic is here (a very interesting read)
    http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Difficult-Words-Jesus-Perspective/dp/156043550X

    Hopefully some of this will make sense to some folks, I love this topic as it is very interesting to delve into.

    Blessings
    Rory

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    Replies
    1. Rory,

      You have greatly expanded on what I said, and I appreciate it! I decided to try to keep it brief and introductory for those who have not heard this meaning in their churches (which I'm sure are many!). I really hope people will take the time to read your entire comment, because I totally agree with it and its a message they need to hear. The modern church has tipped the scale heavily towards God's Grace and neglected to teach the significance of Torah. And by the way, I have David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible and find it a great resource! Thanks again, for such a knowledgeable response.

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