You Review It: Me on Matthew 5:17

I am working on some text for a possible publishing project coming up soon. I’d like to benefit from some reader response.

This piece is a short explanation of Matthew 5:17. It cannot really be longer or at least not much longer.

I’d be interested in your comments:
1. Does it read well?
2. Could something be said better?
3. Did I miss explaining something you think quite helpful?
4. Do you disagree with something? If so, please give a short rebuttal (100-200 words is plenty). It’s okay if you are coming from a different way of thinking (yes, that includes you, Adam).

……………………………..

Matthew 5:17 has been an easy passage for people to misunderstand. What the passage seems to say is often dismissed because other places in the New Testament seem to disagree. Paul says, “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14, KJV). The issue of the relationship of the believer to the Law of Moses is a complex one. Many people are content to dismiss the positive statements about the Torah in favor of those which seem to say it no longer matters.

Thus, in order the deal with Matthew 5:17-19, which seem to say the opposite of Paul’s teaching, there is a common understanding that goes as follows. Yeshua said he did not come to abolish the Torah but he came to “fulfill” it (most English translations say “fulfill”). One way of thinking is to assume that fulfill means something very much like abolish. Thus, Yeshua would be saying, I am not contradicting the Torah but bringing it to an end in a way my Father intended.

There are four immediate problems with this sort of interpretation:

1. The word translated fulfill is actually a simple word meaning to fill up. In fact, it may be helpful to remember Yeshua as saying, “Do not think I have come to abolish Torah and the prophets but to fill them full.”

2. The idea that fulfilling the Torah is similar to abolishing it does not fit with 5:18-19. There Yeshua says that not even a stroke will pass from the Torah as long as heaven and earth are here.

3. Nowhere in the Bible does Yeshua’s Father say anything about a time when the Torah will come to an end. Thus, if Yeshua meant to say that he was doing God’s will by bringing Torah to its rightful end, Yeshua would be contradicting the numerous passages of Torah which say it is forever (e.g., Exodus 31:13).

4. The idea that fulfilling Torah means bringing it to an end does not fit what Yeshua goes on to say in the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than bringing the Torah to an end, Yeshua fills it up. For example, in 5:22, Yeshua says the commandment not to murder even means not to hate or nurse anger against someone. In 5:28 he says that looking lustfully violates the commandment against adultery. Yeshua is truly filling up the Torah, not by bringing it to an end, but by giving it the fullest interpretation which judges motives and the heart.

To understand Yeshua’s teaching and Paul’s at the same time is not impossible at all. Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles. Yeshua was teaching Jews. The long-time view of Judaism is that certain Torah commands such as the Sabbath, the dietary laws, circumcision, and several others were not commands to the whole world, but just to Israel. These commands are part of Israel being a people set apart. Thus, in Acts 15, James, Peter, and Paul agreed that non-Jews need not live like Jews to live by faith in Yeshua. Thus, Paul could praise the Torah (Rom. 7:14), keep it himself (Acts 21:20-24), and yet say to his Gentile readers that they should not let anyone compel them to live as Jews (Gal. 5:1).

Properly understood, the Torah is about loving God and not about earning God’s love. Yeshua taught his Jewish disciples in Matthew 5:17-20 that their practice of the Torah should be deeper than even the Pharisees. Yeshua was a Torah-teacher (rabbi) as well as Messiah. And numerous Jewish traditions from the time and in the later rabbis speak of Messiah as one who would show Israel the proper way to keep Torah. (For more, see They Loved the Torah by David Friedman and The Distortion by John and Patrice Fischer).

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About Derek Leman

Rabbi, writer, Weight Watchers leader, blogger, geek. My main blog is DerekLeman.com/Musings and my health blog is LemansLoserBlog.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Derek's Writings, Gentiles, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Paul, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to You Review It: Me on Matthew 5:17

  1. judahgabriel says:

    Derek,

    Some thoughts:

    We disagree on some points:

    “The long-time view of Judaism is that certain Torah commands such as the Sabbath, …”

    That doesn’t jive with Scripture, bro. Isaiah and the gentiles keeping Sabbath, for example. Sabbath pre-dating Israel, for another.

    Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles. Yeshua was teaching Jews.

    It’s awfully short-sighted, and rather revolutionary, to imply Messiah’s teachings are applicable only to Jews.

    How easier is the theology, “The Torah is God’s good instruction for his people, regardless of race.” Ah, I hope you see that one day.

    Beyond theological disagreements, I like your style. It’s simple, concise, easy to read.

    I’d drop the KJV in favor of something more modern, but that’s just my opinion.

    Shabbat shalom, Derek.

  2. jonboze says:

    One thing that we don’t seem to notice is that we never use fulfill to mean do away with. If we fulfill someones request, does that mean we ignore it? Why should Yeshua fulfilling the law mean anything different than if I try to fulfill the law (aside from the fact that he did it far better than I)?

  3. Thomas says:

    You say that Jesus filled-up the Torah. I think you are meaning that he filled out Torah in the sense that he made its intent known.
    In relation to Paul they have different starting points. Paul was post death and resurrection of the Christ and was living in the reality of being in Christ. Jesus completely fulfilled the law – he obeyed it in every sense (Cf. Hebrews). For Paul, Jews and Gentiles are not saved by any observance of laws (Jewish or otherwise) but by faith through identification with Jesus. Those who are by faith “in Christ” have Holy Spirit and live by the law of Christ, not any law given by God through Moses or the Prophets.
    Of course the law of Christ may look similar to the law of Moses because murder, theft, adultery, etc. are still evil.
    Properly understood, the Torah “was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Ga 3:19). I believe that by this Paul means that in Jesus the Mosaic Law and humanity came together. By virtue of being “in Christ” humans are no longer under death or law and live in the Spirit. This means that no laws other than the law of Christ remain. The Law according to Christ was to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:30-31). The tale of the Greek Testament is the working out of those two commands. Hence the early Christians argued over circumcision, food worshipped to idols, and food laws. They concluded that love for neighbours meant that Gentiles would abstain from certain things (Acts 15:29). The Greek Testament also includes a number of sin lists such as Gal 5:19-21 which are contrasted with what it means to live in the Spirit (5:22-23).
    I know you won’t agree but from this it follows that those in Christ do not need to follow the Jewish laws such as not eating pork unless in doing so they violate their conscience and see it as an act of disobedience, thereby making it sin.

  4. Pingback: What did Jesus mean when he said he came to fulfill the law? « Epistles of Thomas

  5. jonboze says:

    “Jesus completely fulfilled the law – he obeyed it in every sense (Cf. Hebrews). For Paul, Jews and Gentiles are not saved by any observance of laws (Jewish or otherwise) but by faith through identification with Jesus. Those who are by faith “in Christ” have Holy Spirit and live by the law of Christ, not any law given by God through Moses or the Prophets”

    So did Yeshua fully fill the laws of a woman’s time? What about the laws of marrage? He couldn’t have obeyed it in “every sense”, because every sense don’t apply to a single male. He could have only perfectly kept the laws that applied to him.

    The argument that he fulfilled every sense of the law so we are no longer bound to keep it, misses that.

    One cannot individually keep all of the law, without sinning. If I am not of the right tribe, i cannot keep the temple service laws, because to do so would be a sin (as I’m not allowed in certain areas of the temple).

    I can be sinless by keeping in their entirety the laws that apply to me, but that does not equate to keeping the entire law.

    If Yeshua fulfilled the law so we aren’t bound to it, does that not apply to women, who had laws that Yeshua never had the opportunity to keep? Or priests? Or Husbands? Or fathers?

    He may have been sinless, but he could not keep the law in every sense. If he did not keep it in every sense, I don’t see how his sacrifice releases the obligation from us.

  6. mchuey says:

    The viewpoint that Yeshua’s teachings to Jews only apply to Jews can create an entire array of hermeneutical issues, some foreseen and others unforeseen. The most obvious of these issues would be that non-Jewish Believers would presumably not be applicable to really follow Yeshua’s teachings in the Gospels, which here would mean that the famed Sermon the Mount only regards Jewish behavior. When we do get into Paul’s epistles as being relevant to non-Jewish Believers, they themselves were written to ancient audiences first like the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, etc., and often address situations that do not directly concern Twenty-First Century society.

    It would appear to me that some of Messianic Judaism seems to be leaning toward a modified dispensational view of the Scriptures, where all of the Tanach–and here most of the Gospels–only applies to the Jewish people. The question of whether or not this fits with the trajectory of Scripture and with the Divine mission that God entrusted to Israel will undoubtedly be a matter of vibrant discussion and debate in the days ahead.

    If the solicited comments on Matthew 5:17-19 are indeed to be used in a future piece of writing, then I would strongly recommend that it not be kept so simplistic as is typical with a great deal of Messianic writing today. Demonstrating engagement with an array of scholastic opinions would be something worthwhile (and it would also reinforce my own firm belief that Jewish people really are deep and profound thinkers).

    I trust that this has already taken place beyond the issues of plērōsai and what “these commandments” actually constitute, with a consideration of perspectives from technical commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew. I would also hope that differing points of view on the Law of Moses within evangelical theology, specifically ranging from Lutheran to Reformed, would also be summarized (as are concisely examined in Zondervan’s Five Views on Law and Gospel). Finally, what is Messianic Judaism to make of evangelicalism’s renewed interest in the Old Testament, as seen in works such as The Mission of God by Christopher J.H. Wright or The Promise-Plan of God by Walt Kaiser? How does Messianic Judaism see Christians who want to know and practice more of the Tanach in relation to its own future growth (or decline)?

    JKM

  7. habasar says:

    Dereck, Yeshua meant exactly what He said, and it does in no way contradict Paul. First, Yeshua views the Law and the Prophets in the same light, as fulfilled prophecy. This is confirmed in Matthew 11:13, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until Yohan.” The Law prophesies, and Yeshua fulfilled all the Law, every verse, and every passage. The Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Yeshua, and the testimony of Yeshua is the gospel, and the one true gospel is the Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, He wa buried and raised the third day according to the scriptures. The scriptures are the Law and the Prophets.

    Paul says in 1 Tim 1:8, “But we know that the Law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” It is lawful to use the Law as fulfilled prophecy as it is. It is unlawful to use it as way of attaining righteousness. It is lawful by the grace of God to intently look at the Law, remember it (better yet God remember it for us). To never forget the Law. But again not as a means of righteousness. One ordinance of Law as a means of righteousness contradicts Christ. Whether is be circumcision, or assembling, or water baptism, Christ is contradicted. Search ye the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, it is they which testify of Me, sayeth Yeshua. The scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, are first,and foremost about the Christ, who is Yeshua of Nazareth.

    Many Gentiles have abolished the law and not kept it in memory (with the Prophets), and have fallen from Christ (antinomianists). Many Gentiles have added ordinances to Christ and fallen from the faith. And those of Yudah and Yisrael have also added to Christ and fallen from grace.

    How important is it to remember the Law lawfully. For without intently looking at the Law by grace how will we ever see that the Law says “thou shalt not lust”, “thou shalt not desire”. And when God opens are eyes to see this, we are beginning to see that the Law does not justify a man. It is our tutor to lead us to Christ. For what man can stop himself from being a man and desiring. And our response “Father, God, we have sinned greatly against you and are not worthy of the least of your mercies”, and from this Spirit, the very Spirit of Yeshua we the chosen ones of God are justified.

    There are many great things concerning Christ is the Law. How can God righteously judge His Son who did no sin. He who knew no sin became sin, by the letter of the Law. For the Law makes no exception to the guilty or the innocent when it declares, “cursed is the man the hangeth on a tree”.

    Daniel
    dlang4@hotmail.com

  8. Nate says:

    Simple and concise explanation that fails only in its attempt to harmonize Paul and Yeshua. Since the second to the last paragraph presumes a UMJC-perspective on the relationship between Jews, Gentiles and Torah, perhaps it could be rewritten to reference both your view and the One-Law view, since they both lend themselves to an accurate understanding of Matt 5:17. I guess I’m suggesting you extend rather than limit the cheers from the peanut gallery.

  9. Jon Boze, you are brilliant, man. I’m glad you don’t have a blog. I would hate to compete with you.

    Nate, I love to hear from you. We may not find commonality in all things, but we do in more than enough things to be brothers. The publication this may be part of is within that Hashivenu/MJTI/UMJC spectrum of the movement and so it should reflect our way of interpreting the text.

    Daniel (HaBasar), you lost me. Try again, be brief, and articulate what you are saying carefully. I don’t even know what you mean to say.

    JKM (mchuey), I enjoy our dialogue always. My view is not like the Classical Dispensationalist view that Jesus’ teachings do not apply to Gentiles. I am simply saying that in interpreting any sayings or writings we must consider the intended audience. I am not laying down any artificial grid of interpretation that makes unwritten rules. If I, in my house, say everybody get ready for bed, it is understood that I am not ordering my wife, but only my kids, to get ready.

    Judah, I’m glad we’re friends. The discussion is always valuable.

    Derek

  10. Nate says:

    “I love to hear from you. We may not find commonality in all things, but we do in more than enough things to be brothers.”

    On this I agree wholeheartedly!

    “The publication this may be part of is within that Hashivenu/MJTI/UMJC spectrum of the movement and so it should reflect our way of interpreting the text.”

    I wondered if that was the case. Of course, I’d love to see that prevailing viewpoint challenged in those very spectrums. Perhaps I ought to write an article and see if they’d be interested. I’m hoping that Messiah Journal can become a forum for that type of back and forth.

  11. dryvby says:

    @”I know you won’t agree but from this it follows that those in Christ do not need to follow the Jewish laws such as not eating pork unless in doing so they violate their conscience and see it as an act of disobedience, thereby making it sin.”

    No, that’s not really correct. Paul tells you what sin is: not obeying law. According to the law, eating pork is a sin. It’s not a matter of what you “feel” is a sin, because if that’s true, than we are all subject to sin only if we feel it is a sin. Therefore, if my wife agrees that I can sleep with her friends, that’s not really a sin because my wife doesn’t mind, and thus making me not feel that bad for it. That’s called “man’s way”. Satan did the same thing in the garden by telling man “Don’t worry about it. You won’t feel bad. Just do it.”.

    If you really look past what you want to believe, you’ll see that Paul never teaches the Gentiles to NOT obey the law, he just explains the difference between legalism and faith. Christ’s laws are the same as God’s law. Remember all those things Jesus says like “Obey my father”, “I didn’t come to remove”, “Nothing from the law shall be removed”, and so on? Why would Jesus come to save us from something just so we could go back and do it? You may think eating pork is just a ‘Jewish’ thing, but that’s not specified anywhere in the bible. And if Paul was teaching against things God gave us as guidelines, I’d have to pick God over Paul. (However, he wasn’t).

    We actually discuss these questions at our forum: tinyurl.com/twohouses/ if you care to join.

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