Section 8B ... Controversial Issues
Law Or Grace.. The Old Covenant or The New

003white Index To Section 8B... Controversial Issues   >      Jesus and The Law III


Chapter III - Jesus and The Spirit or Intention Behind The Law

Carol Brooks

Also See The Misunderstood Covenant

 Also See The Message of the Bible and  The Warning of The Bible
Far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, the Kingdom of God Jesus was sent to earth to proclaim (No, His main message wasn’t about ‘love’) is exactly the utopian world most men and women can only dream of. However, there is also a warning. The Bible very clearly tells us that we all have a choice to make in this life - the most important decision we will ever make. And, if the Bible is indeed the word of God, as it claims to be, and Jesus is the Son of God as He said He was, the consequences for the individual who chooses to ignore, or counter the evidence with clever arguments, will be fatal.


Chapter I - Many Christians Are Confused About What our Relationship to the Old Testament And Its Laws Should Be.

 Chapter II - What The New Testament Says About Old Testament Law

Chapter III - Jesus and The Spirit or Intention Behind The Law

Note: Unless otherwise stated all Biblical quotes are from the NASB

Jesus and The Old Testament Law
Jesus made statements to the effect that even the tiniest part of the law will not pass away. Do these words flatly contradict many of the statements made by the New Testament authors?

Types and Antitypes
In Christian theology a type is a historical event (or person) that gives us a glimpse of one or more actual events (or a person) yet to come. The Old Testament laws were no exception.

Jesus Vs. The Scribes and Pharisees
Beginning in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus strongly criticized the Pharisees' strict compliance to the letter of the law - the literal interpretation of the words, while ignoring the spirit if the law - God's original intent or the general principle behind each law.

Jesus' Exact Wording in Matthew 5
 "You have heard that it was said... But I say to you...". Had Jesus been referring to Scripture, he likely would have used the phrase "it is written", instead of "it was said

Examples of Intent From Matthew 5
These examples encompass even our thoughts toward others and serve to show the intent of the law extended far beyond the exact wording.

Old Testament Laws Repeated in the New Testament
Some of the Old Testament laws were specifically renewed under the New Covenant..

Fulfill The Law?
When Jesus said He had come to fulfill the Law, one has to ask what exactly He meant.

Nothing New
All of this is not exactly anything new. The intent behind the laws had always been the underlying, but fundamental and non-negotiable factor. 


Jesus and The Old Testament Law
Jesus was born and lived under the Old Testament law - "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law" (Galatians 4:4 NASB). Therefore it is not in the slightest bit extraordinary that He was circumcised (Luke 2:21), his parents brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer the traditional sacrifice required by the Law of Moses, He kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16,) and other feast days  (Matthew 26:17), showed great zeal for the Temple (John 2:13-17), and instructed the healed leper to show himself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded..."

In fact, the Jews were unable to convict Jesus of any transgression of the law (John 8: 46).

Jesus also instructed his disciples to obey the law saying

    "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. (Matthew 23:2-3 NASB)

When, in Luke 10, Jesus was asked by a lawyer (probably an authority on Mosaic law) what he had to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus' answered him with the question... "What is written in the law?" When the man answered Jesus told him that he was correct and this is what he should do to live (Vs. 28). (In Matthews account of this event, Jesus actually restated some of the Old Testament laws -  such as not committing murder, adultery, theft, honoring father and mother; and loving your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:18-19).

Added to all of the above is Jesus' unambiguous Jot and Tittle statement in Matthew 5:17-18.

A Jot Or A Tittle
Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes - a description of the characteristics of those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven, or be "blessed". But then, in verse 17, He changed the focus very slightly when He said..

    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19 KJV)

I have quoted the KJV because someone who uses this version may be slightly confused by the words 'jot or tittle' used by the translators. The phrase 'law and the prophets' common to all versions may also need clarification.

    The Law And The Prophets: The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh, which is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the three traditional subdivisions: The Torah ("Teaching" or the Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("Writings"). However, the term 'The Law and the Prophets' was a common expression used by the Jews to refer to the entire Old Testament. [See, for example Matthew 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 28:23 and Romans 3:21). In other words, Jesus was talking about the Old Testament as a whole, which should again remind us that there is no basis for making any distinction between Israel's civil, moral and ceremonial laws.

    Jot Or Tittle: The word jot is derived from iota, the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. Iota is commonly used in English phrase and means ''the smallest bit; a tiny or scarcely detectable amount. A tittle is a sign such as an accent, vowel mark, or dot placed above or below a character or letter to indicate that it is stressed, has a different phonetic value etc. Thankfully, the NASB renders 'jot or tittle' as "the smallest letter or stroke" which is exactly what it means...

Jesus' statements that He had not come to abolish (or destroy) the law or the prophets and that even the tiniest part of the law will not pass away until all things be accomplished, suggests that the binding nature of the law of Moses will remain forever in effect. However, we could find ourselves scratching our heads since the Messiah's words appears to flatly contradict many of the statements made by the New Testament authors.

So the million dollar question is - Did Jesus reaffirm/validate the Law or did He abolish it?

Actually He did both, or neither - depending on how you look at it.

An understanding of just what it was that Jesus abolished, and what it is that will endure until Heaven and Earth pass away, is impossible without a basic grasp of a) The fascinating subject of Types and Antitypes, and b) The point Jesus was making in a key chapter of Mathews's Gospel.

Types and Antitypes:

We shouldn't forget that much of the Old Testament was but a shadow of something to come - a type, which in Christian theology is a historical event (or person) that gives us a glimpse of one or more actual events yet to come. The significance of the original event was rarely apparent at the time it happened.

For example, the Seven Feasts of Israel, with their historic and staggeringly important prophetic significance, is one of the best examples and one of the most fascinating Scriptural studies in typology. While Christians are not require to keep these feasts, every believer should be very familiar with them, as they not only celebrated a historical event in Israel's past but were, at the same time, a harbinger of future events... in other words, a type. [See The Feasts of Israel].

The Old Testament laws were certainly no exception. 

The Scriptures inform us that the New Covenant is not based on new law, but on the same law given to Moses in the Old Testament. The Laws of the Old Covenant were unable to save but, were a precursor of things to come...

    "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33 NASB)

Over and above the arguments already stated in the preceding two chapters, Jesus Himself made it clear (in no uncertain terms) that the Old Testament laws and regulations were a representation of something to come.

Jesus Vs. The Scribes and Pharisees
As the Gospels show, Jesus was in constant conflict with several groups of people including the scribes and the Pharisees.

    The Pharisees:  This group was considered to be the epitome of righteousness and piety, the ultimate authority on Jewish law, and rigid defenders of Jewish traditions. In fact, the Pharisees (the word essentially means 'separatist') were legalists second to none - essentially equating righteousness with external compliance to a code of conduct. Their dedication to the Law was the be all and end all of their religion, to such an extent that they had nothing but utter contempt for the ordinary and usually illiterate people of the land, whose lack of learning meant they were not aware of all their religious duties, and thus were considered "sinners" by the Pharisees.

    The Scribes: "In the New Testament period, the scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders, who were drawn from the priests and Levites, as well as the common people. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law. As such they were part of many types of officials opposed to Jesus. Matthew presents them as the learned of Judaism, leaders of the community. Luke portrays them as an appendage of the Pharisees, learned men who were protecting Judaism, and leaders who were associated with the Chief Priests". [01]

It must have shocked many people when Jesus told them that their righteousness had to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) and one has to wonder what He meant...

The problem is that what was considered to be the Pharisees' meticulous adherence to God's Law was, in reality, a meticulous adherence to their interpretation of the Law. They often justified themselves by twisting or even altering God's commands, and introducing hundreds of rules and prohibitions of their own. If that wasn't bad enough - they were hypocrites who did not practice what they preached, which led to Jesus pronouncing  several 'woes' on the heads of both groups,

    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:23-28 NASB)

Jesus was using hyperbole to very effectively make the point that the Pharisees did a great job at keeping the letter of the Law, but ignored the spirit of it. Their insistence on ceremonial details at the expense of the more important precepts of the Law was, in reality, a perversion of God's laws. For example,

    they spent endless hours arguing whether a man could or could not lift a lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath, whether a tailor committed a sin if he went out with a needle in his robe, whether a woman might wear a brooch or false hair, even if a man might go out on the Sabbath with artificial teeth or an artificial limb, if a man might lift his child on the Sabbath Day. These things to them were the essence of religion. Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations." [02]

Yet, they completely overlooked the fact that one of the basic precepts of the laws of Leviticus was that the widows and orphans be protected.

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14 NASB)

In other words, what Jesus was promoting was the spirit of the law, rather than strict adherence to the letter of the law.

The Letter of the Law Vs. The Spirit of the Law
Note that while the exact terms the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are not found in Scripture, these terms have been derived from 2 Corinthians 3: 6 that says "who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 

Unfortunately, as said by Apologetics Press

     These phrases are set forth as proof that Christians ought not to be too meticulous in conforming strictly to New Testament directives. Those who take such a position assume that "letter" refers to the commands of God - the written statements of Scripture that specify and regulate human behavior. They also assume that "spirit" refers to one's attitude or feelings. Hence, if the individual feels devoted, concerned, and sincere, he or she is deemed in line with "the spirit of the law." On the other hand, the individual who appears inflexible and rigid, or overly concerned with strict obedience, is perceived to lack "compassion" and "sensitivity," and too concerned with "the letter of the law  [03]

Beginning in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus strongly criticized the Pharisees' strict compliance to the letter of the law - the literal interpretation of the words, while ignoring the spirit if the law - God's original intent or the general principle behind each law. The Messiah made the transition from a mere letter-of-the-law, minimal standards approach, to understanding and obeying the spiritual intent behind the law. We are now living under the New Covenant which actually demands a higher degree of holiness and obedience to God - only accomplished with the aid of the Holy Spirit. [Also See What is Holiness]

In order to understand exactly what Jesus was trying to get across, we need to take a close look at the second part of Matthew 5 - the Sermon on The Mount.

Jesus' Exact Wording in Matthew 5
Beginning around the middle of Matthew 5 Jesus showed how the scribes and Pharisees interpreted and outwardly obeyed each law, and then revealed what was God's true intent in each case. He began His examples with one or another variation of "You have heard that it was said... But I say to you..."

    1. You have heard that the ancients were told, 'you shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'  But I say to you that ... (Matthew 5:21)

    2. You have heard that it was said, 'you shall not commit adultery'; But I say to you that ... (Matthew 5:27)

    3. Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'you shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' But I say to you that ...  (Matthew 5:33 NASB)

    4. You have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'.  But I say to you ...  (Matthew 5:43)

    5. It was said, 'whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; But I say to you that... (Matthew 5:31)

    6. You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you ... (Matthew 5:38)

At first glance these verses sound like Jesus and His Father were NOT in perfect harmony in spite of Him telling the Jews that He and His Father were one (John 10:30), and He did not seek His own will but the will of the Father who sent Him (John 5:30). However, anyone who pays careful attention to His words will realize that Jesus was not opposing or contradicting any of God's laws. What He was setting Himself up against was the false interpretations, erroneous understanding, and additions to the law that were all prevalent in His time.

Had Jesus been referring to Scripture, he likely would have used the phrase "it is written", instead of "it was said or "you were told". The first phrase being more often used to introduce Scripture. For example, in His confrontation with Satan in Matthew 4, Jesus bases His answers to Satan's temptations on passages of Scripture, using the word gegraptai, "It is written". On the other hand, the phrase "it was said" clearly points to unwritten Jewish tradition.

Examples of Intent From Matthew 5
The first four examples (Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 43) were directly centered on the commandments.

Matthew 5: 21: "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'you shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 

    Jesus was referring to Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, that is better translated as 'you shall not murder', rather than 'you shall not kill' - the two words not always interchangeable. Jesus followed this up with the words "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell"..

    What the Messiah was saying is that even anger with ones brother without cause puts one in danger of the judgment. Prior to this, unjustified negative feeling towards another human being was acceptable as long as one did not actually commit murder. However since murder, like all sin, begins in the human mind, Jesus was addressing the adverse emotion behind the deed and calling it wrong (Vs. 21-26). The apostle John elaborates on this "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15).

Matthew 5:27 reads "You have heard that it was said, 'you shall not commit adultery' which Jesus followed up with "but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Vs. 28)

     Since the Old Testament laws only forbade the actual act of adultery, the spirit of the law was ignored and lusting would not have been considered as a violation of the law. However, Jesus, once again getting to the heart of the matter, said that even looking at a woman with desire constituted adultery (Vs. 27-30). It is one thing to never commit adultery, but quite another to control lust in the heart and mind.

Matthew 5:33 has Jesus saying "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'you shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' This He followed up with

    "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:34-37 NASB)

Matthew 5:43: You have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'.

    In this verse, Jesus is referring to Leviticus 19:18, which simply states "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". The hate your enemy bit was never part of God's law, but was assumed to be the natural sequel to loving your neighbour, therefore apparently taught as law. Jesus instructed his listeners to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, repudiating the commonly held belief that hating one's enemies was acceptable.

Matthew 5:31: "It was said, 'whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

    Jesus intensified this law, coming down hard on their lax approach to marriage, which quite literally gave people permission to divorce. He replaced their anything-goes version with just one justifiable reason to break the marriage covenant.

    Unfortunately the 21st century also has it's fair share of Pharisees, who see no further than the actual words on paper and have no idea what God's intent behind His laws are. These Pharisees are divided on the divorce issue, one camp insisting that in spite of Jesus' clear words, even adultery is not justifiable grounds for divorce, while the second camp insists that ONLY adultery is. However, all this legal wrangling does not take into account several other reasons a person may justifiably seek divorce... abuse for one. It is hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would imagine that God would actually condemn a person seeking divorce under these circumstances. Again, it bears repeating that Jesus was reprimanding a casual anything goes approach to the marriage covenant.

 Matthew 5:38 reads "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'. "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you". (Matthew 5:38-42 NASB) 

    Unfortunately, this judicial regulation from Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19, 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21 was taken by people as permission for them to take redress into their own hands, contrary to the injunctions of the Old Testament itself. See Proverbs 20:22 and 24:29.

All these examples, encompassing even our thoughts toward others, served to show the intent of the law extended far beyond the exact wording. Behind every Mosaic command lay a principle that transcended time and culture and was therefore applicable to all God's people, regardless of when or where they live. These principles unfailingly related to God's holiness, the nature of sin, obedience, caring for other people, etc.

Perfect obedience to the law takes place in thought, word, and deed. This was first introduced in Matthew 4:17 that says "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". Repent, translated from the Greek metanoia, means a complete change of mind and emphasizes the idea of a radical change in one's attitude toward sin and God. See Repentance - The Missing Message. Jesus further emphasized this at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, also known as ...

The Beatitudes
Remember that Matthew 5 starts with the Beatitudes, which has Jesus saying things like the merciful will receive mercy and the pure in heart will see God. However since it is hardly likely that only the pure in heart will see God, only the gentle will inherit the earth, and only the poor in spirit will gain heaven, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus was teaching that His followers should manifest all these character traits - the many blessings promised are different aspects of God's blessings in the coming kingdom.

However, these blessings were a direct reversal of the value system of the Pharisees.

When Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit", He was challenging (and warning) the arrogant religious leaders who loved the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (Matthew 23: 6-7)

When He said, "Blessed are those who mourn", one tends to think He was describing heartfelt repentance and remorse over sin (See 2 Corinthians 7:10). The mournful tax collector who humbly bowed his head in the Temple, beat his breast, and cried out for God's mercy was justified, while the Pharisee praying in the Temple at the same time, who said... "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" was not. Apparently the scribes and Pharisees didn't mourn over sin, since in their minds they were already righteous -  an attitude Jesus said would be humbled.  See Repentance - The Missing Message

Clean and Unclean Foods
Mark 7 provides a clear instance of how much the New Testament raised the bar. Jesus actually revoked Old Testament laws regarding clean and unclean foods, which would have been relatively easy to keep, then pointed out what really defiled a man... that which came from his own heart. Unclean thoughts and desires can be the dickens to control and many of us would fail miserably if we didn't have the Holy Spirits's invaluable help..

    (17) When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. (18) And He *said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, (19)  because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)  (20)  And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. (21) "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,  (22)  deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  (23)  "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:17-23 NASB)

Jesus and The Spirit of The Sabbath
This new way of thinking and adhering to the laws of God also applied to the Sabbath. The Pharisees had laid down rigid rules as to how the Sabbath was to be kept, making it more of a burden than the blessing it was originally intended to be. A day of rest was virtually unheard of in ancient times, but the Sabbath was more than just that. It was also a time for the people to draw closer to God, remembering how He had set them free from slavery in Egypt. However as time passed the rules became so stringent that they did little but set people up for failure.

    The Law lays it down that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy, and that on it no work is to be done. That is a great principle. But these Jewish legalists had a passion for definition. So they asked: What is work? All kinds of things were classified as work. For instance, to carry a burden on the Sabbath Day is to work. But next a burden has to be defined. So the Scribal Law lays it down that a burden is 'food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice upon, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen' - and so on endlessly. [04]

However, Jesus' insight into the divine purpose behind this day of rest, caused Him not only to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12), but to even allow his disciples to pick some grain on the Sabbath day. When criticized by the Pharisees, Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). This statement did not mean that man could do what he wished on the Sabbath, but that the institution was made for man's benefit and was never intended to be kept at his expense.

Old Testament Laws Repeated in the New Testament
It is well worth noting that some of the Old Testament laws, including eight of the Ten Commandments, were specifically renewed under the New Covenant. While one other was repeated by implication, there is no mention of the fourth or Sabbath commandment in the New Testament. See Details .

This makes perfect sense. The Sabbath Commandment was a ceremonial one, whereas the other nine commandments had a timeless principle behind them, one that was perfectly summed up by Christ in Matthew 22:37-40,

    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

While it is not difficult to locate where Old Testament laws were reiterated under the New Covenant,

    "...care must be taken to understand the context in which an Old Testament commandment is mentioned in the New. References in the Gospels or Acts are sometimes made to a certain Law simply because it was Jewish practice, and not because it was being renewed by Jesus or the apostles. Jesus' discussion of the practices of the Pharisees is a good example of this (see Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). Jesus mentioned tithing in passing as something that the Pharisees did, but there is no evidence elsewhere in the New Testament so suggest that tithing was practiced by the early church or that it was a requirement for Christians.  [2] [See In-depth Article on Tithing]

Some of the Old Testaments commandments such as those in Leviticus 19 about mixing seed etc. (mentioned in part I) may not be fully understood. However, they definitely relate to the holiness of God, and the principles of separation. We who are under the New Covenant, have a mandate from the Messiah Himself to obey the intent behind the Laws - this is also called Holiness. God's followers are instructed to be Holy as He is Holy [1 Peter 1:16], and to keep themselves apart from what is sinful and unclean. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "and do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. (2 Corinthians 6:17 NASB). [Also See What is Holiness]

And then, on the other hands few of the commandments given to ancient Israel are puzzling simply because we do not know in what context they were issued.   

    Some commandments seem to be very strange to us because we do not understand their original context. Why did God forbid the trimming of beards (Leviticus 19:27-28; 21:5) or the cooking of a young goat in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21)? The cutting of beards and hair in this manner (and the closely related disfigurement - Deuteronomy 14:1) was common among the Canaanites. Cutting of the body was practised by the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:28). The worship of Yahweh was in no way to be confused with pagan practices. Most commentators point out that the Canaanites practised a fertility rite that required the cooking of a kid in milk, so this commandment seems to have been intended to outlaw such a practice. Another plausible explanation is that it was considered wrong for a kid to be cooked in the very medium by which it was previously sustained and nourished. [05]

All of which brings us to one final subject. What did Jesus mean when He said He came to fulfill the law?

Fulfill The Law?
Jesus said that He had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill (Gr. pleroo) it (Matthew 5:17-18). Fulfillment was a major topic in Matthew's Gospel - he used the word fulfill or fulfilled close to 20 times, far more often than the other Gospel writers. This is actually no surprise considering that Matthew's Gospel was aimed at the Jews whom he was endeavoring to show that Jesus was the Messiah repeatedly prophesied in the OT.

The problem is that while articles on various aspects of Matthew 5 abound, few offer an accurate explanation of the word fulfill. This is probably with good reason, since neither the English fulfill nor the Greek pleroo have clear cut definitions. Consider the several different shades of meaning of the English fulfill, including

     Bring to completion. Achieve or realize something desired, promised, or predicted: My desires were fulfilled -

     Carry out a task, duty, or role as required, pledged, or expected: He fulfilled his promise.

     Satisfy or meet a requirement, condition, or need: I hired the person who fulfilled all my conditions.

The Greek pleroo, used some 90 times in the New Testament, carries similar nuances of meaning - all of which are related. This is best demonstrated by examples from the NT. 

1) In the following examples of fulfilled prophecy, it means bring to completion, or bring to reality.

    Now all this took place to fulfill (Gr. pleroo) what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:22-23 NASB)

    and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill (Gr. pleroo) what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23 NASB)

    He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill (Gr. pleroo) what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "out of Egypt i called my Son." (Matthew 2:15 NASB)

2) The next three examples use pleroo in the sense of literally filling something.

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled (Gr. pleroo) they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. (Matthew 13:47-48 NASB)

    Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled (Gr. pleroo) with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3 NASB)

    When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled (Gr. pleroo) the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2 NASB)

3) The following verses use pleroo in the sense of completing a time period or a task,

    When He had completed (Gr. pleroo) all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.  (Luke 7:1 NASB)

    and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Gr. pleroo). (Luke 21:24 NASB)

    After forty years had passed (Gr. pleroo), an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of mount sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush.  (Acts 7:30 NASB)

    And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled (Gr. pleroo) their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.  (Acts 12:25 NASB)

4) It is also used in the sense of completely or entirely

    in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully (Gr. pleroo) preached the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:19 NASB) 

5) And it is also used along the lines of being as free as possible from all flaws or defects -  that there be nothing wanting, or lacking...

    We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete (Gr. pleroo). (2 Corinthians 10:5-6 NASB)

    'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed (Gr. pleroo) in the sight of My God. (Revelation 3:2 NASB written to the church at Sardis)

In virtually every case the word in the New Testament was used to mean fill to the fullest, complete, or to finish. So when Jesus said He had come to fulfill the Law, He was not saying that He came to change the Law, but His teachings carried Old Testament revelation (the type) forward to it's intended consummation (the anti-type).  

He neither advocated the continuation of the traditional Jewish adherence to the Law nor did He teach that the Law be dismissed. He repudiated Pharisaical obedience to the letter of the law, teaching that it was the principle behind every Mosaic command (or the spirit of the law) that was applicable to all God's people regardless of when or where they lived.

Note however, that The New Covenant did not come into effect until Christ's death. As he said "for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins".  (Matthew 26:28 NASB)

Nothing New
So yes! Jesus did abolish the Old Testament Laws, but He only abolished the literal interpretation of the words, the intent behind them would live forever.

However, it has to be noted that this was not exactly something new. The intent behind the laws was always the governing factor. Amos and Isaiah prophesied to Israel and Judah respectively - Isaiah following Amos by some 20-30 years. Their words of warning provide classic examples...

Amos: The people of the time were obviously going through the motions and observing all the physical requirements of the law, but their hearts were far from God. Although they were still offering the burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, the Lord did not see any real righteousness. Amos 8 tells us that they swallowed up the needy, and caused the poor of the land to fail. They asked when the Sabbath would be finished so they could buy and sell again. They were keeping the Lords festivals with their bodies, not with their minds, and were anxious for the close of the Sabbath so they could cheat on their weights.. making the ephah small, and the shekel great, increasing the price both ways by paring down the quantity which they sold, and obtaining more silver by fictitious weights]. The also bought the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sold the refuse of the wheat.

At all this the Lord swore that He would "never forget any of their works", and told them what He though of their festivals in no uncertain terms. In His words,

    "I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. "Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)

Isaiah: The Bible tells us over and over again that Judah followed in the footsteps of her sister Israel, as is very clear from the words of Isaiah 58:4-14. The supposed 'righteousness' of going through the motions - traipsing down to the temple to pray and offer sacrifice while oppressing the widow and orphan was just as prevalent in Judah as it was in Israel and brought nothing but God's contempt and anger. When the people asked the Father why they fasted and He did not see - why they had humbled themselves and He had not noticed, He replied in part (Do take the time to read everything He said).

    (4) "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. (5)  "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? (6)  "Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?  (7) "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (8)  "Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (9)  "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness. (Isaiah 58:4-9 NASB)

This sham righteousness, apparently widespread in that day, is what Isaiah called "Filthy Rags". The prophet was addressing a specific situation not, as it is commonly believed, making a generalized statement that applied to all people of all time.


End Notes - Chapter III
[01] Allen Ross. The Religious World of Jesus - Ch. 7 The Scribes. https://bible.org/seriespage/7-scribes

[02] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1963), I, pp. 124-126. As quoted by Bob Deffinbaugh in The Fatal Failures of Religion: #2 Legalism (Matthew 5:17-48)

[03] Dave Miller, Ph.D. The Spirit and Letter of the Law. Apologetics Press.

[04] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1963), I, pp. 124-126. As quoted by Bob Deffinbaugh in The Fatal Failures of Religion: #2 Legalism (Matthew 5:17-48)

[05] Robert I. Bradshaw. Interpreting the Old Testament Law. https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_law.html



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