(A comment made by Bro. Mike Hutchinson on my other brother’s blog- The Gospel in 3D. Borrowed/used with permission.)
“Does Matthew 5 teach that the Mosaic Law is still in force?
No matter how many NT passages one can turn to that clearly teach the abolition of the law of Moses at the cross–no matter how many passages speak of our freedom from that law–no matter how forcefully the NT makes the case that the law is no longer binding — no matter how logical and scriptural our arguments concerning Jesus and the law — this one passage is the final refuge of those whose other arguments have all been destroyed.
MATTHEW 5:17-19: 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I have been confronted with this passage scores of times, and it is always cited as the supposedly clinching proof in the argument that the law of Moses is still in force. In this passage — it is argued — Jesus said that the law would never go away. He said that anyone who broke it and taught others to break it would be least in the kingdom. He said that he did NOT come to destroy it, but to fulfill it.
The argument is: Doesn’t this passage prove that the law is still in force? Doesn’t it say that Jesus came to fulfill the law — and that means to obey it, and to keep it in force — and therefore, so should we? Doesn’t this passage say that the law is unchangeable and still binding? Doesn’t this say that the law is eternal and perpetual and universal? Doesn’t this prove that we are still under the authority of the law? Doesn’t this prove that Jesus did NOT abolish the law at the cross?
Those who argue for the continuing authority of the law of Moses consider this their strongest text in the NT in support of law-keeping. “Jesus came to fulfill the law, and that means obey it and keep it in force — and so should we. He said it would last forever.” But — after carefully studying the passage in context, we see that it teaches no such thing. I am going to show you five solid facts that refute this interpretation of the passage, and that prove that the passage actually is in complete harmony with everything stated in the New Covenant scriptures about the abolition of the law.
FACT #1 = “THE LAW” IS THE WHOLE LAW, NOT JUST THE 10-C, AND NOT JUST THE “MORAL LAW.”
“The law” is the WHOLE law, in all its details. It is not just the 10-C. It is not just the so-called “moral law.” It is the entire law-code of Moses.
If Jesus is saying here that “the law” is still in force, and that we Christians are obligated to obey “the law” — then he is saying that the ENTIRE law is still in force, and that we are obligated to obey the ENTIRE law. And you know what that means, don’t you? That means that we are all UNDER that law, which means that we are all automatically under the CURSE of the law, since the curse is pronounced on everyone UNDER that law who does not perfectly obey the whole thing (JAMES 2:10; GAL. 3:10).
In addition, if Jesus is saying here that the law is still in force for the Christian, then this would be a flat contradiction of all those other passages we have studied that say the exact opposite — that we are free from the law, not under the law, delivered from the law, dead to the law, etc. So — either Jesus contradicts EVERYTHING said about the law by his own spokesmen, the writers of the NT — OR — he is NOT saying that the law is to remain in force, but he is saying something else entirely.
Since the Analogy of Scripture teaches us that the Bible will not contradict itself, we can be sure that one or the other of these two opposing ideas is false. And the analogy of scripture also teaches us that we derive our doctrine from the many clear passages on a topic, and not from a few isolated passages that we can interpret to conflict with the general tenor and the many passages that clearly teach otherwise. We have already shown, in detail, that the NT clearly teaches that the law of Moses was abolished at the cross, and is no longer in force. Therefore, we must discover how and why so many are misinterpreting this passage in MATT. 5 to say the opposite — and we must discover what Jesus was really saying, after all.
In further proof that Jesus was speaking of the whole law — read what he goes on to discuss immediately after this statement. What follows in chapters 5-7 has come to be known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Notice the various parts of the law that he mentions: murder, animal sacrifices, adultery, divorce, swearing of oaths, eye-for-an-eye, love of enemies, etc.
Are all these things in the 10-C? No — but they are all in “the law.” Are they all in the “moral law”? What about animal sacrifices? What about the swearing of oaths? Would Jesus say NOT to swear oaths if that were a moral law, still binding today?
Some argue that Jesus is here speaking about the 10-C. But that is manifestly absurd. Is he saying that he came to fulfill the 10-C and all the rest of the OT (the Prophets), but NOT the rest of the law of Moses?
If every jot and tittle of the law is still binding now and forever, then we ARE obligated to obey the WHOLE law, in all its minute detail — NOT just the 10-C, and NOT just the “moral law.” This means we must keep the Sabbath, exactly as commanded in the law, and celebrate the feasts and the new moons, and perform animal sacrifices, and burn incense, and obey the food laws, and all the rest of it. Who does all this today? No one — not even the Jews.
FACT #2 = “THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS” MEANS THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT — NOT JUST THE LAW OF MOSES.
The second reason this passage cannot be teaching the continuing authority of the law of Moses is found in the phrase Jesus uses in vs. 17 — “the Law or the Prophets.” This is the term used by the Jews of the time to refer to the totality of what we now call “the Old Testament.”
The Jewish Bible was divided into “the Book of the Law,” which included the five books of Moses, and “the Book of the Prophets,” which included all the books written by the prophets, along with the historical books and the poetry books. Sometimes the poetical books were listed separately under the title “the Psalms.” Every Sabbath day, portions from the book of the law, and also from the prophets, were read in the synagogues. You will find these titles sprinkled throughout the NT to refer to the Jewish Bible. For example:
GAL. 3:10 = the book of the law.
ACTS 7:42 = the book of the prophets.
ACTS 13:15 = after the reading of the law and the prophets.
So “the law and the prophets” became the common term for the entire OT. Here are some more references to check out: MATT. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; LUKE 16:16,29,31; 24:27,44; JOHN 1:45; ACTS 13:15; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23; ROM. 3:21.
All these passages refer to “the law and the prophets” or to “Moses and the prophets” — meaning: the entire OT. Now — listen to Christ again, in MATT. 5:17:
* Do not think that I have come to destroy THE LAW OR THE PROPHETS; I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
And then, after his resurrection, with the two men he met on the road to Emmaus:
* LUKE 24:27: And beginning at MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
* LUKE 24:44: Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in THE LAW OF MOSES ADN THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS concerning Me.”
It is obvious that he is referring to the entire OT. And so — this is exactly what he means in MATT. 5:17, as well — the entire OT. Surely he wouldn’t be saying that he came to fulfill the “moral law” only. As a matter of fact — those who argue that Jesus fulfilled the “ceremonial” law only, and that he meant to keep the “moral law” in force, have no way to deal with this passage coherently.
They want to have it both ways. They want to have Jesus fulfilling and ending the ceremonial law, while, at the same time, arguing that his statement here about fulfilling the law is a declaration that the moral law is still in force. But — if to “fulfill the law” means to keep it in force, then to fulfill the ceremonial law means to keep the ceremonial law in force. If that were true, we would be required to sacrifice animals today. On the other hand, if to “fulfill the law” means to complete it and end it, then it means to complete and end the WHOLE law, not just the ceremonial law. It won’t do to change definitions IN MID-VERSE to fit the theory!
No — Jesus came to fulfill the entire OT – and that CANNOT mean that he came to keep it in force perpetually, for that would mean the perpetuation of the entire OT – in all its details. I ask when and where in the scripture did God give anyone the right to reinterpret his laws and change the meaning before setting about to obey them? The scripture only gives us two choices: if we are under the authority of a law, either we obey ALL of it EXACTLY as it is commanded to be obeyed, or we are BREAKING it.
FACT #3 = “TO ABOLISH” IS NOT THE SAME AS “TO DESTROY.”
The third reason this passage does not teach the continuation of “the law” is found in the different meanings of the two words “abolish” and destroy.” In the first place, even most of those who argue for the continuance of the “moral law” agree with the rest of us that Jesus fulfilled and abolished all the “ceremonial law.” They declare that Jesus did away with all the rituals and ceremonies of the law at the cross, because his death was the fulfillment of the types and shadows portrayed in those rituals. On this we agree.
Of course, the problem arises, as we have already discussed, when we attempt to determine from the OT just what those ceremonial rules were, and just which of the 613 laws were moral, and, therefore, still binding. For example, some see the Sabbath, the feasts, the tithes, the food laws, and/or circumcision as ceremonial and abolished — while there are others who argue that some or all of these are part of the “moral law” and should be obeyed today.
Leaving that discussion aside — my point is that even those who argue the two-law theory accept the fact that Jesus abolished at least PART of the law at the cross. Well, then — I ask: Did he thereby DESTROY that part of the law? No one would dare say so! And yet — we all agree that he DID abolish it; he DID bring it to an end. So then — it is one thing to DESTROY a law, and it is quite ANOTHER thing to bring it to an end, and abolish it by fulfilling it.
Jesus SAID he came to fulfill the law [MATT. 5:17]. PAUL said that he abolished it [EPH. 2:15]. That should be good enough for us. But to prove my point beyond all doubt, we need to examine the difference in the scripture between “destroy” and “abolish.”
DESTROY = KATALUO
The word “destroy” in MATT. 5:17 is a translation of the Greek word kataluo, which carries several related meanings: to destroy, demolish, overthrow, deprive of success, bring to naught. The word is used fifteen times in this sense in the NT, and it is most often translated as “destroy.” Let’s take a quick look at a few of the uses of the word kataluo:
* MATT. 24:2 [Jesus speaking of the destruction of the temple]: And He said to them, “Do you see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be [THROWN DOWN (KJV); TORN DOWN (NASB)].”
* MATT. 26:61 [The witnesses testifying at Jesus’ trial]: “This man stated, ‘I am able to DESTROY the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”
* MATT. 27:40 [The mocking of Christ on the cross]: “You who are going to DESTROY the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!”
* ACTS 5:38-39 [Gamaliel’s advice to the Sanhedrin concerning the Christians]: “Stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will [BE OVERTHROWN (NASB); COME TO NAUGHT (KJV)], but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it.”
* ACTS 6:14 [Accusations against Stephen]: “We have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will DESTROY this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
* ROM. 14:20: Do not [TEAR DOWN (NASB); DESTROY (KJV] the work of God for the sake of food.
* 2 COR. 5:1: We know that if the earthly tent which is our house is [TORN DOWN (NASB); DISSOLVED (KJV)], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Based on this survey, that the KJV, in MATT. 5:17, has translated the word kataluo correctly as “destroy.” However, the NASB and the NIV both translate the word as “abolish,” which creates a huge problem, for a couple of reasons. First — there is ANOTHER word that is more consistently translated “abolish” [we will deal with that word below] — AND both the NIV and the NASB have translated that other word as “abolish” in EPH. 2:15, which declares that Christ has “abolished in his flesh what was causing the enmity [between Jew and Gentile] — that is, THE LAW, made up of commandments and decrees.” (NOTE: I am not a KJV only guy, but in this instance the KJV translates it best.)
We have already studied that passage, and it clearly states — in all three of these versions [KJV, NIV, and NASB] — and in the Greek — that Jesus DID abolish the law. So when the NIV and NASB both translate the word kataluo as “abolish” in MATT. 5:17, instead of the more accurate term “destroy,” they create a flat contradiction in the scripture, and open the way for people to misinterpret the intent of the passages.
The second reason for the confusion is that there is a definite difference in the Greek between “destroy” and “abolish.” We have looked at the word translated “destroy” — kataluo. Let’s look now at the word “abolish.”
ABOLISH = KATARGEO
We studied this word back in the lesson that dealt with the abolition of the law. The word “abolish” is a translation of the Greek word katargeo, which carries the following meanings: to render inactive, inoperative, or idle; to cause something to have no further effect; to deprive of force, influence, power, or authority; to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish; to be severed from, separated from, discharged from, freed from; to terminate all relationship with.
The word is translated five times as “destroy” in the KJV [I will show you those verses, and why I believe they should have been translated differently] — but it is also translated eighteen other ways, including “do away with,” “abolish,” “loose,” “cease,” “deliver,” “nullify,” “make without effect,” “bring to naught, “pass away,” and “bring to an end”. The word katargeo is used no less than TWELVE times in the NT [out of a total of twenty-seven] in discussions about the abolition of the law.
First, take a look at its uses in other contexts — and notice the difference between this word and “destroy”:
* ROM. 3:3: What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not [NULLIFY (NASB); MAKE WITHOUT EFFECT (KJV)] the faithfulness of God, will it?
Notice — this does not mean “to destroy,” but “to nullify” or “render ineffective.”
* ROM. 6:6: Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be [DONE AWAY WITH (NASB); DESTROYED (KJV)], so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.
Here the idea is that the pull of our sinful nature is “nullified” or “rendered ineffective” — but it is certainly not completely destroyed, and so the KJV makes a poor choice in this case, IMO.
* 1 COR. 1:28: God has chosen the base things of the world and the despised, the things that are not, so that He may [NULLIFY (NASB); BRING TO NAUGHT (KJV)] the things that are.
Again — not “destroy,” but “nullify” or “render inoperative.”
* 1 COR. 2:6: Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature — a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are [PASSING AWAY (NASB); COME TO NAUGHT (KJV)].
* 1 COR. 6:13: Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will [DO AWAY WITH (NASB); DESTROY (KJV] both of them.
In this case, the word “destroy” is not entirely inappropriate, but the idea is that someday God will bring these things to an end. They will no longer have any meaning or purpose.
* 1 COR. 13:8,10,11: Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will [BE DONE AWAY (NASB); FAIL (KJV)]; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will [BE DONE AWAY (NASB); VANISH AWAY (KJV)]. When the perfect comes, the partial will BE DONE AWAY. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I [DID AWAY WITH (NASB); PUT AWAY (KJV)] childish things.
* 1 COR. 15:24,26: Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He has [ABOLISHED (NASB); PUT DOWN (KJV)] all rule and all authority and power…. The last enemy that will be [ABOLISHED (NASB); DESTROYED (KJV)] is death.
While “destroyed” is not out of the question here, the real intent is to show that Christ will “abolish” all authority but his own, and that he will render death powerless. Death will have no more power over men when Christ has accomplished his final purpose.
* 2 THESS. 2:8: Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth, and [BRING TO AN END (NASB); DESTROY (KJV)] by the appearance of His coming.
Here is another case where “destroy” is not entirely inappropriate, but the idea is that Christ will END the reign of the antichrist when he returns. And Christ will not utterly destroy the antichrist, but rather, he will throw him in the lake of fire — there to suffer eternal punishment.
* 2 TIM. 1:10: …but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who ABOLISHED death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…
Christ has rendered the power of death obsolete — he has annulled its authority — he has brought its reign to an end.
* HEB. 2:14: Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same, that through death He might [RENDER POWERLESS (NASB); DESTROY (KJV)] him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
In this case, the NASB translation is superior — IMO — since we know that Christ will NOT destroy the devil completely, but that he WILL render him powerless — he will bring the devil’s rule to an end.
In all these passages that use the word katargeo, we see the basic meanings that we listed above — and while a couple of passages use the word “destroy” appropriately, they clearly carry the meaning of “abolish.” And — most of them should definitely be rendered “abolished,” “annulled,” “rendered powerless,” etc.
Before we go any further, let us make certain that we understand the importance of the distinction I have demonstrated between the words kataluo and katargeo. The first word means “destroy,” and it carries the connotation of violent overthrow and ruin. The second word means “abolish,” and it carries the connotation of annulling the power or authority of something, or of rendering it no longer operable.
With this foundation, we can now look at those passages in the NT that use the word “katargeo” in connection with “the law.” We will do that in the next lesson.
In the last lesson I said I would show you five solid facts that would refute the common interpretation of MATT. 5:17-19 as saying that “the law” is still in authority over the Christian. We were in the middle of the third fact — “To abolish is not the same as to destroy.” We were looking at the difference between the two Greek words “kataluo” and “katargeo.” Now we continue:
We saw in the last lesson that kataluo means “to destroy utterly,” while katargeo means “to render idle; to render obsolete; to annul; to abolish.” Jesus said, in MATT. 5:17, that he had not come to “destroy” [kataluo] the law or the prophets [the entire OT]. But — again and again in the NT, the apostles declare that Jesus DID “abolish” [katargeo] the law of Moses. Unless there IS a very real difference between these two words, we have a flat contradiction in scripture! But since these two words are NOT synonyms, to say that Jesus “abolished” the law of Moses does NOT contradict Jesus’ statement in MATT. 5:17 that he had not come to “destroy” the law — because “to destroy” is not the same as “to abolish.”
So now — as if we have not already covered this territory before — does the NT actually say that Jesus “abolished” [katargeo] the law? If it does, then the entire argument for the continuation of the law, based on MATT. 5:17, is lost — because the meaning of the term katargeo would render that argument null and void. We could say that it — AHEM — “abolishes” that argument.
The word katargeo appears twelve times in the NT in discussions relating to the law of Moses, and we have already discussed most of these passages at length, but let us at least LOOK at them in order to prove my linguistic point, once and for all:
* ROM. 4:14: For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is [NULLIFIED (NASB); (NIV); MADE OF NONE EFFECT (KJV)].
Here Paul argues that law-keeping is NOT included in the gospel of salvation, for law-keeping does not produce HEIRS of the promise to Abraham. Only faith does that — and so he says that IF those under the law are heirs, then that voids faith and renders the promise useless — it abolishes the promise.
* ROM. 7:2,6: For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she [IS RELEASED (NASB); IS LOOSED (KJV)] from the law concerning the husband…. But now we [HAVE BEEN RELEASED (NASB); HAVE BEEN DELIVERED (KJV)] from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
We have already studied this passage. It is absolutely devastating to the argument for the continuation of the authority of the law of Moses, for it clearly states that we have been RELEASED from its authority, just as a woman whose husband has died has been released from the law that bound her to him. That word “released” is translated from the word katargeo. It clearly means that the authority of the law of Moses has been rendered inoperable — that it has been abolished. All connection between us and the law has been severed.
Another passage that we looked at in depth is 1 COR. 3, which discusses the 10-C specifically, and states that the new ministry of the Spirit has annulled and replaced the old ministry of death and condemnation — the 10-C. Go back and read it again to refresh your memory. This is one of the passages we discussed that clearly state the abolition of the 10-C. The word katargeo occurs four times in the passage — in vss. 7, 11, 13, and 14:
* 2 COR. 3:7: But if the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, [FADING AS IT WAS (NASB); WHICH WAS TO BE DONE AWAY (KJV)]….
Here Paul says that the glory of the shining face of Moses was going to fade away. But then he uses this to declare that the glory of the 10-C was done away in the same way, and was replaced by the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit:
* 2 COR. 3:11: For if that which [IS FADING AWAY (NASB, NIV); IS DONE AWAY (KJV)] had glory, that which remains has much more glory.
Notice the context — read vss. 9-10. He is clearly contrasting the 10-C — the old ministry of death and condemnation — with the new ministry of the Spirit. He says that the old ministry is fading away — is done away — katargeo — abolished.
* 2 COR. 3:12-14: Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look at the end of [WHAT WAS FADING AWAY (NASB); THAT WHICH WAS ABOLISHED (KJV)]. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day, at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because only in Christ is it [REMOVED (NASB); DONE AWAY (KJV)].
I don’t see how it could be any clearer. As long as people are focusing on the old covenant — epitomized by the 10-C in this passage, and consisting of the entire law of Moses — there is a veil over their hearts. They cannot see the glories of the gospel of grace. But — just as the glory on the face of Moses was “abolished” — was fading away — in the same way, the glory of the old covenant has been “abolished” — it has faded away.
And how is that old covenant “abolished”? How is it “done away”? It is “taken away” IN CHRIST. I cannot see any way around it. Christ has ABOLISHED that old covenant — the law of Moses — all of it, including the 10-C, which are specified in this passage.
* GAL. 3:17: The Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate the covenant previously ratified by God, so as to [NULLIFY (NASB); MAKE OF NONE EFFECT (KJV)] the promise.
Here again, Paul says that the law cannot abolish the previous covenant that God ratified with Abraham according to faith. Read the whole argument in GAL. 3: the law cannot abolish the covenant of faith which preceded it and is superior to it; rather, the law was designed to oversee the Jews until the coming of ChrIst, and then –- now that we are in Christ -– the law’s authority is abolished.
* GAL. 5:4: [CHRIST HAS BECOME OF NO EFFECT TO YOU (KJV); YOU HAVE BEEN SEVERED FROM CHRIST (NASB)} to you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
To seek to be justified by law “abolishes,” or “renders useless” being justified by faith in Christ. Logically — the converse must also be true: to be justified by faith in Christ is to render completely useless the idea of being justified by law. Remember — the Judaizers were not seeking to REPLACE faith with law-keeping; they were merely attempting to ADD law-keeping to faith. And Paul says no — the two principles are mutually exclusive. If you are justified by faith, then law-keeping is useless. If you are justified by law-keeping, then faith is unnecessary.
This is a very important point, for there is no one today, as far as I know, who is saying that we should REPLACE faith with law-keeping. The argument is the same one the Judaizers were making — that we should COMBINE faith WITH law-keeping. And Paul says NO — it can’t be done. The one negates the other. They are mutually exclusive.
* GAL. 5:11: But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block [offense] of the cross [HAS BEEN ABOLISHED (NASB); HAS CEASED (KJV)].
Here we can clearly see the important difference between “destroy” and “abolish”. If Paul were to just agree to add circumcision to the gospel [and remember, this means preaching that Gentiles should submit to the law of Moses], then he would not be persecuted by the Judaizers. But as long as he keeps preaching the cross ONLY — WITHOUT adding law-keeping to the gospel, then the Judaizers will continue to be offended, and will continue to persecute him. Paul says: the offense of the cross would be abolished — rendered null and void — have its power annulled — if he were to include law-keeping as part of the gospel.
The next passage is the final death-blow to all arguments against the abolition of the law:
* EPH. 2:14-16: For He Himself is our peace, who has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one, and has broken down the barrier of the dividing wall, by ABOLISHING in His flesh what was causing the hostility — the law, with its commandments and decrees — so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death what was causing the hostility. >
This is the most powerful passage of all — stating directly that Christ put the law to death. He did it by ABOLISHING [katargeo] it at HIS death [“in his flesh”]. This parallels COL. 2, which says that Christ nailed the law to the cross.
Several of these passages directly state that the law HAS BEEN ABOLISHED. The others state that the preaching of law-keeping would ABOLISH faith. If this isn’t plain enough, then nothing ever will be!
There is one other passage that contains the word katargeo in relation to “the law.” We will discuss it in a future lesson.
FACT #4 = “TO STAND UNTIL FULFILLED” IS NOT THE SAME AS “TO STAY IN
The fourth reason that MATT. 5:17-20 is not teaching the continuation of the law of Moses is the fact that “to stand until fulfilled” is NOT the same as “to stay in force forever.” Those who preach the law from this passage are taking Jesus’ words here to mean that the law of Moses will always and ever be in force — that it is unchangeable and therefore binding, today and forever.
But the passage says nothing of the kind. Nor does it say that every jot and tittle of the law will stand till heaven and earth pass away. Read the passage carefully, and you will see that it says that the law will endure UNTIL something ELSE happens — NOT that it will endure forever. Jesus clearly states that every tiny detail of the law will remain UNTIL it is all FULFILLED. He has just stated that he came to fulfill it, and he further states that, UNTIL he DOES completely fulfill it, it will remain.
But this just as clearly states that when he DOES fulfill it completely, it WILL pass away! Look at it again:
“Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not one jot or one tittle will by any means disappear from the Law UNTIL everything is accomplished.”
His point is very clear: none of the law will pass away UNTIL he fulfills it. This teaches that at some point it WILL all be fulfilled — and THEN IT WILL PASS AWAY! The idea is NOT that the law will last until heaven and earth pass away — but that SOONER would heaven and earth pass away than that one letter of the law would fail to be fulfilled. Luke’s words make this matter very clear in his version of this statement:
* LUKE 16:17: It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
Here we cannot mistake the meaning. The idea is not how long the law is to last, but the certainty that it will be fulfilled — no matter how long that takes. And so, contrary to the usual interpretation of this passage, it is NOT teaching the perpetuity of the law of Moses, but rather, that there will come a time that it WILL pass away — when it has been completely fulfilled by the Messiah. Whatever “fulfilled” means – THAT is what will cause the law to pass away. Which leads to the next point:
FACT #5 = “TO FULFILL” IS NOT THE SAME AS “TO KEEP IN FORCE.”
The fifth reason — and the clinching one — that MATT. 5:17-20 is NOT teaching the perpetuity of the law of Moses is that there is a clear distinction between what it means to “fulfill the law” and what it means to “keep the law in force.” The key to understanding what Jesus is talking about here is to understand what he means when he says that he came to “fulfill” the law and the prophets [the entire OT].
The English word “fulfill” is derived from the words “fill” and “full” -– and its original meaning was to fill something completely. It has since come to mean: to make complete; to accomplish or carry into effect, as an intention, promise, or prophecy; to complete by performance; to answer the requirements of; to bring to pass, as a purpose or design; to effectuate.
If I ask you to do something for me, and then later I ask if you “fulfilled” that task, I am asking if you completed it, accomplished it, or performed it. I know this SOUNDS like “obedience,” but there is a crucial difference. The word fulfill is sometimes used in that sense, but it is most often used to refer to the completion of a predicted or expected event. If I predict a future event, and then later ask if that event has been fulfilled, I am NOT asking if anyone has “obeyed” me; I am asking if the event I predicted actually came to pass — if it occurred as I had said it would.
The Greek word in MATT. 5 that is translated “to fulfill” is the word plerosai, the infinitive form of the verb pleroo. It carries the same basic meanings as the English word “fulfill.” It is derived from the word for “fill,” and it is often used in the NT to mean, simply, “fill.” For example, see the following passages, all of which use forms of pleroo to mean “fill”: MATT. 13:48; 23:32; LUKE 2:40; 3:5; JOHN 12:3; 16:6,24; ACTS 2:2; 5:3,28; ROM. 1: 29; 15:14; 2 COR. 7:4; EPH. 1:23; 3:19; 5:18; PHIL. 1;11; 4:18; COL. 1:9; 2 TIM. 1:4.
In other contexts the word pleroo is used consistently to refer to completing, accomplishing, and bringing to pass predicted events. This is the primary use of the word in the gospels. The four gospels use the word pleroo forty-six times, and at least THIRTY of those uses clearly refer to the “fulfillment” of scriptural predictions and foreshadowings.
For example, Matthew uses pleroo seventeen times, FOURTEEN of which clearly refer to the fulfillment of prophecy. In fact, in EVERY case in which the word pleroo is used in relation to the scriptures, it carries this meaning of the fulfillment of predicted events — NOT obedience. Notice the following passages – ALL of which use pleroo to refer to the fulfillment of OT scriptures:MATT. 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:15; 21:4; 2:54,56; 27:9.MARK 1:15; 14:49.LUKE 4:21; 21:22; 24:44.JOHN 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9,32; 19:24,36.ACTS 1:16; 3:18; 13:27.
This is THE KEY to understanding what Jesus is really saying in MATT. 5:17. He refers to the entire OT, claiming that he came to FULFILL it. The meaning is obvious, isn’t it? Yes, of course, he obeyed the law, but that is NOT primarily what he is talking about. He came to ACCOMPLISH everything the OT said about the Messiah. He came to BRING TO COMPLETION all the predictions, all the shadows, all the “types” in the scriptures that pointed forward to the coming Messiah and his sacrifice for our sins.
So Jesus did not come to DESTROY the law or the prophets — but he DID come to complete them, to fulfill them, to bring them to their long-anticipated conclusion. We have already seen that the law was NOT given to make the Jews righteous. It was given for several other important reasons, among which were the setting apart of the Jews as a special people, the revelation of God’s holy character, and the proof that no one can actually live up to God’s standards.
But – there was another purpose in those OT scriptures – and that was to foreshadow, typify, and predict the arrival, the deeds, and the atoning death of the Messiah. THAT is what Jesus came to do -– to fulfill all those predictions, shadows, and types that are scattered all throughout the entire law and the rest of the OT. And when he finally fulfilled everything that the OT had predicted concerning him, he nailed that old law to the cross and abolished it. He did not destroy it; he fulfilled it, and then he abolished it.
Why did he abolish it? Because its purpose was now completed. It never was meant to produce righteousness, anyway. It was meant to reveal unrighteousness and drive us to the savior. And when we have come to faith in the savior that was predicted and typified in that law –- we have passed from under the jurisdiction of that law forever. Jesus fulfilled “every jot and tittle” of the law that referred to him by way of anticipation -– and by doing so, he brought it to its logical and predetermined end.
Here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared that he had come to FULFILL the entire OT. The gospel writers went to great lengths to show exactly HOW he did so. For example, when Jesus went to Nazareth, and read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, he read a passage that all the rabbis agreed was a reference to the Messiah. What did he say when he finished his reading?
16.He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20.Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21. and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is FULFILLED [pleroo] in your hearing.”
After his resurrection, Jesus met up with two men on the road to Emmaus, and when he heard their doubts, he upbraided them:
* LUKE 24:25-27: Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Later that same day, he said to the disciples:
* LUKE 24:44-45: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be FULFILLED [pleroo] which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.
This is an obvious reference to his own statement back in MATT. 5:17 about fulfilling the law and the prophets. He says right here that he DID fulfill them all in his death, burial, and resurrection.
And then we have the words of Paul:
* ACTS 13:29: Now when they had FULFILLED [pleroo] everything that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
So – when and where was it all finally completed and fulfilled? At the cross. This is why Paul goes on to explain that it was at the cross that Jesus ABOLISHED the law:
* COL. 2:14: He took it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
* EPH. 2:15: He abolished in his flesh the law of commandments and decrees.
* ROM. 10:4: Christ is the end of the law for everyone who believes.
* GAL. 3:24-25: The law was our guardian until Christ, so that we would be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under the guardian.
What could be plainer? Jesus came — not to destroy [kataluo] the law — but to fulfill [pleroo] it, no matter how long that took. And he did fulfill it; he was the complete fulfillment of all those OT predictions, foreshadowings, and types concerning a complete and final atonement for sin. And then — once he finally and completely fulfilled it all — at the cross — he then and there abolished [katargeo] it and replaced it with the new and better covenant ratified in his own blood.
BUT WHAT ABOUT VERSE 19?
In response to all these facts, I have often been challenged by someone referencing verse 19. The claim is that verse 19 contradicts everything I have said — that verse 19 preaches the continuation of the law of Moses. But this is a weak argument and easily dealt with.
The answer is easy: The statement in verse 19 was a warning to those who were under that law at that time — the Jews he was speaking to. UNTIL it was all fulfilled, it was still in force. We have already seen that the law remained in force until the cross. So Jesus upheld the law as long as he lived. But — after Jesus fulfilled it, it passed away, just as he said it would. Since it has now passed away, NO ONE is required to keep it. So I am NOT disobeying the warning in verse 19, because that warning was not given to me, nor could it ever apply to me — a Gentile Christian under grace, who was never under that law in the first place.
There are five important reasons that MATT. 5:17-20 does NOT teach that the law of Moses is to remain in force for the Christian:
1) “The law” is the whole law, not just the 10-C, and not just the “moral law.”
2) “The law and the prophets” means “the entire OT,” not just the law of Moses.
3) “To abolish” is not the same as “to destroy.”
4) “To stand until fulfilled” is not the same as “to remain in force
5) “To fulfill” is not the same as “to keep in force.”
MATT. 5:17-20 perfectly harmonizes with everything else we have studied about the law. It states that the law was to pass away when it was all fulfilled by Christ. Christ did fulfill it, and by doing so, he brought it to its logical and predetermined end. He did not destroy it, but the NT states clearly and repeatedly that he did fulfill it, thereby abolishing it.”