I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

OVERVIEW

I wrote an article on “the LawMatthew 5:17-18, where Jesus said:

Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

In summary, I concluded:

That the Law and the Prophets is the term that the Jews used for the entire Old Testament.  And since verse 18 explains the previous verse, “the Law” in verse 18 refers to the entire Old Testament.  Consequently, these verses do not refer specifically to the “commandments” in the Old Testament.  

That the word pléroó, translated above as “fulfill” means that Jesus came to put in effect what the Old Testament promised. Therefore, what Jesus said in verses 17 and 18 is that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament and that nothing shall pass from in the Old Testament until all is accomplished.

Thomas Lee then wrote a longish but good quality comment on this article. I thought it best to convert the comment into this post to allow me to respond point by point and for the readers to see both sides of the debate to make up their own minds.  In brief, Thomas argued as follows:

DEFINITION OF “THE LAW”

With respect to the definition of the phrase “the Law” in verse 18, Thomas argues that:
(a) We cannot trust the Bible study tools to define “the Law.”
(b) There are no examples in the NT of nomos being used to refer to the whole OT.
(c) In the phrase “the Law and the Prophets,” “the Law” does not refer to the whole OT.

THE LAW IS NOT ABOLISHED.

Thomas then continues to argue that “the Law: has not been abolished. He first focuses on Christ, saying that:

(d) Jesus said, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law.”
(e) Christ never instructed anyone to disobey any commandment; and
(f) Jesus is our example. We must live as He did; according to the whole Law.

Then, turning his attention to the Acts 15 Church Council, Thomas wrote:

(g) Twenty years after Christ died, the Council at Jerusalem discussed whether the Torah applies to non-Jews. This means:
 –  there was no question that it applies to Jews and
 –  there was no certainty about whether it applies to Gentiles.
(h) Correctly interpreted, that council did not conclude that the Law has been abolished.

SUMMARY

In summary, Thomas’s comments (in black) and my responses (in blue) are as follows:

DEFINITION OF “THE LAW”

Thomas challenges my understanding of “the Law” in verse 18 as referring to the Old Testament as follows:

You relied on Bible study tools to define “the Law,” We cannot trust these tools to define words for us.

Response: The Bible study tools are based on very detailed scientific research. Unless we are able to show where they are wrong, we must accept them.

I would like to see examples from the NT of nomos being used to refer to the whole OT.

Response: The NT quotes from parts of the Old Testament that are not part of the Pentateuch, and calls it “the Law;” for example, John 10:34

In the phrase “the Law and the Prophets,” “the Law” (nomos) does not refer to the whole OT.

Yes, but verse 18 explains verse 17. For that reason, “the Law” in verse 18 is shorthand for “the Law and the Prophets” in verse 17.

THE LAW HAS NOT BEEN ABOLISHED.

Thomas challenges my conclusion, that the Law has been abolished, firstly by referring to Jesus’ teachings and then to the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council.

JESUS AND THE LAW

Jesus said, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law.”

Yes, but “the Law” refers to the Old Testament. The NT gospel is a continuation of the gospel which God gave to Abraham; not a break from the Old Testament (Gal 3:8; Rom 3:31). But the OT implies that the Law of Moses was as “added” for Israel only and only until Jesus would come.

In Matthew 5:19, Jesus says that even the least of His laws must be obeyed.

You quote incorrectly. Verse 19 refers to “commandments;” not to “the law.” These are two different concepts. Verse 18 says something about “the Law,” which is the entire Old Testament. In verse 18, Jesus shifts His attention to the commandments, such as “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER” or “MURDER.”

These commandments are permanent, but Jesus only mentioned ethical commandments, which everybody accepts as permanent.  He did not indicate that the rituals and ceremonies of “the Law” are permanent.

Christ never instructed anyone to disobey any of the commandments.

Jesus also never mentioned the ceremonial laws. With respect to the ethical commandments, He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards, which Paul refers to as the Law of Christ.

We must live as Christ did.  He is our example, and He walked perfectly according to the whole Law.

That would require us to ignore the later revelation which Paul and the apostles received.

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

Twenty years later, the Council at Jerusalem discussed whether the Torah applies to non-Jews. This means (1) there was no question that it applies to Jews and (2) there was no certainty about whether it applies to Gentiles.

Your facts are straight but your implied conclusion is wrong. The church started as a fully Jewish sect of Judaism. Only three years after Christ’s death did God’s covenant with Israel come to an end. Over the next decades, God extracted the church out of Judaism; a process that took decades to complete. The Acts 15 Church Council was a key marker in that process.

VERSE 19

Acts 15:19 does not mean that the Law is abolished.

In the context, it does. Jewish Christians demanded the circumcision of Gentile Christians but the meeting decided, as recorded in verse 19, ”we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.

VERSE 20

The four things that the meeting required from the Gentile believers in verse 20 are from God’s Law. Therefore, the Law was not abolished.

The Gentiles were very glad when they received the decision of the council. They would not have been glad if they had to keep the Law of MosesFurthermore, Paul later repudiated the four requirements. This shows that these four things were a mere compromise to appease Paul’s strong opposition in the church, which was, at the time, dominated by Jews.

VERSE 21

Verse 21 reads, “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” This means that non-Jews coming to faith in Christ must:
(a) Attend synagogue; not the church,
(b) Learn the rest of what Moses wrote—the Law and
(c) Attend synagogue on the Sabbath. This means that the seventh day has never changed.

Response: Yes, at this time the Gentile Christians still attended the synagogues on the Sabbath. However, this does not mean that Christians are still subject to the Law of Moses. Verse 21 was still part of the compromise, for the Jewish Christians were “all zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20). The much more important matter was that the council decided that Gentiles do not have to convert to Judaism.

END OF SUMMARY

THE LAW (verse 18)

Thomas understands “the law” in Matt 5:18 to refer to God’s commandments. In this section, Thomas responds to my conclusion that, in that verse, “the law” refers to the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) and probably even to the entire Old Testament.  

BIBLE STUDY TOOLS

Thomas: The fact that HELPS Word-studies claims that nomos—law—refers to the whole OT is not sufficient. I have seen a number of Bible study tools that are guided by commonly held Christian beliefs rather than the actual Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic words on the page. You must provide a source—one that is not anomalous—preferably several, supporting the claim.

Response: I know that the world is blinded by false doctrines, but we have to assume that the study tools are correct unless we can prove that they are wrong.  The onus rests on us.  See, for example, the page on nomos (the law) in Bible Hub. It is a very detailed and technical analysis. If we want to find fault with it, we will have to work on the same level of detail, which I, certainly, am not able to do.

NOMOS REFERS TO THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT.

I would be interested to have anyone provide any examples from the NT of nomos being used unambiguously to refer to the whole OT.

Response: See the BIBLE Hub page on nomos. It gives examples where “the Law” is used for quotes from parts of the Old Testament that are not part of the Pentateuch, for example, John 10:34 (Psalm 81:6); John 12:34 (Psalm 109:4; Daniel 2:44Daniel 7:14) and John 15:25 (Psalm 34:19). 

Even in Matt 5:17, Jesus doesn’t just say nomos to refer to the OT; He refers specifically to the Law and the Prophets. Had nomos been sufficient to refer to the whole OT, then Jesus wouldn’t have added the Prophets.

Sure, in verse 17 “the Law” refers to Moses’ five books. But since verse 18 explains verse 17 (note the first word, “for“), “the Law” in verse 18 is shorthand for “the Law and the Prophets” (the entire Old Testament) in verse 17.

In Jesus’ day, the Old Testament, as modern Christianity erroneously refers to it, was commonly thought of as sections. This is clearest at Luke 24:44 where Jesus refers to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Not all of what we have today as the OT was even canonized in Jesus’ day; the Psalms were compiled with other writings and later referred to as the Writings. Judaism today refers to the OT as the Tanak, which comes from the first letters of the words Torah (Law or Instruction), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). Luke 24:44 suggests strongly that Jesus thought of the scriptures in this way as well, but I don’t know why that should come as a surprise to anyone. So I throw the error flag at HELPS Word-studies on this one.

Response: Your explanation of the part of the Old Testament seems right. But you have not proved that the Bible Study tools are incorrect in their definition of “the Law.” The burden of proof rests on you.

PLEROO

Your argument that this is used to refer to prophetic fulfillment should not detract from the fact that, in the same breath, Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the Law,” and the entire Law is to remain in effect until heaven and earth are gone.

Response: I agree that “the Law” (the Old Testament) has not been abolished and will never be abolished, but that does not mean that the Law of Moses is permanent. I base this on Paul’s arguments in Galatians. He argued that his gospel is a continuation of the gospel which God gave to Abraham (Gal. 3:8). He did not see his gospel as a break from the Old Testament. As he stated in Romans 3:31: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (the Old Testament).

However, the Old Testament implies that the Law of Moses was temporary, for it did not always exist but was only added hundreds of years later, namely after Israel came out of Egypt. Therefore Paul understood the Law of Moses as “added” for Israel only and only “until the Seed would come” (Gal 3:19). See, Why Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law of Moses (Matt 5:19).

But I am glad to see that you accept my interpretation of pléroó (fulfill).

MATTHEW 5:19

If that’s not enough, Jesus goes on to say that anyone who teaches—as does this article—that even the least of His laws are to be ignored or disobeyed will be called least in His kingdom. Jesus goes on to say that anyone who does and teaches even the least of the laws shall be called great in His kingdom.

You quote incorrectly. You have now switched to verse 19 and that verse does not refer to “the law.” It uses a different Greek word (entole), translated as “commandments” by the NASB. Entole is explained by Strong as injunction, order command. 

Jesus used the words “commandment” or “commandments” to refer to what we would call ‘laws’.  For example, “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER” (Matt 15:4) or “MURDER … ADULTERY … STEAL … FALSE WITNESS … HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER … LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Matt 19:17-19).

Law” in the NT is, therefore, not exactly equivalent to the word ‘law’ in modern English. In the NT, “the Law” (nomos) has many different meanings, depending on the context. Strong defines it as: “that which is assigned, usage, law.”  The word “commandments,” on the other hand, is more specific and is actually closer in meaning to the modern English word ‘law.’

In verse 18, Jesus was talking about the entire Old Testament. In verse 19 He has shifted His attention to the commandments specifically. He explains that these commandments are permanent, but He only mentions ethical commandments, which everybody accepts as permanent.  He did not indicate that the rituals and ceremonies of “the Law” are permanent.

CAME TO

I would also draw attention to the phrase “came to” in v17. When someone says they came to or did not come to do this or that, it speaks of one’s mission, task, or purpose. “I did not come to watch the movie; I came to eat some popcorn.” To accept this article as true, one would have to accept that abolishing God’s Law—rendering it null and void—was indeed Jesus’ purpose or intent. If the Law was to be abolished following Jesus’ crucifixion, then He would have to say that He came to abolish the Law.

I also think that the phrase “came to” is important, for it explains why Jesus came to earth. As I explained before, He did not come to abolish the Old Testament; He came to fulfill (give effect to) it. In John 3:16 Jesus came so that everybody who believes in Him will be saved. In Galatians 1:4, the Father sent Him that “He might rescue us from this present evil age.” In Romans 3:25, God displayed Christ publicly to demonstrate God’s righteousness, which was questioned because God passed over the sins previously committed.  Jesus came to do something substantial; not merely to explain the Old Testament to us, as you seem to imply. 

COUNCIL AT JERUSALEM

You point out that the Council at Jerusalem was a big deal. I agree. They were discussing whether and to what extent Torah applies to non-Jews (which means there was no question that it applies to Jews). This council took place 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. What’s important to note in all this is that, more than 20 years after Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it, they are even discussing the Law’s applicability to gentiles. Clearly, 20 years on, no one had informed the apostles that Torah had been rendered null and void, …just as, years after Jesus allegedly declared all foods clean at Mk. 7:19, Peter said repeatedly in Acts 10 that he would not eat and had never eaten anything unclean.

Your facts are right but your implied conclusion is wrong. I wrote a series of articles on the first few decades of the church to show that it started as a sect of Judaism. It consisted only of Jews and was thoroughly Jewish. They were all “zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). But then God sent Peter to the Gentiles and they also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10-11); just like the Jews in the beginning (Acts 11:17). But now the question arose, should the Gentiles be circumcised?  Subsequently, God called Paul as His special apostle to the Gentiles and gave him the task to get the church out of Judaism. It did not happen overnight. It was a slow process of painful change, in which the Acts 15 Church Council was a key marker.

To explain this further, the 490 years of Daniel 9 were an extension of God’s covenant with Israel. but did not come to an end at Christ’s death. On the contrary, God gave His Holy Spirit to His Jewish believers as never before to give Israel a final opportunity to accept Him and to take the gospel to the world. But, about three years after Christ’s death, Israel rejected the Holy Spirit-filled church by persecuting it. This brought God’s covenant with Israel to an end. Consequently, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit.  During those three years after Christ’s death, the church was fully Jewish.

ACTS 15:19

There is only one reason that anyone could read Acts 15:19 and understand that to mean that the Law is abolished: the Law itself is viewed as troublesome or bothersome.

In the context, it does. Jewish Christians came and said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:1,5). Against this context, the meeting decided, ”we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:19) and “it seemed good … to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials …” (Acts 15:28). Given the context, the council obviously decided against the Jewish demand that Gentiles be circumcised.

That’s because that is what we are taught ad nauseam in our churches, but that is not what scripture says. God says at Deut 30:11-14 that His commandments are not too difficult for us. John echoes this at 1 John 5:3 when he says that God’s commandments are not burdensome. The problem here comes in the church’s lack of understanding of what it means to “keep” (shamar) the Law.

FOUR THINGS

In Acts 15:20, there are four things that the apostles and elders and the Holy Spirit agree that non-Jews coming to faith in Jesus must do—not should do, but must do, as a litmus test of sorts.

Let’s look at the first one: abstain from things polluted by idols. What is an idol? Is it any carved thing resembling something on earth? Must the object be worshiped or venerated in some way? Does it include icons in the various orthodox churches? Does it include a temple in which there is an idol? Does it include interaction with idol worshipers, and if so, what types of interactions? What is meant by “polluted”? There is a place where all of this is spelled out for us, but it’s lost on the church because it’s in the Law. In fact, it involves numerous laws, all the laws pertaining to idols and idolatry.

It’s the same way with all of these four things mentioned in Acts 15:20; there are numerous laws that pertain to unlawful sexual relations, the killing of animals for food, and the ingestion of blood. These four laws happen to be important for those sincerely turning from idolatry; foods, sex, and ingesting of blood were common in pagan rituals. Strangulation has to do with releasing adrenaline into the bloodstream when the animal panics. Adrenaline-filled blood was then drunk, giving the imbiber a kind of high and helped induce a frenzy or trance-like state.

So we’re supposed to believe that God’s Law is now abolished, but here the apostles rattle off four of them that non-Jews are supposed to obey. The article’s position is contradictory and untenable.

Response: Here you imply that these four things effectively cover the entire Old Testament Law. I will leave that to the reader to decide whether that is a balanced interpretation.

Also, keep in mind that the Gentiles “rejoiced” (v31) when they received the message.  Would they have “rejoiced” is they were told to keep the Law of Moses?  Peter described the Law as “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). In the Parable of the two Jerusalem in Galatians 4, Paul described Judaism as “the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children” (Gal 4:25).

Remember also that Paul later repudiated the decision of the council. He wrote, “concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world.” “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (1 Cor 8:1, 7; cf. 1 Cor 10). 

All these things happened during the period of time that God removed the church from Judaism, and it was not without pain.  Paul’s efforts were resisted.  The church in Jerusalem sent spies to watch what Paul was teaching (Gal 2:4; cf. v12, Acts 15:1). The Church Council decision was a victory for Paul, but these four things should be understood as a bit of a compromise to appease the strong “party of the circumcision” (Gal 2:12).

NO OBLIGATION

If the Law is abolished—if we’re under no obligation to keep any of it—then the apostles, elders, and the Holy Spirit were in error at the Council of Jerusalem. But they were not wrong because they affirmed the applicability of Torah for non-Jews [and, thus, for Jews as well].

In response, to show that we are under no obligation to keep the law, some verses from Galatians:

“If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:15)

“The present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Gal 4:25-26).

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1).

They “try to compel you to be circumcised” (Gal 6:12).

ACTS 15:21 – IN THE SYNAGOGUE EVERY SABBATH

The verse that will be skipped or glossed over or mumbled in every church teaching or sermon on this is the next one, Acts 15:21:

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.

Have you ever read Shakespeare? Have you ever read Homer? Have you ever read Lao Tzu? What am I asking here? I am asking if you have read anything written by these people. It is a shorthand way of referring to their written works. So, have you ever read Moses? What did Moses write? He wrote the Law—the Pentateuch. In v21, the apostles, elders, and the Holy Spirit are instructing non-Jews coming to faith in Christ not only to avoid idolatry, unlawful sexual relations, and strangled meats and blood; but to attend synagogue—not church—and to do so on the Sabbath, which was still the seventh day and has never changed. So none of these laws have any place in the life of a follower of Christ … if we are to believe the dominant teachings on this in the church today. Yet, right here, post-crucifixion/resurrection, at the first church council, with apostles, elders, and the Holy Spirit in attendance and in agreement, the instruction is the opposite of what we so often get from the pulpit: The Law remains in effect and is for all people.

Look at the first word of v21: For. This means that what follows is predicated on what comes immediately preceding it. We will tell the non-Jews to keep these four laws… BECAUSE they will be attending synagogue… on the Sabbath… to learn the rest of what Moses wrote—the Law. And they weren’t supposed to learn only some of Moses or just certain parts of Moses.

Response: Interesting take on this verse.  Yes, at this time both Jewish and Gentile Christians still attended the synagogues on the Sabbath. Jesus came to put in effect (fulfill) what the Old Testament promised; not to abolish it. Christianity was basically a continuation of the old dispensation. Romans 11 uses the symbol of an olive tree into which Gentile branches are grafted into. My understanding is that everything remains the same, except to the extent that it has been explicitly changed.

However, if you are implying that this verse means that Gentile Christians must still comply with the law, then I must object.  What James was saying was that the Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised, but they will get a good dose of Judaism as they attend the synagogues.  It is still all part of the compromise, for the Jewish Christians were “all zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20).

The much more important matter was that the council decided that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised. Gentiles converted to Judaism through circumcision. Since they did not have to be circumcised, the Gentiles did not have to become Jews.

CIRCUMCISION

You argue that, because it is not necessary for adult male converts to Christianity to be circumcised, that includes the whole Law as being inapplicable.

The American Civil War was fought over state rights, but the hot-button issue was one particular state right: slavery. So today we Americans often say without thinking that the Civil War was fought over slavery. That’s not wrong, but it’s not the whole picture.

It was this way in the First Century. Some, perhaps many, of the pharisaical converts to Christianity believed in the pharisaical rituals. The culmination of a non-Jewish male converting to the Jewish faith—which Christianity still was until 97 or 98 A.D.—was circumcision.

Are you implying that Gentile Christians were circumcised until 97 or 98 A.D?

Many in the church today view baptism in a similar way—it is the culmination or seal of the conversion process. “Circumcision” was an easy way for people in the First Century to refer to Torah observance in general, but more accurately to both Torah observance and observance of the Jewish oral law. The “party of the circumcision” felt that converts must be bound not only by Torah but by the pharisaical traditions with which they were familiar. It would be like Christians seeing a convert to Christianity not celebrate Christmas—unthinkable, and yet it’s only a tradition.

Response: Perhaps your point here is that the Church Council decided against the traditions (the Jewish oral law), rather than against the Law as such. The Traditions were certainly part of it. For example, the circumcision party tried to “compel the Gentiles to live like Jews” (Gal 2:14). But the question before the council was about the entire Law of Moses. It decided not to subject Gentiles to the Torah. Circumcision is part of the Torah. Paul wrote that he died to the law (Gal 2:19). The allegory in Galatians 4, “Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Law) … corresponds to the present Jerusalem” and “she is in slavery with her children” (Gal 4:25).

SALVATION AND WORKS

When you get to Peter’s testimony, you add a tangential issue to the mix: salvation. Up to that point in your article, salvation was not a part of the question of whether Torah is relevant for believers today. It becomes a straw man argument, in essence claiming that one advocating in favor of keeping God’s Law also believes that salvation is contingent on doing so. Then, because you can easily prove that salvation is not by works, you appear to disprove Torah observance along with it. I am a Torah-observant believer in the Messiah, and I know many—hundreds—of other such believers, and not one of them believes that salvation is contingent on keeping God’s Law. In fact, works-based salvation is so thoroughly agreed upon as garbage in Torah-observant Christianity that no one even brings it up except when a church-goer accuses one of us of being legalists—i.e., tying salvation to works.

Response: Yes, the Jews in Paul’s day saw circumcision as required for salvation (Acts 15:1, 5). That is why Peter argued, “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).

But no, I nowhere argue against being subject to the Law, simply on the basis that works does not save. I show that the Church Council concluded that Gentile Christians are not subject to the Law at all. I did not discuss their reasons and I am very careful to keep these concepts apart.

JEWISH LIFESTYLE

Under James’ Conclusion, you confuse an issue when you write, “…or adopt a Jewish lifestyle. What is and what isn’t Jewish? I have two examples:

(1) wearing a kippa (also known as a yarmulke) and
(2) observing Passover.

Is either of these things Jewish? Wearing a kippa is Jewish as that is nowhere commanded in scripture; it is a tradition of men.

Observing Passover is commanded in scripture, and not only for Jews. Therefore, observing Passover is biblical and not Jewish—regardless of whether or not Jews observe it. If I drive a car and I am American, that does not make driving a car an exclusively or inherently American activity, even if more Americans drive cars than in any other country. Paul even tells us at 1 Cor 5:8 that we are to continue keeping Passover—yet another law that isn’t abolished.

Response: Interesting question – I would say a Jewish lifestyle would all-inclusive; all the things that only Jews do.  It would include the traditions. But I do not see what relevance this question has to our debate. 

THE DEUTERONOMY 13 TEST

The first five verses of Deut 13 describe a key disqualifier of anyone who would presume to speak for YHVH, even one performing miracles or giving accurate prophecies. The test is whether they teach God’s people to disobey His Law, which is described as following other gods. If Paul taught people to discard God’s Law, then he was an agent of the Adversary—Satan. This is why Jews generally do not believe Jesus to be their promised Messiah—He fails the Deut 13 test. This has been one of the biggest and most tragic misunderstandings in Christian history. If Jesus taught against the Law, then the Jews are right and He is not the Messiah, and we are dead in our sins and without hope. It’s not Jesus who fails the Deut 13 test, however, but the lawless Jesus that the church presents to the world.

Response: Wow! If we “are dead in our sins and without hope” because we do not keep the Law of Moses, then we are saved by obeying the Mosaic Law.  Does that reveal your real understanding?  What do you really think about Paul? Do you consider him to be “an agent of the Adversary—Satan?”

CHRIST IS OUR EXAMPLE.

As Christians, we have to ask ourselves an important question—because the church isn’t going to ask it. Why did Christ live one way but we live so differently? Christ kept the Law perfectly, and we are to walk as He walked; He is our example. If Christ came to bring about this earth-shaking sea change in how God’s people are to live—how we are to treat one another and treat God Himself, then why did Christ Himself walk perfectly according to the whole Law?

That would require us to ignore later revelation. Paul claimed that he received his gospel “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12; cf. Eph 3:1). Peter and the Jews that were with him “were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45). “The mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body” (Eph 3:4-5).

JESUS DID NOT INSTRUCT ANYBODY TO DISOBEY.

Ask yourself also if you can find a place in scripture where Christ instructs anyone to disobey any of the commandments, even the least. Conversely, can you find any place where Christ does teach others to keep the commandments?

Response: Jesus never mentioned the ceremonial aspects of the Law. He only taught on the ethical laws of the Old Testament. Furthermore, the whole purpose of the article on the Law of Christ is to show that He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards.

In a series of articles, I analyzed Christ’s teachings with respect to the Sabbath and concluded that Jesus taught a different Sabbath, namely that the Sabbath is now a day to work (not rest) to bring joy to people by helping them to be healed and restored. This is one example of the Law of Christ, which is God’s law as it existed from the beginning.   

We have been sold a very negative view of God’s Law, but it was not always this way in Christianity. It’s far too much to explain here, but there are political, economic, and social reasons that explain why non-Jewish Christians jettisoned Torah, but none of the reasons is biblical.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – A study of Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the prophets. What are “the Law and the Prophets” and how did Jesus fulfill them?

Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught His followers what kind of people they must be to be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus did not believe that people have essential immortality and taught that they will be judged by their deeds.

Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.  Jesus said that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why then did the Acts 15 Church Council, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains the decision.

Objections to my Matthew 5:17-18 article: What is “the Law” in verse 18, how does it differ from “commandments,” what did Jesus say about “the Law” and what did the Acts 15 Church Council decide about it? – Current article

Articles on Galatians – Since Galatians explains the decision of the Church Council, these articles are, in a sense, part of the series on Galatians.

Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

PURPOSE

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law” (Matt 5:17-18). Given this, the purpose of this article series is to explain why the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decided that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law.  The articles in this series are:

1. Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – Current article
2. Sermon on the Mount 
3. Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB.

SUMMARY

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

Some Jewish Christians taught that, unless Gentile Christians are circumcised, they cannot be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed passionately, causing a huge argument. The apostles and the elders then convened in Jerusalem to discuss this question.

After some discussions, Peter stood up and pointed out that God gave the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles, just as to circumcised Jews at Pentecost. God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Peter said that God saves both groups by faith through grace. Gentiles, therefore, do not need to be circumcised.

To conclude the meeting, James summarized the consensus of the meeting as that “we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:19). In other words, Gentiles do not have to be circumcised and they, consequently, do not have to abide by the Law of Moses.

DID NOT COME TO ABOLISH THE LAW (v17)

Jesus said that He did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (Matt 5:17).

The Law and the Prophets” was a term that the Jews used to refer to the entire Old Testament. “The Law” in verse 18 does not refer to God’s commandments per se.  HELPS Word-studies explains “the Law” ‘as Scripture, with emphasis on the first five books of Scripture’. Since verse 18 explains Matthew 5:17, and since the context in verse 17 is the whole Old Testament, “the Law” in verse 18 also refers to the whole Old Testament.

CAME TO FULFILL THE LAW (Matt 5:17)

Jesus added that He came to “fulfill” “the Law and the Prophets.”

The Greek word pléroó, which is translated as “fulfill” in this verse, is explained by Strong’s Concordance as “to make full, to complete.” “Fulfill,” therefore, is an action that completes something that previously was not complete. What did Jesus mean when He said that He came to complete the Old Testament?

Matthew uses pléroó seventeen times, and in fifteen of them, it clearly refers to prophecy being fulfilled or coming to pass through some event. “Fulfill,” therefore, is used in Matthew 5:17 to say that Jesus came to make true what was prophesied in the Old Testament, for example:

… that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Jesus did not come to fulfill a few isolated predictions in the Old Testament. Rather, the Old Testament is essentially about Jesus. As Jesus said:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39).

UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED (v18)

Verse 18 confirms the conclusion that pléroó means that Jesus came to put in effect what the Old Testament promised. This verse explains the ‘I came to fulfill’ statement in Matthew 5:17 and uses “accomplished” as a synonym for “fulfill.”

Since “the Law” refers to the Old Testament, the statement “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18) does not mean that all of God’s commandments, as recorded in the Old Testament will always remain applicable. It, rather, means that everything that is promised or predicted in the Old Testament will come true through Christ.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

THE ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

Some Jewish Christians came from Judea to Antioch and taught:

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 14:26; 15:1). 

All Jewish Christian males were already circumcised. These Jewish Christians demanded that Gentile Christians also be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas passionately disagreed with them, resulting in a huge debate (Acts 15:2). The church in Antioch then sent Paul and Barnabas and some others up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders to get finality on this matter (v2). When they arrived in Jerusalem, some Pharisees, who have become Christians, repeated their stance:

It is necessary to circumcise them and
to direct them to observe the Law of Moses
” (Acts 15:4-5).

PETER’S TESTIMONY

The apostles and the elders met to discuss this matter. There was much debate. Eventually, Peter stood up and said that God, “in the early days,” choose him (Peter) to preach the gospel to Gentiles. He continued:

God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:6-11)

His point is that it was not necessary to circumcise the Gentiles because God gave the Holy Spirit to the uncircumcised Gentiles in exactly the same way as He gave the Spirit to the circumcised Jews on Pentecost. God “made no distinction.” 

While some Christian Pharisees claimed, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 14:26), Peter said that Jews and Gentiles are all saved by grace through faith; a point which Paul also emphasizes in his letters. In other words, it is not necessary to circumcise the Gentile believers.

Gentiles were always allowed to convert to Judaism through circumcision. What these Christian Pharisees actually sought was that Gentile Christians also convert to Judaism. Consequently, what Peter argued was that one does not have to become a Jew to be saved.  God, “who knows the heart,” accepted the Gentiles without circumcision.

Then everybody kept silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told them what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12).

JAMES’ CONCLUSION

James, who apparently chaired the meeting, then summarized the consensus of the meeting as follows:

It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:19).

The council then agreed to send men with a message to Antioch, saying that the men who previously came from Judea to Antioch had no mandate from the church leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:24). The message asked the Gentile Christians to refrain from some things that were particularly repulsive to Jews, but the main point is that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised or adopt a Jewish lifestyle (Acts 15:28).

THE LAW WILL NOT PASS AWAY.

However, a decade or two earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law” (Matt 5:18).

The purpose of this article is to ask, if the smallest letter of the Law will remain “until heaven and earth pass away,” why do Gentiles not have to comply with the Law?

MATTHEW 5:17-19

Let us read Jesus’ words in more detail. He said:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I did not come to abolish but to fulfill
“ (Matt 5:17).

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18).

The four phrases in bold are explained below.

THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS (Matt. 5:17)

The Law and the Prophets” was a term which the Jews used to refer to the entire Old Testament, for example:

On these two commandments (love for God and love for your neighbor) depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40).

After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying …” (Acts 13:15).

Treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12; cf. Luke 16:16; John 1:45).

In Matthew 5:17, quoted above, Jesus said that He came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. He later said:

How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matt 26:54)

Here He used the word “Scriptures,” rather than “Law and the Prophets” together with “fulfill.” Since the “Scriptures” are the Old Testament, this again confirms that the “Law and the Prophets” refers to the entire Old Testament.

THE LAW (Matt 5:18)

The “Law” in the phrase “the Law or the Prophets” (Matt 5:17) refers to the first five books of the Bible, namely the books that were written by Moses:

The Greek word is nomos. Strong’s defines it as: “that which is assigned, usage, law.”

HELPS Word-studies explains nomos as:
1. the Law (Scripture), with emphasis on the first five books of Scripture; or
2. any system of religious thinking (theology)

The Law” in Matt 5:18, therefore, does not specifically refer to God’s commandments. It is a name for the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  

Furthermore, verse 18 explains verse 17. Since verse 17 refers to “the Law and the Prophets,” “the Law” in verse 18 is an abbreviation for “the Law and the Prophets” and, therefore, also speaks of the entire Old Testament.

FULFILL (Matt 5:17)

TO MAKE FULL, TO COMPLETE

The word “fulfill” is translated from the Greek word pléroó (Strong’s 4137). Strong’s Concordance defines this word as “to make full, to complete.” 

Pléroó, therefore, does not mean ‘do away with’.  That is also quite clear from Jesus’ statement, “I did not come to abolish” (Matt 5:17).

The following are instances in Matthew where pléroó is used in the sense of “to make full, to complete:”

It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15).

Jesus told a parable of “a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled” (Matt 13:47-48)

Jesus said to the “scribes and Pharisees,” “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers” (Matt 23:29, 32).

Fulfill,” therefore, is an action that fills up something that previously was not full; in these instances, righteousness, a dragnet and guilt. In what sense did Jesus fill up or complete the Old Testament?

DEMONSTRATE THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW

This is sometimes explained as that Jesus came to show the true purpose of the law; to show how God intended a human being to be; that Jesus showed us, through His life and death, what a person is like who loves God with his whole heart and his neighbors as himself. 

TO FULFILL OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY

However, Matthew uses this word pléroó seventeen times, and in fifteen of them, it clearly refers to prophecy being fulfilled or coming to pass through some event. For example:

All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matt 1:22).

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet” (Matt 4:14).

Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled” (Matt 2:17).

As another example, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and one of the disciples cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave with his sword, Jesus told His disciple to put his sword away, saying, “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matt 26:54).

Other such examples can be found in Matthew 2:14, 23; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9).  [Incidentally, note again in these quotes the references to “the Scriptures,” “the prophet,” and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. This confirms that the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament.]

Since “fulfill” is mostly used in Matthew to describe things done to Christ or by Christ to make true what was prophesied in the Old Testament, we conclude that “fulfill” in 2:17 also has that meaning. As Jesus stated in Luke 24:44:

All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

TESTIFY ABOUT ME

This conclusion is explained by other statements that do not use the word pléroó (fulfill) but that express the same concept in different words, for example:

After His resurrection, Jesus met two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27; cf. v32).

To the Pharisees, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39).

Jesus did not come to fulfill a few isolated predictions in the Old Testament. Rather, the Old Testament is essentially about Jesus. He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Old Testament promised Christ as the Savior of the world and He came to convert promise into reality.

UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED (v18)

This conclusion, that Jesus came to put in effect what the Old Testament promised, is also confirmed by verse 18. Note that this verse explains the ‘I came to fulfill’ statement in verse 17 and uses “accomplished” as a synonym for “fulfill:”

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Accomplished” is not translated from a different Greek word. Other translations render this word as follows:

      • Till all is fulfilled” (NKJV).
      • Until everything is accomplished” (NIV)
      • Till all come to pass” (DNT)
      • Before everything has come true” (GWT)
      • Until everything has happened” (NCV)

In all these translations the meaning is that everything that is predicted will certainly happen.

Since “the Law” refers to the entire Old Testament, the statement “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (verse 18) does not mean that all of God’s commandments, as recorded in the Old Testament will always remain applicable. It, rather, means that everything that is predicted in the Old Testament will come true. This confirms the interpretation above of “fulfill.”

If Jesus made the Old Testament come true, does that mean that the Old Testament is now done away with?  Obviously not. Everything in the Old Testament must come true, including the promised end-time events, such as the “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). But all things will become true “In Christ.”

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – A study of Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the prophets. What are “the Law and the Prophets” and how did Jesus fulfill them?

Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught His followers what kind of people they must be to be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus did not believe that people have essential immortality and taught that they will be judged by their deeds.

Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.  Jesus said that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why then did the Acts 15 Church Council, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains the decision.

Articles on Galatians – Since Galatians explains the decision of the Church Council, these articles are, in a sense, part of the series on Galatians.

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