Even though Yeshua did not speak Greek, I decided to study the GREEK translation of Matthew 5:17 to see if the ‘law’ was actually ‘abolished’ as many believe based on their English translations.
Matthew 5:17 “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete” (Complete Jewish Bible).
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (New International Version).
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (New King James Version).
Above are three different English translations of the same verse where Yeshua states that he did not come to ‘abolish’ the Torah and the Prophets, but to ‘fulfill.’ This verse is often cited when anti-nomians –– the Greek word for anti-law and anti-Torah –– argue with those who believe Torah is still God’s ‘law’ today (John 14:15). The conundrum proliferated by anti-nomians is that ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill’ have the same meaning.
Yeshua, the Rabbi
Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi with disciples and taught them within a rabbinical understanding of ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.’ These words have very different meanings from what is translated into English. When a rabbi used ‘abolish’ in reference to Torah, it meant ‘to wrongly interpret’ a command, but to ‘fulfill’ the command meant ‘to rightly interpret’ it.
Yeshua is stating that he came to ‘rightly interpret’ the Torah because centuries of manmade traditions and rules had ‘abolished’ it. He never claimed that ‘fulfillment’ of Torah meant it would end or be abolished as understood in Christiandom. ‘Abolish’ and ‘fulfill’ cannot and do not mean the same thing in Hebrew, Greek or even English.
I used Joseph Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon to define the Greek words ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.’
The Greek word translated ‘abolish’ is kataluō. This word is found in Matthew 5:17, 26:61; Mark 14:58; Acts 6:14, and Romans 14:20. Kataluo is a verb meaning to dissolve, disunite what has been joined together, to destroy, demolish.
Kataluo can metaphorically mean to overthrow, render vain, deprive of success, bring to naught. It alludes to subverting or overthrowing institutions, forms of government, laws in the sense of annulling, abrogating, and discarding.
“There they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and against the Torah; for we have heard him say that Yeshua from Natzeret will destroy [kataluo] this place and will change the customs Moshe handed down to us” (Acts 6:14).
The witnesses in Acts chapter 6 are false witnesses who accuse Sha’ul of teaching against Torah. From this one verse, anyone who teaches that Yeshua abolished God’s commands or that Sha’ul taught against obeying Torah would be considered a false witness.
The Greek word translated ‘fulfill’ is plēroō. This word is found in Matthew 5:17, 3:15, Philippians 2:2, Colossians 1:25, Colossians 4:17, and 2 Thessalonians 1:11. Pleroo is a verb meaning to make full, to fill up, to fill to the fullest. It means to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally like I am liberally supplied or I abound.
Another nuance to pleroo is to consummate as in ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’ and is a ‘shadow’ of Messiah and his Bride. At the final Passover in the Kingdom, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, there will be a consummation or completion of a marriage.
A third nuance of pleroo means to ‘render full’ as in to fill to the top so that nothing shall be wanting, fill to the brim. It is making complete every particular instance, to render perfect, to carry through to the end, accomplish, bring to realization, and to ratify.
The spiritual meaning of ‘fulfill’ is to cause God’s will, as made know in Torah, to be obeyed as it should be thus bringing to ‘fulfillment’ God’s promises given through the prophets.
“And tell Archippus, “See that you complete [pleroo] the task you were given in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17 ).
The Greek word translated ‘fulfilled’ is ginomai. This word is found in Matthew 5:18, 24:34, and Luke 21:32. Ginomai is another verb, different from pleroo, that means to become, come into existence, come to pass, to happen regarding events. It can also mean to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage as of men appearing in public. While a third meaning is to have happened, finished as of miracles performed. Within the meaning of ginomai, Yeshua appeared, came into existence in history publicly and finished the work he was given task to do.
Putting together the Greek definitions from Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon, Matthew 5:17 would translate into English like this:
“I did not come to (kataluo) overthrow, render vain, subvert or annul the Torah and God’s laws and form of government, but to cause it to (pleroo) abound, consummate, be perfect, and to cause God’s will to be obeyed as it should be; and as I [Yeshua] complete my task, (ginomai) this will all come to pass, happen, be performed and begin to be received.”
Even using the Greek definitions of the words ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill,’ it becomes clear that Yeshua was not removing the ‘law’ or his Father’s Torah from the life of the believer –– Jew or gentile, but interpreting it correctly so that it could be obeyed. His task was to ‘bring into existence’ the the prophesied new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31).
The Hebrew word translated ‘law’ in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10 is the word Torah. The ‘law’ that is written into the minds and hearts by God’s Spirit as part of the new covenant is the Torah.
Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi. He taught like a rabbi and lived his life fully as a Jewish man. During his last Passover, he instituted the new covenant (Luke 22:20). The promises of the new covenant would finally begin to be ‘fulfilled’ (ginomai) through Yeshua. The Torah would become written on the hearts of God’s people. It would not be ‘annuled’ (kataluo), but rather brought to its completion –– it would be obeyed as intended by God (pleroo) and the miracle of the circumcised heart would come to pass (ginomi).
Yeshua meant what he said in Hebrew, Greek or English. He did not come to get rid of the Torah and the prophets, but to bring ‘fullness’ to them. He demonstrated to his disciples how to live out Torah as it was intended, and do not ‘abolish’ Torah as false witnesses and un-taught teachers claimed and still claim. Until heaven and earth pass away, every jot and tittle of Torah remains for those who desire to obey and fear God.
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