Matthew 5:17 – Abolish and Fulfill in Greek

Yeshua never spoke Greek, nor did his disciples nor most of the Jewish people who lived in the land of Israel during his day.  Because of this, I decided to study the GREEK version of Matthew 5:17 to see if the law was actually done away 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.” (CJB)

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.” (NIV)

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.” (NKJV)

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 (or anti-Torah) – argue with those who obey the Torah commandments of God (John 14:15).  The conundrum within this verse proliferated by anti-nomians is that ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill’ technically have the same meaning.  There is no truth to this argument and with a misleading interpretation of three different Greek words, the Body of Messiah has been brought to a place of embracing lawlessness.

Rabbinical Context

Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi with disciples and taught them within a rabbinical context of understanding abolish and fulfill. Both of these words have different meanings than even the English translations of the words.  When a rabbi used abolish, it meant to wrongly interpret a command in Torah, but to fulfill the command meant to rightly interpret it.  In Matthew 5, 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 the Torah meant it would end or be done away with as many believe and teach.  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, fulfill and fulfilled.

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’s nuance to subvert or overthrow 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 ).

Note: The witnesses in Acts chapter 6 were false witnesses who accused Sha’ul of teaching against Torah.   It would seem that anyone who teaches that Yeshua changed the commands given to Israel or that Sha’ul taught against obeying Torah would be considered a false witness to the ‘customs Moshe handed down.’

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, like to fill to the fullest. It means to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally like I am liberally supplied or I abound.

A second nuance to pleroo is consummate as in complete or perfect. This nuance of consummate for fulfill brings in the allusion of Messiah and His Bride. At the final Passover of Messiah in the Kingdom, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, there will be a consummation of a marriage. This consummation has not yet occurred, just has we still await a new heavens or earth.

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 to make complete in every particular instance, to render perfect, to carry through to the end, accomplish, carry out some undertaking, bring to realization, to bring to pass and ratify.

The spiritual meaning of fulfill is to cause God’s will, as made know in the 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, happen regarding events.

A second definition means to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage as of men appearing in public.

A third meaning is to be made, have happened, finished as of miracles performed.

Within the meaning of this word, Yeshua appeared, came into existence in history publicly and finished the work he was given task to do.

“Yes! I tell you that this people will certainly not pass away before all these things happen [ginomai)” (Matthew 24:34).  

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 complete my task, (ginomai) this will all come to pass, happen, be performed and begin to be received.”

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, but interpreting correctly it so it could be obeyed.  His task was to bring into existence the new covenant prophesied by the prophets. The Hebrew word translated ‘law’ in Jeremiah 31:31 and Hebrews 8:10 is the word Torah.  Thus, the ‘law’ referred to in the new covenant that is put into the minds and hearts by God’s Spirit is the Torah. 

“Here, the days are coming,” says Adonai, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra’el and with the house of Y’hudah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers …. “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,” says Adonai: “I will put my Torah [law] within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people…” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 “).

“For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,’ says Adonai: ‘I will put my Torah [law] in their minds and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10).

Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi.  He taught like a rabbi and lived fully as a Jewish man. It was during his last Passover meal that Yeshua 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 through His Spirit.  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 renewed circumcised heart of flesh would come to pass (ginomi). 

Yeshua meant what he said in Hebrew, Greek and English.  He did not come to abolish the Torah and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He came to show his followers how to live them out obediently as they were intended and not abolish them through misunderstanding or false witness and teachings. Until heaven and earth pass away, our salvation in Messiah remains, the hope of eternal life remains and every jot and tittle of the Torah remains.

©2014 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. 

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