Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Did Yeshua "Fulfill" the Law (Torah)?

Mt 5:17-22 Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till the heaven and the earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the law until all is fulfilled. 19 Therefore whoever shall break one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (MKJV)

I always found this passage interesting in light of some common Christian theology out there. Some of my friends say that Yeshua (Jesus) came to “fulfill” the law (Torah, ie: commandments) and therefore we are no longer obligated to follow the law. This of course, is nonsense and a total misunderstanding of the linguistic content and context of the passage. Yeshua, after all told us in the Gospel of John.

John 14:15 If you love Me, keep My commandments.

And He also told us:

John 5:30 I can do nothing of My own self. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of [the] Father who has sent Me.

Look at verse 18 in the Matthew passage above where Yeshua says that “Till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall in any way pass from the law until all is fulfilled.”* The last time I looked, the earth was still here! So my only logical conclusion is that everything is not yet fulfilled, the law is still valid and intact.

The problem comes from reading scripture with preconceived notions or ideas largely stemming from what others have taught us over the years, traditions of men and the like, and not from what the scripture itself says. The other difficulty comes from the time, culture and language distance involved. We are here in the 21st century. Almost 2000 years removed from the time when Yeshua said these words. We fail to grasp the historic, cultural and linguistic context of the scripture we are reading. We look at it from our own mindset, rather than the mindset of the author. In other words, things not only get lost in translation, but also in transmission. It is our duty to study thoroughly in order to properly comprehend the scripture as it says in Timothy

2Ti 2:15 Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (MKJV)

Yeshua most likely spoke Aramaic or Hebrew with His followers. We know from historic evidence that Aramaic and Hebrew were the most common languages in the land of Israel in the first century. There is strong historical evidence that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew (2) and was only later translated into Greek when many Greek speaking gentiles began to come to faith in Yeshua in the late 1st century.(1) It is these later Greek manuscripts that were preserved in the western Greek and Roman culture that we have for reference today.

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that Yeshua spoke in Hebrew and Matthew recorded His words in Hebrew.  Let’s take a look at the possibilities in the word translated as “fulfill.” First off let’s look at the Hebrew word “qum”, which means “to establish” or “confirm”.

Strong’s #6965.  qum, koom a primitive root; to rise (in various applications, literal, figurative, intensive and causative):--abide, accomplish, X be clearer, confirm, continue, decree, X be dim, endure, X enemy, enjoin, get up, make good, help, hold, (help to) lift up (again), make, X but newly, ordain, perform, pitch, raise (up), rear (up), remain, (a-)rise (up) (again, against), rouse up, set (up), establish, (make to) stand (up), stir up, strengthen, succeed, (as-, make) sure(-ly), uphold, - rising).

There is some evidence that Yeshua would have used this word because of its usage in the Mishnah and its popularity among the rabbinic community in the time of Yeshua in describing the “doing” of the Torah commandments. If this was the word used by Yeshua, then it is clear that He meant not to put the law aside, but to confirm it, to carry it out and to obey it the way that God intended. This would fit perfectly with Yeshua’s statement in Matthew 5:19-20.

Mt 5:19 "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. 20 "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (NKJV)

The actual word translated as “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 in the Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew is “pleroo”. In the Septuagint, (the 3rd century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh) the Greek pleroo never translates the Hebrew qum but almost always translates the Hebrew Malei. Now let’s assume that Yeshua used the Hebrew word malei. This is the actual Hebrew word recorded in the Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew. But is “fulfill” the only meaning of the word malei? In order to find out, we have to look at how the word was used in the Septuagint in the context and compare it to the original Hebrew text of the same passages.

Strong’s defines malei as follows: #4390.  male', maw-lay' or malae (Esth. 7:5) {maw-law'}; a primitive root, to fill or (intransitively) be full of, in a wide application (literally and figuratively):--accomplish, confirm, + consecrate, be at an end, be expired, be fenced, fill, fulfill, (be, become, X draw, give in, go) full(-ly, -ly set, tale), (over-)flow, fulness, furnish, gather (selves, together), presume, replenish, satisfy, set, space, take a (hand-)full, + have wholly.

There is strong textual evidence that malei is used in the context of “to confirm” or “to accomplish”. Only by studying the context of the scripture passages where it is used can we understand which meaning is applicable. There are many passages where this word is used in the context of confirm or establish, but for the sake of time let’s look at 1 Kings 1:13-14

1Ki 1:13-14 "Go immediately to King David and say to him, 'Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, "Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne"? Why then has Adonijah become king?' 14 "Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm (malei) your words." (NKJV)

In this case, the word malei is used to mean “confirm”. This fits with the context of Yeshua’s statement in Matthew 5:17 that He came to “confirm” the words of the law (Torah). By Yeshua’s witness, He establishes the relevance and meaning of the law and thereby confirms it rather than abolishing it. He tells His disciples that to be great in the kingdom of God, they are to do the commandments and teach others to do the same (v-19). The only logical interpretation of this passage in Matthew is that regardless of which Hebrew word was used by Yeshua, He came to place the Torah (law) into the lives of the people of God and not to take it away. He came to “establish, confirm or accomplish” His Torah and write it on our hearts as it says in Jeremiah 31:31

Jer 31:31 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (NKJV)


Shalom and be blessed
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

* A point of interest is that the last word in both verse 17 and 18 of Matthew 5 are the same English word, fulfill(ed) but are two different Greek words in the Greek manuscripts. Verse 18 uses the Greek word ginomai, ghin'-om-ahee. Number 1096. in the Strong’s Dictionary. Its definition is: a prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb; to cause to be ("gen"-erate), i.e. (reflexively) to become (come into being), used with great latitude (literal, figurative, intensive, etc.):--arise, be assembled, be(-come, -fall, -have self), be brought (to pass), (be) come (to pass), continue, be divided, draw, be ended, fall, be finished, follow, be found, be fulfilled, + God forbid, grow, happen, have, be kept, be made, be married, be ordained to be, partake, pass, be performed, be published, require, seem, be showed, X soon as it was, sound, be taken, be turned, use, wax, will, would, be wrought.

(1) - See “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus” Revised Edition. By David Bivin & Roy Blizzard, Jr. Destiny Image. Chapter 4, page 24.

(2) - see “The Greek Jesus vs. The Hebrew Yeshua” by Nehimia Gordon.

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