Fulfilling the Torah

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By Jesse ben Yosef.

Published 01-05-2012. Revised 02-27-2016.

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Yeshua Came “to fulfill” the Torah

Yeshua stated in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the Torah or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

It is commonly thought today that Matthew 5:17 is to be interpreted as Yeshua having said, “I didn’t come to destroy, but to complete, thereby rendering it obsolete.” Here is where I am compelled to take issue with the common understanding of this verse, because frankly, it just doesn’t make any sense. Unless the Savior was suffering from a split personality disorder, He would not have stated so openly and clearly, “I didn’t come to destroy,” and then perform a 180 degree turnaround in His theology and state, “But I did come to render it obsolete.” Instead, I invite you to read and understand Yeshua’s teaching in the most simple, the most accurate, and most truthful sense possible.

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Studying the Greek Text

Can this bold assertion be explained by a simple study of the Greek text? Indeed it can. The Greek word for “fulfill” in used here in Matthew 5:17, plhrwsai (derivative of “pleroo”) actually has a variety of different meanings. Below these alternate meanings as defined by the Strong’s Concordance will be listed.

  • to make replete, i.e. (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc.:-accomplish, X after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.”

As is clearly shown here, the sheer weight of these definitions leans toward the possibility that plhrwsai here indicates that the Torah was either to continue, or to continue even more abundantly than it had before.

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The Opposite

Yeshua, by His own admission, did not come to destroy the Torah (to render it obsolete); therefore, any understanding of the word “fulfill” which assumes that He then destroyed the Torah (or rendered it obsolete) violates the obvious, literal context of this passage, and makes the Savior out to be a liar.

Thus, Yeshua’s statement, “I didn’t come to destroy it, but to…”, based on the obvious contextual definition of plhrwsai, can be followed up with one of several possibilities:

“…but to correctly follow/teach it.”
“…but to accomplish the instructions as they were given.”
“…but to verify the prophecies as they were given.”
“…but to cause it to continue.”

Despite all of these possibilities, perhaps the most amazing and accurate translation of plhrwsai is the most obvious opposite of “I have not come to destroy it” is “to make it replete,” or stated in more common English, “to abundantly supply it.”

This definition certainly fits with the overall context of the Matthew’s account of the B’sorah. Matthew’s account, much moreso than the rest of the Gospels, emphasizes that Yeshua was none other than the Jewish Messiah, who came in accordance with the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Think of it this way: no Jew would ever have accepted a Messiah who came to render the Torah obsolete, yet many thousands of Jews in the first century did accept Yeshua as the Messiah! Why? Because He came to bring the Torah in abundance.

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“Fulfilled” Examined in Context

Despite the fact many continue to understand the word “fulfill” as “to render obsolete”, it should be clear by the context of Matthew 5 that the true essence of Yeshua’s teaching was nothing of this sort. Matthew 5:18-20 records Yeshua as having said, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the Torah or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the Torah, until all things are accomplished. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Yeshua’s teaching here can be summarized by the following three very important bullet points:

  • Until heaven and earth pass away, the Torah was intended to continue.
  • Whoever breaks least of the commandments of the Torah, and teaches others to break them also, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Whoever keeps the commandments of the Torah, and teaches others to keep them, will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Other uses of plhrwsai as “fulfilled”

The next section of this teaching will display other uses of the word plhrwsai as it occurs in the Scriptures. Try, in any of the following contexts, to replace the word “fill” or “fulfill” with “render obsolete”, and see how little sense the verse makes.

  • Matthew 3:15, “But Yeshua, answering, said to him, ‘Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.’”
  • Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Colossians 1:24-26, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the assembly; of which I was made a servant, according to the stewardship of God which was given me toward you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the assemblies of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus; for you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews; who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and drove us out, and didn’t please God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always. But wrath has come on them to the uttermost.”

These examples clearly show that the word plhrwsai does not fit the definition of “to render obsolete.” Rather, in every context provided, the most accurate definition is, as was made obvious earlier in this teaching, “to make it replete,” or stated in more common English, “to abundantly supply it.”

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