A common argument I hear made by Christians is that the Old Testament (OT) no longer applies, that Jesus Christ (JC) “fulfilled” them. This is usually based off:
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.
Since “fulfill” seems to be the word Christians focus on, let’s clarify the definition of the word:
Clearly, Christians use the 1st definition “bring to completion”, but I’m going to use a trick Christians often use & say they are not using the correct context to figure out the intended definition of “fulfill”.
Context is the idea of using surrounding words & phrases to ascertain the intended meaning of a word that has multiple definitions. If you have the right meaning of the word, the definition should almost be able to replace the word & still make sense.
So in the case of Matthew 5:17, you need to look at the rest of the verse to help figure out the context. JC says:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them…”
In considering the whole verse, it seems odd that JC would say he wasn’t going to abolish them but then go on to say he was going to “complete them” or “bring them to an end or close) as I have heard some Christian apologists say. Whatever words you wish to use, the intent of the apologists is to say that the old laws no longer apply…but weren’t abolished, just…completed, like a puzzle gets completed but still exists, or something to that effect. But this is an incredibly odd way to talk about laws that are either to be followed or not. It’s like saying, “Yeah, there’s speed limit laws, but no one has to follow them anymore.” Just makes no sense. So did Jesus actually mean to say something that doesn’t really make sense?
Now let’s consider the remaining portion of definition #1 of ‘fulfill’ so that we can be sure we’re using the definition in the correct context too – “bring to reality; achieve or realize (something desired, promised, or predicted).” This seems to clearly be saying that it means making something real – the ‘bring to reality‘ is a pretty big clue. This fits better into the verse and matches up with the idea of not abolishing them, but rather making them real. It also fits in with Jesus view of the Pharisees in that he believed they weren’t following the laws given to them by God, so he was there to make them real. Personally, I find this to still be a bit awkward.
Let’s look at definition #2 for ‘fulfill’ then. “carry out (a task, duty, or role) as required, pledged, or expected.” Let’s put this right into Matthew 5:17 instead of the word “Fulfill” and see how it fits:
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
fulfillcarry them out as required, pledged, or expected.
It seems to fit perfectly. It doesn’t contradict the first part of not abolishing them and it also fits with the idea that he didn’t believe the Jews of his time were truly carrying them as required, pledged, or expected. It really does seem that what he was really saying is that his intent was to reinforce the laws to So it would seem we’ve found the intended definition, which clearly indicates JC wanted the OT Laws to stand. He was like a cop on patrol, not looking to abolish robbery laws, but to fulfill those Laws.
However, to really cement this in, let’s look at the verses that come immediately after, that being Matthew 5:18-19, just to make certain that we haven’t missed something.
Matthew 5:18—For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Again this verse uses words that seem to clearly speak of the old Law as standing possibly forever. It’s pretty ambiguous on what it means with “until all is accomplished.” Christian apologists like to say that this means until Jesus is crucified, but that’s making a lot of assumptions. It’s my humble opinion that taking the words as they are is a better option, again due to the context created by the verses before and after, all of which speak in terms of the Law’s being forever.
Matthew 5:19—Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Here JC says that anyone that does relax them or teaches others to relax them, won’t be exalted in heaven, and one would presume this would include himself since there were no exceptions given. Once again, using the context of the verses before and after, it really does seem that he was being pretty clear that the old laws stand and that no one, even himself, was to break them.
Note: All Bible verses quoted are from the English Standard Version (ESV), mainly because I have that version on my phone & it’s a good app to copy/paste from. The fact I have to state which version of the “Perfect Word of God” is another matter for another post.