Four reasons why Jesus could not have come to “Abolish” the Torah by guest writer Ian Smith

“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.” – Matthew 5:17

There are four reasons why Jesus could not have come to “Abolish” the Torah:

Deut 13 – a prophet who leads people away from the Torah should be stoned.
Deut 12:32 – Torah prohibits adding or taking away from it. If Jesus removed from the Torah by teaching against it, this would be a violation of the commandment and therefore a sin.
Isaiah 8:20 – Isaiah states that anyone who does not confirm the law, there is no light in him.
Psalm 40:8 – states that the Torah is written on the heart of the messiah.

However, in the end we are interpreting our Lord’s statement out of context. Jesus of course was having a discussion with Jews, who would not have been able to make sense of such a sentiment (the way that we understand it) – the Jewish paradigm does not allow for the negation/expiration/end of the Torah. According to David, the Torah is eternal:

“All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” – Psalms 119:160

“Abolish” and “Fulfill” are Jewish Idioms. To “Abolish” the Torah, is to offer a false interpretation. To “Fulfill” the Torah, is to properly understand, teach and apply the Torah.

This language is used in the Jewish Mishnah, a compilation of tradition/discussion regarding the minutia of the law preserved from the second temple period:

“R. Eliezer said to him: Akiba wouldest thou ABOLISH what is written in the law, between the evenings in its appointed time – whether this be a weekday or sabbath?” – M. Pesahim 6:2

Here we have in this discussion, Rabbi Eliezer accusing Rabbi Akiba of “Abolishing” the Torah, with a false/wrong interpretation!

“Go away to a place of study of the Torah, and do not suppose that it will come to you. For your fellow disciples will FULFILL it  in your hand. And on your own understanding do not rely.” M. Aboth 4:14

The advise offered in this passage, is that one should seek counsel regarding the understanding of scripture by going to a place of study and having ones fellow disciples “FULFILL” it in your hand – meaning they will give you the right interpretation.

To “fulfill” a commandment, therefore means to obey a commandment according to the right understanding/interpretation and application. Here, a Rabbi is accusing another of failing to “Fulfill” a commandment – because they were not obeying the commandment the right way:

“If this is how you act, you have never in your whole life fulfilled the requirement of dwelling in a sukkah!” – M. Sukkot 2:7

Therefore, it’s clear that what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:17 is that he is not leading them astray by offering false teaching (Abolishing the Torah) but on the contrary, he came to offer the right understanding (Fulfill the Torah) regarding what God truly intended for each commandment, and how to properly obey it (fulfill it). It’s clear that this is exactly what he meant because after making the statement, he continues by making contrasts between the way the Jewish people understood various commandments and the way they SHOULD understand and apply them. The very first example is the prohibition against murder. It’s all good and well to avoid the physical act of murder, however Jesus reveals that God also wants us to avoid murder in our hearts through hate and anger. He continues to reveal the right way to obey the commandments by discussing Adultery, Divorce, Oaths etc.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus if it is permitted to DIVORCE (Matthew 19) they made the inquiry because this was a point of controversy at the time. The school of Hillel allowed for this:

Beit Shammai say, “No man shall divorce his wife, unless he found in her unchaste behaviour, as it is stated [Deuteronomy 24:1], ‘Because he found in her ‘ervat davar’ [unchaste behavior].'” Beit Hillel say, “Even if she spoiled his food, because it is said, ervat davar”. Rabbi Akivah says, “Even if he found another [woman] prettier than her, as it is stated [ibid.] ‘If it happen that she does not find favor in his eyes.'” – M. Gittin 9:1

Jesus then responds that divorce for reasons other than suspecting your wife of sexual foul play, unchaste behaviour, etc. is not lawful. He essentially aligns with the school of Shammai on the issue. Contrary to how most Christians understand Jesus’s ministry, Jesus endeavoured to correct the errors that had crept into Judaism over time by offering education regarding the right way to follow his fathers law. A possible fulfilment of Isaiah 42:21?

“…he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.”

A passage from the book  “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus”, page 114:

“Destroy” and “fulfill” are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation. When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are destroying he Law!” Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed. What was “destroying the Law” for one sage, was “fulfilling the Law” (correctly interpreting Scripture) for another. What we see in Matthew 5:17ff. Is a rabbinic discussion. Someone has accused Jesus of “destroying” the law. Of course, neither Jesus nor his accuser would ever think of literally destroying the Law. Furthermore, it would never enter the accuser’s mind to charge Jesus with intent to abolish part or all of the Mosaic Law. What is being called into question is Jesus’ system of interpretation, the way he interprets Scripture.”

The book then paraphrases matthew 5:17 according to the way we should understand Jesus’ words:

“Never imagine for a moment,” Jesus says, “That I intend to abrogate the Law by misinterpreting it. My intent is not to waken or negate the law, but by properly interpreting God’s written Word I aim to establish it, that is, make it even more lasting. I would never invalidate the law by effectively removing something from it through misinterpretation. Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than something from the Law”

By guest writer Ian Smith