What did Yeshua mean by ”I did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17)?

Eitan Bar

Eitan Bar is a native Jewish-Israeli who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel (1984). Graduated with his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Israel College of the Bible (Jerusalem, 2009), his M.A. in Theology from Liberty University (2013) and is now pursuing his Doctorate with Dallas Theological Seminary. Eitan currently serves as ONE FOR ISRAEL's Director of Media & Evangelism. (From 2006 to 2013, Eitan worked for CRU, in which his roles included serving as Israel's VLM-SLM leader.)

Eitan's professional background is in "Multimedia Design and Visual Communications" working for various secular advertising agencies in Tel-Aviv.

Eitan is the producer of:
1) I MET MESSIAH (Jewish testimonials).
2) Answering Rabbinic Objections to Jesus.

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The Greek word, τέλος (telos), can be interpreted in the following ways: “end”, “purpose”, “goal”, “to set out for a definite point”… This word τέλος was used by Greek thinkers such as Aristotle and was also used in the New Testament by Paul, the author of the book of Romans.

He states in Romans 10:4 that the Messiah is the τέλος of the Torah. The Messiah is the goal, the purpose, the end, and the definite point which the Torah was moving towards.

Some translations say that the Messiah was the “culmination”, the “consummation”, or the “fulfillment” of the Torah. There is some debate whether or not the word telos should be translated as the end of the Law (i.e., for establishing righteousness) or the goal (i.e., the intended destination of the Law). Though the context appears to support the former interpretation, both interpretations have merit. Yeshua tells us in Matt 5:17 that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. So knowing that Yeshua is the τέλος of the Torah, how does this affect the way we read it today?

“Therefore’, writes Paul in Col 2:16-17, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah”. Similarly,  2 Cor 3:14–15 explains that life in Messiah radically changes the way that we read the Law of Moses: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Messiah is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

In John 5:46, Yeshua argues that since the religious leaders did not believe Moses, they did not accept Him as the promised Messiah. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” Likewise, in Matthew 5:17 Yeshua says, “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.” The fact that Yeshua places “the Law” alongside “the Prophets” shows that in this context, He is referring to the Torah as a whole; the first five books of the Bible, and not just to the Law.

We are well aware of the efforts of some in the Hebrew roots movement to back-translate the Greek into Yeshua’s mother-tongue in order to understand, not the verbal meaning of the Greek text, but the “real” meaning behind the Greek text. By appealing to this logic, some would argue that Yeshua did not come to “fulfill” the Torah, but to “interpret it properly.” There are two very serious flaws with this school of thought. First, it is notoriously difficult to back-translate KoineGreek into Hebrew and/or Aramaic. Any and every back-translation will always remain at the level of conjecture. A second flaw resulting from the first has to do with the authority of the biblical text. When our understanding of the biblical text rests in a conjectural back-translation, the authority of God’s word no longer rests in the biblical text, but in the scholars who provide the back-translation. The Gospel of John clearly teaches that God gave His Spirit to the disciples after Yeshua’s ascension to teach them “all things and bring to [their] remembrance all that [He] said to [them]” (John 14:26; see 2:22; 12:16; 20:9). Because the disciples were uniquely anointed by God’s Spirit to preserve Yeshua’s teachings, their translation of Yeshua’s words into Greek was inspired, and therefore completely authoritative and reliable for faith and practice.

The author of Hebrews argues the Law was never a goal in and of itself, but rather it prescribed a system of worship that was divinely intended to point people to the Messiah. He writes about the tabernacle,

“By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:8–10; see also 10:1).

Though the New Testament teaches that the Messiah is the goal and fulfillment of the Torah as a whole, and the Law in particular, it is worth going back to the Torah (the five Books of Moses) to consider how Yeshua, Paul and the author of Hebrews came to such conclusions. Are their conclusions based on the grammatical-historical interpretation of the Torah (the literal interpretation of the meaning intended by the original author) or can one only arrive at such interpretations by reading the Torah through the lens of the New Testament writings?

We believe the authors of the New Testament did not impose added meaning on the Torah (“extra-Jesus”), but understood the Torah in its context through exegesis of the text. (Exegesis is the process of interpretation whereby the reader seeks the grammatical-historical meaning of a text, more specifically, the meaning intended by the text’s historical author). It is our conviction that the New Testament writers actually understood the original meaning intended by Moses when he wrote the Torah, and that we can come to these conclusions through careful reading and exegesis of the Torah itself.

Read: Is there really such a thing as “Torah Observant”?

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