Did Jesus Contradict the Torah’s Commandments?

“You have heard it said” that Yeshua contradicted the Torah’s commandments, but I say to you, “He did not contradict the Torah.”

Did Jesus' teaching erase or replace the Torah? A misunderstanding of the teachings of Jesus seem to support that wrong assumption. (Image © First Fruits of Zion)

Bible teachers often make a simple mistake of presenting the teachings of Yeshua in antithesis to the Torah of Moses. Since we assume that the Gospel replaced the Torah (and that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant), we misread the teaching of Yeshua to support that wrong assumption. We mistakenly suppose that Yeshua came to replace the Torah, or at least to correct it.

Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount contains six short expositions in which the Master introduced a commandment of Torah saying, “You have heard that it was said …” after which He added, “But I say to you …” Theologians refer to the teachings in Matthew 5:21-48 as the six antithesis statements. That is to say that Yeshua introduced an old, obsolete commandment of the Torah and then contradicted it with His new teaching in “antithesis” to the original. According to this interpretation, Yeshua replaced the Torah with His own, new commandments.

For example:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

The Greek and English language translations of the Master’s words heighten the sense of antithesis by translating Yeshua as saying, “But I say to you.” In the Hebrew or Aramaic spoken by the Master, the common conjunction does not necessarily indicate antithesis. A better translation of the Semitic idiom might be, “You have heard that it was said … and I say to you …”

This common formula from rabbinic teaching never introduces a contradiction to the Torah. Instead, the rabbi who speaks this way introduces an elucidation of the Torah. It’s a common form of rabbinic rhetoric to open a new teaching with the words, “You have heard” or the words “It is said” followed by “And I say to you.” The first statement means, “Up until now, you have understood this passage to mean such and such.” Then the second phrase, ‘And I say to you,’ presents the rabbi’s new insight or new explanation of the passage just quoted.

When we understand Rabbi Yeshua’s teaching from this perspective, it is clear that the so-called “antithesis statements” are not contradictions to the commandments in the Torah. Instead, Yeshua offered fresh interpretations of the commandments. He expounded upon the text of Torah like any rabbi of His day by revealing the Torah’s intentions and working out its implications. Far from contradicting the Torah or abolishing it, He fulfilled it by dispelling misconceptions and establishing its core principles all the firmer.

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