Fulfilling the Torah

What did Yeshua mean when He said He did not intend to abolish but to fulfill the Torah? How does one abolish it? How does one fulfill it?

Rabbinic literature reveals hundreds of parallels in which the term “fulfill the Torah” is used. This term “fulfill” is often interpreted in terms of prophecy or suggesting the laws of Torah are null and void after Yeshua came and the Temple was destroyed. (Image © FFOZ/KUCO/Bigstock)

Yeshua said that He did not come to “abolish the Torah or the Prophets … but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The church often misunderstands these words to mean that Christ did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it and that, by fulfilling the Torah, He thereby abolishes it.

What did He mean when He said He did not intend to abolish but to fulfill the Torah? The meaning of the word “abolish” should be obvious. To abolish is to destroy, discard, or overturn something. The meaning of “fulfill” is a little more ambiguous. How do you fulfill the Torah?

In this context, “fulfill” does not mean to add to the Torah, replace the old Torah with a new higher law, replace the Torah with a new law of love, or even to fulfill the prophetic content of the Torah. Instead, fulfill must be understood as the opposite of abolish.

Rabbinic literature reveals hundreds of parallels in which the term “fulfill the Torah” refers expressly to “obeying the Torah” or demonstrating how the Torah is to be properly obeyed. For example, "Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will fulfill it later on in wealth; and whoever abolishes the Torah in wealth, will abolish it later in poverty.” (m.Avot 4:9)

The sages often argued about how to properly interpret the commandments. A rabbi who misinterpreted the Torah was said to be abolishing it. A rabbi who properly interpreted the Torah was said to be fulfilling it. By using the terms “abolish” and “fulfill,” Yeshua told His disciples that He interprets and obeys the Torah correctly.

In Matthew 5:17, Yeshua endorsed the ongoing, unchanging authority and validity of the Torah of Moses in the strongest possible language. He endorsed the whole Torah, not just the Ten Commandments. The rest of the Gospels and Epistles should be interpreted in light of His emphatic statement, and the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount should be understood as His interpretation of the unchanging and enduring Torah.

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