The following is an excerpt from an article by Fred Zaspel entitled, New Covenant Theology and the Mosaic Law. I post this in response to Phil Johnson's post earlier today, Did Jesus Change the Moral Law?
While I am normally in agreement with Phil (and Wrigley), I must let Fred speak when necessary. :-)
In this excerpt I think that Zaspel has proven himself most faithful to the text. And so I must move to the 'New Covenant' side of the road on the issue of the nature of the fulfillment of the law in Christ.
A Denial: "Not To Destroy"
When Jesus says "I came" He speaks in reference to His Messianic mission. This fits well in Matthew's Christology and follows naturally the infancy narrative, the voice from Heaven at His baptism, etc. The phrase "the law and the prophets" refers to (OT) Scripture as a whole. The verbs "destroy" and "fulfill" (katalusai, plerosai) are both telic, or purpose, infinitives. Jesus is addressing and clarifying the goal of His mission in relation to the Scriptures.
The definitions of "destroy" offered in the standard lexicons are almost endless, and for this reference (5:17) "abrogate," "abolish" or "annul" are generally offered by lexicographers and commentators alike. "Destroy" stands in contrast to "fulfill," and while the contrast may not be absolute (cf. 10:34) the strong sense of purpose is evident. Moreover, the parallel in verse 18 speaks of parts of the law "passing away" (parelthe) and likewise reflects the idea of accomplishment of intended goals: the law will not "fall to the ground." Kataluo ("destroy") is used five times in Matthew (5:17 (twice); 24:2; 26:61; 27:40) and always by Jesus (or when His words are being quoted). The other references (outside of chapter 5) refer to "destroying" the temple, and that usage illustrates well the meaning here (as KJV). He has not come to "tear down" or "disassemble" the law in the sense of destroying that for which it was intended. He has not come to make it fail its intended design. He will not render it invalid. Liddell and Scott offer several definitions that may fit: cancel, dissolve, dismiss, make useless, cast down. Perhaps "overthrow" fits best. Simply put, Jesus denies that He has come with cross-purposes to the law. He will not invalidate the Scriptures which God has given; He will allow them to stand, and their purpose will continue to be served.
Aside: An Implication
There is an assumption in Jesus' words which has significant implications concerning His Person and authority. "I did not come to destroy the law" would be unnecessary verbiage coming from anyone else, but from Jesus the denial assumes the possibility. His words are freighted with implications of the authority He has as Messiah.
This fits very well within the larger Matthean Christological themes highlighted earlier. And it is directly related to Jesus' claim in Matthew 12:8: "The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day." This is one more opportunity for Matthew to emphasize that Jesus is "greater than Moses," and it falls at a crucial point. As it relates to the law, in precisely what way is Jesus greater than Moses? And how will that authority be evident?
It has already been shown that in vv.21-48 He will take the law of Moses in whatever direction He sees fit. But in those various directions, what is the cohesive factor? How can His treatment of the law be explained and identified?
The answer to these questions lies in the next infinitive, plerosai ("fulfill"), the key word to the entire discussion.
An Affirmation: "But To Fulfill"
pleroo ("fulfill") in Matthean Usage
With all the press Matthew gives to this word the question of definition becomes greatly simplified. Of particular significance are the "fulfillment quotations" in which the "filling up" is that of God's purposes in redemptive history. In these Matthew follows up a narrative of some event associated with Jesus' life, cites a specific passage from the Old Testament, and declares it to be "fulfilled." Each of these "formulas" makes clear announcement that God's purposes have reached their culmination in Jesus. The sense of "fulfillment" is a broad, redemptive-historical one. Often it is the "prediction / verification" sense which is prominent (eg., 21:4-5). But often the connection is more subtle (2:15, 17-18). "[T]he kind of typology varies considerably. Yet the perception remains constant that the OT was preparing the way for Christ, anticipating him, pointing to him, leading up to him." With His arrival God's purposes expressed in the Scriptures are reached.
Matthew's understanding of "fulfillment" is, from the standpoint of many interpreters, very elaborate. At times it seems almost embarrassingly fanciful. Who would have expected that God's calling up of Israel out from Egypt was a prefigurement of the return of Jesus from Egypt (Hos.11:1; Mat.2:15)? But this is Matthew's outlook: he very casually looks across the history of Israel and sees it all as typologically prospective of Jesus in some way. His conviction is that in Jesus "all the rich diversity of God's relations with his people in word and deed converges; that is what 'fulfillment' means for Matthew."
So to say that Jesus is the new Moses, David's greater son, etc., or to say that He holds supreme authority, is entirely right -- but it is not enough. He is still more. He is the outworking, the full measure, the goal, and the accomplishment of the Divine purpose. In short, He is the "fulfillment" of redemptive history. This is precisely the outlook which pervades Matthew's Gospel, and he goes to great lengths to show it. It is entirely arguable that Matthew's whole theological motivation in writing his Gospel may be summed up in this one word -- fulfilled (pleroo, 17 times in Matthew; teleo, 3 times). This is his trademark, his primary thrust emphasized over and again even without the use of the term. For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the expectations regarding David's and Abraham's Son, and He is the one who "fills full" all the promises made throughout Israel's history. Speak of Bethlehem, Galilee, the Messiah, the King of Israel/the Jews, the suffering Servant of Jehovah, the Son of Man, or any of a host of other terms pregnant with expectation, and Jesus is the Fulfiller, the answer and goal of them all.
Within this context it would be surprising if chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel would be any different. Indeed, it is not. Jesus' Sermon text, the basic proposition which He proceeds to expound, is precisely that: He came "to fulfill." It seems, then, from the general Matthean use of "fulfill" (pleroo), that Jesus' claim is intended to be understood in an eschatological sense. Curiously, the only parallel to this statement found elsewhere in the Gospels is Luke 16:16-17 which clearly points in this same direction.
"The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fall."
Again it is Jesus Himself who specifies that the law had a prophetic/prospective function; it anticipated Him who brought about its expectations. In doing so, the law did not "fall" (pipto). The parallel holds even in detail. Christ brought to final realization the "full" eschatological realization of the law.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Fred Zaspel
You can read the whole article by clicking here.