Messiah’s famous words about Torah declare, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mat 5:17 NASB)  This verse has been explained countless times in church sermons, academic lectures, and scholarly commentaries. What can I possibly add to this ancient conversation? There are many angles from which to approach this topic but I will focus on one, by asking a simple question: How, exactly, and in which way, did Jesus “fulfill” the Torah in Matthew’s gospel?

It is common for modern followers of Jesus to imagine that there is some sort of a celestial checklist that the Messiah had to complete. Many modern Jews think this way as well. Indeed, Matthew uses the Greek verb πληρόω (plerao), “fulfill,” in what looks like a “list” of messianic prophecies. According to Matthew 1-2, Yeshua was born was to fulfill Isaiah 7:14 – “a virgin shall conceive…” (Matt 1:22-23); the Bethlehem birth was to fulfill Micah 5:2: “and you, Bethlehem…” (Matt 2:5-6); Yeshua’s presence in Egypt was to fulfill Hos 11:1: “out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt 2:15); Herod slaughtered children to fulfill Jer. 31:15: “a voice was heard in Ramah…” (Matt 2:17-18); Jesus went to live in Nazareth to fulfill: “he will be called a Nazarene”(Matt 2:23). A common notion that this list of prophetic passages awaited future “fulfillments” to be checked off the list may be quite far from what Matthew actually meant to convey. All of his Scripture citations are recollections of past, rather than “predictions” of future.

According to Matthew, Yeshua repeats, relives, and reenacts Israel’s experiences described in Scripture. Like Israel, Yeshua came out of Egypt, wandered the wilderness, and was tempted. He went through the waters of the Jordan River to enter a new stage of life. What happened to Israel happened to Yeshua. The Aramaic equivalent of Greek πληρόω (plerao) is קִיֵּם (qiyem), which means “to establish,” “to uphold,” or “to stand upright.” Likewise, קְיָים (qiyam) and קְיָימָא (qiyama) mean something firm — like a law, vow, or covenant. In Hebrew קִיֵּם (qiyem) is “to fulfil” or “to perform” (Ps 119:28) but also “raise up” and “build up” (Isa 44:26; 58:12; 61:4) and “validate” or “confirm” (Ruth 4:7; Est 9:29).

This is the way in which Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets: the Messiah’s life mirrored all these events in Israel’s long journey as a people. Everything Yeshua did established, confirmed, and validated how God led his people through the pages of history.

63 COMMENTS

  1. If I sumerise correctly Jesus came to fulfill as one man the history of Israel up to that point then get crusified. Which mean then Israel became crusified over centuries, to be resurrected as Jesus was. As reference between day and thousand years, could it mean that Israel will be fully resurrected or restored in the next thousand years?
    God bless.

    • Very nice parallels aren’t they? It is all there already. One just needs to follow a particular path of thought and ignore the pop-culture commentary.

  2. Thank you for your article – very informative, as always. I consider myself a Messianic Jew, but my biggest problem with messianic Judaism is the trend toward judaizing people into whatever level of Torah-keeping they like with argumentative, hard-hearted legalism that I see in so many of its congregations today. The (partial) quote about Christ not coming to abolish the law is ever barked with gleeful victory into the faces of anyone trapped into listening. IF Messiah did, indeed, fulfill the law, however, why are they still trying so hard to do it FOR Him?

    • I understand, Remi. Sorry to hear of your experiences. Insecure people desperately wish to make everyone resemble themselves. That happens everywhere. When people understand that their identity is first and foremost in Hashem then they understand that mitzvot are merely ways to imitate our Father. And each child seeks to connect to parents in their own way. We are different like that.

      • Dear Doctor Pinchas,
        as a gentile follower of Messiah, could you please explain what is meant by :
        “having identity first and foremost in hashem” and also what you mean when you say “mitzvot are merely ways to imitate our Father.”
        I am seriously gripped by the dialogue your article has created.

        • Sorry, sometimes I slip into “insider” language. 🙂 The discussion of commandments is a very complicated one because the types of things that Christians of the various denominational backgrounds are taught about them. Most of the time it is not in sink with Jewish views on them. So it’s hard to be on the same page. There is a tendency for some to keep the commandments as a device of “cleaving to God” and means of their religious identity. “If I do these things I am his” logic. So then our relationship with God is based on our best behavior efforts. But our identity should be in God first and living by his commandments becomes a response to a relationship.

          • Imitating Jesus’ “If you love me, keep my commandments”, I can tell my children “If you don’t take to heart and do what I tell you, you dishonor me and don’t really love me”. But I still love them, even though I might not like them when they are rebellious.

          • Disobedience may not *break* the familial relationship with God, but it certainly *damages* it. In OT and NT alike, obedience is explicitly identified as God’s “love language”, if you will (to use a 1990s reference).

  3. Jesus’ life led up to his death and his cry ‘it is finished and remains finished’ completes that which the Torah could not do – bring sinners into the presence of a holy God.

    • You are assuming that that was the goal and the purpose of Torah, Graham. I would guess you simply misunderstand the purpose of Torah, so your conclusion cannot be correct since it is built on a flawed premise. My car does not mow my lawn but it does not mean I am done with it and it’s useless. 🙂 Hope you see my point.

      • Yes! Untutored in this direction Doctor I agree with you. “It is finished” was not talking so much about fulfilling the scripture, but of settling the sin issue – which of course is expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures but not the sole meaning when the Saviour cried, “Tetelestai.”

    • The phrase “it is finished” is translated from the Greek “teleō,” which is primarily a legal term. It is used when a contract or an obligation is completed, or a purchase price met. Yeshua paid our price for sin and transgression. But His Torah still brings us closer to Himself.

  4. Interesting but I feel it reads a bit lobsided. Our Lord I’m sure youll agree came to seek and to save sinners (Jews and Gentiles alike) andwe are clearly told HEB 1 that God spoke in times past in diverse manners (Sacrifices etc) Saving work of Messiah as you state. If we are to enter His kingdom we must trust completely in His perfect sacrifice alone for salvation. Thank you Prof Pinchas.

  5. Matthew pointed to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah! Matthew’s( Chapter 10) Mindset was Jesus instructions “Not to go to Gentiles, Nor Samaritans”! Chapter 15 Declares That Jesus Rejected a Syrophenician (Gentile) Woman’s plea for help for her daughter until “Faith Wedged Her In”! Jesus response was “I Am sent To The Lost Sheep of The House of Israel!”Not Gentiles! If Matthew was the Gospel To The Jew written in Hebrew as has been determined, Why would Matthew Include in Chapter 28, Jesus Supposedly Giving Instructions “To Go Baptize Gentiles”! Jews would have rejected!Not In Original Matthew! Kelly

    • You ask a complicated question Kelly, that deserves an answer much more detailed that I can give here. Yeshua’s mission was to Israel (true!) but Abrahamic blessing that stands behind the very notion of Israel as a people is to ultimately be a blessing to all the families of the world (Gen 12). Not to the exclusion of Israel, of course, as some have settled but for a much broader blessing than just a few million people.

  6. I seems this explanation avoids the point of the Law and of the Prophets. They all pointed to Christ and in the case of the prophets called men back to a right relationship with their God by faith, the great essential of the Abrahamic covenant and of any true relationship with God. When Jesus fulfilled the law he left nothing else to be done. One sacrifice, the way to God opened and paid. We must understand where we came from but not to the point of obfuscating truth plainly laid out and n Scripture

    • Dear Rodney, you misunderstood what I was trying to say. Perhaps you read into my words something beyond what I am saying. It’s OK. Let’s keep walking by faith together.

    • I read the article as taking a glorious arial view of the entire histopry of Israel and in no way avoiding any point of Law, prophets, the Levitical system or any other aspect of Messiah’s mission.

  7. Wow you have answered a question that has been on my heart and no one seems to be able to answer. I have always wondered what the Israelites were chosen for. As it is stated God has no favourites. I have always thought it was to demonstrate the Fathers love and bring man back to the Father. And yes that is exactly what Jesus fulfilled.

    • I am glad you are able to see this, Dan. Jews are not any better or more loved than God’s other children. That is not what “chosen” means. We just have a unique and different role to play in this world. 🙂 It is his plan and we are merely a part of it.

  8. Granted that you are looking at this scripture from a different perspective albeit, very narrow. The word ‘fulfill’ in isolation is empty and may result in Scriptures being diluted. The sentence is self- explanatory. I have not come to abolish…. but to fulfill it. The matter about wanderings whilst relevant to the life of Christ and history of Israel is outside the context in which the verse was written. A look 5 Scriptures before Matth 5:17 brings out the true import ie godliness, faith, service and audacity required of Christians.

  9. So when a Jewish person says that Isaiah 53 is about the Jewish people and not about Messiah, instead of arguing it has to be about Messian, one could point out Moshiach Yeshua actually parallels, or even is Israel. Nu?

    • In my opinion Is 53 is both (without excluding the other), about Yeshua and about Israel. Messiah is inseparable from Israel and their lives are parallel on purpose all through God’s revelation.

      • And perhaps this is also the pattern believers follow also, in spirit not the letter. We need to be called out of our “Egypt”, go through wilderness time, learning to live not by bread alone,pass out inevitable temptations and fulfill our unique calling of reconciliation of the world to God.
        Do you have any insights into what the stopping of manna upon eating the produce of the land would mean in spiritual application?

        • This is highly subjective and not academic, but in the spiritual aspect, in the abstract, manna is God’s supernatural provision. We do not plant, we do not care for it, we only gather. We are like children. We are being fed. But then we mature. We become responsible. Our own work and crops symbolize our faithfulness with the resources and capacity we were given. We can feed others now. And we have to give back to our Maker as anyone who seeks to honor one’s parent.

          • Thank you for your response! I have read somewhere that Israel is a land that depends heavily,on receiving rain, ( a gift from God), so also dependent on Him for sustenance. So this is indicating partnership between God and the mature child. We remember what we received , we continue to look to Him for sustenance and we both nurture and share our gifts with others.

  10. As a very recently re-born child of God I find this platform absolutely fascinating!! Your insight is truly a gift from the Almighty. You quoted Mat. 5:17 from the NASB “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill”. The KJV uses the term “destroy” in stead of the “abolish” in the quotation you used. That represents, in my view, a distinct difference in both intent and meaning. What was the original Hebrew word, and its meaning? Please keep up the excellent work. God Bless!!

    • Riaan, the Greek is the original and it can be translated as “destroy” or “abolish” or “nullify” plus a number of other options. There are several Hebrew possibilities for that too, which would be guesses on my part. What is clear, however, even in English, is that Jesus does not want to undermine the Torah or Prophets in any way. His action is the opposite of “destroying” or “abolishing” and that has to be the meaning of fulfilling.

  11. In. Hosea Israel is referred to as Gods wife not His son See Hosea 2;19-20. So as a future reference the verse in Hosea 11:2 is not referring to Isarael as a nation but. The One who will be called. Note the tens of the verbs. Thee New Testament. Jewish inspired writer used and applied the verse correctly. Will you say that Isaiah 53 wasfulfilleed in the life of Jesus?

    • Your argument is with Matthew and how he uses these verses. He is the author. I can say that Is 53 was fulfilled by Yeshua. But Israel may have already lived through something similar, or may yet to suffer in a like manner. Who knows? The words of the prophets are not always easy to understand.

  12. I can’t se
    “Isaiah 7:14, as a prediction to Matt 1:22-23
    A) – Both Chabad, Sefaria, Israel Science and Technology Directory.:
    Translates as follows:
    //Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.//
    Comment:
    A pregnant women can’t be a virgin in the year
    B) – Isaiah 7:14, rather Isaiah chapt 7 and 8 is acting 100% about the the comming aattackts from the Assyrian King.
    C) – Immanuel is only mentioned four times in the Bible:
    Isa 7:14 – 8:8+10 – Matt 1:23.
    One must be careful not to appoint all writings as possible objects for prophecy, but investigate the background of the texts and its timeline.

    • Dear Jalmar, how Matthew uses these verses is his authorial right. My job as a reader is not to criticize, but to understand. This post has nothing to do with how ancient authors such as Matthew used specific Tanakh prophecy. That is an entirely different conversation. All I want to show in this article is in what sense Matthew uses the word “fulfill” – what he was saying by it and what we take away as modern readers.

  13. about fulfilling the mosaic laws the messiah did it by loving GOD the father with all his heart, strength and soul and secondly by loving all the neighbors.or put it this way He did it by fulfilling the will of GOD that is to do good one to his neighbor, if one believes in the LORD that one is a new creature and GOD makes a new covenant witg him and goes head to command him to do good . not as the old one (commandment )was given which commanded us not to do bad .

  14. OT/Torah Definition of Israel – bloodline of Abraham + any / all who agreed (covenanted) to keep the law. NT/Fulfilled Definition of Israel – Gal. 3:26-29 – baptized into Christ, then we are counted for the seed of Abraham = line of faith. Israel was always the faithful of YHVH. If we are counted for the seed of Abraham then we are the Israel of God promised to be saved with an everlasting salvation (Isa. 45:17).

    God’s Israel is not a land nation, but His ecclesia in Yeshua.

    • I disagree, Gina. Who has the right to change the definitions God himself established? There is Israel (people and land) and it will remain unchanged as long as the sun and moon are around (Jer 31 and especially vs 31, 35&36). Paul believed in Israel and the nations being brought together in Messiah, not in ecclesia replacing Israel and becoming it. I am sorry, but replacement theology is a vicious lie, Gina, a very dangerous idea.

  15. Good article. Add that Yeshua fulfilled all the “fence ordinances” of the temple worship under the law of Moses, as well as all of the feast / Hebrew holidays of the law. The ten “words” or “matters” of Ex. 20 are still in effect. As children of the Most High, we are not to commit murder, nor steal, nor lie, nor commit adultery, etc. Yeshua did not do away with or annul the ten commandments. God did annul the animal sacrificial temple worship system of the Mosaic covenant with the destruction of the 2nd temple in AD 70.

    • Dear Gina, I will challenge you a little. I say God did not annul the sacrifices he himself established. The Temple will be restored! Sacrifices will resume according to the prophets. For example, read Zechariah 14 and see what the LORD is yet to do. Read the last verses of the chapter and see that Israel will celebrate in the temple again with sacrifices and the nations will be a part of this worship!

  16. This is how I perceived the fulfilment of the Law. The Law required constant sacrifices to atone for sins (wrong doings). But they couldn’t remove the sin of Adam. Jesus came to be crucified, making the final, fulfilling sacrifice.

    • Connie, if you re-read Leviticus you will see that sacrifices were not claimed to bring salvation. The idea “Jews were saved by works” is false.

  17. Gina, I’ve heard most of my life: “Ceremonial”+”Civil” instructions=removed, “Moral” instructions=remain. But there’s no such distinction to be found in scripture. What about instructions re. how you can/can’t/must kill? Are they “Civil” or are they “Moral”? The true distinctions are always made clear (men/women/priest/landowner/etc.).

  18. shalom prof.Pinchas.to answer the question how did yeshua fulfill the torah.HE did it by crashing the head of the serpent first before it could bite

  19. Hello Professor Shir. I saw your comment about Zechariah 14. Is there anywhere else in the Tanakh that explains what the new sacrifices will be about? I assume these are not sin offerings but something else entirely, but what and why?
    Thanks!

    • Sacrifice (זֶבַח ; zevach) is a very generic word, kind of like “food” is generic in English. Therefore references to sacrifices do not reveal the specifics. Just as if I mentioned “food” you would not know what food is exactly I mean. Consider Is 19:16. There is no way to tell what “kind” of sacrifice Egypt will bring. It’s a broad topic, Keyonni.

  20. I still struggle to reconcile this premise squarely with dialogue from Romans 6-7 and Hebrews 7 (and elsewhere in Paul’s letters) that do talk of a “new way” and an annulment/death of the old way. I can only assume this is “halakhah” language from Paul and the author of Hebrews. In what way should a Christ follower walk? 1 Corinthians 7 (particularly verses 17-24 and again later in chapter 9), seem to make it clear Paul is referring to “the law of Moses”, but often framed in marriage covenant terms. While we should each continue in the manner from which we were called, so God is not “God of the Jews only….”. It seems to me that in light of the cross and resurrection, there are many things no longer necessary (possibly even a physical temple!). I do though recognise the benefit of “being Jewish” is still “much in every way”, as “Jewishness” is helpful as a signpost to bring us to understand more fully what we’ve been saved for and from.

    I just struggle to see “fulfilled” as anything less than completion of former requirements, where we are no longer set apart by actions. I understand Israel was always set apart by belonging to God, but now it seems the whole world (whether Jew or Gentile) can “belong” and it doesn’t require proselytizing.

    Wouldn’t this satisfy the face value reading of Hebrews 7:18-19? Torah was good, but weak on account of human nature, so with a change of priesthood comes a change of law and by coming into maturity we also change guardian therefore no longer being under Torah (it is fulfilled/complete) and we are free to live by the Spirit as prophesied in Ezekiel 11 and 36….and it doesn’t have to take purely Jewish forms. Unity amidst diversity, echad, doesn’t require belonging to always “look” the same…..Would you disagree from your perspective? Or am I just debating semantics?

    • The language of fulfillment can be very confusing, especially if one was taught the prophecy aspect of things, for example. What if I say “I fulfill my marriage vows” Does that mean I done now? Can I be through with them? I suggest considering the full scope of what the original term used in these verses mean in Greek, then moving on to Hebrew to get even further possibilities of how such a term could be used. I suggest resistign the notion of replacement, displacement, annulment or cancellation of things which are good as a general paradigm for reading NT texts. Romans and Hebrews are two very different works. Hebrews is concerned with temple matters primarily. Head up, I will have an article on Heb 7 out shortly. The struggle is natural. Answers come only in a process of wrestling with questions and study. 🙂

      • I look forward to reading it! Does anybody else think Hebrews could have had a female author, with Pauline influences (like Priscilla)?? This would certainly explain why its anonymous!

        • Hebrews is not an epistle (letter) so it does not list an author (male of female) or an audience. The name of the book was assigned by tradition. Mat, Mark, Luke, John are anonymous too by the way. They do not tell you who wrote them either. No different from Hebrews in that regard.

          • Not sure I understand that rationale….All Paul’s epistles are named and clearly addressed. I understand the gospels being anonymous and assigned authorship by tradition (cus the scrolls don’t exactly have book titles and authorship notes like today), but typically letters (even in antiquity) have an author and audience fairly clearly stated.

            I’ve read a lot of the scholarship around Hebrews authorship and various conjecture; I even thought I was really original thinking about Priscilla or a female author but that has been hotly debated considering women’s liminal status and limited credibility in antiquity.

            Was just interested in your opinion on the possibility of a female author (remembering that it is quite possible Paul utilised deaconesses like Phoebe to deliver/read/explain his letters and Priscilla was involved in “teaching” and setting straight Apollos – so maybe there was even circulated letters by female authors of which Hebrews could be one).

            The main reason I landed on Priscilla (before even finding out there was already scholarship leaning that way), was the Pauline theology and similarities, but distinct differences that cast significant doubt on Pauline authorship but still allow for his influence on whoever had written it narrowing the list down to people like Luke, Mark and Barnabus.

            Thank you for your consideration 🙂

          • Hebrews is not a letter, so it makes sense the author is not identified. I do not exclude the possibility of female authorship (altogether), but I see no evidence for such and actually, and can think of reasons why that is not likely. And I am not an expert on Hebrews. I think these are desperate grasps to make the NT less Semitic, less traditional, a fancy of modern pluralistic thought. The NT is not “politically correct”. We have to make everything egalitarian, racially non-charged, religiously-neutral because that is the world we want to see as a reality. So we stretch it… That is what I think this idea is. I am a skeptic on this issue.

  21. Oh wow! I see, I’d not considered that and thought your original comment said it was an epistle. Given the closing blessings and sign off similar to other letters I’d always just assumed it was designed as an open letter for broader distribution. I’m unsure of what you mean by “desperate grasps to make the NT less Semitic” though. I apologise if I’ve somehow offended with my questions. Shalom

    • No offense on my part, do not worry, Shaun 🙂 What I mean by attempting to make NT less Semetic – this a reference to female authorship. Israelite culture is traditionally patriarchal with specific gender roles. Women play vital roles in Jewish society, but women do not take on the role of authors/teachers as a cultural rule. Introducing female authorship to NT would push it to the “non-Semitic” realm, it makes it non traditionally Jewish, makes it counter-cultural.

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