What did Jesus teach us about the (Old Testament) law? Did Jesus teach us to uphold the law during the Sermon on the Mount and follow all the rules and rituals of the Old Testament?
Many Christians believe that Jesus said we should stay true to the the Old Testament law during the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. Lets have a look at the verses below:
Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the [a]Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished. 19 So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:17-19The key word above is fulfill in verse 17. The original word used is plēroō:
play-ro'-oJesus came to complete the law, to finish it, to end it and to expire it!
From G4134; to make replete, that is, (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc.: - accomplish, X after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.
In verse 18 above Jesus says not one letter will fall away until it was accomplished. When was it accomplished? - When Jesus died on the cross (at the time of the sermon, this hasn't taken place yet).
The verse that confuses most Christians is verse 19 ... 'whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments ... will be called the least ... but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great ...'.
There are 3 possible interpretations
Incorrect Interpretation: Jesus meant we should follow the Old Testament law to the letter
This interpretation simply does not make sense. How can Jesus in one verse say 'not one letter should fall away' but then a couple of verses later complete replace certain laws with new ones? It is also obvious that Jesus gave examples of what we should do with the rest of the law.
- In verse 21 He changes the law that says 'You shall not kill' by making it more strict (you kill if you hate).
- In verse 38 - 39 He does not make it more strict, but completely rejects the original laws of an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21) and he replaces it with the opposite!
If we look at what the word 'fulfill' means and how Jesus changed Old Testament laws, it is obvious that this interpretation simply does not make sense.
Possible Interpretation 1: Jesus came to end the Old Testament Law
As we have seen, the word Jesus used could mean to 'End It'. Jesus is saying - I did not come to bring a more relaxed version of the mosaic law (Old Testament) - and anyone who teaches that will be called the least. The law needs to stay in tact, and those who taught that will be called great (think of Moses and all the prophets). Jesus needed the law to stay in tact so that He could complete and fulfill it. He needed to fulfill and complete it because He was going to replace it with something new. He was not planning on starting a religion with a slight variation of the old law - and no one should teach that.
Possible Interpretation 2: Jesus was referring to specific laws and prophesies
At the time Jesus was teaching this, He did not have the Old Testament as we have today (no one is sure exactly what scriptures were available to Him). As we have also seen in the article 'Is the Bible the Word of God', Jesus sometimes referred to the Old Testament as 'Moses said' and even rejected a verse in the Bible as 'that should not have been there' (my interpretation, but read the article). He then also referred to other scripture as commandments of God and even once (only once) as the Word of God.
In the article we came to the conclusion that we need to be lead by the Holy Spirit when reading the Bible to 'hear' the 'Word of God' and we can't simply take every verse and quote it as the 'Word of God'.
It is possible that Jesus was referring to specific scripture and prophesies that should 'stay in tact' and that He did not come to relax or 'do away' with those and that for others He came to end it and to replace it with something new - something better.
The New Law
I think it is a combination of the last two possible interpretations. Jesus came to replace the Old Testament law with something new:
I am giving you a new commandment, that you [a]love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another - John 13:34-35