Epistles of Thomas

December 26, 2008

What did Jesus mean when he said he came to fulfill the law?

Filed under: New Testament,Old Testament — Thomas @ 21:24

I just read a post by Derek Leman a Messianic Jew over at Messianic Jewish Musings. He is looking at Matthew 5:17 and Jesus’ statement about coming not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. I am almost always challenged by Derek’s writings because he is a Messianic Jew who feels that it is imperative for him to retain Jewish practices such as not eating pork.

He provides some information about the passage and then concludes with this statement:

Properly understood, the Torah is about loving God and not about earning God’s love. Yeshua taught his Jewish disciples in Matthew 5:17-20 that their practice of the Torah should be deeper than even the Pharisees. Yeshua was a Torah-teacher (rabbi) as well as Messiah. And numerous Jewish traditions from the time and in the later rabbis speak of Messiah as one who would show Israel the proper way to keep Torah.

My biggest concern is that it sounds like Jesus’ intention was for all of us to keep the Law of Moses rather than to take it upon himself so that we might live in the Spirit rather than according to some laws that not even the scribes and Pharisees could keep. Below is the response that I left to his post:

You say that Jesus filled-up the Torah. I think you are meaning that he filled out Torah in the sense that he made its intent known.

In relation to Paul, they have different starting points. Paul was post death and resurrection of the Christ and was living in the reality of being in Christ. Jesus completely fulfilled the law – he obeyed it in every sense (Cf. Hebrews). For Paul, Jews and Gentiles are not saved by any observance of laws (Jewish or otherwise) but by faith through identification with Jesus. Those who are by faith “in Christ” have Holy Spirit and live by the law of Christ, not any law given by God through Moses or the Prophets.
Of course the law of Christ may look similar to the law of Moses because murder, theft, adultery, etc. are still evil.

Properly understood, the Torah “was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Ga 3:19). I believe that by this Paul means that in Jesus the Mosaic Law and humanity came together. By virtue of being “in Christ” humans are no longer under death or law and live in the Spirit. This means that no laws other than the law of Christ remain. The Law according to Christ was to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself (Mt 22:37-40; Mk 12:30-31). The tale of the Greek Testament is the working out of those two commands. Hence the early Christians argued over circumcision, food worshipped to idols, and food laws. They concluded that love for neighbours meant that Gentiles would abstain from certain things (Acts 15:29). The Greek Testament also includes a number of sin lists such as Gal 5:19-21 which are contrasted with what it means to live in the Spirit (5:22-23).

I know you won’t agree but from this it follows that those in Christ do not need to follow the Jewish laws such as not eating pork unless in doing so they violate their conscience and see it as an act of disobedience, thereby making it sin.


  1. Hello Thomas,

    My name is Anders Branderud and I am from Sweden.
    I myself was a practising Christian and then belonged to the ‘messianic movement’; le-havdil (to differentiate) now I study and practise meta-Orthodox Judaism. By studying first century history I learned that there was a first century pro Torah and pro-Halakhah (oral Torah) Pharisaic Ribi (a prominent Jewish leader) named Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah). The research of world-recognized authorities (for example Barrie Wilson; http://www.barriewilson.com) in this area implies that Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group – who according to Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT practised both written and oral Torah).

    Ribi Yehoshuas teachings have been redacted. The redacted teachings and Hellenistic additions are found in the anti-Torah and anti-Halakhah ‘gospel of Matthew’. According to the most authoritative Christian scholars, e.g., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, the NT contains redactions.

    That Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee, and that the historical documentation of Josephus shows that Ribi Yehoshuas brother Ya’aqov was defended by the Pharisees logically implies that to be one of his Netzarim (www.netzarim.co.il)-follower one must practise Torah non-selectively.

    No one can follow two polar-opposite masters — the authentic, historical, PRO-Torah 1st-century Ribi from Nazareth and the 4th-century (post-135 C.E.), arch-antithesis ANTI-Torah apostasy developed by the Hellenists (namely the Sadducees and Roman pagans who conspired to kill Ribi Yәhoshua, displaced his original followers and redacted the NT).

    You write: “Properly understood, the Torah “was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Ga 3:19).”

    By this you demonstrate that you follow the anti-Torah counterfeit Jesus. You follow a human Paul and a man-god Jesus; while le-havdil (to differentiate) Torah commands us to not follow false prophets who add or remove commandments to Torah (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:1ff).

    To learn about the anti-Torah Jesus a person can learn from Christian self-proclaimed ‘Scholars’.

    le-havdil (to differentiate), If you want to learn about the historical Ribi Yehoshua, whom Orthodox Jews can live with (witness the Netzarim Jews in Ra’anana, Israel, members in good standing in an Orthodox synagogue), you must start with books like How Jesus Became Christian by Prof. Barrie Wilson (most bookstores) [he uses the wrong name for the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua] and Who Are The Netzarim? (publ. http://www.schuellerhouse.com) by Israeli Orthodox Jew, Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben-David.

    Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee Ribi and following him brings you into Torah, which gives you a rich and meaningful life hereon earth and great rewards in life after death (“heaven”)!

    From Anders Branderud

    Comment by Anders Branderud — December 27, 2008 @ 1:47 | Reply

    • Hi Anders,
      Thank you for your long and detailed reply. You have added greatly to my understanding of the various approaches to Jesus within the current world, particularly among your own group, of course. I had not heard of Barrie Wilson before so I read through that website you mentioned. I noticed that although you say it was 4th-century that the anti-Torah apostasy was developed Wilson says “From Jewish rabbi and messiah-claimant to a Gentile God-human, within only 100 years!” I agree with him that the first 100 years are critical because besides Paul (who you say I follow in accepting a counterfeit Jesus) the earliest copies of the Gospel According to John date from 125 CE (P52) and by 200 we have evidence from P45 that all the gospels and Acts had been collected together. Certainly John presents a very Jewish Jesus but one who is also very God. I have to confess that I have spent the last ten years focussing primarily on Paul, particularly Galatians, and am now turning my full attention to Jesus. The one book I have read that most touches on this area is that by N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997. 0802844456, 9780802844453.
      I agree fully that finding the historical Jesus brings me into Torah and gives me a rich and meaningful life on earth and great rewards after death. However, I believe that this comes about through having received Holy Spirit through faith and living in Christ in that manner (according to the Law of Christ) rather than trying to fulfill the Mosaic Law in engaging in such things as food laws, circumcision, etc. I believe this to be a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and the words of the prophets (e.g. Joel 2-Acts2; Zechariah).

      Comment by Thomas — December 27, 2008 @ 10:38 | Reply

    • I agree with Thomas, Wright’s work is excellent.
      I would also like to point out that Jesus clearly did not keep Oral Torah according to the gospels. He was consistently out of line (Oral Torah-wise, anyway) in how He kept the Sabbath, and He and His disciples did not wash their hands before eating, etc. The gospels are consistently reliable manuscripts that date very early.

      Deuteronomy 13:11 cautions against prophets turning people to other gods, but since Jesus did not claim to be another god but actually YHWH incarnate, this verse does not apply. N.T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, shows historically how Israel would really line up with an incarnate god-man sharing the throne of YHWH.

      Comment by Cameron — October 24, 2009 @ 13:22 | Reply

  2. You wrote: “My biggest concern is that it sounds like Jesus’ intention was for all of us to keep the Law of Moses rather than to take it upon himself so that we might live in the Spirit rather than according to some laws that not even the scribes and Pharisees could keep.”

    I urge you to read more of Derek’s articles, as you have misunderstood him. Try his 6-part “Torah, Israel and the Nations.” Derek understands very clearly who is a Jew and who is a Gentile and what that means with regard to the passage in Matthew.

    Comment by Connie — December 27, 2008 @ 4:25 | Reply

    • Hi Connie,
      You are right, I haven’t read all of Derek’s articles but I did read that he wrote a book about Paul not eating pork which led me to believe that he subscribed to the view that it is necessary to obey the laws of Moses in order to be a Messianic Jew. I have just been reading the posts that you recommended. I should confess that now that Messiah is come I do not see a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. All are one in Christ Jesus as Paul said repeatedly. e.g. Galatians 3:28 which is not about equality between Jews and Greeks, slave and free, and women and men but is about the fact that all equally come to God through Jesus Christ. We are all saved in the same way. In the other comment Anders says that in quoting Paul I demonstrate that I follow “the anti-Torah counterfeit Jesus.” Paul seems to have faced this charge during his own lifetime.
      Philippians 3:4b-11 (TNIV):
      “4 If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
      I guess you can dismiss Paul as a heretical Jew but I see him as living in the fulfillment of the Law, that is Jesus the Christ. Paul is making the point that all his “Jewishness” counts for nothing in the light of Christ. This is where I disagree with Derek who is a non-Jew taking on the law of Moses and I imagine most Jews do as well. To be Jewish is to be the people of God and if Derek wants to fully identify with the people of God he only needs to identify with Jesus who has enacted a new covenant with all peoples, Jew and Gentile (Cf. both Paul and Hebrews).
      I think the primary difference stems from our starting points. Derek is trying to fit Jesus-life into the Hebrew Testament rather than seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of that Testament and the originator of a new and better covenant which redefines Jewish-life as Jesus-life which includes all people. Neither Jew nor Gentile can ever go back to the way things were before.

      Comment by Thomas — December 27, 2008 @ 11:07 | Reply

  3. Thomas:

    Glad to meet you. Of course, it is my job to challenge your thinking 🙂

    You said, “now that Messiah is come I do not see a distinction between Jews and Gentiles.”

    Well, I have a few things to say about that:
    1. Read Romans 11:2 carefully and repeatedly.
    2. Read Romans 11:28-29 carefully and repeatedly.
    3. Try after that continuing to make the statement, “now that Messiah is come I do not see a distinction between Jews and Gentiles.”
    4. Beware of reverse Galatianism (hint: Galatianism is telling Gentiles they have to live as Jews.).


    Comment by derek4messiah — December 29, 2008 @ 6:21 | Reply

    • Hi Derek,
      Thanks for your response! I will attempt to respond to your points and clarify what I said in turn. (1-2) I fully agree with Romans 11:2, 28-29 🙂 We need to read all of Romans carefully and repeatedly of course, not just those three verses. Romans is about all having fallen short of the glory of God (3:23) but God calls us righteous through Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to say: “After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law” (3:29-31). He goes on in chapter 4 to talk about Abraham and how both Jews and Gentiles through faith enter into relationship with God. It is by faith that we receive Holy Spirit who leads us to walk in the ways of God according to the Law of Christ. e.g. the Sermon of the Mount/Plain.
      (3) I see no distinction in how Jews and Gentiles are saved and then receive Holy Spirit. Both are saved through faith in Christ Jesus and as children of God receive the inheritance of Holy Spirit. The Jew accepts Jesus as the deliver Paul mentions in Rom 11:26. My first foray into this area was reading Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism in which he argues strongly that Jewish practice was that you were born within the people of God and remained there unless you deliberately removed yourself. Sin was not fatal but choosing to remove yourself from the covenant people by eating pork or worshipping idols was. Jesus seemed to indicate something similar when he said it is not what goes into a person that makes them unclean but what comes out of them. Mark adds the aside that “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” (7:19). In Acts 10-11, the eating of ‘unclean’ food is what signifies the entry of Gentiles into the people of God. Would Paul eat pork if he was living in China preaching to Han Chinese? I would say yes. He was willing to become like a Gentile to win Gentiles. For Paul what mattered was not Law observance but living in Christ. Those who choose to live in Christ through faith live by the Spirit. It is no coincidence that when controversy arose in the early Church over whether some person (or group) was really a member of the people of God (Jew or Gentile) they looked to see if they had Holy Spirit. Whereas previously Jews were within the covenant unless they deliberately rejected it, now both Jews and Gentiles have formed one people in the Spirit and it is rejection of the Spirit which leads to being placed outside the people of God. For this reason Jesus warned against rejecting Holy Spirit (Mk 3:22-30; Mt 12:31-32).
      (4) In response to your warning against Galatianism I appeal to Romans 14. I would never tell a Jew (religious or ethnic) that he or she must live like a Gentile but I would tell them that they must live by God’s Spirit which only comes through faith in Jesus the Christ. Paul concludes: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” Of course, he then goes on to say, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” Perhaps that’s the sign that I should stop writing now :).

      Comment by Thomas — December 29, 2008 @ 11:02 | Reply

  4. Anders visited my blog with the same writing. My rebuttal is here.

    Comment by David V.S. — January 31, 2009 @ 22:27 | Reply

    • Thanks David for the link and your efforts to rebut Anders argument. I have to confess that 1 Pet 3:15 wasn’t enough to motivate me to spend time refuting his argument, such as it was. Anders is coming from such a different starting place I didn’t think it would really matter.

      Comment by Thomas — February 1, 2009 @ 20:13 | Reply

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