"Fullfill" in Matthew 5

02 August 2009

I found this excellent analysis of Matthew 5 that included this observation:

“Fulfill” in Matthew

The verb “fulfill” is used 16 times in Matthew. Of the 13 times where the word is used in the passive voice, 12 are used in expressing the ‘fulfillment’ of prophecy, and one relates to a boat being filled with fish (13:48). Prophecy is viewed as being fulfilled (passive) by the active hand of God in the events of history.

In contrast the word is used three times in the active voice. In 5:17 the active voice stresses the activity of Yeshua in keeping or observing the commandments. If Yeshua had intended His words to be understood as parallel to the fulfillment formulae prevalent in His day, and especially employed by Matthew, then we would expect a passive voice here as well, something like: “ I did not come to abolish, but that the Torah and Prophets might be fulfilled.”

Perhaps the best clue to the meaning of “fulfill” in this saying of Messiah is the parallelism that goes on in verse 19. In the first clause the verbs “annuls” (loose, destroy) and “teaches” (instructs) are paralleled in the second clause by the verbs “does” and “teaches”.

  • Whoever then annuls one of the least of the commandments
    • and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven
  • but whoever does (them)
    • and teaches (others to do them), he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven

What seems apparent in this parallel structure is the simple definition (in terms of opposites) of ‘annul’ as ‘not doing’. Conversely, to ‘do’ the commandments (and thus to teach others to do them too) would be the opposite of ‘annulling’ them and would thus be to ‘fulfill’ them. It would seem probable from this analogy that what Yeshua is indicating in His words of verse 17 is simply that He did not come to destroy the commandments but rather to do them. Thus, Yeshua was asking His disciples to understand that one of His purposes in coming as the Messiah was to expound the Torah and the Prophets both by His words and (especially) by His deeds. He came to explain how one could actually do the Torah, and what the purpose of doing the Torah was.

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