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How did Jesus fulfill the OT Jewish Laws? (Not one jot or one tittle would pass till all was fulfilled, Matthew 5:18).

by Robert Brow March 1999

The word fulfill (Matthew 5:17) seems simple enough, but we can contrast two very different models of what Jesus may have had in mind by fulfilling the Jewish law.

In the first model Jesus perfectly lived out the reality of what was expressed in the laws, prophecies, stories, and symbols of the Old Testament. I remember Bible studies expounding every detail of the tabernacle and holy of holies. "This is what the bells and pomegranates on the priest's ephod really meant" (Exodus 28:33-34).

Another model is suggested by the Sermon on the Mount context of the six "But I say unto you" sayings about fulfilling. We might paraphrase: "You know our Jewish interpretations of laws about murder, adultery, divorce, revenge, oaths, revenge, and the treatment of enemies. I am going to be teaching heaven's viewpoint, and that is the perfection that God delights in (Matthew 5:48). Here the word 'fulfill' means to fill out the perfect interpretation.

In the light of that model we don't have to defend any of the problematical laws, genocide, and patriarchy of the Old Testament. The early Christian writer of Matthew's Gospel had seen that Jewish culture had been given a fulfillment in terms of perfect love (Matthew 5:20-48). Peter was shown that from God's point of view the Jewish kosher laws made love and acceptance between different nationalities impossible (Acts 10:34-35, 11:12). They had to be fulfilled in a Church where people with all sorts of eating habits were welcomed. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear that animal sacrifice is not what God has in mind (Hebrews 9:23, 10:1). All the animal sacrifices of the Jewish people and other nations in the ancient world pointed to the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and they were fulfilled when Jesus death on the cross showed they were no longer necessary. Instead of the patriarchal marriage culture he was raised in, Paul saw that the perfection of Christian marriage was a tenfold mutuality of love between a man and his one wife (1 Corinthians 7:1-16).

This model of fulfilment is also useful in dealing with the cultures of other nations. "Jesus corrected Jewish law, and brought it to fulness in the light God's kind of love. We invite you to enrol as his disciples to see how your national culture can come to fruition" (Matthew 28:1-20, see Revelation 21:24-26). That makes a lot of sense to Arab women.

I think the model would also make sense to our Jewish friends. Many of them feel the kosher laws are divisive. They don't really want priests offering animal sacrifice. Israel must be able to defend itself, but they can't stomach the Old Testament principle of a final solution for the Palestinians. And they certainly don't buy the Old Testament view of marriage, adultery, and divorce.  If the two models are weighed for usefulness, the first has generated centuries of nonsensical interpretation. The second could easily help us into the next millenium.

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