March 28, 2011

Matthew 5:17 and Its Historical Importance (Part 2)

Regardless of the correct interpretation of Matthew 5:17, it’s clear that those who believed that Christ affirmed the Mosaic Law won out in the test of wills that occurred during the early history of the church.  Why do I say that?  Consider the evidence today:
·    A great number of people with political influence seek to bring a Levitical order to our system of justice.  This is despite what Christ says about the gospel’s requirement that exceeds “an eye for an eye.”  
·    Religious people fight to defy the Constitution’s separation of church and state to post the Ten Commandments on court houses and other government offices, but don’t seem to have the same level of interest in Christ’s two great laws.
·    Christian fundamentalists have begun to use the term “Judeo-Christian Ethic” to describe their faith and in doing so, lump the Mosaic Law and Christ’s gospel into a composite far more Judeo (613 specific laws) than Christian (two general rules of thumb).

That brings us back to the question: What did Christ mean when He said He’d come to fulfill the Mosaic Law (the law and the prophets)?  For the answer it’s helpful to refer to the original Greek text of Matthew, from which the term pleroo was translated into the word fulfil in 5:17 of the King James Bible.  Pleroo is unfortunately a word that has a range of meanings that differ in subtle ways and must be interpreted in context.  Its primary definition, which is given by widely accepted source material such as Strong’s Concordance, is to fill to the top, or to cram down, or to make complete.

How Christ fills or completes the Mosaic Law is an important consideration.  Let me summarize what I understand about the nuances of the word pleroo.  If I have a bottle that’s nearly full of water, which I then fill to the rim by holding it beneath a flowing tap, I’ve pleroo-ed the bottle.  Notice that while I’ve filled it, I’ve also rendered the bottle useless as an object that can store more water.  And this is an important sense that the word conveys.  In fact, one alternative interpretation of pleroo is to render obsolete. 

In other words, the appropriate view of Matthew 5:17 is to say Christ didn’t come to destroy Leviticus, but He nevertheless rendered it obsolete.  Just like we can still use typewriters in a world full of computers, we can continue to obey the Law of Moses if we choose, but Christ wishes us to achieve a higher standard that Leviticus does not and cannot contain.  Said another way, Christ asks us to graduate from the requirements of the Mosaic Law to something far grander.  In this way, the idea of graduation is consistent with Strong’s notion of completion.

What is the difference between Christ’s gospel and the Old Testament?  That will be the subject of my next posting.

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