(This brief article also occurs as an inset article on our Jesus, Christians and the Law page)
T he Greek for 'fulfil' is pleroo (if you are using Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, this is precisely what the non-transliterated form looks like: pleru - sorry, Firefox, Opera and Safari will not give you the exact Greek form if you have your language set to 'EN'). 'Pleroo' occurs on many New Testament occasions, including Matthew 5:17. The range of meanings for this word are, 'to fill up,' 'to fill to the brim,' 'to level up' (that is, in the sense of levelling up a hollow). Figuratively, the meaning would be 'to satisfy,' 'to execute,' 'to finish,' or 'to complete.'
But Wasn't the Law to Last Forever?
Wayne Jackson explains it this way:
Jesus plainly said that not one “jot or tittle” (representative of the smallest markings of the Hebrew script) would pass away until all was fulfilled. Consequently, nothing of the law was to fail until it had completely accomplished its purpose.
“But,” some surmise, “does not the text affirm that the law would last until ‘heaven and earth’ pass away?” No, only that it would be “easier” for the universe to pass away than for the law of God not to fulfill its mission (cf. Luke 16:17).
And so, if one contends, on the basis of Matthew 5:17-18, that Moses’ law is still binding as a legally required regime, he must take all of it — including its bloody sacrifices, annual treks to Jerusalem, purification rituals, etc. As Paul later will argue — if a man receives one portion of the law [as binding for justification], he is a debtor to do all of it (Galatians 5:3). This is the logical consequence of the misguided “sabbatarian” view of this important text.
In addition to the points listed above, Paul clearly argues, in his letter to the Ephesians, that the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” was “abolished” by the death of Jesus upon the cross (Ephesians 2:14-15). The Greek term for “abolished” is katargeo, literally suggesting the idea of reducing something to a state of inactivity.
Paul uses this term twice in Romans 7:2,6 — showing that just as a wife is “discharged” from the law of her husband when he dies, even so, through the death of the body of Christ, men were “discharged” from the obligations of the Mosaic law. That the law here contemplated is the law of Moses, including the ten commandments, is demonstrated by the reference to the tenth commandment in Romans 7:7 (cf. Exodus 20:17).
The harmony between Matthew 5:17-18, and Ephesians 2:15, is this: The purpose of the law of Moses was never to come to naught; its original design would be perpetual. On the other hand, as a legal code, it would be abolished, being cancelled by the Savior’s sacrificial death (cf. Colossians 2:14).
And so, a consideration of all the facts leads only to the conclusion that Matthew 5:17 does not afford any support to those who maintain that the observance of the sabbath day is a divinely-required obligation for this age.
(Summarized from: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/485-did-christ-abolish-the-law-of-moses).
In the New Testament, 'pleroo' usually has the sense of accomplishing and satisfying, as in the case of prophecies. We may also read of a net being full (Matthew 13:48), and of joy being full, or 'complete' (John 15:11; 16:24; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 1:12). In each case in those Scriptures, 'pleroo' is used. These examples help us to see that 'pleroo' does not need to be forced in meaning. In Matthew 1:22-23, the miracle of Mary’s virgin pregnancy and the resulting birth has fulfilled (Gk: 'pleroo') the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14; thereby that prophecy was satisfied, completed, accomplished. 'Pleroo' may also be found in the following (and more) Scriptures:
Matthew 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9, 35; Mark 14:49; 15:28; Luke 21:20-22, 24; 24:44; John 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9, 32; 19:24, 36.
A careful consideration of the above verses will show how the New Testament uses 'pleroo' - there is nothing strange or fanciful in how the word is employed and, from these verses, we quickly learn that this word is very well translated as 'fulfilled,' 'accomplished,' 'satisfied' and so on. All who are conversant with New Testament Greek understand this without too much difficulty, yet when those of a legalistic frame of mind find this word used in Matthew 5:17-18 they immediately seek to distort/exaggerate it's meaning, not allowing the simple and obvious meaning. Jesus was stating that the Hebrew Bible should not be set aside, it still held authority. He did not come to destroy the Old Testament (the Law and Prophets), but He certainly did come to fulfil or satisfy, that revelation since He brought a superior revelation, that of the New Covenant.
Luke 16:16: The Law and the Prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is pressing into it.
It has further been stated that Jesus came to "magnify the law," magnify is not a bad word but we must understand it. Jesus indeed magnified the law but assuredly not in the sense of making the letter of the law more binding; He magnified it by making it's essential purpose more clear, by revealing that we must obey the full spiritual meaning of God's law (Matthew 5-7).
Today Christians are not subject to the Ten Commandments as a ten-point code of 'dos' and 'donts,' rather, the Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts so that we may walk in faith and obedience at a much deeper level than was possible before. We should now seek to obey (admittedly, not always successfully) the great moral and spiritual law which lies behind the Ten Commandments, yet which is infinitely greater than those ten specific, and obviously restricted, points ever could be. The 'Law of Christ' is a good term for this. Through this, we see that adultery is not the real problem, but, rather, the lust which leads to it is the problem. We see that murder is not the real problem but the hatred which leads to the act. We also see that "keeping the sabbath," is not about mechanically refraining from all work one day a week, but about entering the rest of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30) as a Christian convert now, and finally to enter His 'rest' of Eternal Life at the end of our lives when our earthly 'labours' are complete (Hebrews 3:14-4:11).
Romans 10:4: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.
'... you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, not having been written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but in fleshly tablets of the heart. And we have such trust through Christ toward God, not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God; who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.' (2 Corinthians 3:3-6).
Robin A. Brace, 2010.
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