Thursday, 9 August 2012

Hebrew Idioms: Matthew 5.17

Perhaps the most misunderstood Hebrew idiom in the New Testament is the famous comment that Jesus made in Mattew 5.17:  
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 

For the last 2000 years, this comment has been understood by the Christians to mean that ‘the Law and the Prophets’  have been replaced by the Law of Christ…..and thus ‘the Law and the Prophets’ are largely irrelevant. 

Secondly, ‘the Law and the Prophets’  were written for, and refer to, the ethnic Jewish people who rejected Jesus as Messiah, and continue to do so.  Therefore, ‘the Law and the Prophets’ must, for Christians, be treated with suspicion, and should be regarded as an historical anachronism.

These views spring from a tragic and fundamental failure to understand that Matthew 5.17 is a classic, common, frequently used Hebrew idiom.

An amplified translation and explanation of Matthew 5.17 is as follows:

Jesus was speaking to Jews in His Sermon on the Mount, and many of the Jews who listened to Him were of the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, and Elders, as well as thousands of non partisan Jews. So, Jesus clearly states that He does not want any of the Jews to misunderstand what He has come to do.  Therefore, He begins by saying, ‘Do not think or misunderstand My mission’.

Furthermore, do not think or assume that I have come to destroy by interpreting incorrectly  the Law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, or the teaching of the Prophets that they gave to Israel under the anointing power of God.  

I have not come to misinterpret the Law and the Prophets.

Rather, I have come to bring to you an understanding and interpretation of the Law and the Prophets which will explain how God wants you to behave in your lives, and how He wants you to relate to Him, to your families, friends, acquaintances, and enemies….with the right attitude.

The Rabbis discussed, and argued in the first century, about ‘the Law and the Prophets’.  If they disagreed with each other….which they did frequently…they would accuse those who disagreed that they were ‘destroying the Law and the Prophets’. 

For the Rabbis, ‘to destroy’ actually meant that a particular interpretation of some passage or verse was wrong, and therefore, was destroying ‘the Law and the Prophets’.  It did NOT mean, and never has meant, that ‘the Law and the Prophets’  was replaced, abrogated, or superceded.

Similarly, if two Rabbis agreed with each other about the interpretation and understanding of a passage, one might say to the other:
‘You are fulfilling the Law and the Prophets by interpreting this passage as God intended.’ 

Jesus was using a common Hebrew idiom that was used time and again in Rabbi’s discussions.  He was saying that His mission was to explain, and correctly interpret, ‘the Law and the Prophets’… that ALL people could understand how to behave towards each other and towards God.

Perhaps it might be an idea to reread ‘the Law and the Prophets’ in the light of Jesus’s explanation and interpretation….

More next week….with some examples!!


  1. Thank you. I have heard this elsewhere, and I appreciate your insight.
    I'm particularly interested in Hebrew idioms... valuable knowledge.
    Learning more about my faith every day!!

  2. Perhaps you would graciously comment on Matthew 17:27?

    I'm wondering (as a lover of Jeshua who is definitely not interested in debunking the New Testament; merely interested in truth at all levels) Is Jeshua's directive to open the mouth of the fish and extract a coin an idiom also, as George Lamsa tells us in his book Idioms in the Bible Explained and a Key to the Original Gospels ?

    VERY interested in your opinion, sir...