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The word fulfill stands out to me in this verse:

Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Was the original meaning of the word translated as fulfill? E.g. Did it mean "to complete" or "to finish"?

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  • The word seems to have the sense of "bring or restore to its complete state" but Matthew's usage seems to consistently go beyond that to almost a sense of "fill to the extreme" in contradistinction to the "relaxing" and "compromising" of the commandments practiced by Jesus' rivals. Picture the law as a cup. The Pharisees would deplete the jelly beans in it leaving it half empty but Jesus would not only fill it to the top but with beans piled up, overfilling the cup. But the word used would suggest that the law was always meant to be filled thus. – Ruminator Nov 8 '17 at 18:31
  • A new commandment I give unto you; that you should love one another (John 13:34). Do this, without blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10), and you will fulfill the law (Mat 5:17). – Constantthin Dec 1 '18 at 11:20
  • @Constantthin Yes, but not that He has done away with the others: "If then you fulfil the royal law, according to the scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; you do well. 9 But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors. 10 And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law."Can't love if committing adultery or murder. – Sola Gratia Dec 1 '18 at 18:58
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"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

The word "fulfill" stands out to me. Was the original meaning of this what we know it is today? Complete or finish.

See blessed Theophylact of Ohrid (1055 – 1107) "The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew".

It's hard to find free English version, this is my awful translation from Russian:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17)

Since He intended to introduce new laws, so that they would not think that He was the enemy of God, He, preventing such a suspicion on the part of many, says: "I came not to break the law, but to fulfill it." How did He fulfill? First, by doing all the prophets foretold about Him. Therefore, the evangelist often says: "so that what the prophet said was true." He also fulfilled all the commandments of the Law, for He did not create iniquity, and there was no flattery in His mouth. He fulfilled the Law in a different way, that is, he made up for it, for He fully traced what the Law gave only one shadow. Law said: "Do not kill", but He said: "And do not be angry in vain." Like the painter, He does not blot out the original drawing, but complements it.

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  • Theophylact's commentaries in English are available from Chrysostom Press - but they are a little pricey. – user33515 Dec 22 '17 at 17:20
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The above commentary of Theophylact of Ochrid is beautiful and succinct, I just comment upon it: to "fulfill" can mean 2 things:

a) to do carry out everything without omission; that is to say, to do all the 10 commandments meticulously, without dropping a jot from them. Imagine, for instance, in judo, or any martial art, you are given a rule to master some established set - say, 10 - of wrestling tricks, and you fulfill them, one after another, adding nothing and omitting nothing, so that at the end of your training course you become an complete judo wrestler, one of a centuries long ennobled tradition of the sport, with no innovation whatsoever.

b) to bring something to a completion/perfection, that is to say, see in something a latent potential for its making perfect and thus change it in order to make it perfect; but this change will not be a ruin of the mentioned "something", but on the contrary, a fulfillment of it, as, for instance, a ballet dancer did not destroy human movements, but perfected human movements to the level of being able to express more complex emotions and thoughts through them.

When Jesus says "I came to complete the Law", He does not mean that He came to fulfill everything of the Law in the first sense, for then He would have given a model of a complete Old Testamental virtuous man. However, this is no more relevant for the infinity of the divine Grace that came to humanity through Him. Therefore, Jesus says "I came to complete the Law" in the second sense, that is to say, seeing in the precepts of the Law a novel interpretation that would make man not only a good man in the Old Testament sense, but give him the ambition and authority of becoming a son of God (John 1:12); paved a way for man to aspire becoming perfect as God Himself (Matt. 5:48). Thus, "do not commit adultery" in the old interpretation meant that husband or wife does not go with other women or men respectively; however, in new, fulfilled or perfected interpretation of Jesus the one who looks with a lustful eye to a man or woman has already committed adultery; thus, the Law became much more difficult, refined and demanding. The same with, "you shall not kill" commandment: before you were an observant of it if you had actually not committed a murder, but now, in Jesus' perfected interpretation, to hate somebody is to commit a murder - thus Jesus does not treat the actions themselves, but the inner source of those actions, the very depths of human heart, and by giving those impossible commandments He also gives His divine aid, His Grace that we may be able to fulfill them together with Him, for "impossible for men is possible for God" (Luke 18:27).

Thus, the previous commandments, or to say more precisely, the precepts of the Law of Moses in their previous, Old Testamental interpretation could be performed simply by human efforts alone, yet without inner transformation and transfiguration of the inner core of human heart, whereas, on the contrary, the new commandments of Christ, or to say more precisely, the precepts of the same Law of Moses in His novel, perfected interpretation can by no means be fulfilled by human efforts alone, but necessarily entail Christ's co-action in and with us, that together with His divine aid we may aspire of becoming as perfect as Him and our Heavenly Father.

There are many gray, innocuous stones at the seashore, but when the sea waves make them wet and the sun rays shine upon them, the stones reveal their hidden latent beauty and shine in many different colors - so also Jesus, by pouring the Holy Spirit upon the gray stones of Moses' commandments, made them shine with their perfect latent beauty.

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As you say to "finish" it as it was now done with as it had completed it purpose, it was of no further use:-

NWT Romans 10:4 "For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness."

The Law was to teach the Christ (the Messiah) was coming and that he would replace all the Law of Moses with his sacrifice:-

NWT Galatians 3:24 "So the Law became our guardian leading to Christ, so that we might be declared righteous through faith.

The Mosaic Law was replaced with The Law of Love:-

NWT Romans 13:8-10 "Do not owe anything to anyone except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. 9 For the law code, “You must not commit adultery, you must not murder, you must not steal, you must not covet,” and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this saying: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore, love is the law’s fulfillment.

Love for God and Love for Neighbour is all you need.

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Fulfil in Matthew 5:17 means "to carry out". Since the fall, no one had perfectly carried out the law except for God. All have fallen short of the glory of God, so to speak. Now, Jesus was going to "carry it out".

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  • Thanks, Chris and welcome to the site. On this site, even if you have the right answer it will be marked down if you don't show any evidence to support your post. Please provide evidence. Thanks. – Ruminator Nov 25 '18 at 9:53
  • I'd like to echo Ruminator's comments as well as say that your answer is intriguing; I would like to know exactly how you went from fulfilling the law to "to carry out" the law. What sources did you use? If you, yourself, interpreted it, why so? Basically, please provide good reasoning and sound logic within your answer (but don't skip steps and remember to be respectful of other answers and the original question). Thanks, and I hope you continue your participation in this community! – phil-al-sophy Dec 1 '18 at 5:39