There are many verses in the New Testament that have been interpreted to mean that the commands and covenants of the Old Testaments have been done away with. However, there are also verses in the New Testament that can support the opposite supposition, not the least of which is Matthew 5:17-20 (KJV):

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Much has been said about the word "fulfill", which is the greek text is plērōsai which is defined as, 1. to make full, to fill, to fill up, to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally, equivalent to to flood, to fill, diffuse throughout one's soul by Thayer's Lexicon.

Some have interpreted it to mean, Jesus fulfilled the Torah, so we don't have to keep it. But does this verse really teach that?

There exists a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, taken from Shem Tov's medieval treatise *Evan Bohan**, published by George Howard (1987, 1995). I have attached an excerpt from this passage in Matthew. It reads as following:

בעת ההיא אמר ישוע לתלמידיו אל תחשבו שבאתי להפר תורה אלא להשלים באמת אני אומר לכם כי עד שמים וארץ אות אחת ונקודה אחת לא תבטל מהתורה או מהנביאים שהכל יתקיים

"At that time Yeshua said to his taught-ones, don't think I've come to overturn Torah, and not to restore it. In truth I say to ye, that until heaven and earth [pass], one letter and one vowel marking will not fail from the Torah or from the Prophets, but all will be established."

The word that the Greek text has as "fill to the full", and we would expect the Hebrew מָלֵא (to fill up) which it translates often in the LXX, however the Hebrew להשלים literally means to complete or restore. It can also mean 'to make peace.'

How might this Hebrew text enhance or change our understanding of the Greek version(s)?

Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew - taken from George Howard's version

  • 1
    There is a problem with "vowel marking:" "From AD 500 to 900, the task of preserving and transmitting the Tanakh was assumed by the Massoretes. By the time they began their role, there was a concern that the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew could be lost. The problem was that the Hebrew alphabet did not contain any vowels. To insure the accurate passing down of tradition (...) the Massoretes developed a system of markings that surrounded the consonants and acted as vowels." Powell, D. (2006). Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (p. 189). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 24, 2018 at 7:36
  • 1
    To what extent a speculative transformation into Hebrew would change our understanding is very much a matter of opinion.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:46
  • @curiousdannii Is this actually the first time this passage is being discussed on this site? Or have the others been archived? I'm incredulous.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 24, 2018 at 15:06
  • 1
    Is the quote really "At that that"? It should be "At that time".
    – user2672
    Apr 24, 2018 at 19:40
  • @Ruminator I don't know about that.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 24, 2018 at 23:18

2 Answers 2


While the recent rendering in Hebrew and then back isn't a particularly recommended hermeneutic in this case it does seem to get to what I consider the point. What I believe Jesus is saying is in fact that he hasn't come to parse the Torah into "it is okay to ignore this part but don't ignore this part" but has instead come to restore the integrity of the Torah by presenting it in its intended and full meaning. It may mean also that he "fills it out" such that he doesn't present the least painful scenarios but rather the most. Not just "love your friends" but "love your enemies as well".

  • 1
    Good concise answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 24, 2018 at 23:18
  • 2
    George Howard actually believed this to be from an earlier Jewish source, as it shares readings with some of the earliest Gospel texts. See his critical apparatus in the 1994 Ed. of The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (Mercer University Press).
    – Jacob
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:11
  • @Jacob If you know the earlier source perhaps you could edit the question to reflect it. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:13
  • @Ruminator There is no Hebrew text that is earlier, that we can prove. However, Howard argues that because this shares readings with texts such as Codex Sinaiticus and the Gospel of Thomas, its source (not extant) was contemporaneous with these earlier documents.
    – Jacob
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:23
  • @Jacob Okay, then I think the question title is probably appropriate, don't you thing?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:34

Background - Even Bohan

The Introduction to George Howard's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew states:

A complete Hebrew Text of Matthew appeared in the body of a fourteenth-century Jewish polemical treatise entitled Even Bohan (אבן בוחן, "The Touchstone"). The author, Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut (sometimes called Ibn Shaprut), was born in Castile in the middle of the fourteenth century. He later settled in Tarazona in Aragon where as a physician he practiced medicine. There he completed the Even Bohan in 1380. He revised his work several times - in 1385, around 1400, and even later - by adding five books or sections to the original twelve. Most manuscripts contain either fifteen or sixteen chapters, not always arranged in the same order. Of the original books, usually the first deals with the principles of the Jewish faith, the next nine deal with passages in the Bible that were disputed by Jews and Christians, the eleventh discusses haggadic sections in the Talmud used by Christians or Jewish proselytes to Christianity, and the twelfth (sometimes thirteenth) contains the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, with polemic comments by Shem-Tob interspersed throughout the text.1

The purpose of Even Bohan was to equip Jews to defend their faith if called on in a Disputation:

Shem-Tov's polemical approach was to go through the New Testament section by section searching for weaknesses that could be used against the Catholics. Interestingly enough, one of his common tactics was to point to verses where the Catholics violate the direct instructions of Yeshua...Shem-Tov explained that if his fellow Jews were to survive these Disputations they had better start reading the New Testament.2

A fundamental question when using Shem Tov's Matthew is whether it was translated from the Greek for use as a Jewish polemic against Catholics, or if it was copied from a Matthew originally written in Hebrew as an authentic eyewitness record. Some people like Michael Rood take the position Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and translated to Greek therefore Shem-Tov's Matthew should be approached as more representative of the original Matthew, not a polemical adaption of the Greek original.

"Law" or "Law and Prophets"

An important issue at the time of Christ and to this day is what constitutes "Law." From the point of written Law, is the Law that which came only from Moses or did the Prophets contribute to the Law, and to what extent are the poetic writings "Law." In addition there is the issue of the relationship with tradition and oral law and what has been written.

The Greek and Hebrew Matthew of 5:17-18 highlight one important aspect of this issue:

Greek Matthew:
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. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (ESV)

Hebrew Matthew:
17At that time Jesus said to his disciple: Do no think that I came to annul the Torah, but to fulfill it. 18Truly I say to you that until heaven and earth (depart) not one letter or dot shall be abolished from the Torah or the Prophets, because all will be fulfilled.3

The "Prophets" in the Greek are in verse 17; in the Hebrew they are in verse 18. This shift materially changes what Jesus said since verse 18 has the claim to "all accomplished" (πάντα γένηται) where verse 17 is simply "fulfill" (πληρῶσαι). Unfulfilled predictions in the Prophets are the cornerstone to a position Jesus was not the Davidic Messiah. As Nehemia Gordon states:

Through all these investigations I have been repeatedly surprised about what I have learned about Yeshua. I still do not believe Yeshua to be the Messiah; like all Karaites I eagerly await the coming of the anointed Davidic king who will reign as king over Israel, ushering an era of eternal peace (Isaiah 11; Ezekiel 34:24-25; even Luke 1:32-33). To my knowledge Yeshua has yet to fulfill this fundamental criterion of the Davidic Messiah.4

The issue for the Karaite Jew is not found in the Law; it is in the Prophets.

With respect to the Messiah, the prophetic aspect of the Law, in particular the first five books is limited and arguably, Jesus has already fulfilled every one. Yet, it is obvious not all of the Messianic prophecies of the Prophets have been fulfilled. Therefore it is essential for a Jewish polemical writing to have Yeshua uphold only the Law while leaving open the future fulfillment of the Prophets. In effect, the Hebrew Matthew 5:17-18 is a clever change which amounts to Jesus making a self-denial to be the Messiah. Therefore, the Hebrew Matthew should be considered as part of what Evan Bohan is: a Jewish writing to be used to defend the belief Jesus was not the Davidic Messiah.

The Law as Prophecy

Despite this negative nature, the Hebrew Matthew focuses on the key issue of the Law before and after Christ and the relationship between Law and Prophets. Jesus came to fulfill (πληρῶσαι) the law and Prophets, but it is only the law which has been all accomplished (πάντα γένηται):

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 (πληρῶσαι) them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (πάντα γένηται). (ESV)

Jesus came to fulfill (πληρῶσαι) the Law and the Prophets. Thayer's states πληρόω here means: to fulfil, i. e. "to cause God's will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God's promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment." Jesus accomplished all (πάντα γένηται) of the Law. Thayer's states γένηται means here: "to become equivalent to to come to pass, happen."

There is a prophetic nature of the Law:

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matthew 11:13)

Therefore we can say Jesus came to fulfill all of prophecies in both the Law and Prophets and accomplished all the Law prophesied about the Messiah. Since Jesus came to fulfill all, He will be coming back to accomplish those in the Prophets which have yet to be fulfilled.

1. George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, Mercer University Press, 2002, p. xi
2. Nehemia Gordon, Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus, Hilkiah Press, 2006, p. 38
3. Howard, p. 17
4. Gordon, p. 71

  • The key is that Yeshua said to keep the Law. That's why Jews were using this to defend them keeping the Law. Yeshua states many times that there are future prophecies which will not be fulfilled until the end times. "but all WILL BE CAUSED TO STAND" (yitqiim). Jer. 31:31-34, the New Covenant, is the Torah on the heart Covenant, which Yeshua came to establish in his blood. "..and I will write my Torah on their hearts..." now, the interpretation of this Hebrew Matthew must not come with bias, because it solves a key error in the Greek text, the genealogy of Miriam, whose father was Joseph.
    – Jacob
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:07
  • @RevelationLad how do you understand "fulfill" in relation to a law? Do you understand it in the same sense as fulfilling a prophecy?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 25, 2018 at 19:37
  • @Jacob This question is about Matthew 5:17-20, not the genealogy. Clearly "the Prophets" are in different places in this passage and their location in verse 18 presents a much stronger case that Jesus is not the Davidc Messiah (as Shem-Tov believes) than the placement in verse 17. The Hebrew Matthew is littered with many changes nuanced to support the Jewish claim Jesus was not the Messiah (the reason Even Bohan was written). If Shem-Tov wrote 15 chapters about how to refute claims Jesus was the Christ, it is unreasonable to say he was unbiased when presenting the Gospel of Matthew. Apr 26, 2018 at 5:50
  • @Jacob BTW I do not disagree with your position on the Law, but your question is about how the Hebrew Matthew contributes to understanding the particular passage and the main difference is the placement of "the Prophets" which must be addressed. Apr 26, 2018 at 5:54
  • @Revelation Lad This nuance about the Law and the Prophets is very, very subtle. But, I see what you are saying. Look, its says "I have not come to overturn Torah, but to complete it." So that's IN HIS LIFE. He taught the full sense of the Torah. Now, the Law and Prophets will be established collectively and completely in the last days. You claim this phrasing disproves the Jewish notion of messiah as fulfilling all prophecy. However, Jewish tradition just says all prophecy is about him, not that he has to fulfill it all at a certain point in time.
    – Jacob
    Apr 26, 2018 at 7:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.