I think my main concern is more of a philosophical tone, but I think I need some hermeneutical advice before.

OK, these are the verses:

While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name: those that you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. - John 17:12

Think you that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? - Mathew 26:53,54

A clean reading of these verses makes it cleat that they are talking about future events around the Crucifixion of Christ.

A crude reading of John 17:12 is routinely used as proof-text of a specific type of fatalism/determinism. The idea is that the betrayal from Judas was not merely known in advance by God, but actively previously determined by a divine plan; the betrayal was planned in order to match the Scripture predictions, and then it was impossible that the betrayal would not occur.

On the other hand, the second verse challenges this understanding. The verse clearly says Jesus could possibly avoid being captured by praying for the Father. But if He did this, then the Scriptures would not be fulfilled.

Hence it implies the Scripture can possibly not be fulfilled.

Both readings are a bit problematic in my opinion.

That being said, I ask:

What is the meaning of "fulfill" in John 17:12 and Matthew 26:54?

  • 2
    I agree that there is a 'philosophical' way of thinking about such texts, this related question is similar in that regard. But I, personally, would be interested to see the matter of πληρόω (Strong 4137) being competently discussed so up-voted +1. – Nigel J Dec 30 '20 at 20:16

The intonations are different in those two quotations: John 17:12 says it with an apparent intonation of a remorse and sadness, as if Jesus said: "how bad that the Scripture is to be fulfilled, for of course I'd rather have it unfulfilled, so that my beloved Judas, whom I made so close to Myself as to make him one of the 12 closest disciples, may not have betrayed Me".

On the contrary, the Matthew 26:54 has an intonation of approval and almost a celebration of what is written in the Scripture, as if Jesus says: "I can change it, but I shall not, because it is not My will to do so, rather My will is to fulfil it."

Interestingly, the second quotation shows that Jesus is not subject to any written prophesy, but a master over the prophesies, being Himself more principal than the prophesy as the Inspirer is more principal than the inspired and as the King is more principal than a royal decree issued by Him.

It is, thus, an idolatrous and logically improper thought to put Scripture above Jesus, and in both cases, John 17:12 and Matthew 26:54 He could easily change the Scriptures, and the only reason He did not do so was that He did not want to do so. Indeed, could not He, knowing that Judas is betraying Him, hide Himself from the murderous Jews whom Judas had lead to Him? Or, couldn't He knowing about this treason expel Judas from the 12? He did not, because He did not want to.

Thus, now, having established that fatalism is an idolatrous doctrine and Jesus was not any fatalistically and slavishly committed to Scriptures as something higher to Him (but treated it as His own establishment or a product of His own act of inspiring the prophets who uttered those oracles called "Scriptures" in Biblical jargon), we can proceed with asking a more pertinent question: why did Jesus desire and decided to fulfil the Scripture and not to interfere with it Sovereignly as He could?

Now, to take a "one at a time" approach, let us see both cases, for motives of divine desire of fulfilment in both are seemingly different:

  1. John 17:12: I will hazard this interpretation: as if Jesus says: "I have to suffer the treason, not interfere with it in an outward manner, like expelling Judas, or punishing him, as any human leader would do, but I as God want not to interfere with freedom of anybody, I do not want slaves who are afraid of Me, I do not want to impose Myself on anybody, I want a free response of a free human heart, and if this heart in its stupidity betrays Me, thinking that it can find someone or something better and more desirable than Me, let it search and get freely frustrated, so that it may again come to Me in a free repentance". Exactly this is Jesus' saying to Judas: "go and do your deed quickly" (John 13:27), why "quickly"? - Do it quickly so as to remain in sin and stupidity as shortly as possible and come back to repent as soon as possible, for this is Christ's caring desire for hapless Judas. Thus, "Let the Scripture be fulfilled", i.e. "Let Me not interfere in the freedom of any man, for I need a free followers, friends and co-heirs of My and the Father's Kingdom, not slaves".

  2. In the second instance, actually, the same divine motivation is at stake, as if Jesus said: "If I will show them My divine power, for not only by asking Father I can summon twelve legions of angels, but all angels and demons, the entire creation, is subjected to My authority, and I do not need any angel, in fact, if I wished to punish My murderers, for if I can turn 5 breads into 5 thousand breads, cannot I turn thousands of my persecutors into thousand of breathless corpses? But then people will start fearing Me and becoming My slaves, not My friends; so let the Scriptures be fulfilled! Let Judas betray Me, let the Jews hand Me to Roman authorities, let Pilates pusillanimously crucify Me while well knowing that this is not lawful even according to the Roman law, let terrorist blow up a bus with innocent tourists, let a politician become a president through rigged elections etc. etc. - I will not interfere, because I am God and wish not to have slaves as citizens of My Kingdom, but humans, My image and likenesses must be divinely sovereign, fearless and free, My co-citizens, My brothers and sisters and Fathers's children by adoption, for I am His eternal and unique natural Son, while humans His children through Me, by a graceful adoption."

Thus, in both cases "fulfil" indicates and stands for divine respect of human freedom, His will not to interfere with it, but permit it, even if it is evil, while willing, of course, that neither Judas sallies himself by treason, nor Jews agitated by the elders sally themselves by murder, nor Lance Armstrong sallies himself by winning Tour de France through doping etc.

There is a world of difference between divine will, which is only for good, and divine permission of evil, and this difference has everything to do with the mystery of freedom of both God and humans.

  • Another excellent answer in every sense. Many thanks. +1. – Dottard Dec 31 '20 at 12:08
  • Thanks dear @Dottard, wish you Happy New Year! – Levan Gigineishvili Dec 31 '20 at 12:54

At first look many will read "so and so happened that the scripture might be fulfilled", as meaning a specific act was performed to match a prophecy. You write down yesterday that the person who answers your question will be named Steve, so I change my screen name to Steve to *Fulfill what you wrote.

As with many sayings, idioms, etc., from antiquity, or from different languages and cultures, we have to transpose and adjust with care. I know *you know that - I'm speaking about those who carelessly draw immediate conclusions without proper deliberation & knowledge.

Think about this John 8:48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

No one talks like this. And..... We have one Father—even God,.... or truly truly I say to you.

When we read that the scripture might be fulfilled, as in the quote about Judas, and in many cases we are hearing,...

This was not a surprise. Nothing went wrong. There is no contingency plan in the works to adapt to this unseen turn of events. That's what- so the scripture would be fulfilled means in so many cases and is a kind of *Short form way of saying it.

See here Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,.... 25 For David says concerning him,......

And again in Acts 4 “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’[e]—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Christ' death was so the scripture could be fulfilled. Meaning... Romans 9: 6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

Messiah dying was not what the Jews thought. Nothing went wrong. His apostles were not left picking up the pieces of a failed mission. God's Word has not failed. The Scriptures were Fulfilled and that's why they included this saying many times in the New Testament.

Jesus was not only explaining to Pilate, but Matthew was explaining to the Jews & to us, the readers, that Christ was the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. Jesus was saying "if I stop you now with my power, I'm fighting against Myself ! This is My Plan."

Judas and his actions, like all of our actions are known by Almighty God before any of them come to be. (Psalm 139). Like Herod & Pilate, God weaves together our free actions, who we are, and what our free choices make us, to accomplish his purpose. It is not so the scriptures can be fulfilled in some kind of put up job, it just means God's Plan has been announced beforehand and He's not just winging it.

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