In Matt. 5:17-20 Jesus says:

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 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.

19 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.

20 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.

Several things stand out for me here. It is clear that Jesus did not come to do away with the law (because if He did, He certainly wouldn't be saying all this and He surely wouldn't have had to suffer in our place on the cross for our transgression of this law).

Secondly, all who break even what is considered to be the least of its commandments and teach others to do the same are called 'the least' (in a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last first).

Thirdly, our righteousness (in this context: law keeping) should in some way exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees' law keeping.

My question is regarding the word 'fulfill' since it clearly does not mean 'destroy' or even 'do away with'. What did Jesus mean when I said He came to fulfill the law? This seems to be the answer for us who should have a righteousness (law keeping) exceeding that of the spiritual elite of His day. How do we interpret the word 'fulfill' in these verses?

I hear many Christians say bad things about obedience to the law especially when it comes to salvation and yet Jesus' words here condemns all such attitudes toward it. He makes it abundantly clear that the right kind of law keeping is what is required as righteousness for entrance into His kingdom.

  • 1
    Up-voted +1. You have made three very valid points which, each, deserve a question of their own. But I think they may be answered in the archives. You need to pay strict attention to wording 1. 'Fulfil the law' not 'keep the law'. 2. Whosoever shall 'do and teach' (but not commandments) shall be great. 3. Except your righteousness exceed 'that of the pharisees' : 'that' they have is not, actually, righteousness. [Righteousness is of God : humanity believeth.] ['Out of the heart, man believeth unto righteousness.'] It is not by means of law.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 23, 2022 at 13:43
  • This passage is unrelated to law vs grace issue, which is not found in Christ's teachings. By fulfill he means to complete the purpose of the law so it will end. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/62487/…? duplicate?
    – Michael16
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:37
  • @Michael16 your comment makes no sense at all. Why does Jesus put 'think not that I am come to destroy' before 'fulfilled' and use an example of those who are destroying the law shortly afterwards?
    – user49416
    Apr 24, 2022 at 14:18
  • If that is your question then you should explain how do you find it nonsensical or contradictory in the passage. He didnt came to destroy as his enemies accused him, he came to fulfill it; v18 the law cant be broken until all be fulfilled. v19 onwards show he demands a superior obedience than the Pharisees. The whole chapter shows he demands superior obedience than what the law itself states, ex. about the divorce. If you wanna argue for torah keeping, you cant do that using these passages.
    – Michael16
    Apr 24, 2022 at 14:26
  • Jesus, as my example, says He fulfills and does not destroy the law. He tells me in the same breath that I am not to break any of the commands and teach others to do the same. I think your argument is with Christ, not me.
    – user49416
    Apr 24, 2022 at 14:36

12 Answers 12


Romans 5:18-21 ESV

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Why was the law given and what purpose did it fulfill?

The Apostle Paul was trained by notable instructors of the law. Acts 22:3 His misconception was that he understood that the law being adhered to would credit his soul before God. Once a sin was committed there left the need of a payment for the price of that particular trespasses. This opened a belief system for man to declare his righteousness before God who is holy. The sacrifice’s offered on the altar were to cover for mans sins yet they would not provide for the cause of sin only the consequences of that sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God, John 1:29, that came to take away the sins of the world. The law identifies our inability to be right or to remain right. Jesus came to offer himself as an offering for our sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Our righteousness is fulfilled in Jesus. His perfection becomes our perfection when we take him by faith. This is why he says to abide in Him. John 15:4

Matthew 5:48 ESV

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

How did Jesus fulfill the law? By offering himself as atonement for our sin. This is how our righteousness becomes more than that of the Pharisee’s. It is not from ourselves but it is a gift from God.

Luke 24:44-49 ESV

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Matthew 5:17-20 ESV

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

“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. 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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Romans 7:5-6 ESV

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

This is why I believe that the law is fulfilled in Jesus. The scriptures testify to this.

  • Thanks for your answer @Mr.Dave. Could you please edit your answer by elaborating on only the last paragraph. You say that Jesus fulfilled the law by offering Himself as atonement for our sin. Why do you think this is the answer? How does He fulfill the law by doing this?
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 13:02

The following verses in Luke 16 sound a lot to me like it 'rhymes' with Matt. 5:17-20. Jesus says:

16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Lk. 16:17 echoes Matt. 5:18 and Lk. 16:18 echoes Matt. 5:19 (by breaking this commandment and condoning that others marry the divorced wife, you are in essence breaking what you deem the least commamdment and teaching others to do the same).

In both Matthew 5 and Luke 16 we find the term 'law and the prophets' and then a reference to breaking one of the commandments.

Now let's look at Matt. 22:35-40 where we again find the term 'law and prophets':

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So Jesus here makes it clear that whatever we understand the term 'law and prophets' to mean, it hangs on two commandments - love for God and love for our neighbour.

I believe that it is in this light that Jesus would have us understand what He said in Jn. 13:34:

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

So this 'new commandment' is not really new in that it adds something that was never there before, it simply takes the basic principle (love) upon which the 'law and prophets' hang and puts it in a new light.

A similar thing was done by Jesus when He said that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This could be seen as a new commandment since the ten commandments only speak of the actual deed as being sin and not the look merely.

It is however not a new commandment but merely the logical extension of the principle of unselfish love that underlies the entire law. If you truly loved God so supremely, you would not even look at a woman that way.

I hope you can see how simply Jesus fulfills the 'law and the prophets' by living a life that only breathed supreme love for God and impartial love for His neighbour.

I realise there are many other aspects that could be spoken of i.t.o. Him fulfilling 'the law and the prophets', I just wanted to bring out the often overlooked moral fulfillment aspect in my answer.

I believe this to be what Jesus was saying in the context of Matt. 5:17-20. He speaks there of not breaking the least of the commandments and teaching others so as well as to have a righteousness (law keeping) that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Remember His contention with this same group in Mk. 7:13 where He said:

13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

They basically broke the least commandment and taught others so and in this sense had a righteousness that needed to be exceeded by all who would be part of His kingdom.

Jesus does not have such practices when it comes to 'the law and the prophets' and that is why He says He did not come to destroy it. He respects and obeys the fundamental principle of the 'law and prophets' and thus fulfills it.


I have structured my argument as outlined below, which in large grounded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, & 7) and formulated around tree core topics in the teachings of Jesus alone:

A. ‘WILL of God’ (WG)

B. ‘Rules of Righteousness’ (RR)

C. ‘Eternal Life’ (EL) in the Heavenly Kingdom of God (HKG)

Only those who do the WILL of God will get into the Kingdom of God (not those who say Lord, Lord ... don't even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father!) as it is concluded at the end of the Sermon (Matthew 7:21-27).

Doing WILL of God requires a profound full engagement with the world and the strive for accumulation of treasures in the Heaven by putting into practice the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as Rules of Righteousness or engagement, which

• would ultimately lead to Eternal Life of the ‘individual’ human agents --- that itself IS the WILL of God, while

• makes this world progressively a better place for all beings live in justice and peace--- that itself IS the WILL of God as well.

Sinlessness or passive ad hoc engagement alone will not lead to fulfilment of WILL of God. The agent ought to possess active and sincerely motivated engagement. In other words, it is not only about staying away from sexual immorality, deception, stealing, murder, etc. but it is about full realization of the power of God-given faculties (Conative, Affective, and Cognitive) in production of best fruits.

Prayers, remembering, fasting, rituals, etc. are means and not an end, such that their practice could strengthen the will of the agent and maintain her will in alignment with the WILL of God over a life course of engagement and practicing RR.

In the Sermon Jesus not only affirms RR but also is transcending/upgrading and making them tougher to practice! Narrow and rough is the road that leads to Life--- shifting self-interest to common interest--- "Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, … Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven (Matt 6:19-20). Nevertheless, "Don't be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom, sell your possessions and give to those in need (Luke 12:32-33).

The new formulation of RR as living a joyful ethical life and for the satisfaction of God, eradicates the fear of sin-game which was the road of priests to collecting treasure for themselves: feeding Yahweh his food and satisfying him with the pleasant aroma of burning fat! “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice”.

And why am I putting my eggs in the basket of Jesus alone? Because in Prophetic discourses, paradigm shift to the Kingdom of God and the urge for attainment of Eternal life was clearly proclaimed by simultaneous Testimony of ‘two’ living Prophets: John the Baptist and Jesus.


  • I am not arguing about any conception or any form of kingdom in this world/earth, whatsoever, and for now I am indifferent to it for the sake of not provoking unnecessary factional zeal!

  • Eternal Life is only possible in atemporal/timeless realm. In a temporal world, where soon or later will end, any claim of Eternal Life is a false proposition.

  • The irony is that the lack of distinction between the function of The Spirit in this world and the Heavenly Kingdom of God created a lot of awkward confusion. For a short and simple explanation please see here:


I aimed to make it hopefully short and clean for ‘understanding’. Having these words in mind, you may reread the Sermon along with parallel verses and SEE if it makes sense! I’ll provide some sample verses in another post in a few days.


Notice the expression "the law or the prophets". This refers to the first two major divisions of the Bible.

The law is the Torah, the five books of Moses. This is where God's commandments and festivals, are defined.

Those festivals served the purpose of symbolizing God's plan for humanity. For instance, Isaac was saved from death by the sacrifice of a sheep, at the original Passover the Israelites were saved from death by the shedding of sheep's blood, and each year the feast of Passover commemorates this event. For Christians, this is an annual reminder that it was Jesus that acted as the lamb, shedding his own blood to save mankind from death.

Jesus's death fulfilled this typology in the Torah.

Similarly, many prophets repeatedly predicted that a Messiah would arise to save Israel and all mankind.

Again, Jesus was claiming that he was the fulfillment of these predictions of the Prophets.

  • Actually, when Jesus used the expression, "the law and the prophets", He was not speaking about particularly the "Law"(Torah) and the "Prophets", but about the Tanakh(Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim). The expression, "the law and the prophets" was a synecdoche for the entire Hebrew Bible.
    – Rajesh
    Apr 23, 2022 at 15:53

How did Jesus fulfill the law in Matt. 5:17-20?

Jesus fulfills the Law in two ways: obedience and prophecy fulfillment.

As the perfect son of God, he was born without inherited sin like Adam and his descendants (Hebrews 4:15) Without sin, Jesus was able to follow the Law to the greatest degree.

The article "Should You Keep the Weekly Sabbath" in the Watchtower February 1, 2010 issue uses an illustration that can show us how Jesus fulfilled the Law:

But what does the expression “to fulfill” mean? To illustrate: A builder fulfills a contract to complete a building, not by ripping up the contract, but by finishing the structure. However, once the work has been completed to the client’s satisfaction, the contract is fulfilled and the builder is no longer under obligation to it. Likewise, Jesus did not break, or rip up, the Law; rather, he fulfilled it by keeping it perfectly. Once fulfilled, that Law “contract” was no longer binding on God’s people.

Additionally, Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers also shows Jesus' obedience to the Law:

Not . . . to destroy, but to fulfil.—Explained by the immediate context, the words would seem to point chiefly to our Lord’s work as a teacher. He came to fill up what was lacking, to develop hints and germs of truth, to turn rules into principles. Interpreted on a wider scale, He came to “fulfil the Law and prophets,” as He came “to fulfil all righteousness” (3:15) by a perfect obedience to its precepts, to fulfil whatever in it was typical of Himself and His work by presenting the realities.

Coming as the foretold Messiah, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of both the Law and Prophets.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17) Or, as Today’s English Version renders the last sentence: “I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.” Since Jesus came to make the teachings of the prophets come true, his coming was a guarantee that their prophecies concerning the restoration of paradise on earth would be fulfilled. (Watchtower April 15, 1981)

I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil — He fulfilled in himself all those predictions of the prophets which had been uttered Concerning the Messiah, and he explained, illustrated, and established the moral law, in its highest meaning, both by his life and doctrine; and by his merits and Spirit he provided, and still provides, for its being effectually fulfilled in and by his followers. (Benson Commentary)

[Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

  • In your answer you say: Once fulfilled, that Law “contract” was no longer binding on God’s people. This is how I understood it for years until someone told me that it is just sophisticated way of saying Jesus did away with the law - and I agree, it is. Look, don't get me wrong. I do believe that Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to them that believe, but what I am seeking with this question is an opportunity to help others to see that they are reading 'fulfilled' as meaning that Jesus in some way stopped the law - it does not make sense in the context that Jesus had said it.
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 19:23
  • The Law covenant was a set of laws; do this or don't do this. It was built on the principle of love that Jesus taught (Matthew 2236-40). If we obey the law of the Christ, basically applying love to our daily living, we are also obeying in principle the Law given by Moses.
    – agarza
    Apr 23, 2022 at 19:42
  • Okay, now you are spot on. Would you agree that it is quite handy to have a written law as Christians so we have at least a rudimentary clarification by God of the 10 areas in which He wants our love for Him and for our neighbour to grow?
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 20:03
  • That is what the whole Bible is for (2 Timothy 3:15, 16).
    – agarza
    Apr 23, 2022 at 20:57

If Jesus is a Davidic Prince & potential King of Israel, then the Torah (specifically [Deuteronomy 4-30] ) should be his Law.

For Davidic Princes, “The-Law” (νόμος) discussed in [Matthew 5:17] was “Ha-Torah” (הַתּוֹרָה) required by God for an Israeli King in [Deuteronomy 17:18-19]:

He [Israeli King] shall read It [Torah] all the days of his life, so that he may learn : to fear YHVH his-God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them. ( וְקָ֥רָא ב֖וֹ כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑יו לְמַ֣עַן יִלְמַ֗ד לְיִרְאָה֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔יו לִ֠שְׁמֹ֠ר אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֞י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּ֛את וְאֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לַֽעֲשׂתָֽם )

And it will be, when he sits upon his royal throne, that he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah on a scroll from before the Levitic kohanim. (וְהָיָ֣ה כְשִׁבְתּ֔וֹ עַ֖ל כִּסֵּ֣א מַמְלַכְתּ֑וֹ וְכָ֨תַב ל֜וֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ עַל־סֵ֔פֶר מִלִּפְנֵ֖י הַכֹּֽהֲנִ֥ים הַֽלְוִיִּֽם)

Did Jesus of Nazareth keep/fulfill the Torah of the Davidic Kingship?

  • No. In [Mark 7:19] Jesus of Nazareth claimed the Torah of [Deuteronomy 14:7-19] was false regarding unclean food:
7:19 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ᾽ εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται καθαρίζον πάντα τὰ βρώματα (because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, **thus purifying all foods**)
  • Jesus in [Mark 7:19] rejected the Torah dietary prohibitions of YHVH in [Deuteronomy 14:8, Isaiah 66:17] which again stated consumption of Pig חֲזִיר was detestable to God.

Because Jesus rejected Torah (claiming all foods like Pig חֲזִיר were clean to eat), he did not keep/fulfill the law for Israel as a Davidic Prince.

  • Okay, I see. Could you perhaps answer the question too? I would like to hear your thoughts on how Jesus fulfills the law.
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 13:04
  • @AndriesStander - Since Jesus the Nazarene in [Mark 7:19] rejected the Torah (Law) of kosher food [Deuteronomy 14:7-19], then he did not come to fulfill the Torah for Israel. Apr 23, 2022 at 16:48
  • Okay. How does He reject kosher food according to Mark 7:19? I do not understand.
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 19:56
  • @AndriesStander - Jesus in [Mark 7:19] rejected the Torah dietary prohibitions of YHVH in [Deuteronomy 14:8, Isaiah 66:17] which again stated consumption of Pig חֲזִיר was detestable to God. Apr 23, 2022 at 20:39
  • Jesus never ate pig and neither did He teach His disciples to do so. That is why I also don't eat pork.
    – user49416
    Apr 23, 2022 at 20:46

Depending on the interpreter, one reads the famous (and much misquoted) passage in Matt 5:17-19 in different ways. People either read it as:

  • "I have come to fulfill the law" - meaning that the law is no longer applicable, OR,
  • "I have not come to abolish the law" - meaning all the law is still applicable

Neither position is correct and does not grasp what Jesus was saying. Note the full content of what was said.

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 I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

So, what did Jesus mean by "fulfill the law"? It is quite easy. Law in the OT had no meaning unless it related to a covenant and there were five divine covenants in the OT that Jesus quotes:

  • The Old Israelite/moral Covenant is eternal (1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8)
  • The Levitical Covenant is eternal (Lev 24:8, Num 25:10-13, Ps 106:30)
  • The Davidic Covenant is eternal (2 Sam 23:5, 1 Kings 9:5, 2 Chron 13:5, Eze 37:25, 26)
  • The Abrahamic Covenant is eternal (Gen 17:9, 13, 19)
  • The Noahide Covenant is eternal (Gen 9:16)

Jesus fulfilled these covenants in the following way:

  • Jesus was the king of Israel and thus fulfilled the Davidic covenant, Luke 1:33-35, John 1:49.
  • Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant by being the promised seed of the woman, Gal 3:15-29, especially v16.
  • Jesus fulfilled the Levitical covenant by becoming High Priest of the New Covenant, Heb 8:1, 2
  • Jesus fulfilled the Old, moral, Israelite covenant by being the first to keep the moral law perfectly and enabling us to become "sons of God", Gal 3:15-29 and spiritual Israelites, Rom 9:6-8. Thus also means that Jesus enabled all people, who by faith accept Jesus as Messiah, become heirs of the promises made under the Israelite covenant, Gal 3:29, Heb 6:17, 11:9, Eph 3:6, Rom 8:17, etc.

Indeed, Heb 8:10, 10:16 (and Rom 2:15)babout "writing the law on their hearts" directly quotes the Old covenant in Jer 31;33 which reads literally, "write the Torah on their hearts" (see also Prov 7:3, etc.)


15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deuteronomy 18)

Prophet like Moses is a unique prophet. He is like Moses because he is going to bring a law. A new one. That is one of the commandments given to Israel through Moses. It is part of the Torah. So Moses himself prophesied about the time when his law is going to be replaced with a new one. Matthew through his gospel pictured Jesus as the new Moses. Story after story he shows that the life of Moses was a shadow of the Messiah. The sermon on the mount of Matthew 5 hyperlinks with the law of Sinai and signals the change.

As an example: 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5)

3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her. 6 “If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her. 9 “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her. 10 “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing.” (Numbers 30)

Father above is a picture of God. Woman is a picture of Israel who took a vow to keep the law of Moses (Exodus 19:8, 20:19 & 24:7-8). Husband is a picture of Christ that took the punishment for nullifying woman's vow. Since Jesus nullified that vow, He forbade His people from swearing new ones.

The second point is that if God wanted all the peoples to keep the Torah now, He wouldn't destroy the temple some forty years after the crucifixion. Since a massive chunk of the law relied on the temple services, it doesn't make any sense to claim that the law is still binding. Even if the temple was standing, the laws requiring every believing man to travel three times a year to Jerusalem would be impossible. Besides, Jesus Himself told the Samaritan woman that it was going to change.

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4)

As a shadow of the work of Jesus Christ, Joshua ben Nun (Jesus the son of the fish – another hyperlink this time also to the book of Johna) brings the second generation of the Israelites that was uncircumcised and free from the law of Moses (the Sinai vow wasn't binding on all younger than 20 years old, Numbers 14:28-31 & Deuteronomy 1:39) to the promised land (Joshua 3). They entered because of the faithfulness of their leader and Kaleb, who picture faithfulness of Christ. The Israelites were circumcised while already in the land (Jushua 5), and only there in Shechem („shoulder”) took upon themselves the yoke of the law (Joshua 8). Moses as a symbol of the law did not enter the land of the promise.

Notice also that the New Jerusalem is not built on Moses and the Torah, but on the good news of Jesus spread by the apostles:

14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21)

Jesus is a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah. The law of Moses allowed only the priests from the tribes of Levy. That again proves that the law has been changed.

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ” 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7)

In Genesis 25 we read: 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.

Septuagint uses here the same Greek word for fulfil that Matthew in 5:17, πληρόω. The fulfilment of the pregnancy is the child. The fulfilment of the law is the Messiah. Israel in the OT is called by God His treasured possession, His segulah. Segulah - feminine passive participle of an unused root meaning to shut up; wealth (as closely shut up) -- jewel, peculiar (treasure), proper good, special. So Israel until the coming of Christ was a shut up treasure. And the law of Moses was their protection. It was foreshadowed in the story of Noah. Just like Israel, Noah's family was protected from death (in his case literal not spiritual) by the ark, which is another picture of Jesus. After the flood, Noah made a sacrifice on the top of mount Ararat from clean animals and the wood of the ark (shadow of Christ's atonement). Because of the sacrifice, God promised to not bring another judgement on humanity, using the same arguments that inspired Him to bring the flood (shadow of Christ's atonement). God also said:

3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Genesis 9)

Which is a shadow of the importance of the kosher diet. It may be still important because of the health benefits, but it profits only the body. And that is the biggest change that the new covenant brought. Shift from the body to the spirit. The law of Moses dealt only with the physical body. And it is unredeemable. It has to be transformed.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthans 5)

10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9)

PS: Parallel to Matthew 5:17-20 is Luke 16:16-18.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. 18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Paul explained in his Letter to Romans how Jesus freed us from the law using same marriage analogy:

1 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. 4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7)

No man can keep the law perfectly. And the law is the standard of God's righteousness. So you can't become righteous in the eyes of God through your own works. You can only do it through faith in what Jesus' fulfilled.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3)

Since we collectively are the body of Christ, Jesus cleanses and sanctifies us, because He is the head of that body.

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2)

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Collosians 1)

17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (1 Corinthians 6)

  • I strenuously disagree about these referencing a "new" law, rather than the obvious clarification of the law of Moses, but this shouldn't be -1.
    – Robert
    Aug 4, 2022 at 5:34

Under God's law, a wife is under the law of her husband until he dies. God had divorced His wife, the nation of Israel. He promised to remarry her, but that is not possible under the law. So just remarrying Israel would cause God to sin by breaking His own law. Additionally, under the law, Israel was condemned to surely die for her sins.

2 For a woman married to a living husband is bound by law; but if the husband should die, she is discharged from the law of the husband:
3 so then as the husband is living, she would be labeled an adulteress if she were found with another man; but if the husband should die, she is free from the law, she is not an adulteress being found with another man.
— Romans 7:2–3

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. >2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. >3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
— Deuteronomy 24:1–4

God died on the cross to release the divorced wife (Israel) from the law, to make her a proper widow, which allows Him to re-marry her later at the wedding feast of the Lamb, as the old law is no longer in effect since the crucifixion. The law forbidding the remarriage of the divorced woman who went on to remarry a second husband is no longer in effect, and Yahweh can now remarry Israel without breaking any laws. Until the consummation of the new marriage between Yahweh and Israel, we only live under the basic laws given to all of creation and mankind that were not specific to Israel.

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:32

As Jesus was saying elsewhere most of his audience simply had deficient understanding of the Torah and the prophets and also the power of God:

You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God (Matt. 22:29).

What Jesus probably alluding in the verse in question is that the nature of revelation is progressive: a process.

That is, new revelation should not come at the expense of the previous revelations. Jesus, as he says most clearly (how can it be said more clearer I don't know), that not one iota from the law should be changed.

But, the Law is not everything. the Law is not the final word of God - something that the Sadducees clearly did not understand; this is most-evident if one reads some verses from the prophets, like some from Isiah and Jeremiah.

From that context it is clear both what Jesus meant by the word fulfill; and why he had to say this in the first place. The New revelation that Jesus brought does not mean the destruction of the previous one as one might think. rather the clearer manifestation of more cryptic reference of what was already brought in the Torah and the prophets.

In reply to the OP self answer to the question, I would say it is correct that Jesus was critical to the Pharisees in their "understating" of the Law. But I suspect this is not what Jesus refers to here; for two reasons: First, Jesus here and there does quote the Torah and point out that the understating of the Law mentioned in Torah is wrong (like the Sabbath) - so why they should think he was to abolish the Law? Second, it is quite clear that the revelation of Jesus had to do more than in fixing the wrong interpretation of the Law (this is ,in fact, basically what Jesus says here...Lest people will think this new revelation came in the expense of the Law; Jesus did not come to abolish the Law.)

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:33

Both John the Baptist and Jesus categorically reject the religious institution of the time and confront their mob that bug them systematically. Jesus is simply disarming them by saying don’t panic, [True] teachings of previous Prophets do not go anywhere as John and Jesus themselves promoting the same thing--- living an ethical life--- though both emphasize the strive for eternal life by producing fruit (not just caring about big issues such as killing and burning animals and striving for their own share!)

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. Maybe you can elaborate and give references of why you answered thus.
    – user49416
    Apr 24, 2022 at 19:13
  • You are welcome. Sure I 'll do it tomorrow.
    – EarthCare
    Apr 24, 2022 at 19:21

Jesus came to ‘fulfil’ – clearly means to continue the laws of what had gone before and not change – Matt 5:18 – not ‘one jot’ will be changed. Jesus was a Jew and followed the laws as did his mother and lineage – including David and Abraham – Jesus being the seed of Abraham – it is unconceivable that he would not follow the laws.

He came to reaffirm the law and put the Israelites back on the correct path.

Matthew 15:24 “ I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The statement Matt 5:17-20 is so clear it is beyond doubt.

The changes came after Jesus by others in particular Paul.

confirmed again and again

Matthew 28:20 - 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Genesis 17:10 - 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you:

James 2:20 - 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

James 2:8-11 - If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker

Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

James 2:8: "If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well."

John 14:15: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."

“Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law” (John7:19)

Neh. 10:29 29joined with their relatives and their leaders. They entered into an oath—enforced by a curse—to walk in God’s Law that was given through God’s servant Moses, and to be careful to obey all of the commands of the Lord, our Lord, as well as his regulations and statutes:

Acts 21:21-24 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. Acts 21:25-26 - 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.

Paul never disputed this in front of the other disciples, but after made his own Gospel according to himself.

2 Timothy 1:11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.

1 Corinthians 9:22 - 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

(basically he will say whatever he needs to gain favour – right or wrong doesn’t matter)

Revelation 2:14-16 - 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Clearly we are meant to follow the laws as did Jesus and not follow other teachers like Paul as thee is only One Teacher

Matthew 23:8–12 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.