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These two passages seem to be a pretty solid contradiction:

14 For he himself is our peace who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:14-15)

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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

And this apparent contradiction is not over some small minor detail. All throughout the epistles, it is made explicitly clear that we are no longer under Mosaic ceremonial law. I know that Christ fulfilling the law could possibly mean that we can obey the law by obeying and believing in him but he seems to go out of his way in Matthew to explain that we are to follow the commandments. And there are apparently 613 commandments.

Isn't Paul, in his epistles, "relaxing the least of these commandments" and "teaching others to do the same"?

I looked at the Greek words for "abolish" in both passages and that has yielded no information that would resolve the contradiction.

Thanks in advance for any insight.

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3 Answers 3

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Consider this:

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. (Matthew 5)

28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. 29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19)

Even though the heaven and the earth haven't passed, we live as if it already happened. It is so called already but not yet reality of the kingdom of God before Christ's return.

17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5)

Like Michael16 said, Paul wrote in Ephesian 2:15 that the law was made of no effect. In the moment of His death, Christ fulfilled the law. A shift from physical to spiritual in God's dealing with us took place.

3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (...) 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8)

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (1 Corinthans 15)

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (Galatians 5)

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross [Jesus' human body]; (Colossians 2)

In contrast, the law of Moses was all about the physical body.

8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9)

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; (Ephesians 2)

That shift from flesh to spiritual (independent of the physical body) was foreseen by prophets. Isaiah in example talks in 56:3-5 about future times when the eunuch would be a part of the people of God. Even though it was prohibited by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:1), since he was physically impossible to circumcise.

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  • Difficult to choose only one answer from that which has been contributed thus far but this one is really enlightening so i feel obliged to give it a check mark. Thank you so much. Commented May 6, 2022 at 23:54
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The reason why Jesus came was to "save his people from their sins" as the angel told Joseph, when instructing him to proceed with his marriage to Mary (Matthew 1:20-21).

In John's gospel this is confirmed with the statement, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:16-17). That is why Jesus spoke truth when he said that he had not come to abolish the law. That was not the purpose of his mission. That was to save his people from their sin, which was the goal of the law; it was to point his people to him as their only means of being saved. The law was a shadow of the greater, saving reality - Christ.

He came first to his own people, so that the Jewish nation was given the first hearing of the gospel. Yet that did not prevent the Gentile nations also getting to hear it, next, otherwise, how could the world be saved? This shows that while one statement is true, a wrong conclusion could be arrived at with a seemingly contradictory statement. Jesus coming to save the Jewish people was just as true as how his coming also enabled the Gentile people to be saved - "the world" - if they put faith in him.

The same applies to this matter: a wrong conclusion can be arrived at if one supposes (wrongly) that accomplishing the purpose of the law equates with demolishing it. No, both serve their purpose. The law had to come first so that by the time the Messiah came, the contrast would be like light suddenly shining in dark regions (Matthew 4:16), being seen by those sincerely seeking to know God. That is why John said that John the Baptist testified to the coming of the Light of the World, Jesus: "For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:7-17).

The law had to come first. It did. It served its purpose, pointing to Christ as its fulfillment. He came to fulfill that law, and he did. What Paul was speaking of in Ephesians 2 was no contradiction, for he was showing that Christ's mission succeeded in bringing the Gentiles peace with God, breaking down the legal partition that kept them apart from God's people, the Jews. Simply looking at the context of chapter 2 shows that. Verse 11 onward shows that the Gentiles were

"aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby and came and preached peace to you which were afar off [Gentiles], and to them that were nigh [Jews]." Ephesians 2:11-17 [Bold mine]

That section in Ephesians shows Christ fulfilling his mission to save his people (the Jews) from their sins, which also resulted in abolishing the division between them and the Gentiles (the world). He abolished the enmity (which was causing the division). There is no contradiction.

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  • I really like your answer. A lot. I'm still left wondering about why Christ went into specifics by saying that "...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..." If he fulfills the laws and we don't need to follow mosaic ceremonial laws and faith in Christ usurps the need for following the law then what does he mean by not relaxing one of the least of these laws? I have a vague notion of what it could mean but i don't want to give my perspective because it could be leading. Commented May 6, 2022 at 21:34
  • @Arcane Human Jesus spoke those words to Jews who were obliged to keep all of that Mosaic law. He said that not one letter or smallest stroke of the pen would disappear 'until everything is accomplished'. He had yet to accomplish that. His death and resurrection was still future, therefore the Jews he spoke to should never break even 'the least of these commandments' or teach anyone to do that. He then warned that some apparently meticulous keepers of that law were not righteous and would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Hope that helps.
    – Anne
    Commented May 8, 2022 at 13:38
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Eph 2:14-15 NLT

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.

SBL Greek New Testament

14 αὐτὸς γάρ ἐστιν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν, ὁ ποιήσας τὰ ἀμφότερα ἓν καὶ τὸ μεσότοιχον τοῦ φραγμοῦ λύσας, τὴν ἔχθραν ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ αὐτοῦ, 15 τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασιν καταργήσας, ἵνα τοὺς δύο κτίσῃ ἐν [a]αὑτῷ εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον ποιῶν εἰρήνην,

Matt 5:17 NLT

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

Matt 5:17 SBL Greek New Testament

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι·

The word in Eph 2:15 καταργήσας G2673 doesn't really mean "abolish"; abolish is the secondary meaning of the word. Thayer lexicon states:

  1. to render idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative
  • to cause a person or thing to have no further efficiency
    - to deprive of force, influence, power
  1. to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish
  • to cease, to pass away, be done away
    - to be severed from, separated from, discharged from, loosed from any one
    - to terminate all intercourse with one

So the better translation is annulled, nullified or end, like NET

[Eph 2:14-15 NET] For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace,

The word #2647 - καταλύω has a specific negative connotation of destroying, breaking down. From the root word to loosen λύω. You should understand that Paul is arguing about the nullification of the law. The hostile breaking is used in v14 for the barrier λύσας, having broken down, which has been done through Christ's flesh which broke down in death, and the law was consequently nullified. There is no hostile breaking down of the law, but only legitimate accomplishment of the purpose of the law, which rendered it illegal and useless thereafter. The law only worked or provided righteousness until the coming of the seed. See Romans 10:4-5, Galatians 3:23-25.

Paul never violated the Torah, he rightly taught that the law has been finished, and its old covenant is mutually exclusive to the new, thus, it is evident that no one is justified by the law any more. If one wants to be justified by the law, he is cut off from the grace covenant, since grace means liberation from the law. To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due; but now, justification is given without the Mosaic law-works. God justifies freely by his grace as gift through faith. No longer by the law, but by faith in Christ.

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  • Thank you. This is helpful as are the links you provided. I'm still wondering about the explicit nature of Christ saying that he who "relaxes the least of these commandments...." From my base of understanding i would assume that he is implying that through faith in him we adhere to every jot and letter of mosaic ceremonial laws without having to explicitly follow the written law. Ie. we don't have to sacrifice animals according to the law, or avoid unclean food because by believing in Christ our faith fulfills these laws somehow. But i don't have much to support that interpretation. Commented May 6, 2022 at 18:53
  • That verse pertains to the full obedience to the law as it required. Nobody can opt to ignore some commands as James 2:10. Coz people were relaxing the law. After finishing the law the verse about the law doesn't apply anymore. Faith in Christ doesn't mean fulfilling the Mosaic law as substitute but nobody is required to keep the Mosaic law as I explained. We fulfill the spirit of the law by following Christ, bec it's spirit or gist rested upon the love and submission to God. We fulfill the vital principle of love your neighbour. We are not fulfilling the covenantal law vicariously.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 3:09
  • We uphold the law through faith in Christ bec the the law (& prophets) itself requires us to believe the Messiah, his new covenant. Search existing ques on Rom 3:31 or related verses. Torah has been replaced by a superior covenant. Nobody can keep the dead old covenant.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 3:19

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