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"I Have Not Come to Abolish the Law" - What Did Jesus Mean?


I have not come to abolish the law

What did Jesus mean when he said, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”?


At our church, we teach that the Bible does not suggest that Christians are obligated to “keep” the Ten Commandments in order to “keep their salvation” or for any other reason.


I don’t believe we must obey any Old Covenant laws.


Our genuine faith in Jesus makes us suitable, and yielding to that leads us to good works.


I am pleased that many churches seem to grasp this concept, although the waters are still muddied in many places.


Once I share these facts, there is always a common, resounding “but” to them, which goes like this:


“But Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law!”


Some believers base this argument on this famous passage:


Matthew 5:17-18 ESV

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.


What did Jesus mean by this statement? Does this mean that we are still required to keep the law?


I Have Not Come to Abolish the Law - “Abolish” and “Fulfill” - What Do They Mean?


First, look at the Greek meanings behind “abolish” and “fulfill.”


“Abolish” is the Greek word καταλύω (kataluó), and it just means to destroy.


So, yes, Jesus said that he didn’t come to destroy the law.


But the actual confusion comes from the meaning of “fulfill.”


Many people like to quote the first part of Jesus’ statement and say that since he didn’t intend to “abolish” the law, it is still “in effect” to some degree.


But still, he also said he came to “fulfill” it. One could easily argue back with a surface understanding of that word and say, “Since he fulfilled it, we don’t have to keep the law.”


However, it’s always good to dig a bit deeper.


“Fulfill” is the Greek word πληρόω (pléroó), and there are many possibilities for the meaning:


  • Translated as accomplish 1x in the New Testament

  • Translated as complete 1x in the New Testament

  • Translated as finish 1x in the New Testament

  • Translated as filled 16x in the New Testament

  • Translated as fulfill 20x in the New Testament

  • Translated as fully preach 1x in the New Testament

  • Translated as made full 5x in the New Testament


It is best to translate it as “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17, as most translations do, which just means to “bring to completion” or to “carry out.”


Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law but to complete it.


For now, try not to pay attention to verse 18 about “heaven and earth” passing away. We’ll deal with that part in a moment.


Here’s What We Can Learn From These Greek Definitions


Verse 17 says that he didn’t destroy the law, but he fulfilled the law.


What do you think of when you hear that statement? How would you explain it in your own words?


I would say it like this:


I am sitting at a desk taking a test. Jesus comes in and says, “I’m going to bring your test to completion.”


He then moves me out of the way, sits down, and completes the test, making a perfect score.


Notice he didn’t come in and “destroy” the test by tearing it up and saying, “It is no more.”


When he says that he “fulfilled” the law, I would say that it consists of three things:


1. He fulfilled it by living it perfectly and being without sin:


2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


2. He fulfilled the law by bringing it to its ultimate standard.


Preaching the ultimate standard of the law means he didn’t teach and do the law precisely as Moses wrote it. For example, Jesus said this:


Matthew 5:27-28

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


The law says that you can’t commit adultery, but Jesus revealed the truth behind this law - God doesn’t even want you to look at a woman lustfully!


Another example would be Jesus’ refusal to stone the woman who was caught in adultery. The law said the people should stone her, but that’s not what Jesus did.


He showed the proper intention and full standard of the law - to be perfect.


3. He fulfilled the law by being the ultimate sacrifice for sin and ending sacrifices.


Romans 8:3-4

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


When Jesus died, he completed the requirements of the law. Now, all we have to do is be “in Jesus,” and those requirements will be met in us.


Yes, Jesus did not simply destroy or remove it out of the way when he was alive on the earth. But he did complete it.


The truth remains—the law is not in effect because Christ has completed it.


Did He Abolish the Law or Did He Not?


If you’d like to go deeper with this, there is an argument we can make that goes like this:


While Jesus was preaching on the earth, he did not abolish the law. But when he died, his death did abolish the law.


Ephesians 2:14-16

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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.


When Jesus died, the New Covenant began, and he voided the Old Covenant (law).


However, the law was lingering on a bit. He abolished it, meaning it was “rendered useless.”


But it would not be “completely” removed out of the way until the Day of the Lord, which occurred in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.


Hebrews 8:13

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.


Notice how the writer refers to the law as “obsolete” and “becoming obsolete.” It’s kind of an oxymoron, but both were true during this time.


Here’s what we can make of all this:


Jesus’ earthly ministry was not to abolish the law immediately but to fulfill it, which means that he revealed its true intentions, raised its standard, and, at times, even taught plainly from it.


In the end, his death fulfilled and abolished the law.


But there was also a 40-year lingering period after Jesus died, during which the law was still hovering over the New Covenant.


The law was removed entirely in AD 70, and there is now only the New Covenant of Grace.


Final Truths About the Law


At this point, it is essential to see some truths about this old law:


Truth 1: The law has been made obsolete by Jesus’ death.


Hebrews 8:13

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.


Truth 2: Christ is the end of the law.


Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.


Truth 3: The Christian is not under the law.


Romans 6:14

For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law but under grace.


Truth 4: If you try to live by the law, you’re under a curse.


Galatians 3:10

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”


Truth 5: We are released from the law and the Ten Commandments.


Romans 7:6-8

6 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. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.


But What About Heaven and Earth Passing Away?


Now, I know you have questions about verse 18:


Matthew 5:17-18

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.


You might think, “The last time I checked, heaven and earth were still around. Therefore, the law has not passed away, and we should still obey it.”


That is a fair argument.



Let me know what you think about this article in the comments below!

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