An on-going argument: How "non-Jesus" was Paul, really?

Part TWO

[draft Feb 16/1998]

Our writer continues...

Paul's departure from the teachings of the prophets was further highlighted by difference over the Law itself. The purpose of the Law, according to Paul, was to control the evil and was in no way of benefit to the good.

"We know, of course that the Law is good, but only provided it is treated like any law, in the understanding that laws are not framed for people who are good. On the contrary, they are for criminals and revolutionaries, for the irreligious and wicked, for the sacrilegious and irreverent: they are for people who kill their fathers or mothers and for murderers, for those who are immoral with women or with boys or with men, for liars and for perjurers - and for everything else that is contrary to the sound teaching that goes with the Good News of the glory of the blessed God, the gospel that was entrusted to me." (1 Tim 1:8-11)  

Now, the main problem here is that our Muslim friend has grossly oversimplified Paul's view. The Law is a very manifold subject, involving everything from prophetic predictions of the Messiah, rules for conduct of the Israelites (which varied a little over time), moral principles, and the pre-Law history of the Patriarchs.


Students of Paul over the years have found several different ways he, like Jesus, uses the word 'law' in his writings, and to understand his position requires asking 'which meaning' is in view in each passage. For example, consider the following passages:


1. The Moral Law (Rom 2.14): For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. And (Rom 13.8-10): Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.

2. The commandments that were part of the Mosaic covenant (Rom 2.25): For indeed circumcision is of value, if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision

3. The 5 books of Moses (Gal 4.21): Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman

4. The entire written Tanakh/OT (I Cor 14.20): In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. [quoting Is 28.11f].


Some of Paul's statements about the Law reflect his in-depth knowledge of the very robust and multi-dimensional character of the Law:

Now, it should be obvious from this very brief listing, that Paul had a very high view of the Law.

    1. His adjectives-holy, good, righteous, spiritual, intended for life
    2. His appeal to it for moral instruction.
    3. His arguments to show that it was fulfilled in the life of the believer.
    4. His heartfelt commitment to it

But at the same time, he saw that it had a specific role in the plan of God:

    1. It was to lead us to Christ.
    2. It was to allow us to "die" to it
    3. At least the ceremonial aspects of it were abolished by Christ, to create unity and peace between Jew and Gentile (an expression of love and mercy)
    4. It was allowed by God to be "used" by evil to make humanity's need for grace obvious to all.
    5. It was somehow "completed" in the life and death of Christ


Although I cannot do a thorough exposition of how Paul put all of this together, neither is it my purpose to do so. All I am trying to do here is demonstrate that Paul had a very 'high' and positive view of the Law, and these verses certainly demonstrate this. This is certainly a 'high view' of the Law. But how does it compare to other views among the early church? Let's look at a couple of verses from other NT figures--Peter, John, James, the writer to the Hebrews:

Peter the Apostle: And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (in Acts 15.7) [Note how his view seems closer to the 'negative' view often ascribed to Paul!!!]

John, son of Zebedee, a Jewish apostle: For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (in John 1.17) [Note the radical contrast drawn here!]

James, the brother of the Lord, at the Jerusalem Council: Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."...and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 "Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 "Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell." (in Acts 15.17ff) [Note how he is VERY clear that the Gentiles do not need to keep the Mosaic law!)]

And, in his epistle, his references to the Law are NOT to the Mosaic commandments, but to the New Covenant "Law"--the Law of Love that sums up the Mosaic requirements.

Notice the reference to the "implanted word" as the context for the 'law of liberty' in James 1.19-25:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.

[Peter makes the same reference to the 'implanted word' in 1 Peter 1.22f: Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For, "All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord abides forever." And this is the word which was preached to you...this implanted word is the Gospel and its new commandment to 'love one another', and the same emphasis on 'the heart' is present.]

James again, in 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. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" sounds JUST LIKE PAUL in Romans 13:8ff: "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." I certainly cannot see any difference between these two alleged 'opponents'!!! They are both echoing the teachings of Jesus in Matt 22.39.

James again, in 4.11ff: "Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?"...Notice that this is again very, very similar to Paul in Romans 14.1ff: "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God." And this is the Judgement Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5.10): "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Both Paul and James are talking about the New Covenant Law of Christ. Compare Jesus in John 8.32: "Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Jesus' words were the "Law of Liberty".

The Writer to the Hebrews--very, very Jewish:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. (Heb 8.7) [Notice the same theme of Paul--that the God of the New Covenant found something 'wanting' in the Old Covenant.]

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Heb 8.13) [Notice the time element...the Law was not actually 'abolished' but 'obsoleted' by a NEW Law.]

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.(Heb 7.11) [Notice that he explicitly argues that there was a 'change of Law' with Christ!]

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Heb 7.19f) [Notice--the Law made NOTHING perfect, and it was 'set aside' because of its weakness...Cf. Paul in Romans 8.3-5: For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.)

The point should be very, very clear from this...

Paul's view is no higher, lower, or even much different from the other NT authors...


Paul's view of the Law is difficult to understand. It is as if he hated what what been revealed by God and reiterated by the Prophets of Israel right down until the Gospel of Jesus.

Well, I think I have shown above that this statement is simply mistaken. And the slur about Paul 'hating' the revelation of God is simply that--an unfounded, undocumented slur. We have seen above a very high view of the Law by Paul, and seen basic continuity between him and the other NT writers. So our Muslim friend's statement here can be dismissed.


The essence of the Law was clear. It involved recognition of the sovereignty of God:

"Listen Israel: Yahweh our God is the one Yahweh. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising; you shall fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet; you shall write them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates." (Deut 6:4-9)

This constant remembrance of God was the core of the individual's and the society's progress towards holiness, giving rise to an ever deepening consciousness of justice and righteousness amongst the people.

Unfortunately, our friend has committed a common exegetical blunder--ignoring summary or "essence" statements ALREADY in the Bible. In this case we don't need to speculate what the 'essence' of the Law was--Jesus summed it up (as did later Rabbi's) quite decisively in a couple of places:

But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22.34f)

Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7.12) [The famous affirmative version of the "Golden Rule".]

And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 "The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 And the scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12.28ff)

Mind you, this was not 'rocket science'--the Prophets knew this even under the Old Law. The first major writing prophets called Israel to this. So Micah 6.6-8 in the early days of the Divided Kingdom:

With what shall I come to the Lord And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

And his contemporary, Isaiah was equally explicit in his condemnation of Israel's ritual fasting praxis (Is 58:3-9):

Why have we fasted and Thou dost not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and Thou dost not notice?' Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. 4 "Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed, And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? 6 "Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? 7 "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 "Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday.

They understood that Israel was not able to "live the spirit of the Law", even if she might could satisfy the ritual requirements of the Mosaic system. God wanted the ritual to be the expression of the heart of faith, commitment, and love.

So, the essence of the Law (depending on which "law" you mean, of course) was much more than just the 'sovereignty of God'. In fact, his statement is more than simply incomplete; it has missed the very heart of the issue. Even in the direction of God, the Law emphasized love and faith--NOT simply some 'recognition' of the sovereignty of God. The Law was after the heart-issue--not passionless duty of some sort or a sterile theology of God. God wanted a people 'zealous for good works' (Tit 2.14; 3.8; I Pet 3.13; Eph 2.10).


Under the Law, the power of a ruler, who had to be a believer, was limited. It was clear that sovereignty was not his to possess.

"...the king who you appoint to rule you must be chosen by Yahweh your God; the appointment of a king must be made from your own brothers: on no account must you appoint a king some foreigner who is not a brother of yours." "Once seated on his royal throne, and for his own use, he must write a copy of this Law on a scroll, at the dictation of the levitical priests. It must never leave him, and he must read it every day of his life and learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law and observing these rules..."(Deut 17:15-19)

It also involved establishing justice:

"You must not exploit a poor and needy wage-earner: be he one of your brothers or a foreigner resident in your community. You must pay him his wages each day, not allowing the sun to set before you do, since he, being poor, needs them badly, otherwise he may appeal to Yahweh against you, and you would incur guilt...Parents may not be put to death for their children, nor children for parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime... You must not infringe the rights of the foreigner or the orphan: you must not take a widow's clothes in pledge. Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt and that Yahweh your God redeemed you from that."(Deut 24:14-18)

The Law was intended to train the people of Israel to serve God and thus to prepare them as a light to the world. It included demands for abstention from evil and the positive cultivation of virtue. The dietary laws were associated with the notion of holiness. They were part of training in self-discipline, without which submission to God is impossible. The sacrificial cult involving expiation of religious sins was part of the cultivation of awareness that such offences created a gulf between the individual and God, erecting a barrier to the attainment of holiness.


The passages above which have to deal with rulers I have already discussed earlier, so I don't need to go into that here. And his comments on justice are certainly not disputed by me.

Even the last paragraph, even though some of the word choices could be better, is not objectionable, apart from the obvious comment that the OT sacrifices never actually 'expiated' sins, according to the writer of Hebrews:

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10.4)

And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; (Heb 10.11)

But this is a technical point not worth going into; God did forgive people in the OT, but it was apparently on the basic of the future death of the Lamb of God (cf. Rom 3.34f: "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed")


Justice and Righteousness are the fundamentals of the moral law established by God. Justice, which Epstein describes as 'the negative aspect of Holiness', involves six fundamental rights:

"These were the right to live, the right of possession, the right to work, the right to clothing, the right to shelter, and finally the right of the person, which included the right to leisure and the right to liberty, as well as prohibitions to hate, avenge or bear a grudge.

Righteousness was to manifest itself in the acceptance of duties, especially in the concern for the poor, the weak, and the helpless, whether friend or foe. It was also to show itself in the conception of earthly goods, the possession of which was to be regarded not as a natural right but as a divine trust" (Epstein p.27)

Again, I would simply point out that this understanding is perhaps too narrow, omitting positive love and forgiveness. But still it is not objectionable..


Jesus came to confirm this Law. Even later Pauline theologians could not expunge this subject from the collection of writings which became the New Testament.

Here we get into some major issues, though, so I need to go bit by bit so the reader can see this.

First, let me make a brief comment about the accusation of 'later Pauline theologians' trying to expunge this subject from the NT! It is difficult to respond to such a blanket and unsupported statement, and the only such 'group' that I am familiar with might be Marcion, the anti-semitic heretic. Marcion was uniformly declared heretical in his day, so to call him "Pauline" is absurd (although perhaps he would have loved the accolade!). He only accepted part of Paul's letters (carefully excising the pro-Law and pro-Jewish elements from them!) as well as the Gospel of Luke (also edited). Time does not permit me to go into this too much here, but suffice it to say that there were no significant Pauline movements that even attempted (or even 'wished' ) to do this, as far as we can tell. This comment is simply unfounded.


Now, about Jesus coming to 'confirm the Law'...

There are a number of issues we have to deal with concerning Jesus' relationship with the Mosaic Law, but from the data we have in the Gospel accounts, we can safely say that He did NOT come to perpetuate the Mosaic Law or Mosaic covenant. There are several MAJOR strands of evidence to support this, before we get to our Muslim friend's argument.


First of all, He explicitly said He came to inaugurate the New Covenant, which, according to the passages in the Tanakh/OT, replaced the Old Covenant.

And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22.20)

Secondly, He explicitly declared the ritual issues of food--a MAJOR component of the Mosaic Law--obsolete!

And when leaving the multitude, He had entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He *said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7.17ff)

Third, He ordered someone to disobey the Law in Matthew 8.21-22:

And another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus *said to him, "Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead."

E.P. Sanders, an expert on Pharisaic Judaism, comments about how strong this is: "What is important here is to see the force of the negative thrust: Jesus consciously requires disobedience of a commandment understood by all Jews to have been given by God...At least once Jesus was willing to say that following him superseded the requirements of piety and the Torah. This may show that Jesus was prepared to challenge, if necessary, the adequacy of the Mosaic dispensation." [Jesus and Judaism, p.254f]

Fourth, His very "I say unto you" passages, put Him 'above the Law', as the Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner goes so far as to say:

"Here is a Torah-teacher who says in his own name what the Torah says in God's name...For what kind of torah is it that improves upon the teachings of the Torah without acknowledging the source--and it is God who is the Source--of those teachings? I am troubled not so much by the message, though I might take exception to this or that, as I am by the messenger...Sages...say things in their own names, but without claiming to improve upon the Torah. The prophet, Moses, speaks not in his own name but in God's name, saying what God has told him to say. Jesus speaks not as a sage nor as a prophet...So we find ourselves...with the difficulty of making sense, within the framework of the Torah, of a teacher who stands apart from, perhaps above, the Torah...We now recognize that at issue is the figure of Jesus, not the teachings at all." [A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, p.30f]

Fifth, He declared Himself exempt from the Mosaic temple-tax:

And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" 25 He *said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26 And upon his saying, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Consequently the sons are exempt. 27 "But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me." (Matt 17.24)

Sixth, He essentially repealed the Mosaic permission of divorce (Deut 24.1):

"And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt 5.31)

They *said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" 8 He *said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matt 19.7 [Notice also that Jesus explains that at least THAT part of the Law was given 'because of sin'.])

Seventh, the Mosaic Law allowed (and even encouraged) vows (e.g., Deut 23.21). Jesus told his followers not to make oaths at all (Matt 5.33ff):

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' 34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil.

Eighth, He forbade His disciples from following the 'law of retaliation' of the OT (Matt 5.38f):

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 "But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 "And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 "And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Ninth, He forgave sins (Himself!) without requiring sacrifice (Mark 2.5ff):

And Jesus seeing their faith *said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." 6 But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, *said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Arise, and take up your pallet and walk'? 10 "But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-He *said to the paralytic- 11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." 12 And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

Tenth, He physically touched a leper, which was forbidden under Law (Matt 8.1f):

And when He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. 2 And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." 3 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Eleventh, He stayed in the home of a leper, which was supposed to be quarantined under the Law (Mark 14.3):

And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table,

Twelfth, He apparently ADDS new elements to the Law, in some cases intensifying it (Matt 5.27f):

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; 28 but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Finally, He specifically indicated that a 'change' had occurred with His appearing (Luke 16.16):

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

But, even with these rather radical departures from the Mosaic Law, Jesus generally expected people to observe the Law, as can be easily seen:

  1. He presumes the sacrificial system in Matthew 5.23ff.
  2. He taught in synagogues.
  3. He lived by the religious calendar of Judaism.
  4. He taught in the Temple.
  5. He celebrated the Passover
  6. He wore the 'fringe' of Numbers 15.38-40 on His garment (Matt 9.20)
  7. He instructed the healed leper to seek the rites of cleansing (Mark 1.44)
  8. He said the Pharisees were okay in the tithing department (e.g, "mint and dill")
  9. He instructed the people to obey their rulings.

In some cases He made the Law more intense. The heightening of demands regarding adultery and divorce indicate an intensification (a form of addition?) of the old code.

Before I go on, let me cite just a couple of remarks from scholars about Jesus' relationship to the Mosaic Law.

"If Jesus' ethical demands seem in some contexts to be stringent, in other contexts he appears to be a liberal, particularly on matters of Jewish is striking that Jesus appears to have been a rigorist in ethics and a liberal with regard to ritual. His priorities are adequately summed up in the verse form Hosea 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Hos. 6.6; Matt 9.13; 12.7)...He seems to go beyond the law in terms of ethical demand and then advocate a relatively relaxed interpretation of its ritual requirements." [PFJFC:218f]

"Only when this basic attitude of Jesus [his extensive quotes from the Tanakh/OT] has been made clear, can one assess what it means that Jesus should venture to make more radical, to criticize, indeed to supersede the words of the Torah." [Jeremias, New Testament Theology, p. 206]

"Jesus shows an apparent indifference toward certain aspects of the scriptural law.... His repeated statements that purity is an inner, not external, matter make the observance of scriptural rules of ritual purity for their own sake . . . religiously indifferent.... His attacks against the tradition are not motivated by the view that it is extrabiblical and thus lacking in authority, but by a fundamentally different conception of the will of God. Jesus did not define the will of God in terms of the careful fulfillment of scripture's statutes; for him the attitude of the heart was critical." [Westerholm, Scribal Authority, pp.90-91, cited in NT:COJ:65.

"This is not merely a matter of priorities or of repeating the prophetic message of getting back to the heart of the law-sediqa and hesed. Jesus seems to assume an authority over Torah that no Pharisee or Old Testament prophet assumed--the authority to set it aside. What is striking about the way Jesus relates to the law is that his response in the authentic material seems varied. Sometimes he affirms the validity of some portions of the law. Sometimes he intensifies the law's demands (e.g., portions of the Sermon on the Mount), a point of view that does not violate the law but goes beyond it. Sometimes he adds new material, apparently of juridical force, to the law (e.g., his teaching on adultery and divorce in Mark 10/Matthew 19). Sometimes he sets aside the Torah as he does in Mark 7:15. In short, he feels free not only to operate with a selective hermeneutic but also to add and subtract from Scripture...All of this suggests that Jesus did not see himself as a Galilean hasid or another prophet, even one like Elijah. He saw himself in a higher or more authoritative category than either of these types familiar to Jewish believers..." [NT:COG:65]

There was fundamentally something discontinuous with the Old in the life, message, and ministry of Jesus. In His famous words, our righteousness must 'exceed that' of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5.20).

But should we be surprised by this? The Mosaic law contained BOTH the ethical precepts that would be common to ANY law from God (e.g., murder, honesty, fidelity which we would expect any NEW or CHANGED or INTENSIFIED law to contain these as well--and this is exactly what we find in the Sermon on the Mount) AND the law contained the ritual elements (e.g., purity, circumcision, feast, sabbath). And we find Jesus being somewhat 'liberal' with regards to these.

The ethical demands of the Law were constant, but the ritual elements had ALREADY been modified over the preceding 1,500 years--so why should we be surprised? Consider:

1. Some of the Laws given BEFORE the Wilderness wanderings are changed in Deuteronomy to reflect the approaching settlement in the Land. For example, Exodus 20.23ff allows Israel to build altars ANYWHERE:

You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.

But Deut 12.5ff narrows this to a central sanctuary site:

But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. 6 "And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock. 7 "There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you. 8 "You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. 10 "When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, 11 then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God shall choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord. 12 "And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 "Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, 14 but in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.

2. Deuteronomy also adds several major new categories of regulations, not included in the Law given some 40-50 years earlier. An example would be the regulations about warfare (Deut 20).

3. When Israel and Judah went into exile, they were of course prevented from doing MANY of the cultic responsibilities (e.g., required trips to Jerusalem three times a year, the years of Jubilee(!), temple worship, care of the Ark). Even so, God considered many of them 'righteous' (cf. Daniel, Ezekiel).

4. After the return of some of Israel after the Exile, the regulations for caring for the Ark could not be completed because the Ark had been lost during the Captivity.

5. Under the Romans, the death penalty--part of the Mosaic law--could not be exercised by the Jewish leaders. And the millions of Jews scattered all over the world were not "required" to visit Jerusalem three times a year (although many of them did).

These restrictions and/or changes did not render Israel 'lawless' or 'lawbreakers'--God has always offered grace to those whose hearts DESIRED to serve Him fully. The leniency we see in the life of Jesus toward ritual, sabbath, and purity regulations can easily be seen in YHWH's actions in the OT/Tanakh. Consider a couple of cases in which God 'suspended' the Law, or looked past it to the heart.

1. The Law is not even 'cold' yet out of God's mouth, and He allows a major exception in the case of the High Priest!

When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining sons, and asked, 17 "Why didn't you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the LORD. 18 Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded." 19 Aaron replied to Moses, "Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?" 20 When Moses heard this, he was satisfied. (Ex 10.16ff)

2. The Passover was required to be celebrated in the 1st month of the Jewish year (Ex 12.1-2) for ALL who were prepared, but Hezekiah celebrated it in the 2nd month (2 Chron 30.2ff) and God supported it. Those unprepared were supposed to wait until the 2nd month according to the Law, but not those who WERE prepared.

For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, 3 since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem. 4 Thus the thing was right in the sight of the king and all the assembly...The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord

3. God allowed Levites (instead of just the priests) to make sacrifices in the temple cult--due to extenuating circumstances (2 Chron 29.34):

But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brothers the Levites helped them until the work was completed, and until the other priests had consecrated themselves. For the Levites were more conscientious to consecrate themselves than the priests. 35 And there were also many burnt offerings with the fat of the peace offerings and with the libations for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the Lord was established again. 36 Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly.

4. In that same Passover, God allowed Israelites who were unclean to participate (2 Chron 30.17ff):

For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites were over the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was unclean, in order to consecrate them to the Lord. 18 For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good Lord pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." 20 So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

5. In First Samuel 20.1-6, David eats bread only allowed for the priests, by Law. Jesus approves of this and uses it as an example of life-over-ceremony ethics in Matt 12.3:

But He said to them,"Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? ... 7 "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.

6. A final example is Ruth, the Moabitess. The Law said that no descendent of Moab was to be allowed into the community, but Ruth was not only accepted and honored, but was also in the lineage of Jesus.

The point of these examples is this: God was ALWAYS more interested in the Spirit than in the "Law".

Where does this leave us at this point?

1. We have seen that Jesus certainly did not 'keep the Law' in the strict sense, but acted as its superior.

2. We have seen that Jesus seems to indicate that the Law and the Prophets were being obsoleted by the appearing of John the Baptist (Lk 16.16)

3. We have seen that Jesus inaugurated the NEW Covenant by his death.

4. We have seen that Jesus added to, and subtracted from, the stipulations in the Mosaic code.

5. We have seen that Jesus concentrated on the ethical, spiritual, and inner aspects of obedience to the Law.

6. We have seen that YHWH in the Old Testament had manifested a similar attitude.


It would be exceedingly difficult to see this wide pattern of behavior as even remotely 'confirming the Law'.


Respect for the Law was so basic to his teachings that to ignore it would have rendered all else invalid. Jesus said:

"Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved." (Mat 5:17-18)

This passage is a fascinating one, but it actually contradicts our Muslim writer's position: Let me give a 'wooden' translation of the verse, so we can see the structure, then two modern translations:

"Not should you think that I came to unloose (katalusai) the Law or the Prophets; Not I came to unloose (katalusai), but on the contrary, to fulfill (plarosai). Amen, for I say unto you until (eos an) might pass away (pareltha) the heaven and the earth, iota one or one point in NO way will pass away (pareltha) from the Law until (eos an) all might come to pass (genatai)"

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (NAS)

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 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (NIV)

Let's take this one verse at a time--first let's look at verse 17 and make some observations.

1. The first thing we have to determine is which meaning of "Law" is being used here. The use of the "Prophets" over against the "Law" argues that "Law" means 'writings' in this passage (as opposed to 'set of commandments').

2. The katalusai word generally refers to 'dismantling' or 'making invalid'. It is used by Jesus about 'destroying/dismantling the Temple' (Mt 26:61; cf. 27:40; Mk 14:58; 15:29).

3. Whatever plarosai means, it is strongly contrasted (alla) with "dismantle/destroy/abolish".

4. Normal meanings of plarosai are: (1) fill something that is not full, (2) finish something already begun but incomplete, (3) fulfill by deeds a prophecy or commitment, or (4) complete and bring to an end. Of these four common meanings, the first could not apply to the Law, the 2nd is possible (if we assume the Law was incomplete, but this is essentially Paul's position in Romans 8.1-2), and the fourth would not be the opposite of "destroy"! This argues that #3 (fulfillment of predictions/prophesies) would be the most reasonable.

5. This is of course suggested also by the very use of the phrase "Prophets" and by Matthew's earlier usage of the word in this sense in chapters 1 and 2.

6. This use of fulfill shows up in many, many places--in Jesus' words as well as NT authors. For two examples:

And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9.30)

But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. (Acts 3.18)

Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24.44)

[That the Law of Moses was considered to be messianically predictive can be seen from John 1.45: "Philip *found Nathanael and *said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And in the words of Jesus in John 5.39: "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life."]

7. The 'or' conjunction may indicate that Jesus came to fulfill BOTH the covenant demands of the Law codes (cf. Matt 3.13f: Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" 15 But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." ) AND messianic prophecies throughout the Tanakh/OT (cf. John 19.28: "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, *said, "I am thirsty.")

Thus, the most natural understanding of this passage would be the following paraphrase:

"Do not think that I have come to dismantle the superstructure of promises, demands, and predictions recorded in the writings of Moses and the Prophets--leaving them unfulfilled. On the contrary, I have come to fulfill every single prophecy and obey every single requirement therein."

Now, let's look at verse 18, which is linked to v19 by the mild connective 'for' (gar).

Amen, for I say unto you until (eos an) might pass away (pareltha) the heaven and the earth, iota one or one point in NO way will pass away (pareltha) from the Law until (eos an) all things might come to pass (genatai)"

Let's make some observations here as well:

1. There is a very odd construction here--there are TWO 'until' clauses! The first one is the 'longest one' (until the end of the universe as we know it).

2. The second 'until' clause--"until all things might come to pass" (genatai)--seems almost parallel to the 'fulfilled' word in the preceding sentence. Indeed, the connective 'for' indicates that the thought in v.18 is either parallel-repetitive or subordinated-support for v.17.

3. This 'genatai' is from 'ginomai', which has the following most common lexical meanings (when used as a stand-alone verb): (1) be born/begotten, (2) arise/come about, (3) be made/created, and (4) happen/take place. It should be clear that the 'born/begotten' and 'be made/created' meanings would not apply to a Law that was already around, and the 'arise/come about' meanings would be likewise inappropriate to the Law. But the 'happen/take place' meaning--as the only remaining option--makes sense if the Law is referring to future events. Since this seems to be our only well-attested option, this would argue that 'Law' here is again referring to the predictive element of the "Law and Prophets".

4. This would make this verse a strong re-statement of v.17, and this accords will with the heightening of the import with the 'Amen'. (Again, ritual commandments do not seem to be in view here.)

5. However, since the predictions of the OT included the perfect obedience of the Son, this prophetic fulfillment would also entail the 'fulfillment' of the ethical demands of the OT Law. In other words, the expectation of the OT would stay in full force until Someone fulfilled all the ethical demands and fulfilled all the prophetic elements associated with the promises of God.

6. One very interesting aspect of this passage is that an "end" of the Law is clearly in sight--'when all things are accomplished'. The OT revelatory superstructure is being maintained until it is (1) fulfilled and (2) all these things have come to pass. Somehow, Jesus was to usher in a change from the Law and Prophets, to the kingdom of God. Cf. Luke 16.16: "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 his way into it." And Matt 11.13: "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. ". The coming of John signaled the coming of the end of the OT expectation (or the coming of the beginning of the Kingdom of God in Jesus). Somehow, at some time, through the fulfillment efforts of Jesus, the Law would 'pass away'.

Thus, the paraphrase of the combined verses 17 and 18 would be as follows:

"Do not think that I have come to dismantle the superstructure of promises and predictions recorded in the writings of Moses and the Prophets--leaving them unfulfilled. On the contrary, I have come to fulfill every single prophecy therein. In fact, let me repeat this for emphasis: No maker how long it takes--even to the end of the universe, no prediction in the Old Testament, great or small, will fail to occur. Period."

[Notice that our Muslim friend has made the original phrase 'all things have happened' into the phrase 'its purpose is accomplished'.]

So, up to this point the meaning is rather clear: Jesus is not interested in doing away with the predictions of the OT; He has the strongest possible commitment to fulfilling every last one of them. What is obviously not in view so far is commandments, laws, rituals, etc. To be sure, Jesus had to fulfill the demands of the Law, in order to be the spotless Lamb of God, but this would be referring to HIS obedience to the Law and not ours.

But we are not through with the passage yet...

[Let me mention two other good interpretations of these verses. First is what I might call the 'Interpretation' view. In later rabbinic literature, the words for 'abolish/destroy' when applied to Scripture can mean 'destroy the correct meaning by misinterpretation' . Young, drawing on the work by Flusser and Bivin/Blizzard, explains it [NT:PJT:64]:

"In rabbinic literature, the Greek words from the gospel that are translated 'abolish' and 'fulfill' possess dynamic equivalents. The word abolish means 'interpret incorrectly.' The Greek word katalyo means 'abolish,' and its dynamic Hebrew equivalent is batel, which also means 'cancel, abolish, destroy.' Often batel is used in contexts that deal with interpreting Scripture. A person cancels Torah when it is misunderstood....The word fulfill, moreover, refers to interpreting a passage accurately. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word pleroo is kiyem. The root of kiyem means 'cause to stand' and has the sense of 'uphold,' 'observe,' 'fulfill,' or 'place on a firmer footing.' It too is used in contexts that deal with interpreting Scripture...Hence, a person may abolish Torah by misconstruing the divine revelation."

I personally am not convinced of this position, for three reasons. First, the links between the Greek and Aramaic words are not that tight, as many scholars recognize, especially in the case of "pleroo". For example, the LXX never uses pleroo to translate kiyem, and this usage is certainly prior to that pattern in the Targumim. Secondly, it doesn't seem to make sense of the implied accusation. Why would Jesus tell them 'do not think that I came with the intent of misinterpreting Scripture'?! Thirdly, this verse is actually quoted in the Talmud, in b.Shab.116b, when the word pleroo and katalusai are translated by altogether different words--osope and miphat--with altogether different meanings than this interpretation calls for.

In any event, if this alternative understanding were the correct one, then our Muslim friend's usage of it is forceless, since it would be talking about interpretation instead of abolishing/confirming. The passage would have no relevance whatever to the argument under consideration.

A second alternative interpretation is that of Jeremias, who uses the b.Shabb 116b passage to understand Jesus to be saying "I come to finally complete the incomplete Law" (thus fulfilling it in some sense). In his interpretation Jesus is the Final Revealer, the Last Word, the True Interpreter of what the Law really, really meant. In New Testament Theology, p. 84f:

"Jesus, then, is countering the insinuation that he is an antinomian: his task is not the dissolution of the Torah but its fulfillment. The rendering of osope ('add') by plarosai in Greek aptly expresses the fact that the purpose of the 'fulfilling' is the reaching of the complete measure. We have here the idea of the eschatological measure, which Jesus also uses elsewhere; plarosai is thus an eschatological technical term. In other words, in Matt. 5.17, Jesus is claiming to be the eschatological messenger of God, the promised prophet like Moses (Deut. 18.15), who brings the final revelation and therefore demands absolute obedience. In fact, this claim of Jesus that he brings the concluding revelation is to be found throughout his sayings. It is expressed particularly clearly in the antithetic pattern of Matt. 5.21-48. This pattern belongs to the bedrock of the tradition, since it involves a conflict with the Torah, something unheard of in the atmosphere of the period. Jesus proclaims that the divine will in the basileia [note: 'kingdom', of God] stands above the divine will as expressed in the time of the Old Testament (Mark 10.1-12)...As bearer of the spirit, Jesus is not only one man among the ranks of the prophets, but God's last and final messenger. His proclamation is an eschatological event. The dawn of the consummation of the world is manifested in it. God is speaking his final word."

Although this has much to commend it, I don't personally accept it for the following reasons: (1) To base the meaning on a questionable rendering of the verse in the b.Shabb. passage is a bit tenuous to me; (2) This would not make much sense out of the tightly-coupled "until all comes to pass" in v.18, which seems to be a parallel to v.17; and (3) his argument hinges on the presence or absence of the word 'not' (as in 'add' vs. 'not add') in the Shabbat passage. Overall, Jeremias' conclusions are probably correct about Jesus seeing himself as the Final Messanger (and King), but I don't believe Matthew 5.17-18 is a strong support for that position.

If this alternative were correct though, our Muslim friend is in a difficult situation! To say that Jesus was the Final messenger sorta leaves Muhammad in an odd place, and it still puts Jesus somewhat as being able to 'change' the Law upon His coronation. ]


The final part of this statement makes matters even plainer. Jesus said:

Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the person who keeps them and teaches them will be considered greater in the kingdom of heaven."(Mat 5:19)

In the Gospel according to Luke, who was close to Paul, it is written:

"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for one little stroke to drop out of the law."(Luke 16:17)

The second piece of this--the Luke quote--is similar enough to the above passage to not have to discuss it again. But notice that this verse 16.17 immediately follows a verse that I pointed out spoke clearly of the impending obsolescence of the Old Covenant-- "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it." Here we see that the Law and Prophets prophesied of the future Kingdom, but that at the coming of the Forerunner, the gospel was now center stage. To hang on to the 'old proclamation' of Law was to miss God's exciting new work in Jesus.

But what about Matt 5.19? That seems to focus on commandments...

First, let's give a couple of renderings, and include the final verse in the passage:

"Therefore (oun), if someone would loose (lusai) one of these commands (entolai)--even the least one--and would teach men the same, "Least" will he be called in the Kingdom of Heaven; but, if someone would practice and teach, then "great" will this one be called in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say to you that if your righteousness does not greatly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, in no way will you even enter the Kingdom of Heaven." (my own rather 'wooden' rendering, attempting to preserve word order and emphasis)

Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)

"Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NAS)

Now for some observations:

1. The references to 'teaching' in the verses would seem to indicate a "sideways" address to the Scribes and Pharisees of verse 20. [The fact that this is a multitude of people being addressed, from commoners to religious leaders, can be seen from the wide geographical territory represented--4.25: "And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan."]

2. The word for 'loose' (lusai) is related to, but not the same as used in the preceding two verses (katalusai). The most common meanings for this 'loose', when referring to laws, are those given in the translations above (break, annul). Jesus 'loosed' the Sabbath (John 5.18), special actions should be taken to insure the Law of Moses was not 'loosed' (John 7.23), and the Word of God in the Scriptures (specifically the Psalms in this case) cannot be 'broken/loosed' (John 10.35). It does NOT have the major meaning of 'dismantle' that katalusai has.

3. The "therefore" ties this statement to the previous two verses. The certitude that Jesus will fulfill all the hopes and promises of the Tanakh/OT--ushering in the new age of the Kingdom of God--forms the rationale for obedience to 'these commands'. In other words, there is strong incentive to pursue the width and breath of God's revealed will.

4. There is a strange contrast between 'least and greatest in the kingdom' and 'not even entering the Kingdom. The Scribes and Pharisees were veritable specialists in the 'least of the commandments', even to the tithing of garden herbs [Matt 23.23]! To 'exceed' that righteousness would have virtually required perfection. Yet somehow, someone could 'exceed that righteousness' (and be 'in the kingdom') yet STILL annul or break one of the commandments (and therefore be 'least in the kingdom')?! Something strange is going on in this text. This borders on a deliberate contradiction on the part of Jesus, designed to shock us to re-evaluate our categories. [Jesus consistently uses this teaching technique: lose life/save life, least/greatest, first/last. He, as many good teachers of His era, often used hyperbole and exaggeration (see DISG, WWRJ)] What might be going on here is that Jesus could be trying to get us to re-think what the 'least' means. His view of kingdom membership seems to be much more than obedience to the Law--consider this passage in Matthew 11.11: "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." If we put this together with the passage above, we get the enigma that someone who annuls a 'least commandment' (and still is "in the kingdom"!) is somehow STILL greater than the greatest human ever born! Something radically different is going on in this passage!

5. We have some clues, also, that Jesus MAY be referring to HIS understanding of the Law, as opposed to theirs. We have seen that He was ethically a rigorist and ceremonially a liberal, so this understanding could easily be the case. Jeremias' observations about Jesus' being the Final and Best interpreter and revealer of the Law may be appropriate here as well. And we have one other piece of data here. Compare the following statements:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (Matt 5.18)

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. (Luke 16.17)

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away. (Matt 24.35)

If you look at these, it should strike you immediately that Jesus is claiming that His words will outlast the Law! The Law will pass away BEFORE the heavens and earth pass away (i.e., when 'all is accomplished'). But Jesus' words will NOT pass away--they will continue PAST the dissolution of the heavens!

6. This concept of the "Law" and "commandments" as referring to the "Law as expounded by Jesus" finds support in the scholarly exegetical commentaries. So Hagner:

"The words of Jesus are here elevated even above those of the law, for they endure eternally, even beyond the existence of heaven and earth. ...The law as interpreted by Jesus remains valid until all the events between the present and the full enjoyment of the eschatological era have occurred. This is fully in keeping with the Jewish and rabbinic view of Torah... But again, as we have said, this is the law as understood in the context of the fulfillment of God's purposes announced by Jesus (hence the law and the prophets). For Jesus is the goal of the law and prophets, the bringer of the kingdom, and hence the final interpreter of the law's meaning. The law as he teaches it is valid for all time, and thus in effect the law is upheld... The key problem of this verse hinges on the meaning of the phrase "the least of these commandments." A number of scholars have concluded that the phrase refers to the teaching of Jesus as given, for example, in vv 21-48. But in keeping with the emphasis of the preceding verses, it is more naturally taken as a reference to the Mosaic law, and the equivalent of the "jot and tittle" of v 18 (the majority of commentators). What is in view is not the least in importance but the easiest to fulfill. If the commandments of the OT are in view here, we must regard this statement as hyperbolic. As in the preceding verse, a literal understanding is not consistent with Jesus' own treatment of the law, nor indeed with the emphasis in v 20. What is being emphasized in this way are not the minutiae of the law that tended to captivate the Pharisees but simply a full faithfulness to the meaning of the law as it is expounded by Jesus. Thus, the phrase "the least of these commandments" refers to the final and full meaning of the law, but taken up and interpreted by Jesus, as for example in the material that begins in v 21. Thus, the language of this verse, like that of the preceding verse, is familiar to the Jews, and especially to the Pharisees. Now, however, it has new connotations, given the larger context in which it is uttered--the fulfillment brought by Jesus...the righteousness Jesus speaks of does not come through a greater preoccupation with the minutiae of the law that outdoes even the Pharisees! The ethical teaching presented by Jesus in the Gospel can hardly be said to do that. Instead, Jesus expects, as the antitheses to follow show, a new and higher kind of righteousness that rests upon the presence of the eschatological kingdom he brings and that finds its definition and content in his definitive and authoritative exposition of the law. Thus Jesus clearly calls his disciples to a way of righteousness, but it is a new way that rests upon the true meaning of the Torah now delivered by the Messiah." (WBC, in. loc.)

So too D.A. Carson:

"It appears, then, that the expression ['these commandments'] must refer to the commandments of the OT Scriptures. The entire Law and the Prophets are not scrapped by Jesus' coming but fulfilled. Therefore the commandments of these Scriptures--even the least of them--must be practiced. But the nature of the practicing has already been affected by vv.17-18. The law pointed forward to Jesus and his teaching; so it is properly obeyed by conforming to his word. As it points to him, so he, in fulfilling it, establishes what continuity it has, the true direction to which it points and the way it is to be obeyed. Thus ranking in the kingdom turns on the degree of conformity to Jesus' teaching as that teaching fulfills OT revelation. His teaching, toward which the OT pointed, must be obeyed." [EBC, in. loc.]

7. The fact that Jesus held Himself up as an example to follow, while practicing the ceremonial law somewhat loosely, is a strong argument in favor of the view that Jesus is referring to HIS exposition of the OT law.

Where does this leave us?

1. Jesus consistently claims to have more authority than the Law, adding to it, changing it, repealing it, reprioritizing it.

2. Jesus lived an ethically rigorous yet ceremonially 'loose' life.

3. Jesus called His disciples to emulate His life and propagate His teachings.

4. Jesus taught that the old order (as exemplified by its best representative John the Baptist) is inferior to the least member of the new order of the Kingdom.

5. Jesus taught that the old order of Law will disappear when 'all was fulfilled' and taught that it had already begun to disappear with the coming of John the Baptist.

On the basis of this bulk of evidence from the words and deeds of Jesus, I have to conclude that in no way did Jesus come to perpetuate or confirm the Law of Moses as it was understood at the time.


Our Muslim friend continues...

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees, not for following the details of the Law but for concentrating on only part of it. He said, according to the Gospel of Matthew:

"Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who pay the tithe of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law - justice, mercy and good faith. These you should have practised, without neglecting the others."(Mat 23:23)

I have no problem with this statement--Jesus never criticized anyone for OBEYING the Law. It was never wrong to obey the Law--except where obeying one specific commandment violated a 'higher commandment' (e.g., of love). But in this case the issue is a little fuzzy, since tithing was pan-Law. In other words, the practice of tithing was practiced before the Law (e.g., Abraham) and is widely practiced by the Church. But at any rate, this would not contradict the positions above.

Our friend continues...


He also taught that his message was not for the pagans. In his instructions to his disciples Jesus told them not to go into gentile territory and not to enter any Samaritan town but to '...go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel' (Mat 9:6-7). Again in the Gospel according to Matthew it is recorded that a Canaanite (non-Jewish) woman asked Jesus to assist her daughter. Jesus said  "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.' She kept on begging him for help so he said 'It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the house-dogs.' She persisted and Jesus gave in and helped her. (Mat 15:23-28)

The writer here makes a very basic exegetical mistake: not recognizing historical progress or change in the narrative.

He is correct that on one occasion Jesus restricted the ministry of his disciples to Jewish towns, and it is true that He identified His ministry as "toward Israel." But as time progressed, this changed. Three specific events highlight this:

One: In John 12.20ff we read:

"Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip *came and *told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came, and they *told Jesus. 23 And Jesus *answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Jesus saw that the Father was beginning to draw non-Jews to Him (John 6.44: "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."), and then explains in verse 30 that His death will draw ALL MEN to Him (John 12.32)"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." This represents a clear change in the scope of Jesus' ministry.

Two: And in Matthew 28.16ff we have a very explicit statement my the Risen Lord about 'going to the pagans':

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Three: In Acts 1.6-8, the pre-Ascension Lord says this:

And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

It should be obvious from these passages that Jesus expanded His message beyond Israel, and indeed, that was the plan all along. The gospel was supposed to be 'to the Jew first, and then the Greek' (Romans 1). The blessing upon the Gentiles was supposed to come through a redeemed and righteous Israel.

And even His designated ministry did not stop Jesus from ministering to non-Jews during His lifetime. The Samaritan "woman at the well" in John 5 was sought out by Jesus, resulting in revival in the town (John 5.39ff: "And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I have done." 40 So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.")

And the Syro-Phoenician woman (that our author brings to our attention) was also ministered to by Jesus. I have already written on this case, and explained that the reference to 'children and dogs' had nothing to do with 'jews and gentiles', but with 'disciples and crowds'. And IF Jesus REALLY was not supposed to go the pagans, then He would not have 'given in'!!! Accordingly, this still shows that Jesus knew the meaning of "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" Himself!


Jesus also warned that not all who claimed to be his followers would be recognised as such, not even those who claimed to prophesy or work miracles. He is reported to have said:

"It is not anyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes, many will say to me 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?' Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!" (Mat 7:21:23)

I personally refer to this verse a lot, since we have so many miracle-working 'Christians' today that do not manifest the high ethical standards that the Lord of Life demands from His followers. But this verse cannot be used to support some pre-Jesus view of the Law at all. The phrase "do the will of my Father" is simply too imprecise to allow that, for it could easily refer to something like John 6.29: "Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

At any rate, it doesn't mention the Law at all, and the 'will of God' is too broad a concept to function so narrowly.


Let's summarize:

1. Paul had a 'high' view of the Law, but saw it as having a crucial and specific role in the plan of God.

2. Paul's view of the Law is similar to those of the other early church founders: Peter, James, John, and the writer of Hebrews.

3. The essence of the Law is not 'sovereignty', but love--for God and for people.

4. Jesus did not come to perpetuate the Mosaic commandments, as demonstrated by His words and actions.

5. The Mosaic Law is NOT inviolate--God always has had and has exercised prerogatives to change it or suspend it.

6. The verses often used to support the position that Jesus came to perpetuate the existing Mosaic Law (Matt 5.17ff) actually demonstrates the opposite: (1) that the OT law would end at some point in the future; and (2) that the important law was the law as expounded by Jesus (often shockingly different from the Old).

7. Jesus points out that this 'new law'--His words--would outlast the old law.

8. [Accordingly, Paul's view of the law almost seems 'higher' than Jesus' view, so to speak!!!!]

9. Jesus' personal mission was to Israel, but His death was for 'all men' and He commanded His message to be proclaimed to the whole world.

Needless to say, this is merely a very small part of the picture, but it should essentially demonstrate that some of the popular conceptions about Paul, Jesus, and their relationships to the Law (as exemplified in our Muslim writer's piece) are indeed misconceptions.

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)