Not Come to Abolish the Law

I grew up in a Christian home, having attended church most of my life. I went to a Christian University and was even a “wing chaplain” for two years. That was almost 20 years ago. I have read/studied the Bible off and on my whole adult life.

In all this time I had the idea that I as a gentile-turned believer in Jesus Christ am not expected to obey the law of God as outlined in the Old Testament. I had the notion that it was either passed away or it was just for the Jews to obey. Boy, was I ever wrong. At least that’s what I’m finding these days.

Here’s one reason that leads me to believe I was in error…

Fairly early on in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, Jesus reassures his listeners in 5:17-18:

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. 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.”

The Greek word translated as “abolish” is “katalyo” and it means: “to dissolve, disunite, to destroy, demolish, to overthrow i.e. render vain, deprive of success, bring to naught“. [SOURCE]

The Greek word translated as “fulfill” is “pleroo” and it means: “to make full, to fill up, to render full, i.e. to complete, to make complete in every particular, to render perfect, to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking), to carry into effect, bring to realisation, realise“. [SOURCE]

So, before Jesus gets into his teachings on various points of the Law, he lays down a foundation by saying that he is not come to dissolve, destroy or render vain any of the Law and the Prophets, and that “not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen” will by any means disappear from the Law until heaven and earth disappear.

Instead, Jesus is come to make full, to fill up, to render perfect the Law and the Prophets. Then he proceeds to teach on various points of the law and concludes with our need to obey the law.

Having not been very familiar with the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) most of my life I thought some of Jesus’ teaching was contradicting and therefore replacing parts of the Law.

For example, Matthew 5:38-39 says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

The reference is to Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. I thought Jesus was saying no more “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”, but he can’t be saying that because that would be “dissolving” or “destroying” the Law. There must be something else going on here. And there is…but that’s a topic for another day.

In the past I read various portions from the Sermon on the Mount as isolated teachings, not considering it as one long sermon. But when I more recently read the whole sermon, I found the remaining nine verses of chapter 7 particularly interesting, tying everything up quite nicely.

Shortly after the warning in verse 15 to “watch out for false prophets.”, Jesus says in verse 21,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Q. What is the will of the Father?

Well, he goes on in verses 22-23 to say,

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

In the past, I’ve always read that Scripture and thought Jesus was rebuking those who did not have a relationship with him, concentrating on the phrase, “I never knew you.” But what jumped out at me this year is the identifying phrase, “you evildoers.” When we read all three verses together, it seems clear that Jesus is equating those who don’t “do the will of the Father” as “evildoers”.

In the King James Version the phrase for “ye evildoers” is “ye that work iniquity”. The Greek word for “iniquity” is “anomia”. It means “contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness”. [SOURCE]

So now I understand this passage as saying: Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” or does things in Jesus’ name will enter the kingdom…in particular those who don’t do the will of the Father, having contempt and violating His law; They will be turned away with the statement, “I never knew you.” So the answer to the question, “What is the will of the Father?”

A. His law.

Then, Jesus concludes the entire sermon with a parable, The Wise and Foolish Builders:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

This is the call for action: Don’t be hearers only, but be hearers and doers. In other words, obey.

Q. What is it we are to obey?

A. The teachings of Jesus.

Q. What was he teaching?

A. The will of the Father.

Q. And what is the will of the Father again?

A. His law.

So where did I get the notion that we, who claim to follow Jesus, don’t need to obey the law? I don’t believe it’s in this sermon.

5 thoughts on “Not Come to Abolish the Law

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  4. Cajun Pauley

    Good job sister. Well thought out and well researched. May I suggest you need to consider the concept of “maleh” and the useful filters it provides? Knowing what is “maleh” (fulfilled, accomplished, not necessarily unlawful but no longer required) and what is not helps us understand what parts of the Old Covenant yet apply to our daily lives. Keep up the good work.

  5. Frank

    How do you feel about the teachings after Jesus dies and is risen. The book acts and after. You see God has spoken these things you said about his law. Both to me and in his word the Holy Bible.


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