Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people never were.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed. They fell short. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law.

When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he was saying that he came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man – doing the thing no other man had done or was able to do. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became flesh and came so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain (as a man) so that God could also keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms (fulfilled) of both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I

Jesus and the early church focused on preaching the Gospel and doing justice

alone sad child on a street

I am involved in a faith-based, legal aid organization that provides legal services and holistic help to people who live on the margins of our society. We call it “Gospel justice”, which is the title of a book written by Bruce Strom, the founder of the organization, Administer Justice. (See Gospel Justice)

I am aware of the skepticism with which Christians, and conservatives, generally, view “social justice”. While many Christians of the more liberal stripe (and liberals generally) embrace social justice, more conservative and orthodox Christians have learned to disassociate from social justice.

Labels, however, aren’t ultimately we are very helpful when it comes to nuanced understanding. We also have to be careful here that we don’t mix politics and the faith to the determent of the Gospel. This is true on both sides of the political aisle. Our politics shouldn’t define our faith.

We follow Jesus on what turns out to be a rather narrow road that doesn’t often follow the paths the world has beaten. Thus, I have been thinking for months about writing on the topic of social justice. I guess it’s time I do.

Continue reading “Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I”

An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective


In Justice from a Human Perspective, I explored the phenomenon that the vast majority of people have an inner sense of justice that is pricked every time they experience injustice themselves or by people they know and love. The very protest, “That’s not fair!” implies that the protester believes others should recognize it.

We have an innate sense of justice, and we innately feel that others should recognize the justice or injustice we see and feel. We do have have much general agreement, but the disagreements are many at the same time. Those disagreements might be attributable to our perspectives, which are limited and, therefore, subjective.

Thus, we can’t anchor an objective standard of justice in people. It must be anchored in something more immutable, like God (see Justice from God’s Perspective), but how do we know justice from God’s perspective?

I submit that we don’t… we can’t, unless He reveals it to us.

In the Bible we what purports to be a record of God’s communication and involvement in the history of men. While, I admit that we can learn something about justice in other religious books and literature, for many reasons I think the fullest and most accurate record of God’s revelation, generally, and of justice, specifically, is found in Scripture.

You might disagree with me, but stick with me as I consider the following story about Jesus that provides us some perspective on the issue.

Continue reading “An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective”

God’s Love is Not Platonic

The love that God offers is relational, intimate and personal.


John the Apostle, a Hebrew from a remote province in the Roman Empire, lived a long life. The other apostles died premature deaths, but John, a typical Hebrew, lived long enough to be elevated out of his provincial Jewish world by the God who created it. His writing, as much as any of the New Testament authors, has a strong philosophical theme, but that philosophical theme is no abstract intellectual construct.

John the one-time fisherman became familiar with the greater Greco-Roman world by which the Palestinian province of his birth was governed and influenced. That familiarity is reflected in the Gospel that bears his name.

His gospel begins philosophically: “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos.  (John 1:1)  The word, logos, carried poignant philosophical meaning in the Greco-Roman world. John’s use of that word to open his account of the life and message of Jesus shows that John, the provincial Hebrew, familiarized himself with that world and its thought.

This is in keeping with the instruction from Jesus to his followers to go into all the world explaining the message Jesus gave them. To go into the world, we have to become familiar with it and conversant with the thought that predominates in the world to which we go.

Though John’s Gospel begins philosophically, focusing on the loaded word, logos, he didn’t have the abstract notions of philosophy in mind. John’s use of that word pointed outside the Greco-Roman world and transcended it.

Continue reading “God’s Love is Not Platonic”

Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar

Originally posted on Navigating by Faith:
(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view…


Families and Christmas can be messy. The vast majority of us do not live in a Hallmark world. The fact that Christmas season always sees an uptick in the incidence of suicide is testament to the fact that the gap between Holiday cheer and reality can be a big on

But there is hope! Christmas is the remembrance of God stepping into world like a light shining in the darkness.

Last year at this time, I began a series of blogs on the women listed in the genealogical lineage of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. That a total of five women are even listed in his genealogy is kind of mind blowing. Genealogies, especially in the First Century patriarchal world, are dominated by men. What are these women doing there?

It occurs to me that maybe God is saying something particularly important by including five women in the genealogy of Jesus.

For starters, God’s view of women, I believe, has always been higher than patriarchal history gives them credit. After all, God made us, male and female, in His image. Men are only half the image of God if you do the math.

But something else is going on as well. When you dig into the stories of the people in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, surprises are plentiful. His lineage isn’t particularly saintly. It’s “complicated”.

Jesus came not only as a light in the darkness of the world; he came as a light in the darkness of his own lineage. The story of Tamar is just one such example. She is the first woman listed in that lineage.

Navigating by Faith

 (c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view that today?

We can gain insights by looking at the women who are listed. The first woman listed is Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38, and it is a wild one for people of polite sensibilities.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It might seem odd that Judah, the fourth son, is the one from whom Jesus (the Messiah) descends, but that is only a minor oddity compared to the rest.

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