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 were no. They filed at every turn.

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

When Jesus made the statement that he did not 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, and now was the time.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man. 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 a man so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain, and that enabled God to keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms and fulfilled 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?”

How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured

God’s promise to Abraham was given 430 years before Moses

I have taken some time to reflect on the unity for which Jesus prayed in relation to the story of Peter & Cornelius and the tension that continued in the early church over extending the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). The tension that persisted at the heart of the early Church threatened to unmoor the Gospel from its footing.

In previous articles, I reflected on the deeply ingrained nature of the belief that the Jews were God’s people. They were entrusted with the Law of Moses, and they had protected the Law God gave them for well over a 1000 years, painstakingly preserving it, passing it down from generation to generation.

They were instructed by God Himself to drive out all the inhabitants in the land God promised them, to avoid intermarrying and being corrupted by the influence of “Gentiles” to worship their gods. Thus, Hebrew descendants of Abraham avoided association with others – Gentiles. Like the plague.

So intent on sticking to the script were Jews in the First Century, that they didn’t recognize God when He shed his deity and came to them as Jesus from Nazareth.

John says that God came to His own people, and they didn’t recognize Him. When the Word through whom the universe was created, the Word who “was with God” and “was God”, became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), “his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:12) “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:11) John continues:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

“His own” were the Jews. The “all who did receive him, who believed in his name”, were Gentiles (and Jews) who believed in what Jesus said and trusted in him. They became children of God, not because they were born into it, nor because they or anyone else desired it, but because God Himself desired them to be His children.

But these things were far from clear to the early Church. Even Peter, who lived with Jesus and knew him intimately, had difficulty with the idea that the Gospel should be extended to Gentiles.

In the previous articles linked above, I summarized how God gave Peter a vision that occurred three times in a row for emphasis, an audible voice, and the voice of the Holy Spirit, directing him to go with men who appeared just then at the door to summon him. Peter’s experience was orchestrated with an angel that visited Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, who was directed to send those men to “a man named Simon who is called Peter”. (Acts 10:5) Then God poured out His Holy Spirit on the Centurion and his household to emphasize to Peter his intention to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But the tradition of shunning the Gentiles would not die easy. Despite the obviously divine orchestration of events to drive home God’s intentions to Peter, Paul had to confront Peter publicly in Antioch over the issue when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit, and Peter disassociated himself from the Antiochian Gentiles. (See Galatians 2-3)

Paul encountered the same issue in Galatia where people were insisting that the Jews continue to follow the Mosaic law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described his confrontation with Peter. More importantly, Paul explained why the Mosaic Law no longer applied to the people of God – who now included not just the Jews, but everyone!

Continue reading “How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured”

Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 2

In the Bible, we see a progression from Law to the spirit of the law, and from law to grace, and the seeds of that progression are there in the very beginning.


In Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 1, I made the point that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate and point toward Jesus. Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The thrust of the Scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament also progresses from physical to spiritual, from law to grace. I will pick up on those themes and get into the progression from law to grace in this piece.

Before doing that, though, I am taking a short sidetrack to recall an observation I made years ago as a college freshman in a world religion class. As I as I studied (and read) the Bible for the first time in my life I realized that the fabric of the Scripture, from beginning to end, is an intricately woven tapestry. I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see (as a budding English Literature major) the incredible, unlikely harmony of the Scriptures.

I say unlikely, because the Old Testament and New Testament are a combination of writings that were penned by dozens of people and collected over a period of many centuries. All of them wrote down the revelation each one of them received from God. The “book” of the Bible would be, perhaps, the finest masterpiece of cohesive literature ever written if it were written by a single author, but it’s cohesiveness and internal integrity is all the more noteworthy by the fact that it was written by dozens of authors across a large expanse of time.

People who understand the Bible only on a surface level claim it is full of contradictions. We should hardly find it surprising if it was full of contradictions, having been written by so many people over such a long time, but the thing is: a deeper reading of the Bible reveals an uncanny, transcendent, incredibly subtle and nuanced consistency and harmony.

The intricacy and harmony of the Bible is quite stunning given its authorship: the fact that it was written by people, and not by the hand of God Himself.

And this fact led me to another thought when I first read the Bible in its sweep from beginning to end: if God is God, 1) He could reveal Himself in a way that creatures made by Him could understand His communication; and 2) He could preserve the integrity of that communication. Why? Because He is God.

I didn’t become a believer immediately at that point in my life, but I could not deny the uncanny tapestry of the Scriptures.

I recall these things as I consider the Qur’an, and the progressive nature of the two religions’ Scriptures. In the Qur’an, statements in the later sura expressly contradict and abrogate (negate) earlier sura. The later sura are also the problematic ones in which we see statements about killing infidels, etc.

In the Bible, by contrast, we see the earlier Scriptures affirmed, explained and extended in the person of Jesus. We see a progression from Law to the spirit of the law, and from law to grace, and the seeds of that progression are there in the very beginning.

Continue reading “Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 2”

Justification by Faith

Whether there are 613 laws to keep or just two, who tend to view morality as a competition in which we compare ourselves to others.


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

Continue reading “Justification by Faith”

A Progression from Law to Relationship

From over 600 laws, to a couple of dozen to just two principals, the progression in Scripture is from rules to relationship.


A friend recently commented on an article I wrote about hypocrisy in which I referred to “God’s standard” without defining what that standard is. Of course, defining God’s standard of morality isn’t that easy. My friend made this point when he said:

“If you asked 100 self-proclaimed Christians, you will get 100 different answers. There are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity… all bible-based. The notion of a singular Christian ‘standard’ doesn’t really exist. Example… is killing ok?… I can find verses in the bible both for and against.”

He is right on a cursory level, though he overstates the proposition. The World Christian Encyclopedia puts the number of denominations at 33,000, of which there are “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”.  I would venture to guess, however, that 100% of them hold that murder is wrong.

While we might have virtually universal agreement on some things, and “consensus” on other things (perhaps, killing in self-defense), nuances will generate different answers among those different denominations, and individual Christians as well. We don’t all agree on topics like killing in war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.

Some disagreements are doctrinal (infant baptism or adult baptism). Some of them are conduct related. (Is it ok for Christians to dance? drink alcohol? or smoke?) Should Christians tithe? What is the standard of tithing? Is homosexuality a sin? If I walk past a homeless man on the street begging for money and don’t give him anything, is that a sin?

Most Christians agree on the ten commandments, but disagreement grows from there. We may not agree on the details of “God’s standard”, but virtually all Christians would agree that God has a standard of morality, regardless of whether we agree on what it is.

Still, it’s a fair statement to say that we shouldn’t be so glib as to assume some universal set of rules to which all Christians ought to subscribe – at least a universal statement of rules that we all confidently say is “the ” standard.

This got me thinking about morality from a Christian perspective, and it dawns on me that one of our failings is that we put too much emphasis on a set of standards that we can define. Yes, I think it is a failing, and I think Jesus would agree. Such a focus misses the point

Consider this: Moses gave us 613 laws; David summarized them in 15 laws; Isaiah reduced the summary to 11 laws; and Jesus reduced everything in the Law and the Prophets down to just two principles.

I am not sure that these figures are exactly right, but the point is that there is a progression in the Scripture. That progression goes from an intricate set of very specific rules to summaries of the law that get simpler and simpler – culminating in just two principles.

I believe this progression from many, very specific laws to just two principles correlates to the progression God wants us to make from law to faith.

Continue reading “A Progression from Law to Relationship”