The nature of the law’s fulfilment in Matthew 5:17: an exegetical and theological study

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    The relationship between law and gospel remains something of a conundrum for biblical scholarship. Matthew 5:17, and in particular what is meant by Jesus’ having come to fulfil the law and the prophets, contributes significantly to this ongoing discussion. What precisely is meant by ‘to fulfil the law and the prophets’ is an exegetical enigma. Utilising an eclectic array of methods, including literary, historical and theological approaches, this article attempts to articulate the nature of fulfilment in Matthew 5:17. In addition to arguments made on the basis of historical-critical exegesis, including the discussion of the nature of πληρόω in Matthew’sGospel, the sense in which the law prophesies and the contribution of the so-called antitheses of 5:21–48, we argue that the biblical-theological theme of the Kingdom of God clarifies a salvation-historical reading of Matthew 5:17. When it is said that Jesus has come to fulfil the law and the prophets, an eschatological or salvation-historical reading shows that what the law pointed towards has arrived in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. A biblical-theological reading of the Kingdom of God helps us, however, to add a measure of precision to this statement. Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets by bringing into being what was anticipated.The law and prophets anticipated the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Fulfilment, then, should be construed in terms of this motif. Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets by inaugurating the Kingdom of God to which they pointed. This renders discussion over whether Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets through either his teaching or his activity unnecessary, since the Kingdom of God is inaugurated through both.