Day 17: Matthew 5:17-18 – Part 1

Why do Christians seem to think there are only Ten Commandments? How about multiplying that by 60?

Day 17: Matthew 5:17-18 – Part 1

Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things.

[This is the first of 5 reflections on this scripture.]

This is a pretty technical scripture and it takes a bit of background knowledge about the Old Testament to make any sense of this at all. It’s fully loaded with both meaning and tradition so I’m going to spread it out over 5 days. This scripture really says a lot about Jesus, his relationship to Jewish law, and his ministry.

What is the “Law of Moses”?

The “Law of Moses” was handed down from God to Moses and is recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible, especially Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There seems to be a misconception among Christians that the Law of Moses includes only 10 commandments. In reality God handed down a total of 613 commandments to Moses, including those famous 10 Commandments which were just a little conversation starter. In Jewish law the 10 Commandments never had any greater importance than the other 603. It is a complete set of laws.  You can find a topical summary of all of the 613 commandments at  http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.This is a very helpful list includes scriptural references.  Some of the laws are extremely specific, like the commandment not to wear garments made of wool and linen mixed together (Deuteronomy 22:5); others are as broad as the command to love one another (Leviticus 19:18). The purpose is to create a just, orderly, compassionate, healthy, fruitful, enlightened society:

“Obey all the laws that I am teaching you, and you will live and occupy the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add anything to what I command you, and do not take anything away. Obey the commands of the Lord your God that I have given you… I have taught you all the laws, as the Lord my God told me to do. Obey them in the land that you are about to invade and occupy. Obey them faithfully, and this will show the people of other nations how wise you are. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, ‘What wisdom and understanding this great nation has! (Deuteronomy 4:1-6).

The Law of Moses was an expression of God’s will for the Hebrew people as they prepared to established their new nation in the Promised Land (later known as Israel) around 1200 BC, although they were not written down until about the 8th century BC. It is not just a simple list of crimes and punishments; it is also a code of ethics. Kind of like a constitution.

What are the “Teachings of the Prophets”?

In the Jewish tradition of the Old Testament, “A prophet is basically a spokesman for G-d, a person chosen by G-d to speak to people on G-d’s behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to G-d. They set the standards for the entire community.” (www.jewfaq.org/prophet.htm: – Note that Jews never write God’s name out in its entirety). Sometimes they say that the prophets’ job was to “speak truth to power.” They were not simply fortune tellers. They were wise men who served as teachers and advisers to the kings and others in positions of authority. They were the interpreters of God’s will in their own time.

Samuel was a prophet in the time of Kings Saul and David. Elijah was a very important prophet – like Jesus he also healed the sick and raised the dead. In addition, the Bible contains a series of books that contain the teachings and writings of various prophets – from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, etc. all the way to through Malachi. Altogether there are 16 prophetic books that are collectively referred to in this scripture as “the teachings of the prophets.”

So Jesus says that the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets do not change over time, even when it comes to the smallest details. But if you take a little time and scan the 613 laws, you will see a lot of them that seem pretty strange, and many violations are commonly practiced today by both Jews and Christians. If the Law doesn’t change, then why do we eat bacon and lobster? Why do we charge interest on loans? Why don’t we do animal sacrifices? Even Jesus himself disobeyed the Sabbath laws on several occasions. For Jesus to say that the Law never changes raises a lot of questions and apparently requires more than a superficial analysis.

Tomorrow…..A Case Study in the Law: Animal Sacrifices

What does this scripture say to you?

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3 thoughts on “Day 17: Matthew 5:17-18 – Part 1

  1. These entries are really great. I enjoy sharing your thoughts on these scriptures. I think there is a typo in the next to the last paragraph…I am assuming you meant Old Testament not New Testament, Right???

  2. Pingback: Scripture Countdown: Number 95 | Who Are You Following?

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