What do abolish and fulfill mean in Matthew 5:13-20?

What do abolish and fulfill mean in Matthew 5:13-20? The statement was made, ” In first century Israelite lingo, to “abolish” the Torah meant to interpret it incorrectly and to “fulfill” meant to interpret it correctly.” Let us look at this passage:

 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

 17 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. 18 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. 19 Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Let us look at the definition of these words and then use scripture to define these words. First we will look at the term ‘abolish’ in the New American Standard Greek Lexicon (http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=2647&version=nas): 

Strong’s Number:   2647  Browse Lexicon 
Original Word Word Origin
kataluo from (2596) and (3089)
Transliterated Word TDNT Entry
Kataluo 4:338,543
Phonetic Spelling Parts of Speech
kat-al-oo’-o     Verb

  1. to dissolve, disunite
    1. (what has been joined together), to destroy, demolish
    2. metaph. to overthrow i.e. render vain, deprive of success, bring to naught
      1. to subvert, overthrow 1b
    3. of institutions, forms of government, laws, etc., to deprive of force, annul, abrogate, discard
    4. of travellers, to halt on a journey, to put up, lodge (the figurative expression originating in the circumstance that, to put up for the night, the straps and packs of the beasts of burden are unbound and taken off; or, more correctly from the fact that the traveller’s garments, tied up when he is on the journey, are unloosed at it end)



Now let us see where this Greek word is used, so we can see it in context.

Mt 5:17    “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
Mt 24:2    And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Mt 26:61    and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.'”
Mt 27:40    and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Mr 13:2    And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
Mr 14:58    “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'”
Mr 15:29    And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,
Lu 9:12    And the day began to decline, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.”
Lu 19:7    And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Lu 21:6    “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
Ac 5:38    “And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown;
Ac 5:39    but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
Ac 6:14    for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
Ro 14:20    Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
2Co 5:1    For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Ga 2:18    “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

In every case where this word is used in the New Testament, it means to destroy, tear down, overthrow, abolish, or (in the case of travelers) one who has stopped a journey. 

Now let us look at the meaning of ‘fulfill’ and how this word is used.  The New American Standard Greek Lexicon (http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=4137&version=nas) show us: 

Strong’s Number:   4137  Browse Lexicon 
Original Word Word Origin
pleroo from (4134)
Transliterated Word TDNT Entry
Pleroo 6:286,867
Phonetic Spelling Parts of Speech
play-ro’-o     Verb

  1. to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full
    1. to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally
      1. I abound, I am liberally supplied
  2. to render full, i.e. to complete
    1. to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim
    2. to consummate: a number
      1. to make complete in every particular, to render perfect
      2. to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking)
    3. to carry into effect, bring to realisation, realise
      1. of matters of duty: to perform, execute
      2. of sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish
      3. to fulfil, i.e. to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment



Now we will see how this word is used.

Mt 1:22    Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
Mt 2:15    and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “Out of Egypt did I call My Son.”
Mt 2:17    Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet wasfulfilled, saying,
Mt 2:23    and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Mt 3:15    But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.
Mt 4:14    This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,
Mt 5:17    “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
Mt 8:17    in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “He Himself took our infirmities, and CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.”
Mt 12:17    in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, might be fulfilled, saying,
Mt 13:35    so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Mt 13:48    and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.
Mt 21:4    Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
Mt 23:32    Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers.
Mt 26:54    “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?”
Mt 26:56    “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
Mt 27:9    Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, “And THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel;
Mr 1:15    and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mr 14:49    “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has happened that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.”
Mr 15:28    the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors.”
Lu 1:20    “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Lu 2:40    And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
Lu 3:5    ‘Every ravine shall be filled up, And every mountain and hill shall be BROUGHT LOW; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough roads smooth;
Lu 4:21    And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Lu 7:1    When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.
Lu 9:31    who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Lu 21:24    and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Lu 22:16    for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Lu 24:44    Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Joh 3:29    “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full.
Joh 7:8    “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”
Joh 12:3    Mary therefore took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Joh 12:38    that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Joh 13:18    “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’
Joh 15:11    “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
Joh 15:25    “But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
Joh 16:6    “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.
Joh 16:24    “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.
Joh 17:12    “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might befulfilled.
Joh 17:13    “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves.
Joh 18:9    that the word might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one.”
Joh 18:32    that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die.
Joh 19:24    They said therefore to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; that the Scripture might befulfilled, “They DIVIDED My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast LOTS.”
Joh 19:36    For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might befulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be BROKEN.”
Ac 1:16    “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
Ac 2:2    And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Ac 2:28    ‘Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.’
Ac 3:18    “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thusfulfilled.
Ac 5:3    But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?
Ac 5:28    saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Ac 7:23    “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel.
Ac 7:30    “And after forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush.
Ac 9:23    And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him,
Ac 12:25    And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they hadfulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.
Ac 13:25    “And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
Ac 13:27    “For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.
Ac 13:52    And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Ac 14:26    and from there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.
Ac 19:21    Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Ac 24:27    But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.
Ro 1:29    being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
Ro 8:4    in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Ro 13:8    Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Ro 15:13    Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ro 15:14    And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.
Ro 15:19    in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have  fully preached the gospel of Christ.
2Co 7:4    Great is my confidence in you, great is my boasting on your behalf; I am filled with comfort. I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.
2Co 10:6    and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
Ga 5:14    For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Eph 1:23    which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.
Eph 3:19    and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
Eph 4:10    He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
Eph 5:18    And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
Php 1:11    having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Php 2:2    make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Php 4:18    But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
Php 4:19    And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Col 1:9    For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Col 1:25    Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might  fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
Col 2:10    and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
Col 4:17    And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
2Th 1:11    To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power;
2Ti 1:4    longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.
Jas 2:23    and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
1Jo 1:4    And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
2Jo 1:12    Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full.
Re 3:2    ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
Re 6:11    And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.


In every case the word in the New Testament was used to mean fill, fill to the full, complete, or to finish.

So using the hermeneutical principle of using scripture to define scripture, we see that the term  “abolish” the Torah does not meant to interpret the Torah incorrectly and  “fulfill” the Torah does not mean to interpret the Torah correctly. So what is the difference between abolish and fulfill? Abolish means cancel, destroy, or terminate (ie. I no longer have to pay a debt if the debt is abolished/cancelled). Fulfill means complete (ie. I no longer have to pay a debt once the debt has been completed/met). The effects are the same, but the reason is different – in my example, the debt no longer must be paid. If it is abolished, it no longer has to be paid because the debt was terminated; if it is fulfilled, it no longer has to be paid because the debt was completed. This is what Jesus did for us.

In the same way, heaven and earth would have to disappear before the need for man’s righteousness through the Law would be abolished (terminated), however the debt for righteousness was completely met when Christ finished His work on the cross for our imputed righteousness.

John 19:30

30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Thus, since the debt has been met, the requirements are cancelled, which we see in Colossians 2:13-16.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Indeed, Paul pointed out that Jesus was the end of the Law.

Romans 10:2-4

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the tutor (the Law) which taught us the need.

Galatians 3:23-26

23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

We have been released from the Law

Romans 7:4-12

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

 7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet. 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

In fact, Paul went so far as to say that Jesus abolished the Law and ordinances in Ephesians 2:13-16.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

So no, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. But in fulfilling it, He fulfilled the prophecies in Law and the Prophets concerning him, and so fulfilled the debt sinners incur by being sinners. Thus, the effect is the same as if He had abolished it, but the cause is different- we are no longer under the Law.

But even so, if you think you can follow the Mosaic Law and not replace the grace of God with the following of these laws (Galatians 1:6-8), then feel free to do so. Paul didn’t think it was something you should do, but you should be convinced in your own mind. Likewise, those who are convinced that there is no requirement to follow said law should show love to those who do.


4 Responses

  1. […] What do abolish and fulfill mean in Matthew 5:13-20? […]

  2. Interestingly, in the verses following the Matthew 5:19, Yeshua raised the bar. He had just gotten done saying how He had not come to abolish the law and how if someone breaks it and teaches others to do the same shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. Then He actually raised the bar. No longer was it good enough not to murder…now we are guilty of murder if we simply hate someone.

    I have read that the word “fulfill” actually means to expand upon…which makes sense when you look at His raising the bar and at some of the meanings attributed to the Word.

    Yahweh is the same now and forever. His teachings are always good ones. The Pharisees, sadly, had added to the Torah. Yeshua did call them on that. The teachings of Yahweh are meant to draw us to Him as we realize the impossibility of our following it perfectly.

    • Yeah, my understanding is the expression of love for God moved from the merely physical to the spiritual. But the Law was a set of concrete literal rules to follow that exemplified the spiritual truths of which God wants us to be aware.

      I have not read such a meaning for fulfill.
      God gave the Law for a purpose – to lead us the our need for Christ, and God has fulfilled it.

  3. […] As for whether the Law is abolished, no – it was fulfilled. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. But in fulfilling it, He fulfilled the prophecies in Law and the Prophets concerning him, and so fulfilled the debt sinners incur by being sinners. Thus, the effect is the same as if He had abolished it, but the cause is different- we are no longer under the Law. As Paul wrote in Romans 7:6, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. .” I wrote something on this: https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/what-do-abolish-and-fulfill-mean-in-matthew-5-13-20/ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: