WSCAL: Baugh on Matt 5:17

Continuing on from last time, I also really enjoyed Steven Baugh’s session on Matt 5:17. Actually (Baugh joked), not just verse 17, but verse 18 was also included “at no extra charge”.

It was very edifying to hear Baugh explain the important context of the beatitudes, especially the switch from abstract “Blessed are those…” to the direct and personal

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Which prophet (not even Moses!) would have previously dared to so tie their teachings to their own persons? It was this kind of talk that caused hearers to be “astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes,” or as Baugh suggests should be better translated, “flabbergasted” or “bowled over”. The greek word has another use, meaning “to become insane.”

It was this flabbergasting authority (as well as the authorization of accompanying miracles) that might have caused people to think that Jesus intended to overturn existing revelation. It is in this context, Baugh insists, that Matt 5:17-18 must be understood. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.”

Baugh very helpfully points out that most discussion of this controversial passage focuses on “Law”, and totally ignores “or the Prophets”. He relates this to Jesus’ words in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The point Jesus is making (in Lk 24 and Mt 5) is that it is not a question of what is the status of the Old Testament past Jesus; it is a question of the purpose of the Old Testament — and that purpose is to point to Christ; the purpose is fulfilled in Christ.

Continuing in this vein, I was pleased to see that Baugh concurred with my speculative analysis by placing weight on “until all is accomplished” (i.e. until Jesus completes his fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets) rather on “until heaven and earth pass away”.

Then Baugh turned to Bahnsen’s (along with unlikely bedfellow Ridderbos’) interpretation that pleyroo must be translated as “confirm” rather than the traditional “fulfill”, on the basis that the construction “I came not to abolish but…” requires a direct opposite of abolish. First off, confirm is not a direct opposite of abolish. The direct opposite is “build”, and we find these greek words in opposition in Gal 2:18 “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” So if Bahnsen wants pleyroo to be a direct opposite of abolish, “confirm” doesn’t do the job. Beyond that however, Bahnsen is incorrect in asserting that the construction even requires a direct opposite. Baugh shows how the same construction (from Jesus’ mouth) allows for a relationship of alternatives in Mat 9:24 “the girl is not dead, but…” what, alive, which is the opposite of dead? No, sleeping, which is an alternative to dead.

Putting it all together, Baugh offers this helpful tip: make sure your understanding of Matt 5:17 works as well for Law as it does for Prophets. So which of the two competing senses of pleyroo best fits: “I have not come to abolish the prophets, but to confirm them”, or “I have not come to abolish the prophets, but to fulfill them?

16 Responses

  1. Check this article out by Greg Welty.

    Ph.D. Oxford, and overall stud.

  2. Rube,

    Now that we understand it to say “fulfill”, what do we now gain? What does it mean for Christ to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets?


  3. You and I gain nothing but the status quo. But it is (another) nail in the coffin of the Theonomist, who wants to use this as a proof-text to lever as much Mosaic law into our day as possible.

    Baugh also says (and I didn’t blog this part because I find it a little tenuous) that when Jesus says “whoever breaks the least of these commandments…”, he is referring to his own commandments, i.e. the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, as opposed to Moses’ commandments. Baugh links it to the great commission: “and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you”. I think that’s kind of a stretch.

    But that brings up the interesting question: in the Sermon on the Mount (ch 5 especially), was Jesus refining, updating, adding to the Law of Moses (you have heard from Moses …, but I say…), or was he merely reinstating what the Israelites should already have known better (your Scribes and Pharisees may have incorrectly told you…, but I remind you what Moses actually said (meant)…).

    If Jesus is merely reminding his hearers of the true nature of the existing law, then why does WCF XIX.V say “Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation [to the moral law]” (Using Matt 5:17-19 as a proof-text)? And where in Moses is love your enemy, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give also your cloak, etc.?

  4. The entire book of Galatians is a nail in the coffin of the modern-day legalist. One of my friends is a former New York-trained Orthodox Rabbi (Ben-David Abshalom) who came to faith in Jesus through reading a Hebrew translation of the New Testament. His greatest struggle is letting go of Sabbath observance and his slavish devotion to the Torah. When I talk to him about it, you can see the anguish on his face. Do you think God would grant him a “pass” to continue all his orthodox observances, as long as he doesn’t insist that others follow his lead? Wouldn’t it be legalistic to tell him to eat pork chops and drive a car on Sunday?

    What I tell him is that he needs the same revelation of Jesus that Paul had (“all these things I consider rubbish…that I may know Christ” He’s not there yet, but he’s on the way.

  5. Interesting — do you mean particular Jewish (man-made) rules about the Sabbath, or still Friday-sundown-to-Saturday-sundown? By “slavish devotion to the Torah” do you mean that he favors the Pentateuch over the rest of the bible?

    Did Paul grant Peter a “pass” when he kowtowed to Jewish pressure?

    FWIW, I’d be glad to hook your friend up with a Jewish-Christian friend of mine who just finished his Seminary degree and an internship at my church, and returned home to Israel to work for Christian Witness to Israel; he could be better-suited than you to discuss these issues.

  6. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew, so he cringes at being immediately “free” to violate the law he has been venerating all these years. When I say “law”, I mean ALL of it. I think that passage is Galatians is referring to Peter’s hypocrisy more than living his own convictions. He was “chowing down” with Gentiles until Jerusalem Jews showed up…then he backed off.

    Yeah, e-mail me your friend’s information, but something tells me Abshalom probably won’t click with him. He’s more comfortable in a Messianic church where they still have many Jewish cultural traditions.

    Anyway, I still say he needs a more complete revelation of Jesus in his life.

  7. Rube,

    You said:
    “If Jesus is merely reminding his hearers of the true nature of the existing law, then why does WCF XIX.V say “Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation [to the moral law]” (Using Matt 5:17-19 as a proof-text)? And where in Moses is love your enemy, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give also your cloak, etc.?”

    – Echo:
    I sincerely doubt that Baugh was trying to distinguish between the moral obligations of the sermon on the Mount and the moral obligations of the 10 Commandments. He was probably trying to underscore the distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law, which are also laws of Moses.

    Christ completely does away with the ceremonial law. We can now eat hot dogs, for example. And he fulfills the moral law on our behalf, yet we are still obligated to strive to obey the moral law.

    Jesus’ understanding of the moral law far surpassed what the Pharisees – who were devoted to the letter of the law so that they constantly violated the spirit of the law – understood. He didn’t bring a new law, he more clearly expounded the law.

    Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. As such, he makes all the Word of God more clear. In Jesus we can see what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself, because Jesus died for his enemies, for those that hated him. He reveals what the true requirements of the law actually are by doing the requirements of the law. And we did not understand him, though he was like light shining in darkness.

    Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

    Lev 19:34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

    These commands seem to restrict the love of the Israelites to the Israelites and those within Israel. But then you’ve got the book of Jonah. Hmmm.

    You see, in the Old Mosaic covenant, the surrounding nations were to be regarded as enemies. They were the Gentiles, the reprobate if you will. But in Christ, salvation comes to the Gentiles. All people are to be loved as your neighbor. Israel is not the norm but a special situation in which God set apart for himself a people and a land. God was telling a story. But that was not to be permanent.

    But notice that it’s not just Israel that is to be loved in the OT, but also the alien passing through. And again, there is the story of Jonah, where God’s mercy was shown to the people of Ninevah, very much not Israelites, and not even in the land of Israel, but in Northern Iraq. How do we make sense of it all?

    Jesus explains it to us.

  8. Albino,

    Don’t be too concerned about your friend. Ancient church history tells us that it took Jews who were saved a long, long time to come around. While he is free to drive on Saturday, he is also free to NOT drive as well, observing this to the Lord.

    The only thing that matters is that he understands that Christ is his righteousness. Beyond that, the Spirit will bring him along in his own due time through the preaching of the Word, as does he with us all.


  9. Good stuff here, Rube

    I think I may be ordering these CD’s soon.

    (this may be a deviation from the direction of this thread but,)I think it is helpful to view the Sermon on the Mount from the perspective of the ascended ministry of Christ. Presuppose Christ’s death and resurrection in the text and see him speaking to the Church from heaven. The stipulations of the Sinatic (sp?) covenant were completely fulfilled and accomplished, the final sacrafice for sin made, now the ascended Lord (goes up the mountain and sits down (Matt 5:1)) shows us what the life of the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.

    For what it’s worth.

  10. I recommend the CDs — maybe zrim (or others) would go halvsies with you? I got together with a bunch of guys from church, and we bought the CDs together, because we all couldn’t make time to go to the (local) conference. After we all get a chance to listen to them, the CDs will land in the church library. We did this previously with a set of Bahnsen media as well (mostly apologetics stuff, there might have been some theonomy stuff in there too).

    As for your substantive comment, I think you’re right, and I think Baugh was trying to articulate something like that as well — at least as far as focusing on fulfillment.

  11. ‘Bino,

    Thinking a little more, I think I concur with Echo concerning your Jewish friend. To truly compare to Peter, I think he would have to be in a congregation with other converted Jews, and succumbing to their unscriptural pressure towards legalism. But if he is at a Christian church, then I think he should be considered as the “weaker brother” in 1 Cor, whose conscience is not strong enough to eat meat sacrified to idols. And who knows — in relating to still-Jewish friends, his deference to custom might be like Paul being, to the Jews, a Jew, or when Paul took Timothy to be circumcised in Acts 16 (which still blows my mind!) — not submitting to legalism, but merely deference to human custom for the sake of the gospel.

    As long as he understands that his acts of personal piety are not justifying or necessary for others, I’d say he’s allowed to be weak.

  12. Rube,

    Tim’s circumcision kinda blows my mind too. But we should be careful not to overinterpret this to mean that we, as Christians, should submit to anyone and everyone’s legalism. Circumcision was a law of God after all. That kind of confusion is very, very different than the confusion of the Muslims, for example, who mandate praying 5 times a day and a trip to Mecca. Their legalism is extrabiblical.

    What I mean is, the person who gets circumcized can do so out of faith in the Word of God. Perhaps they’ve misinterpreted the Word of God, but they don’t know that. They think they’re simply obeying the Word of God. Therefore, they’re actually doing it out of faith. We can tolerate such a thing. Not forever, but this is a true believer. Jesus railed against the Pharisees not because they strictly adhered to the Word of God, but because they ADDED to the Word of God. They took it upon themselves to declare all sorts of things to be sin that God had never said was sin. Thus they put themselves in God’s place – like people who say it’s a sin to drink alcohol – because they’re taking it upon themselves to legislate what is sin and to judge what is sin. It is their OWN authority they claim, not God’s. Since these rules are extrabiblical, it can’t be based on God’s authority. But only God is the one with the authority to declare what sin is. So anyone who says that something is sin that is not biblical has set himself up to be God, enthroning himself over the entire universe.

    No wonder Jesus got so irritated with those legalists: they were claiming his authority for themselves.


  13. Re Paul and Timothy: a possible transition period? See also Acts 15, the various dietary laws whose handling spanned two periods, and also Noah and his dietary issues upon leaving the Ark.

  14. I think I’ll take my business elsewhere from now on…. *sigh*

  15. Bruce,

    Not enough information for me to know what you were saying. Expand that a bit?


  16. Wacky,

    That does not compute either. What are you talking about?


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