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 For truly I tell you, 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 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. –Matthew 5:17-20
The phrase “Law and Prophets” in the text above is a reference to the first five books of the Bible-Genesis to Deuteronomy-which are called the books of Moses or the Law. The remaining 34 of the 39 books of the Old Testament are often called the prophets.). When Jesus says that He came to “fulfill the law and prophets” we see this as a figure of speech called a synecdoche and it involves an idea. This is a figure of speech that refers to a part of something by the whole as when we say “The World is not treating you well” where select people in our world are represented by the entire world. A synecdoche can also refer to the whole of something by the part as when we say “All hands on deck.” Where the part of people known as the hand is put to represent the people being called to man their stations on the deck of the ship.
In our earlier text Jesus puts the whole of the Old Testament (the Law and Prophets) to represent a part of it, or God’s specific laws contained in it. Thus, Jesus is saying that He has not come to abolish God the Fathers laws (which at this point includes the dietary, ceremonial, and moral laws) but to fulfill them. Given this purpose of Jesus to fulfill the law, and by a process of elimination, we have to rule out Jesus as a new law-giver. Since the disciples are to emulate Jesus, this also means that when Paul speaks for God in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where he requires women to wear head coverings in worship, he cannot be giving a new permanent law for all times in the church! This leaves us to conclude that Paul’s prescription for women to wear head coverings—whether in or outside of church—is a cultural prescription and non-binding on us today.
This Biblical principle of looking at the Old Testament precedent to discern if some New Testament prescription is cultural or permanent can be used for other things. However, we cannot dismiss anything in the Bible unless it can be proved from the Bible, as we have just done, that it is cultural. All too often people today try to dismiss moral absolutes—to include some of the 10 commandments–by saying that they were only cultural prescriptions and no longer binding on us. This we cannot do unless we can substantiate it from the Bible itself, as we have done in the case of women wearing head-coverings.
Salvation Teaching Point:
In our text from Matthew earlier, Jesus, when talking to the Jewish People in Israel (not the Gentiles outside of Israel) in His sermon on the mount, makes clear that He comes to fulfill the law which defines His role for us as our Savior. This means He comes to do what we can’t do and that is to live a perfect and righteous life before His Father in heaven. In doing this He obeys all of the laws given in the Old Testament. He does this for us because we are imperfect sinners and can never do it ourselves. His obedience and righteous life is then credited to be ours, through faith; it’s a judicial declaration.
2. The following quote from the Gospel of John reinforces that Jesus is not a new law-giver and there are many more like it. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).