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.
— Matthew 5:17 —
When we say that Jesus fulfilled the law, we often abstract what the law means. That is, instead of letting “the Law” be the five books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy), we often put the law into the paradigm of the law and the gospel, or some other theological construct. Such formulations are good, but they are also one step removed from the biblical text.
In Matthew 5:17, the place where Jesus says that he has fulfilled the law, he actually identifies “the Law” and “the Prophets,” which tells us he has the five books of Moses in mind when he says “law.” Jesus does the same in Matthew 7:12. And throughout Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus speaks about the Law (see 11:13; 22:40; cp. 5:18; 12:5; 22:36; 23:23), we find an ongoing focus on Moses’s five books. In fact, this focus on the five books of Moses, what we call the Pentateuch, is seen not just in the way Jesus uses the word nomos (Law) in Matthew, but in the way Matthew himself introduces Jesus.
Here’s my thesis: In the first seven chapters of Matthew, the tax collector-turned-apostle presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the Pentateuch. In canonical order, Jesus fulfills each book of the Law in each of the opening chapters of Matthew. Here’s my argument at a glance.
|Matthew 1||Genesis||Jesus is the New Adam|
|Matthew 2||Exodus||Jesus is the New Moses|
|Matthew 3||Leviticus||Jesus is the New Priest|
|Matthew 4||Numbers||Jesus is the New Israel|
|Matthew 5–7||Deuteronomy||Jesus is the New Covenant|
Such a comparison between Matthew and Moses requires a thorough acquaintance with the Law, but for those familiar with Matthew, we know he has an intimate knowledge of the Law and employs it to structure his book and to tell the story of Jesus. And here, as we meditate of the birth of Christ, I want to sketch in brief how the coming of Christ fulfills each book of the Pentateuch. Continue reading