Sunday, January 28, 2007

"I came to fulfill!"

In Matthew 5:17 Yeshua is quoted as saying, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill.” But, a semitic understanding of what Yeshua said, brings forth a nuanced meaning.

Remembering that Yeshua spoke mostly Aramaic and Hebrew rather than Greek, it is easy to see that Yeshua was speaking a short Hebrew poem, which plays on the similar sounding (and similar meaning) Hebrew words mala (to fill a vacant space) and kalah (to make an end, to accomplish).

Deuteronomy 31:24 says, And it came to pass, when Moses had accomplished (kalah) writing the words of this law (towrah) in a book, completely (tamiym)…

In other words, Yeshua was saying, “I have not come to accomplish the law, but to fill it.”

It seems that something is hiding in the subtlety of this phrase.

The Hebrew word “mala” means “to fill a vacant space.” What Yeshua was doing was contrasting the concept of observing the general law, but failing to fill in the gaps that it leaves in specific cases.

Aristotle (who lived almost 400 years before Yeshua) taught that equity and justice are closely related. While not identical, they belong to the same family of moral good. What is equitable is more than just since equity is the principle applied to correct justice when it errs. In Chapter Ten of Book Five of the Nicomachean Ethics, he writes:

…law is universal but about some things, it is not possible to make a universal statement which will be correct. In those cases, then, in which it is necessary to speak universally, but not possible to do so correctly, the law takes the usual case, though it is not ignorant of the possibility of error. And, it is none the less correct; for the error is not in the law nor in the legislator but in the nature of the thing, since the matter of practical affairs is of this kind from the start. When the law speaks universally, then, and a case arises on it, which is not covered by the universal statement, then it is right, when the legislator fails us and has erred by over-simplicity to correct the omission--to say what the legislator himself would have said had he been present, and would have put into his law if he had known.

An equitable man is not a stickler for the letter of law; he will even be satisfied with less than his legal share in certain situations if he feels this is more just. In other words, equity fills the gap left uncovered by legal justice, just as Yahweh uses his equity (tsedekah) to fill the gap left uncovered by our imperfect equity (or righteousness).

Yeshua came to teach equity, and this is what he was saying: “Do not think that I have come to accomplish (only) the law (or the prophets), I have come not (only) to accomplish it, but (also) to fill in the gaps (that it has in it). For truly I say, ‘until heaven and earth pass away, not even the smallest letter or the tinniest stroke shall in any way perish from the law, until all things have happened. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your equity exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

No comments: