The Active Obedience of Christ in Matthew 5:17 and 10:34

Abstract

The paper argues for the fact that πληρῶσαι in Matthew 5:17 should be interpreted as ‘to fulfill by doing’. This is established by looking at the larger story arc presented by Matthew spanning from the end of Chapter 4 thru end of chapter 10. It builds its case by first looking at the thematic elements that Matthew uses to tie the larger narrative together such as how Matthew 5:17 and 10:34 form an inclusion with a center piece of the content comes in Chapter 7:12-29. Upon the analysis of the relationship between these three texts a theme is exposed. The theme that rises to the surface is a general movement from the idea of the law of God to the idea of division from the rest of the world. All three passages contain this movement. A comparison of 5:17-21 and 10:34- 11:1 reveals that one is more heavily focused on the law while the other is focused on division.

With 7:12-29 as the dividing line between the Sermon on the Mount and the Miracles of Christ there is a thematic movement from Law to one of Division. Finally, after establishing the unique relationship between 5:17 and 10:34 in light of the thematic flow and presentation by the writer of the book of Matthew it is argued that to πληρῶσαι is to be defined by its relationship to the bringing of a sword. The definition to ‘to fulfill by doing’ is firmly established in the final analysis of the systematic categories expressed by ideas presented in 5:17 and 10:34.

Prologue

The cliché ‘ink has been spilled’ is not a grand enough statement to describe the amount of time, energy and ink that has been poured concerning a text like Matthew 5:17. Depending on which theological camp people find themselves in, the text can be turned about in defense of any position, from defending theonomy against antinomianism to defending antinomianism from theonomy.1)T. D. Gordon, “Critique of Theonomy : A Taxonomy,” Westminster Theological Journal 56, no. 1 (1994): 23–43. It has even been used in an attempt to merge Reformed Baptist covenant theology with the dispensations of Dispensationalism.2)Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology (Frederick, Md.: New Covenant Media, 2002).Exegetical papers on this text tend to be an exercise in expressing presuppositions rather than dealing with the text honestly. A quick perusal of any paper on this pericope quickly reveals the underlying presuppositions guiding a writer’s understanding of the hotly debated word ‘to fulfill.’3)Cf. D. A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel, and Walter L. Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Pg. 141, Carson makes this very point when he highlights three important debates concerning this text. Noting the exegetical results of this verse are intimately tied to greater concerns of biblical theology.Rather than attempt to veil presuppositions concerning biblical theology, this essay is written from the perspective of a Reformed Baptist professing the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF), with its unique understanding of covenant theology and its use of typology.4)cf. LBCF 7.3 “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocence.” The idea expressed in this statement concerning the revelation of the covenant of grace as being made by ‘farther steps’ is to be understood as typology; that God in his historical covenantal dealings with Israel so ordered history as to reflect the nature of the Pactum Salutis which granted to the Son a people via the covenant of grace. The story of Israel from Abraham to AD. 70 has many typological contact points with the story of all of humanity from Adam to the eschaton. This typology will be highlighted with a brief analysis of Deuteronomy 4-11.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.T. D. Gordon, “Critique of Theonomy : A Taxonomy,” Westminster Theological Journal 56, no. 1 (1994): 23–43.
2.Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology (Frederick, Md.: New Covenant Media, 2002).
3.Cf. D. A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel, and Walter L. Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Pg. 141, Carson makes this very point when he highlights three important debates concerning this text. Noting the exegetical results of this verse are intimately tied to greater concerns of biblical theology.
4.cf. LBCF 7.3 “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocence.” The idea expressed in this statement concerning the revelation of the covenant of grace as being made by ‘farther steps’ is to be understood as typology; that God in his historical covenantal dealings with Israel so ordered history as to reflect the nature of the Pactum Salutis which granted to the Son a people via the covenant of grace. The story of Israel from Abraham to AD. 70 has many typological contact points with the story of all of humanity from Adam to the eschaton. This typology will be highlighted with a brief analysis of Deuteronomy 4-11.

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