In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:17-19)
Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to put an end to it. He says quite clearly that he did not come to abolish the Law. The word “fulfill” has many connotations. When we “fulfill” the Law, we do what it requires. When a cup is filled with water, it is, in some sense, “fulfilled.” In his life and teaching, Jesus exemplifies the Law in all its fullness.
The word “Law” is a very poor translation of the much wider term, “Torah,” which is better rendered as “Teaching.” In common usage, it refers to the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. Already in the Pentateuch, there are special terms to refer to various types of law. The collective body of Jewish law is known as halakhah. This term is derived from the verb “to walk.” Thus the proper translation of halakhah is not “law” but rather “the way to go.” The Talmudic sages classified the laws into two basic groups. Statutes are those laws whose reasons are known not known, such as the dietary laws; judgments are laws between individuals whose reasons are known, such as the laws that govern a well-ordered society.
It was not until the Middle Ages that the laws were codified into 613 laws. This number is symbolic: 248 positive commands to correspond to the bones of the body and 365 negative commands to correspond to the muscles. There was little agreement as to which laws comprised this number. The laws include what we could consider civil, criminal, and family law as well as the commercial code. In contrast, current canon law contains 1752 norms.
A single law is known as a mitzvah. In contemporary usage, this term may be used to signify a good deed or act of kindness. The Hebrew term is derived from a term meaning “to join, attach.” The fulfillment of a mitzvah is a way to connect to God, a means to unite one’s own will with the will of God. True obedience comes from love rather than from fear.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.