Matthew 5:17: “Destroy” the Law

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When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, "You are canceling (or, uprooting) the Torah!" In other words, "You are so misinterpreting Scripture that you are negating or canceling part of it." Needless to say, in most cases, his colleague strongly disagreed. What was "canceling" the Torah for one teacher was "fulfilling" it for another.

Revised: 18-June-2021

One of the most frequent requests JP receives from readers is for a new, English translation of the sayings of Jesus based on an understanding of their Hebraic and Jewish background. Below we offer such a translation of Matt. 5:17-18.

Previous Attempts at Translation

  • “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (KJV)
  • “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (RSV)
  • “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.” (NIV)

From Literal Greek to Dynamic Hebrew

Greek (Codex Vaticanus):
Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι (me nomisete hoti elthon katalysai ton nomon e tous prophetas ouk elthon katalysai alla plerosai).

Literal Translation of the Greek:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fill.”

Conjectured Hebrew Reconstruction:
אל תחשבו שבאתי לבטל את התורה ואת הנביאים לא באתי לבטל אלא לקיים (al takhshevu shebati levatel et hatorah ve-et hanevi’im lo bati levatel ela lekayem).

Literal Translation of the Hebrew Reconstruction:
“Do not think that I have come to cancel the Torah [the five books of Moses] and the Prophets [the second section of the Hebrew canon]. I have not come to cancel, but to sustain.”

Idiomatic Translation of the Hebrew Reconstruction:
“Do not think that I have come to weaken the Torah and the Prophets. I have not come to weaken them, but to strengthen them.”

Dynamic Translation of the Hebrew Reconstruction:
“Do not suppose that I have any intention of undermining Scripture by misinterpreting it. My purpose is to establish and maintain the knowledge and observance of God’s Word not undermine it.”

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This article originally appeared in issue 6 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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