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Jesus gave full meaning to the Law of Moses

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In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave full meaning to the Law of Moses. In doing this, He exercised His divine prerogative of interpreting scripture by explaining how to properly understand the Old Testament Law.

Many people struggle to accept the truth that God is Jesus. Most believers have difficulty accepting that Jesus, and not the Bible, is the source of truth. And even among the Jesus-centred Christian community, there are several, perhaps most, who do not fully embrace the idea that Jesus is the preeminent interpreter of scripture.

In this article, I address this issue – Jesus, the interpreter of the Bible.
I would imagine that if we gathered all the paper used in written commentaries and articles on Matthew Chapter 5, there would be enough material to wallpaper President Trump’s border wall three times over. So, I am not going to add to the digital version of wallpaper by attempting yet another commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. Rather, I want to focus on the subject at hand – Jesus, the interpreter of scripture.

Fulfil, not Abolish the Law

The Sermon on the Mount starts with the Beatitudes, but the crux of the teaching comes in Matthew 5:17-18 where Jesus says, “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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”.

It is quite likely that the Scribes and Pharisees had accused Jesus of attempting to do away with the Law of Moses because His declaration refutes this claim. In any event, The Lord Jesus set the first part of his sermon as an interpretation of the Mosaic Law. Moses met with God on a mountain and Jesus, God the Son, met with His people on what Matthew describes as a mountainside. On Mount Sinai, Moses received Ten Commandments and on the mountainside of Galilee, Moses’ heirs received Ten Affirmations.

The 10 Affirmations

The Sermon on the Mount starts with 8 Beatitudes, so-called because each begins with ‘blessed’. However, in the context of what Jesus went on to teach, ‘blessed’ does not mean happy, favoured, or prosperous. The best understanding of the Greek word used here is that it describes those who experience the highest good.

The Beatitudes are, in this sense, affirmations of righteousness rather than promises.
Why do I say there are 10 Affirmations? It might be a bit of a stretch, but it appears to me that in this sermon Jesus purposefully placed His teaching in relation to the Ten Commandments. So, it seems right to me to include the Salt and Light statements (Matthew 5 vs. 13-16) as Affirmations 9 and 10.

Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with descriptions of the state of true disciples of God. The Ten Commandments identified the Old Testament Israelites and the Ten Affirmations identified what the people of God were supposed to be all along – those who humbly trust God, who suffer for their loyalty, who are meek, desire relationship with God, who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, righteous, salted with wisdom, and light-bearers of truth. In other words, those who truly fulfilled the Law of Moses.

What Jesus meant by ‘fulfil’

The three main ways in which theologians understand ‘fulfil’ are:

  1. To obey
  2. To complete, or
  3. To bring out the full meaning.

Well, Jesus certainly did fully obey the Old Testament Law, and He did bring to completion everything the Law and the Prophets required of the Messiah. However, He also brought out the full, and correct, meaning of the Law, and this is just what He did in this sermon. To make this clear, He proceeded to correctly interpret and give the full underlying meaning of the 6th and 7th Commandments (Exodus 20). He started these expositions, as He did other examples, with the words “You have heard that it was said…” and then followed up with “But I tell you…” There was a Jewish expectation at that time, based on Isaiah 2:3 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 that their long-awaited Messiah would provide a definitive exposition of the Law. This Jesus certainly did, both in this sermon and in his other teachings.

In each instance, Jesus shifted the focus from a behaviour regulated by the Law to an attitude governed by the ‘new’ Law of Love (John 13:34).  For instance, he did not abrogate the commandment “you shall not murder“, but rather He revealed the inner attitudes that can result in murder.

Jesus affirms the Scriptures

Right at the outset, Jesus was careful to state that He had not come to do away with the teachings of scripture.
He made this very clear by stating that the Law would remain valid until the end of time, as we know it. However, it is equally clear from his subsequent interpretations of the Law that this ‘eternal’ Law must be correctly understood.

His insistence on properly understanding the meaning and purpose of the Law comes out in the bold statement that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The word ‘righteousness’, as used here, carries the meaning of ‘conforming to the revealed will of God’. God’s Word Translation of the Bible substitutes the words ‘has God’s approval’ where the Good News Translation uses the phrase ‘more faithful than’. The idea here is not that Jesus-followers need to be more meticulous in their legalistic adherence to the Law, but that they need to be more faithful than the Scribes and Pharisees in understanding and living out its true dictates.

And in conclusion

I have been blessed by studying the Sermon on the Mount once again, and my appreciation of both the Lord Jesus and the Bible has increased even more. I have learned some things I had not previously known such as the fact that the Rabbis of that time commonly used salt as an image for wisdom (See Pauls’ use of this in Colossians 4:6). A disciple who loses saltiness (Matthew 5:13) is, therefore, one who has become foolish. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, this would equate to a Jesus-follower who does not understand and apply the ‘inner’ meaning of the Law as Jesus revealed it to be.

This then makes contextual sense of verse 19 where ‘breaks’ is better translated as ‘loosened’ (as per Young’s Literal Translation). The English Standard Version renders this verse as, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”.

The bottom line of all of this is that one of the reasons Jesus came to Earth was to teach the correct meaning of the scriptures, and we need to ensure that we follow, teach and apply His understanding.


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Fasting or loosing

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Lent is upon us… well, it’s upon those who observe lent.

The word Lent originally meant ‘lengthen’, as in the daylight hours of Spring, but in the more traditional Christian world, it has come to signify the 40 days of preparation for Easter. The main idea is that Christians should examine their lives, repent of sin, and attempt to present themselves as pleasing to God. One of the main ways they try to achieve this is by fasting.

In Old Testament times good Israelites fasted for several different reasons, but the most common reason was to demonstrate their grief and anguish of heart. When someone died, the family would fast as a way of evidencing their grief. When the nation disobeyed God and the people then realised their error they would fast to demonstrate their repentance. However, the religious leaders gradually replaced this fasting-from-the-heart with an ostentatious style of fasting designed to demonstrate their personal piety. So, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would fast on one or two days a week to show others just how ‘holy’ they were, and they made sure everyone knew that they were fasting. Jesus addressed this religious pride and hypocrisy when He said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16–18).

When today’s Christians wish to justify why they fast, say for Lent, they often quote this passage because Jesus said “When you fast” and not “if you fast” and was thus endorsing the practice for His followers… so they say. However his teaching was part of the well-known Sermon on the Mount, and although His disciples were present Jesus was addressing a large crowd of traditional Jewish folk (Matthew 7:29). They understood the why and how of fasting.

To take Jesus’ acknowledgement of the practice of fasting in this passage as an endoresemnt for the ongoing practice of fasting is really biting off more than we should be chewing.
Matthew 9:14-17 records how on another occasion Jesus addressed the issue of fasting: ‘Then the disciples of John came to him [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”’ Once again this is commonly used to support the idea that today’s believers should fast because did not Jesus, the groom, leave us to go back to heaven? But do we not believe then that Jesus is with us now in spirit? I would have thought that the more obvious way of understanding this passage was to take the comparison between John the Baptist’s Old Testament followers and Jesus’ disciples as a rejection, and not an endorsement, of Christian fasting.

I have sometimes fasted from all foods for up to a week, but in my later years have come to realise that fasting, other than for health reasons, is problematic on a number of grounds:

  1. First is the lack of any reasonable biblical endorsement, let alone encouragement.
  2. Second, are the dubious motivations and practices that are so common when it comes to fasting. If we, as Christians, do decide to fast then the only legitimate spiritual motivation I can see is the desire to use abstinence as a way of drawing closer to Jesus. This means that we would need to use the mechanism of fasting in a conscious way to deal with sin issues, spend more time in prayer, and so on. To sit at a dinner table and refuse to eat by saying “Sorry, but I am fasting” doesn’t create the time or focus for drawing closer to God and is, in essence, pharisaic.
  3. To token-fast by missing one meal a day and by eating before 6 am and again after 6 pm is, in my opinion, religious superficiality. To refrain from consuming food and beverages and then walking around looking and sounding grumpy and longing for a headache tablet is, again in my opinion, just puerile.

The only way I can conceive of a valid fast, for Lent or at any other time, is to use the time when one would normally eat to pray and meditate and to respond to the pangs and aches associated with short-term fasting by drawing aside to read the scriptures and pray. Why else would we want to fast?

So perhaps we need less fasting and more loosing to break away from religious attitudes and thoughtless practices. What do you say? I would love to read your comments.

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Our parents taught most of us never to discuss politics or religion at a dinner party. However, nowadays these two topics seem to crop up almost every time two or more people meet. As I write this, the leadership battle for the ANC, and hence the country, is in full swing. The more acrimonious it gets, and the closer the elections become, the more Christians want to know how to respond. Here are some thoughts.

Firstly, we can and should be praying for our political leaders. Paul writes that ‘…requests, prayers , intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2). As a nation, we have removed God from our constitution and so I have great difficulty asking the Lord to bless our country. However, I have liberty in praying for our key leaders, asking God to give them wisdom and a determination to do what is right.

Secondly, we should be good citizens. Jesus taught that we should ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21). Paul and Peter elaborated upon this, instructing us to submit to governing authorities and to be ready to do whatever is good (Romans 13:1,  Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 2:13). This includes paying our taxes and obeying traffic regulations!

We have dual citizenship of Heaven and South Africa. If we are to validate the former then we need to be exemplary citizens of the latter.
Thirdly, we need to vote. Abstaining is seldom a valid option. But, for whom do we vote?  The voting process does not allow us to vote for individuals so we have to vote for parties. Dear oh dear. My advice is to pray, research, and then vote… but vote, don’t abstain. Whatever your reasons are for supporting a particular party, just ensure that you base them on a desire to be true to God’s character and the injunctions of scripture.

Fourthly, we should voice our support and our censure. If something is wrong then we should write to whoever is influential and voice our concerns. If we can, we should offer constructive and biblical alternatives. When somebody does something right we should also write to them, or their superiors, or the press, and affirm them. Most of us feel that it is our duty to catch someone doing something wrong. But, what about trying to catch someone doing something right? The power of a ‘blessing’ is far greater than the power of a ‘curse’.


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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.