A 7-year Question Answered  (The Law and The Prophets)

August 2013

7 years ago, whilst studying the Bible with my pastor and a group of people, someone asked whether it was correct to say that with the new covenant we have in Jesus (in the New Testament), we are no longer under the Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments) which is considered to be an old covenant (from the Old Testament). In response to this, my pastor showed the following scripture in which Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17-18
The Fulfillment of the Law

17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them18 For truly I tell you, 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.


At the time I thought, "Way to go, that is a good answer!
So the Law (the 10 commandments as I had understood it then) were still applicable to us now since Jesus said He had not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. However, something about that first sentence bothered me big time - it's the word "OR".

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;

Questions started to arise in my mind, such as:
  • If indeed this sentence is referring to the Law of Moses, why didn't it just mention "the Law"? Why did it also mention "the Prophets"?
  • Maybe the "OR" should have been an "OF"?  "the Law OF the Prophets" would make more sense, grammatically speaking (if we are only concerned about one thing - the Law).
  • Maybe the "OR" should have been an "AND"?  "the Law AND the Prophets", but that would make it to be 2 things: Law and Prophets, but I thought it was all about the Law (the 10 commandments) so the "Prophets" should not be a separate thing. And anyway it doesn't make sense to "abolish the Prophets" as such.
  • Maybe it's a mistranslation or even a typo (in the Bible) ??

So the "OR" in this scripture bothered me immensely! Every time I read this scripture, it bugged me silly. To most people, this maybe a trivial matter (after all it's just a little word "OR", but to me, it was a big thing. It niggled in the back of my mind for all of 7 years, until recently.... when God finally gave me the explanation, the answer. And as usual, the answer is awesome!



The Answer

I had recently bought a book called "Unlocking The Bible" by David Pawson. In the beginning of this book, he highlighted how the Old Testament books in the Hebrew Bible were arranged in different order to the English Bible, as follows:

Hebrew

LAW (Torah, Pentateuch)
In The Beginning (Genesis)
These are the names (Exodus)
And he called (Leviticus)
In the wilderness (Numbers)
These are the words (Deuteronomy)

PROPHETS
Former: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings.
Latter: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

WRITINGS
Praises (Psalms)
Job
Proverbs
Ruth
Songs of Songs
The Preacher (Ecclesiastes)
How? (Lamentations)
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
1,2 The words of the days (Chronicles)
'go up' (aliya) last words


English

HISTORY (Past)
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1,2 Samuel
1,2 Kings
1,2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther

POETRY (Present)
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Songs of Songs

PROPHECY (Future)
Major (4): Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel.
Minor (12): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 'curse' (last word).


As you can see, the first five books in the HEBREW Bible are not regarded as HISTORY (unlike the English Bible) but as LAW, and are known by the first words read as the scroll was unrolled. The next section is called "PROPHETS", and then after that WRITINGS

So there is my answer! 
In the Matthew scripture above, Jesus was not specifically referring to the 10 commandments, but referring to the sections of the Hebrew Bible, namely THE LAW and THE PROPHETSand so:
  • Jesus used OR because of the way His sentence was composed, "I have not come to abolish xx OR yy ". This is grammatically correct if Jesus did mean to separate Law and Prophets as two different things (which was the case).
  • And certainly it is now clear, it was not mistranslated or a typo error. It is all as how it should be. 

If I were to look at other translations of the Bible for the answer, such as the ones below (to name a few):
  • King James:  17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
  • Amplified:  17 Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until the sky and earth pass away and perish, not one smallest letter nor one little hook [identifying certain Hebrew letters] will pass from the Law until all things [it foreshadows] are accomplished.
  • New Living Translation: 17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 

I would still have been none the wiser. I would still be bothered by the word "OR". In fact the New Living Translation would have me believe Jesus was referring to the 10 commandments (which was what I have always associated the term "the Law of Moses" with) and not the LAW section of the Hebrew Bible. So God was graceful to show me the answer through the David Pawson book. Praise be to God!



Final Thoughts

Now that the true meaning of the above scripture has been unfolded, it has huge implications. For certain, we know that Jesus did not only fulfill all 10 commandments (living a sinless life), but more than that - He fulfilled absolutely everything that has ever been written & prophesied about Him in the Old Testament (for example: born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), not breaking a bruise reed (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:18-21) ad many others). So it was right that Jesus should refer to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), rather than specifically "just the 10 commandments".

Furthermore, when Jesus summed up the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-38 below) and tied them to the Law and the Prophets, they take a new meaning. 

Matthew 22:37-38
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Could Jesus be meaning that the two greatest commandments cover not just the 10 commandments but all 613 laws of Moses? It would seem to be so, as He yet again mentioned "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments". 

In any case, one important point to take from all this is just how clever God is - He placed that little niggle in my heart & mind using the littlest of words "OR" all those years ago, so that He can convey His amazing gem that was hidden from me until now, and leading me to HIS TRUTH, away from the misinterpretations of man. 

Glory be to God for His revelation and all His answers!