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Matthew’s “Filling Full” of Scripture

In the last post I indicated one way that Matthew understood Jesus to have fulfilled Scripture – a prophet predicted something about the messiah (to be born of a virgin; to be born in Bethlehem, etc.) and Jesus did or experienced what was predicted.   There’s a second way as well, one with considerable implications for understanding Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus.  Here’s how I talk about it in my textbook on the New Testament


 The second way in which Jesus “fulfills” Scripture is a little more complicated.  Matthew portrays certain key events in the Jewish Bible as foreshadowings of what would happen when the messiah came.  The meaning of these ancient events was not complete until that which was foreshadowed came into existence.  When it did, the event was “fullfilled,” that is, “filled full of meaning.”

As an example from the birth narrative, Matthew indicates that Jesus’ family flees to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod “in order to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, `Out of Egypt I have called my son'” (2:15).  The quotation is from Hos 11:1, and originally referred to the Exodus of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.  For Matthew, Jesus himself “fulfills” that event, that is, he “fills it full of meaning.”  The salvation available to the children of Israel was partial, looking forward to a future time when it would be made complete.  With Jesus the messiah, that has now taken place.

Understanding this second way….


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Creative Uses of Numbers in Scripture
Matthew’s Fulfillment of Scripture Citations



  1. Avatar
    alienvoodoo  January 8, 2015

    Great post! Thank you! I’ve long been intriqued by the way Matthew portrays Jesus as the new Moses and the whole old law vs new law debate…It seems to me that people always make a text say what they want it to say, often taking said text completely out of context to do so…a quick footnote; it escaped me for 30 odd years, but read Jer.8;8…kind of an ironic statement. Thank you for the passion you bring to these discussions!

  2. Avatar
    JohnKesler  January 8, 2015

    Bart Ehrman:
    Sound familiar? It would to most of Matthew’s Jewish readers. Matthew has shaped these opening stories of Jesus in order to show that Jesus’ life is a fulfillment of the stories of Moses (read Exodus 1-20).

    John Kesler:
    How much of this “shaping” was done by taking actual events in Jesus’ life and recounting them in light of Moses’ life as opposed to making up stories about Jesus? How do we know?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 10, 2015

      The only way we really know is by comparing Matthew’s version to the others we have (which do not have this motif) and to what we can reconstruct of the life of Jesus based on the various historical criteria we use.

  3. Avatar
    moose  January 8, 2015

    If we only make a small change, then all the pieces will fall into place. Remember that Christianity arose in the meeting between the Greek philosophy / religion and Judaism. For the Greeks, it was unheard of that God should have walked on the earth. The God of the Platonists was transcendent. In the cultural syncretism meeting between the Greek understanding of God and the Jewish understanding, the Jewish god Yahweh who walked with Moses could not be God himself, but his son. Now some pieces fall into the right place. This points to the first understanding of who Jesus really was. There are several other interpretations of Jesus in the Tanakh but we stick to this for now.
    It is this Jesus who is both the world’s light and the road. He sends Moses and Aaron to Egypt to institute the very first Passover – Jesus sends two disciples to Jerusalem to make clear for the Passover meal. Jesus saves Israel / Jacob from the Egyptian yoke. On the journey out of Egypt is Yahweh with Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Miriam and Jacob – Peter, Andrew, John, Mary and James.
    Yahweh dies at the Red Sea and is then resurrected on the third day on Mount Sinai – Chapter 19. Yahweh appears first for Moses, then the seventy, then the forselected Capable men from all the people, and ultimately to all Israel. This is in line with what Paul says in Corinthians.

    • Avatar
      moose  January 9, 2015

      This is also in line with what Paul says in 1. Corinthians 10:

      For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

      So Matthew is not all that wrong when hi says: `Out of Egypt I have called my son’.

      • Avatar
        moose  January 9, 2015

        I will also show what Paul meant by this: ‘After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep’.

        Deuterononmy 5:23-26: ‘When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24 And you said, “The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. 25 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. 26 For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived?’

        How many was the leaders of the tribes?
        The leaders of the tribes was leaders for thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten.
        1000 + 100 + 50 +10 = 1160
        This is of course the lowest estimate.
        600,000 Israelites left Egypt. Then it is just a matter of mathematics.
        600.000/1160 = 517 !

        There must have been more than 517 leaders of the tribes.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 8, 2015

    Did the author of Matthew, much like a Fox News commentator, make up stuff that did not actually occur in order to build his case? I guess another, perhaps better, explanation would be that various stories got expanded during oral and written transmission through the decades and the author of Matthew then collected and reported these stories which he believed to be true and he arranged them in ways to support his view that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. It’s hard for me to imagine that the author of Matthew did not actually believe that these stories were true. Surely, he did not just read the Old Testament and then conclude that Jesus must have therefore done this or that because it is in the Old Testament without any actual evidence or reports of Jesus having actually done this or that?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 10, 2015

      Yes, I think a lot of this happened in the oral tradition.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  January 10, 2015

        34Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

        35Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

        “Nothing,” they answered.

        36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’b ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

        38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

        “That’s enough!” he replied.


        1. do you think that verse 37 has been added by another person?
        2. who are the transgressors? the disciples?
        3. “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.” why say this when one of your followers did try to prevent your arrest and you told them that 2 swords were enough?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 11, 2015

          1. I’ve never thought about it; but I don’t see a compelling reason for thinking so.
          2. Transgressors is referring to the two people he was crucified with
          3. I think your quotation is from John. John doesn’t know about the two swords.

  5. Avatar
    Thomasfperkins  January 11, 2015

    Epiphany. Such a wonderful feeling when something I just skipped over because it did not seem right suddenly makes sense. Thank you, Dr Ehrman.

  6. Avatar
    steffi  January 11, 2015


    One of the sayings of Jesus (in Matthew’s gospel) that is often commented on, since it demonstrates Jesus’ “Jewishness”, is his proclamation that he didn’t “come to abolish
    the Law….”.

    I thought, because it passed the criterion of dissimilarity with flying colours, that this was something Jesus almost certainly did say; however, if Matthew’s community was made up primarily of Jewish Christians, or of Christians who were very eager to express their respect, admiration, or loyalty to Judaism, isn’t that particular criterion inapplicable in respect of the reported saying?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2015

      Yes, the problem is that the passage coincides precisely with Matthew’s own views, so it does not pass dissimilarity.

  7. Avatar
    steffi  January 11, 2015


    (Sorry, I pressed the button too soon!)

    Do you think this is something Jesus actually said?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2015

      I doubt it.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  January 14, 2015

        To say Jesus didn’t say “I didn’t come to abolish the law…” is to take away Jesus’ expertise of covering his donkey/colt. Jesus saying “I didn’t come to abolish the law…” keeps Jesus in character, and keeps him out of the snares of Pharisees and scribes–whomever.

  8. Avatar
    Jana  January 12, 2015

    “Shaped opening stories” or created? I’ve asked this question before. I think your answer before was that there were similar stories floating around that preceded Matthew’s application but sometimes it strikes me as a fine line. From what I’ve just read there is no historical evidence that Bethlehem was Jesus’s birth place. Is this correct? Even so, what would have been Matthew’s motive? Elevating Jesus’s status for conversion purposes???

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2015

      Yes, it’s unlikely that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Very, very unlikely. Matthew says he was in order to fulfill the prediction of the prophet Micah (5:2).

  9. Avatar
    Jana  January 18, 2015

    LiveScience has this article today citing the finding of the Oldest Known Gospel on a Mummy’s mask:


    Yes I understand “Matthew” ordered to fulfill the prediction of the prophet Micah but why was this even necessary? On a different tangent. it occurred to me the other night reflecting on what I’ve been reading that the human if not male psychology behind elevating Jesus from a poor ragtag albeit wise Jewish preacher to a God is peoples’ vanity and self glorification .. please bear with me Dr. Erhman … only an exalted entity/deity with super human powers would be worthy of the sacrifice, piety and egotism that created a massive and powerful institution.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 19, 2015

      Matthew wants to show that Jesus’ coming into the world was all part of the divine plan. That’s why he has the fulfillment of Scripture passages.

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