Filling Up the Word: The Fulfillment Citations in Matthew’s Gospel
It is often assumed, occasionally argued, that when Matthew writes, in his ten “fulfillment citations” (FCs), that Scripture was “fulfilled,” he means that the occurrence of certain events “verify” scriptural “predictions.” This study argues that the FCs have another primary function—namely, to show how Jesus (or, in two cases, Israel’s leaders) brings the scriptural word to an unsurpassable, “full” limit. The key verb πληροῦν, that is, has a basic meaning of “fill up.”
The starting point is an examination of three rhetorically significant texts in Matthew’s gospel that are not FCs. In Matt 3:13-17, 5:17-20, and 23:32-36, Matthew consistently uses πληροῦν to mean “fill up” some ethical/ moral quantum. A survey of the way in which “limit-adjectives/ adverbs” (adjectives/ adverbs, that convey a limit being reached, e.g., “all”) cluster around the FCs points in the same direction—towards the hypothesis that πληροῦν means “fill up” in the FCs as well.
A potential linguistic objection is then addressed: is it possible to use πληροῦν in this way in Matthew’s Umwelt? Considering the instances of “πληροῦν + a word” formulations in koinē Greek, the study concludes that such language would have no default idiomatic meaning in the ears of Matthew’s speakers and could be used in the manner proposed.
After establishing the methodological principle that Matthew controlled the size of his FCs—and, thus, quoted precisely what he needed—exegesis of the specific FCs attempts to confirm the study’s central thesis. Consideration of relevant textual features of the narrative context in which the FCs are embedded (e.g., repetition of limit-adverbs/ adjectives, narrative-enacted “fullness”) would show that many, but not all, of the FCs point towards such a meaning for πληροῦν. Those FCs lacking such textual features can and probably should be read within the framework derived from Matthew’s normal usage of πληροῦν.
Finally, the study considers several hermeneutical implications of this exegesis. Ultimately, it would situate Matthew’s hermeneutic within scholarly discussion of “the Old in the New” and offer a contribution to Matthean christology. With the FCs, Matthew sets forth a vision of myriad images from Israel’s past (Emmanuel; Son; nazirite; light; healing Servant; nonviolent king; prophet; meek king) converging on the Jesus who fully embodies them to save Israel from the fullness of her exile.
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