To Fill, Fill Up or Fulfill

(Genesis 1:22 Brenton) And God blessed them saying, Increase and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the creatures that fly be multiplied on the earth.

We’re told in Genesis 1:22 that God blessed the sea creatures telling them to increase and multiply and fill the waters in the sea. This is the first mention of the Greek word “pleroo” (G4137) in the Septuagint translated as “fill”. Its Hebrew counterpart in the Masoretic Text is the word “malê” (H4390).

These words (“pleroo” and “malê”) are used throughout the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Tanakh, respectively and the typical translations are “fill, fill up or fulfill”.

I have found that the use of certain words in English can really make a difference in how we view the message of the text. 

What Do You See?

When you hear the words “fill up”, what picture comes to mind?

For me, I think of someone at a gas pump, filling up on gas…

Fill-Up-Car

…or of someone filling up a glass with water.

glass-of-water

The message conveyed in my mind is one of adding more to obtain a full or fuller capacity. How about you?

Now when you hear the word “fulfill”, what do you visualize?

For me, I think of something being done or completed…like fulfilling an obligation or requirement…

checklist
…or fulfilling one’s life-long dream or destiny.

Mountain

The word “fulfill” delivers a message in my mind of the completion of a predetermined task. How about you?

I believe it is revealing to see how two different words or phrases of words (“fill up” and “fulfill”), which are meant to convey the same word (“pleroo”), can deliver two different messages.

That It Might Be Fulfilled…

In the first mention of the first book of the New Testament, we see the word “pleroo” is translated as “that it might be fulfilled”. The passage being quoted is Isaiah 7:14.

(Matthew 1:22-23 KJV) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The next mention is found in the next chapter, translated again the same way. This time it is quoting from Hosea 11:1.

(Matthew 2:14-15 KJV) When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

The third mention is as follows, but I cannot find a direct reference from which he is quoting.

(Matthew 2:23 KJV) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

In the past, I have read these passages to mean that the verses being quoted were prophetic in nature, speaking of a future event, particularly surrounding the Messiah, and now they are being met in Jesus/Yeshua.

But when I go back and study the original passages being cited, I don’t see any indication that it is specifically speaking of an event in the distant future or that they were referencing a Messiah, in particular.

Isaiah 7:14 appears to be talking about a child that would be born in that particular time and when he grew to a certain age, particular events were going to take place. Then, in the next chapter, we see that event come to pass. The child is not considered a messianic figure at all.

(Isaiah 7:14-17 KJV) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.

Hosea 11:1 particularly references Israel as being the “son” having been called out of Egypt, which is something that clearly took place in the past as seen in Exodus. It was not directly referencing a future event that I could tell nor was it pertaining to a future messianic figure.

(Hosea 11:1 KJV) When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

And then, regarding the Nazarene verse, I cannot find anything that prophesies the Messiah will be from a town called Nazareth, or even that he will be considered a Nazarene. Some have suggested this is referencing someone who takes a Nazarite vow, but I still see nothing predicting the Messiah would do that.

So what is going on here?

When I realized the Greek word being translated was “pleroo” (G4137), the same word used in Matthew 5:17, I searched for it in the Septuagint to see how it was used there. That’s when I came across its first mention in Genesis 1 and saw how it was translated as “fill”, not “fulfill”.

(Genesis 1:22 Brenton) And God blessed them saying, Increase and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the creatures that fly be multiplied on the earth.

Obviously, this passage in Genesis is not speaking of completing a predetermined event. Given the Greek definition according to Thayer is “to make full” or “to fill up”, this translation of “fill” as opposed to “fulfill” makes sense. Genesis 1:22 is addressing the addition of more to obtain a full or fuller capacity.

That got me to thinking, what if the translators of “pleroo” as used in Matthew re-worded the phrase “that it might be fulfilled” as “that it might be filled up”, how would that change the meaning of the verses?

Look at this…

(Matthew 1:22-23 KJV) Now all this was done, that it might be filled up which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

(Matthew 2:14-15 KJV) When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be filled up which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

(Matthew 2:23 KJV) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be filled up which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Reading these in this way conjures up something different in my mind. Matthew seems to be referring to words spoken by the prophets in the past to suggest how what was happening concerning Yeshua in that present day filled up, or brought more meaning and insight to the words spoken so long ago.

While Isaiah 7:14-17 wasn’t specifically addressing what would come to pass in the future concerning the Messiah, we can see how what happened in Isaiah’s day is filled up by the events in Yeshua’s day. A child was being born, and this was a catalyst to show how YHVH Elohim was with the people of that day (“Immanuel”).

While Hosea 11:1 wasn’t predicting the Messiah would be called out of Egypt, we can see how when YHVH referred to his calling Israel out of Egypt when he was a child is filled up by the event when Yeshua, as a child, was also being called out of Egypt. The words in Hosea are being filled up.

Regarding the notion that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, it’s interesting to note, that the prophet Isaiah did clearly indicate that a “branch” would come up out of the roots, a rod out of the stem/stump of Jesse. And the spirit of the LORD (YHVH) shall rest on him.

(Isaiah 11:1-5 KJV) And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

In Hebrew, the word translated as “branch” in Isaiah 11:1 is “netser” (H5342). The town that Jesus/Yeshua called home was called “Nazareth”. The Thayer’s Greek definition of this town’s name says it is from an “uncertain derivation”. It is very possible that the name “Nazareth” is of Hebrew origin and the beginning spelling would be similar for that of “netser” (“nun”, “tsadi”, and “resh”).

Given this, Matthew could be drawing the Hebrew reader’s attention to the fact that the individual in Isaiah 11 (in this case, a reference to a clear Messianic prophecy) being referred to as a “branch” (“netser”) is being filled up by the fact that since Yeshua was from a town called Nazareth, he was called a Nazarene/Nazarite or possibly, “netser”.

Now that makes more sense to me.

Given this slightly modified translation, passages that once appeared to be suggesting cited references were Messianic prophecies may actually just be the author’s attempt to explain how the actions/events surrounding Yeshua filled up, or brought more meaning to words spoken long ago by the prophets.

Not Come to Destroy, but to Fulfill

Given what I have just laid out concerning the word “pleroo” and it’s translations and meaning, let’s look at a popular passage that is often misunderstood.

(Matthew 5:17 KJV) Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

This passage is often used to suggest that Yeshua is saying he came to bring the law and the prophets to a close, or completion by his fulfilling it. But if we consider the alternate phrase “to fill up” in this verse, in light of the context with which he is speaking, a different message comes across.

(Matthew 5:17 KJV) Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fill up.

In the chapters that follow, Yeshua continually refers back to the law, saying, “You have heard that it was said…” and then quotes from the law. He follows up by saying, “But I say unto you…” and proceeds with a teaching on the matter. He does not bring the law into closure or completion, but rather he fills it up by bringing more meaning or insight to the words.

For example, Yeshua did not bring closure to the instructions to not murder or commit adultery; instead he brought fuller understanding or insight to them.

Words Matter

A simple word or phrase, such as “fill”, “fill up” or “fulfill” can change our perspective on the message being conveyed. The words used in the text matter when it comes to understanding the message of the text.

This is why when I study Scripture, I choose to:

  • Read various translations to gain different perspectives.
  • Lookup the definition and origins of the words being translated.
  • Consider how the original words are used elsewhere.
  • Pray for understanding.

I may not be entirely accurate in my understanding of the proper translations of “pleroo”, since I am not a Greek scholar, and I have not studied all the nuances of the Greek language, so I hope you will pray about what I’ve presented.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me, and if you have come across something different than what I have presented, please let me know.

About Messyanic

Homesteading Wife, Homeschooling Mom and perpetual Bible student, continually taking the road less traveled. (@messyanic)
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