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Romans 10:4: "Christ is the End of the Law"

Few Pauline passages have been more used and abused than Romans 10:4 which reads: " For Christ is the end [ telos ] of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth " (KJV). This text has been utilized as an easy slogan for two contrasting views regarding the role of the Law in the Christian life. Most Christians assume to be self-evident that in this text Paul teaches that Christ's coming has put an end to the Law as a way of righteousness and consequently New Covenant Christians are released from the observance of the Law.

Other Christians contend just as vigorously that in this text Paul teaches that Christ is the goal toward which the whole Law was aimed so that its promise of righteousness may be experienced by whoever believes in Him. Personally I subscribe to the latter interpretation because, as we shall see, is supported by the linguistic use of telos (whose basic meaning is "goal" rather than "end"), the flow of Paul's argument, and the overall Pauline teachings regarding the function of the Law.

The Meaning of Telos: Termination or Goal?

The conflicting interpretations of this text stem mostly from a different understanding of the meaning of telos , the term which is generally translated as "end" in most English Bibles. However, the English term "end" is used mostly with the meaning of termination, the point at which something ceases. For example, the "end" of a movie, a journey, a school year, a working day, is the termination of that particular activity. By contrast, the Greek term telos , has an unusual wide variety of meanings. In their A Greek-English Lexicon , William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich explain that telos is used not only with the sense of "termination, cessation," but also with the meaning of "goal, outcome, purpose, design, achievement." (45)

The use of telos as "goal, design, purpose" was most common in classical Greek as well as in Biblical (Septuagint) and extra-Biblical literature. This meaning has been preserve in English compound words such as telephone, telescope. In these instances tele means "designed for," or "for the purpose of." For example, the telephone is an instrument designed for reproducing sounds at a distance. The telescope is an instrument designed for viewing distant objects. These different meanings of telos have given rise to two major interpretation of Romans 10:4, generally referred to as (1) "termination," and (2) "teleological."

Most Christians hold to the termination interpretation which contends that telos in Romans 10:4 means "termination," "cessation," or "abrogation." Consequently, " Christ is the end of the Law " in the sense that "Christ has put an end to the Law" by releasing Christians from its observance. This view is popular among those who believe that Paul negates the continuity of the Law for "New Covenant Christians" and is reflected in the New English Bible translation, which reads: " For Christ ends the Law. "

This interpretative translation eliminates any possible ambiguity, but, by so doing, it misleads readers into believing that Paul categorically affirms the termination of the Law with the coming of Christ. The problem with termination interpretation is, as we shall see, that it contradicts the immediate context, as well as the numerous explicit Pauline statements which affirms the validity and value of the Law (Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; 8:4; 13:8-10).

The teleological interpretation maintains that telos in Romans 10:4 must be translated according to the basic meaning of word, namely, "goal" or "object." Consequently, " Christ is the goal of the Law " in the sense that the Law of God, understood as the Pentateuch or the Old Testament, has reached its purpose and fulfillment in Him. Furthermore, through Christ believers experience the righteousness expressed by the Law. This interpretation has prevailed from the Early Church to the Reformation and it is still held today by numerous scholars.

Two major considerations gives us reasons to believe that the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4 as "Christ is the goal of the Law," correctly reflects the meaning of the passage: (1) The historical usage of telos in Biblical and extra-Biblical literature, and (2) the flow of Paul's argument in the larger and immediate context. We shall now consider these two points in their respective order.

The Historical Usage of Telos

In his masterful doctoral dissertation Christ the End of the Law: Romans 10:4 in Pauline Perspective , published by The Journal for the Study of the New Testament (University of Sheffield, England), Roberto Badenas provides a comprehensive survey of the meaning and uses of telos in Biblical and extra-Biblical literature. He concludes his survey noting that in classical Greek, the Septuagint, the Pseudepigrapha, Flavius Josephus, Philo, and Paul, the

"basic connotations [of telos ] are primarily directive, purposive, and completive, not temporal [termination]. . . . Telos nomou [end of the Law] and related expressions are indicative of the purpose, fulfillment, or object of the Law, not of its abrogation . . . . In all the New Testament occurrences of phrases having the same grammatical structure as Romans 10:4, telos is unanimously translated in a teleological way." (46)

In other words, telos is used in the ancient Biblical and extra-Biblical Greek literature to express "goal" or "purpose," and not "termination" or "abrogation."

Badenas provides also a detailed historical survey of the interpretation of telos nomou ["end of the Law"] in Christian literature. For the period from the Early church to the end of the Middle Ages, he found

"an absolute predominance of the teleological and completive meanings. The Greek-speaking church understood and explained telos in Romans 10:4 by means of the terms skopos [goal], pleroma [fullness], and telesiosis [perfection], seeing in it the meanings of 'purpose,' 'object,' 'plenitude,' and 'fulfillment.' Nomos [Law] was understood as the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament (often rendered by nomos kai prophetai [Law and prophets]. Consequently, Romans 10:4 was interpreted as a statement of the fulfillment of the Old Testament, its prophecies or its purposes, in Christ." (47)

In the writings of the Latin Church the equivalent term finis was used with practically all the same meanings of the Greek telos . The Latin word finis

"was explained by the terms perfectio , intentio , plenitudo , consummatio , or, impletio [fullness]." (48)

Thus, in both the Greek and Latin literature of the Early Church, the terms telos/finis are used almost exclusively with the teleological meaning of "goal," or "purpose," and not with the temporal meaning of "termination," or "abrogation."

No significant changes occurred in the interpretation of Romans 10:4 during the Middle Ages. The text was interpreted as:

"a statement of Christ's bringing the Old Testament Law to its plenitude and completion. The Reformation, with its emphasis on literal exegesis, preserved the Greek and Latin meanings of telos/finis , giving to Romans 10:4 both teleological (eg Luther) and perfective (eg Calvin) interpretations." (49)

It is unfortunate that most translation of Romans 10:4 ignore the historic use of telos as " goal, purpose, perfection ," and consequently they mislead readers into believing that "Christ has put an end to the Law."

The antinomian, abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4 developed after the Reformation largely due to the new emphasis on the discontinuity between Law and Gospel, the Old and New Testaments. The Lutherans began to apply to Romans 10:4 the negative view of the Law which Luther had expressed in other contexts. (50) The Anabaptists interpreted Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation, according to their view that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament. (51)

The lower view of Scripture fostered by the rationalistic movements of the eighteenth century, further contributed to the tendency of interpreting Romans 10:4 in the sense of abolition. (52) In the nineteenth century the overwhelming influence of German liberal theology, with its emphasis on Biblical higher criticism, caused the antinonian "abrogation of the Law" interpretation of Romans 10:4 to prevail. (53)

The termination/abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4 is still prevalent today, advocated especially by those who emphasize the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, the Law and the Gospel. (54) During the course of our study we have found that the abrogation interpretation has been adopted even by former sabbatarians, like the Worldwide Church of God and Dale Ratzlaff in his book Sabbath in Crisis. This interpretation is largely conditioned by the mistaken theological presupposition that Paul consistently teaches the termination of the Law with the coming of Christ.

A significant development of the last two decades is that a growing number of scholars have adopted the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4, namely, that " Christ is the goal of the Law ." What has contributed to this positive development is the renewed efforts to analyze this text exegetically, rather than imposing upon it subjective theological presuppositions. Badenas notes that

"It is significant that in general the studies which are more exegetically oriented interpret telos in a teleological way ["Christ is the goal of the Law"], while the more systematic [theology] approaches interpret the term temporally ["Christ had put an end to the Law"]." (55)

It is encouraging to know that new exegetical studies of Romans 10:4 are contributing to rediscover the correct meaning of this text. It is doubtful, however, that these new studies will cause the abandonment of the abrogation interpretation, because it has become foundational to much of the Evangelical beliefs and practices. In this context we can mention only few significant studies, besides the outstanding dissertation of Roberto Badenas already cited.

Recent Studies of Romans 10:4

In a lengthy article (40 pages) published in Studia Teologica , Ragnar Bring emphasizes the culminating significance of telos in Romans 10:4, on the basis of the race-track imagery in the context (Rom 9:30-10:4). He argues that in this context telos

"signifies the winning-post of a race, the completion of a task, the climax of a matter." (56)

Bring explains that, since "the goal of the Law was righteousness," the Law served as a custodian ( paidagogos ) directing people to Christ, who only can give righteousness. This means that

"Christ is the goal of the Law" in the sense that He is the eschatological fulfillment of the Law. (57)

In the article cited earlier " St. Paul and the Law ," CEB Cranfield argues that in the light of the immediate and larger context of Romans 10:4, telos should be translated as " goal ." Consequently he renders the texts as follows: "For Christ is the goal of the Law, so that righteousness is available to every one that believeth." (58) He notes that verse 4 begins with "for- gar " because it explains verse 3 where Paul explains that "The Jews in their legalistic quest after a righteous status of their own earning, have failed to recognize and accept the righteous status which God has sought to give them." On verse 4, according to Cranfield, Paul continues his explanation by giving the reasons for the Jews' failure to attain a righteous status before God: "For Christ, whom they have rejected, is the goal toward which all along the Law was directed, and this means that in Him a righteous status before God is available to every one who will accept it by faith." (59)

On a similar vein George E. Howard advocates a goal-oriented interpretation of telos in Romans 10:4, arguing that

"Christ is the goal of the Law to everyone who believes because the ultimate goal of the Law is that all be blessed in Abraham." (60)

A lengthier treatment of Romans 10:4 is provided by JE Tows who interprets telos as "goal" on the basis of "linguistic and contextual grounds." (61)

More recently, CT Rhyne has produced a perceptive dissertation on Romans 3:31 where Paul says: " Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law. " Rhyne shows that there is a theological connection between this verse and Romans 10:4. This connection supports the teleological interpretation of telos, and is more consistent with Paul's positive understanding of the relationship between Christ and the Law in Romans. (62)

Walter Kaiser, a well-known and respected Evangelical scholar, offers a compelling defence of the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4, by examining closely the arguments developed by Paul in the whole section from Romans 9:30 to 10:13. He notes that in this passage Paul is

"clearly contrasting two ways of obtaining righteousness-one that the Gentiles adopted, the way of faith; the other, a work method, that many Israelites adopted-all to no avail." (63)

What many fail to realize, according to Kaiser, is that the

"homemade Law of righteousness [adopted by many Jews] is not equivalent to the righteousness that is from the Law of God." (64)

In other words, what Paul is condemning in this passage is not "the righteousness that God had intended to come from the Law of Moses," but the homemade righteousness which many Jews made into a Law without Christ as its object. (65) Paul's condemnation of the perverted use of the Law does not negate its proper use.

Kaiser concludes his insightful analysis of this passage, saying:

"The term telos in Romans 10:4 means 'goal' or purposeful conclusion. The Law cannot be properly understood unless it moves toward the grand goal of pointing the believer toward the Messiah, Christ. The Law remain God's Law , not Moses' Law (Rom 7:22; 8:7). It still is holy, just, good, and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14) for the Israelite as well as for the believing Gentile." (66)

The Larger Context of Romans 10:4

In the final analysis the correct meaning of Romans 10:4 can only be established by a careful analysis of Romans 10:4 in the light of its larger and immediate contexts. This is what we intend to do now. In the larger context (Romans 9 to 11) Paul addresses, not the relationship between Law and Gospel, but how God's plan of salvation was finally fulfilled with the coming of Christ, how it related to the destiny of Israel. The fact that the majority of Christian converts were Gentiles and that the majority of the Jews had rejected Christ, raised questions about the trustworthiness of God's promises regarding the salvation of Israel.

The question that Paul is discussing is stated in Romans 9:6: " Has the word of God failed? " How can God's promises to Israel be true when Israel as a nation has jeopardize its election as God's people by rejecting Christ? This was a crucial question in the apostolic church, which was formed by many Jewish Christians and directed by Twelve Apostles who were Jews.

"The issue was how to explain that the people of the old covenant, who had been blessed by God with the greatest privileges (Rom 9:4-5), were now separated from the community of the new covenant, which, as a matter of fact, was nothing other than the extension of Israel." (67)

Paul responds to this question in Romans 9 to 11 by pointing out, first of all, that God's word has not failed because divine election has never been based on human merits, but on God's sovereignty and mercy. The inclusion of the Gentiles following Israel's disobedience, is not unjust because it represents the triumph of God's plan as contemplated in the Scriptures (Rom 9:6-29). As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call my people " (Rom 9:25).

Second, Paul points out that Israel's rejection of Christ comes from their failure to understand God's purposes as revealed in Scripture and manifested through the coming of Christ (Rom 9:30 to 10:21). Instead of receiving the righteousness of God by faith, Israel sought to establish its own righteousness (Rom 9:31; 10:3).

Lastly, Paul brings out that the failure of Israel is only partial and temporary. God has not rejected Israel, but has used their failure for the inclusion of the Gentiles and ultimately salvation of Israel (Rom 11:1-36). " A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved " (Rom 11:25-26).

This bare outline of the larger context of Romans 10:4, suffices to show that the issue that Paul is addressing is not the relationship between Law and Gospel, but how God is working out His plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, " for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek " (Rom 10:12). This means that Romans 10:4 must be interpreted, not on the basis of a "Law-Gospel" debate which is foreign to the context, but on the basis of the salvation of Jews and Gentiles which is discussed in the context.

The Immediate Context of Romans 10:4.

The section of Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is generally regarded as the immediate context of Romans 10:4. Paul customarily signals the next stage of his argument in Romans by the recurring phrase: " What shall we say, then? " (Rom 9:30). And the issue he addresses in Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is this: How did it happen that the Gentiles who were not in the race after righteousness obtained the righteousness of God by faith, while Israel who was in the race to attain the righteousness promised by the Law, did not reach the goal?

Badenas provides a convenient concise summary of Paul's argument in Romans 9:30-33. He writes;

"Paul presents the failure of Israel in the fact that it did not recognize from Scriptures ( eis nomon ouk ephthasen -did not attain to the Law-Rom 9:31) Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, the goal and substance and meaning of the Law. Looking at the Torah [Mosaic Law] from the human perspective-as a code primarily interested in human performance-Israel overlooked the importance of looking at it from the perspective of God's saving acts and mercy. Having failed to take their own Law seriously in that particular respect, they did not see that God's promises had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Israel's misunderstanding of Torah [Mosaic Law] is presented by Paul as blindness to the Law's witness to Christ (cf. Rom 9:31-33 with 10:4-13 and 3:21), which was epitomized in Israel's rejection of Jesus as Messiah." (68)

It is important to note that in the immediate context Paul is not disparaging the Law, but is criticizing its improper use as a way to attain one's own righteousness. The Jews were extremely zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge (Rom 10:2). Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, many Jews tried " to establish their own righteousness " (Rom 10:3).

The problem with the Jews was not the Law , but their misunderstanding and misuse of it. They did not attain to the righteousness promised by the Law because they misunderstood it and transformed it into a tool of personal achievement (Rom 10:2-3, 5; 2:17, 27; 3:27; 4:2). They insisted on establishing their own righteousness (Rom 10:3), rather than accepting the righteousness that had been revealed by God through Moses in the Law. They did not see that the righteousness of God had been revealed especially through the coming of the promised Messiah. They looked at the Law in order to see what a person could do to become righteous before God, instead of recognizing what God had already done for them through Jesus Christ. They failed to recognize that Christ is the goal of the Law, as Paul says in verse 4.

Romans 10: 4: Goal or Termination?

Paul continues his argument in verse 4, which literally reads: " For Christ is the goal of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth. " This crucial text begins with the conjunction "For- gar ," thus indicating a continuous explanation within the flow of Paul's thought. This means that this text must be interpreted in the light of its immediate context where Paul discusses the failure of the Jews to attain the righteousness promised by the Law.

In Greek the key sentence reads: " telos nomou Christos ," which literally translated means "The goal of Law [is] Christ." The structure of the sentence with telos nomou at the beginning, indicates that Paul is making a statement about the Law rather than about Christ. The Law ( nomos ) has been the center of Paul's discussion since Romans 9:6, and particularly since Romans 9:31, where he speaks of nomos dikaiosunes -the Law of righteousness, that is, the Law that holds forth the promise of righteousness.

Note must be taken of the fact that in the immediate context Paul does not speak of the Law and Christ as standing in an antagonistic relationship. In Romans 9:31-33 he explains that had the Jews believed in Christ ("the stone"), they would certainly have "attained" the Law which promises righteousness. Consequently, in the light of the immediate context, it is more consistent to take the Law- nomos as bearing witness to Christ rather than as being abrogated by Christ. The abrogation interpretation ("Christ has put an end to the Law") disrupts Paul's flow of thought, works against his main argument, and would have been confusing to his readers in Rome accustomed to use telos with the sense of "goal" rather than "termination."

The athletic metaphors used in the immediate context (Rom 9:30-33) suggest also that telos is used with the meaning of "goal," because telos was one of the terms commonly used to denote the winning-post or the finish line. Other athletic terms used by Paul are: diokon (Rom 9:30-31), which denotes the earnest pursuit of a goal; katelaben (Rom 9:30), which describes the attaining of a goal; ouk ephthasen (Rom 9:31), which refers to the stumbling over an obstacle in a race; kataiskuno (Rom 9:33), which expresses the disappointment and shame of the defeat.

The implications of the athletic metaphors are well stated by Badenas:

"If by accepting Christ the Gentiles reached the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and, thereby, acceptance within the new people of God (Rom 9:30), and by rejecting Christ Israel did not reach the goal of the Law and thereby admission into God's new people, the logical conclusion is what Romans 10:4 says: that the goal of the Law and the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and entrance into God's eschatological people are to be found nowhere else than in Christ." (69)

The Qualifying Sentence: "For Righteousness . . ."

Further support for the teleological interpretation is provided by the qualifying sentence that follows: " for righteousness to every one that believeth " (Rom 10:4b; KJV). The phrase "for righteousness" translates the Greek eis dikaiosunen . Since the basic meaning of the preposition eis -"into" or "for," is directional and purposive, it supports the teleological interpretation of the text, which would read: "Christ is the goal of the Law in [its promise of] righteousness to everyone that believeth."

This interpretation harmonizes well with the context and contributes to the understanding of such important elements in the context as " the word of God has not failed " (Rom 9:6), the Gentiles attained righteousness (Rom 9:30), Israel did not "attain" to the Law (Rom 9:31), stumbled over the stone (Rom 9:33), and ignored God's righteousness (Rom 10:2-3). All of these major themes fit if Romans 10:4 is understood in the sense that the Law, in its promise of righteousness to whoever believes pointed to Christ.

The abrogation interpretation that "Christ has put an end to the Law as a way of righteousness by bringing righteousness to anyone who will believe," interrupt the flow of the argument and work against it. The same is true of the interpretation which says that "Christ has put an end of the Law in order that righteousness based on faith alone may be available to all men." The problem with these interpretations is that they wrongly assume that prior to Christ's coming righteousness was obtainable through the Law and that the Law was an insurmountable obstacle to the exercise of righteousness by faith, and consequently it was removed by Christ.

This assumption that Christ put an end to the Law as a way of salvation is discredited by the fact that in Paul's view salvation never did come or could come by the Law (Gal 2:21; 3:21). In Romans 4 Abraham and other Old Testament righteous people, were saved by faith in Christ (cf. Rom 9:30-33). The rock that Israel stumbled over was Christ (Rom 9:33; cf. 1 Cor 10:4). Paul explicitly says that the Law was not an obstacle to God's righteousness, but a witness to it (Rom 9:31; 3:21, 31).

Another interesting point to consider is that the key to understand Romans 10:4 may to be found in the proper understanding of the last words of the text: " to everyone who believes ." This is the view of George Howard who notes that this is the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles which dominates the immediate context. Он пише:

"The Jews based their salvation on the fact that they had the Law, the fathers, and all the blessings which go with these. Their extreme hostility to the Gentiles (1 Thess 2:15-16) had caused them to miss the point of the Law itself, that is, that its very aim and goal was the ultimate unification of all nations under the God of Abraham according to the promise. In this sense Christ is the telos [goal] of the Law; he was its goal to everyone who believes." (70)

In the light of the preceding considerations we conclude that Romans 10:4 represents the logical continuation and culmination of the argument initiated in Romans 9:30-33, namely, that Christ is the goal of the Law, because He embodies the righteousness promised by the Law for everyone who believes. This is the righteousness which the Gentiles attained by faith and which most Jews rejected, because they chose to establish their own righteousness (Rom 10:3), rather than accepting the righteousness the Law pointed to and promised through Jesus Christ. Thus, far for declaring the abrogation of the Law with the coming of Christ, Romans 10:4 affirms the realization of the goal of the Law in Christ who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.

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