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. "
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;
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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.
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).
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.