August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

    1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
    2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

    • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
    • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
    • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

    • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
      • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
        • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.

August 5: Romans 10:4 (continued)

Romans 10:4

In the previous daily note, I discussed the immediate context of verses 1-3 (cf. also the article on Rom 9-11); today it remains to examine verse 4 in detail.

“For (the) Anointed {Christ} (is the) te/lo$ of (the) Law unto justice/righteousness for every (one) th(at is) trusting.”

Let us look at each element of this verse:

te/lo$ (“end”)—this word, which I left untranslated above, is in the first (emphatic) position; it has the fundamental meaning “completion, finish”, more commonly translated simply as “end”. The problem with rendering it as “end” is that this can be understood at least two ways: (1) as a termination, or (temporally) as the limit of a term, and (2) as a goal or purpose. Before discussing how Paul intends it to be understood in context here, I will proceed with the remainder of the verse.

ga\r (“for”)—this is a coordinating particle, connecting with what has come before (vv. 1-3) and serving to explain it.

no/mou (“of the Law”)—Paul normally uses no/mo$ (“law”) in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah), though occasionally, particularly in Romans, he uses it in the wider sense of the “Law of God”; here, however, he specifically means the Old Testament Law.

Xristo/$ (“[the] Anointed”)—the regular shorthand title for Jesus (Christ), serving virtually as a proper name already in early Christian usage. A verb has to be supplied in English—”Christ (is) the end of the Law”—to fill out the predication. For the sense in which Christ is “the end of the Law”, see below.

ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn (“unto justice/righteousness”)—the preposition here (ei)$, “into/unto”) indicates purpose or end result; in English, it is typically translated “for justice/righteousness”. The noun dikaiosu/nh, used frequently by Paul in Romans, along with the verb dikaio/w, the adjective di/kaio$ and the related noun dikai/wma, indicates fundamentally the “just-ness” and “right-ness” of God, which is expressed both in the Law, and, more importantly, manifest in the person and work of Christ. For more on the meaning and translation of the dik-/dikaio- word-group, see the article on Justification and throughout the series on Paul’s View of the Law (in Galatians and Romans).

panti/ (“for all/every [one]”)—Paul often gives special significance to pa=$ (“all, every”), as a key word for the universal scope of the Gospel message—it is for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. The dative case here could be rendered “for all” or “to all”.

tw=| pisteu/onti (“the [one] trusting”)—the participle (of the verb pisteu/w, “trust”) is a regular way for Paul to refer to believers in Christ. In Romans and Galatians, Paul regularly contrasts trust (pi/sti$) in Christ with observance of the Torah (no/mo$, “the Law”, or “works [e&rga] of the Law”). While the full force and significance of this contrast is largely lost today, it is vital to an understanding of Paul’s thought, especially in Galatians and Romans. For more on this, see below.

Two essential interpretive questions remain to be addressed:

    1. What does Paul mean by te/lo$ (“end”) in this verse?
    2. What exactly does it mean to say that Christ is the “end of the Law”?

1. As indicated above, there are two main possibilities for te/lo$ here:

    • as a termination—emphasizing that the Law has ceased to be in force and is no longer binding
    • as a goal or purpose—emphasizing that the Law ultimately points and leads to Christ, whether or not one considers the Law in any way to be still in force

These, of course, are hardly incompatible, since, to use Paul’s regular metaphor of the race, upon reaching the goal, the race comes to an end. However, there are several factors which do need to be considered:

    • In 1 Cor 1:8; 10:12; 15:24, and (probably) also 1 Thess 2:16, Paul uses it in the sense of termination, of a cessation for the current Age; while in Rom 6:21-22; 2 Cor 11:15 and Phil 3:19, it similarly relates to a person’s fate at the end of the Age. In 2 Cor 1:13, the expression e%w$ te/lou$ (“until completion”) probably means “completely, fully”. Overall, he does not seem to use te/lo$ in the sense of an end goal or purpose.
    • In the only instances where he may refer to te/lo$ as a goal or purpose—2 Cor 3:13 and (possibly) 1 Thess 2:16—Paul uses the preposition ei)$ (ei)$ to\ te/lo$, “unto the end/completion [of]”). Here in Rom 10:4, ei)$ (indicating purpose or end result) is used with dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”). There is a similar context between 2 Cor 3:13 and Rom 10:4, as both passages deal with the Law in relation to Christ (cf. below).
    • The immediate context of Rom 9:30-33 suggests the metaphor of a race (“pursuing [after]”)—Gentiles take hold (of the prize) through faith in Christ, while many Israelites fail to reach the goal as they should. In this respect, te/lo$ would likely refer to the goal (justice/righteousness), though, as indicated above, it might also mean the termination of the race.

When we consider the other metaphors and illustrations Paul uses, especially those in Galatians 3-4 and Romans 6-7, we see that he repeatedly expresses the idea that, with Christ, the period governed by the Law comes to an end. Believers are no longer under the authority of the Torah, bound to observe it (Rom 6:14); in this regard, the “end” (te/lo$), in Paul’s way of thinking, is also understood in terms of death—in Christ, believers die (and are dead) to the Law (Gal 2:19; Rom 7:4-6, etc), so it no longer has any binding force over us. However, he also expresses elsewhere something of the idea that the Law points the way and leads to Christ (cf. below).

2. As already indicated, there are two related ways that Christ can be understood as “the end of the Law”:

    • With the coming of Christ—and, in particular, with his sacrificial death and resurrection—the period of the Old Testament Law (Torah) is terminated.
    • The justice/righteousness of God as expressed in the Law points toward the justice/righteousness that is manifest in the person and work of Christ; these are not in conflict, but the latter supersedes the former entirely, so that the old covenant is replaced by the new and the old covenant is no longer in force.

Throughout Galatians and Romans (esp. in Gal 3-4 and Rom 6-7), Paul has emphasized (and clearly taught) the first of these views; however, the second view is, in many ways, complementary to the first, and seems to be closer to Paul’s emphasis in Romans 10:1-4. This is to be seen in the language used earlier in 9:31:

“but Israel, pursing (the) Law of justice/righteousness, did not reach/arrive (first) unto (this) Law”

Here, the goal of the “race” is the “Law of justice/righteousness” (no/mo$ dikaiosu/nh$), best understood as “the Law of God” (cf. Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21), as expressed in the Torah. Israel did not reach this goal, or, at least did not reach it first—i.e., many Gentiles reached it, grabbing hold of the prize, ahead of them. Since Paul has also expressed clearly that Jesus Christ is the embodiment and manifestation of God’s justice/righteousness (Rom 3:21ff, etc), it is natural and appropriate to refer to Christ himself as the true goal of Israel’s pursuit. Paul’s sorrow stems from the fact that many of his fellow Israelites and Jews have failed to recognize or acknowledge this, as he movingly and powerfully describes here in Romans 9-11. A similar line of argument and discussion is found in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; the illustrative, contrasting juxtaposition he employs is forceful and striking:

The Old Covenant

  • Ministered by Moses
  • Attended by a temporary glory (that comes to an end)
  • Governed by the written word (gra/mma), i.e. Scripture/Torah
  • Written on tablets of stone
  • Ultimately leads to death
  • For those who read/hear it, there is a covering over the mind and heart
  • It has ceased to be in effect, with the coming of Christ

The New Covenant

    • Ministered by missionaries and apostles of Christ
    • Attended by an eternal glory that will not go away
    • Governed by the Spirit (pneu=ma), i.e. the (Holy) Spirit of God
    • Written on the heart
    • Leads to (eternal) life
    • Through the Gospel and trust in Christ, the covering is removed
    • It is lasting and eternal

Note especially Paul’s repeated use of the verb katarge/w in vv. 7, 11, 13-14; this verb has the basic meaning “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render it ineffective, inactive—in a technical (legal) sense, it means “invalidate, nullify, make void,” etc. In 2 Cor 3:7-14, it is used four times, each in the present passive (“is [being] made inactive”):

    • In verse 7, it refers specifically to the glory over Moses’ face, cf. Exod 34:29-35
    • In verse 11, the reference seems to be the entire ministration of the Covenant
    • Verse 13 refers to the temporary status of the Covenant (and its glory)—its fate/end is to be made inactive
    • In verse 14, the emphasis is on the old Covenant being made inactive in Christ

We can see how this passage blends together both meanings of te/lo$ indicated above: (a) the Law is terminated and ceases to be in effect, and (b) it ceases to be in effect “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|), i.e. God’s work in Christ as the ultimate purpose and goal of the Law. Interestingly, from what Paul says elsewhere in Romans and Galatians, the immediate purpose of the Law has to do with the manifestation of sin, in particular, the enslaving power of sin at work over human beings in the world and “in the flesh”; but the ultimate purpose is that God should show mercy and favor over human beings through the person and work of Christ, rescuing and freeing them from the power of sin and death. In the process, according to Paul’s remarkable teaching, we are also freed from the Law—in this sense, Christ truly is the finish, completion and end of the Law.

August 4: Romans 10:4

Romans 10:1-4

In today’s note, I will be looking at Romans 10:4, one of the key verses relating to Paul’s View of the Law. I have already discussed chapters 9-11 of Romans in a prior article, and here it is also necessary to set verse 4 in the immediate context of chapter 10. In verses 1-2, Paul delivers a personal address regarding his fellow Israelites and Jews, much as in 9:1-3ff (cf. also 11:1ff), expressing his heart’s desire and longing to God that “they might be saved”. Verse 2 is significant in this regard:

“For I witness concerning them that they hold a burning (desire) for God, but not according to (true) knowledge about (Him)…”

This lack of correct understanding Paul clarifies in the next verse:

“…for, lacking knowledge regarding the justice/righteousness of God, and (even) seeking to stand (up) th(eir) own justice/righteousness, they did not put themselves (in order) under the justice/righteousness of God”

There are three components to Israel’s failure, as Paul describes it:

    • they lacked knowledge regarding the justice/righteousness of God
    • they sought to establish their own justice/righteousness
    • they did not put themselves correctly under [i.e. did to submit to] His justice/righteousness

As the remainder of chapter 10 makes clear (vv. 8ff), Paul frames this entirely from the standpoint of the failure of many Israelites and Jews to accept the Gospel message and to trust in Jesus Christ. How does this relate to the three components outlined above? Based on the context of Romans, this can be explained as follows:

    • they are unaware of the justice/righteousness of God which has been manifest (in Christ) apart from the Old Testament Law (Rom 3:21ff); Paul refers to this lack of knowledge in terms of their mind being hardened (Rom 3:14-18; 11:7-10; 2 Cor 3:14, or of being covered/blinded (2 Cor 3:12-18)—even when they read the Scripture and observe the Torah, there is a veil over their hearts and they cannot see the truth (2 Cor 3:15-16)
    • they understood justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh)—i.e. being and doing right before God—in terms of their own actions (deeds) in observing and fulfilling the Law (Torah), not realizing that this is entirely contrary to the true way that people are made right in God’s eyes, namely by trusting in Christ and what God has done through him on behalf of humankind (cf. Rom 3:21-26; 5:6-11; 8:3-4; 9:30-33; Gal 2:16; 3:10-14, 21-22; Phil 3:9).
    • they did not submit in obedience to the justice/righteousness of God in that they did not accept the Gospel and trust in Christ (esp. Rom 10:8-21).

One might be inclined to view the phrase “seeking to establish their own justice/righteousness” in the sense of trying to earn acceptance before God through a person’s own efforts. However, this does not seem to be exactly what Paul means. Compare Philippians 3:9:

“…(that I might gain Christ) and be found in him, not holding my (own) justice/righteousness th(at is) out of the Law, but (rather) th(at which) (is) through trust of Christ—the justice/righteousness th(at is) out of God, upon th(is) trust.”

Paul clearly identifies “his (own) righteousness” with observance of the Law (Torah), using the expression “out of [i.e. from] the Law” (e)k no/mou); strikingly, “out of the Law” is contrasted precisely with “out of God”:

    • my (own) righteousness
      —out of the Law (e)k no/mou)
    • righteousness through Christ
      —out of God (e)k qeou=)

It is not so much that an observant Jew is trying to “earn” salvation, but simply that he/she is observing the Law without recognizing (or being unwilling to recognize) that fulfillment of the Law ultimately is found in Christ. With the manifestation of God’s justice/righteousness in Christ, the old covenant has passed, and a new covenant has come—one that is not based upon the Law, but upon the trust (e)pi\ th=| pi/stei) in Christ. This is the very point that Paul makes in Romans 10:4, which I will analyze in detail in the next daily note.