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.

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