The Background of Paul's View of the Law
Paul's View of the Law
A Look at Some Misunderstood Texts
A Look - Continued
A Look - Continued
A Look - Continued
The Law and the Gentiles
Record of Our Sins.
One cannot fail to sense how, through this forceful metaphor, Paul is reaffirming the completeness of God’s forgiveness provided through Christ on the Cross. By destroying the evidence of our sins, God has also "disarmed the principalities and powers" (Col 2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been forgiven. There is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the help of inferior mediators, since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness.
In this whole argument the Law, as stated by Herold Weiss, "plays no role at all."44 Any attempt, therefore, to read into the "written record—cheirographon" a reference to the Law, or to any other Old Testament ordinance, is altogether unwarranted. The document that was nailed to the Cross contained not moral or ceremonial Laws, but rather the record of our sins. Is it not true even today that the memory of sin can create in us a sense of incompleteness? The solution to this sense of inadequacy, according to Paul, is to be found not by submitting to a system of ascetic "regulation," but by accepting the fact that on the Cross God has blotted out our sins and granted us full forgiveness.
Some people object to this interpretation because, in their view, it undermines the doctrine of the final judgment which will examine the good and the bad deeds of each person who ever lived (Rom 14:10; Rev 20:12). Their argument is that if the record of our sins was erased and nailed to the Cross, there would be no legal basis for conducting the final judgment. This objection ignores that the imagery of God canceling, setting aside, and nailing the record of our sins to the Cross is designed not to do away with human accountability on the day of judgment, but to provide the reassurance of the totality of God’s forgiveness in this present life.
For example, when Peter summoned the people in the Temple’s Portico, saying, "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19), he was not implying that there will be no final judgment for those whose sins have been blotted out. On the contrary, Peter spoke of the time when "judgment [is] to begin with the household of God" (1 Pet 4:17; cf. 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7). The imageries of God being willing to "blot out" our sins, or of casting "all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Mic 7:19) are not intended to negate the need of the final judgment, but to reassure the believer of the totality of God’s forgiveness. The sins that have been forgiven, "blotted out," and "nailed to the Cross," are the sins that will be automatically vindicated in the day of judgment.
We conclude by saying that Colossians 2:14 reaffirms the essence of the Gospel—the Good News that God has nailed on the Cross the record and guilt of our sins—but it has nothing to say about the Law or the Sabbath. Any attempt to read into the text a reference to the Law is an unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy.
(5) 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. I subscribe to the latter interpretation because, as we shall see, it is supported by the linguistic use of telos (its basic meaning is "goal" rather than "end"), the flow of Paul’s argument, and the overall Pauline teaching regarding the function of the Law.
The Meaning of Telos: Termination or Goal?
The use of telos as "goal, design, purpose" was most common in classical Greek as well as in biblical (Septuagint) and extrabiblical literature. This meaning has been preserved 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, as we shall see, is that it contradicts the immediate context as well as the numerous explicit Pauline statements which affirm 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 the 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 give us reason 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 extrabiblical literature, and (2) the flow of Paul’s argument in the larger and immediate context. We now consider these two points in their respective order.
The Historical Usage of Telos.
Badenas also provides 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 (e.g., Luther) and perfective (e. g., Calvin) interpretations."49 It is unfortunate that most translations 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 antinomian "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 that new exegetical studies of Romans 10:4 are contributing to a rediscovery of the correct meaning of this text. It is doubtful, however, that these new studies will cause an abandonment of the abrogation interpretation because it has become foundational to many Evangelical beliefs and practices. In this context, we can mention only a few significant studies, besides the outstanding dissertation of Roberto Badenas already cited.
Recent Studies of Romans 10:4.
In the article cited earlier, "St. Paul and the Law," C. E. B. 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
Similarly, 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 J. E. Tows, who interprets telos as "goal" on the basis of "linguistic and contextual grounds."61
More recently, C. T. 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 defense 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 with these words: "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 remains 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.
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 jeopardized 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 first by pointing out 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).
Last, 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 the 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.
Chapter 5, Part 3b
Chapter 5, Part 3d
Notes to Chapter 5, Part 3c
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University