This entry is part 92 of 119 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Romans 10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 10:2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 10:3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. (Emphasis added)
‘The word “end” can designate either the “goal,” “outcome,” “purpose” toward which something is directed, or the “end,” “cessation.”‘ (HSB)
So, does Paul mean that Christ is the termination (end), or the terminus (goal) of the law?
According to F.F. Bruce, ‘the case for understanding telos as ‘termination’ is presented by Käsemann; the case for ‘goal’ by Cranfield. The two senses are combined by Barrett: Christ ‘puts an end to the law, not by destroying all that the law stood for but by realizing it’.’
1. Christ is the termination (end) of the law
NEB – ‘Christ ends the law.’
According to Morris, this is the majority view. It is favoured by Nygren, Käsemann, Stott, Sanday and Headlam, Dodd and Schreiner, among others.
Nygren (cited by Edwards): ‘When God revealed His righteousness in Christ, He put a definite end to the law as a way of salvation.’
‘There is no believer, Gentile or Jew, for whom law, Mosaic or other, retains validity or significance as a way to righteousness, after the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ.’
Stott thinks that the expression ‘Christ is the end of the law’ means that Christ has ‘abrogated’ the law. ‘But,’ he adds,
‘the abrogation of the law gives no legitimacy either to antinomians, who claim that they can sin as they please because they are “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:1,15), or to those who maintain that the very category of “law” has been abolished by Christ and that the only absolute left is the command to love. When Paul wrote that we have “died” to the law, and been “released” from it (Rom 7:4,6), so that we are no longer “under” it (Rom 6:15), he was referring to the law as the way of getting right with God. Hence the second part of verse 4. The reason Christ has terminated the law is so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. In respect of salvation, Christ and the law are incompatible alternatives. If righteousness is by the law it is not by Christ, and if it is by Christ through faith it is not by the law. Christ and the law are both objective realities, both revelations and gifts of God. But now that Christ has accomplished our salvation by his death and resurrection, he has terminated the law in that role.’
But if this is what is meant, how would it fit with other scriptures?-
Mt 5:18 “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.”
Rom 7:12 ‘The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.’
‘There is no hint in Paul or the New Testament that Christ has abolished the law. The closest is Hebrew 8:13, saying it is “obsolete” and “will soon disappear.” But that is not total replacement.’
Hodge holds that ‘Christ has abolished the law, not by destroying, but by fulfilling it’ (see point 3, below). Hodge continues:
‘He has abolished the law as a rule of justification, or covenant of works, and the whole Mosaic economy having met its completion in him, has by him been brought to an end. In Luke 16:16, it is said, “The law and the prophets were until John;” then, in one sense, they ceased, or came to an end. When Christ came, the old legal system was abolished, and a new era commenced. The same idea is presented in Gal. 3:23, “Before faith came we were kept under the law,” but when Christ appeared, declaring, “Believe and thou shalt be saved,” we were no longer under that bondage. The doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture, that those who are out of Christ are under the law, subject to its demands and exposed to its penalty. His coming and work have put an end to its authority, we are no longer under the law, but under grace, Rom. 6:14; we are no longer under the system which says, Do this, and live; but under that which says, Believe, and thou shalt be saved. This abrogation of the law, however, is not by setting it aside, but by fulfilling its demands. It is because Christ is the fulfiller of the law, that he is the end of it. It is the latter truth which the apostle here asserts.’
Dunn’s view is that
‘Whatever else Paul means, he intends his readers to understand that the law has come to an end in some sense, in accordance with his normal use elsewhere (1 Cor 1:8; 10:11; 15:24; 2 Cor 11:15; Phil 3:19).’
But Dunn adopts a typically ‘New Perspective’ understanding of the sense in which Christ terminates the law:
‘The thought of v 4 follows on from the two preceding verses (as the repeated γάρ indicates). What Paul has in view therefore is the zeal for the law which fights to preserve Israel’s distinctiveness and righteousness defined in terms of the law as Israel’s (Israel’s law, so Israel’s righteousness). This is a misunderstanding of God’s purpose (v 2) and of God’s righteousness (v 3), now clearly exposed by the coming of Christ (Rom 3:21–22).’
Geoffrey Wilson writes that Paul’s dispute was not with the law itself, but with its misuse by the Judaizers:
‘It should be remembered that Paul’s polemic was directed against that false interpretation of the law which had erased the whole concept of grace from the Old Testament. According to the Judaizers salvation was gained by a meritorious obedience to the law. Such was Paul’s former course, and his kinsmen are still blinded by the same error (Phil 3:9). Unbelievers expect to attain righteousness by the works of the law, but this relationship to the law has been terminated by Christ for all believers, who therefore no longer regard it as the instrument of their justification.’
Citing Gal 3:23-25, Rom 3:21-4:25 and Rom 7:1-6 as closely paralleling Paul’s thought here, Longenecker concludes:
‘While concepts having to do with “purpose,” “goal,” and “fulfillment” may quite legitimately be seen as being implied in Paul’s use of τέλος here in 10:4, the feature the apostle highlights is “termination,” “end,” or “cessation” of the Mosaic law in any positive or custodial fashion in this new age of salvation history, which is characterized by the Lordship of Christ and the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit.’
2. Christ is the terminus (goal) of the law
NJB: – ‘The law found its fulfilment in Christ’.
This interpretation is favoured by Barth and Cranfield, among others.
3. Christ is both the termination (end) and the terminus (goal) of the law
This interpretation is favoured by Calvin, Shedd, Barrett, Moo, Edwards and others.
Moo writes, ‘Christ, Paul is saying, has all along been the goal to which the law has been pointing; and, since that goal has now been attained – Christ has come – the pursuit of the law should now be at an end. This verse stands along with Mt 5:17, as a key expression of a dominant NT theme: the culmination or ‘fulfilment’ of the old covenant law and all its institutions in Jesus the Messiah. With that culmination comes also God’s intention to offer righteousness to anyone who believes, Gentile as well as Jew.’ (see Rom 9:30 10:12-13) (NBC).
In his major commentary on Romans, Moo uses the imagery of a finishing line (an image way may indeed be implicit in the language of Paul himself), which signals both the goal and the finish of the race.
Murray Harris agrees that
‘It is certainly defensible to say that Christ is the goal of the law, if the law’s purpose was to produce righteousness (Gal 3:22), for Christ himself fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17) and so has become believers’ righteousness (1 Cor 1:30). What the law was intended to do—but in the event was unable to do, given human frailty and sinfulness—Christ was successful in accomplishing for others. In that sense, he achieved the law’s goal.’ (Navigating Tough Texts)
But, adds Harris, the immediate context favours the sense that
‘Christ’s provision of righteousness in salvation marks the end/termination of the law in its imagined potency to produce righteousness.’
‘On this view, it is possible that “until everything is accomplished” in Matthew 5:18 looks forward to Christ’s own accomplishment—his provision of a right standing before God (= righteousness) for everyone who believes.’
Kruse thinks that if the idea is that Christ is the ‘termination’ of the law, then it would be unsatisfactory to understand this as meaning that he signals the end of the law as a way of righteousness, because Paul would say that the law was never intended as a way of obtaining righteousness. It would be better to understand the meaning to be that Christ brings an end to the law’s era of jurisdiction. This would be consistent with the idea, in Gal 3:23ff, of the law as ‘guardian’ until the coming of Christ. See also 2 Cor 3:7-11, where the temporary ministry of Moses is contrasted with the permanence of Christ’s ministry, and 2 Cor 3:13f, where Moses is said to have veiled his face so that people could not see the fading nature of the old covenant. However, as Kruse himself remarks, there are a number of objections to this second view, not least of which are the positive statements which Paul makes about the law (Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14a; 8:4; 13:8–10).
Edwards also favours a combined approach, although with a bias towards the second:
‘By exposing sin the law leads us, indeed drives us, to seek salvation in a savior who has been foretold by the prophets; but the law is not the savior. Jesus Christ is the savior, and Jesus fulfills his ministry of reconciliation apart from the law. The law, as we noted earlier, is the diagnosis of sin, but only Christ is its cure. Christ is both completion and termination of the law: he confirms the law as the just expression of God’s moral purpose for humanity, and he supersedes the law by offering forgiveness and salvation when that moral purpose is transgressed. The law is like a father who escorts his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. At the altar the father must give the bride over to her husband, who is Christ.’
As a variant on this combined interpretation, Osborne offers:
‘Christ provided a temporal end but in the sense of “culmination” rather than replacement. The law did point to Christ, but it has been caught up in him rather than replaced by him. There is indeed a salvation-historical movement from law to gospel, but there is continuity and not just discontinuity between them.’