Look up Romans 10:4 in almost any English translation and you will find the same general statement. I will reproduce it here from the New King James Version, New International Version, New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version and Holman Christian Standard Bible translations for a sample cross-section.
- For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (NKJV)
- Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (NIV)
- For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.(NASB)
- For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.[a] (ESV) – footnote says – Or end of the law, that everyone who believes may be justified
- For Christ is the end [a] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – (HCSB) – footnote here says, “or Goal”
I looked at five others and only one of the ten total even hints at the possibility that the Greek word telos in this verse could possibly be thought of in any other way than “end.” I don’t generally make a big fuss over translation decisions, since I am a Greek and Hebrew novice and know just enough to get in trouble most of the time, but this is a glaring problem. And I am not going to just use the Greek to show why. The rest of the New Testament makes the case for this misunderstanding to be fixed and thought of properly.
Firstly, I want to discuss the Greek word telos in this verse. It has a wider range of meaning than just the “end” of something, and in the way that word is used in English, this may be the poorest choice to communicate Paul’s desired meaning. All through Romans, Paul has been making a point by point apologetic and explanation of the Christian faith for his readers in Rome. He began at the beginning so to speak, and proceeded carefully through to his conclusion. In Romans 3:23, he tells us that all have sinned and “fall short” of the glory of God. In Romans 5 and onward, he speaks of the “offenses” against God by man in similar terms, as that which doesn’t make it to the mark but “falls beside.” Then comes the clincher in Romans 10. Paul says that Christ is the telos of the law. He is the “aim” or the “purpose” of the law. He doesn’t cancel it out or bring it to a close. He completes the law and brings our understanding of the law to completion as well.
Look at what Jesus said about the law:
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
Does this sound like someone who is bringing an “end” to the law? Jesus says that His purpose is to “fulfill” the law. This can help us understand what Paul is trying to communicate in Romans 10:4. Jesus says He didn’t come to abolish or “do away with” the law, but rather that He came to “fulfill” it. This carries the idea of completion as well as a sense of understanding. Jesus came to bring understanding of the law. Notice verse 19 particularly, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” By now, you might be saying, “wait a minute, you are talking about legalism and the old way of keeping the law to be justified.” No, I am not in the least, because there was no such thing. God didn’t justify anyone based on keeping the law, not in the Old Testament and not in the New Testament. God isn’t schizophrenic. He didn’t do things one way and then change when Jesus came on the scene. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jesus Christ is God. The Old Testament says the same thing in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” The Jews were not saved, justified or whatever term you want to use for it, by “keeping the law” in the Old Testament. They were saved by trusting God, in faith. When they kept the law rightly, it was out of love for and trust in God.
Now it is time to get back to Paul and Romans 10:4. Paul has a singular aim in Romans. He is trying to explain God’s plan for all of His people, both Jew and Gentile. Look through Romans and see how often Paul stresses that there is no difference in how God saves either the Jew or the Gentile. Righteousness is from faith from the beginning. He starts with that theme in the first chapter verse seventeen and he keeps that theme all the way through. The just will live by faith. For further proof that Paul cannot mean that Christ is the “end” of the law the way it is commonly taught, look in Romans 3 again.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
That word in verse 31 translated as establish, means to place on a firm or firmer footing. It is exactly the idea that Jesus portrayed in Matthew and elsewhere when He said he came to “fulfill” the Law. Jesus came to make it understood and put it in the right place and understanding. Notice also that Paul’s purpose in Romans is spelled out clearly here. He is showing that God makes no distinction between Jews or Gentiles in His plan of righteousness. The Law and the Prophets reveal the righteousness of God and show that He is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the aim of the law. He is the purpose of the Law. God’s grace didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere when Jesus burst onto the scene. It was there in His Word the entire time. God is a God of grace and mercy from day one. Grace appears in the Bible before the Law is ever uttered. The law didn’t go away because Christ came and died on the cross. The law gained its full meaning in His death. We can understand the Law fully because Christ died to explain it to us.
Do you remember the story in the gospels of the man who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was? Here is the account in Mark 12:28-34:
28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
But after that no one dared question Him.
Notice that this is a question about the Law. Jesus doesn’t tell the man, “don’t worry about it, I am here to bring the law to an end.” Jesus answers the man with two commands that have a similar point. Love the Lord your God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew records that Jesus says the rest of the Law “hangs” on these two. In Jewish rabbinical speak, this means that all of the other laws get their meaning and purpose from these two laws. When the man agrees with Jesus, Mark writes that Jesus tells him he is not far from the Kingdom of God.
Knowing that the whole of the law rests on loving God and our neighbor, look how Jesus now “fulfills” or makes clear the Law. He does it by demonstrating love:
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other. (emphasis mine) John 15:9-17
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (emphasis mine) (1 John 4:7-17)
The word “perfected” in 1 John 4:17 above is teleioō and is the same word family as the word translated “end” in Romans 10:4. Christ didn’t bring an “end” to the law as in the sense of canceling it out or finishing it off. Christ brought the law to its goal: LOVE. He demonstrated love for us and lives love out in us day by day.
So what do you think?