Christ the “End of the law”? Romans 10:4

by Peter Salemi


What did Paul mean by the phrase “Christ is the end of the law”?

In the Greek, the word “end” is “telos” (Strong’s # 5056). This word means, “From a primary word τέλλω tellō (to set out for a definite point or goal); properly the point aimed at as a limit, that is, (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state (termination [literally, figuratively or indefinitely], result [immediate, ultimate or prophetic], purpose); specifically an impost or levy (as paid): - + continual, custom, end (-ing), finally, uttermost. Compare G5411” (emphasis added). So there are several meanings to this word, so we must understand the context of the verse.

 In the beginning verses of Romans the tenth chapter Paul says, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.

“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

“For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (vv.1-3). Here the Apostle Paul is speaking of “zeal,” their desire or motivation to obey God. The problem was they wanted to do it their own way; their own righteousness as opposed to God’s. God’s righteousness is keeping his laws (Psalm 119:172). Our ways is sin, contrary to the law of God, “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those [God’s ways] is continuance, and we shall be saved.

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:5-6). Our ways, our righteousness is sin, and iniquity. The apostle Paul was saying he same thing about Israel, they do it their way and do not “submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom 10:3).  

Jesus spoke of this as well. In Matthew 15 he told the scribes and the Pharisees, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?...Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:3, 6-9). The “tradition of the Elders” (v.2) they called it, the commandments of men, not God!

So clearly in Romans 10, motivation is the focus of this chapter. The Pulpit Commentary writes, “The word ‘end’ (τέλος) might in itself mean

(1) Termination,

(2) Fulfillment,

(3) Aim or purpose,

“which is the evident meaning of the word in 1Tim 1:5 and 1Pet 1:9. This last seems best to suit the line of thought in this place. The Jews evinced ignorance, i.e. of the real meaning and purpose of Law…” (Emphasis added). If it meant "termination" then it would contradict verse 3 when Paul says that they should submit to God's righteousness which is his law. Why would he say that then say in verse 4 that Christians don't have to keep it because Christ is the end of the law? Its a direct contradiction if it meant termination. But the context is obvious, it means purpose, aim or goal.

Now that we know the context, we can understand verse 4 that says, “For Christ is the end [telos-motivation, aim, purpose, goal] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” So it is for the “believer,” the law. Christ is the believer’s motivation to keep it and be zealous for it. In the book of Acts the believers in Christ had this goal, “…Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:” (Acts 21:20). They were zealous of the law unlike the unbelieving Jews who had a zeal for God, but did it their own way, not God’s (Romans 10:2).

What is that purpose to keep the law for the believer? Christ. But what does this mean specifically? 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul uses the same language and word speaking of the commandment saying, “Now the end [goal, aim purpose] of the commandment is charity [love Gk. agape] out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:” The purpose, the aim, the motivation for the believer to keep the law is to love Jesus.

Jesus commanded his disciples, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him… As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 14:21; 15:9-10). So here is the true intent of the law of God, love! Love for man, and love for God. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3).

There is also another purpose, aim, goal for the law. Paul continues, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5). Paul here quotes from Leviticus 18:5. What does live “by” them mean?

Leviticus reads, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” God’s word Translation has You will have life through them. I am the LORD.” The Hebrew word “life: here is “châyay” (Strong’s # 2425). It means, “to live; causatively to revive: - live, save life.” (Strong’s). The law is the cause for man to live.

The K&D Commentary says, “The man who does them (the ordinances of Jehovah) shall live (gain true life) through them” (see at Exo1:16 and Gen 3:22).” (emphasis theirs).  

In Ezekiel 18 & 20 it deals with this issue and God says, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right...Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD” (vv.5, 9). Because he kept God’s law he is just, and shall live. Here in Romans, and the other references to this same phrase, it should read that they “shall live [because of] them” (Strong’s # 1722). Barnes says, “This is the language of the Law, and this is what the Law teaches. It does not make provision for faith, but it requires unwavering and perpetual obedience, if man would obtain life by it… The ancient Targum of Onkelos renders the passage in Leviticus thus: ‘The man who does these things shall live in them to eternal life.”’

The Apostle Peter using telos says this, “Receiving the end [purpose, goal aim] of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:9). We know that faith is keeping God’s law (read our booklet the Saving Works of God for more details). The goal of keeping the law is salvation; this is why the Christians were also “zealous of the law.”

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus he asked him, “…Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

“And he said unto him…but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16, 17).

Isaiah 64:5 says, “: in those [God’s ways] is continuance, and we shall be saved.” Do we need to keep God’s law to be saved? The scriptures certainly say that we must. (Read our booklet the Saving Works of God for more detail).

There is one more purpose, goal, or aim for the law. The Bible says that Jesus set us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 1:21-22; Heb 4:15). This means Christ never sinned, and sin is the “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). So another purpose, goal, aim, motivation to keep the law of God is to be like Christ; to have the same character as Jesus; the holy righteous character of God’s righteousness that he fulfilled in his life here on earth.

Now in Romans 10:6, why does Paul write, “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)” Clearly Paul was quoting the Old Testament law in verse 5 when he said the “righteousness which is of the law,” Then he said, “righteousness which is of faith.”  Does Paul here contrast the two, and show they are different? Does the Bible contradict? Absolutely Not! The Greek particle translated “but” in v.6 (KJV) can also be rendered “and,” as it is in verse 10 (see Strong’s #1161). Therefore it is possible that Paul is not making a contrast at all here; instead, he may once again be citing two texts to support the same idea. So the “righteousness which is of the law,” and “the righteousness which is of faith” are one and the same thing as other parts in the book of Romans demonstrates.(Read our booklet the Saving Works of God for more detail).

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