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Christ is the End of the Law

In Romans 10:4, Paul makes a pretty big statement. He says, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes". But what does that mean for Christ to be the end of the law? Lying within the answer to this question is a theological treat that often goes unenjoyed.

In attempting to answer the question of what it means for Jesus to be the end of the law, we might think it means that he does away with it altogether. Yet, that cannot be the case as Jesus himself said that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). So the sense of end cannot be a sort of abolishing altogether. So the, what does it mean?

There are two main options on the table as to what this word 'end' (τέλος) means. The first is what we might call the teleological view. A number of respected reformed theologians take this view and it holds that Paul is communicating that Christ is the end goal, the purpose, the telos of the law. They take this view because that is one of the ways in which τέλος is used in the New Testament (Rom 6:22, 14:9, Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 4:10). The law had a purpose and that was to point forward to Christ. This is certainly true theologically. Even within Paul we can find statements of that such as in Gal 3:24 (“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith”).

Yet, is that the sense in which Paul uses τέλος in Rom 10:4? It is doubtful. Trouble for the teleological view arises when you pair that sense of τέλος with the phrase "for righteousness". John Murray, in his commentary of Romans, notes this as he says it would require an awkward rendering such as “the purpose of the law is Christ for righteousness to everyone that believes”. This would imply that Christ is the purpose of the law only to those who believe. This also would be contextually odd considering the altogether personalness of the matter in that Paul says that Christ is the end of the law to everyone who believes. If Paul was making a general statement about how Christ stands in a teleological relation to the law, he would be muddying his argument by making it a personal subject. This leaves the teleological view as being a less-than-favorable option.

We are left then with what we might call the termination view. This view holds that Paul's use of τέλος is in the sense not of the purpose of something but the end, the cessation, the termination of something. This would stand in line with the majority of Paul's use of the term (Rom 6:21, 1 Cor 1:8, 10:11, 13:8, 15:24, 2 Cor 3:7; 11; 12, Phil 3:19, etc.). Christ is the termination of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. It is at this point that we must remember what this does not mean. It does not mean that Christ is the end of the law as such. Rather he is the end of the law in a paricular sense and to a particular people. Let's look at these two individually.

We must see that Christ is the end of the law not in a general sense but in a particular sense. He is the end of the law for righteousness. Leading up to Rom 10:4, the subject at hand is the ignorance of the Jews in thinking that they could procure their own righteousness through obedience to the law. It is an antithesis between righteousness procured through obedience to the law and righteousness that is by faith as supremely demonstrated in the verses following our passage (Rom 10:5-6). There Paul says that Moses himself spoke of the availability of righteousness through perfect obedience to the law in Lev 18:5. Then, Rom 10:4, lodged in this context, communicates that Christ terminates the law for righteousness in the sense that he does away with the need for one to procure their own righteousness through obedience, an endeavor which will be ultimately fruitless (Gal 2:15ff). In other words, apart from Christ the only way to righteousness is through full obedience to the law.

This termination of the law for righteousness is not for everyone but only those who believe. This shows us something about the nature of conversion and faith in general. Prior to conversion, the only hope someone had to secure righteousness was by meriting it through the law. At the moment of conversion, that was terminated. Instead, Christ became their righteousness (1 Cor 1:30). That is the sense in which Christ is the end of the law to everyone who believes.

I mentioned at the beginning that there is a theological treat lying inside of all this that often goes unenjoyed and that is the reformed bi-covenantal framework. In the reformed tradition there is said to be two main covenants made between God and man — the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was that covenant made between God and Adam. The promise was eternal life in the enjoyment of God (WCF 7.1) and the condition for receiving that was perfect and personal obedience to God on the part of Adam (WCF 19.1).

Yet, Adam failed to obtain the promise because of the fall into sin. And so a second covenant was inaugurated with the promise of a redeemer — Jesus Christ. Yet, the sense of the covenant of grace being a second covenant is not that the first covenant is abolished (WCF 19.2). Rather, it is that Christ completes the requirement of the covenant of works on behalf of sinners. As Louis Berkhof wrote, “The covenant of grace is simply the execution of the covenant of works by Christ as our surety”.

It is this theological reality that is at play in the text of Rom 10:4. Prior to conversion, we were in Adam and under a covenant of works. The only way we would receive eternal life is if we merited it for ourselves by the law. Yet, at conversion that burden was lifted. Instead, Christ became our righteousness and we need only place faith in him and his finished work. Praise God that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

For more on this subject, see my paper in the Papers section.


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