The End of the Law

I believe that John Heil and Thomas Schreiner have done excellent jobs interpreting “Christ is the end of the law.” In Romans 10:4, “Christ is the termination rather than the goal or fulfillment of the Law, understood as the way of seeking to attain righteousness before God by doing its works” (Heil, “Christ, the Termination of the Law,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 63.3, 498). Termination rather than goal … the believer in Jesus Christ does not need to do the works of the law.

Other passages teach that Christ fulfilled the law. For instance, “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” (Matthew 5:17).  Christ honored, kept, and fulfilled the law. Christ was born under the law (Galatians 4:4), and though he did not personally need to obey the law (Matthew 17:24-27), yet he did everything the law demanded. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the law, but that is not the meaning of Paul’s phrase in Romans 10:4.

Other passages teach that Christ was the goal of the law.  It was “added because of transgressions until the Seed … had come” and it was “put in charge to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:19, 23). Yes, the law points and leads people to Christ, but that is not the meaning of Paul’s phrase in Romans 10:4.

The emphasis in Romans 9:33-10:13 is that the believer gains righteousness by faith instead of gaining righteousness by the Mosaic Code. To say that Christ is the culmination, or goal, of the law, leaves vague what this passage makes explicit; that those with faith in Christ gain the very righteousness that law-keepers try but fail to achieve by practicing the Law of Moses, and those with faith in Christ don’t need to try to keep that law. In effect, believers skip past the law, and end at its destination.

Alva McClain’s illustration on this verse is helpful: “You may never hear another sermon, but in that verse you will have learned all you need to know to be saved – that Christ is the end when it comes to righteousness. To illustrate it: there is an old road that is called the Santa Fe Trail, that runs out to Los Angeles. If you want to get to Los Angeles you take that road. But suppose you want to go there, and you could just be lifted up, transported, and set right down in Los Angeles. Would you, after you got there, say, ‘I must go back and come over this Santa Fe Trail’? You are already there; Los Angeles is the end.” (Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace, 188-189).

Paul said it succinctly in Galatians 3:23, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

Heil effectively points out the race imagery in Romans 9:30-10:3, and the repetition of the terms for “doing,” “pursuing,” and “attaining.” Then he does an excellent job of revealing how the contexts and words of the Leviticus and Deuteronomy quotes support fully Paul’s claim. God’s blessings are not dependent on works of the law. “Doing” has been replaced with “believing” as the way to achieve righteousness.

Some people think that believers “cheat” by skipping the time, discipline and effort required by the race course laid out by Moses. But believers have a different perspective.

Believers look at the law from the finish line, marveling at what Christ has accomplished for us and in us. Believers honor the law by recognizing what Christ has done. For a person to leave the finish line and determine to go through the course is to reject what Christ has done.

It takes submission to accept the righteousness from Christ. Unbelief tries to attain its own righteousness. Paul sees it as one or the other: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3).

Brice Martin tries to promote a view of the law as being “terminated” but only “in the special sense that the condemnation and enslavement that the law brings is ended for the believer” (Martin, “Paul on Christ and the Law,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26:3, p. 271). Martin is correct to observe that Christ as “end of the law” only applies to those who believe. Unbelievers are still under the burden and condemnation of the law. But then Martin incorrectly supposes that “end of the law” only has to do with the condemnation and enslavement of the law, leaving open the opportunity for believers to (successfully now) keep the law. The problem with Martin’s method is that he has changed his definition of law. He starts with a legal system that condemns and ends with ethical imperatives that guide. If this were true, then there should be something in Romans 9:30-10:13 that gives evidence that Paul has changed his definition of law.

Cranfield, I think, may also be guilty of an imprecise defining of “law.” He seems to confuse the Mosaic Code with the Pentateuch. The first is a national legal system. The second is the collection of the first five books of the Scriptures. The Law of Moses is found in the Pentateuch, but the latter contains far more than law. Scripture will always be the revelation of God and his truth, even for those not required to keep the Law of Moses. A major reason for Cranfield to reject the view that the law is “terminated” is “the way in which Paul again and again appeals to the Pentateuch in support of his arguments” (Cranfield, “Romans 9:30-10:4,” Interpretation 34.1, p. 72).

And a final point: I agree with the interpretation of Romans 9:32 that equates “works” with “the law.” Heil fills in the ellipsis as follows: “Because (Israel sought to attain righteousness) not from faith (in Christ) but as if (righteousness could be attained) from (doing the) works (of the Law)” (Heil, p. 488).  I think this is far superior to Schreiner’s translation (which is identical to Cranfield’s interpretation): “Because they did not pursue the law by faith but as from works” (Romans, p. 534). I think this latter interpretation is incorrect because it is foreign to Romans to conceive of fulfilling the Law from faith. Rather, as Heil so aptly wrote, “faith stands always in contrast to doing the works of the Law” (Heil, p. 488).  This is not to say that there weren’t many people in OT Israel who attempted to keep the Law of Moses from a foundation of faith in God. But, in Romans, it appears that Paul did not conceive of any motivation for people who did not need to obey the Law of Moses, to put themselves under the Mosaic system of laws, other than the motivation to procure their own righteousness before God.

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