PAUL AND THE LAW - Part 3
by Dr.Samuele Bacciocchi Ph.D.
Recent Studies of Romans 10:4. In a lengthy article (40
pages) published in Studia Teologica, Ragnar Bring emphasizes the
culminating significance of telos in Romans 10:4 on the basis of
the race-track imagery in the context (Rom 9:30-10:4). He argues
that in this context, telos "signifies the winning-post of a
race, the completion of a task, the climax of a matter. 56
Bring explains that, since "the goal of the Law was
righteousness," the Law served as a custodian (paidagogos)
directing people to Christ, who only can give righteousness. This
means that "Christ is the goal of the Law" in the sense that He
is the eschatological fulfillment of the Law. 57
In the article cited earlier, "St.Paul and the Law," C.E.
B.Cranfield argues that in the light of the immediate and larger
context of Romans 10:4, 'telos' should be translated as "goal."
Consequently, he renders the texts as follows: "For Christ
is the goal of the Law, so that righteousness is available to
every one that believeth." 58
He notes that verse 4 begins with "for--gar" because it
explains verse 3 where Paul explains that "The Jews in their
legalistic quest after a righteous status of their own earning,
have failed to recognize and accept the righteous status which
God has sought to give them." On verse 4, according to Cranfield,
Paul continues his explanation by giving the reasons for the Jews
failure to attain a righteous status before God: "For Christ,
whom they have rejected, is the goal toward which all along the
Law was directed, and this means that in Him a righteous status
before God is available to every one who will accept it by
Similarly, George E. Howard advocates a goal-oriented
interpretation of telos in Romans 10:4, arguing that "Christ is
the goal of the Law to everyone who believes because the ultimate
goal of the Law is that all be blessed in Abraham." 60
A lengthier treatment of Romans 10:4 is provided by J.E.
Tows, who interprets telos as "goal" on the basis of "linguistic
and contextual grounds ." 61
More recently, C.T.Rhyne has produced a perceptive
dissertation on Romans 3:31 where Paul says: "Do we then
overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we
uphold the Law." Rhyne shows that there is a theological
connection between this verse and Romans 10:4. This connection
supports the teleological interpretation of telos and is more
consistent with Paul's positive understanding of the relationship
between Christ and the Law in Romans. 62
Walter Kaiser, a well-known and respected Evangelical
scholar, offers a compelling defense of the teleological
interpretation of Romans 10:4 by examining closely the arguments
developed by Paul in the whole section from Romans 9:30 to 10:13.
He notes that in this passage Paul is "clearly contrasting two
ways of obtaining righteousness-one that the Gentiles adopted,
the way of faith; the other, a work method, that many Israelites
adopted-all to no avail." 63
What many fail to realize, according to Kaiser, is that the
"homemade Law of righteousness [adopted by many Jews] is not
equivalent to the righteousness that is from the Law of God. "64
In other words, what Paul is condemning in this passage is
not "the righteousness that God had intended to come from the Law
of Moses," but the homemade righteousness which many Jews made
into a Law without Christ as its object. 65
Paul's condemnation of the perverted use of the Law does not
negate its proper use.
Kaiser concludes his insightful analysis of this passage
with these words: "The term telos in Romans 10:4 means `goal' or
purposeful conclusion. The Law cannot be properly understood
unless it moves toward the grand goal of pointing the believer
toward the Messiah, Christ. The Law remains God's Law, not Moses'
Law (Rom 7:22; 8:7). It still is holy, just, good, and spiritual
(Rom 7:12, 14) for the Israelite as well as for the believing
The Larger Context of Romans 10:4.
In the final analysis, the correct meaning of Romans 10:4
can only be established by a careful examination of its larger
and immediate contexts. This is what we intend to do now. In the
larger context (Romans 9 to 11), Paul addresses not the
relationship between Law and Gospel, but how God's plan of
salvationfinally fulfilled with the coming of Christ relates to
the destiny of Israel. The fact that the majority of Christian
converts were Gentiles and that the majority of the Jews had
rejected Christ, raised questions about the trustworthiness of
God's promises regarding the salvation of Israel.
The question that Paul is discussing is stated in Romans
9:6: "Has the word of God failed?" How can God's promises to
Israel be true when Israel as a nation has jeopardized its
election as God's people by rejecting Christ? This was a crucial
question in the apostolic church which was formed by many Jewish
Christians and directed by Twelve Apostles who were Jews. "The
issue was how to explain that the people of the old covenant, who
had been blessed by God with the greatest privileges (Rom 9:4-5),
were now separated from the community of the new covenant, which,
as a matter of fact, was nothing other than the extension of
Paul responds to this question in Romans 9 to 11 first by
pointing out that God's word has not failed because divine
election has never been based on human merits, but on God's
sovereignty and mercy. The inclusion of the Gentiles following
Israel's disobedience is not unjust because it represents the
triumph of God's plan as contemplated in the Scriptures (Rom
9:6-29). "As indeed he says in Hosea, `Those who were not my
people I will call my people'" (Rom 9:25).
Second, Paul points out that Israel's rejection of Christ
comes from their failure to understand God's purposes as revealed
in Scripture and manifested through the coming of Christ (Rom
9:30 to 10:21). Instead ofreceiving the righteousness of God by
faith, Israel sought to establish its own righteousness (Rom
Last, Paul brings out that the failure of Israel is only
partial and temporary. God has not rejected Israel but has used
their failure for the inclusion of the Gentiles and ultimately
the salvation of Israel (Rom 11:1-36). "A hardening has come upon
part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in,
and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:25-26). This bare
outline of the larger context of Romans 10:4 suffices to show
that the issue that Paul is addressing is not the relationship
between Law and Gospel, but how God is working out His plan for
the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, "for there is no
distinction between Jew and Greek" (Rom 10:12). This means that
Romans 10:4 must be interpreted not on the basis of a
"Law-Gospel" debate, which is foreign to the context, but on the
basis of the salvation of Jews and Gentiles which is discussed in
The Immediate Context of Romans 10:4.
The section of Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is generally regarded as
the immediate context of Romans 10:4. Paul customarily signals
the next stage of his argument in Romans by the recurring phrase:
"What shall we say, then?" (Rom 9:30). And the issue he addresses
in Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is this: How did it happen that the
Gentiles who were not in the race after righteousness obtained
the righteousness of God by faith, while Israel who was in the
race to attain the righteousness promised by the Law, did not
reach the goal?
Badenas provides a convenient, concise summary of Paul's
argument in Romans 9:30-33. He writes; "Paul presents the failure
of Israel in the fact that it did not recognize from Scriptures
(eis nomon ouk ephthasen---did not attain to the Law-Rom 9:31)
Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, the goal and substance and
meaning of the Law. Looking at the Torah [Mosaic Law] from the
human perspective-as a code primarily interested in human
performance-Israel overlooked the importance of looking at it
from the perspective of God's saving acts and mercy. Having
failed to take their own Law seriously in that particular
respect, they did not see that God's promises had been fulfilled
in Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Israel's misunderstanding
of Torah [Mosaic Law] is presented by Paul as blindness to the
Law's witness to Christ (cf. Rom 9:31-33 with 10:4-13 and 3:21)
which was epitomized in Israel's rejection of Jesus as Messiah."
It is important to note that in the immediate context, Paul
is not disparaging the Law but is criticizing its improper use as
a way to attain one's own righteousness. The Jews were extremely
zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge (Rom
10:2). Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God,
many Jews tried "to establish their own righteousness" (Rom
The problem with the Jews was not the Law. but their
misunderstanding and misuse of it. They did not attain to the
righteousness promised by the Law because they misunderstood it
and transformed it into a tool of personal achievement (Rom
10:2-3,5; 2:17,27; 3:27; 4:2). They insisted on establishing
their own righteousness (Rom 10:3) rather than accepting the
righteousness that had been revealed by God through Moses in the
Law. They did not see that the righteousness of God had been
revealed especially through the coming of the promised Messiah.
They looked at the Law in order to see what a person could do to
become righteous before God instead of recognizing what God had
already done for them through Jesus Christ. They failed to
recognize that Christ is the goal of the Law, as Paul says in
Romans 10:4: Goal or Termination? P
Paul continues his argument in verse 4, which literally
reads: "For Christ is the goal of the Law for righteousness to
every one that believeth." This crucial text begins with the
conjunction "For-gar," thus indicating a continuous explanation
within the flow of Paul's thought. This means that this text must
be interpreted in the light of its immediate context where Paul
discusses the failure of the Jews to attain the righteousness
promised by the Law.
In Greek, the key sentence reads "telos nomou Christos,"
which literally translated means "The goal of Law [is] Christ."
The structure of the sentence with telos nomou at the beginning
indicates that Paul is making a statement about the Law rather
than about Christ. The Law (nomos) has been the center of Paul's
discussion since Romans 9:6, and particularly since Romans 9:31,
where he speaks of nomos dikaiosunes---the Law of righteousness,
that is, the Law that holds forth the promise of righteousness.
Note must be taken of the fact that in the immediate context,
Paul does not speak of the Law and Christ as standing in an
antagonistic relationship. In Romans 9:31-33 he explains that,
had the Jews believed in Christ ("the stone"), they would
certainly have "attained" the Law which promises righteousness.
Consequently, in the light of the immediate context, it is more
consistent to take the Law-nomos as bearing witness to Christ
rather than as being abrogated by Christ. The abrogation
interpretation ("Christ has put an end to the Law") disrupts
Paul's flow of thought, works against his main argument, and
would have been confusing to his readers in Rome accustomed to
use telos with the sense of "goal" rather than "termination."
The athletic metaphors used in the immediate context (Rom
9:3033) also suggest that 'telos' is used with the meaning
of"goal," because telos was one of the terms commonly used to
denote the winning-post or the finish line. Other athletic terms
used by Paul are diokon (Rom 9:30-31), which denotes the earnest
pursuit of a goal; 'katelaben' (Rom 9:30), which describes the
attaining of a goal; 'ouk ephthasen' (Rom 9:31), which refers to
the stumbling over an obstacle in a race; and 'kataiskuno' (Rom
9:33), which expresses the disappointment and shame of the
The implications of the athletic metaphors are well stated
by Badenas: "If by accepting Christ the Gentiles reached the
winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and, thereby,
acceptance within the new people of God (Rom 9:30), and by
rejecting Christ Israel did not reach the goal of the Law and
thereby admission into God's new people, the logical conclusion
is what Romans 10:4 says: that the goal of the Law and the
winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and entrance into
God's eschatological people are to be found nowhere else than in
The Qualifying Clause: "For Righteousness ..."
Further support for the teleological interpretation is
provided by the qualifying clause that follows: "For
righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom 10:4b; KJV). The
phrase "for righteousness" translates the Greek eis dikaiosunen.
Since the basic meaning of the preposition eis-"into" or "for" is
directional and purposive, it supports the teleological
interpretation of the text, which would read: "Christ is the goal
of the Law in [its promise of) righteousness to everyone that
This interpretation harmonizes well with the context, and
contributes to the understanding of such important elements in
the context as "the word of God has not failed" (Rom 9:6), the
Gentiles attained righteousness (Rom 9:30), Israel did not
"attain" to the Law (Rom 9:31) but stumbled over the stone (Rom
9:33), and ignored God's righteousness (Rom 10:23). All these
major themes fit if Romans 10:4 is understood in the sense that
the Law, in its promise of righteousness to whoever believes,
pointed to Christ.
The abrogation interpretation that "Christ has put an end to
the Law as a way of righteousness by bringing righteousness to
anyone who will believe," interrupts the flow of the argument and
works against it. The same is true of the interpretation which
says "Christ has put an end to the Law in order that
righteousness based on faith alone may be available to all men."
The problem with these interpretations is that they wrongly
assume that, prior to Christ's coming, righteousness was
obtainable through the Law and that the Law was an insurmountable
obstacle to the exercise of righteousness by faith, and,
consequently, it was removed by Christ.
The assumption that Christ put an end to the Law as a way of
salvation is discredited by the fact that, in Paul's view,
salvation never did come or could come by the Law (Gat 2:21;
3:21). In Romans 4, Abraham and other Old Testament righteous
people were saved by faith in Christ (cf. Rom 9:30-33). The rock
that Israel stumbled over was Christ (Rom 9:33; cf. 1 Cor 10:4).
Paul explicitly says that the Law was not an obstacle to God's
righteousness, but a witness to it (Rom 9:31; 3:21, 31).
Another important point to consider is that the key to
understanding Romans 10:4 may to be found in the proper
comprehension of the last words of the text "to everyone who
believes." This is the view of George Howard who notes that this
is the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles which dominates the
immediate context. He writes: "The Jews based their salvation on
the fact that they had the Law, the fathers, and all the
blessings which go with these. Their extreme hostility to the
Gentiles (1 Thess 2:1516) had caused them to miss the point of
the Law itself, that is, that its very aim and goal was the
ultimate unification of all nations under the God of Abraham
according to the promise. In this sense Christ is the telos
[goal] of the Law; he was its goal to everyone who believes." 70
In the light of the preceding considerations, we conclude
that Romans 10:4 represents the logical continuation and
culmination of the argument initiated in Romans 9:30-33, namely,
that Christ is the goal of the Law because He embodies the
righteousness promised by the Law for everyone who believes. This
is the righteousness which the Gentiles attained by faith and
which most Jews rejected because they chose to establish their
own righteousness (Rom 10:3) rather than accept the righteousness
the Law pointed to and promised through Jesus Christ. Thus, far
from declaring the abrogation of the Law with the coming of
Christ, Romans 10:4 affirms the realization of the goal of the
Law in Christ who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:5-8: The Obedience of Faith.
In order to support the statement in Romans 10:4 that Christ
is the goal of the Law in offering righteousness to everyone who
believes, Paul continues in verses 5 to 8 showing how the Law
calls for a response, not of works in which a person can boast,
but of faith in which God receives the credit. Paul develops his
argument by quoting two texts from the Old Testament-Leviticus
18:5 in verse 5 and Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in verses 6 to 8.
Romans 10:5-8 reads: "For Moses writes that the man who
practices the righteousness which is based on the Law shall live
by it [quote from Lev 18:5]. But the righteousness based on faith
says, Do not say in your heart, `Who will ascend to heaven?'
(that is, to bring Christ down) or `Who will descend into the
abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what
does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart
(that is, the word of faith which we preach)" [paraphrase of Deut
The principal problem with these verses is in establishing
the relationship between the quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in
Romans 10:5 and the quotation of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans
10:6-8. Are the two quotations intended to present two
complementary aspects of righteousness or two conflicting ways of
righteousness? The common interpretation assumes that the two
quotations are used by Paul to contrast two ways of
righteousness: the righteousness by works of the Law as taught in
Leviticus 18:5 and the righteousness by faith as taught in
Deuteronomy 30:12-14. The former would represent the Jewish way
of righteousness based on human obedience and the latter the
righteousness of divine grace offered by faith.
This popular interpretation rests on two mistaken
assumptions. The first is that the two particles "gar--for ...
de--but," which are used to introduce verses 5 and 6,
respectively, serve to contrast the two types of righteousness.
"For Moses writes ... but the righteousness of faith says ..."
This assumption is wrong because the Greek word translated "but"
in verse 6 is de and not alla. The particle de is frequently
translated as "and" without any contrast intended, while alla is
consistently translated as "but" because it serves to make a
contrast. George Howard clearly and convincingly points out that
"gar ... de" do not mean "for ... but," but as in Romans 7:8-9;
10:10; 11:15-16, they mean "for ... and." 71
In other words, in this context Paul uses this set of
particles not in an adversative way but in a connective way, to
complement two aspects of righteousness.
One Kind of Righteousness.
The second mistaken assumption is that the two quotations
used by Paul are antithetical, teaching two different kinds of
righteousness. But this cannot be true. If Paul had quoted
Leviticus 18:5 as teaching righteousness by works, he could
hardly have faulted the Jews for pursuing the "the righteousness
which is based on Law" (Rom 9:31), since they would have been
doing exactly what the Law commanded them to do. But this is
contrary to Paul's charge that the Jews had misunderstood the
In their original contexts, both quotations say essentially
the same thing, namely, that the Israelites must observe God's
commandments in order to continue to enjoy the blessings of life.
In Leviticus 18:5, Moses admonishes the Israelites not to follow
the ways of the heathen nations, but to keep God's "statutes and
ordinances" in order to perpetuate the life God had given them.
Similarly, in Deuteronomy 30:11-16, Moses tells the Israelites
"to obey the commandments of the Lord" because they are not hard
to observe, and ensure the blessings of life ("then you shall
live and multiply" - Deut 30:16).
Some argue that Paul took the liberty of misinterpreting
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 in order to support his teachings of
righteousness by faith. But had Paul done such a thing, he would
have exposed himself to the legitimate criticism of his enemies
who would have accused him of misinterpreting Scripture.
Furthermore, neither Paul nor any Bible writer sets Moses against
Moses or against any otherbiblical statement. It was not the
custom of Paul to seek out contradictions in the Scripture or to
quote the Old Testament to show that one of its statements was no
longer valid. The fact that Paul quoted Deuteronomy 30:12-14
immediately after Leviticus 18:5 suggests that he viewed the two
passages as complementary and not contradictory.
The complementary function of the two quotations is not
difficult to see. In Romans 10:4 Paul affirms that Christ is the
goal of the Law in offering righteousness to everyone who
believes. In verse 5, he continues (note "for -- gar") expanding
what this means by quoting Leviticus 18:5 as a summary expression
of the righteousness of the Law-namely, that "whoever follows the
way of righteousness taught by the Law shall live by it." This
fundamental truth had been misconstrued by the Pharisees who made
the Law so hard to observe that, to use the words of Peter, it
became a "yoke upon the neck" that nobody could bear (Acts
15:10). Paul clarifies this misconception in verses 6 to 8 by
paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:1214 immediately after Leviticus 18:5
in order to show that God's Law is not hard to observe, as the
Pharisees had made it to be. All it takes to obey God's
commandments is a heart response: "The word is near to you, on
your lips and in your heart" (Rom 10:8).
Daniel Fuller rightly observes that "by paraphrasing
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 right after a verse spotlighting the
righteousness of the Law which Moses taught [Lev 18:5], and by
affirming this paraphrase of Moses which inserts the word
'Christ' at crucial points, Paul was showing that the
righteousness set forth by the Law was the righteousness of
faith. Since the wording of the Law can be replaced by the word
'Christ' with no loss of meaning, Paul has demonstrated that
Moses himself taught that Christ and the Law are one piece.
Either one or both will impart righteousness to all who believe,
and thus the affirmation of Romans 10:4 [that `Christ is the goal
of the Law'] is supported by Paul's reference to Moses in verses
What Paul wishes to show in Romans 10:6-8 is that the
righteousness required by the Law in order to live (Lev 18:5)
does not necessitate a superhuman achievement, like climbing into
heaven or descending into the abyss. This was Paul's way of
expressing the impossible task the Jews wanted to accomplish
through their own efforts. By contrast, the righteousness
required by the Law is fulfilled through the Word which is in the
heart and in the mouth, that is, by believing and confessing the
Lord (Rom 10:10).
The reference to the nearness of the Word in Deuteronomy
30:14 permitted Paul to link the divine grace made available by
God in the Law with the divine grace made available by God in
Christ, the Word. His commentary on Deuteronomy 30:14 clearly
shows that he understood Christ to be the substance and content
of both the Law and the Gospel. Because of the unity that exists
between the two, he could identify the word of the Law (Deut
30:14) with the word of the Gospel (Rom 10:8-9).
The recognition of the unity between Law and Gospel leads
Walter Kaiser to pose a probing rhetorical question: "What will
it take for modern Christians to see that Moses, in the same way
that the apostle Paul, advocated, wanted Israel to `believe unto
righteousness' (Rom 10:10; cf. Deut 30:14)? ... Both Moses and
Paul are in basic agreement that the life being offered to
Israel, both in those olden days and now in the Christian era,
was available and close at hand; in fact it was so near them that
it was in their mouth and in their hearts." 73
It is unfortunate that so many Christians fail to recognize
this basic unity that exists between the Law and the Gospel,
Moses and Paul, both affirming that Christ is the goal and
culmination of the Law in its promise of righteousness to
everyone who believes.
The foregoing analysis of Romans 10:4 shows that Christ is
not the end, but the goal of the Law. He is the goal toward which
the whole Law was aimed so that its promise of righteousness may
be experienced by whoever believes in Him. He is the goal of the
Law in the sense that in His person and work He fulfilled its
promises, types, and sacrificial ceremonies (2 Cor 1:20; Rom
10:6-10; 3:21; Heb 10:1-8). He is also the goal of the Law in the
sense that He is the only Man who was completely obedient to its
requirements (Phil 2:8; Rom 5:19; Rom 10:5). He is also the goal
of the Law in the sense that He enables the believer to live in
accordance to "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
PART 4: THE LAW AND THE GENTILES
In studying some of Paul's negative comments about the Law,
we noted that such comments were occasioned by the Apostle's
effort to undo the damage done by false teachers who were
exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of
salvation. To bring into sharper focus Paul's criticism of the
Law, we now consider why the Gentiles were tempted to adopt
legalistic practices like circumcision.
Paul's letters were written to congregations made up
predominantly of Gentile converts, most of whom were former
"God-fearers" (1 Thess 1:9; 1 Cor 12:2; Gal 4:8; Rom 11:13; 1:13;
Col 1:21; Eph 2:11). A crucial problem among Gentile Christians
was their right as Gentiles to enjoy full citizenship in the
people of God without becoming members of the covenant community
A Jewish Problem.
This was not a uniquely Christian problem. W. D. Davies has
shown that the relationship of Israel to the Gentile world was
the foremost theological problem of Judaism in the first century.
Basically, the problem for the Jews consisted in determining
what commandments the Gentiles had to observe in order for them
to have a share in the world to come.
No clear-cut answer to this question existed in Paul's time.
Some Jews held that Gentiles had to observe only a limited number
of commandments (Noachic Laws). Other Jews, however, like the
House of Shammai, insisted that Gentiles had to observe the whole
Law, including circumcision. In other words, they had to become
full-fledged members of the covenant community in order to share
in the blessings of the world-tocome. 75
Lloyd Gaston perceptively notes that "it was because of this
unclarity that legalism-the doing of certain works to win God's
favor and be counted righteous-arose a Gentile and not a Jewish
problem at all." 76
Salvation was for all who were members of the covenant
community, but since the God-fearers were not under the covenant,
they had to establish their own righteousness to gain such an
assurance of salvation.
Marcus Barth has shown that the phrase "works of the Law" is
not found in Jewish texts and designates the adoption of selected
Jewish practices by the Gentiles to ensure their salvation as
part of the covenant people of God. 77
Recognition of this legalistic Gentile attitude is important
to our understanding of the background of Paul's critical remarks
about the Law.
A Christian Problem.
The Jewish problem of whether Gentiles were saved within or
without the covenant soon became also a Christian problem. Before
his conversion and divine commission to the Gentiles, Paul
apparently believed that Gentiles had to conform to the whole
Mosaic Law, including circumcision, in order for them to be
saved. The latter is suggested by the phrase "but if I still
preach circumcision" (Gal 5:11), which implies that at one time
he did preach circumcision as a basis of salvation.
After his conversion and divine commission to preach the
Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul understood that Gentiles share in
the blessing of salvation without having to become part of the
covenant community through circumcision. To defend this
conviction, we noted earlier that Paul appeals in Romans 4 and
Galatians 3 to the example of Abraham who became the father of
all who believe by faith before he was circumcised.
In proclaiming his non-circumcision Gospel, Paul faced a
double challenge. On one hand, he faced the opposition of Jews
and JewishChristians because they failed to understand ("Israel
did not under stand"-Rom 10:19) that, through Christ, God had
fulfilled His promises to Abraham regarding the Gentiles. On the
other hand, Paul had to deal with the misguided efforts of
Gentiles who were tempted to adopt circumcision and other
practices to ensure their salvation by becoming members of the
covenant community (Gal 5:2-4).
Law as Document of Election.
To counteract the double challenge from Jewish and Gentile
Christians, Paul was forced to speak critically of the Law as a
document of election. Several scholars have recently shown that
the concept of the covenant-so central in the Old Testament-came
more and more to be expressed by the term "Law" (torah-nomos). 78
One's status before God came to be determined by one's
attitude toward the Law (torah--nomos) as a document of election
and not by obedience to specific commandments.
The Law came to mean a revelation of God's electing will
manifested in His covenant with Israel. Obviously, this view
created a problem for the uncircumcised Gentiles because they
felt excluded from the assurance of salvation provided by the
covenant. This insecurity naturally led Gentiles to "desire to be
under Law" (Gal 4:21), that is, to become full-fledged covenant
members by receiving circumcision (Gal 5:2). Paul felt compelled
to react strongly against this trend because it undermined the
universality of the Gospel.
To squelch the Gentiles' "desire to be under Law," Paul
appeals to the Law (Pentateuch), specifically to Abraham, to
argue that the mothers of his two children, Ishmael and Isaac,
stand for two covenants: the first based on works and the second
on faith (Gal 4:22-31)- the first offering "slavery" and the
second resulting in "freedom." The first, Hagar, who bears
"children of slavery," is identified with the covenant of Mount
Sinai (Gal 4:24).
Why does Paul attack so harshly the Sinai covenant which,
after all, was established by the same God who made a covenant
with Abraham? Besides, did not the Sinai covenant contain
provisions of grace and forgiveness through the sanctuary
services (Ex 25-30), besides principles of conduct (Ex 20-23)?
The answer to these questions is to be found in Paul's concern to
establish the legitimacy of the salvation of the Gentiles as
To accomplish this goal, Paul attacks the understanding of
the Law (covenant) as an exclusive document of election. This
does not mean that he denies the possibility of salvation to Jews
who accepted Christ as the fulfillment of the Sinai covenant. On
the contrary, he explicitly acknowledges that just as he was
"entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised," so "Peter had
been entrusted with the Gospel to the circumcised" (Gal 2:7).
Paul does not explain what was the basic difference between
the two Gospels. We can presume that since the circumcision had
become equated with the covenant, the Gospel to the circumcised
emphasized that Christ through His blood ratified the Sinai
covenant by making it operative (Matt 26:28). This wouldmake it
possible for Jews to be saved as Jews, that is, while retaining
their identity as a covenant people.
Note that Paul does not deny the value of circumcision for
the Jews. On the contrary, he affirms: "Circumcision indeed is of
value if you obey the Law; but if you break the Law, your
circumcision becomes uncircumcision" (Rom 2:25). Again in Romans
9 to 11, Paul does not rebuke the Jews for being "Jewish" in
their life-style (Rom 11:1), but rather for failing to understand
that the Gentiles in Christ have equal access to salvation
because Christ is the goal of the Law.
Several conclusions emerge from our study of Paul's view of
the Law. We noted that prior to his conversion, Paul understood
the Law like a Pharisee, namely, as the external observance of
commandments in order to gain salvation (2 Cor 5:16-17). After
his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul gradually
came to realize that his Pharisaic view of the Law as a way of
salvation was wrong, because the Old Testament teaches that
salvation was already promised to Abraham through the Christ, the
Seed to come, 430 years before the giving of the Law at Sinai
From the perspective of the Cross, Paul rejected the
Pharisaic understanding of the Law as a means of salvation and
accepted the Old Testament view of the Law as a revelation of
God's will for human conduct. We found that for Paul the Law is
and remains God's Law (Rom 7:22, 25), because it was given by God
(Rom 9:4; 3:2), was written by Him (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34),
reveals His will (Rom 2:17, 18), bears witness to His
righteousness (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with His promises (Gal
Being a revelation of God's will for mankind, the Law
reveals the nature of sin as disobedience to God. Paul explains
that "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20)
because the Law causes people to recognize their sins and
themselves as sinners. It is evident that this important function
of the Law could not have been terminated by Christ, since the
need to acknowledge sin in one's life is as fundamental to the
life of Christians today. as it was for the Israelites of old.
The function of Christ's redemptive mission was not to abrogate
the Law, as many Christians mistakenly believe, but to enable
believers to live out the principles of God's Law in their lives.
Paul affirms that, in Christ, God has done what the Law by itself
could not do-namely, He empowers believers to live according to
the "just requirements of the Law." "For God has done what the
Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in
the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the
flesh, in order that the just requirements of the Law might be
fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but
according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the
Law, not as an external code, but as a loving response to God.
This is the very thing that the Law by itself cannot do, because
being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a
loving response in the human heart. By contrast, "Christ's love
compels us" (2 Cor 5:14) to respond to Him by living according to
the moral principles of God's Law (John 14:15).
Paul recognizes that the observance of the Law can tempt
people to use it unlawfully as a means to establish their own
righteousness before God. This was the major problem of his
Gentile converts who were tempted to adopt practices like
circumcision in order to gain acceptance with God. Paul exposes
as hopeless all attempts to be justified in God's sight by works
of the Law because "no human being will be justified in his sight
by the works of the Law, since through the Law comes knowledge of
sin" (Rom 3:20). Human beings in their fallen condition can never
fully observe God's Law.
What Paul radically rejects is not of the Law, but of
legalism, that is, the attempt to establish one's righteousness
through the external observance of the Law. Legalism ultimately
blinds a person to the righteousness which God has made available
as a free gift through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 10:3). This was the
problem with the false teachers who were promoting circumcision
as a way of salvation without Christ. By so doing, they were
propagating the false notion that salvation is a human
achievement rather than a divine gift.
The mounting pressure of Judaizers who were urging
circumcision upon the Gentiles made it necessary for Paul to
attack the exclusive covenant concept of the Law. "But," as
George Howard points out, "under other circumstances he [Paul]
might have insisted on the importance of Israel's retention of
her distinctiveness." 79
An understanding of the different circumstances that
occasioned Paul's discussion of the Law is essential for
resolving the apparent contradiction between the positive and
negative statements he makes about the Law. For example, in
Ephesians 2:15 Paul speaks of the Law as having been "abolished"
by Christ, while in Romans 3:31, he explains that justification
by faith in Jesus Christ does not overthrow the Law but
"establishes" it. In Romans 7:6, he states that "now we are
discharged from the Law" while a few verses later he writes that
"the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good"
(Rom 7:12). In Romans 3:28, he maintains that "a man is justified
by faith apart from works of the Law," yet in 1 Corinthians 7:19,
he states that "neither circumcision counts for anything nor
uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God."
How can Paul view the Law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and
"established' (Rom 3:31), unnecessary (Rom 3:28) and necessary (1
Cor 7:19; Eph 6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10)?
Our study shows that the resolution to this apparent
contradiction is found in the different contexts in which Paul
speaks of the Law. When he speaks of the Law in the context of
salvation (justification-right standing before God), especially
in his polemic with Judaizers, he clearly affirms that
Law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). On the other hand, when
Paul speaks of the Law in the context of Christian conduct
(sanctification-right living before God), especially in dealing
with antinomians, then he upholds the value and validity of God's
Law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19).
In summation, Paul criticizes not the moral value of the Law
as guide to Christian conduct, but the soteriological (saving)
understanding of the Law seen as a document of election that
includes Jews and excludes Gentiles. Failure to distinguish in
Paul's writing between his moral and soteriological usages of the
Law, and failure to recognize that his criticism of the Law is
directed especially toward Gentile Judaizers who were exalting
the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of salvation, has
led many to fallaciously conclude that Paul rejects the value and
validity of the Law as a whole. Such a view is totally
unwarranted because, as we have shown, Paul rejects the Law as a
method of salvation but upholds it as a moral standard of
1. Dale Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Crisis (Applegate, California,
2. Ibid., p.49.
3. Ibid., p.74.
4. Ibid., p.73.
5. Ibid., p.181.
6. Walter C. Kaiser, "The Law as God's Gracious Guidance for the
Promotion of Holiness," in Law, The Gospel, and the Modern
Christian (Grand Rapids, 1993), p.178.
7. C.E.B.Cranfield, "St.Paul and the Law," Scottish Journal of
Theology 17 (March 1964), pp.43-44.
8. A convenient survey of those scholars (Albert Schweitzer, H.
J. Schoeps, Ernest Kaseman, F.F.Bruce, Walter Gutbrod) who argue
that the Law is no longer valid for Christians, is provided by
Brice Martin's Christ and the Law in Paul (Leiden, Holland,
9. Gerhard von Rad, "Zao," Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, 1974), p.845.
10. George Eldon Ladd, "A Theology of the New Testament" (Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1974), p.497.
11. H. Kleinknech, "Bible Key Words" (Grand Rapids, Michigan
12. "Pike Aboth" 2:7. For other references, see H. Kleinknech
(note 11), p.76.
13. George Eldon Ladd (note 11), p.501.
14. C.K.Barrett, "Commentary on the Book of Romans" (New York,
15. C.E.B. Cranfield (note 7), p.47.
16. Ibid., pp.66-67.
17. John Calvin, "The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans
and to the Thessalonians," trans. R. Mackenzie (Edinburg, 1961),
18. George Eldon Ladd (note 10), p.541.
19. Brice L. Martin, "Christ and the Law in Paul" (Leiden,
Holland, 1989), pp.53,68.
20. John Murray, "The Epistle to the Romans" (Grand Rapids,
Michigan, 1982), p.229.
21. Greg L. Bahnsen, "The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and
Gospel," in "Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian" (Grand
Rapids, 1993), p.106.
22. John Murray (note 20), p.229.
23. Rudolf Bultmann, "Theology of the New Testament" (New York,
1970), vol.1, p.262.
24. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, "Paul's Second Epistle to the
Corinthians," in "The New International Commentary on the New
Testament" (Grand Rapids, 1962), p.97.
25. Ibid., p.94.
26. C.E.B. Cranfield (note 7), p.58.
27. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (note 24), p.104.
28. C.E.B.Cranfield (note 7), p.59.
29. John Calvin, "Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle
to the Corinthians," trans. by. J. Pringle (Grand Rapids,
Michigan, 1948), vol.2, p.183.
30. C.E.B. Cranfield (note 7), p.61.
31. Brice L. Martin (note 19), p.155.
32. Ardel Bruce Caneday, "The Curse of the Law and the Cross:
Works of the Law and Faith in Galatians 3:1-14," Doctoral
dissertation submitted at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
(Deerfield, Illinois 1992), p.58.
33. George Eldon Ladd (note 11), p.507.
34. Ernest De Will Burton, "A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
on the Epistle to the Galatians" (Edinburgh, 1962), p.188.
35. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. F.
L. Battles (London, 1961), vol. II, VI, 2.
36. C.E.B.Cranfield (note 7), p.63.
37. Ibid., p.62.
38. Eduard Lohse, " Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians
and to Philemon "(Philadelphia, 1971), p.116.
39. To justify this interpretation, the phrase "cheirographon
tois dogmasiv" is translated "the document consisting in
ordinances." But, Charles Masson explains that "the grammatical
justification for this construction is highly debatable.... It
should have by rule the preposition en (cf. v.11) to say that the
document "consisted in ordinances" (L. Epitre de St.Paul aux
Colossians [Paris, 1950], p.128).
40. J.Huby, Saint Paul: ies Epitres de la captivate (Paris,
1947), p.73. Charles Masson (note 37), p.128, mentions that for
Schlatter, Huby, and Percy, "the idea ofthe Law nailed on the
Cross with Christ would have been unthinkable for Paul."
41. For a lengthy list of commentators who interpret the
cheirographon either as the "certificate of indebtedness"
resulting from our transgressions or as the "book containing the
record of sin," see Samuele Bacchiocchi, "From Sabbath to Sunday:
A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in
Early Christianity" (Rome, Italy, 1977), p.349.
42. For references of rabbinical and apocalyptic literature, see
Samuele Bacchiocchi (note 41), pp.339-340.
43. See Josephus, Jewish Wars 5,5, 2; 6, 2, 4.
44. Herold Weiss, "The Law in the Epistle to the Colossians," The
Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972), p.311, note 10.
45. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, "A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament" (Chicago, 1979), p.811.
46. Roberto Badenas, "Christ the End of the Law: Romans 10:4 in
Pauline Perspective," published as Supplement Series 10, Journal
for the Study of the New Testament (Sheffield, England, 1985),
47. Ibid., p.34.
48. Ibid., p.34.
49. Ibid., pp.19-26.
50. Ibid., p.22.
51. Ibid., p.22.
52. Ibid., p.24.
53. Ibid., pp.25-27.
54. For a representative list of scholars who advocate the
termination interpretation of Romans 10:4, see Robert Badenas
(note 46), pp.3032.
55. Ibid., p.32.
56. Ragnar Bring, "Paul and the Old Testament: A Study of the
Ideas of Election, Faith, and Law in Paul, with Special Reference
to Romans 9:30-10:13," Studia Theologica 25 (1971), p.42.
57. Ibid., p.47.
58. C.E.B.Cranfield (note 7), p.49.
59. Ibid., p.49.
60. George E. Howard, "Christ the End of the Law: The Meaning of
Romans 10:4ff," Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969), p.337.
61. John E.Toews, "The Law in Paul's Letter to the Romans. A
Study of Romans 9:30-10:13," Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern
University (1977), pp. 219-245.
62. Clyde Thomas Rhyne, "Faith Establishes the Law: A Study on
the Continuity between Judaism and Christianity, Romans 3:31,"
SBL Dissertation Series, 55 (Missoula, 1981), pp.114-116.
63. Walter C.Kaiser (note 6), p.182.
64. Ibid., p.184.
65. Ibid., p.182.
66. Ibid., p.188.
67. Roberto Badenas (note 46), p.93.
68. Ibid., p.107.
69. Ibid., p.115.
70. George E. Howard (note 60), p.336.
71. Ibid., pp.335-336.
72. Daniel P. Fuller, "Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continum?"
(Grand Rapids, Michigan 1980), p.86.
73. Walter C.Kaiser (note 6), p.187.
74. W.D.Davies, "From Schweitzer to Scholem. Reflections on
Sabbatai Svi," Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1976), p.547.
75. For an informative discussion of the Jewish understanding of
the salvation oflsrael and ofthe Gentiles. see E.P.Sanders, "The
Covenant as a Soteriological Category and the Nature of Salvation
in Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism," Jews, Greeks and
Christians (Leiden,1976), pp.11 -44.
76. Lloyd Gaston, "Paul and the Torah" in "Anti-Semitism and the
Foundations of Christianity," ed. Alan T.Davis (New York. 1979),
p.58. Gaston provides a most perceptive analysis of Paul's
attitude toward the Law.
77. Marcus Barth, Ephesians, Anchor Bible (Grand Rapids, 1974.),
78. See D.Rossler, Gesetz and Geschichte (Neukirchen, 1960); E.
P.Saunders (note 75), p.41, concludes: "Salvation comes by
membership in the covenant, while obedience to the commandments
preserves one's place in the covenant."
79. George E.Howard, "Paul: Crisis in Galatia. A Study in Early
Christian Theology" (Cambridge, 1979), p.81.
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