NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson VII)
The Bishop of Laodicea, Apollinaris, also writes about Christ versus the Law. As he sees it, Christ is the only source of holy righteousness because He put an end to needing the law by fulfilling everything the law demanded for salvation.1 To put it another way, the Law was incomplete because it only identified what sin was but provided no forgiveness and no deliverance from its slavery. But when Jesus came, He completed that circle in Himself so that obeying the Law was no longer necessary for those seeking forgiveness and salvation. This is why Chrysostom preached that Christ is the only one to fulfill the requirements needed to be righteous. So it turned things around. Before, no matter how hard anyone tried to be righteous by perfect obedience to the law, they failed. But now, even though someone fails to keep the law perfectly, they are still free of condemnation by their faith in the righteousness of Christ.2
Reformer John Calvin prefers to think of this as Christ completing, not just fulfilling the law. By so doing, He made an incomplete law complete. Now, instead of obeying the law through works, they obey the law by having faith in Christ’s work. So we can see why Paul was no friend of the Jews who abused the law by making-up absurd requirements and establishing impossible obstacles to keep as many as possible from succeeding in their quest. They went from 10 Commandments3 to 613 Commandments,4 none of which guaranteed salvation or eternal life. They rejected the spirit of the law and chose the letter of the law. It’s the same as selecting a mummy to communicate with instead of a living person. So what we have here in this remarkable passage is that the law in all its parts already had a reference to Christ because He was the only one who could and would complete it.5
Jonathan Edwards believes that the Gospel should be preached often. And although he is not against the moral law being made part of a sermon, it should only be preached as a way of shedding light on the Gospel. Furthermore, in order for the Gospel to be preached effectively, it should be seen as the fulfillment or completion of the law. The same can be said of righteousness. By all means, righteous living should be preached but only to show that Christ is the fulfillment of such righteousness. What good will it do to preach the condemnation of disobeying the law if they neglect to preach the saving grace of the Gospel? Yes, sermons on living right are absolutely necessary but they are preached in vain without including the saving power of the Gospel.6
As far as Adam Clarke is concerned, where the law ends, Christ begins. By that, he means that the law ends with multiple temporary, symbolic sacrifices, but Christ begins with an eternal, genuine, onetime offering. The law served as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ because it cannot save. So it can only leave us at His door. And this is the only door that leads to salvation. Every atoning sacrifice listed in the sacrificial code of Moses was a foreshadowing of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. That’s why Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin was the grand fulfillment of the whole sacrificial code of Moses. The sheep, goats, birds, bulls, etc., certainly could die as a substitute for the sinner, but they could not duplicate Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. When they died, one sin was forgiven once, but a new sacrifice had to be made each time sin was repeated. When Jesus died, it was for all sin for all time. NO wonder He cried out on the cross, “It is finished!”7
As Clarke saw it, when we separate the prophesied sacrificial death of Christ from the context of the Law, then the law has no meaning. The blood of bulls, goats, and lambs were only imitations of the blood of the Messiah because they were insufficient. This is made clear when the Psalmist David said: “Sacrifices and grain offerings you don’t want; burnt offerings and sin offerings you don’t demand.”8 The writer of Hebrews also points to this by adding: “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats really to take away sins. That is why Christ said as he came into the world, ‘O God, the blood of bulls and goats cannot satisfy you, so you have made ready this body of mine for me to lay as a sacrifice upon your altar.’”9
So from Clarke’s perspective, God never designed the sacrifices under the law to be considered the actual atonement for sin, but rather, a type or representative of that atonement. It was pointing to the ultimate atonement made by Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God. That’s why He is considered the fulfillment, or end, of the law when it came to sacrifices. Even though sacrifices were offered to procure pardon for sin, grant righteousness, and secure justification, they had to be offered over and over again. Christ ended this practice by providing all three in one sacrifice that never had to be repeated again. Therefore, every Jew who rejected Christ as their Sacrifice rejected their Savior.10
As unfortunate and unreasonable as it may sound, in many churches today, what the Jews did to the Law, Christians have done to the Gospel. They have made many of their rites, rituals, and ceremonies the end result instead of them pointing to or being representative of the end result in Christ. Water baptism no longer represents one’s “self” being buried and dying in Christ and then rising again in the newness of life with Christ living in them. Now it is an end in itself. No one testifies of being a new creation in Christ Jesus, they only talk of having been baptized. In most churches, they are given Certificates of Baptism. There is nothing wrong with receiving such a meaningful certificate, but it will not get anyone into heaven.
Robert Haldane was moved by Paul’s deep concern for his fellow Jews and the condemnation that removed them from God’s favor. But the real problem was that although a way had been prepared for them to again get right with God, they refused His offer. Their object came from the fact that Christ was being acclaimed as the one who put an end to the law. They were sure that “end of the law,” meant they no longer had any means by which to earn righteousness through their good works. After all, who dare stand before God and tell Him that everything is alright, it has been taken care of, but unable to point to anything they did to make it happen? That would require humbling themselves before God, regretting that they were a failure in trying to make it on their own and throw themselves on the grace and mercy of God for forgiveness and restitution.
These Jews failed or were unwilling, to accept the fact that in their present state the law was unable to justify their existences as God’s children because the law was unfinished, incomplete. That’s why no matter how hard they tried, none of them were able to do all that the law commanded in order to live a righteous life acceptable to God. God knew that too, that’s why He sent His Son, not as an apparition, or in the form of an angel, but in the flesh, in the form of human likeness. This was so necessary because, in order to fulfill and complete the law, it must be done in the flesh. That’s how our Lord was able to win the victory because he fought the war and won the victory over sin in the flesh. The is what Paul told them back in chapter 8, verse 4: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” who are in Him. And once Christ fulfilled the law’s demands and completed its mission, He then became the One in whom righteousness is found and received by everyone who believes in Him and the work He did on the cross. The law was given to serve a purpose, Christ fulfilled that purpose.
But there was still more. Everyone living according to the law was under a curse. That curse would keep them from all the blessings of life that God desired to give them. That curse was that all those who were unable to fulfill the complete law would suffer eternal separation from God after their death. So not only did they fall short of doing all the law demanded, but the law also failed in bringing them into a right relationship with God. But all those who now accept Christ as their source of righteousness will receive “everlasting righteousness.” This is what Daniel called it.11 And with that everlasting righteousness comes eternal life. That’s because the believer’s life is not only comprised of what they do but what Christ does in them. This is what Paul told the Colossians: “When Christ who is our real life comes back again, you will shine with Him and share in all His glories.”12 Accordingly, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’13”14
Albert Barnes makes note of the fact that the Greek word telos, which is variously translated into English by the KJV as “end, custom, continual, uttermost, and finally.” James Strong defines this word to mean: “to set out for a definite point or goal; the point aimed at as a limit, the conclusion of an act or state.” Thayer in his Lexicon puts the use of telos, here in Romans, in the category of “things that cease to be the way they were,” or, “an act or state of being that comes to an end.” So to talk of the “end” of the law, it means that the Law was given to meet a need, to reach a goal. The goal was to be fulfilled in the Messiah. So once the Messiah came, the Law was no longer needed. To live and move and have one’s being in Christ fulfills the Law to the fullest.
Barnes also interprets this to mean that the law was designed to serve a purpose. It no doubt was given so that people, by obeying and following it, could be put in a right relationship with God because they were doing what He commanded them to do. But perfect obedience to the law was impossible. So what the law could not accomplish through man’s efforts was accomplished by having faith in Christ who did exactly that, He met all the laws demands. In other words, what the law was sent to do went down in defeat, God sent His Son to do all that the Law attempted to do and was victorious.
This was the core subject of the discussion between the Apostle Paul and the Jews. There are some who say that the word “law” means “ceremonial law.” Others take it to signify, “moral law.” The truth is, Christ completed both. Sacrifices on the altar and sprinkling blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark in the Holy of Holies is no longer needed. Neither is the daily practice of doing good works to show oneself as being compassionate and kind. Jesus said they were now all wrapped up into one: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then he added, love your neighbors as yourself. But as far as this passage is concerned, it was the law that required justification for salvation that came by perfect obedience. As Pilate exclaimed to the Jews, I find no fault in Him.15 So if we live and move and have our being in Him,16 we too are justified so that the condemnation of being eternally separated from God is canceled.17
In other words, no matter how much you pray, say the Rosary, go to church, take communion, read the Bible, give your tithes and offerings, light candles, volunteer for ministry, or sing in the choir, nothing of what you have done to fulfill the Law is acceptable compensation for the salvation you so badly need. It comes freely as a gift through Jesus Christ because He paid the ultimate price. Many of these things should be done as our way to show our Love for the One who died for us, not to earn our salvation by trying to impress God so that He’ll save us our way.
1 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc cit.
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 17
3 See Exodus 20:1-17
4 See Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 230).
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 202
8 Psalm 40:6 – Complete Jewish Bible (40:7)
9 Hebrews 10:4-5
10 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Daniel 9:24
12 Colossians 3:4
13 John 10:10
14 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 502
15 Luke 23:4
16 Acts of the Apostles 17:28
17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.