NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson VIII)
American Bible scholar Charles Hodge also addresses the meaning and context of the word “Law” used in this passage by Paul. As he sees it, the Jews erred greatly in restricting their search for justification to the Law alone. That’s not what the Law was designed for. Its ultimate goal was to lead those who read it, understood it, and practiced it to the Messiah. He would be the one to offer a just cause for them to be declared right with God. The Messiah was sent in order to complete all of the things given to God’s children for guidance. Not only the law, but the feasts, fasts, and festivals. These things were done to find refuge and solace in the love and favor of God.
But they all pointed toward the Messiah. He would become their sole refuge, and the only one they would ever need. So when it says Jesus came to put an end to the law, that’s what it meant. Christ is the One in whom the Law ends and Grace begins because He fulfilled all its requisitions, all its types, and ceremonies, and satisfied its directives and demands for punishment.1 John Bengel writes that Christ confers the righteousness and life which the law points out but cannot issue. That’s why the Law was given to burden a person with all the weight of their sins until they fled to Christ for safety. Then the will Law say, “You have found your refuge.2”3
Charles Spurgeon had some thoughts on how Christ fulfilled the Law for our sake. One of those is that once you believe in Christ’s righteousness as your own, it is a righteousness the Law could never have given you even if you lived a perfect life.4 That means, since the end purpose of the Law is to have a right standing with God, it is fulfilled to the fullest by having Christ stand there as your Savior. This is important because we are not under the first covenant now and so we can no longer attempt to be right with God by following its dictates. Therefore, whoever believes in Christ is as righteous as obeying the Law could have made them, but only if they kept it perfectly. If we receive Christ as our Savior by believing, we have the righteousness of the Law and more. All that could ever come to us by the highest and most perfect obedience to the law, we get by simple faith in Christ Jesus and what He did to save us.
In reading F. F. Bruce’s clear exegesis on both the words used and the meaning of Paul’s statement in context, it is clear that the Greek word telos (“end”) has a double meaning. It can either denote “reaching a goal” or “ending in termination.” When used as goal, Christ is the goal at which the law aimed, in that He was to embody the perfect righteousness which it prescribes. This is implied in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” So when a person begins to live their new life in Christ, the Law’s requirements are fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and as a consequence is fulfilled in the believer.5 On the other hand, not only is Christ the Law’s goal, and since in Him the law has found its perfect fulfillment, which is a right standing before God, that implies the termination of the Law’s function as a means of acquiring such a righteous status. So in Christ, the Messiah, the old way of doing things to gain righteousness through obedience to the Law’s requirements is now obsolete. It has been replaced by a new way of getting it done by the Holy Spirit6.7
Karl Barth does not hold back his convictions. For him, nothing could be clearer. There is but ONE truth, ONE relationship with God, whether by election or in rejection. That means there is only ONE way to stand righteous before God. This ONE righteousness of God is encountered whether we qualify for such a righteous status which proceeds from the faithfulness of God, and which we can only lay hold of and receive by faith.8 Whether we are unable to qualify by meeting all the requirements of the law, that is, by measuring up to all the standards of perfect human behavior or not. In the first case, God’s righteousness is invisible. In the second case, the righteousness of God is visible. But it is, nevertheless, the same righteousness. But the biggest factor is this, no one in history has ever met the standards of invisible and visible righteousness except Jesus Christ. Therefore, in the visible case, all of God’s invisible righteousness is to be seen only in and received through Him.9
John Stott also deals with the meaning of the Greek word Telos. As said before, it can be used to mean either, “end” in the sense of “having a goal” or “completion.” In Paul’s mind, this indicates the Law pointing to Christ as the one in whom the end would come, the goal would be met, and the completion would be made. But it could also be used to mean “termination” or “conclusion.” In this sense, it implies that Christ came into this world to terminate the Law as the resource for salvation, and brought it to a conclusion on the cross and by rising from the dead. Stott takes the position that this is what Paul has been trying to say.
In other words, because Christ came into the world to bring the task of the law to its completion, therefore, once that it was completed, then and only then was He able to end its rule and authority over those who believed in Him. This would do two things. First, it would neutralize those who claim that since the law no longer has any authority over them, they can live as they please.10 And secondly, those who see the end of the law in Christ as a way of setting them free so that all they have to do is love God and not worry about trying to get free on their own by obeying the Law.11 Both groups seem to forget that the law was originally given as a means by which people could get right with God. And the reason that is no longer is true is because now Christ is the only way to get right with God.
So by canceling the law, Christ was simply getting rid of the idea that works can qualify someone to stand justified before God. Now it is done through Christ by grace. Grace eliminates good works in the sense that because of what Christ did on the cross, God graciously uses it to offer justification when the work Christ did is accepted. Since justification then leads to salvation, that is where Law and Grace are incompatible. Seeking righteousness by the Law is doomed because the Law cannot forgive sin. Christ is the only one who is now qualified to do that. And since Christ does not offer salvation based on a person’s self-righteousness, then they must accept it completely by faith.12
Jewish scholar David Stern gives a lot of attention to this section, especially on the controversy of “ending of the Law.” For him, the fact that Jews have not turned away from their old methods of gaining a righteous status before God, only proves that their enthusiasm for God is still based on a false understanding of the Law. Once they find out and accept the fact that trust in God for salvation is far superior to trust in themselves, they will understand their own Torah much better. This route to the righteousness which the Torah itself not only requires but offers leads through the Messiah. He is the only one who can offer them the righteousness they are seeking. That’s because all they have done, or try to do, still leaves them short of the mark of a right standing before God. Not only does Christ bring the righteousness that will get them there, but He Himself stands at the right hand of the Father to welcome them. Not only that, but they would also see this offer is made to everyone who believes, and that includes the Gentiles.13 And this last point may be the largest obstacle in their taking such a leap of faith to depend on Christ instead of the Law.
With this being the understanding, Stern asks if Paul is guilty of stereotypical thinking and prejudice. He does not think so. Rather, Paul is simply reporting the prevailing establishment viewpoint in the non-believing Jewish community of his day. Stern goes on to say a lot of confusion has come about by the way Paul’s words have been translated to more or less mean that the Law came to an end, it was terminated when Christ arrived. Stern rejects this idea. If you are going to accept the Law as having in it the need for the Messiah, then how can you eliminate it without eliminating the Messiah?
In the end, Stern takes what Paul says here as meaning that when a person puts their trust in God to save through Christ, which the Torah itself requires, will have a better understanding – precisely because they have no such trust – that the Gospel is their only way to God. Their faith and trust then will be placed in God’s Messiah, Yeshua. Finally, they will have found the Way, and the only Way, that a person can be justified as righteous in the sight of the God. That’s because they want to serve Him and obey all that He revealed in the Torah. But they will believe the Torah as it is understood in the teaching of Yeshua. However, by refusing to believe in Yeshua they will be disobeying their own Torah.14
Verse 5: Moses wrote that the person who wants to live right must live according to everything the Law says.
To show the futility of trying to obtain eternal life by following the law, Paul points to the giver of the law, Moses, who carried God’s exact words down the mountain and announced them loudly to the people. They weren’t suggestions or guidelines, they were required actions. This was still the understanding when Jesus came.15 But the problem was, no one was capable of keeping each and every law to perfection.
The rendering of this quote by Paul from Leviticus 18:5, reads as follows in the Jewish Bible: “For Moses writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them.”16 When we look at the Targum (Paraphrase) of Onkelos, he renders the same passage in Leviticus this way: “The man who does these things shall live in them to eternal life.” And the Arabic version has, “The retribution [payback] of him who works these things is that he shall live an eternal life.” So in Paul’s next verse, that talks about salvation, it seems to be based on what its understanding from the beginning. Paul was not disagreeing with it, but rather is pointing out the fallacy in how the Jews interpreted it.
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 521
2 Psalm 90:1
3 John Bengel: The Critical English Testament, Vol. II., London, 1877, p. 322
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See Romans 8:3-4; cf. 3:31
6 Cf., 2 Corinthians 3:6-18
7 F. F. Bruce, F. F: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 200
8 See Romans 1:17
9 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Romans 6:1, 15
11 Ibid. 7:4, 6
12 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Stern: Ibid.
15 Luke 10:27
16 Leviticus 18:5