In Romans 10:1-4, Paul writes the following of his kinsmen according to the flesh, that is, the Jews who do not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah:
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (ESV)
All commentators agree that Rom 10:4 is a critically important verse for understanding Paul's view of the Law. What does Paul mean by referring to Christ as "the end of the Law" (telos nomou)?
I have long been fascinated by this verse. Until recently, I held the view that "end" (telos) means "termination" or "abrogation," and argued that this verse meant that the Mosaic Law has come to an end with Christ. (This does not mean that the moral law has been abrogated, for that would be impossible; merely the Mosaic Law as a whole, the law as the covenantal constitution of theocratic Israel.) I argued this based on the fact that the word telos in both the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament seems predominantly to have a terminating significance. I was also attracted to this interpretation because it fit with other statements by Paul to the effect that the Mosaic Law as a covenant is no longer in effect after Christ has come (e.g., Rom 6:14-15; 7:1-6; Eph 2:15; 1 Cor 9:20-21; Gal 3:24-25; etc.). I advocated this interpretation as recently as my 2011 dissertation on "the righteousness of God" in Paul.
However, I have recently changed my mind. I now think that telos should be taken in a teleological sense, meaning "goal" or "aim." I would now translate the verse as follows: "The object of the Law is realized in Christ, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." My main reason for changing views is that my old view did not provide a reasonable explanation of the second half of the verse. How does Christ's being the termination or abrogation of the Mosaic Law result in righteousness being available to everyone who believes? It doesn't.
Furthermore, my old view does not fit well with the preceding context. In vv 1-3, Paul is expressing his heartfelt prayer and desire that his Jewish kinsmen would come to faith in Christ. He says that he acknowledges their zeal for God, as expressed in their zealous commitment to the scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law, but the problem is that their zeal is not according to knowledge. Their problem is that they imagined that they could achieve righteousness before God by their own zeal in keeping the Law. But the righteousness that comes to humans as a free gift from God was revealed in Christ's death and resurrection. They chose to ignore and reject that righteousness, and instead sought to establish their own righteousness, rather than submitting to the righteousness God has made available in Christ. It is here that we come to our verse. They should have submitted to the righteousness of God, for the law's object (namely, righteousness) is not attained by human effort but by Christ himself, with the result that righteousness (i.e., the righteousness of God) is now available to everyone who believes.
So far I have presented the debate as being between two views - taking telos in a chronological or a teleological sense. But in my next post, I'll explain that the interpretive situation is more complex than this. These two main senses of telos can be subdivided into two sub-views, and so there are actually four main options for interpreting Rom 10:4. After that, I will provide brief arguments against three of these views and return to further explaining the view I am defending. Along the way, I'll mention commentators who hold to these various views.