The “End of the Law” (Romans 10:4)

In my book, I argue that the phrase “Christ is the end (τέλος) of the Law” in Romans 10:4 is illuminated by Romans 3:21, which states that the purpose of the Law is to testify to the gospel.

I note the following parallels between Romans 3:20-22a and Romans 10:2b-4 (p. 214):

Rom 3:20–22a Rom 10:2b-4
διὰ γὰρ νόμου ἐπίγνωσις ἁμαρτίας.
Νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου
δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται
ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν,
δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ.
διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐ κατ᾽ ἐπίγνωσιν·
ἀγνοοῦντες γὰρ
τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην
καὶ τὴν ἰδίαν [δικαιοσύνην]
ζητοῦντες στῆσαι,
τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ὑπετάγησαν.
τέλος γὰρ νόμου Χριστὸς
εἰς δικαιοσύνην παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι.

The significance of these parallels is as follows:

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

The Jews’ ζῆλος [cf. v. 2a] entails viewing the Law as a means to establish their “own righteousness.” But the Law’s purpose is not ultimately to establish Jewish righteousness. Rather, the Law’s purpose is to provide “recognition” of sin to all the world (Rom 10:2, 3:20; cf. 7:7) and thus to testify to the “righteousness of God” (Rom 10:3, 3:21; cf. 7:24–8:1), which, as Paul has already asserted, is through the faith of “Jesus Christ” for “all” who “believe” (Rom 3:22). In this way, “Christ” is the τέλος of the Law for all who “believe” (Rom 10:4). … Paul … is asserting that the subject of his gospel—worldwide righteousness through faith in Christ—is the ultimate “teleological” ground for the giving of the Law to Israel. In light of this divine purpose, the Jewish ζῆλος can be seen as a tragic misreading of the Law, and thus a tragic misunderstanding of Israel’s role in God’s global purposes. Israelites should cease reading the Law as a means for attaining righteousness, and instead read the Law according to “recognition”—that is, recognizing their own sin and believing in Christ. (pp. 214-216)

This sheds light on the meaning of the term τέλος in Romans 10:4:

Translation of this term is notoriously difficult; the difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the English terms themselves (e.g. “end” or “goal”) usually require further explanation. Some interpreters read the “Law” here primarily in terms of its role as a set of regulations or principles for righteousness and life. The key question, then, is how Christ may be seen either as the “end” of these principles … or as the “goal” / “fulfilment” of these principles …, or as both … We, however, prompted by the close parallels between Rom 3:20–22 and Rom 10:2–4, also wish to draw attention to the role of the “Law” as a text which, along with the Prophets, paradoxically “testifies” to the gospel of Christ (cf. Rom 3:21). The Law “speaks” to Israel (Rom 3:19a), yet Israel (as a whole) fails to keep the Law. When the world witnesses this failure, it gains “recognition of sin” (cf. Rom 3:19b–20), which in turn leads to faith in Christ. Thus the righteousness of God is both “apart from Law” and also “testified to by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom 3:21). Since Paul describes the Law as having a dual aspect in Rom 3:21, it is not unreasonable to read the term τέλος in Rom 10:4 in terms of this dual significance: i. e. it may be understood both as “end” and as “goal.” On the one hand, since “justification” / “righteousness” is “apart from Law” (cf. Rom 3:20–21a), Christ may be seen as bringing to an “end” the Law’s role as a set of commandments pertaining to eschatological “life” (cf. Rom 10:5…) On the other hand, since the Law has a role in God’s worldwide purposes—to testify to righteousness by faith in Christ (cf. Rom 3:21b–22)—Christ may rightly be understood in teleological terms as the “goal” of the Law. Christ thus “fulfils” the Law, but not in simple salvation-historical terms … Paul is claiming in Rom 10:4 that Christ brings about an “end” to the “righteousness that is by the Law” (cf. Rom 10:5); but at the same time, he is claiming that the ultimate “goal” of Israel’s Law is to testify paradoxically, through Israel’s failure, to the universal gospel of righteousness through faith in Christ (cf. Rom 10:6–8ff—see our subsequent exegesis). (p. 215 n 95)

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 6 of the book (pp. 212-216). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.