In my last post, I decided to examine the basic Christian assumption that Christian are not under the Law (Torah), that since Jesus fulfilled the righteousness of the Old Testament’s requirement by paying the penalty for sin, we are freed from the Old Testament law and now live by the grace of God.
Yup, I went there. But I had facts to back up my statements that the word Law in the New Testament is greatly misunderstood. After all, the Hebrew word that is translated “law” in the TNK (Old Testament) doesn’t mean “law”, but means “guidance, teaching”. With that basic misunderstanding cleared up, we would have to say, “How could Torah be abolished, done away with? God’s instruction and teaching is eternal.”
Jesus Is the End of the Law/Torah
“But CSL, you’re forgetting something. The Bible clearly tells us that ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.’ It’s right there in Rom. 10.4, CSL, Christ is the end of the law.”
True, the English Standard Version does say that. For that matter, so do the NIV, NASB, the KJ, the Christian Standard Bible, and the Holman Bible. In addition, paraphrase versions go even further:
For Christ has brought the Law to an end,.. (Good News Tr.)
But Christ makes the Law no longer necessary… (CEV)
… Christ is the termination of Law to every believer. (Weymouth NT)
So, yes you are right, those translations and paraphrases DO say that, and seem to support the teaching that Christ ended the Law. But there’s one really big fly in that ointment: Jesus Himself. After all, it was Jesus who spoke these words:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5.17-20)
Christ Came to Fulfill the Law
“But, CSL, we know that Jesus fulfilled the law, and that the law could be done away with!” Um, if you haven’t read my post, Bend In The Journey #2, please do so, quickly. In that post, I tell how the words “abolish” and “fulfill” were terms of rabbinic debate, arguing over correct interpretation of Torah.
For some reason, we have the idea that the TNK is like a mail-order catalog: you see something you like, you send your order to the fulfillment house, and when your order is complete, you throw the catalog away, because the order is fulfilled. But Jesus said that Torah is eternal, that He was establishing God’s Torah, not abolishing it.
As a rabbi, Jesus was using rabbinic language to defend his interpretation of Torah from his critics, other rabbis who disagreed with him.
So How Is Christ The End Of A Law He Is Establishing?
So, back to Rom. 10.4, where Paul wrote that Christ is the end of the law. But as you would imagine, there is something hinky in our use of language. Again!
The Greek word for “end” in Rom. 10.4 is telos, which has two meanings. The first is the one that we think of, the termination of something, its cessation. This is how we read Rom. 10.4, and how our teachers and commentators present it. Therefore, Christ ended the Law. It is fini, kaput, dead.
Sorry, but that’s not the end of the story. The second meaning for the Greek word telos is reaching the “goal or purpose” of something. It doesn’t mean that something stops existing, but that the aim, or outcome, of something is the telos. And guess what? The word telos is used 41 times in the New Testament, and in only about 7 of the usages, does it mean cessation; the rest of the time, telos means “goal” or “purpose” (except for two times in which it actually refers to taxes: Mt. 17.25 & Rom. 13.7. Go figure.)
Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Many people still use the King James version of the Bible (me, I never touch the stuff!), and the KJ translates 1 Tim. 1.7 telos as end.
Now the end [telos] of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.
At the beginning of his epistle to Timothy, Paul reminds him of why he had given Timothy a command to not let certain people to teach bad doctrine. In v. 5, he tells why he did so, but it wasn’t because his “command” had a cessation point, that it was ending. Instead, he explains that the goal of his command was so that love would be cultivated in the church. In fact, modern translations correctly say that telos means goal in this verse. Here are a few examples:
The goal of this command (NIV)
But the goal of our instruction (NAS)
The purpose of this order (Good News Bible; also the Complete Jewish Bible)
But the aim of our instruction (New English Translation)
As you can see, the Greek word telos does NOT require us to understand the end of something as cessation.
In manufacturing, whether it be automobiles, computers, toasters, etc., there is an assembly line. People and parts are brought together, and as items are built and move through these lines, products are completed. The entire assembly line exists for the purpose of the product. At the end of the line, a car or toaster is created. The line doesn’t stop or cease to exist after the first car or toaster rolls off. Instead, all that has gone before was to culminate in the finished product.
Just so with Torah. God’s process of bringing about salvation, of reconciling man to God, was to begin with one man, Abraham, whom God knew would “… command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice,…” (Gen. 18:19) Then to create a people to whom and through whom God’s Torah/Law could be carried to the world.
And finally, as prophets wrote, adding to the TNK as God spoke to them, the process came to an “end”; not a cessation, but the fulfilling of all that God had been doing. Jesus is the culmination, not the cessation of Torah.
Here are a few more verses that demonstrate that telos did not mean cessation, but goal/aim/purpose:
But wrath has come upon them to the utmost (telos). 1 Thess. 2.16
You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome (telos) of the Lord’s dealings…. James 5.11
… obtaining as the outcome (telos) of your faith the salvation of your souls. 1 Pet. 1.9
To sum (telos) up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 1 Pet. 3.8
Conclusion: We’ve Got It Wrong, Again!
Bubbles are a big topic of late. We speak of people operating in their own bubbles, in which they only hear or read conclusions that agree with their own, dismissing any evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, the Church has got it in its head that “end” means “cessation,” and that when Jesus said that the torah was eternal, we didn’t think He meant it. And, of course, we had Paul’s statement that Jesus was the “end” of the Law, so we knew that Paul, being the better theologian of the two, got it right.
Our “bubble” helped us to think logically to the wrong conclusion.
So, yes, Rom. 10.4 is correct when it says that Jesus is the telos of Torah, but we “destroy the Law” when we interpret that to mean that the Law/Torah is done away with. Instead, to put God’s Torah on a firm footing (the meaning of fulfill the Law, in Matt. 5.17), we need to teach that Jesus was the end product of God’s torah (guidance, instruction) down through the ages.
There’s only one more thing to deal with, and that might be another job of heavy lifting. Next post, I’ll deal with the idea that we are saved from “the works of the Law.”