Studies in the Epistles of Paul
Christ the End of the Law
In Romans 9 to 11, Paul deals with Israel’s role in God’s plan. Does the new covenant, and the salvation of Gentiles, mean that God no longer has a special interest in the Jewish people? Since salvation is by faith, is there a role left for the people of Israel? In chapter 10, Paul develops the question, which he will answer in chapter 11.
Paul begins by expressing his hope that the Jews would accept the gospel: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Paul wants his own people to be saved.
Humanly speaking, we would expect the Jews to do quite well: “For I can testify that they are zealous for God…” (verse 2). But the problem is that “their zeal is not in line with the truth.” What did they lack? They were “ignoring the righteousness that comes from God” (verse 3). They knew that God is righteous, but they did not know how he would count humans as righteous. They were therefore “seeking instead to establish their own righteousness.”
In this passage, Paul is making a contrast between a righteousness based on works and the law (9:30; 10:5), and a righteousness that comes through faith (9:30; 10:6). The Jews aimed at righteousness through their covenant with God, a relationship the Gentiles did not have. The Jewish people, focusing on the law, could not see a different means of righteousness, and could not see God working with other people.
As a result of looking to their works, “they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (10:3). God’s righteousness must come by grace, not works, and as long as people look to what they do, they fail to accept the gift of righteousness the gospel reveals.
So Paul concludes: “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes” (verse 4). Some translations say the “goal” of the law, or the purpose of the law. Both goal and end can be supported by other verses, but which emphasis did Paul intend here? I suspect that he meant both. In a race, for example, the goal is also the end. When we reach the goal or purpose of some endeavor, the project is finished. Christ is the supreme expression of the law. Now that we have him, we do not need the preliminary, for he is the means of our righteousness.
Although some details of the grammar may be debated, Paul’s conclusion is clear enough: Righteousness cannot be obtained through our efforts to keep the law. Rather, it must be 1) given through Christ, 2) received by faith rather than works and 3) available to Gentiles as well as Jews. When it comes to salvation, Jews do not have special privileges. The law, which was given to Israel, is not the means of salvation.
In verses 5 to 10, Paul will elaborate on faith, and in verses 11 to 13, he will emphasize that it is available to everyone.