Saturday, October 20, 2007

Paul and the Law (cont'd): Christ is the end of the law

Here's a picture of me at the library in Ephesus where Paul spent some time, no doubt. I visited here in December 2004. This has nothing to do with the class. I just thought I'd share it with you.

We continue our emphasis on Paul and the Law. As you have seen from reading Kim, Gorman and others, this is not an easy issue. There are actually two issues I'd like for you to grapple with this week.

First question
In Romans 10:4 Paul makes the statement that "Christ is the end of the law." In order to understand the context of this statement, please read Romans 9-11. The immediate context can be discerned in Rom 9:33 to Rom 10:17. The question is: what does Paul mean by the phrase "the end of the law"?

There are two (main) ways this question has been answered.

1. Some have taken the word "end" to mean "fini" or THE END. That is, the law is over and done with now that Christ has come. Would this reading reflect the old or new perspective? Be able to explain your reasons. How would this reading square with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20? What are the implications for saying that Christ brings the law to an END? And this question is more difficult: is there any evidence that Jews before Paul thought that when the Messiah came, he would END the law or change the law somehow? What kinds of Jewish texts would you appeal to to make this point?

2. Others have taken the word "end" to mean "goal" or "purpose". Would this reading reflect an old or new perspective? Be able to explain your reasons. How would this reading square with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20? What are the implications for saying that Christ is the goal or purpose for God giving the law? How would you relate this to Paul's other statements regarding the law.

The semantic field for the Greek work telos translated "end" in most translations is capable of both meanings (both finish and goal).

Now, here's the second question regarding Paul and the Law.

Read Romans 7 (especially 7:14-25). In this passage Paul describes a struggle against the power of sin. Read Gorman and Kim on this and anything else you can get your hands on. Is Paul describing his life or the life of every person? Is Paul describing life in Christ or life outside/before Christ?

On a personal basis, do you have similar struggles? Share this text with someone you know and ask them about their experience.


Barbara said...

I think these two possible meanings of the word ‘end’ shed so much light on this tension between Christ and the law and it seems to me that ‘righteousness’ is a key thought here. But, first the questions…
1. If we take ‘end’ to mean “THE END”, this would reflect the “Old Perspective” which said that the law was the means to salvation and an encounter with Christ would save one from that requirement. The law didn’t work as a means of salvation and since Christ came along to provide that, the law was no longer needed. This would not interface with Matthew 5:17-20 very well since Jesus pretty explicitly states there that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law. If we took it to mean that it was indeed the complete end of the law, that could lead to lawlessness and a sense that anything goes; using Bonheoffer’s phrase, “cheap grace”, we would take advantage of Christ’s coming and “eat, drink, and be merry” and then beg forgiveness. And the question about whether the Jews thought the coming of the Messiah would put an end to the law is hard…I am drawn to Joel 2:28-32 – especially the words that Paul quotes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” and Micah 6:6-8 and other prophets who rail against the need for sacrifice and strict adherence to the law with no compassion.
2. If we take ‘end’ to mean “GOAL or PURPOSE”, this would reflect the “New Perspective” which flows from the basis of God in covenant with God’s people and the law isn’t the means of salvation but rather the presence of salvation…and indicator that God is with God’s people. With this reading, we would then read Matthew as Jesus coming to be the goal or the purpose of the law – a transition point perhaps in how it was read and obeyed - but not the end of it all. The implications for this view are that it redefines for us what place the law does have in our lives as we seek to be in right relationship with God.

Gorman writes that righteousness means “right relationship”. Romans 9:31 says that the righteousness that Israel sought could not be obtained because they were seeking it through the law. Paul also affirms this in our previous passage Galatians 3:11, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” Matthew speaks of righteousness in that the righteousness of the disciples must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (exceed strict obedience to the law as a means of attaining that right relationship). The term appears again in our passage in Romans 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Putting all these pieces together, the Jews sought righteousness, a right relation with God, through the law. Paul states this didn’t work but in Christ’s coming, it was then available to all who would confess and believe (10:9). In Romans 10:5-8, he seems to be saying that righteousness by the law was up to a person’s actions (which were never adequate) but righteousness by faith was something only Christ could do and which was available to all – Jew and Greek.

Sorry this is so long…but if I were to preach/teach this text, I would present both definitions of ‘end’. Since Gorman wrote that ‘end’ means both in context with the emphasis on “goal”, I would then work off of the thought that Christ was the end of the law as a way of obtaining righteousness – we can’t do it on our own by strict adherence to the law. But at the same time, emphasizing that Christ came to fulfill the law not abolish it and therefore Christ did not bring an end to the law as a guide for living only as a means of salvation. It is that “now and not yet” tension…we are in a right relationship with God through Christ but by grace must continue to live in that right relationship…Maybe that is what Paul meant by working out your salvation with fear and trembling.

And speaking of such, I am preaching this coming Sunday and would appreciate your prayers as I seek God’s Spirit to lead me in preparation and speak through me on Sunday.

Paul said...

Paul’s declaration that “Christ is the end of the Law” appears to me to suggest “goal” or “purpose” rather than “THE END.” The interpretation of telos=fini is an Old Perspective understanding. Gorman notes, “The context suggests that Paul means both, but with an emphasis on goal.” He draws a connection to Romans 8:3-4, which indicates that only through Christ can the “righteous requirements of the law…be fully met.” This understanding to me squares best with Jesus’ statement, “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” (Mt. 5:17).

Kim notes that Jesus is the end of the Law’s ability to bring salvation. In this sense, we can consider Christ to be the conclusion of the Law. But the implications of the Law coming to an end completely are scary (especially for those of us who tend to be rule-followers). Anarchy could easily result if we do not have some sense of boundaries. Letting go of the Law is an easy thing to do once we receive grace. Paul had to combat libertine tendencies, as we see in Romans 6:1b-2: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

As far as evidence from Jewish texts, this is by no means a thorough survey, but here are a couple of passages which make some reference to the Law in connection with God’s salvation. In Ezek. 37, which is one of the Messianic promises, we see that God will bring rescue to His people, but the Law will continue: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees” (v. 24).

Jeremiah 31 suggests that there will be some sort of change in the covenant, though the specifics are not made clear. At the same time, it indicates that the Lord’s decrees are necessary for the people of Israel to remain the Lord’s people.

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers …

"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people. …

"Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me" (31-33,36).

So I find it hard to conclude that Christ is the elimination of the Law. I think that any thorough teaching or preaching using this passage should deal with the tension found in the “semantic field for the Greek word telos.” I would want to present both possible interpretations and land, as Gorman does, with the emphasis on “goal.”

With respect to Romans 7,
Gorman indicates that the majority of scholars do not read Paul’s “I” to be a description of his current experience in Christ. Rather, they draw the parallels to the Genesis account of Adam and the passage is read as humanity’s struggle to overcome sin without Christ and the Spirit. Kim would agree with this. Dunn’s article on Romans in DPL highlights the “already and not yet” aspects of the letter and I find this to be especially relevant for this passage. I do see that Paul is painting a picture of the impossibility, which all people face, of overcoming sin without Christ—even when one knows what is right, they cannot do it. But I also see that Paul could be writing about his experience even with Christ as well. Personally, I relate to this passage very much. I experience very similar struggles with sin. But within these struggles, I rely on the promise to which Paul turns: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ...There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (7:25, 8:1). Gorman notes the importance of reading 7:7-25 with 8:1-39, which creates an antithesis between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. I agree that we have to read the two together.

From the standpoint of systematic theology, I can see where scholars interpret this passage as Paul speaking about life before Christ, or without the Spirit. But because of my personal experience, I resonate with Paul’s use of the first person in this—it really feels like he is authentically describing his current experience. [Gorman refers to “the existential appeal of this interpretation” even as he offers another.] It makes me think of the thorn in his flesh which Paul describes in 2 Corinthians. This window into Paul’s struggles is a validation for my own struggles. So while it may fit rationally into another explanation, the Spirit of God uses it to encourage me in my faith to rely more heavily on the hope found only in Christ & to remind me that I truly cannot overcome sin on my own.

Paul said...

I appreciate how Barbara highlighted the importance of 'righteousness' in her post. Highlighting Gorman's definition of 'right relationship' is helpful to my understanding of this passage. She also did a great job of weaving in the other references to 'righteousness.' I do think that a right relationship with God is crucial and is ultimately what the Gospel provides. Thanks be to God!

Luke Gordon said...

I think the real question in interpreting telos is to understand the purpose and function of the law. This makes the discussion on the new and old perspective critical in this situation. However, either way we view the law we must not miss the fact that Jesus is the answer and ushers in a new paradigm.
If the function of the law was simply to meet the requirements for salvation then telos could very well mean the law is no longer necessary in view of Christ who made our salvation possible. This would fit in with the Old Perspective. If the law is referring to a covenantal righteousness then the New Perspective would say that God provides us with a right relationship through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus the end goal of the law is met in Jesus. The law is no longer the measuring stick for the believer. Because the believer is now in right relations with God and can make the guidance of the Spirit the new measuring stick. Following the Holy Spirit as the guide elevates the believer to a level of righteousness that surpasses the limited requirements of the law. (Matthew 5:20) The new perspective would say that one must follow the law to remain in the right covenantal relationship with God. In Romans 10:4 Paul makes it clear that we remain in right covenantal standing by remaining in Jesus who has become the “end” of the law.
A Jew might have read Jeremiah 31:33 and saw a day coming when the law in it’s present for would be succeeded by a new age when God would guide through the heart of the believer. I think Romans 10:4 is best read in light of this passage.
In teaching with this text I would start with a discussion on the context. The Jews were trying to meat the requirements of the law on their own (This would apply to both the Old and New Perspectives). Here Paul is saying that it is God’s work and faithfulness not our own that is meeting the requirements of the Law. Where does our faith lie? In our ability to be faithful or God’s faithfulness. This is the good news that we are able to proclaim to the Gentiles as Paul goes on to say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

Luke Gordon said...

Paul R., I appreciate your comment that the end of the law does not mean we should embrace ideas of libertine tendencies. Like you said, Paul the Apostle makes it clear in his letters that grace is not a license to sin. Saying that Paul is arguing against righteous living by saying the law is irrelevant would be taking this passage out of context. Like Barbara said, righteousness is a key issue here. Paul the Apostle is rather saying that righteousness is found in Christ not apart from him. The righteousness that we live out in faith not only meats the requirements of the law but surpasses them.

brad said...

This reading (end) is old perspective thought. The thinking behind the old perspective was that the Jews had the Law in order for salvation as opposed to the new perspective’s thinking that the Law was set up in order to differentiate the Jews from other people. Here, the Law’s need has ended. The Jews had tried to establish righteousness through obedience to the Law. Paul is stating in essence that they missed it. It is through faith that all are saved. The end of the law came about as faith is now the means for salvation. What Jesus was saying in Matt: 5:17 about fulfilling the law was that this fulfillment came from faith. The law is still good in and of itself, however, it is no longer a means for salvation. The implications are that Jews and Gentiles alike are included in this new covenant through faith. This NEW covenant was mentioned by Jeremiah 31: there will be a new covenant: the laws will be on their heart. I think that the Jews felt the Messiah would not END the law at all but would CHANGE it.

“Christ is the purpose or goal of the law” is a new perspective view on the law. I think that this reading of Matt 5:17-20 makes a lot of sense in that Jesus is stating that HE is the goal of the law. The purpose of the law is to be Christ like. Since no one is able, it must be Him and through Him. Now the law is still there for good purpose, and we have seen the purpose of the law, we now must recognize that …

I think that If I were to teach on this I would mention both to begin with. I would start with the assumption that the word meant “end” focusing on WHY the word may be used. I then would move to the word meaning “goal”. IN this I would stress the meanings stated earlier but try to move to WHY Christ HAS to be the goal in our lives. By pointing that Scripture leads us to the goal (Jesus) I would try to show that our life leads us to this very same goal. God’s goal was/is for us to be in Jesus. That is why Scripture can be referred to the story of us. It is our story in the past just as it is our story in the present.

Paul is describing his life as a means to teach us that we are all just like him so in effect, he is describing all of us. He is pointing out that the law is good…it is able to point out sin, but it ends there. The law is not capable of relief from that sin. That relief can only come from /through Jesus. Gorman points out that Paul is speaking about his life prior to Christ; when he was under the law.

Robert Dulaney said...

I also believe that 'end' here from a new perspective would mean goal rather than the conclusion of the law. The new perspective would emphasis the idea that the law was a way of marking the people of God and keeping them a distinct people that was set apart for God's purpose. Christ represents the fulfillment of that purpose. However, in looking at the new testament I never see paul advocating a dismantling of the laws and traditions of Judaism. Rather, the inclusion of the gentiles that until this point had been excluded from the people of God.

Barbara said...

I appreciated Paul R’s comments about Romans 7, “I do see that Paul is painting a picture of the impossibility, which all people face, of overcoming sin without Christ—even when one knows what is right, they cannot do it.” Similarly, Gorman wrote, “While believers still must struggle not to allow sin to regain mastery (6:12, 8:13), they do so on the assumption of their current liberation from sin, not their slavery to it.” I too can personally relate to this passage in my own walk with Christ and each of these comments seems key to me in that we don’t overcome it on our own but rather stand in a place with a power greater than ourselves. Whatever position Paul was speaking from, it seems to me that he would have affirmed that it was Christ in him that allowed him to embrace the words of Romans 8.

sonshine77074 said...

I am wondering where Paul found such an authoritative voice. In other words "Who died and made him boss?" I am sure that answer is Jesus, in a spiritual sense. However, in a more earthly sense, I am really asking how Paul was motivated to step into this apostolic role. The theophany on the Damascus road does not include explicit instructions to Paul that would have been premature. How did he know where he was supposed to travel? How did this become his passion? How did he overcome the terrible prejudice between the Jews and gentiles. Sunday, my pastor said that if a gentile woman was having trouble giving birth, a Jewish woman was not allowed to help her, because she would be helping to bring a pagan child into the world (Mark Hartmon, Sugar Creek Baptist--- This sermon was about overcoming prejudice).
Also, I was wondering that since Jesus and Paul were in Jerusalem at the same time, did they ever cross paths? Is there any evidence that Paul was involved in "green-light" litigation for the crucifixion of Jesus as Pontius Pilate was?
I will read on to get to know this man, Paul whose Romans 6 verse about baptism is on my baptismal certificate.
in Scriptures IV class

LTD said...

I am not part of this forum, but a former student of Dr. Capes'. I would encourage anyone interested in studying both the telos question and the Romans 7 question to check out Stanley K. Stowers' work: A Rereading of Romans: Jews, Justice and Gentiles (Yale, 1994); and "Romans 7.7-25 as a Speech-in-Character (prosopopoiia)" in Paul in His Hellenistic Context, ed. Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Fortress, 1995). Stowers represents one of the "New Perspectives."

Brian Hyde said...

What I understand it that the Lawgiver, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God as the Son of Man, was made under His very own law, allowed Himself to be identified as a sinner, to be condemned by the law, to be cursed by the law and to die under the law. The result is that the law no longer has any more jurisdictions over Him. Now, remember it was not for His own self that He did this, He did this for us! It was our humanity that He took and, therefore in Him, we were condemned, cursed and died under the law. Now, when you have died under the law its judicial demands cease to have any authority over you. It can never exercise any authority over you again because you cannot be condemned and die twice under the same law. Christ cannot die twice and we cannot die twice. So, if the law has ceased to have authority over you, it has been rendered obsolete. Christ by placing Himself under the law in our humanity effectively not only took away the condemnation of the law but He took away the very law itself. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:19 (RSV) “For I through the law died to the law, that I might live unto God” As a sinner, in order to live for God, you first have to die and then be resurrected from the dead as a new creature. This can only happen if there is a perfect life in exchange for your imperfect life. Christ lived a perfect life and, therefore, God was able to resurrect Him from the dead. Remember His humanity is our humanity and so, therefore, in Him we were counted as resurrected from the dead and are now counted as new creations in Christ. As a new creation you are now no longer under law but under grace. Christ is the end or consummation of the law for righteousness and thus in Him we are counted as the end or consummation of the law for righteousness. All the righteous requirements of the law were fulfilled in Him and all the righteous requirements of the law are counted as fulfilled in us. And because we are born again the righteousness that is ours in Christ, God works into our hearts and minds as part of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34. We receive Christ’s righteousness, albeit not for salvation but because we already have salvation and are now living for God.