Matthew 5:17 Ministries

Is The Messiah The End Or Goal Of The Torah?

Romans 10:4 (CJB)
4 For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts.

In concluding his explanation of why many of his fellow non-Messianic Jews failed to attain the righteousness they zealously sought. This evidence that they “have not submitted themselves to God’s way of making people righteous” (v. 3) shows that their “zeal for God” was “not based on correct understanding.” It is that they had not grasped the central point of the Torah and acted on it. Sha’ul says: [For] the Messiah is the goal of the Torah so that there may be righteousness for everyone who trusts (believes). The NIV omits the conjunction, ‘for,’ thus obscuring somewhat the causal connection between this verse and those preceding it.

What Sha’ul is doing in 10:4 is explaining further the nature of the Jewish ignorance, which underlay their misdirected zeal. Their refusal to submit to G-d’s righteousness is evidence of ignorance, not only of the righteousness of G-d but also of the fact that the Messiah is the culmination [lit. ‘goal’] of the Law.’ Had they seen that trust in G-d—as opposed to self-effort, legalism, and mechanical obedience to rules—is the route to the righteousness that the Torah itself not only requires but offers, they would have understood the significance.

They would have seen that the righteousness the Torah offers is offered through him and only through him. They would have also seen that he offers it to everyone who trusts them and Gentiles. Is Sha’ul guilty of stereotypical thinking and prejudice? Does he accuse all non-Messianic Jews of relying on self-effort and having an attitude of legalism? No, instead, he considers this to be the prevailing establishment viewpoint in the non-Messianic Jewish community of his time. Stereotypical thinking and prejudice (which, when applied to Jews, is called antisemitism) can arise when an attribute possibly predicated on a community is used uncritically, often falsely, to each individual in it. This Sha’ul does not do.

A significant error made by all major English versions and by most commentators—and one with profound antisemitic implications even when none are intended—is the rendering here of the Greek word “telos” as “end,” in the sense of “termination.” or abolishment. The King James Version, for example, is ambiguous—in it, the verse reads, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”; this leaves to the reader the decision whether “end” means “termination” or “purpose” (as in “the end justifies the means”).

However, other versions decide the matter for him, and they decide it wrongly. The New English Bible says, “For Christ ends the law and brings righteousness for everyone who has faith.” The margin gives an alternate, “Christ is the end of the law as a way to righteousness for everyone who has faith.” The (Roman Catholic) Jerusalem Bible goes even farther: “But now the Law has come to an end with Christ, and everyone who has faith may be justified.” Likewise, in the “Good News” Bible: “For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God.”

However, the Messiah has not brought the Law to an end, nor is he the termination of the Law as a way to righteousness. The Torah continues. It is eternal. G-d’s Torah, properly understood as the very teaching which Yeshua upholds (1C 9:21, Ga 6:2), remains the only way to righteousness—although it is Yeshua the Messiah through whom the Torah’s righteousness comes. For the Good News that righteousness is grounded in trust is proclaimed already in the Torah itself; this is the central point of 9:30–10:21. In seed form, this was already stated at 1:16–17; Sha’ul declares it directly at Ga 3:6. To such a Torah there is no cessation, neither in this world nor in the next.

This truth is not peripheral but central to the Gospel, and it cannot be compromised, even if the whole of Christian theology were to oppose it! While a recent and valuable strand of modern Christian scholarship acknowledges that Sha’ul is neither anti-Jewish nor anti-Torah, very little of this has penetrated popular Christianity, especially here in America. To Jews with even a modest amount of Jewish training, the Torah is correctly understood as a central and eternal element of God’s dealing with humankind in general and with Jews in particular. Therefore, the idea that “the law has come to an end with Christ” is shocking and unacceptable to them. Fortunately, the idea is untrue!

Even the paraphrases of the Living Bible (“Christ gives to those who trust in him everything they are trying to get by keeping his laws. He ends all of that”) and Phillips (“Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness-by-the-Law for everyone who believes in him”) miss the point. The verse is not about our struggle but G-d’s Torah. It is true that whoever comes to trust in Yeshua relies on Yeshua for salvation and thus ends their self-effort. But this verse does not speak of ending anything. It says that the grand sweep of G-d’s purpose in giving the Torah as a means to righteousness achieves its goal and consummation in the coming of the Messiah.

It therefore follows, Sha’ul says, that a person who has the trust in G-d, which the Torah itself requires, will—precisely because they have this trust, which forms the fundamental ground of all obedience to the Torah (1:5)—understand and respond to the Gospel by also trusting in G-d’s Messiah Yeshua. It is in this way and only in this way that they will be deemed righteous in the sight of the G-d. Only by believing in Yeshua will they be able to obey the Torah. By disbelieving in Yeshua, they will be disobeying the Torah. This is because the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers the Torah’s righteousness, which is G-d’s righteousness, to everyone who trusts. I will end with the question. Are you trusting in the Messiah?