You are here

Appendix 3 - Did Paul reject the Law and its righteousness?

Appendix 3

Did Paul Reject the Law and its Righteousness?

6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:6-9, NRSV)

Does not our discussion of Romans 10:6-9 (in chapter 7 of the present book) contra­dict what Paul said in the previous verse? Romans 10:5:

“Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ {Lev.18:5}” (NIV)

What does it mean to say, “The man who does these things will live by them” (Rom.10:5)? If “doing these things” means “living by these things,” then the whole statement would be a mere tautology, a repetitious statement (“live by them” already appears in the statement), for if he is not living by them then he is not doing them. But that is hardly what Moses was saying. What does not come out clearly in the English is that the word “will” is not here expressive of intention, as it often is, but here “will live” (ζήσεται) is in the future tense. Among English transla­tions, only the New Jerusalem Bible’s (NJB) translation of this verse brings this out more clearly, “Moses writes of the saving justice that comes by the Law and says that who­ever complies with it will find life in it.”

The translation “will find life in it” also comes closer to the meaning of the Hebrew (בָּהֶם, bahem): will live “in it” or “by it”. The NJB’s translation gives the sense that one will find life through it or because of it. That is, the Law is a means through which one finds life. This accords with the use of the Hebrew beth (בִּ) as can be seen in the definitions given in HALOT, “9. (beth) indicates the cause (personal or inanimate) of an effect” and see also item 6: “(beth) intro­duces the means or the instrument”.

Another problem for the reader of the English versions (includ­ing NJB) is that the next verse (Rom.10:6 quoted above) begins with “but,” which is adver­sative in meaning, indicating something contrary to what has just been stated. This is indicative of the theological predilection of the translators because the Greek particle de (δέ) is not necessarily adversative in meaning. This is clearly seen in the definitions given, for example, in BDAG:

1. a marker connecting a series of closely related data or lines of narrative, and, as for. Freq. used in lists of similar things, with a slight call of attention to the singularity of each item

2. a marker linking narrative segments, now, then, and, so, that is

3. a marker with an additive relation, with possible suggestion of con­trast, at the same time Παῦλος δοῦλος θεοῦ, ἀπόστολος δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Paul, God’s slave, and at the same time apostle of Jesus Christ Tit 1:1.

4. marker of contrast, but, on the other hand,

5. marker of heightened emphasis, in combination w. καί but also (a)… so also, similarly, likewise, too

For the reader’s convenience, I have listed all five of the definitions given in BDAG. Only one item (#4) of the five defin­itions indicates contrast, but those who depend on the English transla­tions would not know this, and would consequently sup­pose that Romans 10:6 states something contrary to 10:5 though that is not the case.

Then there is another objection to seeing Paul’s identifica­tion of the Law with Christ, and it is based on the way Romans 10:4 is generally under­stood: “For Christ is the end of the law for right­eousness to every­one who believes.” The words “the end” generally indicate the conclusion or termination of some­thing, and if that is the case in regard to the Law, what sense is there to speak of any identification of Christ with the Law?

Again, the only translation to put the matter differently is NJB: “But the Law has found its fulfilment in Christ so that all who have faith will be justified.”

What accounts for this difference in the translations? The answer is that the word translated as “end” or as “fulfillment” could have either of these meanings; so the choice was, in most cases, deter­mined by the theological inclinations of the translators.

The word translated as “end” is telos (τέλος). This is one of the definitions given in BDAG: “3. the goal toward which a movement is being directed, end, goal, outcome.” Under this heading, BDAG makes this ob­servation: “Perh. this is the place for Ro 10:4, in the sense that Christ is the goal and the termin­ation of the law at the same time”. (Italics mine)

It seems that NJB’s “fulfillment” is precisely such an attempt to combine the two ideas of telos as goal and as end, thus indicating that in Christ the Law has finally (“end”) reached its goal, attaining its “fulfill­ment” in him. This expressed the idea that the Law, the “Word” (Dt.30:14 and Rom.10:8), has become embodied or incarnate in Christ, so that to obey Christ is to obey the Law, thereby fulfilling it.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church