Q and A with Dr. Michael Brown. How do you reconcile the seemingly contradictory messages from Romans 10:4 and Romans 3:31?
Let’s look at the two passages, first Romans 3:31–
Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law!
Paul makes it clear that what he’s teaching about faith does not nullify the law but rather establishes the law. When he’s speaks about the law here (in Romans 3:31), he’s referring to the Torah – the five books of Moses. Within the Torah is the teaching, beginning at Genesis 15:6, that we are justified by faith. We come into a right relationship with God first by trusting in Him, and it’s out of that that our works flow.
So that’s Paul’s point there (in Romans 3:31). “What I’m teaching about faith”, he says, “it doesn’t nullify what the Torah teaches, in fact it establishes it (the torah) because it puts it (the torah) in its proper place.”
Also in that context, he explains that the role of the torah was not to make people righteous, but to show them their guilt before God, so that they would need to turn to God for mercy and forgiveness. So in that sense we’re properly understanding it (torah), thereby putting it in its proper place rather than nullifying it.
What about Romans 10:4?
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
The key thing is the word telos (τέλος). Aside from the fact that it’s ludicrous to think that Paul would contradict himself within the very same letter of careful teaching to the Romans, we have to ask and what is that word telos mean? Telos can mean ‘end’, and telos can also mean ‘goal’.
We get the word telos in telescope and things like that. So what Paul is saying is not that Christ, the messiah, is the end of the law for everyone who believes, so once what you believe in him that terminates the law. No, rather the Messiah is the goal to which the torah is pointing so that everyone who believes in and can be justified.
He’s really saying the same thing in both of those places. By rightly understanding the role of the Torah, and by rightly understanding what the Torah teaches us about faith (being that it establishes the Torah), we see that the Messiah is ultimately the goal to which the Torah is pointing us. Once we take telos and instead of translating it ‘end’ we translate it with ‘goal’, the objection disappears.