Recently, I was teaching a class session (Life & Letters of Paul) when a student asked me to define the word τέλος (telos) in Romans 10:4 (τέλος γὰρ νόμου Χριστὸς / telos gar nomou Christos, “For Christ is the τέλος of the law”). I replied that the usage-range of the word τέλος sometimes hovers more in the direction of end (as in termination), and at other times seems to lean more in the direction of goal (as in the direction toward which an action or event is headed). I also suggested that in this particular verse it is possible that both connotations could be present. The student then asked, “If that’s the case, can’t we just translate τέλος as end goal?
Honestly, I’d never thought about that as a possible translation. I’ve mulled over it for a while now, and think that translating “end goal” may have some merit in Romans 10:4. Translating in this particular way leaves somewhat open the covenant-theology/dispensational question that intersects with this verse. Since covenantalists (and those leaning that direction) tend to translate this word in this verse as “goal,” whereas dispensationalists (of their different varieties) tend to translate it as “end,” I think that “end goal” may leave the theological question somewhat more open than either “end” or “goal” on its own.
If my English sensibilities are properly attuned to the nuances of the two words “end goal” working together, I think that such a rendering of τέλος might be less likely to move an English reader in a particular theological direction. A dispensationalist who teaches on this verse, then, could emphasize that Christ is the end-goal of the law; whereas a covenant theologian could stress that Christ is the end-goal of the law. I certainly am not suggesting that both theological positions are correct[!], only that this particular way of translating τέλος might permit translators to minimize how much theology is permitted to seep into the translation of this verse. If there is a way for a translator to minimize the influence of a disputed theological position, that is often the best way to go.
Consequently, I recommend that future English translation committees at least consider translating τέλος in Romans 10:4 as “end goal” rather than either as “end” or as “goal.”
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.