Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"I" Know Not What "I" Do: Romans 7:13-25 "I" for the Exegetical Guy (Part 1)

Here's my rough off-the-cuff translation of Romans 7:13-25:

[13] Therefore, did what was good [the law] become death for me? God forbid! Rather, sin, in order that it might be shown as sin, was working through what was good for me [i.e. the law] death, in order that, through the commandment, sin might be excessively sinful. [14] For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, having been sold to/under sin. [15] For I do not acknowledge what I bring about; for it is not the case that I do what I wish to do, but, instead, I do that which I hate. [16] But if I do what I do not wish to do, I agree with the law, namely, that the law is good. [17] Now [logical, not temporal] it is no longer I accomplishing the deed but it is sin within me [accomplishing the deed]. [18] For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire to [do what is good] is present to me, but the [ability to] bring about what is good is not. [19] For I do not do what good thing I wish to do, but I instead do what bad thing I do not wish to do. [20] And if I do what I do not want to do, I am no longer [logical, not temporal] working it but it is the sin dwelling within me [that is working it]. [21] I accordingly find this principle with respect to my willing to do the good: [that whenever I will to do the good], evil is present with respect to me. [22] For I delight with respect to my inner man in the law of God, [23] but I see another law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin which is in my members. [24] Wretched man, I! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Accordingly then I myself serve the law of God with my mind --- but in my flesh [I serve the] law of sin.

Question: who is the "I" referred to here? From a pastoral and/or practical perspective, is the "I" somebody who is a Christian --- justified by their faith, at peace with God, etc? Or is the "I" an unconverted man? A Jew perhaps?

Entire monographs have been written discussing what "I" means, for example, see WG Kümmel's 1974 Monograph Römer 7 und das Bild des Menschen in Neuen Testament: Zwei Studien, Munich: Chr. Kaiser. [I mention this for reference. I have not read it, and do not know if it has been translated into English.]

We'll simplify the question here: does "I" refer to Christian experience or non-Christian experience?

This thread will give the non-Christian experience argument; Part 2 will give the Christian experience argument.

Arguments that "I" denotes a non-Christian in Rom 7:13-25

The following amateur's collection of specimens represents a setting forth of the major lines of argumentation that I've seen in favor of the thesis that "I" = unregenerate. There may be more subtle arguments out there of which I'm not aware, but these seem [in my experience, that is] to be the "major" arguments put forth, and my guess is that any seemingly new argument will be but a variant of these somewhat-overlapping arguments given below.

We now begin the whirlwind presentation:

(1) Romans 7:7-25 seems to pick up the statement in Rom 7:5 ["For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin that came through the law were at work in our members, so that we bore fruit issuing unto death."]

"Continuity is established between those who "were in the flesh" in 7:5 and the confession of the "I" that is fleshly in 7:14. Romans 8:1-17 aptly portrays the situation of the person who is liberated from the dominion of the law, with the result that he or she has the power to keep God's commandments, while in 7:14-25 the "I" is unable to do what is commanded. Thus the structure of this section can be portrayed as follows:

A: Life under law: unregenerate experience described (7:5)
B: Life under the Spirit: regenerate experience described (7:6)
A': Life under the law elaborated (7:7-25)
B': Life in the Spirit elaborated (8:1-17). " [Schreiner p 385.]

Therefore, understanding Paul to be referring to the "I" as unregenerate seems to give a nice and not-too-complicated structure.

(2) Romans 7:13 talks about how it was not the good thing [the law] that became death for the "I", but, rather, it was sin-through-the-law that worked death for the "I" of the text. In 7:14, "For we know that....," the gar [=for] seems, if taken naturally, to imply that 7:14 is a logical followup or support of 7:13. But if this natural reading of gar, then one might expect 7:14 to be dealing with an unregenerate "I" since 7:14 is supposed to come to the assistance of 7:13.

That is, 7:13 seems to talk about an unregenerate state, and gar connects 7:14 to 7:13 [or so it seems]. To view 7:14 as all of a sudden shifting to a regenerate "I" would seem to be a breach of contextual concord.

We take this time to note that (1) and (2) are "structural" sorts of arguments here.

(3) We have some "contextual" sorts of arguments here:

(a) Romans 6 and Romans 8 speak rather triumphalistically of the regenerate man:

6:2 We died to sin
6:4 that we might walk in newness of life
6:6 Our old [sinful!] man was crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin might be nullified
6:7 the implication here is that we've been justified from sin
6:11 We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God
6:12 We are to not let sin to continue its [unfettered] reign over us
6:14 Sin has no lordship over us, for we are not under law but under grace
6:18 We are set free from sin, and, in the process, put in servitude to righteousness
6:19 We are to present our members as tools of righteousness for sanctification
6:22 We are free from slavery-to-sin and in servitude to God.
8:2 The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin
8:4 The righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to spirit
8:9 Those who are of the flesh cannot please God --- but we are of the spirit and hence can please God
8:10 Being in Christ, the body is dead-on-account-of-sin [dead to sin?]

In short, 7:14-25 seems well-explained by referring to an unregenerate man, for how can the bleak picture presented here be in accord with Rom 6 and Rom 8?

(b) Also, in this vein, 7:14-25 do not mention the concept of the Holy Spirit, whereas in Chapter 8 has nineteen mentions of the Holy Spirit. Schreiner, p 387-8: "The 'I' [of Romans 7:13-25] is cast upon its own resources and lacks the wherewithal to carry out God's demands. How different is the portrait drawn of the Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit in Chapter 8, for this person has received the ability to obey the commandments of the law through the indwelling Spirit. According to Rom 8:1-13, those who are of the flesh are unable to keep God's law, while those who have the Holy Spirit are able to fulfill the law by the Holy Spirit's power. These verses in Romans 8 function as a corollary and a response to 7:14-25. The fleshly person in 8:5-8 who cannot keep the law is parallel to the person in 7:14-25 who is in bondage to sin, and Rom 8 clarifies that the person of the flesh is unregenerate. By contrast, those in 8:1-13 who fulfill the law possess the Holy Spirit and thereby have the resources to put God's law into practice."

Basically then, given the role of the Holy Spirit in Paul's thought, it seems quite strange that Paul is referring to a believer in 7:14-25 when he fails to mention the Holy Spirit in this part. It seems much more in accord with Paul's thought to attribute the "I" of this passage to an unregenerate man --- a man without the Holy Spirit dwelling within him.

(c) Somewhat related to the spirit of (a) and (b) is the fact that Paul "consistently uses negative hypo [=under] phrases to denote unbelievers and the old era in salvation history; nowhere does it refer to believers." [Schreiner p389.]


Rom 3:9 Jews and non-Jews are under sin
Rom 6:14 Christians are not under law but under grace [whereas believers are not under grace but under law]
1 Cor 9:20 Paul talks here about winning those over who are under the law
Gal 3:10 Those who rely on works of the law are under a curse
Gal 3:22 God's Word has shut up all under sin
Gal 3:23-25 We were "under the pedagogue" prior to Christ's work
Gal 4 has references to being under guardians, under the elements of the world, under the law
Gal 5:18 But those led by the Holy Spirit are not under law.

Inductively then, given Paul's behavior of using negative hypo phrases in reference to unbelievers and "the old era of salvatoin history," it seems quite reasonable here that Paul, stating that the "I" is sold under sin in 7:14, is speaking of an unregenerate man.

Let's move on from (3)(a)-(c) to a somewhat related argument, which, for wont of a better term, I'll call a "I-can't-understand-how" sort of argument.

(4) It is difficult to understand how in Rom 6 and in Rom 8 [and elsewhere in Pauline writings] Paul can speak so confidently of our sanctification and Christian life, yet sound so negative in Rom 7:14-25. How can one who has been freed from sin, has died to sin, is under grace, is led by the Spirit, set free from sin by the Spirit, etc, at the same time be "fleshly," "sold under sin," "unable to do the good he wants to do," and at the same time "finding the desire to do what is evil constantly present" ? How can a Christian proclaim "Wretched man I! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

In short, it is hard to see how the "I" can be regenerate!


We have here a fairly impressive-looking array of arguments that the "I" in Rom 7:14-25 is best explained as an unregenerate man. The most powerful argument [in my opinion] is the simple fact that the bleak picture of 7:14-25, if the "I" is taken there as regenerate, seems to do violence to the triumph and joy of Rom 6 and Rom 8.

Before discussing whether these arguments are as solid as they might seem [and actually be] upon first glance, I'll try to outline the major arguments in support of taking "I" to be regenerate in a later post. After outlining the general thrusts of the major arguments in that setting, some attempt at weighing the evidence can be made. But that is a topic for Part 2.


Blogger steve said...

I'm shocked that no one thus far has expressed outrage at your horribly sexist comic book covers. First there's superman, that macho man of steel who's always rescuing the helpless Lois Lane.

Then there's that cover of the bull (classic symbol of virility) in hand-to-horn combat with a muscle man while a buxom, but helpless damsel looks on.

How could anyone living in Sacramento be such a male chauvinist pig? :-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 5:36:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Actually, that's Captain Marvel [SHAZAM!] and the Turkoman was nice enough to work it up for me.

As for the other cover, oh well, what can I say, Frank is a graphical genius. This little ramshackle PP hovel will never be on par with a Pyromaniac site in terms of graphics and readership, but the covers at least make it appear a bit more homey.

Well, I'm not quite in Sacramento, but I'm in Northern California, and, being in CA, I have the sudden urge to get a boyfriend, wear Birkenstocks, and put on one of those "HATE is not a family value" bumper stickers to the back of my Volvo wagon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 6:46:00 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

So, you ask me to comment on this post:

c.t. [...] who is the "I" of Rom 7? Opinion?

I comment on it, then you delete my comment? Rather strange. Or not, considering past experience with you easily freaked-out seminary lads and related types...

And, when posts have their date changed it doesn't erase comments. I change the date on posts on my blog all the time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 7:15:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

No deletion, c.t. I moved the thread to another position by making a new thread, and, in doing so, it erased your comment. That's my fault, not intentional. I cut-n-pasted the material and made a new thread just to keep it at the top spot so that the polemical Enloe material would be under stuff on St Paul.

I saw your response. I come down on the side of Paul speaking of Christian experience in general, even that of the most mature Christians --- you know, those who can see through the Satanic mss conspiracy launched by the Gates of Hell.

Therefore, as I see it, St Paul is talking about you, me, himself, and all Christians in Rom 7.

If perchance you have the comment saved, you're welcome to put it back up here. Apologies again.

"Freaked out seminary lads?" LOL, c.t....LOL How many times must I state that I'm not a seminarian --- almost was, but never actually matriculated. There isn't anything you've said, to be quite honest, that has even gotten me thinking on the whole manuscript business.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 11:01:00 PM  

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