Friday, September 09, 2005

On Romans 7:1-12 [incomplete outline]

Prologue

Before beginning, a summary of what has been done so far might be helpful.

I made it a devotional and study goal to carefully go through the Greek text of Romans 1-8 and to reacquaint myself once again with what I consider the deepest and most profound of all thirteen Pauline epistles. The thoughts of Paul in this epistle are packed and pregnant, often being patient of all sorts of shadings [though the big pictures seem clear enough]. There is also the fact that Paul's mind often goes in multiple directions at once, and, unfortunately for a modern Western mind that wants points enumerated and linearly presented, Paul's mental ambulations are transferred to the epistle. As a consequence, a student such as myself must read things over and over [and over] merely to discern just what Paul is trying to say.

Link to thread on Romans 1-4.

Link to thread on Romans 5.

Link to thread on Romans 6.

The goal of these threads has been to summarize and outline the "big" or "main" flows of thought. Only a detailed commentary [such as Cranfield or Schreiner or Moo, say] can go adequately into the details and subsidiary points.

Let's attempt to briefly summarize what has happened in Chapters 1-6 before going into Chapter 7.

Attempted Summary of Romans 1-6

Paul states his great desire to come see the Christians in Rome so that, among other things he may preach the gospel to them. The gospel is something in which Paul has no shame nor reticence --- on the contrary, the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe. The reason that the gospel is God's saving power for all those who believe is because the righteousness of God is being revealed, a righteousness that is wholly by faith. [This righteousness of God is later identified by Paul as the gift of a righteous standing before God.] This takes us through 1:17.

At this point, beginning at 1:18, Paul spells out the horrible condition, first for Gentiles [or humanity-at-large], and then for the Jews, concluding that there is not so much as one righteous man who truly seeks after God with a pure heart. The idea that Paul seems to be conveying is that the condition of all men --- of you and me --- is so wretched that we are utterly helpless, and hence a righteous standing before God comes wholly by faith; men cannot earn such a standing. This notion is supported by Paul's statement that no man shall be justified by God through the works of the law.
In other words, 1:18-3:20 seem to be used to buttress the claim that the righteousness of God as mentioned in 1:17 comes, indeed must come, wholly by faith.

In 3:21-31, with the argument in 1:18-3:20 at a close, Paul clarifies the righteousness of God mentioned in 1:17. Paul describes the righteousness of God as follows:

(i) it has been revealed apart from law,

(ii) it stands in full continuity with the law and the prophets [i.e. the OT],

(iii) it is obtained [for all who believe] through faith in Jesus Christ, and these who believe are freely justified by the grace of God as made manifest in the person and work of Christ,

(iv) works have no bearing on obtaining the righteousness standing before God --- the concept of God being obligated to a man via a man's works is unrealizable.

In Chapter 4, Paul then attempts to buttress the idea that a righteous standing before God is freely obtained [as compared to meriting such a status] by appealing to the greatest possible case for merit if there is to be a case for merit: Abraham, Father of the Jews. The idea is that Paul attempts to argue that Abraham was justified on the basis of his trust in God, and not in his goodness or actions. If Paul's argument is successful in showing that Abraham is excluded from the possibility of being righteous-by-anything-other-than-faith-alone, then arguing from greatest to lesser, it will have been shown that all Christians --- you and me in particular --- are justified solely on the basis of our trust in the God who justifies the ungodly. Paul makes the following big points in his argument that Abraham too was justified solely on the basis of faith:

(i) Abraham's faith was reckoned as righteousness, says Genesis 15:6,

(ii) Abraham was righteous in God's sight prior to receiving circumcision.

[As side points to Chapter 4, Paul connects justification with the forgiveness of sins in 4:6-8, and Paul spells out Abraham's faith in 4:13-25.]

So, when all is said and done, Paul has stated that a righteous standing before God is obtained wholly by faith, and he has argued for these assertions with 1:18-3:20 and Chapter 4.

At this point, Paul turns to the implications of justification by faith alone. Chapter 5's basic point is that those who are justified by faith alone have peace with God and boast in "the hope of the glory of God," their tribulations [support for just why those who are justified by faith alone may properly glory in their tribulations is given by the large parenthesis 5:3b-10], and, ultimately, in God Himself.

After making these points, Paul goes on [5:12-21] to infer Christ's significance for humanity from the points of 5:1-11 mentioned in the immediately preceding paragraph. Paul begins a protasis in 5:12: "Wherefore, as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin..." but the apodosis to this statement is nowhere to be found, as Paul has evidently felt that he might be misunderstood in that Christ and Adam are somehow being treated as equivalents instead of mere points of the comparison he wants to make but has not yet concluded by providing the apodosis. Paul therefore parenthesizes to head off any possible misunderstanding in 5:13-17. Feeling that he has clarified so as to prevent the false interpretation that Christ and Adam are equals in some fashion, he then in 5:18 restates the protasis in 5:12 in slightly different wording: "Accordingly then as through the misstep of one man condemnation issued for all men..." and at long last he provides the formerly missing apodosis: "in this way also the righteous deed of one man issued unto the justification [or acquittal] of life for all men."

In 5:20, Paul states that the law came in so that the trespass[es] might increase, but where sin increased, grace superabounded. Then Paul, realizes that people might draw the false inference that sin is somehow good or rationalizable since it leads to [an increase of] grace [instead of sin being seen for the stark evil that God, being holy and righteous Himself, must necessarily condemn]. To head off this false inference, we go to Chapter 6.

In Romans 6:1-14, Paul shows the inference that sin is somehow good or rationalizable because it leads to [an increase of] grace is a false one by stating/arguing that

(i) Christians have died to sin,

(ii) Christians are to walk in the newness of life,

(iii) Our "old man" was crucified with Christ, and

(iv) Christians are to reckon themselves as having died to sin and having been made alive to God.

Paul, on the basis of this rebuttal, tells the Roman Christians [and all of us, of course] in 6:12-14 that we are to not let sin continue its unabated reign over us, for we are not under law, but under grace.

Paul then seems to believe that, despite the clear imperative to not let sin continue its unabated reign over the Roman Christians, people might interpret his "not under law but under grace" statement as somehow condoning sin. In 6:15-23, Paul argues that this is a false inference by implying in turn that a man must have exactly one of two masters: sin as a master, or righteousness as a master. The Roman Christians have died to sin and, as a consequence, are made slaves to righteousness. The conclusion is that we cannot excuse or rationalize our sin on the basis of our "being not under law but grace."

Turning Now [At Last] To Romans 7

Romans 7 has, it appears, three separate sections: 7:1-6, 7:7-12, and 7:13-25.

In 7:1-6, Paul attempts to expound on his statement that the Roman Christians have died to sin [and thus have been made slaves to righteousness], and hence must not let sin continue its unabated reign over them, by employing a comparison of marriage.
My summary of this passage is given in the following loose paraphrase:

The law has authority over a man only while a man lives. But you were put to death relative to the law through the person and work of Christ so that you might [among other things] bear fruit to God. That is, the law, which held us down and stimulated our desire to sin, is something from which we have been freed, but in this process of being freed, we have in turn been put into service to righteousness. [This hopefully expounds on my former words that you are to not let sin reign over you, and that you are both freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness.]

Let's next turn to 7:7-12.

Paul claims in 7:5 that "when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins were working in our members via the law." Paul at this point realizes [yet again] that what he has stated might be misinterpreted or possibly twisted, this time into a false inference that "the law itself is sin," i.e. the law is evil or not holy, despite being given by God. 7:7-12 is Paul's attempting to be sure that he is not misinterpreted in 7:5.

[Actually, Paul only states in 7:5 that sin made use of the law to arouse the passions of sin, not that the law itself aroused the passions of sin. I personally don't see any possibility for somebody reading the text and coming up with this false inference, but Paul does. Perhaps Paul was more worried about his opponents --- antinomians perhaps? --- twisting Paul's words, so that Paul, wanting to be extra sure that his words are clear enough to not be easily twisted, attempts a clarification.]

In 7:7-12, Paul now turns to the question of whether the law is sin itself, evil, etc. As just stated, Paul seems to think that the analogy he used in 7:1-6 [an analogy pressed into service to buttress Paul's claims that the Roman Christians have died to sin and are henceforth under the yoke of righteousness], particularly 7:5, might be used to draw the false inference that "the law is sin."

The gist of 7:7-12 is as follows, coming from 7:7 and 7:12:

Somebody might falsely infer from what I've just said that the law is sin. On the contrary! The law, contrary to what this false inference might contend, is in fact holy and good and righteous.

So, if I have represented Paul correctly, Paul strongly denies that the law is sin or intrinsically bad.

But, a mere denial is not an argument. So then, what is Paul's actual argument that "the law in and of itself is holy and the commandement holy, righteous, and good"? Paul's argument seems to be as follows:

(1) "I" would not have known sin except through the law.
(2) Sin used the law as a base of operations to work in "my" members [or the members of the "I" mentioned] coveting desires --- sin used the law to do this; it wasn't the law working such desires in me.
(3) Sin, making use of the commandment not to covet, deceived the "I" of the passage. So, like (2), we have a statement that sin used the law as an instrument for the death of the "I" --- this is not the same as the law resulting in the death of the "I."
(4) Sin sprang to life through the law and killed the "I."

Apparently then, from (1)-(4) Paul feels he's justified his statement that the law is not sin, a statement that might have been falsely inferred [or used to deliberately misrepresent Paul!] from his statement in 7:5 that the desires of sin were at work in Paul's faculties through the law.

At this point, the thread is long enough, but let's attempt a summary-so-far --- an incomplete summary due to a very large exegetical question that merits its own thread[s] for discussion. 7:1-12 seem to be saying this [so far]:

The law has authority over a man only while a man lives. But you were put to death relative to the law through the person and work of Christ so that you might [among other things] bear fruit to God. That is, the law, which held us down and stimulated our desire to sin, is something from which we have been freed, but in this process of being freed, we have in turn been put into service to righteousness. [This hopefully expounds on my former words that you are to not let sin reign over you, and that you are both freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness.]

But somebody might falsely infer from what I've just said [about the law stimulating our desire to sin] that the law is sin. On the contrary! The law, contrary to what this false inference might contend, is in fact holy and good and righteous: insert the "I" statements (1)-(4) for proof.


At this point, the question then becomes just who or what does the "I" represent? That is, when Paul shifts from the plural pronoun in 7:1-6 to the first-person singular pronoun in 7:7-12 and states

"I would not have known sin except through the law"

"I did not know coveting apart from the law saying Thou Shalt Not Covet"

"Sin worked in me every coveting"

"I was formerly living apart from/without the law"

"The commandment which was supposed to be life for me --- this issued unto my death"

"Sin deceived me through the commandment and I died"

just who or what is the "I" ?

There are [at least] six interpretations of the "I":

(1) "I" = Paul; the "I" is strictly autobiographical.

(2) "I" = typical Jewish person.

(3) "I" = the Jewish people viewed as a whole.

(4) "I" = Adam.

(5) "I" = all of humanity viewed as a unity.

(6) "I" = a general "I" encompassing humanity, but with Paul self-consciously including himself in this "I" as well. In Cranfield's nice turn of phrase: "...in drawing out the general truth he [Paul] is disclosing the truth about himself." [p 344]

In the next post, titled "Pauline 'I' for the Exegetical Guy," I'll attempt a summary of the the pros and cons of the various interpretations and present some conclusions of mine.

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