Friday, September 16, 2005

Romans 1-7: A Summary So Far

I made it a devotional as well as a 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 St 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. Here is the progress made so far:

Link to thread on Romans 1-4.

Link to thread on Romans 5.

Link to thread on Romans 6.

I had started to summarize and point out the main flows of Paul's thoughts on Romans 7, but some rather big exegetical questions came into play. These questions revolved around the identity of the "I" in both of the passages 7:7-12 and 7:13-25. A discussion of the "I" in 7:7-12, was obtained at this link. Discussions of the two major interpretative options relative to the identity of the "I" in 7:13-25 were found here and here. With all of this business taken care of, a summary of the structure or flow of Romans 7 can finally be given.

However, let's first attempt to briefly summarize what has happened in Chapters 1-6 before going into Chapter 7 so as to be reacquainted with the forest, having spent some time looking at a few trees in very-close-up fashion.

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 in it [i.e. the gospel] 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 on the basis of 1:18-3:20 possibly 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 [in 3:21-31] 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. That is, Paul has spelled out the idea of justification by faith alone, and now he describes facets of the live of one who is justified 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." And, to boot, we do not have the option of being completely free with respect to both sin and grace --- we are under one or the other, whether we like it or not.

This would seem to be a passable summary of the big flows of Paul's thoughts in Romans 1-6.

Turning Finally 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. If we try to make Paul a bit more colloquial to our modern sensibilities, we might be said to fairly represent him if we have him saying, in essence, the following:

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 --- leading to death --- 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 [6:12-14], and that you are both freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness [6:18-22].

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."

Recalling that our interpretation of the "I" in this passage is that the "I" is a generic stand in for humanity, of which Paul himself is a member, a "colloquial Paul" summary of Romans 7:7-12 might be fairly said to resemble the following:

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, because when all men [myself included] are confronted with God's law, it is not the law that makes us sin --- on the contrary, sin uses the law to work death, but the fact that sin uses the law does not make the law sin --- the law is merely an unwitting instrument used by sin!

So, if I have represented Paul correctly, Paul strongly denies that the law is sin or intrinsically bad. And, if I've interpreted the "I" correctly, Paul's denial is based largely on the experience of fallen mankind when confronted with the law; since Paul is part of fallen mankind, Paul can speak of himself here as well.

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, [assuming that we're correct in viewing Paul as part of the "I" mentioned]:

(1) Paul would not have known sin in its full manifestation except through the law.
(2) Sin used the law as a base of operations to work in Paul's members 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 Paul. So, like (2), we have a statement that sin used the law as an instrument for the death of the Paul --- this is not the same as the law resulting in Paul's death and further separation from God.
(4) Sin sprang to life through the law and killed Paul.

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.

If we put the paraphrases together, we have so far that the main thrust or spirit of 7:1-12 can be summarized thusly:

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. Sin used the good thing [God's law] to work death, but the good thing [God's law] was the unwitting instrument of sin.


Now for a discussion of Romans 7:13-25. Paul told the Romans that they're under grace, not law --- they've died to sin. In Rom 7:1-6 he's used his marriage analogy. But he felt in 7:5 [where his sinful passions were at work in his members so that he bore fruit issuing unto death] that he might be open to the possibility of [deliberate?] misunderstanding --- a misunderstanding that would, contrary to Paul, claim that Paul asserts that the law, far from being good, is sin. In 7:7-12, Paul attempts to head this potential misunderstanding off at the pass, but in doing this, in turn, Paul seems to feel that he has opened himself up to another [deliberate?] misunderstanding of his words; the new misunderstanding would be along the lines of something akin to "Paul in 7:10 states that the commandment --- part of God's law --- had to do with Paul's spiritual death, that is, the full manifestation of his separation from God. Paul therefore was put to death by that supposedly good thing, God's law."

Therefore, 7:13-25, the third major section of Romans 7, deals with rebutting or preventing any misunderstanding. Paul claims in 7:13 that the law --- that thing he just has called good and righteous and holy --- did most certainly NOT become death for him.

But what is Paul's argument that the law, which Paul has just earlier called good and righteous and holy, did not become death for him?

The answer to this question hinges on whether we have interpreted Paul's usage of "I" correctly. We concluded [see the links above] that "I" here denotes a regenerate man, a man who is justified by his faith in the God who justifies the ungodly. Provided we're correct with this interpretation, Paul indicates that, no the law did not become death for him; indeed, Paul, insofar as his "inner regenerate man" is concerned, delights in and desires to keep God's law. But at war with Paul's inner regenerate man is Paul's old sinful nature:

(i) Paul's inner man wills the good, but Paul cannot do what is purely good --- even Paul's best attempts are still laden with his egotism and corrupted nature.

(ii) Paul is subject to two "laws" or principles: one law is God's law, not viewed as to observe in order to make a claim on God, but as God's law as that perfect expression of God's standards; the other law wages war against Paul and captures Paul's faculties and sentiments --- this other law is the law of sin.

The other arguments in this passage are variations or restatements of (i) and (ii). Paul presents himself as a split man: regenerate Paul is at war with sinful Paul.

The question was just what was Paul's argument that God's law did not become death for him. The answer, upon the evidence presented above, seems to be none other than the fact that Paul's sinful inclination --- an inclination that still exists post-justification [though if we understand Romans 6 correctly Paul may now manfully and meaningfully wage war against the usurping tryant named Sin] --- is what leads Paul to rebel against God, which in turn leads to Paul's death. Wretched man, that Paul!

[I'll mention in somewhat out-of-place fashion that, if I'm understanding Paul correctly, even he considers himself a great sinner in light of his justification and view of the unrelenting perfection demanded by God's law.]

But Paul is rescued from his pitiful situation in both a present-tense and a future-tense fashion. In the present-tense fashion, his justification leads him to be reconciled with God [Romans 5], and he may now begin to fight back against sin [Romans 6], even though, as this passage indicates, he will still lose and often lose spectacularly. But at the end of the age, Paul will be finally, completely, and irrevocably rescued from the body of death that wages war against "the law of the mind" when he receives his new resurrection body.

Summary of Romans 7

We may now tie up the loose ends and attempt a final master-summary of Paul's thought in Romans 7:

Paul has told the Romans in chapter six that they are not under law, having died to sin, but under grace, having been placed "under servitude" to righteousness. In 7:1-6 Paul tries to explain more fully the idea that the Romans are now God's servants [instead of sin's servants] by using a marriage analogy. Paul, though, in doing this, leaves himself [in his mind] open to a misinterpretation stemming from 7:5-6, which misinterpretation asserts that the law is sin[ful]. In 7:7-12 Paul corrects this misinterpretation by pointing out that God's law was an unwitting instrument of sin, and that sin --- not God's law --- is to blame. Paul emphatically asserts that the law is good, righteous, and holy. But in preventing the misinterpretation just mentioned, Paul seems to feel that he's opened himself up to another misinterpretation, which misinterpretation asserts that God's law in and of itself was death to Paul [and by extension death to all of us]. In 7:13-25 the apostle fights off this misinterpretation, asserting that, no, God's law in and of itself is not the agent of death, but, on the contrary, we have a sinful nature [even though we're justified!] that gives us a great proclivity to sin and thus to merit death. This sinful nature exists in the best and most mature of Christians [such as Paul!], and it is an unpleasant reality with which all of us must deal until the very end, when at long last sin will be irrevocably defeated and we will be immune to it.

So, up to the end of Romans 7, Paul has been triumphalistic about the life of the man who is justified by faith, of whom God will in no way reckon sin, of whom his sins are forgiven, etc, in Romans 5. We are not only no longer enemies of God, but we are now His friends. Romans 6 also continues the triumphalistic tone, whereby the man who is justified by faith alone is no longer under servitude to sin, but is under grace --- this man may finally, at long last, begin a meaningful and non-superficial rebellion against sin. But in the process of fending off some possible misinterpretations in Romans 6, Paul presents a sobering picture in Romans 7 that balances out the triumphalism exhibited in Romans 5 and 6 [provided we've interpreted Paul correctly!]. In Romans 7, we see from whence Luther's famous words simul justus et peccator arise --- the Christian simultaneously enjoys the fruits of justification in Romans 5 and 6, being promised complete and ultimate victory over sin and death, but in this life, we may be expected to lose several battles with sin.

Romans 8 picks up the hope and triumph exhibited in Romans 5 and 6. Here, Paul presents a very powerful co-belligerent who comes to our aid and assists us in our many and diverse weaknesses --- the Holy Spirit. In this most comforting chapter, the dominant theme is that, for the man who is justified by faith alone, God has promised in a very meaningful and concrete way His Spirit. But that will be a topic for the next post in this Romans series.

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