An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 27 July 2010; Revised 19 August 2020
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of Romans is taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are also taken from the NASB. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of this chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Links to other ancient Jewish literature may be found at EarlyJewishWritings.com.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB," found online at BibleHub.com. Explanation of Greek grammatical forms and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reference numbers are identified with "SH" for Hebrew and "SG" for Greek.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Hamartiology: Sin and Sanctification, 6:1–7:6 (cont.)
The Analogy of Marriage 7:1-6
The Virtue of Torah, 7:7-13
The Limitation of Torah, 7:14-25
The Analogy of Marriage, 7:1-6
1― Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?
Or do you not know: Grk. agnoeō, pres., to be without knowledge of something; be ignorant, be uninformed, not understand. brethren: pl. of Grk. adelphos. lit. "of the same womb," and in secular Greek meant a male sibling; brother. In the Jewish context the term primarily refers to blood siblings or fellow Israelites. In the LXX adelphos renders Heb. ach (SH-251), a male sibling (Gen 4:2; 20:5), a male relative of the same tribe (Gen 13:8; Num 16:10) or the people of Israel (Ex 2:11; 4:18). Here the plural noun denotes disciples of Yeshua in the congregation, most of whom were Jewish.
for I am speaking to those who know: Grk. ginōskō, which has a variety of meanings, (1) know, come to know; (2) learn of, ascertain, find out; (3) understand, comprehend; (4) perceive, notice, realize; (5) euphemism of sexual relations; (6) acknowledge, recognize (BAG). The present active participle form of the verb would suggest the third meaning. They had a thorough knowledge. the law: Grk. nomos (from nemō, distribute; 'that which is generally recognized as customary') may mean either (1) a principle or standard relating to behavior or (2) codified legislation, i.e. law. In the LXX nomos translates torah, but torah does not mean simply "law" or "laws" as the English word conveys. Torah means "direction," "teaching" or "instruction" and comes from the root yarah, which means to throw, to shoot (as in arrows), or to cast (as in lots) (BDB 435f).
In the Tanakh torah not only refers to commandments, statutes and ordinances decreed by God and given to Moses, but also custom or manners of man, e.g. direction given by priests (Deut 24:8; 33:10). Torah sets forth the way a person is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God. In normal Jewish usage in the first century the term Torah could mean the commandments given to Israel at Sinai and Moab (Matt 12:5; John 8:5) or the entire Pentateuch, especially when used in combination with "the Prophets" (Matt 22:40; John 1:45).
In the apostolic narratives "nomos" almost always refers to the written Torah of Moses, but sometimes is used to mean laws enacted by Jewish authorities (e.g., John 8:17; 18:31; Acts 18:15). However, two other applications were made by Yeshua and Paul, indicating a common practice. The first is nomos (Torah) as a universal principle derived from Scripture. Yeshua spoke of the "weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:23) and said that the two greatest commandments summed up the entire Torah (Matt 22:36-40). In this letter Paul writes about the "law of faith," the "law of my mind," the "law of sin," the "law of the Spirit" and the "law of righteousness."
Paul uses nomos here to mean God's instructions given to Israel and their descendants, and therefore the ones who "know," would be Jewish, proselyte, and God-fearer members of the congregation. The combination of "nomos" and "to know" may allude to the educational process that all Jews experienced from childhood. A Jewish child's education began with the Mikra (Torah) at age 5, then at age ten the Mishnah, laws governing the Jewish community. At age 13 for boys (12 for girls) the child was ready to "put off childish things" (1Cor 13:11) and became fully accountable for the commandments (Avot 5:21).
that the law has jurisdiction: Grk. kurieuō, pres., to be lord over, to rule (Rienecker). over a person as long: Grk. chronos, a span or period of time. In secular Greek chronos denotes a space of time whose duration is not as a rule precisely determined. In the LXX chronos most often renders yōm, "day" (DNTT 3:841). In its first usage in the Tanakh yōm is a specific division of time denoting the daytime portion of a 24-hour day (Gen 1:5) or a complete solar/lunar cycle of 24 hours (Ex 2:13). The Hebrews did not conceive of time in the abstract, but used yom overwhelmingly in the sense of ordinary measurable time, which is qualified here by the following verb. as he lives: Grk. zaō, pres., be in the state of being physically alive; living. For the Jew and proselyte there was no means to stop being under the lordship of the God's commandments. The covenant between God and Israel is binding on both parties and includes severe penalties for violation of the its rules.
2― For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
In this verse Paul alludes to four principles of the biblical design for marriage. For the married: Grk. hupandros, from hupo, "under" and andros (a form of anēr), "man," resulting in the meaning of under the power of or subject to a man or married. The noun occurs only here in the Greek New Testament (Robertson). woman: Grk. gunē, an adult woman, either unmarried or married, a wife; corresponds to Heb. ishshah, which may mean either woman or wife, depending on the context. The first principle is that marriage is between a man and woman. The second principle is that the wife is under the headship and authority of the husband, contrary to the belief of many Christians.
is bound: Grk. deō, to bind or tie, and figuratively refers to binding by law or duty. The perfect tense of the verb indicates that she remains bound from its beginning point. " by law: see note on verse 1; used here primarily in the sense of the commandments God gave to define and regulate marriage beginning with Genesis 2:24; 3:16. (See my article Marriage by Design, which sets forth the creation design for marriage.). "Law" secondarily alludes to Rabbinic Law, which set down many rules for marriage. In the biblical and rabbinic world, marriage was a legal contract which contained binding conditions (Shulam). The foundation of the Jewish concept of marriage relations between husband and wife were part of the terms of the covenant between God and Israel (Prov 2:17; Mal 2:14).
According to the Mishnah, "A woman is acquired [in marriage] in three ways … by money, by deed, or by intercourse" (Kiddushin I:1). Jewish marriage was essentially a two ceremony process. The first ceremony is kiddushin, “sanctification,” which comes from the same root word as kadosh (“holy”). From the moment of the ceremony the woman belonged to the man. The ceremony required the groom to present a ring to the bride and say, “With this ring you are now betrothed to me by the laws of Moses and Israel.” The ring is then placed on the bride’s forefinger (of the right hand). Kiddushin made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death.
The next ceremony is called nisuin in which the groom receives the bride and takes her into a room or his house for consummation. The Hebrew word nisuin (“elevation”) comes from a verb that means to lift up, to carry or to take. In biblical accounts a wife never takes a husband, but a husband takes a wife (e.g., Gen 4:19; 6:2; 11:29; 1 Sam 25:39; Hos 1:2). In the first century the time between kiddushin and nisuin could last up to twelve months (Ketubot V:2), but by the early Middle Ages the two ceremonies were combined in the wedding to avoid legal complications.
to her husband while he is living: lit. "to the living husband" (Marshall). The duration of marriage is given from the standpoint of the husband's lifespan. Paul ignores two characteristics of Jewish marriage in the first century: divorce and polygamy. It was relatively easy for a man to divorce his wife for almost any reason, whereas a Jewish woman did not have the same right. In addition, polygamy was a common practice among Jews at that time. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian mentioned that the “ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time” continued in his day (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, 1, § 2). The church father Justin Martyr (110-165) mentions that in his time Jewish men were permitted to have four or five wives (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, §134). The reason that divorce and polygamy don't enter into Paul's argument is that both of those practices lay in the power of men. A man might legally have many wives, but a Jewish woman could have only one legal husband, "one lord" (Heb. adōn, Gen 18:12; 1Pet 3:6), at a time.
if her husband dies: the Mishnah declared that a married woman acquired her freedom in one of two ways, by divorce or by her husband's death (Kiddushin I:1). Paul's restriction of his argument to the death of the husband by no means impugns divorce as a legitimate means of ending marriage (as he will permit in 1 Corinthians 7). The emphasis on the death of the husband is key to the use of this analogy in rebutting libertinism.
she is released Grk. katargeō, (1) make ineffective, powerless, idle or (2) abolish, wipe out, set aside, or (3) released from association with. BAG favors the last meaning for this context. Marshall translates the verb as "discharged" and Robertson renders the verb as "to make void," which has a legal connotation. from the law concerning the husband: the perfect passive form of the verb "released" indicates beginning and continuing from the point of the husband's death. Paul affirms that the woman is not released from all the laws of the Torah, only the one that affects her ability to remarry.
According to the rabbinic understanding of Torah, a married woman was forbidden to remarry under pain of death on the basis of Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22. This interpretation of these texts, which concern adultery, is based on the premise that sexual intercourse creates marriage obligations (cf. Deut 22:28-29; Kiddushin 9b). So, even if her husband died the woman was considered to be still married to him. This belief forms the basis of the Sadducee attempt with the story of levirate marriage to impugn the belief in resurrection (Matt 22:23-28). The only acceptable grounds for remarriage was divorce (cf. Deut 24:1). This interpretation meant that widows should not marry again.
Men were discouraged from marrying widows. A Talmudic passage (Pesachim 112a-b) reveals this attitude: "Do not cook in a pot in which your neighbor has cooked.’ (What does that mean? [Do not marry] a divorced woman during her husband's lifetime. For a Master said: When a divorced man marries a divorced woman, there are four minds in the bed. Alternatively, [it refers] even to a widow, for not all fingers are alike." This last advice regarding the fingers is that the widow might compare, to his detriment, the performance of her second husband with that of her first. (Rabbi Jacobs, Widows in Jewish Tradition)
However, the Sages, in spite of their reservations, did decide that if a woman remarried following the death of her husband, she would not be guilty of adultery (Kiddushin 13b). The fact that the Sages actually issued this ruling indicates the strength of the prevailing view that widows should not remarry. The irony of the rabbinic discussion is that in the Torah God decreed that a man should marry his brother's widow, called levirate marriage (Deut 25:5) and the Tanakh records the remarriage of three prominent widows (Tamar, Gen 38:6-11; Abigail, 1 Sam 27:3; and Ruth, Ruth 4:10). The only actual restriction on remarriage of widows was on the high priest (Lev 21:14). The apostle Paul, following the precedent of the Hebrew Scriptures and the rabbinic ruling, gave instructions about the remarriage of widows (1Cor 7:39; 1Tim 5:14). In the former verse he makes marriage of a widow a matter of freedom, in the latter a strong exhortation to marry.
Of historical note is that some Christians have interpreted the "one wife" requirement of 1 Timothy 3:2 to mean that a widower would be disqualified from ministerial office (so Alfred Plummer, The Expositor's Bible, 1903, 23:120-121, cited in Ed Glasscock, "The Husband of One Wife Requirement in 1 Timothy 3:2," Bibliotheca Sacra, Jul-Sep 83, 246). A godly widower who marries a godly woman is not committing a sin nor is he guilty of impropriety, and such a remarriage in no way should restrict his service to the kingdom.
3― So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
So then, if while her husband is living: this is an important conditional clause and lays the foundation for the rest of the argument. she is joined: Grk. deō. See the note in the previous verse. "Joined" refers to a legal marriage, not simply having sexual intercourse. she shall be called: Grk. chrēmtizō, may mean either (1) impart a revelation or warning or warning, either from God or an oracle; or (2) to bear a name, be called or named. In this context the future tense describes a state that will customarily happen when the occasion offers (Rienecker). an adulteress: Grk. moichalis. The label points to the reality of the Tanakh that the definition of adultery always involved a married woman (Lev 20:10; Prov 6:29-32). So, for a woman to be wed to another man while her husband is still alive would make the second "marriage" invalid and her an adulteress.
if her husband dies, she is free …, she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man: death as noted in the Mishnah quote above makes remarriage legitimate for a widow. In the background of Paul's instruction was a specific legal issue of the time and a halachic ruling of Gamaliel (Young 88), Paul's mentor and teacher. One of the issues in Jewish law was proving the death of a husband who was away from home, whether in war or on business. Every matter had to be established by two or three witnesses. So, if a woman’s husband died far from home, how would she get the proof she needed to be declared a widow? If she remarried without the testimony of witnesses to her husband’s death, and the husband turned up later, then she could be charged with adultery. Gamaliel taught that a woman was free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony of her husband's death (Yebamot 15:5).
4― Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Therefore, my brethren, you: Grk. humeis, pl. pronoun of the second person. also were made to die: Grk. thanatoō, aor. pass., 2p-pl., used of intentional killing or executions (e.g., Matt 10:21; 26:59; 27:1), put to death. to the Law: Grk. ho nomos, the Torah, but much more likely legalism. See verse 1 above. Stern explains the strange clause "put to death to the Torah."
"It is not the Torah that has been made dead (abrogated), nor is a believer made dead in the sense of no longer responding to its truth. Rather, he has been made dead not to all of Torah, but to three aspects of it: (1) its capacity to stir up sin in him (vv. 5–14), (2) its capacity to produce irremediable guilt feelings (vv. 15–25), and (3) its penalties, punishments and curses (8:1–4)."
through the body: Grk. sōma, a structured physical unit in contrast to its parts, body of human or animal, whether living or dead, but normally of a human body. of Christ: Grk. Christos (from chriō, "anoint with olive oil"), the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Messiah. The English "Christ" transliterates the Greek title, but does not translate it.
In Greek culture christos had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). Jewish translators of the LXX chose Christos to render Heb. Mashiach (SH-4899), "anointed, Anointed One," and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. Mashiach is used in the Tanakh for the Messiah (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25-26) and this usage defined the term among Jews in the first century.
The primary identification of Messiah is the King of the Jews, the son of David. Biblical prophecies speak of his rule over Israel from David's throne in Jerusalem. Yeshua recounted these prophecies to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:44-47). Jews eagerly anticipated the coming of the Messiah to deliver them from their enemies and establish His kingdom on the earth (Luke 1:69-75). Thus, "Messiah" has special meaning as the hope of Israel, whereas the word "Christ" has an alien and even negative meaning to Jews (Stern 1-2). For a discussion of Jewish hope and expectation of the Messiah see my article The Messiah.
The analogy calls for the death of the law, but Paul refuses to say that. He changes the structure and makes the disciples dead to the law as the husband (6:3-6) (Robertson). The relation of marriage is killed through the body of the Messiah as the "propitiation" (3:25) for us and in whose death we are united in immersion (6:3). Unfortunately, many Christians interpret Paul's words to mean the death of God's law. Stern notes that through his atoning death (3:21–26), believers have been made dead to the penalties set forth by the Torah for disobeying it. "The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf" (Gal 3:13 CJB). joined to another: perhaps a contrast between Moses and the Messiah. to Him who was raised from the dead: The clause would better translated "to Him who was resurrected from death." See the note on 4:24.
that we might bear fruit: Grk. karpos. Paul changes the metaphor to that of tree fruit as he used in 6:21. See the note there. The fruit would be righteousness, the product of trusting faithfulness (3:22). for God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times (DNTT 2:67-70). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos.
The only God in existence is the God who chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth (Isa 44:6; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21; 46:9), making Him the "God of Israel" an expression that occurs frequently in Scripture. The God of the Bible is not a philosophical belief in monotheism or a generic term for the deities worshipped by all people. All the other deities worshipped by religions in the world are the product of Satan-inspired imagination. Every nation had their deity, but only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then Moses did the true God reveal His name, His character and His commandments. It is the God of Israel for whom the disciples of Yeshua are to bear fruit.
5― For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
For while we were: active imperfect form of eimi, to be. The first person plural of the verb may refer to Paul and his audience as sharing a common bond, but it may also be a rhetorical device. in the flesh: Grk. sarx. See note on 6:19. Paul seems to be presenting a before and after picture, the before being "before Yeshua," but in any case he uses "flesh" to denote human nature. Stern prefers the translation of "old nature" rather than "flesh" due to the mistaken popular notion that Paul sets up a dualism between the soul or spirit, regarded as higher and better, and the body, regarded as lower and worse. Celibacy and other ascetic practices found in some Christian denominations result from a literalistic interpretation of "flesh" in Paul's writings, even though in reality this teaching comes from paganism (cf. Col 2:16–23; 1Tim 4:1-3).
The sinful passions: lit. "passions of sins." "Passions" is Grk. pathēma, which means primarily (1) suffering, affliction or misfortune (e.g., Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 1:5-7; Php 3:10; Col 1:24; 2Tim 3:11) and secondarily (2) passion in a bad sense (here and Gal 5:24). Only Paul uses the noun in a negative sense and in the plural both times. It should be noted that Paul is not labeling all passions as sinful as the translation suggests. The Stoic philosophers with whom Paul was acquainted in Tarsus defined passion in one of four ways: (1) an excessive impulse; (2) an impulse disobedient to (the dictates of) reason; (3) a false judgment or opinion or (4) a fluttering of the soul. (See Scott Rubarth, Stoic Philosophy of Mind for a full explanation.) While the Stoics might view a certain passion as bad from a pragmatic point of view, they would not have classified any of them as sinful. There are non-moral passions (e.g., love of football), but Paul is here concerned with passions that are inherently contrary to God's commandments (e.g., allowing football to supersede worship).
which were aroused: Grk. energeō, imp. mid., to work within, produce or be effective. The use of "aroused," (also ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV), which in the English vernacular possesses a sexual innuendo, is an unfortunate translation. Other versions properly translate the verb as "work" or "worked" (CJB, NLT, RSV) or "operated" (HCSB). Energeō occurs in the LXX only at Numbers 8:24; Proverbs 21:6; 31:12; and Isaiah 41:4 (DNTT 3:1147). Of these only Proverbs 21:6 has a negative meaning.
by the Law: God's Law is clearly the agent behind the verb energeō. A literal translation would be: "For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins were working through the Law in our members into bearing fruit of death." The wording of this verse in most versions seems to imply that God's Law is to blame for man's sinful actions, and that is not what Paul is saying, since he will go on in this chapter to insist that the Law is holy, righteous, spiritual and good (7:12, 14, 16). God tempts no one to do evil (cf. Jas 1:13).
Shulam suggests that Paul resorted to the rabbinic language of "divine condescendence" in which the Torah "provided for [spoke to] man's evil passions" (Kiddushin 21b), which the Sages found illustrated in the permission to take a beautiful captive as a wife after a period of mourning (Deut 21:10-13). All the rules involved in marrying a captive woman were designed, by rabbinic view, to discourage such marriages, but in reality they were a way to prevent lust from resorting to rape. The end result of the rule, so repugnant to the Sages, is still that the God of Israel gave Israelite men permission to wed captive non-Israelite women. (It is interesting that Deborah actually blessed God for this very thing in her song of victory when she said, "A maiden, two maidens for every warrior" (Judg 5:30).
There is one other explanation if we interpret pathēma in accordance with its primary meaning of suffering. Sin creates a burden with its consequences of suffering and death. So then, Paul's meaning could be this: "before our new life in Yeshua, the afflictions of sin caused by the law's curse on sin worked in our members and bore the fruit of death."
6― But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
But now we have been released from the Law: For "released" see note on verse 2. Paul does not mean that the Ten Commandments have been canceled or we are freed from obeying them. Otherwise, how could one be said to sin after experiencing God's grace (6:1) if there is no standard authoritative over the person’s life to define the behavior? Moreover, Paul will cite a number of commandments in chapters twelve to fifteen as having authority. Paul no doubt intends the verb to be applied in the same manner as he used it in verse 2 to refer to a specific part of the Torah, such as being released from the part of the Law pertaining to atonement, because we died with Messiah in immersion (see note on 6:3-7). If the phrase was translated "released from this Law," meaning the law of death, just as in the marriage regulation. The death of the husband does not cancel all laws affecting a woman.
having died to that by which we were bound: There is a simple test by which we can determine if Paul was asserting the cancellation of God's commandments. Let's say "that by which we were bound" was the command against stealing. Then on the assumption that "released from the Law" means cancellation of God's commandments then Paul felt freed from the prohibition against stealing and now he could steal all he wanted and it wouldn't be wrong. This test proves how ludicrous the notion is that disciples have been released from obeying God's commandments. Stern says, “he has been made dead not to all of Torah, but to three aspects of it: (1) its capacity to stir up sin in him (7:5-14), (2) its capacity to produce irremediable guilt feelings (7:15-25), and (3) its penalties, punishments and curses (8:1-4).
So that we serve: Grk. douleuō, to be a slave, be subjected, perform the duties of a slave, serve, obey. The present active infinitive indicates both a characteristic of the disciple and the continuing nature of his service. in newness: Grk. kainotēs, newness, which contains the connotation of something extraordinary; derived from kainos, which refers to something not previously present. See note on 6:4. of the Spirit: the Holy Spirit. The newness of the Holy Spirit was inaugurated at Pentecost. Just consider the newness that the early disciples experienced.
The Spirit convicts of sin (Heb 3:7).He regenerates and sanctifies believers to produce godly character that conforms to the Torah of God (John 6:63; Acts 1:8; Rom 7:6; 8:13f; 1Cor 6:11; Gal 5:22; 2Th 2:13). He enables understanding of Scripture (John 14:26; 16:13). He intercedes in our prayers (Rom 8:26f). He inspires prophesying (John 16:13; Acts 2:18). He helps disciples to testify for Yeshua (Matt 10:20). He gives direction for evangelism (Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12). He speaks to the congregation about its ministry and character (Acts 13:2; 15:28; Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
and not in oldness: Grk. palaiotēs, age, obsoleteness, from palaios, which may mean in existence for a long time, sometimes with the connotation of being antiquated. of the letter: Grk. gramma may mean (1) a letter of the alphabet, (2) a document, piece of writing or (3) idiomatically of learning, whether elementary (Isa 29:12) or advanced (Dan 1:4; John 7:15; Acts 26:24). Stern suggests that as a result of being released from the negative aspects of Torah, the “oldness of letter,” we can experience all the newness of the Spirit. However, Paul does not say "oldness of the Law" and given the idiomatic use of gramma I think Paul is making a contrast between his former learning (Mikra + Mishnah + Gamaliel) with his new (post-graduate) learning resulting from transformation of his mind and life by the Holy Spirit.
Pneumatology, 7:7–8:39: Torah of the Spirit
From verse 7 to the end of the chapter first person present tense verbs dominate the syntax, a definite change from the past tense verbs used to this point. The dominance of the present tense verbs has cause significant differences in interpretation. The underlying theme of this section seems to be "I know what I should do but cannot do it" (Gager 127). Before discussing individual verses it's important to recognize four approaches Bible scholars employ for interpreting this section:
A. Contemporary Personal Testimony. Paul is describing his own spiritual condition at the time of writing this letter. This interpretation began as early as Augustine (Eisenbaum 44) and is a common view of modern scholarly works (as Edwards and Shulam). We may draw the inference that his experience is common to all believers, so that all believers struggle daily with sin in thought, word and deed.
This interpretation has serious drawbacks and there is hermeneutical quicksand involved. This viewpoint essentially makes Paul a hypocrite, a liar and possibly a neurotic. He has just made it clear in chapter six that you cannot continue sinning and yet he has the audacity to say that he is doing the very thing that he said is inconsistent with righteous living. As John says, "no one who is born of God practices sin" (1 John 3:9). There is no "you can practice sin a little bit every day and still be righteous." Secondly, he is a liar and preaches another kind of good news, because he has said that being reconciled to God makes one a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15) when in reality he is still the same old muddled creation that he was before. Paul is a fraud who cannot be trusted to tell us the truth.
Then Paul must possess a serious personality defect because he whines that he can't do what he wants to do and does what he doesn't want to do. He then blames his hypocrisy and sinning on some entity, another personality, that he has no control over. "I would be a good boy, but Sam makes me do bad things." Flip Wilson made popular the saying, "the Devil made me do it" and people, including Christians, are quick to employ that excuse. Paul thus contradicts the very Torah he claims to respect as holy, which says, "For the commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach" (Deut 30:11).
Is Paul saying that when he wrote the letter he was dominated by inherited depravity and not the Holy Spirit, whom he insists in the next chapter must characterize the life of Yeshua's disciple? Taking this monologue as a contemporary testimony flies in the face of his positive self-descriptions, both in speeches and in his letters (Acts 18:6; 20:26; 22:2; 23:1, 6; 24:14-16; 26:19; Rom 1:16; 1Cor 4:4; 11:1; 2Cor 11:5; Gal 2:20; Php 3:4-6; 1Th 2:10; 1Tim 1:12-13; 2Tim 1:3; 4:7).
The aforementioned passages taken en masse with their repeated defense of his character weighs heavily against taking the verses here as a personal testimony. The only charge that can be leveled against Paul is that he persecuted disciples before his transformation, which he readily admitted (Acts 9:1, 21; 22:4; 26:10-11; 1Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13, 23; Php 3:6; 1Tim 1:13). The record of Paul's life is not unlike the Tanakh's assessment of King David: "David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1Kgs 15:5).
We must also consider the use of the present tense. In Greek the present tense can have a variety of meanings. A present tense verb may indicate action in progress, habitual practice, or action at successive intervals. However, sometimes the present tense is used to indicate an event now occurring, a past event with vividness, an anticipated future event or an action purposed (DM 184ff). Since a contemporary testimony does not fit the character of the apostle then the verbs must convey action in the past.
B. Autobiographical. This section has been viewed by many commentators down through history as a "compressed spiritual autobiography" (Gager 126). Paul is describing his own spiritual condition at some point in the past. A strong assumption underlying this view is the fact that the Greek present tense verb does have other uses than just describing continuous action occurring in the present time. For example, the aoristic present conveys the idea of a present fact or punctiliar action without reference to progress. The tendential present may be used of action which is purposed or attempted, though it is not actually taking place. Then the historical present depicts a past event with the vividness of a present occurrence. (DM 184ff). Most likely, then, the present tense verbs in this section are the historical present tense. The autobiography could relate to two time frames.
• Pre-Transformation Spiritual Life. Paul is sharing an autobiography of his spiritual life before the Damascus road experience. Perhaps as a Pharisee dedicated to strict observance of traditions (Acts 26:5; Gal 1:14), his glowing self-description in Philippians 3:4-6 notwithstanding, he experienced internal conflict in wanting to please God and yet never really feeling victorious. In fact, Paul is even more to the point in his letter to Titus, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another" (Titus 3:3). This is a very plausible option, because at the Jerusalem Council Peter alluded to the struggle of Jews in keeping the traditions: "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10).
• Post-Transformation Spiritual Life. Paul is sharing an autobiography of spiritual conflict that occurred shortly after he became a disciple, perhaps while he was in his self-imposed exile. We may draw the inference that his experience is common to all believers. Chapter Eight then becomes his testimony of the answer to his spiritual conflict and, by extension, our solution as well. The problem with this view is the same as the contemporary testimony. The early years of Paul's ministry are summarized in Acts 9:19-30; 26:19-20; Galatians 1:13-24 and those narratives depict a zealous ambassador for Yeshua. There is no hint in any of those accounts, as in the self-description passages listed above, of any internal spiritual conflict.
• Post-Transformation Self-Evaluation. Greathouse offers this variation on the autobiographical interpretation.
"If ch 7 is autobiographical…it must be understood as a retrospective reassessment of his pre-Christian Jewish experience from his later Christian perspective. This is not how Saul the Pharisee saw himself then, but how Paul the Christian came to see his former life later. … Paul did not come to Christ as a self-conscious rebel against God, plagued by guilt, deeply conscious of his own sin, and desperately seeking salvation. On the contrary, it was the revelation of the crucified Jesus as the Christ of God that caused a self-righteous zealot for the Law (Gal 1:13-14) to understand himself and Jesus (2 Cor 5:16-21) in an entirely new light." (I, 207)
C. Rhetorical/Literary Device. According to this interpretation Paul's discussion is not testimonial nor autobiographical, but a rhetorical technique called prosopopoeia, i.e., the speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object. Such impersonation in which a speaker presents the circumstances and trials of someone altogether different was well-known in Hellenistic culture. This interpretation is favored because Paul offers no specific "setting in life" to give us the context of his story. Nowhere in this section of Romans does Paul define himself as a sinner or admit to the commission of sin at any time, past or present. Paul only says that the "wanting" does not result in the desired "doing." It's this paradoxical terminology that needs to be explained.
Origen (c. 185-254) in his Commentary on Romans, written a century before Augustine, understood Romans 7 as a form of speech-in-character, in which Paul takes on the voice of a person at different stages of moral development, seemingly assigning one state to verses 14-15 and another to 17-25 (Eisenbaum 44). Origen did not accept that Paul spoke autobiographically due to verse 9. Because Paul was born and raised a Jew, there never could have been a time which Paul would describe himself as apart from the Law. Therefore, Paul must be speaking on behalf of others for teaching purposes.
Another early advocate of the apostle's use of characterization was a post-Nicene father, Nilus of Ancyra (d. c. 430). He said, "God forbid! The divine apostle is not speaking of himself…. Rather these things are spoken by a person representing those who are troubled by fleshly passions" (Epistles, I. §152). In another fragment Nilus identifies this person as "belonging to those who have lived outside the Law of Moses (i.e., Gentiles) (Gager 127-128).
John Wesley in his note on verse 7 takes a similar view about this section:
"This is a kind of a digression, to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom 3:5, 1Cor 4:6; 10:30. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted, chap. viii, 2."
Commentators adopting the rhetorical approach differ as to who might be the focus of the internal conflict. Some would argue that Paul is speaking as one of the Jews or proselytes, because he begins the chapter by pointing out that his hearers "know the Torah." He has been talking about the Torah and how it operates in a theology of salvation by grace. However, others believe the context points to Gentiles for whom the Law meant death. Keck suggests Paul portrays "the Adamic self (not simply Adam himself) whose plight has become clear in light of Christ." Witherington concurs with Keck saying that Paul provides a vivid retelling of the Fall and mankind's problem with God's Law from the beginning.
Others suggest that the "I" represents the experience of "everyman" or "everywoman" under the Law, whether the Law of Moses or the law of conscience. Parallels can be cited in Greco-Roman literature, in the Psalms and elsewhere in Paul's writings (e.g., 1Cor 8:13; 10:29-30; Greathouse, I, 207). Polhill concurs with this point of view saying,
"Paul may have been expressing the experience of everyone, Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian, who seeks to lead a life that measures up to God's standards. Such persons are doomed to failure when left to their own resources, their own desiring and willing. Sin is too powerful a force. Only one thing can deliver them from the bondage to sin and its inevitable consequence of death."
D. Autobiographical-Rhetorical. Commentators generally do not mix their interpretive paradigms. As an exception Greathouse gives greater weight to the rhetorical viewpoint, but he cautions against dismissing any autobiographical reference in this section (I, 208). Indeed, how could Paul write with such pathos if there was not some personal experience behind it. I concur.
Pneumatology: Torah of the Spirit, 7:7–8:39
The Virtue of Torah, 7:7-13
7― What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."
What shall we say then? See note on 3:3. This is the third time Paul uses the rabbinic formula to rebut an objection or misbelief. Is the Law: Grk. nomos, i.e., the Torah given to Israel. See verse 1 above. sin? Grk. hamartia may refer to (1) a behavioral action, a misdeed that creates liability, every departure from the way of righteousness; (2) the result of sinning or the condition of being sinful; or (3) an invasive evil power. In the LXX hamartia translates a range of Hebrew words for guilt and sin, particularly Heb. chata (miss, go wrong, lapse, sin; Gen 20:6; 39:9) and avon (iniquity, guilt, punishment for iniquity; Gen 15:16). In the Tanakh a sin is disobedience or violation of God's commandments. Hamartia is not displaying the imperfections that separate humanity from divinity ("falling short of the glory," Rom 3:23), but violating the clear instructions of God.
Hamartia is the dominant word for sin in the Besekh. In Scripture the degree of intentionality is not a factor in defining sinful behavior. Intentional sins and capital crimes, such as adultery, blasphemy, idolatry and murder, were tantamount to rejecting God’s covenant and therefore could not be atoned. However, under the New Covenant, Yeshua's blood atones even intentional sin (Acts 13:38-39). Religious people may erect their own codes, rules or traditions for determining prohibited behavior, but God's judgment is based strictly on His commandments recorded in Scripture. The form of the rhetorical question calls for a negative answer. The Greek clause, ho nomos hamartia, which actually lacks a verb ("is" being supplied for comprehension), may be personifying Sin. Paul has personified Sin a number of times thus far in the letter and may be asking, "Is the Torah the same as this power I'm calling Sin, since the Torah provokes sinful passions."
May it never be! See the note on 3.4. Don't be stupid! The Torah is not the same Power that causes people to violate God's commandments. God is not to blame for your sinful acts. I would not have come to know: Grk. ginōskō, aor. See verse 1 above; lit. "I knew not" (Marshall); sin except through the Law: the Torah. Paul repeats the axiom of 3:20. See the note there. By personalizing the experience of "knowing," Paul may intend that "Torah" also includes his youthful instruction in the commandments. Paul points out the chief function of the Torah, which is to teach one how to live a life pleasing to God and what to avoid that will displease Him.
for I would not have known: Grk. oida, plperf., may mean (1) to know someone or know about someone, (2) be intimately acquainted with, stand in close relation to; (3) understand, come to know, recognize, experience (BAG). His first knowledge of sin was academic and instructional. This knowledge was experiential. The pluperfect tense of the verb points to action as complete and the results of the action in existence at some point in past time, i.e., his youth. The first person verb speaks with the voice of Paul's fictive character. about coveting: Grk. epithumia, desire, longing. In 1:24 and 6:12 epithumia is translated as "lusts," and here the KJV translates as "lust," but epithumia is much broader in scope than sexual lust. See the note on 6:12.
if the Law. The Torah. had not said. Paul quotes the Tenth Commandment (Ex 20:17; Deut 5:21). "YOU SHALL NOT COVET: Grk. epithumeō, aor., may mean (1) have a strong desire for, desire, long for; or (2) have inordinate desire, implying intent to acquire, covet, lust. The second meaning is intended here. In the LXX of this verse epithumeō translates Heb. chamad (SH-2530), to desire, take pleasure in. While the verb may be neutral or good, it is often used in the Tanakh in the sense of inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire (BDB 326). Before Bar Mitzvah coveting was not a problem because it was not a sin for Paul. After Bar Mitzvah Paul felt the full weight of the Law. It's interesting that Paul selects the tenth commandment, because while the first nine focus on behavior this commandment addresses the source of sin, the heart--wanting what is not rightfully yours.
Technically, the Tenth Commandment implies a transgression without an actual behavior. However, once covetousness occurs, the transition to behavior is not far behind. Covetousness could well be the root sin that leads to breaking the other nine. Indeed, according to rabbinic literature, "R. Jakum said: He who violates the command Thou shalt not covet is as one transgressing all Ten Commandments" (Shulam; cf. Col 3:5; Jas 2:10). Covetousness is the opposite of the two divine imperatives to love. While the object(s) of coveting in the Tenth Commandment is what belongs to a neighbor the sin can also operate to covet what belongs to God.
8― But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
But sin, taking opportunity: Paul again personifies Sin, the goal of which is to promote disobedience to God's Law. through the commandment: Grk. entolē, a directive for action, command, order or instruction. In the LXX entolē, occurs 244 times (46 times without a Hebrew equivalent). The noun is concentrated in the Torah, especially in Deuteronomy. In the majority of passages entolē renders Heb. mitsvah, (e.g., Ex 20:6; Ps 119:6), 159 times. A mitsvah is instruction intended for obedience and often associated with a good deed or charitable works with the promise of blessing for obedience. Violation produces guilt and need for atonement.
Another word translated with entolē is Heb. piqqudim (e.g. Ps 119:4), occurring 18 times. The word may be translated as precepts, statutes or commandments. Its root meaning is exercise oversight of a subordinate and only occurs in Psalms. The third word translated by entolē is Heb. choq (Deut 6:24; 16:12; 28:15), which means to engrave, hence to write; and alludes to engraving laws on stone, metal or scrolls. This term is used especially in laws of offerings due the priests, laws that prescribed justice due to victims, laws for holy living (e.g., sexual relations) and laws for holy days and festivals. The fourth word entolē translates is Heb. dabar (Deut 18:14: Ps 119:9), occurring ten times and means to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, or warn. The term refers to what God said or says. The ten commandments are called the ten words (Deut 4:3; 10:4) and the Hebrew name for the book of Deuteronomy is D’varim, “all the words.”
The mention of "commandment" may be an epexegetic reference to the previous verse. Witherington suggests that since Paul uses "commandment" in the singular, then it can hardly refer to the Law of Moses in general, but to the only person who ever lived under one commandment, namely Adam. The prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil essentially proscribed coveting. Of course, one could say that Adam was given two other commandments, namely to cultivate and to safeguard the garden (Gen 2:15), but the Hebrew word for "command" only occurs in Genesis 2:16 in regards to the tree. produced: Grk. katergazomai, may mean to (1) achieve, accomplish, (2) bring about, produce, or (3) overpower, subdue, conquer (BAG). in me: The "me" is used as a literary device for Paul's fictive character.
coveting: Grk. epithumia. See the note on the previous verse. KJV renders it as "concupiscence," which refers to a forbidden appetite, usually sexual. This is an unfortunate translation as it distorts the character being described and narrows the usage of a word that has a broad range of meaning. of every kind: Those taking the personal testimony interpretation find all manner of fault with Paul and imagine the worst behavior, since he doesn't satisfy tabloid curiosity about his weaknesses. Maybe he had a problem with materialism since Yeshua accused the Pharisees of having greed for money (Luke 16:14). Maybe it was sexual lust, since Yeshua spoke of the Pharisees as an adulterous generation (Matt 12:39). There was a group of Pharisees who wore special hoods to avoid seeing women to prevent lusting. Maybe he had been one of them. Maybe Paul was one of those hypocrites Yeshua condemned in Matthew 23 with faults aplenty.
Against this pejorative viewpoint is Paul's own testimony that as a Pharisee he faithfully kept the Torah (Acts 22:2; 23:1, 6; Php 3:6). Critics of Paul would likely rebel if someone suggested they live by the same rules that Paul observed. The longings of the fictive person's heart may have had nothing to do with sinful pursuits, but merely the freedom to choose one's own life. Perhaps most significant for the Jews was the desire for acceptance by the larger world. That was the great divide between Hellenistic Jews who were willing to make accommodations for the sake of comity and the pious Jews who insisted on maintaining their separation. Unfortunately, Sin used the sense of duty to misdirect desires. As Jews and proselytes had to learn, coveting the respect of pagans came with a price too high to pay.
The description Paul offers is certainly apt from Adam's point of view. There is no clear indication of how much time elapsed between the creation of the first couple and their sin. Living with a prohibited object in plain view every day would likely stimulate avid curiosity about the tree and the reasons for its presence. Why create a tree with fruit that one cannot eat in a garden full of trees with edible fruit? Desire is a simple human condition and it operated in the first couple to covet what God had denied. apart from: Grk. chōris, prep., to be apart from or parted from. the Law: Grk. nomos. See the note on verse 1 above. There is no definite article and Paul may mean nomos as a principle of governance as well as the collection of commandments given to Israel. sin is dead: The commandments given to Israel define sin and thus this statement is parallel to the principle of 4:15, “where there is no law, there is also no violation.” For Jews sin was dead before Bar/Bat Mitzvah (13 for boys; 12 for girls), because until that point the Jewish person was not yet accountable to the Law.
9― I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;
I: Grk. egō, pronoun of the first person. Paul speaks with the voice of his fictive character. was once alive: Grk. zaō, impf., be in the state of being alive, used here in a fig. sense. apart from: Grk. chōris, prep., to be apart from or parted from. the Law: Grk. nomos, the Torah. See verse 1 above. There is no definite article, so nomos could be used in the sense of a principle. "I was a law unto myself and recognized no law of deity." He could also intend nomos in the sense of legalism, the oppressive use of man-made traditions as interpretations of Torah observance (cf. 1Tim 1:8). Paul's declaration could be that of a proselyte. Before his circumcision the Gentile was "alive" apart from the law. He thought he was gaining something spiritual by becoming "Jewish" only to realize that having to comply with all the Pharisaic traditions led to a lack of freedom.
but when the commandment: Grk. entolē. See the previous verse. came: Grk. erchomai, aor. act. part., to come or to arrive, with implication of a position from which action or movement takes place. "The Law" and "the commandment" may function only as a parallelism (as occurs in Psalm 119), or he may intend a distinction between Mishnah and Mikra (i.e., the written Torah of commandments given to Moses). The phrase "when the commandment came" may be an allusion Bar Mitzvah when a Jewish child became accountable to Torah or perhaps the induction into the Jewish life. From the rhetorical viewpoint, Paul may even be alluding to Adam, since the one commandment he was given was the law for him.
sin became alive: Grk. anazaō, to return to life after a state of death (Danker). and I died: Grk. apothēskō, aor., to die, whether physically or figuratively. The first person verb is used for rhetorical effect. The Nestle Greek Text actually places this verbal phrase at the beginning of verse 10, even though the Received Text, the Majority Text and Westcott-Hort Text all have the phrase at the end of this verse. As a rhetorical device the statement sums up Adam's experience of death, both physically with the pronouncement that he would one day return to the ground (Gen 3:19) and relationally with God by virtue of being expelled from the garden (Gen 3:24). As a testimony of someone living under legalism good intentions collided with unreasonable expectations, which fostered a heart of rebellion.
10― and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me;
and this commandment, which was to result in life: Paul mentions, almost as a passing thought, that the goal of the commandment had been to produce life. In other words, God gave his commandment to Adam, not to make life miserable and keep him from having any fun, but to enable him to enjoy the best kind of life, an abundant life (cf. John 10:10). The Pharisaic intention behind the many rules was to experience a good life pleasing to God. proved to result in death: Grk. thanatos, death in the natural physical sense, but the word also has figurative uses. for me: This statement illustrates the curse of the Law, not the character of the Law. In other words, Adam could not blame God for breaking the commandment, which brought the promised consequence of mortality (cf. Gen 2:17; 3:19). From Adam's point of view this verse and the next might seem a petulant statement as "I would never have broken the commandment if there hadn't been a commandment." Conversely, legalism is a death sentence to true spiritual life.
11― for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
for sin: Paul again personifies "Sin" (a feminine noun), and one can imagine that from Adam's point of view "Sin" initially represented the woman whom he blamed for his sin (Gen 3:12; cf. 1Tim 2:14), an implied criticism of God. and taking an opportunity through the commandment: The Genesis account relates how the Serpent took advantage of the tree's presence and the woman's curiosity and desire to attack God's authority behind the commandment. A legalistic approach to commandments can likewise create occasions of actually failing to do God's will (cf. Matt 23:23).
deceived me: Grk. exapataō, to lead astray, deceive, or cheat. Paul's language is reminiscent of the Serpent in the Garden who deceived the woman (Gen 3:13). A legalistic can also become self-deceived. As Jeremiah said, ""The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). and through it killed me: Grk. apokteinoō, to deprive a person of life. Paul employs a third word for death, this time as dramatic pathos. While the words for death in verses 9 and 10 referred to the fact of death, Paul changes the sense to being a victim of murder. There is no doubt that the Serpent intended to destroy the first couple (cf. John 10:10). In addition, Yeshua accused the Pharisees of being agents of death through their active evangelism of Gentiles (Matt 23:15).
12― So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Paul again mentions the Torah and the commandment again. See verse 9 above. Grammatically the sentence functions as a parallelism. Here he lauds the Torah of God with the highest compliments. The Law: Grk. ho nomos. See verse 1 above. No doubt this is a reference to the Torah given to Israel. is holy: Grk. hagios, adj., like the Heb. qodesh it renders in the LXX, means dedicated to God, sacred or holy, i.e., reserved for God and His service. and righteous: Grk. dikaios, adj., being in accord with God's covenantal standards expressed in Torah for acceptable behavior, upright or just. In the LXX dikaios renders Heb. tsaddiq ('just or righteous' BDB 843). The definition of "righteous" does not include the subjectivity of personal opinion. and good: Grk. agathos, adj., achieving a high standard of excellence in meeting a need or interest, beneficial, useful, helpful or good. God gave the Law and the Law reflects his nature.
Stern comments on this verse:
"Those who think Sha’ul sought an escape from the Jewish Law in order to make Christianity easy for pagan converts must find this verse difficult. It proves that Sha’ul neither had an un-Jewish view of the Law nor desired to abrogate it. The verse witnesses to Sha’ul’s lifelong high regard for the Torah, which corresponds to his lifelong observance of it (see Acts 13:9, 21:21). This attitude would have been with him from his youth, since his parents were Pharisees (Acts 23:6); it would have been strengthened by his studies with Rabban Gamli’el (Acts 22:3); and there is no reason to suppose that his coming to faith in Yeshua—who did not “come to abolish the Torah” (Matt 5:17)—would have changed it. So many errors about Sha’ul’s opinion of the Law could have been avoided had this verse been understood as constraining everything he writes about it. God’s holy Torah for holy living does not change. Why? Because God himself does not change (Mal 3:6) and holiness does not change."
13― Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
that which is good: Grk. agathos. See the previous verse. Paul acquits the Torah, and by extension the God of Israel, of any blame in causing his spiritual and eventual physical death. Here Paul is not alluding to the concept of "the good," derived from Greek philosophy and well-known among Hellenistic Jews of the Diaspora. Any idea of "the good," as freed from the concept of the holy Creator God, is totally incompatible with Greek thought. The good is always a gift of God and as such is outside the control of man to produce in his own strength (Gen 3:5). God is the one, the only one, who is innately, inherently good. The Heb. word tov became the regular designation of the goodness of God's character or actions. The LXX translates tov in this connection almost exclusively with agathos. So, Paul is speaking of doing what imitates the nature of God by the power of God. For Paul only God and what proceeds from Him is good.
Rather it was sin: He has already stated that the wages of Sin is death (6:23). through the commandment: Since the noun is singular Paul probably alludes to the tenth commandment. See the note on verses 7-8 above. The command against coveting demonstrates just how utterly sinful or wrong the violations of the other nine commandments are.
The Limitation of Torah, 7:14-25
14― For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
For we know: What Paul is saying is common to his reader's knowledge and so axiomatic that he needs not offer further proof. The first person plural verb could also be distinguishing himself from his readers in the sense of "we spiritually transformed Judean Jews." Law. Grk. ho nomos, the Torah. is spiritual: Grk. pneumatikos, adj., pertaining to the spirit or Holy Spirit, spiritual (BAG). This is the same word used in 1Corinthians 2:14-15 to contrast those who are spiritual with those who are not (fleshly). By describing the Torah as spiritual he means it was divinely inspired. The Scriptures are God-breathed (2Tim 3:16).
I am: Grk. egō eimi. When Yeshua made egō eimi statements (Mark 14:62; John 4:26; 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 58; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), they were present tense declarations of reality. of flesh: Grk. sarkinos, adj., belonging to worldly matters or conditions; lit. "fleshly." Many versions translate the adjective as "carnal" or "unspiritual." The CJB has "bound to the old nature." However, one would hardly think that Paul is using "flesh" in a pejorative manner when he says in the next chapter that Yeshua came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8:3). Paul probably means sarkinos as indicative of humanity ("flesh and blood") in contrast to the deity that produced the Torah. Danker interprets the meaning as "merely human" and this viewpoint is found in several versions (CEB, CEV, ERV, GNB, HCSB, and NLT).
sold: Grk. pipraskō, perf. pass. part., a term of commercial transaction, to sell, esp. a person (BAG). The verb is a perfect passive participle denoting the state or condition from the point of the sale (Rienecker). into bondage to sin: Paul personifies Sin, again, as a powerful slave owner. See the note on 3:9. The perfect tense of "sold" probably alludes to the fall of Adam in the Garden, but could also allude to the entry into the legalistic life.
This strong expression is similar to the saying in the Tanakh, "Surely there was none like Ahab, who sold himself over to do evil in ADONAI’s eyes, at the instigation of Jezebel his wife" (1Kgs 21:25 TLV; see also 1Kgs 21:20; 2Kgs 17:17). Some expositors have assumed that Paul's use of the same description has the same force as the passage in Kings. For Ahab it means he willingly and intentionally abandoned himself to iniquity, "a characterization which cannot belong to a regenerate man and most obviously, not to Paul after his conversion" (Murray). It is one thing to sell oneself to do iniquity as Ahab; it is quite another to be sold under the power of Sin. All of Adam's progeny have been born into slavery and Jezebel make an appropriate type of Sin.
15― For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
A word-for-word translation would be "For what I work I know not, for not what I wish this I practice, but what I hate this I do" (Marshall). All the verbs in this verse are present tense and have a rhetorical function. For what I am doing: Grk. katergazomai, pres. mid. See verse 8 above. I do not understand: Grk. ginōskō, pres., to know. See verse 1 above. I am not practicing: Grk. prassō, pres., to do or accomplish something. what I would like: Grk. thelō, to have a desire for something or have a purpose for something; will, wish, desire. to do: These words are not in the Greek text. but I am doing: Grk. poieō, pres., a verb of physical action that may refer to (1) producing something material; make, construct, produce, create; or (2) to be active in bringing about a state of condition, such as carrying out an obligation or responsibility; do, act, perform, work.
the very thing I hate: Grk miseō, pres., to have a strong dislike of some person or thing. In the LXX miseō almost always renders Heb. sane (DNTT 1:555), which may be hate as an emotional impulse of hostility (e.g., Joseph’s brothers hating him because of favoritism, Gen 37:2-5), or an attitude of loving someone or some thing less than another (e.g., Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel, Gen 29:30-31; cf. Deut 21:15-17; Matt 10:37). A prospective disciple had to consider his priorities. Following the Rabbi from Nazareth must come before all other obligations (Luke 9:57-62). Loyalty to the Rabbi must be more important than possessions or family affection (Luke 14:26-33). Yeshua spoke of “hating” one’s family, but he obviously did not intend his disciples to maintain an attitude of hostility and loathing toward their relatives. His usage of miseō continues the dual usage of sane found in the Tanakh and thus Paul's meaning here may only be giving priority to what should be in second place as Yeshua reminds the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23.
Gager suggests that Paul's theme of conflicting desires was drawn from a Greek play by Euripides (127). The famous Greek tragedy called Medea (431 BC) tells the story of the revenge of a woman betrayed by her husband, Jason. About to slay her children in order to hurt Jason, the character Medea laments, "I know that what I am about to do is evil but passion is stronger than my reasoned reflection" (Medea, lines 1077-1080). However, Gager's quotation is not evidence of dependency for Paul who as a righteous Pharisee would never harm his own children if he had any (cf. Php 3:8). Moreover, Paul is not quoting an outside source but engaging in first person rhetorical speech in this section. Paul was not so unoriginal that he could not simply have the fictive character in this chapter express a feeling common to human experience.
16― But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
But if: Grk. ei, conj. It's very easy to overlook this important Greek particle ei, which is used to express a condition thought of as real or to denote assumptions relating to what has already happened (BAG). The particle introduces a hypothetical situation, not a confession. I do the very thing I do not want to do: This ambiguous expression could refer to almost anything. Paul is talking about inner conflict between desires. Even legitimate desires can get in the way of pleasing God if one covets the right to control his own life.
the Law: Grk. ho nomos, the Torah. is good: Grk. kalos, adj., meeting a high standard or an exceptionally high quality; fine, good. Paul may be saying that the Torah is useful as he wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (1Tim 3:16). He could also be saying that the Torah is free of defect, precious, and excellent. The Torah reveals the goodness of God and reflects his nature. Paul could also be saying "God is good." In contrast with Greek philosophy which believed in the abstract form of "the good" that humanity strives for, Paul knew that goodness had been revealed in the nature of the God of Israel. Man might have a good impulse (yetzer tov), but that impulse did not always dominate.
17― So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
So now, no longer am I the one doing it: A more lit. translation would be "But now no longer I work [am working] it" (Marshall). The "it" refers to doing what one does not really desire. but sin: Paul again personifies Sin. which dwells: Grk. oikeō, pres. part., to live, dwell, inhabit, have one's habitation. in me: The pronoun "me" is used fig. as a place of dwelling. So, this evil entity called Sin has taken up residence with me. Paul is not evading responsibility, but saying that Sin is busy working to cause the person to do what is counter to his spiritual well-being and his relationship with God.
Sin is more likely a euphemism for the yetzer ra (evil inclination) rather than Augustine's concept of inherited depravity. See the note on 5:12. The yetzer ra is frequently personified in a similar way in Jewish texts of the period.
"Raba observed, First he [i.e., evil inclination] is called a passer-by, then he is called a guest, and finally he is called a man [i.e., occupier of the house]." (Sukk. 52b)
Indeed, the first personification in Scripture is of sin when God says to Cain, "Sin [chata, a feminine noun] is crouching at the door; and its [her] desire is for you, but you must master her" (Gen 4:7). "Sin" is a beguiling temptress who wants to move into one's residence and seeks to lure the unsuspecting into a trap that will result in death (cf. Prov 5:3-5). Shulam suggests that Paul adopts the view that sin is not merely an act that but it dwells within man and must be replaced by the God's Spirit. Every disciple faces the repeated question of whose desires in any given situation will prevail - one's own or God's. The inclination to do what I want to do governs my life.
18― For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
For I know that nothing good: Grk. agathos, adj. See verse 12 above. dwells: Grk. oikeō, pres. See the previous verse. in me: Paul is not necessarily denying belief in the yetzer tov, the good inclination, or discounting the fact that he performed good deeds. As a Pharisee he had for years been committed to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He is engaging in the Hebraic manner of self-effacement that recognizes one is always standing in the presence of the holy God, whom alone is holy (Rev 15:4). Yeshua said something very similar in response to the rich young ruler who called him "Good Teacher." Yeshua said, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19). The attribute of goodness has one thing in common with holiness. Any holiness disciples possess is derived from God.
In addition, God is the only person who is consistently holy and even the best Yeshua followers in Scripture at times fell short of His glory (and still do!). While the apostles repeatedly urged the early disciples to pursue holiness of life (Eph 1:4; Heb 12:14; 1Pet 1:15) and maintained that sanctification should be the condition of the heart (Rom 6:22; 1Pet 3:15), they never described the essential character of their being, nature or personality as "holy." Only God can say, "I am." Personal testimonies of early apostles are appropriately modest in the face of God’s holiness, a lesson all disciples of Yeshua should take to heart (John 1:27; Acts 10:25-26; Php 3:8-15; 1Tim 1:12-16). Paul, in particular, asserted that he had not already become perfect (Php 3:12). This blessing awaits the resurrection. Only a foolhardy person would stand in front of the holy God and proclaim, "I am perfect."
that is, in my flesh: lit. "this is in the flesh of me" (Marshall). See the note on 6:19. NIV has "sinful nature" and CJB has "old nature," but "human nature" with its limitations and lacking "the ennobling gift of God's grace" would seem to be a better choice (Shulam). Flesh represents human personality, desires, ambitions, and goals, with all its strengths and weaknesses. Human desires may be sinful or they may not be sinful. Paul is saying that "the good," which can only be a divine attribute, cannot be found in human nature. If it's good, it's from God (Jas 1:17).
the doing of the good is not: Grk. kalos, adj. See verse 16 above. Paul uses this adjective as though it were something greater than the kind of good works anyone can do that benefit others (Matt 7:11; Luke 6:32-34). Man is not capable of the excellence of perfection without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The truth is that we fall short of the glory of God (3:23). We cannot do what he does and we cannot replicate his perfection in our own strength.
19― For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
Paul essentially repeats the theme stated in verse 15 above. If these verses are taken as a testimony, his exhortation in 12:21 to overcome evil with good is inexplicable.
20― But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Paul essentially repeats the theme stated in verse 17. If these verses are taken as a testimony, his exhortation in 12:21 to overcome evil with good is inexplicable.
21― I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
I find: Grk. heuriskō, pres., to come upon by seeking; find, locate or by something happening; find, come across, discover. then: Grk. ara, a particle that makes an inference based on preceding matter. the principle: Grk. ho nomos, law. See verse 1 above. The NASB chose the word "principle" to indicate a principle drawn from God's Torah. Stern suggests that in these verses 21-23 Paul is engaging in wordplay drawing on the different meanings of nomos. Sin is personified as having, so to speak, organized its own Mount Sinai and there given its own "torah" which, willy-nilly, we find ourselves devotedly obeying with our human nature.
that evil: Grk. kakos, adj., may mean (1) morally or socially reprehensible, something that violates community standards, thus bad, wrong or evil; or (2) causing harm with focus on personal or physical injury, bad, injurious or harmful. In the LXX kakos is used predominately to render Heb. ra, which has the same dual meaning (DNTT 1:562). is present: Grk. parakeimai, pres. mid., to be close by, be right there, be present. in me: There is no preposition "in" in the Greek text and the dative case of "me" (Grk. egō). The dative case generally "expresses the person more remotely concerned" and often makes the noun an indirect object (DM 84).
A few versions, as the NASB, treat the dative case here as a dative of location with the resulting translation "in me" (CEV, MOUNCE, TLV). Most versions treat the dative case as a dative of association with the translation "with me" (CEB, CJB, DRA, ERV, EXB, GW, HCSB, KJV, LEB, MW, NCV, NET, NIRV, NIV, NKJV, YLT). Marshall conveys association with "to me." (Marshall). ASV has "evil is present." GNC has "evil lies close at hand." The dative of association fits appropriately with the rhetorical character of Paul's argument. He is not speaking autobiographically of inherited depravity. the one who wants: Grk. thelō, pres. part. See the note on verse 15 above. to do: Grk. poieō, pres. inf. See verse 15 above. good: Grk. kalos, adj., meeting a high standard or an exceptionally high quality; fine, good.
22― For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
For I joyfully concur: Grk. sunēdomai, pres. mid., to delight in agreement, to rejoice with someone, to joyfully agree. The verb occurs only here in the Besekh. The verb is also rare in Jewish literature, only appearing once in Philo and once in Josephus (BAG). with the law of God: See the note on the previous verse. This use of nomos is clearly of the Torah or more specifically the instructions given to Israel through Moses. in the inner: Grk. esō, adv., may mean (1) located within a space; within, inside; or (2) closely connected; inside. man: Grk. anthrōpos, human being, man or mankind. Paul is the only writer in the Besekh to use the expression "inner man" as a component of human personality (cf. 2Cor 4:16; Eph 3:16). Paul identifies those who know the Torah (verse 1 above) as those who delight in the Torah as David expresses in Psalm 119.
23― but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
but I see: Grk. blepō, pres., here means to have inward or mental sight. a different: Grk. heteros, adj., used to distinguish one item from another, other, another or different. law: Grk. nomos. See the note on verse 21 above. The expression "law of sin" occurring only three times in the Besekh is unique to Paul (verse 25 below; Rom 8:2). It is the same as the rule of evil in verse 21 that wages war against the desire to please God (v. 21). Shulam points out that the Qumran texts describe this principle as the "spirit of perversity," which entices man to sin and then sin again, and again. in the members of my body: pl. of Grk. melos, part of a bodily structure, member; lit. "in my members." There is no "of my body" in the Greek text. The use of "members" emphasizes the complexity of the human being, which is an integrated unity of soul and body. The term also alludes to the Hebraic view of sin as behavior engaged in by parts of the body. See the note on 6:13.
waging war against: Grk. antistrateuomai, pres. mid. part., campaign against, make war against. The verb is used only here in the Besekh. The verb is derived from strateuomai, which means to engage in war, to be on military duty, to engage in combat. Paul draws on the language of the Roman army to illustrate the nature of the conflict. the law: Grk. nomos. of my mind: Grk. nous may mean (1) the capacity to comprehend or discern; understanding; (2) medium for processing information or instruction; mind; or (3) the result of mental processing; mind, thought. All of these meanings have a bearing Paul's statement. Danker suggests the first meaning is primary. The expression "law of my mind" may be a euphemism for the will exercised to please God as seems suggested by the previous two verses. The expression may also simply refer to the person acting as the authority for his own life. Invariably personal desires not submitted to the law of the Spirit can result in the following circumstance.
and making me a prisoner: Grk. aichmalōtizō, pres. part., a military term with the sense of capture or make captive of. The verb occurs only four times in the Besekh, three of which are in Paul's writings (2Cor 10:5; 2Tim 3:6). Prisoners captured by the Roman army as a result of warfare were typically sold as slaves. of the law: Grk. nomos. of sin: Grk. ho hamartia. See verse 7 above. The "law of sin" is probably shorthand for the law of sin and death (8:2). The purpose of war is to defeat and disarm the enemy, so Paul represents the "two laws" as enemies. The "law of sin" could mean the rule of Sin (personified) or it could mean the law of sin and death as a principle derived from the Torah. "You sin, you die" (Gen 2:17; 3:17-19; Ezek 18:4, 20; Rom 1:32; 6:23).
Paul's use of the expression "law of sin" certainly does not reflect an anti-Judaism sentiment and mean that the Torah is sin as Daniel Langton alleges (JANT 587). Indeed, Paul rebuts this false thesis in verse 7 above. The law of sin, the "different law" in one's members counteracts or fights against one's desires to live by the Torah. The contrast between "law of my mind" and "law of sin" is in line with the Jewish concept of two inclinations with each person, the yetzer ra (evil inclination) and yetzer tov (good inclination). (See the note on 5:12 for more discussion on these inclinations.) which is in my members: pl. of Grk. melos. Paul reiterates the sphere in which the "law of sin" operates and battles the "law of my mind."
24― Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free: Paul sums up the cry of all humanity. All the competing philosophies of the Greeks could not solve this dilemma. the body of this death: The phrase is better translated as "this body of death." Paul uses the word soma for the physical body. This is the reality everyone lives with. We shall surely die and there is nothing we can do about it.
25― Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Thanks: Grk. charis. While charis can mean thanks or gratitude its most common meaning is divine favor or help, i.e., grace. In the LXX charis translates primarily Heb. hēn (favor), but a few times hesed (loyal love or loving-kindness) and rachamim (“mercy”). The beneficiaries of God's hēn are God’s people, which reflects his covenant fidelity. Thus, it would seem that Paul is not simply offering praise but answering the question in verse 24. The grace of God makes the difference.
through Jesus: Grk. Iēsous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "YHVH [the LORD] is salvation" (BDB 221). The meaning of his name is explained to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, "You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The English rendering of "Jesus" originated with the Mace New Testament in 1729. For more information on the meaning our Lord's name, his identity, and the history of translation of the name see my web article Who is Yeshua?
Christ: Grk. Christos, Messiah. See verse 4 above. our Lord: Grk. ho kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. The second meaning applies here. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, the great majority of times to replace Heb. YHVH (DNTT 2:511). Kurios is the principal title by which disciples and members of the public addressed Yeshua during his earthly ministry. Yeshua is the owner-master of his disciples. Yeshua is the mediator (1Tim 2:5) and his atoning sacrifice makes access to the grace of God possible.
I myself with my mind am serving the law of God: The dual emphasis of "I myself" (Grk. autos egō) probably indicates a personal testimony in view of the affirmation of grace just mentioned. This is the Paul we know from all the positive self-descriptions listed above. He experienced God's grace in a powerful and unusual way. The persecutor of Yeshua became the ambassador for Yeshua and since that day Paul served him with a whole heart. But, he was the first to acknowledge that spiritually his life was maintained in Yeshua. This is the Law of Spiritual Conservation.
on the other, with my flesh the law of sin [and death]: The reality of life is that in our humanity we are still subject to the Law of Spiritual Entropy. Because Adam sinned and because we have sinned we will die. All the sufferings of the "flesh," our humanity, physically and emotionally, have their source in the Garden debacle. However, this law does not have to define our lives. There is victory. Paul will explain this important truth in the next chapter.
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, trans. Charles Van Der Pool. The Apostolic Press, 2006. An interlinear of the Septuagint with English translation. Online.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Cranfield: C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, A Shorter Commentary, Williams B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown, Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.
Harrison: Everett F. Harrison, Romans, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
BAG: W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
ABP: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot, trans. Charles Van Der Pool, The Apostolic Press, 2006. LXX Interlinear. Online.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, "Romans," A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. 2, Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 Vols. Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997)
Shulam: Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans, Lederer Books, 1997.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Young: Brad H. Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian, Hendrickson Pub., 1997.
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