2 TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------THE THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT OF JUDAISM-------------------------------------------------------A COMPOSITIONAL AND BACKGROUND ANALYSIS OF ROMANS------------------------------- 3 THE LITERARY CONTEXT OF ROMANS------------------------------------------------------------OVERVIEW OF CHAPTER SEVEN-------------------------------------------------------------------HERMENEUTICAL POSSIBILITIES FOR “I”---------------------------------------------------------ARGUMENTS FOR AN UNREGENERATE “I” -------------------------------------------------------ANSWERS TO COMMON OBJECTIONS--------------------------------------------------------------CONCLUSION------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BIBLIOGRAPHY----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5 7 8 10 19 21 22 1 2

3 INTRODUCTION “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, that I do.” Rom. 7:14-16 (NIV). Fewer subjects in all of scripture have attracted more discussion than the nature of the despairing and hopeless persona of Romans 7:7-25. Just who is Paul referring to when he uses the first person pronoun “I” (Gk. ego) in the present tense? It has often been mentioned that early church Fathers believed Paul to be referring to himself prior to faith in Christ. However, beginning with Augustine, reformed theologians began to view the pericope as the quintessential proof text for a duality in Paul’s nature.1 According to this view, Paul is caught between two worlds: the subjection of his flesh to sin and the present experience of right standing before Christ by grace.2 This, according to the Augustinian camp, is why Paul can boldly declare that he is both “dead to sin” and simultaneously enslaved to the raging desires of his flesh. Indeed, it is hardly debatable whether believers experience an ongoing struggle with temptation. But does Paul intend to teach that he is concurrently a slave to righteousness and a slave to sin in his flesh? Does the Romans passage portray the Christian as merely “struggling” with sin, or is Paul’s language more explicitly in favor of the pre-Christian state? This is no small interpretive matter. Our answer to this question will have a direct bearing on how we live out our faith. This study will seek to demonstrate that the frustrated and despondent “I” persona of Romans 7:7-25 is not an autobiographical portrait of Paul in Christ, nor does it describe the tension that exists in all believers for all time.3 Instead, Paul is contrasting the futility and
Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. I Apostolic Christianity (Hendrickson Publishers: 1996), 316-327. Schaff notes that Augustine, Luther and Calvin all transposed this conflict to the regenerate Paul.
2 1

Ben Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 23.

Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, In the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), Moo rightly acknowledges that the primary subject of Rom. 7 is the Mosaic Law. The identity of the “I” persona is a secondary concern, but is none-the-less a valid interpretive issue in the text.


4 enslavement to mere Torah observance over against the believer’s freedom from the law and the power of sin. In order to make this case, we will first examine the theological context of Judaism, provide a compositional overview of the Romans letter, and survey the literary context of chapter seven. Next, we will engage the specific arguments that the “I” of 7:14-25 is representative of an unregenerate Jew who struggles to keep the Mosaic Law. Finally, we will explore the implications of this view contrasted to its nearest hermeneutical competitor. THE THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT OF JUDAISM The theological worldview of Second Temple Judaism was characterized by specific symbols, praxis, narratives and resolutions to their national dilemma.4 The locus of Judaic symbolism was the Torah, the temple, the land, and their racial identity. The praxis of these symbols played out in the form of festivals, fasts, cult sacrifice, domestic prohibitions and various customs. The controlling narrative that upheld the symbols and praxis was characterized by belief in ongoing exile, future deliverance reminiscent of the exodus, a universal restoration with God himself as King, and a realized favored nation status for Israel.5 Lastly, the resolutions to their national questions were found in their election as a people, and their expectation of future justice resulting in the vindication of the Abrahamic covenant, thus initiating a new age. Wright and others offer this composite sketch of Second Temple Judaism as the primary conceptual framework for understanding Paul’s theology and approach. Though it is true that there were many competing agendas, theologies and interpretative approaches within Judaism (just as there

Cf. E.P Sanders, W.D. Davies, and N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: Fortress Press, 1992), 145-279. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 298-330. Also see Baruch, Tobit 13-14; 1 Enoch 8590 et. al. Though some scholars downplay the significance of the exile motif (Dunn), there is no question that Jews believed they had not experienced freedom from spiritual exile. This must have been what prompted the disciples to ask “Are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” in Acts 1.


5 are within modern democracy), these fractures existed within a general commitment to the same symbols, practices, stories, and answers to their national questions. Undoubtedly, the Roman church was a combination of Jews and Gentile proselytes. Mixed into Paul’s theology of gospel were obvious points of overlap with their collectively held identity. All of their national symbols, feasts, and stories of election and exodus had come into sharp focus in the person of Jesus the Christ. Because the Abrahamic covenant had been realized in Jesus, they were now “dead” to the Mosaic Law, alive to God, and free from the power of sin. However, Paul offered these Gentile and Jewish believers answers to questions that no one seemed to be asking. Before Paul tells them that the answers they expected to their national questions were all wrong (or at least distorted), he must first reorient them. All men, Jewish or otherwise, are dead in their trespasses, and all are freely justified in Christ. This is the bedrock of Paul’s unfolding case concerning the power of his gospel to transform ones status, and praxis. A COMPOSITIONAL AND BACKGROUND ANALYSIS OF ROMANS A compositional analysis of Romans reveals a definite arrangement of the material in at least four ways.6 First, the letter forms an inclusio (1:1-17; 15:14-16:27).7 This literary device allows Paul to unpack his theme concentrically with an eye toward garnering the Romans future support. The exposition of Paul’s theme is flanked by his desire to minister to them despite being prevented (prologue 1:1-17), and his ambition to transplant his base of operations there (epilogue, 15:14-16:27). Both the front matter and the epilogue serve as a literary bracket for Paul’s main theme. Second, Paul presents his appeal to the Romans for their future support in the form of a


Napier, Daniel, “Paul’s Analysis of Sin and Torah in 7:7-25,” in Restoration Quarterly, 2002. An inclusio is a literary “bracket” that frames one’s argument.


6 defense of his gospel (Gk. euangelion - 1:16,17). Thematically, it is impossible to ignore Paul’s case that mankind is universally sinful and that God has provided a plan to comprehensively redeem them from this state. Thus, the gospel is the seminal theme of Romans.8 Paul composes the body matter of Romans as an unfolding defense of why the world needs his euangelion. Third, the letter echoes the internal tensions between Jew and Gentile believers. Paul appears to retell the human story by acknowledging the futility of paganism (1:18-32), and the equally insufficient approach of Torah observance (2:1-3:31). Many scholars have observed that this is an implicit nod to Jew and Gentile cultural tensions due to the return of Jews in 54 AD.9 The composition of Romans appears to owe something to this particular situation, as well as Paul’s desire to set up his ministry base there. Paul arranges his letter in such a way as to inform his Gentile audience of the Jewish roots of their faith while simultaneously avoiding giving his Jewish readers a superiority complex (as he faced in Antioch). Fourth, Paul overwhelmingly uses the rhetorical device of diatribe.10 Paul often creates imaginary opponents, anticipates their objections, then proceeds to harangue his interlocutors with a barrage of answers or censures (2:1-29; 3:1, 3, 5, 9, 27, 31; 4:1-2; 6:1, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14,19; 11:1, 9). It is interesting to note that the key feature of the ancient’s use of diatribe is that of personification, or “speech-in-character” (Gk. prosopopoiia).”11 Stanley Stowers


Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 23ff.

N.T. Wright, “Romans and the Theology of Paul,” in Pauline Theology, vol. III ed. David Hay & E. Elizabeth Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 34. Referring to Jews who were previously expelled under Emperor Claudius in 49 AD Wright argues that these internal tensions are partly due to a reverse situation to that of Antioch where Jews felt a racial superiority to the Gentile believers, which comes to a head as recorded in Galatians ch. 2. Thus Paul is forced to confront the gentile “sneering” at these strange Jewish believers, before he sets up camp there.


Napier, “Paul’s Analysis of Sin and Torah,” 17.

Napier, Paul’s Analysis of Sin and Torah, 17. Napier notes, “the clearest example of dialogical ‘speech in-character’ in Romans are 3:1-9 and 7:7-8:11”


7 observes that “…given ancient reading and writing practices, Paul’s education level, and the nature of Graeco-Roman education and rhetoric, it is almost certain that Paul received instruction in and employed prosopopoiia.”12 Diatribe is woven throughout Romans, and this will become a key argument for viewing the defeated “I” persona from an unregenerate perspective. More will be said about this later. THE LITERARY CONTEXT OF ROMANS Wright sums up the structure of Paul’s argument as a “Jewish Theology for the Gentile world, and a welcome for Gentiles designed to make the Jewish world jealous.”13 Paul begins his letter to the Romans by advancing his theme: the Gospel of God (1:1-6, 16-17). The Gospel is the focal point of his entire theology. The Gospel is for both the Jew (first) and the Gentile. Since all men (Jew and Gentile) are under the power and penalty of sin (1:18-3:31), then all men need to be saved. Paul asserts that no one will be declared in the right by mere Torah observance (3:20-31), but by faith. This faith, which is shorthand for “the obedience of faith” (1:5), is the only badge of membership for God’s new covenant people. Compressed in this argument is Paul’s insistence that Jews cannot be justified by their covenant symbols (Ch. 2: “circumcision”), possession of the Torah (Ch. 2: “hearers of the law”), or their exacting compliance with Torah (Ch. 3: “works of the law”). Nor can the Jews expect salvation based on their Abrahamic pedigree. Paul retells the story of Abraham and reminds them that it was Abraham’s obedient faith that was the basis of his being declared in the right (Ch. 4). Christ himself is the faithful and

Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans (Yale University Press, 1997), 21. Stowers points out that Paul’s education in learning how to read and write Greek correspondence would undoubtedly be reflected in his own letter writing. Stowers also argues based on Quintilian 9.2.30-33 that all forms of diatribe are π ρ ο σ ω π ο π ο ι ι α , 17-21. 13 Wright, Romans and the Theology of Paul, 30. Though Wright insists that the Gospel is not primarily a new mode of soteriology. Rather, it is the Royal announcement that Jesus is King and Caesar isn’t, Jesus is God and the Caesar cult is a sham. This message would have been at once incendiary in a world where Caesar was worshiped as lord and god.

8 obedient one, and all who are in him through death and rebirth enjoy covenant membership.14 From chapter four, Paul goes on to appeal to Israel’s national solidarity with Adam (Ch. 5). Since all are in Adam all are born into sin. To remedy this universal dilemma created through the disobedience of Adam, God inaugurated a covenant with Abraham, and that covenant is now accomplished in the second Adam, Jesus.15 After having established that the sign of demarcation for God’s new covenant people is faithful obedience to Christ, Paul goes on to anticipate the challenge to this Good News story about Christ. Since the Good News is freedom from sin and freedom from fastidious compliance to the Mosaic law, then the Gospel must promote lawlessness. Paul answers this contrived objection saying “absolutely not. How can we who are dead to sin live in it any longer?” Paul goes on to make several assertions about believers between chapters five through eight. First, the saved are dead to sin and alive to Christ (6:2-7; 11). Second, the saved are free from the enslavement of sin and are free to live according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh (6:7, 12; 8:3). Third, as former slaves to sin, the saved are no longer under law but grace (6:14). Fourth, the saved are not now condemned but are set free from the law of sin and death (5:16; 8:1-3). These affirmations regarding the new life of the believer provide the bordering context of chapter seven. We will now contend that each of these positive affirmations becomes unwound if the “I” of chapter seven is autobiographical of Paul in Christ.


Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World, 40-50.

Pheme Perkins, “Pauline Anthropology in Light of Nag Hamadi.” in The Cathlolic Biblical Quarterly: 48 (1986), 517ff. Perkins gives an excellent treatment of Romans 5 and 7 and the obvious parallels to the “I” and Adam. He points out though, that Paul’s insights into the dilemma of his countrymen were only possible if he had personally experience deliverance from them (7:24-25).

9 AN OVERVIEW OF CHAPTER SEVEN Paul establishes that he is speaking to those who “know” the law (7:1).16 He follows his contention that the believer is dead to sin’s power (ch. 6) with an analogy from marriage under the Mosaic Law (7:1-3). In the same way that one’s legal obligation to a spouse is severed at death, so too have all believers died to the power of the law and are free to betroth another (v. 4).17 Paul asserts, “For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death” (v. 5 NIV). We note Paul’s use of the past tense here. He continues in the past tense until v. 14.18 “But now,” (appealing to his point and his analogy) “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (v. 6). The significance of this last statement cannot be ignored. For in the very next passage Paul exonerates the law as a merciless and pitiless instrument that caused sin to be aroused in the flesh (vv. 7-12).19 This is the very state of affairs that Paul says is the way it “used to be.” Though the law itself is holy and virtuous, it also served as an impartial stimulus for the desires simmering below Paul’s pious exterior. Paul then ends the pericope with a summary statement that inventories his point: sin was diagnosed as sin because it produced death in Paul (with Israel in solidarity with Adam). The law underscored just how pernicious sin was. The end-result was a
Fritz, Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 363-365. “knowledge” here is γ ι ν ω σ κ ο υ σ ι ν . This is a participle (dative pl.) but Paul will shift to both the pluperfect and aorist tenses, up to v. 14, using both ο ι δ α µ ε ν and ε γ ν ω ν . The apparatus in UBS4th has ο ι δ α µ ε ν as an option for 7:15 for some later MSS, or ο ι δ α µ ε ν with no accent. But the best MSS uphold ο ι δ α µ ε ν with the inflexion.


Ibid., ε θ α ν α τ ω θ η τ ε

an aorist passive meaning “having been put to death.”

Dunn, Romans 1-8, 363. Barbara Aland and Kurt Aland, The Greek New Testament, 4th rev.ed (Stuttgart: United BibleSocieties, 1994), 535-536. This division is supported by the UBS4th, but NA27 puts the paragraph division after verses 13. Wright asserts that this misses the mark because of the clear diatribe format of question and answer (7:7, 12, 13, 20). Wright, Romans and the Theology of Paul, 46.

10 dissolution from the very Torah that he (representing Israel) cherished, longed to obey, yet couldn’t because of sin (v. 13). As any good Jewish rabbi would, Paul is retelling the story of his people and their plight.20 In summary, Paul drafts a clear image of someone who knew the law (v.1), as a result was “controlled by the flesh” (v. 5), and has since experienced death to “what once bound us” (v. 6), having been “released from the law.” Additionally, Paul was “deceived by sin” (v.11), was “put to death by sin,” which came through knowledge of Torah (v. 13). There is continuity between Paul’s (and Israel’s) past and ego, yet there is no continuity between Paul’s past and his assertions about the believer’s present state! HERMENEUTICAL POSSIBILITIES FOR “I” Many commentators have put forth various possibilities for the ego of 7:14-25.21 Cranfield mentions as many as eight, Barrett as many as four, and Witherington collapses these into two basic options.22 Witherington dismisses even the possibility that Paul is here referring to a carnal believer in light of what Paul has to say in Romans 8.23 Moo also condenses the interpretational possibilities into two choices, but allows for the possibility that Paul may be referring to the believer’s struggle with sin.24 Moo makes a compelling case for considering
Cranfield, C.E.B, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC n.s. vol.1 (T. & T. Clark, 1975, 1979), 350. Cf. Barrett, C. K. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1957), 133-134. Cranfield, Barrett, Wright & others see a clear reference to Adam and the Genesis narrative of the original fall into sin (v. 13). Paul is clearly invoking the imagery of the Decalogue in that he uses the 10th commandment to make his point. Wright goes so far as to suggest there may even be a Cain motif in vv.1320. Wright, Romans and the Theology of Paul, 47. However, Moo rejects seeing Adam here, and asserts that Paul is simply referring to a more dialed down “alive” and that this section is likely referring to Israel’s experience with the Mosaic law in general which is symptomatic of every pious Jew’s experience. p. 441.
21 20

See Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 447-449. For an overview of, Bultmann, Luther, Kummel et. al. 444. Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World, 24-26.


Ibid., 26. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 445-447. Moo cites what he believes are 5 primary lines of evidence, which appears strong enough to merit at least a rebuttal. Moo does not hold to the “regenerate” view, and though he argues for the “unregenerate” option, he stresses that the emphasis in the chapter is on the Mosaic Law.


11 essentially two possibilities. The first option is that Paul represents unregenerate Jews who live under the bondage of sin as revealed through the Mosaic Law, which they cannot keep. They posses the Torah, recognize the inherent goodness and purity of it, and in their “inner man” they strongly desire to keep it. Viewed from the believer’s perspective, the unsaved Jew cannot possibly obey the law he loves because his flesh is yet in bondage to the law of sin. The second option is that Paul represents regenerate believers who live in the eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet.”25 According to this view, when Paul speaks in the first person in the present tense, he is describing a fresh and current experience. This inner turmoil causes Paul the individual to throw himself on God’s mercy, for his fight will never be won this side of eternity.26 It must be noted that the context of these pericopae (7-13, 14-25) is that of the inherent goodness of the law and its inability to save. Regardless of where the interpreter lands relative to the “I” of 14-25, all can recognize Paul’s case that Christ is the end of the law (10:4), and though Torah has innate virtue, it is both an impotent and obsolete vehicle of personal transformation. The issue is not whether Torah is good or from God, but what role it plays in the life of the Old covenant framework. Paul indicates that Torah’s role was to make us conscious of sin, not to help us conquer it (3:20ff). ARGUMENTS FOR AN UNREGENERATE “I” We now come to the specific arguments for a pre-christian ego. James Dunn argues that the passage describes the dialectical tension that exists for every believer.27 For Dunn, Cranfield,
James D. Dunn, Romans, Romans 1-8, Romans 9-16. Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word 1988), 387-410. Dunn offers a compelling argument for the eschatological tension that the believer currently experiences. He is both the product of Adam’s epoch, and the new epoch of the Spirit.
26 25

Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 447. Dunn, Romans 1-8, 412. See also Hae-Kyung Chang’s “The Christian Life in Dialectical Tension,”


12 Barrett and others, the “I” persona describes the normative state of every believer’s internal battle. They experience both the struggle with sin in the flesh and the new life promised to all who believe. However, this view appears to go against the natural flow of Paul’s argument. As Doug Moo, Tom Wright, Ben Witherington and others have argued, Paul does not present the material as an eschatological tension. The “both and” view appears to euphemize or ignore the “either or” narrative language of Paul.28 The clear line that separates the two camps is whether Paul is speaking as a believer who is merely coping with the sinful impulses in his flesh, or whether Paul is describing someone who is utterly defeated by sin, and incapable of experiencing victory over sinful impulses. To be sure, Paul does teach in other places (Gal. 6:1ff. and implicitly in his letters to the Corinthians) that believers struggle against sin and sometimes make wrong choices. The issue in question is not if scripture teaches that believers struggle with sin, but whether this passage teaches it. The following arguments will contend that it does not. First, there is an inescapable link between ego and he sarx (“the flesh” vv. 14, 18, 25), which strongly suggests a connection to a past and unregenerate condition described in verse 5. Conversely, while ego is “of the flesh,” believers are not “in the flesh” (8:9). As noted above, Paul has drawn a visible line between the saved who were controlled by the flesh but are now free to live by the Spirit. Until v.14 Paul has repeatedly spoken of those who are “in the flesh” as outside of the saved community. Therefore, since the ego of vv. 14-25 is surely under bondage to the flesh, then Paul cannot be referring to himself in his current saved state. Citing the passages together will prove instructive:
Novum Testamentum 49 (2007): 257-280. In which Chang offers an excellent critique of Dunn’s view that Paul is speaking of himself and that he is teaching a “both and” position. Sanday, William and Arthur C. Headlam,. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. International Critical Commentary. Gen ed. Charles A. Briggs and Samuel R. Driver. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1902. Sanday & Headlam assert that Paul is unlikely referring to himself in the past or the present.

13 7:5 “For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by (or through) the law operated in our members to carry out (or bring forth) the fruit of death.” 7:14 “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh,29 having been disposed as a slave (sold) under sin.” 7:18 “For I am aware that in me, that is in my flesh, no good thing has made its home. For the to will is present with me, but how to execute the good (or that which is good) I cannot find.” 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it be so that the Spirit of God makes his home within you…” The above translations30 of these passages highlight that being controlled by the flesh was to be a past tense reality for those believers who are now controlled by the Spirit. This is suggestive of a pre-christian vs. post-christian worldview for Paul. The second argument in favor of an unregenerate ego is the inability of ego to triumph over sin because of the absence of the Holy Spirit (v. 25). Packer downplays this referring to it as an argument from silence, however the silence is unavoidable and somewhat deafening.31 Once again, Paul appears to set up a “that was then but this is now” framework saying, “But now, we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (7:6 NASB). The “I” persona of 14-25 is without the Spirit, and Paul’s panacea for this bereft and anguishing condition is now “life in the Spirit.” Moo states, “the word pneuma (spirit) occurs 21 times in
The NIV’s rendering of σ α ρ κ ι ν ο ς as “unspiritual” just won’t due. The phrase “the flesh” carries too much theological freight in Paul’s thought to simply render it semantically as “unspiritual.”


These are my own translations based on Barbara Aland and Kurt Aland, The Greek New Testament, 535538. Also Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Rev. by Fredrick W. Danker. 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). And Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT, 363-365. J.I. Packer, “The Wretched Man Revisited,” gen. eds. Sven K. Soderlund and N.T. Wright, Romans and the People of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 79-81.

14 Romans 8 and all but two refer to the Holy Spirit. This means that the Spirit is mentioned in this chapter almost once every two verses…”32 It is clear that Paul’s emphasis regarding the Spirit in Chapter 8 is new life, adoption, and hope, which does not characterize the ego of 7:14-25.33 The third argument for an unregenerate “I” is that ego is a slave to sin (v.14), a state from which all believers have been released (6:2, 6, 11, 18-22). In 6:6, Paul says that they “were slaves to sin” (v. 17), and having been freed from the body of sin, are now slaves of righteousness (v. 6, 18). Paul instructs them to present their “members” as slaves of righteousness, just as in the past they slavishly capitulated to impurity and lawlesslness (v. 19, 20). These passages demonstrate that all of Paul’s references to them as “slaves of sin” are in the past, prior to their conversion. Yet, in 7:14 Paul states, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh,34 having been sold under sin.” “Sold” in the Greek is pepramenos, the perfect passive participle of piprasko, meaning “sold as a slave or bondservant” hence the more expansive NIV rendering.35 The perfect tense is an emphasis on the state or condition of the “sold” one, resulting in slavery. Dunn curiously states of this passage, “With pepramenos, from piprasko, the metaphor of slavery so prominent in 6:16-23 is recalled.”36 He goes on to state that even though Paul has asserted that believers are set free from this slavery, this is only to be understood through Paul’s “eschatological qualification” which appears as a series of imperatives brought to bear on the indicatives of chapter 6.37 However, this “qualification”

Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 468.

Ibid., 468-469.

Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Rev. by Fredrick W. Danker, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), Also see Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the NT, 364. Dunn, Romans 1-8, 388. Dunn even quotes the influence of the LXX which most often depicts God’s people as sold into slavery. 37 Dunn, Romans 1-8, Referring to Kasemann’s view. 405-406. 6:11-13 uses imperatives in the Greek, and switches again to indicatives in verse 14.


15 appears to mute the drum beat of Paul’s contention that believers are no longer to live “according to the flesh” because they have been set free from sin’s slavery. Additionally, the fact that Dunn even links 7:14 as a recalling of the slavery motif introduced in chapter 6, seems to be an implicit admission of the active fault lines in his view. Like Dunn, Cranfield, who most often represents the Augustinian camp, asserts that the only way to come at this passage is through the lenses of the reformation.38 Cranfield insists that the defeat and despair of chapter seven must be seen as merely a different aspect of “victorious” Christian living, which on the surface appears to be vouchsafed by chapter 6 and 8. Yet, one wonders just how superficial this claim of victory over the body of sin was for Paul. It is difficult to dilute the force of Paul’s claims. Taken all together they are like a hammer to the mind. Commenting on Cranfield’s perspective, Witherington states: As even Cranfield has to admit, in 7:6 as in 8:8, 9, Paul uses the phrase en sarki (in the flesh) to denote a condition that for the Christian now belongs to the past. This seems to me an admission that must prove fatal to his argument. On the one hand, he wants to say that “we no longer have the basic direction of our lives controlled and determined by the flesh.” On the other hand, by referring 7:14-25 to the Christian as a description of the normal, even the best Christian life, Cranfield insists that when Paul says “we are fleshly” (sarkinos) sold under sin in v. 14, this is not a contradiction to the assertion that “we have been released from being in the Flesh” in a moral sense. Surely this is a case of trying to have it both ways.39 Paul tells the Romans that using their members as “instruments” (Gk. hoplon) of sin is behavior that belongs in the past not their Spirit-empowered present.40

Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 356. Cranfield specifically appeals to Calvin here.

Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World, 23.

Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 362. Sin is depicted as a Sovereign (v.12) who demands the subservience of its conquered subjects. In military terms, this Sovereign ruler “sin” levys their quota of arms (v.13), and then rewards them with the soldier’s pay of death (v.23).


16 The fourth argument for an unregenerate “I” is that ego is a “prisoner of the law of sin” (v. 23). Yet, Paul proclaims that all believers have been set free from the “law of sin” in 8:2. In chapter 6:14-15, Paul declares that they are no longer under law, but under grace. In 7:1 Paul maintains that the law only has jurisdiction over a person as long as they are alive, he then cites the rabbinic law regarding marriage. He concludes this analogy by saying “therefore, you also were made to die to the law…” (7:4). Paul goes on to assert that while they were in the flesh, the law called forth sinful desires within them (7:5). He repeats himself by saying “but now we have been released from the law…” (7:6).41 He goes on to conclude that the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin which brings death (8:2). In stark contrast to these claims, the despondent “I” in 7:23 states that he is at the mercy of the law, as the law has made him “a prisoner again in my members” (7:23). These two assertions about the believer are simply incompatible. They cannot both be true. Dunn, Cranfield et. al. argue that this is settled by verse 25. Paul concludes, “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 with my flesh the law of sin.” However, we have demonstrated that the believer is no longer bound by the Mosaic law, which would be a reference to “serving the Law of God.” As has also been demonstrated, the law of sin in the flesh is aroused by the law of God, therefore, the Torah, or Mosaic law cannot be the hope or aspiration of the believer, for they are no longer under law but grace. Additionally, Paul does not state “with the help of the Holy Spirit, I serve the law of God.” Instead he states emphatically, “I myself” (Gk. autos ego) am a slave to God’s law. Though one is tempted to extract more out of this passage than is there, it cannot be ignored that Paul abandons this entire

Barbara Aland and Kurt Aland, The Greek New Testament, 535.The conjunction δ ε is used instead of the adversative κ α ι . However, the force is still maintained with ν υ ν ι δ ε , “But now!”


17 dilemma once he introduces the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (8:1-4). Paul never again refers to obedient life in Christ with the emphatic “I myself!” which smacks of continual striving without the Spirit’s power. Verse 25 is another epigrammatic summary statement, but is still not the answer to the predicament of 13-24.42 The answer to I’s dilemma is in 8:1-4. The fifth contention for an unsaved “I” is that ego is “dead” through the law and sin (vv. 9-11), yet Paul claims that believers are “alive” to God and to “dead” to sin (6:11). In 6:1 Paul maintains that the believer is “dead” to sin. The basis of this death to sin is our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus (6:4-9). As a result, the believer is to count themselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11). The believers are to present themselves as “alive from the dead” (6:13). The believers “death” is inextricably tied to Jesus’ death to sin, which Paul maintains is “once and for all” (6:10). In contrast to this line of thought, Paul, representatively speaking, states that “when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (7:9-11). Though Paul is using past tense verbs, he has at this point made a subtle shift to the first person. 13-20 is a continuation of the state of death that Paul speaks representatively of in 7-12. The believer cannot be both dead to sin in the body (6:6), and a prisoner in his body to the law of sin (7:23). The one premise seems allergic to the other. The sixth contention for an unregenerate “I” is that ego feels compelled to keep the Mosaic law. This is incompatible with Paul’s teaching that believers are released from the dictates of the Mosaic law (6:14; 7:4-6). Paul states that the believer is no longer under the

αρ α ου ν αυ τ ο ς ε γ ω is a “terse and compressed summary of the previous paragraph, describing in two strokes the state of things before the intervention of Christ.” Sanday & Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 184.


18 jurisdiction of the Mosaic law, rather his new spiritual constitution is that of Grace through faith (6:14). This freedom from being under the law of course does not refer to the ethical core of the Torah, which is largely upheld in the New Testament.43 Yet, Paul repeatedly asserts that the believer is dead to the law, no longer under the law, and freed from the law. In contrast, the “I” of 7:14-25 cares very much to keep the law. He is in fact, obsessed with it in all its particulars, but cannot obey the Torah that is written on his conscience because sin is waiting in ambush to wreck him through the agency of the written code (7:25). The seventh argument in favor of an unregenerate view is that ego is condemned in judgment for sin while the believer experiences “no condemnation” in Christ (Ch. 8). In 5:1314, Paul establishes the symbiotic relationship between the reign of death and its custodian, the Torah. The result of this lawless era is the condemnation of all who are under this law. Again, Paul contends that the believer is freed from this law, the unbeliever is not. The dilemma comes to a sharp point in 7:14-25, for the powerless “I” is under the law, and chained to its whims. This universal dilemma ultimately finds its resolution in 8:1-2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Paul’s conclusion to the universal predicament is new life in Christ through the Spirit. In summary, the case has been made that the powerless “I” is not Paul in the present tense as a New Testament believer. We will now suggest who this “I” in the present tense refers to. As suggested earlier, it is likely that Paul is using a rhetorical convention known as “speech-in-character” (Gk. prosopopoiia, from poieo meaning “to make” and prosopos meaning

Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 387-390. Also, it is interesting to note that most commentators on both sides of the debate agree that Paul is here referring to the Mosaic law when he uses the term ν ο µ ο ς . If this is the case, then it only strengthens the argument that the believer cannot be envisaged in 7:14-25.


19 “a face.”)44 The letter writer creates an imaginary opponent (the character), contrives questions for this person (prosopon), then resolves the imaginary vice with answers and censures. Learning to modulate between prose and poetry and actual or archetypal characters was critical to the student of elementary Greek.45 Paul’s general level of Greek education was equivalent to a student with a primary education in grammaticus, or “teacher of letters.”46 The instructor of letters would assist the student in composing a letter by means of asking what questions an imaginary sophist might ask the student. This rhetorical device is called speech-in-character “because it involves the creation of speech that fits the character of some legendary, historical or type of a person.”47 The text shows ample examples of Paul’s usage of speech-in-character (2:129; 3:1, 3, 5, 9, 27, 31; 4:1-2; 6:1, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14,19; 11:1, 9). Since speech-in-character is overwhelmingly Paul’s rhetorical choice in order to advance his case, we must ask what evidence is there that the “I” persona of chapter 7 is a rhetorical flourish.48 First, Paul has used this device repeatedly. Moreover, in at least one other instance (and arguably in chapter 2 as well) Paul specifically speaks with his opponent’s voice. In 3:7, Paul states, “Yet if through my lie, the truth of God abounded to his glory, why am I being
Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 11-37. See also the most well known usages of προ σ ω π ο π ο ι ι α in Cicero, Quintillian, the Progymnasmata (elementary rhetorical excercises) of Theon, Hermongones, Aphthonius, all provide the best evidence of speech-in-character. Quintilian, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratio (Institutes of Oratory) (London: George Bell & Sons, 1892), Ch. XI. It is clear that Paul intends his Roman readers to sense these basic rhetorical conventions, though they are difficult for us to see. Ancient Greek had no sense units or textual arrangements or punctuation. The student of elementary letter writing would have to learn the skill of imposing a rhythmic, and inflected speech which was a primary interpretive tool. Quintilian for ex. taught his students to carefully score their ideas with these devices. Also see Diogenes’ use of letter writing and Pauline parallels to Papyri, C. K. Barrett, ed. The New Testament Background: Writings from the Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire That Illuminate Christian Origins. Rev. ed. (London: Harper Collins, 1995), 23-50. See also Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 17.
47 46 45 44

Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 17-18. N.T. Wright, “Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Abingdon Press: 1996), 551-555.


20 condemned as a sinner [emphasis mine]?” Like the 7:14-25 passage, Paul uses the first person pronoun “I” as well as the present tense. Yet, no one believes that Paul is speaking of himself in the present tense as a “sinner” who is going to receive God’s “condemnation” (especially in light of chapter 8:1-2). The above conclusion may seem self-evident due to the context of chapter 3, but as we are arguing, it seems equally inescapable that this is also the case in 7:14-25. The way the interpreter of the text recognizes personification in chapter seven is the same way they recognize it in chapter three. Clarity is achieved by appealing to the context. As has been previously argued, believers are not condemned, are dead to sin, freed from the law etc. But the “I” of 14-25 stands condemned, is dead through sin, and enslaved to the law. This leads to the conclusion that Paul is not referring to himself in a saved state. Paul has repeatedly engaged in diatribe in general throughout the book, he specifically engaged in impersonating an opposing view in chapter three, and it appears that he is using this device again in 7:14-25.49 Packer dismisses the rhetorical argument of the historical present.50 Yet, he fails to address prosopopoiia. Quintilian, a younger Roman contemporary of Paul was a prominent Roman professor of rhetoric and is known for teaching his students “impersonation” or “character making” (prosopopoiia).51 Packer, Dunn et. al. appear to object primarily on the grounds that Paul speaks so personally and with such angst. Yet, this is the very feature that makes this rhetorical device work with its readers.52 It is provocative, interesting and easily
Napier, “Paul’s Analysis of Sin and Torah,” 17-18. Napier notes further that 7:7-12 also begins with an identical preamble to rhetorical π ρ ο σ ω π ο π ο ι ι α . This sudden change to the first person singular is known as µ ε τ α β ο λ η , and ε ν α λ λ α γ η .
50 49

J.I. Packer, “The Wretched Man Revisited,” 89.

John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul (New York: Oxford Press, 2005), 72. Also see J. Paul Sampley, Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003), 211.


Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 11-36.

21 grabs the readers attention. Even though Paul has stated that it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation, he never-the-less uses rhetoric that appeals to his Gentile and Jewish readers. ANSWERS TO COMMON OBJECTIONS The first common objection that Paul is speaking of himself as the “I” who longs to obey but can’t because of sin, is that he claims a previous faultlessness in regards to legalistic righteousness (Phil. 3:6). Two points must be made about this. First, “faultless” does not mean “sinless.” Part of the legalistic system that Paul upheld also required Jews to practice various sacrificial laws prescribed by Torah. Dunn contends that the sacrificial laws were intended as a “concession to the Jews’ weaknesses.”53 Implicit in this offering is the admission of isolated acts of sin, even though rabbis might be “flawless” in regards to their compliance with ritual law.54 So Paul could experience a real struggle with lust, covetousness and selfish ambition, even though he was ritually compliant.55 Some pharisaic rituals were indeed preventative, and some were curative, recognizing the inevitability of cross-contamination in everyday life. Thus, part of Paul’s “faultlessness in regards to Torah” was obedience to their national system of purity and atonement for sins. Obviously, Paul would not claim that he was a morally perfect Pharisee.56 The second answer to this first objection is how can Paul believe that he was faultless in the past as a rabbi without the power of the Holy Spirit, and then come to believe that he is powerless against sin as a believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who hold this view

James D. G. Dunn, Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 A.D. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 1999. 328.


E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (London: Fortress Press, 1983). 18-22.

Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (London: Oxford University Press, 2000), 136. Also N.T. Wright, Christian Origins and the People of God, (London: Fortress Press, 1992), 185. N.T. Wright, Christian Origins and the People of God (London: Fortress Press, 1992), 185. Both the Haberim and Hassidim Pharisees practiced ritual purity rites to some degree, though the Haberim were much more fanatical about preventative and curative rituals.

22 cannot have it both ways. For if Paul (in their view) cannot have a past struggle with sin when he only had the impotent Torah, he certainly cannot have a present struggle with sin now that he has participated in the Holy Spirit’s new life, which sets him free from the power of sin and death. Paul himself refutes this argument by saying emphatically, “for what the law was powerless to do, in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his son…” (8:3). A second objection to the unregenerate view is that an unsaved person cares nothing for the law. Those who cite this objection usually focus on 7:22, which states, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” The contention is that the unbeliever cannot have this inner disposition towards God’s statutes. However, this assertion is self evidently false. To suggest that an unregenerate person cannot have a strong desire to obey the ethical demands of God’s law (which may well be written on their hearts) is flimsy. Moreover, Paul is not referring to all humanity and all forms of “law,” he is specifically addressing the Torah and the Jew who has it, longs to obey it, but finds himself in bondage to the sinful nature without the power of the Spirit. Also, the Greek phrase sundemai gar ho nomos is a nonassociative dative which follows a sunverbal construction. The vast majority of these constructions are impersonal and do not express personal agency.57 Paul is not personally recalling his present and personal struggle with sin. CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS We began our study by asking if Paul intended his readers to understand the despondent and frustrated “I” persona as himself, representing the plight of all believers for all time. The arguments marshaled to controvert this view have seemed compelling and decisive. Furthermore, the implication of holding to the regenerate view is that Paul is describing the ideal.

Daniel B.Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. See Also Vaughn and Gideon, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, 48-62. They state that the dative is sometimes used of things, but of things “personified.”


23 Indeed, few could claim to live as upright and holy as Paul did in this life. Few could match his zeal for service, his capacity for self-sacrifice, and his passion for God in Christ. If this is the case, then what Paul describes in 7:14-25 is not only the normative Christian life but the best possible Christian life. Thus, the defeat and despondency of vv. 14-25 mitigate Paul’s thunderous announcement of victory in chapters six and eight, altering it to mere theological mumbling, and but a whisper of what will be. However, if we take the unregenerate view, we may let Paul’s thunderclap of triumph over the power of sin be fully heard. This of course does not ensure that we will be rid of the presence of sin in this life. But the unregenerate “I” viewpoint will help us find steel in our bones and iron in our soul to face the day as Paul intended: victoriously!

BIBLIOGRAPHY Aland, Barbara and Kurt Aland, The Greek New Testament, 4th rev.ed. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994. Barrett, C. K. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1957. __________. ed. The New Testament Background: Writings from the Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire That Illuminate Christian Origins. Rev. ed. London: Harper Collins, 1995. Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Rev. by Fredrick W. Danker. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. Cranfield, C.E.B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. ICC n.s. 2 vols. T. & T. Clark, 1975, 1979.

24 Dunn, James D. G. Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 A.D. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 328. ______________. Romans 1-8, Romans 9-16. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word 1988. Gager, John G. Reinventing Paul. New York: Oxford Press, 2005. Hae-Kyung, Chang. “The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered.” in Novum Testamentum. 49: (2007) 257-280. Klawans, Jonathan. Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. London: Oxford University Press, 2000 Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. In the New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Napier, Daniel. “Paul’s Analysis of Sin and Torah in Romans” 7:7-25. in Restoration Quarterly. Packer, J.I. “The Wretched Man Revisited.” gen. eds. Sven K. Soderlund and N.T. Wright. Romans and the People of God, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. Perkins, Pheme. “Pauline Anthropology in Light of Nag Hamadi.” in The Cathlolic Biblical Quarterly: 48, (1986). Quintilian. Quintilian’s Institutio Oratio (Institutes of Oratory). London: George Bell & Sons, 1892. Rienecker, Fritz and Rogers, Cleon. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980. Sanday, William and Arthur C. Headlam,. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. International Critical Commentary. Gen ed. Charles A. Briggs and Samuel R. Driver. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1902. Sampley, J. Paul. Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003. Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, vol. I Apostolic Christianity. Hendrickson Publishers: 1996. Stowers, Stanley. The Diatribe and Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981. ______________. A Rereading of Romans. Conneticut: Yale University Press, 1997.

25 Vaughn, Curtis and Gideon, Virtus. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979. Witherington, Ben. Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph. Louiseville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Wright N.T. “Romans and the Theology of Paul.” in Pauline Theology, vol. III ed. David Hay & E. Elizabeth Johnson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995. __________. The New Testament and the People of God. London: Fortress Press, 1992. __________. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: Fortress Press, 1992 __________. “Romans.” in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press: 1996.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful