Thursday, May 21, 2015

My still uninformed thoughts on Romans 7

At one point in my life, I thought I would conquer Romans when I was 30.  Now, I think my goal is to conquer Romans when I am "30s".  This means I still have 9 years left.  Oh, what an "s" can do to schedules!

I basically stopped the regular habit of reading Romans commentaries, memorizing those verses, listening to lectures/sermons.  I just got Romansed out.  But my wife just bought me the new project by Psallos where they walk through the entire book through musical performance.  Very, very cool, and wonderful gift! Also, a perfect gift in a situation where adding another book to the library would be just one more book that we would eventually, one day, have to bring back to the States.

Romans is an amazing book, but it is super challenging.  I've heard one person refer to it as Everest.  Part of what makes it so difficult is all the available literature and history of exegesis.  Less-researched passages of scripture are easier to form an opinion on, because usually there are only a few people that I really respect and trust that have commented on the exegetical question.  Since they often agree, it's easy for me just to go along with their interpretation.

But there are many controversial passages in Romans that have ultra-conservative commentators in the exact same theological streams forming drastically different opinions.

One such case is the passage in Romans 7.  I won't do a roundup.  But the big question here is: "who is Paul referring to?"  There are 3 choices: (1) Paul, (2) Israel, (3) Adam.

Most people you read from before this century believed it was Paul.  The Puritans I read never even look at the other options.  Fastforward to the 20th century and now it's difficult to find a scholar who believes this is talking about Paul.  Some examples, for those who care: Bruce Ware, NT Wright, and Doug Moo take this as referring to Israel.  Michael Horton takes it as Paul.  Tom Schriener leans towards Paul.  But recently (last 20 years or so) more and more are adopting the "Adam" choice.  There was a PhD thesis paper that someone did at TEDS a while back that really awakened the academic world to this in a new light.  And I've heard both Tom Schriener and Douglas Moo say in their lectures that if they wrote their commentaries again, they would give this position more attention.

Why is there such a temptation to see this as referring to Adam?  First of all, you have the Adam/Christ parallel that has already been brought up in chapter 5.  Second, look at verse 9 below:

Romans Chapter 7, Verses 7-12:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no meansYet if it had not been for the law o I would not have known sinFor I would not have known what it is to covet if p the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin q seizing an opportunity through the commandmentproduced in me all kinds of covetousnessr For apart from the lawsin lie sdead. I was once alive apart from the lawbut when the commandment camesin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment s that promised life proved to be death tome. 11 For sin t seizing an opportunity through the commandment u deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So v the law is holyand the commandment is holy and righteous and good

Verse 9 is tricky one here, isn't it? As I've already pointed out in a previous post, it's difficult to see how this could be talking about anyone but Adam.  Weren't we born in sin?  The Bible never talks about us being born alive and at some point dying.  I haven't consulted a Roman Catholic commentary on this; maybe this is support for the "age of accountability"?  I don't know.  But it's difficult for me to see how this could be talking about anyone after Adam.

However, we need to say that, if pressed, we could see this verse as referring to the modern experience in that, in one sense, this experience is true in our personal lives.  Every one of us, in Adam, has sinned like him.  We replicate the human story over and over again.  We weren't born into the world without sin, but we replicate Adam's sin who did that.  The commandment comes, we sin, we die.  (Much of this point and even the language used was borrowed from Tom Schriener)

This kind of goes along with something a mentor/friend of mine said concerning this question:
It seems to me that the alive and dead throughout Romans 7 are almost logical constructs about authority and control vs. Freedom. When I am alive I am free to act, when I am dead I am controlled or bound by something. So in verse 9, before I knew anything about the law I was able (as far as I knew) to do my own thing. But then when I became aware of the laws/ commands the sin that was there - but had nothing to rebel against, sprang into action. I became bound/controlled by the sin, and not free to do the right things....but I am not a theologian and don't play one on TV. Rob
We become bound by sin and the law is the catalyst to show us what not to do.  Our human natures, before we are Christians, are not seeking to glorify God - they are, in fact, actively working against that. So when the law comes, our natures are drawn to transgress the law so that we can dishonor Him.

But the harder question to answer is: Are verses 15-25 talking about the Christian life or the Non-Christian life.  Even the camp that says 7:7-25 refers to Paul are split between those who think it is referring to him BEFORE his conversion and those who believe it is referring to him AFTER conversion.  This is a touchy subject for some people.  Bruce Ware thinks the right interpretation of this passage is a really big deal.  Holding the position that this passage is referring to Israel in an unregenerate condition, he believes that many Christians are wrongly using this passage to justify defeat in their lives.

I definitely don't think it's as big a deal as Ware makes it out to be.  But I think we can agree that interpreting it correctly is important.

The arguments that it is referring to Non-Christians are compelling:

(1) Paul, in Romans 6 and 8 says that we are NOT slaves to sin.  ("The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.")  So, how could he say here, in 7:14 that we are "sold under sin" and in 7:23 that we are "captive to the law of sin"?  As Bruce Ware points out: Paul is not talking about an internal struggle - he's talking about abject captivity and submission.  "Not the ability to carry it out" (7:18b)

(2) The structure of Romans 7-8ff indicates this.  7:5 is about the non-Christian and is parallel to 7:7-25.  7:6 is about the Christian and is parallel to Romans 8:1 and following.  Thus, 7:7-25 is referring to non-Christians.

But these arguments can be answered pretty easily I think.  As for "(1)" above, I think we can just say that this is a part of the already-not-yet in a Christian's life.  Yes, we are now dead to sin.  Yet, we still live in the period where the Old Age and the New Age overlap.  And "(2)" is just an argument from structure.  Maybe this is what Paul intended.  Maybe it isn't.  Not a very strong argument, and easily dodged.

So in the end, I don't really know.  Paul's point is that the law is unable to transform us.  Non-Christians experience this totally.  Christians experience this in-part due to the already-not-yet.

I'm happy to hold this position right now.  Tom Schriener didn't even make a decision in his commentary.  So, I'll hold out and wait and see if I form more solid opinions on it.

Really enjoy the comments on this.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan, just in general -due to your comments- I have been reading through Romans 6 through 8 repeatedly over the last week or more - since your post. Personally, I don't see any reasonable way that Paul is not just talking about himself as a Christian and likewise specifically talking to other Christians who were familiar with the law. Through the verses previous to this and throughout Paul says that he is talking to believers (all the "we's" and "us's") as he is writing and never specifically changes his audience. He's referencing the Christian life, how we aren't bound by sin any longer (we don't have to sin), but when we do sin we experience life as though we were still bound. Our "flesh" still desires control and wants us to do our own thing our own way. But through Christ we are free to obey Him and we are not bound to obey our flesh (as we were before we believed), and Christ is victorious. The theological difficulties come in, I think, when we have predetermined what those individual verses "must" mean or we feel threatened that our theological house of cards will come tumbling down. Again, that's just me -and I am still not a theologian- but I want to follow Christ and see what His word says and how that relates to me. I look forward to any of your other musings. Rob