Paul and Sin: Romans 7 (mainly)

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Daniel Wee
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Paul and Sin: Romans 7 (mainly)

Post by Daniel Wee »

Romans 7 in plain English (hopefully) (but not necessarily coherent)

Rom 7:1-4 A very tortured and convoluted attempt at explaining how man is both under law and yet can be free from law. Frankly, I don't think Paul's does a very good job here. If you follow the elements of his illustration:-
a) we are the woman, the law is the husband
b) we are married to the law
c) if the husband dies, the wife is freed from the marriage
d) so the law is dead, and we are no longer under the law

but then in Rom 7:4 Paul says WE are dead to the law? He could not bring himself to say that the law (of Moses) is dead because he was a Jew, and he knew that would be an impossible statement to make. So, instead, he says that we are dead to the law - completely departing from the illustration he started making. We could soften this if we paraphrase it this way:-
a) Christ allowed us to divorce from the law
b) so that we can be married to Christ

As I said - I think Paul botched up the illustration, departing from the logic of the example. He needs to contend with:-
a) God is the one who gave the law
b) He himself says that the law (of Moses) is not sin
c) since he can't pin the failure on God, and he doesn't dare to pin it on the law directly, he needs a victim
d) enter "sinful nature" - okay, so the failure is not God, nor the law, nor me, but "sin"
e) but he doesn't really explain what this "sin" is, and how it is different from our natural selves

To make matters worse - in Rom 7:5 he talks about "sinful passions". Now passions are not independent entities - we can't blame passions without blaming the person. Furthermore, passions are not the same as "nature". So why does Paul even introduce this idea of sinful passions, keeping in mind that his idea is that law-consciousness arouses the sinful passions. Does this mean that law-consciousness also arouse sinful-nature? The apparent reason for this is because it looks like Paul is setting up for Rom 7:11 onwards where he starts to talk about "sin" as a separate entity altogether, no longer as passions or even nature.

Rom 7:6 We are free from the law (echoing 7:4) because we are dead to the law (ie. the woman, and not the husband is dead). We serve in the "newness of the Spirit" vs. "oldness of the written law." [What this actually means needs to be investigated.]

Rom 7:7 The law (of Moses) is good - we recognize what is sinful through what is revealed concerning God's will in the law.

Rom 7:8 All of a sudden "sin" has become an independent power:-
a) able to produce in us evil desire
b) able to deceive (7:11)
c) able to dwell in us (7:16)
d) able to control our actions (7:17)

To make matters even worse, Paul spins off into a whole diatribe on the "flesh" where he says:-
a) there is no good in the flesh
b) but the flesh is able to will to do good
c) but unable to perform it
[Conclusion: Paul is schizophrenic! (just kidding)]

Rom 7:21 As if that was not enough, Paul introduces yet another concept - the "law of sin". Sin had gone from being a passion, to a nature, to a powerful entity that dwells in us, that can take the blame, and now it is a law unto itself! Paul sees THREE laws altogether - the law (of Moses), the law of sin, and the law of his mind (7:23). It might be argued that the law of his mind is the same as the law of Moses but given all that he has said against the law of Moses, this seems unlikely. And yet, since the law of his mind wars against the law of sin, those two can't be the same. It must be said, at this point, that Paul's usage of the word "law" is pretty loose, and he sounds really confused. No wonder he says "O wretched man that I am!"

Rom 7:1 - law is over all man
Rom 7:4 - we are freed from the law since we are dead
Rom 7:6 - law can't be good since we are "delivered" from it
Rom 7:7 - but law is not sin, it helps us recognize sin
Rom 7:9 - but sin (entity) used the law to kill us
Rom 7:12 - therefore the law is good and holy (what??? Paul - you're not making sense!)
Rom 7:13 - law makes sin even more sinful
Rom 7:14 - but the law is spiritual
Rom 7:15 - I've no idea what I'm talking about!!!
Rom 7:16 - I agree that the law is good
Rom 7:16 - but part of me defies the law - this part is sin, sinful passion, sinful nature, law of sin
Rom 7:21 - there is a principle of sin in me
Rom 7:22 - I delight in the law
Rom 7:23 - but I struggle with my inward nature, this sin principle, this "human nature"
Rom 7:25 - I am schizo! I want to do the law but often fail to do so.

Rom 8:2 - I am free from the law of sin by the "law of the Spirit" (uh-huh, yet another "law")
Rom 8:3 - the law of Moses was weak [actually... the flesh was weak. The law only pointed this out.]
Rom 8:4 - we can fulfill the law (of Moses) by walking according to the Spirit

Next Paul brings up a whole new attempt at resolving this issue - by introducing the idea of "walking according to the Spirit."

Up to this point, what is clear is that:-
1. Paul is trying to explain this for himself
2. He is explaining why he fails in keeping the law
3. but pushes the fault to the law (in that it was weak) and the sin nature, sinful passions, law of sin
4. Yet he cannot bring himself to say the law is bad, though he virtually says so
5. So he vacillates between saying the law causes sin and that the law is good
6. Eventually he basically gives up this attempt and starts on a different track altogether

The real problem Paul faced was the sinful nature of every man. Knowing the law doesn't automatically give us the power to choose correctly every time. We will always struggle to make the right choice. Paul recognizes that the knowing is different from the ability to perform what the mind wills. He attributes this to something that he identifies in a variety of ways - flesh, sin, sinful passions, sinful nature, law of sin, etc. Basically Paul is not consistent in the usage of his terms (or even in his illustrations.) Paul ends Rom 7 without finding an answer to his predicament, root of which is our human propensity to be selfish.

In Rom 8, Paul says that if we walk according to the Spirit, there is no condemnation. It is implied that if we walk in the flesh (which is to walk apart from the law of God) there will be condemnation. The new question now is - what is this "walking according to the Spirit" that Paul has in mind.
Daniel Wee
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Re: Paul and Sin: Romans 7 (mainly)

Post by Daniel Wee »

It is possible that Paul may have Jer 31:33-34 in mind and may have read it to mean that God, through his Spirit, gives us a law in our hearts. Paul cannot deny this but has to explain why, in spite of having this law in our hearts and in spite of not needing to be taught, that we do not see an ontological difference in our natures. This could be Paul's philosophical Rubik's cube.
Rachel Lam
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Joined: Sat 05 May 05 2012 12:05 am

Re: Paul and Sin: Romans 7 (mainly)

Post by Rachel Lam »

Hi Pastor Daniel,

I have to disagree on your interpretation of the illustration of Romans 7.
It is actually quite clear what Paul is saying, with regards to sin and our relationship with the Law and the Spirit of life and our new relationship with the Law.

Okay, using your starting point (I'm going to redefine it):
The elements of Paul's illustration:-
The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?
A) A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives
B) But if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
A) She will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.
B) But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Then according to New American Standard Bible (©1995)
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.

What I see that Paul is illustrating from the subsequent verses:
Therefore, my brethren,
A) You also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ,
B) 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.
A) 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.
B) 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.

What I see here in this interchange is that
1) It is us who died (not the law) through the body of Christ - thus the woman died if you want to tie to the first illustration.
Therefore, our sinful relationship with the Law is ended with the death of Christ.
2) It is Christ who lives, raised from the dead by the Father - thus a "new" woman (Spirit of Life) now marries the husband (Law) and it is the perfect relationship for the Spirit of God is able to live in perfect fulfillment to the Law.
Therefore, we have a new perfect relationship with the Law which started with the resurrection of Christ (in whom we are hidden).

Hope this brings a clearer interpretation of what Paul is writing here.
Sorry, this has been bugging me for some days which I haven't been able to properly articulate until now.

I would like to submit this to your testing Ps Daniel :)

Daniel Wee
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Re: Paul and Sin: Romans 7 (mainly)

Post by Daniel Wee »

Thanks for thinking through this Rachel.

The way I see it, and as you point out, there is an "interchange". Where in the analogy, we are the woman, the husband dies and we are free, Paul applies this wrongly - in this case, the woman dies and is then free from the husband who is still alive? The whole point of this is that as long as the husband is alive, we are never free - according to the analogy.

Paul knows he can not say that the Law is dead, he is Jewish enough to know better than that. As a result, he has no choice but to say that we are dead instead. It is this switch-around that is basically a failure of the analogy. He makes several assumptions here that is not fully explained.

1. The assumption that if we died with Christ, we are no longer bound to the Law. Paul's own position vacillates on this issue.

2. The Law doesn't condemn us. It is sin that does causes the problem. This is why the Law can't be the one who dies. Paul ends up saying that it is sin that is condemned, but if so, why do we need to die?

3. Paul himself asserts that the fulfilment of the Law is to love. If that's the case, this analogy breaks down since we have no need for a breaking of relationship with the Law.

4. The Law in the covenant is intrinsic. If we are released from the law's curses, we are also released from its promises. Paul never explains the mechanism of this release, which is needed because once he made the "interchange" his analogy breaks down. The Law is still alive, we are still alive. Being born again does not release us from the Law nor the covenant.

To be honest, when we consider Paul's doctrine of the law in detail and as a whole, there are a lot of such loopholes. Right now I have a table full of books specifically on this issue and have been researching this for months. It might be possible to give Paul the benefit of the doubt here and there but it looks like there is a problem of consistency in the way he portrays the Law. I suspect this is because he is still working it out.

This is a matter of great interest to me because I think (and not just me but many top Pauline scholars appear to agree) that there are some real issues in how we understand Paul. A lot of the traditional readings gloss over many of these issues and Paul isn't as systematic in his doctrine as previously thought. This is just the tip of the iceberg because there some incredibly interesting studies in Paul vs. James and the evidence is very compelling - leading me to understand Paul differently and to see him more as a pastor than a theologian.
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