The Crystal Clarity of Romans — Menu

Introduction—”We should expect to find Paul’s chief points of doctrine boldly stated, and nothing material hidden behind subtleties that only a scholar amongst the recipients could understand.”

Part A—Neither pagan ritual nor studious law-keeping can get us to God.

Part B—Only the work of Christ, apprehended by faith, brings us to God

Part C—The extraordinary love that we saw in action when we were estranged from God assures us that it will continue now we are reconciled to him.

Part D1—A new way to think: identification with Christ gives reason and motivation to withstand sin.

Part D2—Another new way to think: pragmatically compare the old way of life with what is possible in the new.

Part E—In Romans 7, it is unnecessary to precisely identify “I”. Whoever “I” is, a law-based approach to sanctification is certain to fail.

Part F—The new way of the Spirit replaces the never-competent Law.

Part G—Our present frailty and suffering is not a contradiction of our glorious standing in Christ.

Part H—God’s glorious purpose will not be thwarted.

Image attribution: https://morguefile.com/photos/morguefile/1/crystal ,by lisaleo

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The Crystal Clarity of Romans — Intro

Overview

“Perspicuity refers to something that can be seen through, i.e., to lucidity, clearness of style or exposition, freedom from obscurity: the perspicuity of her argument” (Dictionary.com), and I contend that Paul’s grand meaning in Romans is perspicuous.

Certainly, there are debates about whether the righteousness that was reckoned to Abraham and to us describes just a change in our judicial standing or also a qualitative change in our nature. Certainly, there are debates over the identity of the wretched man in Romans 7, and over other details.Certainly, the world has seen many better-disciplined rhetoricians than Paul, Nevertheless, I believe that any confusion over his grand meaning has arisen because scholars have so obsessed over details that they have lost sight of the forest in their preoccupation with trees and twigs.

In this series of posts, I will attempt to show that the substantive meaning of Romans is indeed perspicuous, despite the ill-directed efforts of some scholars who have made it seem otherwise.

In these posts, the Greek text is from The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition.  Copyright © 2010 by Society of Biblical Literature and Logos Bible Software. If the English translation source of a passage is not identified, it is my own; otherwise it is identified by one of the standard abbreviations – ASV, ESV, KJV, NIV, etc.

I have included transliteration of most of the Greek passages mainly for the benefit of my teenage grandson, who often takes an interest in my tweets and blog posts.

The image at the head of this post was found at commons.wikimedia.org. Attribution: Trish Steel

Introductory Comments

There was a message that was clear in Paul’s own mind, and that he wished to communicate to the Christians in Rome, who were believers from both Gentile and Jewish backgrounds. When he despatched his letter, he obviously thought he had written something that was fit for purpose, something intelligible to ordinary Jews, Greeks, and Romans who had an everyday grasp of Greek and an ordinary grasp of the culture that surrounded them. We can take it that his intent was the same as the one that he expressed to the Corinthians, “οὐ γὰρ ἄλλα γράφομεν ὑμῖν ἀλλ’ ἢ ἃ ἀναγινώσκετε ἢ καὶ ἐπιγινώσκετε”, “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand” (2 Cor. 1:13 – English translation is from the NIV).  Therefore, we should expect to find his chief points of doctrine boldly stated, and nothing material hidden behind subtleties that only a scholar amongst the recipients could understand.

There is a pattern in Romans, first seen at 1:16-17. Paul delivers a key statement or a related cluster of statements. In each statement, he uses bold, memorable language that he can expect will ring in the hearers’ ears even as he continues on to prove and defend the statement. As he develops each proof, he may say things that sound like modifications of the key statement, but they never are. He has stated his thesis emphatically and so he is entitled to expect that, when his hearers note a seeming dissonance between the thesis and some subsequent sentence, their interest will be piqued and they will do him the courtesy of waiting to see how he resolves the dissonance. The dissonances are not signs of confusion in Paul’s own thinking – quite the opposite.

The Grand Thesis

The first major cluster occurs at 1:16-17, where Paul asserts five things.

  1. “δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν” (dunamis gar theou estin eis sōtērian) – [the gospel] is the power of God for salvation
  2. “παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι” (panti tō pisteuonti) – to everyone who believes
  3. “Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι” (Ioudaiō te prōton kai Hellēni) – to [the] Jew first, and to [the] Greek.
  4. “δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται” (dikaiosunē gar theou en autō apokaluptetai) – righteousness of/from God is revealed in/by the gospel
  5. “ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται” (ek pisteōs eis pistin, kathōs gegraptai ho de dikaios ek pisteōs zēsetai) – the key to this revelation and this righteousness is faith.

Those five points constitute the major thesis of Romans. Beginning at 1:18, through to the end of chapter 11, Paul will develop and defend them, then apply them in chapters 12 to 16. As I summarise that content, I believe I can show that Paul’s grand meaning is indeed crystal clear, and the points of uncertainty irrelevant.

However, before I go on to do that, there is a point of debate that needs to be discussed. What meaning did Paul expect his Roman hearers to ascribe to the word pistis? Some have suggested that ek pisteōs refers obliquely to the faithfulness of Christ. If that is so, then perhaps by eis pistin is intended the life of practical faithfulness which ought to be true of Christians.

I think, certainly not. Firstly, although Paul’s overall doctrine of the Christian life agrees with James that faith without works is dead, pistis in Paul undoubtedly is usually best translated by “faith” or “belief”, and so eis pistin evokes delivery into a state of confessing belief, with the believer’s subsequent faithfulness not an issue in the immediate context. Therefore, it is unlikely that Paul has inserted a different nuance into ek pisteōs. Secondly, though of course, Paul’s hearers did not necessarily know the meaning Paul usually ascribed to pistis, Paul’s use of the word earlier, in verse 12, shows that he took for granted that the Romans would understand the word the same way, too. He says, “τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν συμπαρακληθῆναι ἐν ὑμῖν διὰ τῆς ἐν ἀλλήλοις πίστεως ὑμῶν τε καὶ ἐμοῦ” (“that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” – NIV).

What a shallow “encouragement” that would be, if the Romans and Paul were to sit down and swap yarns about their own faithfulness. No, obviously it is the object of their mutual faith, Jesus Christ, who will be the source of the encouragement. Paul hopes to learn even more of Christ as the Romans share their experience with him, and he expects the Romans will be encouraged in the same way by what he (Paul) can share with them. Pistis clearly means a state of confessing belief.

I have just spent three paragraphs trying to adjudicate on a point of controversy. A thorough commentary would give even more time to the question. Does that mean, as is often alleged, that Paul’s message is difficult to understand? No. We 21st Century readers need to pause and take that time, but his original hearers would have understood immediately and been ready accordingly for Paul to continue his exposition.

Note, too (as verses 7 and 12 show), that Paul is writing to people who already had faith. Whether the gospel had come to them via Petrine, Pauline, Johannine or other channels, they had believed that God had made this Jesus, who had been crucified and then had risen, both Lord and Messiah, and they had repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. (Cf. Acts 2:36-38). Therefore, Paul does not write to induce faith but to expand the understanding of those who already had faith, so that they might better understand what God had given them.

If, therefore, you start your study of Romans from a point of studious critical neutrality, you are almost certain to miss the point. You will not hear Paul’s words as the Romans did, and so you will not comprehend his meaning. These treasures are, indeed, revealed from faith to faith. It is not at all unscholarly to bring your pre-existing faith to your study of Romans. It is very nearly essential.

Next: First Subsidiary Thesis (1:18): Sinful Humanity is Under God’s Wrath

 

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – B

B. Second Subsidiary Thesis: (3:20-24)
The Work of Christ, Apprehended by Faith, Brings us to God

Νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται, μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν, δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή. πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ, δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·
– “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:20-24, NIV).

Paul’s grand thesis asserted that the righteousness of God was revealed in the gospel (1:17). Now he develops that assertion further in six ways.

  1. δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται (dikaiosunē theou pephanerōtai)–righteousness from God has been made manifest: not just revealed (apokaluptetai, as in 1:17) but plainly so. (Would Paul be surprised that some people find his exposition here in Romans confusing? I think so!)
  2. διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (dia pisteōs Christou)–through faith in Jesus Christ
  3. εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας (eis panta tous pisteuontas)–to all who believe/have faith
  4. δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν (dikaioumenoi dōrean)–(believers) are freely justified. (And we really need to coin a new English word, “righteousified”, don’t we, to convey that “justify” (dikaioō) and “righteousnessness” (dikaiosunē) are cognate words?)
  5. τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι (tē autou chariti)–by his (God’s) grace
  6. διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (dia tēs apolutrōseōs tēs en Christō Iesou)–through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Note

While pisteōs Christou could refer to the faith or faithfulness of Christ, I doubt that it does, firstly because (as discussed earlier concerning 1:17), I don’t think it likely that Paul has muddied his explanation by assigning two shades of meaning to pistin and its cognates in such close proximity, and, secondly, because Christ’s own faithfulness only comes up in a secondary way in Apostolic preaching and teaching of the gospel. It is not a prominent part of the kerygma – not just Paul’s kerygma; the Apostolic kerygma generally. Therefore, I don’t think Paul would have expected that meaning to come to the minds of his Roman hearers, and so I don’t think he would have intended it.

I think the reason for the close collocation of pisteōs and pisteuontas is that the first throws the emphasis onto the object of our faith, and the second onto the universality of the blessing that is available. It is available to all who believe. And I think that is exactly how the Roman Christians would have understood it, who had all come to faith somehow or other as a result of the Apostolic kerygma.

  • I should add that I hope that all scholars now recognise that the idea has been well-discredited that what we have as the kerygma is just a late first century or even second century distortion of the original. (See, e.g., Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony”, 2e). We know what the kerygma was, and we can bring that knowledge to the study of Romans.

Despite the preceding discussion, though, please note that, even if pisteōs is after all a reference to Christ’s own faithfulness, that does not subtract from the force of the doctrine that Paul is stating: righteousness from God is taken hold of by faith. And, note again, even though we in the 21st Century have had to pause for that discussion, no such pause would have been necessary for Paul’s original readers, who would have taken his meaning immediately. Paul is not difficult to understand!

Further comments

In the above six points, Paul has made these identifications:

  • The source of the righteousness–God
  • The recipients of this righteousness–all who believe
  • The price to us of this righteousness–nothing
  • God’s motive–grace
  • There was a price, nevertheless, for apolutrōseōs is a release obtained on payment of a ransom
  • The agent of this redemption is Christ Jesus. (Note: we don’t need to resolve whether ἐν (en) is best translated here as “in” or “by”. The believer’s identification with Christ is not yet in focus at this point in the development of Paul’s argument. Accept either meaning, and you can still go forward with Paul.)

Exposition B, Part 1 (3:25-26):
Christ’s Blood Makes Possible a True Mercy Seat

(I know that, in the Greek, verses 25 and 26 are part of the same sentence that began at least at the “ou gar” in verse 22. However, in their content they seem to me expansions on what Paul has already stated, rather than new assertions. Therefore I have chosen to treat them as expository rather than as parts of the sub-thesis.)

ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia pisteōs en tō autou haimati)–(3:25a). God has ordained that, when one puts one’s faith in the blood of Jesus, expiation/propitiation occurs that is analogous to that which was portrayed when sacrificial blood was poured onto the kapporet (mercy seat) in Old Testament times. (That is my paraphrase rather than a translation, but I think such a paraphrase is necessary if our 21st Century minds are to grasp the richness of Paul’s words in this clause.)

  • Roman hearers from Jewish backgrounds would have seen the force of this image immediately; those from Gentile backgrounds probably less so. However, Paul’s main target here will have been the Jewish-background believers so that they could see that, not only has Jesus made righteousness accessible without conformity to the outward symbols of the older covenant, but even the most profound and important of the sacrifices that were associated with that covenant had been consummated by him.
  • We don’t need to resolve the question of whether expiation or propitiation is the better translation for hilastērion. Whatever sense Jewish Christians had of it from their Old Testament background, in respect of setting sin-marred relationships right with God, that was a sufficient understanding for the point Paul is making here.

εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων–to show his righteousness, because he had passed over former sins (3:25).

  • We don’t need to resolve, either, whether, by “former sins”, Paul has in mind what the author of Hebrews tells us, that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4, NIV), or just God’s general forbearance whenever he has not brought down immediate judgment on sin. Either way, Christ’s definitive hilastērion has exonerated the righteousness of God.

πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ–he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (3:26,NIV).

  • Just as the new hilastērion has vindicated God in respect of sins previously forborne, so it also vindicates his righteousness in his justifying those who now, in the present time (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ), explicitly put their faith in Jesus.

There is nothing in the foregoing that would have been difficult for even an ordinary, not theologically-minded Roman believer to have grasped.

Exposition B, Part 2 (3:27-31):
Paul’s Summary of some Important Points and Implications so far

  • ἡ καύχησις ἐξεκλείσθη … διὰ νόμου πίστεως.–Boasting is excluded, because of the principle of faith. This contrasts with the law-based Jewish boasting in God (καυχᾶσαι ἐν θεῷ) that Paul had reproved in 2:17-24.
  • δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου–man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Does Paul have in mind just the outward, ceremonial aspects of the law, or the whole package? Obviously the latter. It would be incongruous for him to be saying that the justification arrived at by faith only exempts you from the ceremonial law, but unfailing obedience to the Decalogue is still imperative for ultimate justification. Justification, like uniqueness, admits no stages or shades.
  • [Ὁ] θεός … δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ πίστεως καὶ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τῆς πίστεως–(3:30) circumcised and uncircumcised are justified on the identical basis of faith.
  • νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο, ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν– (3:31). This faith schema doesn’t nullify the law, it upholds it.

Exposition B, Part 3 (4:1-25):
Proof Positive from Abraham and David

Little needs to be said by way of commentary on chapter 4. Paul’s logic is sound. The seeming contrary view put forward by James is easily reconciled when one takes into account the different content that each man puts into the word “faith”, and in any case, understanding James’s view is not pertinent to understanding Paul’s view, which is abundantly clear.

  • Abraham, prior to doing any of the works that flowed from his faith, had his faith credited as righteousness–Ἐπίστευσεν δὲ Ἀβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην (Episteusen de Abraham tō theō kai elogisthē autō eis dikaiosunē).
  • Furthermore, this crediting happened prior to the establishment of the covenant sign of circumcision, and Abraham’s compliance with it–πῶς οὖν ἐλογίσθη; ἐν περιτομῇ ὄντι ἢ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ; οὐκ ἐν περιτομῇ ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ.
  • Paul also supplies supporting evidence from words of David in Psalm 32 regarding the blessedness of those whose sins are not counted against them.

Inescapable conclusion: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith” (4:13, NIV).

Corollary: “The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:23-24, NIV).

Paul has not, of course, proven the corollary from Scripture, but is demonstrating that it was utterly consistent with the Abrahamic religion that the faith in Jesus which the Romans had come to via the Apostolic kerygma should be credited to them as righteousness, apart from works.

Therefore, regardless of issues some might wish to raise over details of the case he presents in chapter 4, Paul’s own meaning and intention is once again perfectly clear.

Next: Third Subsidiary Thesis: (5:1-5) Justification Brings Certainty and Begins Transforming Us

Image Attribution: © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – C

Third Subsidiary Thesis: (5:1-5)
Justification Brings Certainty and Begins Transforming Us

Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι’ οὗ καὶ τὴν προσαγωγὴν ἐσχήκαμεν τῇ πίστει εἰς τὴν χάριν ταύτην ἐν ᾗ ἑστήκαμεν, καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ·οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν, εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται, ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν, ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα. ἡ δὲ ἐλπὶς οὐ καταισχύνει· ὅτι ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν.
–Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (5:1-5, NIV)

These five verses form a pivot within Paul’s narrative. They look back to the doctrine which he had established in the preceding four chapters, and then give a foretaste of what will be the subject of the next section of the epistle, through and including chapter 8: the transformation of character which is enabled by this faith-justification and empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit. As Paul will later summarise in 8:3-4–“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (NIV)

In these five verses, Paul states seven attributes of those who have been justified by faith:

  1. εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν (eirēnēn echomen pros ton theon)we have peace with God
  2. τὴν χάριν ταύτην ἐν ᾗ ἑστήκαμεν (tēn charin tautēn en hē estēkamen)–we stand in a place of grace
  3. καυχώμεθα ἐπ’ ἐλπίδι τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ (kauchōmetha ep’ elpidi tēs doxēs theou)–we boast in our future hope
  4. καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν (kauchōmetha en tais thlipsesin)–we boast in our (present) suffering
  5. εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται, ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν, ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα (eidotes hoti hē thlipsis hupomonēn katergazetai, hē de hupomonē dokimēn, hē de dokimē elpida)–we are motivated to grow in Christian character
  6. ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκκέχυται ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν (hē agapē tōu theou ekkechutai en tais kardiais hēmōn)–our hearts are full of the love of God
  7. διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ δοθέντος ἡμῖν (Dia pneumatos hagiou tōu dothentos hēmin)–the agent of this is the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Comments

This passage lays the foundation for all that Paul will teach in the four chapters that begin here, and it provides the reference frame to which we should return if we are puzzled by something Paul says downstream. Having stated these points so emphatically, Paul is not going to weaken them in his later dissertation.

As we noted previously in different words, Paul is not writing to a collection of sceptical academics. He knows that his audience have all put their faith in Jesus Christ and have received the Holy Spirit. He also knows that many have already suffered for their faith, and those who haven’t have seen it happen to others, yet have chosen not to walk away. Certainly, his words here can deepen their assurance of their standing with God, but he is not introducing something new and unfamiliar. These words and the following exposition would therefore resonate well with their experience and so affirm and reinforce what he is teaching.

Perhaps we need to comment on one small detail. In verse 2, Paul says that we (already) hope in the glory of God, yet he also, in verse 4, presents hope as something that is arrived at as a result of the process of character development that he describes in verses 3 and 4.

Paul is not introducing a condition that must be met before, after all, we are entitled to hope. He told us in verse 2 that we stand in a place of grace. Our relationship with God is not set in a marsh of quicksand where a misstep might imperil it. We can indeed, from Day 1 of our trust in Jesus, rejoice in the certain hope of the glory of God. The difference between the hope of verse 2 and that of verse 4 is easily explained. One is the excited and perfectly warranted hope that even a brand new believer can enjoy, and the other is the hope of a seasoned believer who has endured and grown and knows even better the love of God.

Exposition C, Part 1 (5:6-11): A Paean to the Love of God

Is it any wonder (Paul implies), that the love of God has such a profound and motivating effect in us? God gave Christ to die, not for good and worthy people, but for us while we were still sinners!

And, this extraordinary love that we saw in action when we were still estranged from God assures us that it will continue now we are reconciled to him. We will be saved by Christ’s life. Thus, these words of Paul underscore what he had said in verse 2 – we stand in a place of grace.

καυχώμενοι ἐν τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι’ οὗ νῦν τὴν καταλλαγὴν ἐλάβομεν (kauchōmenoi en tō theou dia tou kuriou hēmōn Iesou Christou, di’ hou nun tēn katallagēn elabomen)–(5:11) The believer’s boast is in God, through Jesus Christ, on the basis of what he has done for us. The implied contrast is with the self-centred, law-based boasting of some Jews, whom Paul had castigated in 2:23.

Comments

Some have used verse 10 to support the quietist, “let go and let Christ” doctrine, that we should live our Christian life by listening, moment by moment, to the promptings of Christ who lives in us, and obeying them. No such meaning would have entered the minds of Paul’s Roman hearers. His point is obviously to give assurance of our ongoing relationship with God, not (yet) the details of what it means to live a Christian life.

We should also mark Paul’s repeated references to kauchēsis (boasting) or its cognates. If, as we listen to the further unfolding of his doctrine, we ever think we hear him say something that would, after all, give one person reason for boasting over another, it should surely be plain that we have misunderstood and need to think again.

Exposition C, Part 2 (5:12-19): Christ Rights the Fall

Preliminary Comment

This section brings a problem for modern readers. Paul obviously takes Adam as a literal, historical figure, and his Roman hearers would have accepted that without difficulty. Now, the question of the historicity of Adam is important when we are discussing the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, but I do not believe it is necessary to resolve that question to nevertheless take a vital lesson from this part of Romans 5 and go forward with it: whatever went wrong in early times with the relationship between humankind and God, Christ has provided the way to set it to right.

Some Key Points

εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον (eis pantas anthrwpous o thanatos diēlthen eph’ hw pantes hēmarton)–death came to all people, because all sinned (5:12, NIV).

  • In Paul’s mind, and to his Roman hearers, “death” would have encompassed physical death, but all of us can still draw a lesson from these words if we understand them as referring to the spiritual death of separation from God.
  • The first words of verse 12 are Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ (Dia touto hōsper)–“Just as”. It is therefore obvious that Paul originally meant to finish his sentence with a comparison “so {such and such)”. However, in verse 13 he digresses onto a related matter, and never returns to finish his comparison in a rhetorically neat way. The comparison becomes clear in different words, anyway, in verses 15-19.

δι’ ἑνὸς δικαιώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς δικαίωσιν ζωῆς (di’ henos dikaiōmatos eis pantas anthrōpous eis dikaiōsin zoēs)–one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (5:18, NIV).

  • The verse does not contain its own verb. The verb (which NIV gives as “resulted in”) is correctly inferred from the preceding context.
  • Even if you do not believe the prior clause is literally true, δι’ ἑνὸς παραπτώματος εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἰς κατά κρίμα (“one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people”), that does not preclude acceptance of the second clause. Paul’s doctrine of the atonement made by Christ does not stand or fall on a one-for-one correspondence between the circumstances of the entry of sin into the world and the redemption provided by Christ.
  • Paul is not teaching universal salvation. Paul set out in his grand thesis that salvation comes through faith, and he reiterated that in chapters 3 and 4, and in 5:1. Therefore, understanding Paul’s words in verses 18 and 19 in a way that is consistent with the groundwork that he has laid, all who were liable to inherit the effect of sin’s entry into the world did so, and were condemned – and, as it happens, that set included the whole human race. In a parallel way, all who are eligible to inherit the benefit of Christ’s righteous act do so – but that means all those who believe, not a greater number. If you will permit me an anachronistic metaphor, if any of the Roman Christians had understood Paul’s words as teaching universal salvation, Paul would have awarded him or her a dunce’s cap.
  • Once again, because we are 21st Century readers, it has been necessary to pause and consider Paul’s words carefully, but, once again, his original hearers would have had no such slow-down. To them, his meaning would have continued to be perspicuous.

I do not think we need to consider in detail any other aspects of this passage.

Next: Fourth Subsidiary Thesis: (6:14) By recognising their new Identity, Believers Withstand Sin

Image Attribution: Sean McGrath from Saint John, NB, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – D1

D. Fourth Subsidiary Thesis: (6:14)
Because of their new Identity, Believers have Reason and Motivation to Withstand Sin

Exposition D (5:20-7:6):

Preliminary Comment

Verses 20 and 21 of chapter 5 connect backward to 5:12-19 (continuing the contrast between the old (sin and death) versus the new (grace and life). It is important, however, to see them in their relation to chapter 6, because they are the first part of a repeated rhetorical pattern. The pattern is this:

  • Paul makes an astonishing statement in relation to our redemption in Christ.
  • He imagines an objection that might be put by an interlocutor.
  • He answers the objection.
  • He sums up in a sentence that affirms and even extends his original statement, and this statement then may become the “astonishing statement” that is defended in the next cycle of the pattern.

The following table maps the pattern as it occurs in the passage we are considering.


|Astonishing |Statement |Objection
|Defence |Reaffirmation |
| 5:20-21 – …where sin increased, grace increased …so that… (etc) | 6:1 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 6:2-13 | 6:14 – …you are not under the law, but under grace.
| 6:14 – …you are not under the law, but under grace. | 6:15 – What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? 6:16-22 | 6:23 – …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The First Rhetorical Cycle (5:20-6:14)

νόμος δὲ παρεισῆλθεν ἵνα πλεονάσῃ τὸ παράπτωμα (nomos de pareisēlthen hina pleonasē to paraptōma)–The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (5:20a, NIV).

  • This fact will become very important when we arrive at chapter 7. By increasing our awareness of our sin, the law increases the culpability of our sin. However, Paul has other issues to deal with first, which he does in chapter 6.

οὗ δὲ ἐπλεόνασεν ἡ ἁμαρτία, ὑπερεπερίσσευσεν ἡ χάρις (hou de epleonasen hē hamatia, hupereperisseusen hē charis)–But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (5:20b, NIV).

  • As stated previously, this is the “astonishing statement”.

ἵνα ὥσπερ ἐβασίλευσεν ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ, οὕτως καὶ ἡ χάρις βασιλεύσῃ διὰ δικαιοσύνης εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον (hina hōsper ebasileusen hē hamatia en tō thanatō, houtws kai hē charis basileusē dia dikaiosunēs eis zoēn aiōnion) – so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life (5:21, NIV).

    • This completes the series of contrasts that began in 5:15.
  • As Paul’s exposition proceeds on into chapter 6, he would have his hearers take with them the sense of victory that the word βασιλεύω (basileuō) gives. He is not expounding a chancy salvation that might, after all, be taken from us if we fail to jump through some hoop or other. Any interpretation of chapter 6 that makes our salvation chancy is, therefore, mistaken. Our eternal life is now as certain as our death was before the work done by Jesus Christ.

ἐπιμένωμεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, ἵνα ἡ χάρις πλεονάσῃ; (epimenōmen tēi hamartia, hina hē charis pleonasē?)–Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (6:1, NIV)

  • The hypothetical adversarial question

οἵτινες ἀπεθάνομεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, πῶς ἔτι ζήσομεν ἐν αὐτῇ; (hoitenes atethanomen tēi hamartia, pōs eti zēsomen en autēi?)–we who died to sin, how can we still live in it? (6:2).

  • This is Paul’s immediate answer.
  • It will have been obvious to all Paul’s hearers that they were still alive physically (!), and that sin remained a daily possibility. Therefore, they would have immediately understood that Paul’s “how can” refers to the ethical, motivational domain, not to some immediate perfection of one’s character.

ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ὅτι ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν; (hē agnoeite hoti hosoi ebaptisthēmen eis Christon Iesoun ton thatnaton autou ebaptisthēmen?)–Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (6:3, NIV)

  • Perhaps this was part of the standard teaching about baptism that all converts received; perhaps it wasn’t. Or perhaps it was just the hypothetical interlocutor who didn’t know this. Anyway, all hearing Paul know it now. Baptism effects an identification with Christ’s death.
  • Actually, it’s obviously not baptism per se that effects the identification. “Baptism” is serving as a dramatic synecdoche for the whole process that starts with faith and, in ordinary circumstances, ends in baptism. Having asserted earlier that salvation is by faith, Paul is not going to insert an action here as though it were absolutely essential to salvation.
  • Romans 6 is not about baptism. The mention of baptism serves the main point, but is incidental to it.

συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη Χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν … οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν. Εἰ γὰρ σύμφυτοι γεγόναμεν τῷ ὁμοιώματι τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως ἐσόμεθα–We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his (6:4,5 NIV).

  • We are not identified with Christ in his death but also in his resurrection.
  • Our immediate resurrection is to a new kind of life…
  • but it will ultimately fully match that of Christ.

τοῦτο γινώσκοντες ὅτι ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος συνεσταυρώθη, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (tōuto ginōskontes hoti ho palaios hēmōn anthrōpos sunestaurōthē, hina katargēthē to sōma tēs hamartian)–Knowing this, that our old man was with-crucified [with Christ], in order that the body of sin might be stripped of its power (6:6a, my paraphrase).

  • Remember, Paul expected what he was saying would be intelligible to his Roman hearers.
  • Therefore,whatever “body of sin” refers to, katargēthē must not be translated as do the KJV and RSV, “destroyed”. Our physical bodies certainly have not been destroyed, nor has our inner susceptibility to temptation.
  • This is not the place to summarise scholarly studies on the meaning of kartageō. It’s sufficient to say that the ESV’s “brought to nothing”, or my “stripped of power” convey the correct sense.
  • Paul has not yet used “flesh” with a connotation of propensity to sin. (He used the word in 1:3 and 4:1, but with no such implication). Therefore, it is not likely that the Romans would have supplied that meaning for “body of sin”.
  • However, just a few sentences previously, Paul was talking by implication about a corporate body to which all of his hearers had belonged–that of the sin-plagued, death-deserving descendants of Adam.
  • The “body of sin”, therefore, which was in Paul’s own mind, and the one he expected to be in the minds of his hearers, was the whole Adamic system with its power to entice people to sin and so lead them to their death.
  • It is that “body” which has been stripped of its power by our incorporation into Christ, in his death and resurrection.

τοῦ μηκέτι δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (tōu mēketi douleuein hēmas tēi hamatia)–that we should no longer be slaves to sin (6:6b, NIV). ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίαν (ho gar apothanōn dedikaiōtai apo tēs hamatian)–for the one who has died has been justified from sin (6:7, my translation)

  • Remember, Paul is explaining why it is unconscionable that we should continue in sin, but not saying that it is impossible.
  • dedikaiōtai literally means “has been justified”. Many translations skate around this, but there is no need to. In an ironic way, it is even true of those outside of Christ that, when they die, they have been justified from sin. If the penalty for sin is death, and you die, the penalty has been discharged. There is no double jeopardy. And, of course, death releases everyone from the power of the old, sin-bound system.
  • Our death with Christ has brought us into a space where, though we are still alive bodily, we are judicially delivered from the consequences of our sin, and where, also, the old system has no authority or power any longer to compel us to continue in its ways.

In verses 8-10, Paul then points out what is already absolutely true concerning Christ’s life now, after his resurrection, concluding with “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (verse 10, NIV).

Paul then urges that those facts about Jesus should transform our own thinking about ourselves. All the quotations below are from the NIV:

  • “…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11)
  • “…do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (6:12)
  • “…offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (6:13).

If it was not clear before, it should be by now, that Paul is not saying that it is impossible for us to go on sinning. If it were impossible, his exhortations would be redundant. What he is showing us in this passage is that the way forward to practical holiness of life, subsequent to our initial coming to faith. Is by reorienting our thinking so it is centred on our new identity in Christ.

This leads to the statement in verse 14 that reaffirms the grace that he had proclaimed in 5:20-21, and which shows that the interlocutor’s concern is unwarranted: “ For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

  • Here, Paul states it as a matter of fact, not of exhortation: “sin shall no longer be your master”.
  • However, the preceding context has shown that he is not teaching some kind of instant Christian perfectionism. It will have been clear to his Roman hearers, as it should be to us, that work is required on our part, commencing with a fundamental transformation of our thinking.
  • Nevertheless, Paul has made it clear that the way forward is grace-based. He has closed the door against any legalistic approach to sanctification, and anyone who applies the exhortations in Romans 6 in a legalistic way has badly missed the point.

Next: The Second Rhetorical Cycle

Image attribution: Jonas Rogowski [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – D2

The Second Rhetorical Cycle (6:14-23)

ἁμαρτία γὰρ ὑμῶν οὐ κυριεύσει, οὐ γάρ ἐστε ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν (hamartian gar humōn ōu kurieusei, ōu gar sete hupo nomon alla hupo charin)–For sin shall not lord it over you, because you are not under the law, but under grace (6:14, my translation)

  • The conclusion of the first rhetorical cycle will immediately give rise to a further question and so a further iteration of the cycle.

ἁμαρτήσωμεν ὅτι οὐκ ἐσμὲν ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν; (hamartēsōmen hoti ouk esmen hupo nomon alla hupo charin?)–Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? (6:15, NIV).

  • The second question.

Paul answers this question in a different way. In answering the first question, he encouraged his hearers to consider the soteriological implications of their identification with Christ. Now he will add to that another new way to think: a way that pragmatically compares the old way of life with what is possible in the new. I will quote just some of the key phrases from 6:16-22, as I think that Paul’s meaning is clear and doesn’t call for much discussion.

ἦτε δοῦλοι τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὑπηκούσατε δὲ ἐκ καρδίας εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς (ēte douloi tēs hamartias hupēkousate de ek kardias eis hon paredothēte tupon didachēs)–You were slaves of sin but have obeyed from the heart the pattern of teaching that was handed to you (6:17).

  • The Roman Christians already display a Christian way of life.

τίνα οὖν καρπὸν εἴχετε τότε ἐφ’ οἷς νῦν ἐπαισχύνεσθε; τὸ γὰρ τέλος ἐκείνων θάνατος (tina oun karpon eichete tote eph’ hois nun epaischunesthe? To gar telos ekeinōn thanatos)–What fruit were you getting from those things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things [is] death. (6:21)

  • If ever tempted to regress, consider the fate that awaited those on the old path.

νυνὶ δέ, ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ, ἔχετε τὸν καρπὸν ὑμῶν εἰς ἁγιασμόν, τὸ δὲ τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (nuni de, eleutherōthentes apo tēs hamartias doulōthentes de tō theō, echete ton karpon humōn eis hagiasmon, to de telos zōēn aiōnion.)–But now, having been freed from sin and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit [that leads] to sanctification, and the end is eternal life (6:22).


If you think at this point that Paul is inserting a condition, adequate growth in holiness, between believers and the ultimate attainment of eternal life, you have not been paying attention to him!

Paul has already emphasised over and over that salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from any human effort, and that God will see it through to its completion (1:16,17; 3:22; 3:24-25; 4:4-5; 5:1-2; 5:10; 6:14). Nevertheless, sinful acts remain a real possibility for believers in this present life, and Paul’s goal here for believers is to equip us with new ways of thinking, the better to reject temptation. The first way is to reflect with amazement on the implications of our identification with Christ (6:3-14), and the second way (6:16-23) is that of recognising the incongruous folly of continuing to follow a way of life that leads unbelievers to their death. Notice that Paul does not say (re-read verse 22 until you see that he doesn’t!) that if believers continue on that behavioural path, they will die. No, they are already through faith (as evidenced by their commitment-in-principle to God) on a path whose destination is realised eternal life. The only variable is how much fruit of holiness they will produce en route. By alerting them to the folly of sinful living, Paul hopes to ensure that the fruit is plentiful, indeed.

And, of course, while instructing and building up the believers in this way, Paul has also gainsaid those who hold that a grace-based salvation is an invitation to licentious living. These are a masterful 23 verses.


τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας θάνατος, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν. (Ta gar opsōnia tēs hamartias thanatos, to de charisma tou theou zōē aiōnios en Christō Iesou tō kuriō hēmōn)–For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (6:23, NIV)

  • In the context of all that Paul has said before, verse 23 is not a warning (“Go on sinning and you will collect its wage packet”). Instead, it sums up in one memorable epigram the contrast Paul has been making between the old that we have escaped (“The wages of sin is death”) and the new place of grace in which we stand (“The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord).

Postscript to the Second Rhetorical Cycle (7:1-6)

Ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε … ὅτι ὁ νόμος κυριεύει τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐφ’ ὅσον χρόνον ζῇ; (Ē agnoieite … hoti o nomos kurieuei tou anthrōpou eph’ hoson chronon zē?)–Or are you ignorant … that the law rules over a man for [only] as long as he lives? (7:1).

  • The ‘only” is not in the Greek, but is implied by the example Paul gives next: ἡ γὰρ ὕπανδρος γυνὴ τῷ ζῶντι ἀνδρὶ δέδεται νόμῳ· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ ὁ ἀνήρ, κατήργηται ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τοῦ ἀνδρός (hē gar hupandros gunē tō zōnti andri dedetai nomō ean de apothanē o anēr katērgētai apo tou nomou tōu androu)–For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if the man dies, she is released from (having completed) the law of her husband (6:2).

Ὥστε … καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐθανατώθητε τῷ νόμῳ διὰ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς ἑτέρῳ (hōste … kai humeis ethanatōthēte tō nomō dia sōmatos tou Christou, eis to genesthai humans heterō)–In the same way, you died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might become another’s (6:4a).

  • Paul’s application of the principle is not fully symmetrical with the example. In the latter, the husband dies, and so the still-living wife is set free, but in Paul’s application, it’s we who die because of our identification with Christ’s death. However, the principle is symmetrical: death severs the old relationship. That is all Paul’s hearers needed to agree to for the example to be persuasive.

ὅτε γὰρ ἦμεν ἐν τῇ σαρκί, τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου ἐνηργεῖτο ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν εἰς τὸ καρποφορῆσαι τῷ θανάτῳ·(hote gar hēmin en tēi sarki, ta pathēmata tōn hamartiōn ta dia tou nomou enērgeito en tois melesin humōn eis to karpophōrēsai tō thanatō)–For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions from the law were working in our members to bear fruit for death (6:5).

  • The mention of fruit ties this section back to 6:21-22. Paul uses the linking theme of fruit to introduce what will be an important point through the remainder of chapter 7, that the knowledge of the law perversely stirs up a will to sin in those who are “in the flesh”.
  • There is nothing in the rhetorical flow to this point that would have made his Roman hearers stumble and wonder what Paul was talking about. All that has gone before has prepared their minds for what he will say next.

νυνὶ δὲ κατηργήθημεν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἀποθανόντες ἐν ᾧ κατειχόμεθα (nuni de katērgēthēmen apo tou nomou, apothanontes en hō kateichometha)–But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound (6:6a, NASB).

ὥστε δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς ἐν καινότητι πνεύματος καὶ οὐ παλαιότητι γράμματος (hōste douleuein hēmas en kainotēti pneumatos kai ou palaiotēti grammatos)–so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (6:6b, NASB).

  • Paul closes this section with another memorable epigram.

Next: Fifth Subsidiary Thesis: (7:25b) Law-Based Attempts at Sanctification Must Fail

Image attribution: William Merritt Chase [Public domain]

The Crystal Clarity of Romans – E

E. Fifth Subsidiary Thesis: (7:25b)
Law-Based Attempts at Sanctification Must Fail

Ἄρα οὖν αὐτὸς ἐγὼ τῷ μὲν νοῒ δουλεύω νόμῳ θεοῦ, τῇ δὲ σαρκὶ νόμῳ ἁμαρτίας. (Ara oun egō tō men noi douleuō nomō, tē de sarki nomō hamatias.)–So then, I myself in my mind am a slave of the law of God, but in the flesh of the law of sin (7:25b)

  • This time, Paul does not state his thesis at the start of the section but at the end, leading to it via his defence of the Law.

Exposition E, Part 1 (7:7-12): Knowledge of the Law Provokes Sin

ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο·(ho nomos hamatia? mē genoito)–Is the law sinful? Certainly not! (7:7a, NIV).

  • Paul will not allow his hearers to adopt a contemptuous attitude toward the law.

ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου (alla tēn hamartian ouk egnōn ei mē dia nomou)–But I [would] not have known sin if not through law (7:7b).

  • As Paul will further explain, the law has a fatal weakness.

τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν· Οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις (tēn te gar epithumian ouk ēdein ei mē o nomos elegen Ouk epithumēseis)–For I would not have been conscious of covetousness if the law had not said, “Do not covet” (7:7c)

  • A specific example

ἡ γὰρ ἁμαρτία ἀφορμὴν λαβοῦσα διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς ἐξηπάτησέν με καὶ δι’ αὐτῆς ἀπέκτεινεν. (hē gar hamartia aphormēn labousa dia tēs entolēs exēpatēsen me kai di’ authēs apekteinen)–For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death (7:11, NIV).

  • Verse 11 concludes the example, whose details in verses 8-10 I have skipped over, since they are clear enough.

ὥστε ὁ μὲν νόμος ἅγιος, καὶ ἡ ἐντολὴ ἁγία καὶ δικαία καὶ ἀγαθή.(hōste ho men nomos hagios, kai hē entolē hagia kai dikaia kai agathē)–So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (7:12, NIV).

  • This is the wider implication of the example; this is the respectful attitude we should continue to have toward the law.

Exposition E, Part 2 (7:13): Sin Itself Ensures this

Τὸ οὖν ἀγαθὸν ἐμοὶ ἐγένετο θάνατος; μὴ γένοιτο·(To oun agathon emoi egeneto thanatos? mē genoito)–Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! (7:13a, NIV)

  • Paul continues to exonerate the law.

ἡ ἁμαρτία, ἵνα φανῇ ἁμαρτία διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μοι κατεργαζομένη θάνατον· ἵνα γένηται καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν ἁμαρτωλὸς ἡ ἁμαρτία διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς. (hē hamartia, hina phanē hamartia dia tou agathou moi katergazoumenē thanaton hina genetai kath’ huperboēn hamartōlos hē hamartia dia tēs entolēs)–…in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful (7:13b, NIV).

  • It is the nature of sin itself that makes this perverse result inevitable.

Exposition E, Part 3 (7:14-24a): The Conflict Dramatised

ἐγὼ δὲ σάρκινός εἰμι, πεπραμένος ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. (egō de sarkinos eimi, pepramenos hupo tēn hamartian)–I am fleshly, having been sold under sin (714b)

  • The perfect participle, having been sold, connects this sentence back to the Adamic fall that Paul had mentioned in chapter 5. This is not an unhappy state that afflicts just some of humankind.
  • The adjective fleshly, however, sets the scene for a differentiation that Paul will make later, between those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit.

οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω τοῦτο πράσσω, ἀλλ’ ὃ μισῶ τοῦτο ποιῶ. εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ θέλω τοῦτο ποιῶ, σύμφημι τῷ νόμῳ ὅτι καλός. (ou gar ho thelō touto prasso, all’ ho misō touto poiō. ei de ho ou thelō touto poiō, sumphēmi tō nomō oti kalos)–For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good (7:15b-16)

  • This is the testimony of someone trying and failing to obey the law.
  • It misses the point of Paul’s argument if we try to closely identify who “I” is. (See my comments in the box below).
  • The defining characteristic of “I” has already been given. He/she is someone trying to obey the law but only with the resources of a human being’s ordinary, fleshly nature. This is the “I” whom the Romans would have understood Paul to be talking about. No more precise identification is necessary for Paul to successfully make his intended point in this passage.
  • Paul here speaks of the law as “kalos”, whereas in verse 12 he had described the commandment as “agathos”. Though there is sometimes in Greek a fine distinction in meaning between the two terms, Paul does not go on to make any point that depends on such a distinction, so I think it is unnecessary to look for one.

συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ θεοῦ κατὰ τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον, βλέπω δὲ ἕτερον νόμον ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου ἀντιστρατευόμενον τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου καὶ αἰχμαλωτίζοντά με ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμαρτίας τῷ ὄντι ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου·(sunēdomai gar tō nomō tou theou kata ton esō anthrōpon, blepō de heteron nomon en tois melesin mou antistrateuomenon tō nomō tou noös mou kai aichmalōtizonta me en tō nomō tēs hamartias tō onti en tois melesin mou)–For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me (7:22-23, NIV)

  • Lest we haven’t got the point yet, Paul restates it.

Why it is Unnecessary to Precisely Identify “I”

● What motivates “me” to want to obey the law is not pertinent to Paul’s point. His point is that (regardless of what motivated “me”), “I” am bound to fail.

● We, with the benefit of having read 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (ESV), know that Paul himself would exclude anyone in whom the Spirit had not begun an enlightening pre-conversion work. We do not know that the Romans understood that, but they did not need to for Paul’s point to be seen by them as true.

● Likewise, we know that the wretched, struggling person of Romans 7 does not sound like the self-satisfied Pharisee that Paul depicts himself as in Philippians, and we don’t know if the Romans knew that. However, Paul’s point still stands even if it was not autobiographical, and it still stands if, for reasons hidden from us, it was.

● Anyone hearing Paul’s words who had gone through a phase, before their definitive Christian conversion, of trying to live a moral life will undoubtedly agree with him.

● Anyone who, though truly converted and not self-righteously complacent, is trying to grow in sanctification by minute attention to the “old way of the written code” (7:6, NIV) must also ruefully agree with Paul.

Romans 7:14-24 is not, I believe, intended as a depiction of the normal Christian life. It does, though, serve as a warning to Christians: if you try to attain sanctification by a way that is essentially no different than the “oldness of the letter”, you will fail.


ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος (talaipōros egō anthrōpos)–Wretched man I am! (7:24a)

  • Indeed! QED.

τίς με ῥύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου; χάρις τῷ θεῷ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.(tis me rhusetai ek tou sWmatos tou thanatou? Charis tō theW dia Iesou Christou tou kuriou hēmōn)–Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:24b-25a, ESV)

  • A “trailer” for what’s coming up in chapter 8.

The Thesis that was Proven by the Preceding Argument

Ἄρα οὖν αὐτὸς ἐγὼ τῷ μὲν νοῒ δουλεύω νόμῳ θεοῦ, τῇ δὲ σαρκὶ νόμῳ ἁμαρτίας.–So then, I myself in my mind am a slave of the law of God, but in the flesh of the law of sin (7:25b)

Next: The New Way of the Spirit Replaces the Never-Competent Law

Image attribution: Friend [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons