Who is Romans 7 about?

[A Copy of part of my Exegesis paper]
Josh Shelton

Who is the “I” in Romans 7:14
There are several views taken on the precise identify of the “I” in 7:14. Here are some of the main ones: 1. Autobiographical-as a lost Paul. 2. Autobiographical- as a saved Paul. 3. “Ego” in solidarity with Adam. In this view, Paul, is saying “I sinned in Adam, and now, the nature in solidarity with Adam is in me;” and this Adamic nature (indwelling sin), when it is under the law, behaves in the manner delineated from 7:12-23. 4. “I” or “Ego” as representative of Israel. This is also known as the salvation historical view.
Dealing with the first two alternatives, the most powerful argument for the first view is a simple juxtaposition of a few statements from Paul:
1. that we should no longer be slaves to sin”(douluein, 6:6)

2. “but now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God” (6:22)

3. “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” (7:6)

4. “for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death”

5. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9).

Juxtapose that with:

1. “I am sold under sin” (7:14c)

2. “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14c)

3. “but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner to the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23)

4.“making me a prisoner of the law of sin” (7:23c)

5. “but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (7:14)

With such a juxtaposition it is easy to see the strengths of the argument.
On the other hand, there are arguments for the opposing view as well. In 7:18, why does Paul say that nothing good dwells in him, and then specify, “that is, in my flesh?” Verse 22, Paul refers to his inner being. Dunn says that this is probably referring to the regenerate life attained through solidarity with Christ; whereas the flesh is attained through solidarity with Adam. The most formidable argument, however, is concerning verse 25. Dunn writes, “It is the stone on which the majority interpretations of Rom. 7, 14-25 break and fall—hence the rather feverish attempts to omit the verse as a later gloss or to rewrite the last section of 7 with v. 25b interposed between v. 23 and v.24.”
Consider verse 25 briefly. Assume that some readers believe that Paul is referring to himself as an unregenerate person for reasons demonstrated in the juxtaposition. When they read Paul’s cry “who will deliver me,” followed by his triumphant celebration, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” there is only one conclusion that is viable. Paul has been delivered from the state he has in outlined from 7:7-24. So far, then, what is being argued is that being a servant of “the law of sin” is something that cannot describe, in context, someone who has experienced the deliverance of Jesus Christ. But, immediately after Paul’s celebration, he writes “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Dunn writes,
The antithesis between the inward man and the flesh is not overcome and left behind, it continues through and beyond the shout of thanksgiving—as a continuing antithesis between mind and flesh… [Paul] confronts the believer with both sides of the paradox, both sides of his nature as believer…in short, the Christian lives on two levels at once—he knows both life and death at the same time.

So, it would seem that being in the flesh can coexist within someone who has experienced the deliverance of Christ. The cry of verse 24 then is not the cry of a non-Christian for the Christian freedom, but rather the cry of a Christian for the full freedom that is his in Christ.
Hae-Kyung Chang criticizes Dunn’s position in favor of the “Paul embodying Israel” view. Moo points out that Paul in Romans 3:7 uses “ego” as a rhetorical device that does not describe himself personally. Chang, utilizing Moo’s commentary on Romans, and argues that Paul conceived of the world in terms of two aeons or ages. One age headed up by Adam in which the powers of sin, law, flesh, and death rule. Then, on the other hand, there is the age headed up by Christ in which the powers of righteousness, grace, Spirit, and life rule. As such, the world is broken into two categories for Paul. Chang argues that 7:14-25 reiterates the world headed up by Adam. Chang’s most potent argument runs thus:
In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that “being free from under sin” and “being free from the law of sin and death” are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true. This means that the situation of depicted in Rom. 7:14-25 cannot be that of the normal’ Christians, nor of an immature Christian. Nor can it describe the condition of any Christian living by the law because the Christian who is mistakenly living according to the law is yet a Christian and is therefore not “under sin” or a “prisoner of the law of sin.”

However, Chang’s analysis falls very short with regard to verse 25. Chang says,
v. 25a is not strictly an essential part of what Paul argues, but must be recognized as an interjection, a strong and sudden emotion of gratitude, exclaiming anticipatory over the victory believers have in Christ.

For Chang, Paul’s celebration of Christ’s deliverance is an unnecessary aside that is irrelevant to the flow of Paul’s thought. Dunn’s analysis at this specific point is much more coherent. However, the contrasts between chapter 6,8 of Romans with chapter 7 of Romans is quite formidable. Moreover, the context and the content of 7:1-13 seems to coincide with the view of Israel’s experience under the law. Normally under this view Paul is thought to be recounting his own experience in solidarity with Israel as a regenerate, but non-Christian Jew; under the law, and in bondage to sin. Be that as it may, the Achilles heel, even of this line of thought is still verse 25a and its subsequent statement in 25b. This is so even in N.T. Wright’s, and Douglas Moo’s commentary on Romans; Paul’s statement is hard to fit in after his celebration of deliverance accomplished by Christ.
There are particular strengths in each view. Some of the strengths in each view are mutually exclusive and automatically exclude other views, while some of the strengths can pass through the permeable membrane which divides each position. Now, to attempt a synthesis!

Synthetic Reflections

Moo rightly notes that the three views discussed so far, in addition to the Adamic view, provide particular insights into the text. Think of these theological directions as tunes that must be synchronized to the right pitch, and harmonized, in order to hear the particular symphony that Paul is playing here at this point in Romans. Consider the following hypothesis, and see if it adjusts the different tunes into a recognizable symphony that harmonizes the flow of Romans 7.
What if Paul is writing Romans 7 from the Christian perspective; and from that perspective demonstrating the necessity of dying to the “Torah” as a means of sanctification? So that, Paul could say “This is what life under the law looked like for Israel (7:13-24). Because of the death Christians died in Christ, they have died to the law and are therefore free from the dominion of sin.” To which his opponents would respond, “You are treating the law as the problem, Paul.” Paul could respond, “No, the culprit is indwelling sin. The nature in solidarity with Adam is the true culprit, and because of the weakness of sinful man, the law was, is, and will continue to be incapable of transforming sinful people like us into the people that God wants us to become. The Christian still has indwelling sin in him, and because of this sin, life under the law will continue to look this way; the same way it looked for Israel. But now, the basis of the Christian’s relationship with God has changed. God, in his Son, has done what the law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh (8:3). Through the death of the Son, and their death in him (see 6:2), Christians (the Jewish sort in particular) have been liberated from their bondage to the law (Romans 7:1-6). The reason such liberation was necessary was because of indwelling sin, not because of some inherent evil within the law (7:17). Indwelling sin used the law to enslave, deceive, and kill all who were under it (7:11). It was because of this that such a revolutionary change has been wrought by God through Christ. Through Christ, Christians have been translated from “under the law” and are now “under grace” (6:14). This entails that sin will no longer have dominion over Christians (6:14), that that they will be slaves of righteousness (6:18), and slaves to God (6:22).
So then, “this,” Paul says, “is what life under Torah consists of: slavery to sin, and bondage to law, the end of which is death (6:20-21); but now that you have been set free from sin by being taken out from under the law, you are now a slave to God, not sin; and the fruit of this slavery is righteousness, and the end of this righteousness is eternal life (6:22).” “Therefore,” Paul is saying, “if your bondage to the Torah has been severed, and you have been set free from that which has been holding you captive to sin (because of indwelling sin); then, why would you want to return to the Torah as the basis of your relation with God. Sin does not have dominion over you because you are not under the law, but under grace; and because of this, you are a slave to righteousness bearing fruit to eternal life. If you return to the Torah, you will return to the bondage that Israel experienced under the law; and sin will then begin to dominate your life once again. In order to be set free from sin, you must be set free from the law!”
In this case, Paul could be retelling his struggle, using the stories and symbols of Israel’s struggle under the law, but telling it also from the vantage of a Jewish, but converted Christian, who struggled to continue believing the gospel with all of its entailments. One can imagine that Paul returned the power sphere of the law more than once as his default state. The product of Paul’s failure is a life that resumed its existence under the law, and therefore under sin’s dominion. Such a life becomes totally inconsistent with the person the Christian truly is. Romans 7:7-25, then, could quite possibly be an autobiographical warning, that a failure to relate to God on the basis of what God has done for Christians in Jesus the Messiah will result in the domination of sin, as experienced by Israel under the law. Therefore, the need to abandon the Torah, and to participate in the gospel by faith, is a need that remains crucial throughout the Christian life.
It would seem most plausible (I think) to say that Paul is speaking of himself in solidarity with Israel before coming to Christ. However, it must be emphasized, that Paul is writing this to Christians from a Christian perspective. Moo writes “The experience of Israel with the law should remind Christians to never return to the law–Mosaic, or any other list of ‘rules’ as a source of spiritual vigor or growth.” Moo and Wright both hear a noise in Romans 7 that causes a deja-vu of James D.G. Dunn’s earlier comments, but due to some of his exegetical shortcomings, the noise from Paul’s symphony that Dunn was picking up (and playing too loudly I might add) has dropped off and is barely audible in their exegesis. I want to turn that noise up a notch and keep as much of their exegetical harmony as possible.
To sum up, Paul can thus be speaking of himself in solidarity with Israel as Jew in order to delineate life under the power sphere of the law. He does this, it seems, in order to vindicate the law, and simultaneously demonstrate that it is not the true culprit for the death and destruction that followed in its wake. Paul identifies indwelling sin as the real problem. Indwelling sin connotes the nature in solidarity with Adam (already treated by Paul in Romans 5). Israel, then, corporately recapitulated the sin of Adam and they were deceived and killed. All of this is written by Paul from the Christian perspective. His aim is to show that because of indwelling sin (i.e. solidarity with Adam), the law has had a negative impact on all those who are under it. He does this with an autobiographical warning of what will happen to those who are under grace, if they begin to relate to God under the power sphere of the law (and I think Paul knows this from personal experience). Paul is thus saying, “Relating to God must always be on the basis of the gospel, and under the power sphere of grace and the Spirit.” Whether Paul is converted or not in verse 14 is almost irrelevant; regardless of whether he is or not, operating under the power sphere of the law will yield the same results. For Christians, the Adamic nature is still present with them, though they are under grace. Therefore, they must not refer back to the law as a way of life because the law will still unwillingly provide sin with an opportunity to usurp dominion over them.
Where does 7:25 fit in with this new view? After Paul exults in celebration over his liberation accomplished by Christ, he says, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” The law of sin is served by the flesh (which is the nature in solidarity with Adam, not Christ). Paul is in the flesh when his basis of relating to God is as one who is “under the law.” He does this as one who is not truly under the law, but under grace (his true identity, which is in solidarity with Christ, not Adam); and as such sin does not have dominion over him. So, Paul is not in the flesh, but, when he is (I note the tension here with 8:9), he serves the law of sin. Paul is in the flesh when he fails to relate to God “under grace.” Therefore, is incumbent for the Christians in Rome to abandon the law altogether as a means of sanctification. The law will only serve indwelling sin, and place the believer back under its dominion. Paul knows this all too well. He knows that his failures as a Christian are at root failures to believe the gospel, and subsequently to participate in the person and work of Christ by the Spirit. The law, in fact, has become the very thing that hinders such participation in the gospel. This is why Paul begins chapter 7 by saying we have died to it and are now totally free from it. Specifically, then, Paul in 7:25 is saying that after Christ’s deliverance, there remains in the believer a nature that serves sin; and thus relating to God on the basis of law is totally out of the question. The basis of the Christian’s relationship to God is that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, for, God in Christ has done what the law could not do…and in Christ, the righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled, and it is now being fulfilled in those who walk according to the spirit; so, don’t walk according to the flesh, this is not who you are in Christ, for, in Christ, God is creating a new humanity, he is doing this now with you, and that humanity is not characterized by life in the flesh; so do not walk in the flesh…and do not lose hope or become weary, for, those whom God justifies he will also glorify.

Carson and Moo, Introduction to the New Testament,

Douglas Moo makes some interesting comments about the Greek word “nomos” in Paul that are very beneficial. To summarize 4 of Moo’s points:1. “Paul discusses the law as a single entity rather than as a series of commands,” 2. “The law can refer to power or systems of authority: ‘the law of the Spirit of life has freed me from the law of sin and death.” Are two uses of the Mosaic Law intended here, or are two opposing systems to be interpreted? Moo says that the latter is clearly the case, 3. “Occasionally, Paul appears to use “nomos” of the will of God, without regard to any definite, historical form in which that will is expressed.” Passages that Moo uses to illustrate this: “The work of the law’ written in the hearts of the Gentiles (2:15) may reflect such an idea, as may 2:26-27—–that the law is fulfilled by those who are in an uncircumcised state — clearly implying that the historical revelation of the divine will through Moses cannot be intended,” 4. Paul’s use of nomos most often and most basically is referring to that of the Mosaic Law.Douglas Moo, “law,” and “works of the law,” and “legalism” in Paul, Westminster Theological Journal, (1983): 78-84. Quoted from Josh Shelton, Paul and Law Research Paper, submitted to Robert Kendall at Liberty University May, 2012.

Moo, Romans, 409.

This is known as diatribe style and it is composed of a question, emphatic rejection, and explanation. Chang, 269.
Ibid.

Wright, 559.

Moo, 423.

Paul argues that a person’s bondage to the law must be severed in order that he or she may be put into a new relationship with Christ. This awakens concerns about the status of the law. Moo, Romans, 409.
Ibid., 417.

Ibid.
Dunn, 257-273.

Ibid.
Ibid.

Man as a Christian is still part of this world, still belongs in some sense to this world (Rom. 6,19, 1. Cor. 1,29, 6,16, 7,28 etc.). Man as a believer still lives in some sense at least “in the flesh” (2. Cor. 10,3, Gal. 2,20, Phil. 1,22, Phm. 16). [Ibid.]

Ibid. “That is to say, the two dimensions of the believer’s existence run counter to each other and prevent his living wholly in one or other; the Spirit prevents his fleshly desires coming to effect, but so too does his fleshliness prevent the Spirit inspired desires coming to effect. In consequence the believer finds himself torn in two by conflicting desires and impulses, and his experience as a man of Spirit in the flesh is one of continuing frustration.” [Ibid]

Moo, Romans, 427.

Hae-Kyung Chang, 267.

Ibid., 268.
Moo, Romans, 427.

Moo, Romans, 417. The law is a text case, applicable to all people.
Moo’s conclusion of 7:7-12 says “the experience of Israel with the law should also remind Christians never to return to the law–whether the Mosaic or any other list of rules– as a source of spiritual vigor and growth. [Moo, Romans, 441].

For Paul, this would include working out all of its entailments of course.
Such is the case because of the solidarity with Adam in what Paul designates “sarx.”

Those statements that seem to point to some nature in Paul opposed to the evil that is within him can be attributed to his status in the covenant as a Jew.

Wright, Romans, 553.

Ibid., 441.
This would call for something similar to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 6 to “reckon yourselves dead.” You are dead, so reckon yourself dead. You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, so “reckon yourself in the Spirit.”
Being under grace is something far more radical than merely God’s willingness to forgive. I am thinking of the new humanity being created in the Jesus the Messiah. Through God’s call, we are translated in this humanity and we are to carry out God’s mandate for us on that basis. “Under Grace” is a way of telling the whole story of Jesus Christ and its ramifications.

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