Romans 7
Expositor's Greek Testament

The subject of chap. 6 is continued. The Apostle shows how by death the Christian is freed from the law, which, good as it is in itself and in the Divine intention, nevertheless, owing to the corruption of man’s nature, instead of helping to make him good, perpetually stimulates sin. Romans 7:1-6 describe the liberation from the law; Romans 7:7-13, the actual working of the law; in Romans 7:14-25 we are shown that this working of the law is due not to anything in itself, but to the power of sin in the flesh.

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
Romans 7:1-6. For ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε, cf. Romans 6:3. Chap. 6 contains the argument which is illustrated in these verses, and the question alludes to it: not to accept the argument that the Christian is free from all legal obligations leaves no alternative but to suppose the persons to whom it is addressed ignorant of the principle by which the duration of all legal obligations is determined. This they cannot be, for Paul speaks γινώσκουσι νόμον = to people who know what law is. Neither Roman nor Mosaic law is specially referred to: the argument rests on the nature of law in general. Even in ὁ νόμος, though in applying the principle Paul would think first of the Mosaic law, it is not exclusively referred to.

For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
Romans 7:2 f. An illustration of the principle. It is the only illustration in which death liberates a person who yet remains alive and can enter into new relations. Of course there is an inexactness, for in the argument the Christian is freed by his own death, and in the illustration the wife is freed by the husband’s death; but we must discount that. Paul required an illustration in which both death and a new life appeared. κατήργηται ἀπό: cf. Romans 7:6, Galatians 5:4 : she is once for all discharged (or as R.V. in Gal. “severed”) from the law of the husband: for the genitive τοῦ ἀνδρός, see Winer, 235. χρηματίσει = she shall be publicly designated: cf. Acts 11:26. τοῦ μὴ εἶναι αὐτὴν μοιχαλίδα κ.τ.λ.: grammatically this may either mean (1) that she may not be an adulteress, though married to another man; or (2) so that she is not, etc. Meyer prefers the first; and it may be argued that in this place, at all events, the idea of forming another connection is essential: cf. εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς ἑτέρῳ, Romans 7:4 (Gifford); but it is difficult to conceive of innocent remarriage as being formally the purpose of the law in question, and the second meaning is therefore to be preferred. Cf. Burton, Moods and Tenses, § 398.

So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
Romans 7:4. ὥστε καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐθανατώθητε τῷ νόμῳ: the inference is drawn rather from the principle than from the example, but καὶ ὑμεῖς means “you as well as the woman in the illustration,” not “you Gentiles as well as I a Jew”. The last, which is Weiss’s interpretation, introduces a violent contrast of which there is not the faintest hint in the context. The meaning of ἐθανατώθητε is fixed by reference to chap. Romans 6:3-6. The aorist refers to the definite time at which in their baptism the old life (and with it all its legal obligations) came to an end. διὰ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χτοῦ: Weiss rejects as opposed to the context the “dogmatic” reference to the sacrificial death of Christ as a satisfaction for sin; all the words imply, according to him, is that the Christian, in baptism, experiences a ὁμοίωμα of Christ’s death, or as it is put in Romans 6:6 is crucified with Him, and so liberated from every relation to the law. But if Christ’s death had no spiritual content—if it were not a death “for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), a death having the sacrificial character and atoning virtue described in Romans 3:25 f.—there would be no reason why a sinful man should be baptised into Christ and His death at all, and in point of fact no one would be baptised. It is because Christ’s death is what it is, a sin-expiating death, that it draws men to Him, and spiritually reproduces in them a reflex or counterpart of His death, with which all their old relations and obligations terminate. The object of this is that they may belong to another, a different person. Paul does not say ἑτέρῳ ἀνδρί: the marriage metaphor is dropped. He is speaking of the experience of Christians one by one, and though Christ is sometimes spoken of as the husband or bridegroom of the Church, there is no Scripture authority for using this metaphor of His relation to the individual soul. Neither is this interpretation favoured by the use of καρποφορήσωμεν; to interpret this of the fruit of the new marriage is both needless and grotesque. The word is used frequently in the N.T. for the outcome of the Christian life, but never with this association; and a reference to Romans 6:21 shows how natural it is to the Apostle without any such prompting. Even the change from the second person (ἐθανατώθητε) to the first (καρποφορήσωμεν) shows that he is contemplating the end of the Christian life quite apart from the suggestions of the metaphor. Christ is described as τῷ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθέντι, because we can only belong to a living person. τῷ θεῷ is dat comm God is the person interested in this result.

For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
Romans 7:5. Contrast of the earlier life. “ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ” is materially the same as “ὑπὸ τὸν νόμον”; the same state of the soul is described more from within and more from without. The opposite would be ἐν τῷ πνεύματι, or ὑπὸ χάριν. τὰ πὰπαθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν are the passions from which acts of sin proceed: Galatians 5:24. τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου: it is through the law that these passions become actualised: we would never know them for what they are, if it were not for the law. εἰς τὸ καρποφορῆσαι τῷ θανάτῳ: there is no allusion to marriage here any more than in Romans 7:4. Death is personified here as in Romans 5:17 : this tyrant of the human race is the only one who profits by the fruits of the sinful life.

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Romans 7:6. νυνὶ δὲ as things stand, considering what we are as Christians. κατηργήθημεν: cf. Romans 7:2. We are discharged from the law, by our death to that in which we were held. But what is this? Most expositors, say the law; Philippi even makes τοῦ νόμου the antecedent of ἐν ᾧ, rendering, we have been delivered, by dying, from the law in which we were held. This construction is too artificial to be true; and if we supply τούτῳ with ἀποθανόντες, something vaguer than the law, though involving and involved by it (the old life in the flesh, for instance) must be meant. ὥστε δουλεύειν κ.τ.λ.: “enabling us to serve” (S. and H.): for ὥστε with inf in N.T., see Blass, Gramm. des N.T. Griech., § 219. ἐν καινότητι πνεύματος κ.τ.λ. = in a new way, which only the possession of the spirit makes possible, not in the old way which alone was possible when we were under the letter of the law. For the Pauline contrast of πνεῦμα and γράμμα, see 2 Corinthians 3; for οὐ in this expression, see Burton, § 481.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Romans 7:7-13. The actual working of the law. A very close connection between the law and sin is implied in all that has preceded: especially in Romans 6:14, and in such an expression as τὰ παθὴματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου in Romans 7:5. This connection has to be examined more closely. The object of the Apostle, according to Weiss, is not to answer a false inference from his teaching, viz., that the law is sin, but to conciliate for his own mind the idea of liberation from the law with the recognition of the O.T. revelation. But the difficulty of conciliating these two things is not peculiar to the Apostle; it is because we all feel it in some form that the passage is so real to us. Our experience of law has been as tragic as his, and we too ask how this comports with the idea of its Divine origin. The much discussed question, whether the subject of this passage (Romans 7:7-24) is the unregenerate or the regenerate self, or whether in particular Romans 7:7-13 refer to the unregenerate, and Romans 7:14-24 to the regenerate, is hardly real. The distinction in its absolute form belongs to doctrine, not to experience. No one could have written the passage but a Christian: it is the experience of the unregenerate, we may say, but seen through regenerate eyes, interpreted in a regenerate mind. It is the Apostle’s spiritual history, but universalised; a history in which one stage is not extinguished by the next, but which is present as a whole to his consciousness, each stage all the time determining and determined by all the rest. We cannot date the things of the spirit as simply as if they were mere historical incidents. τί οὖγ ἐροῦμεν, cf. Romans 6:1 : What inference then shall we draw? sc. from the relations of sin and law just suggested. Is the law sin? Paul repels the thought with horror. ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων: ἀλλὰ may continue the protest = On the contrary, I should not have known sin, etc.; or it may be restrictive, abating the completeness of the negation involved in the protest. The law is not sin—God forbid; but, for all that, there is a connection: I should not have known sin but by the law. The last suits the context better: see Romans 7:21. On οὐκ ἔγνων without ἄν, see Winer, 383: it is possible, however (Gifford), to render simply, I did not know sin except through the law; and so also with οὐκ ᾔδειν. διὰ νόμου: of course he thinks of the Mosaic law, but the absence of the article shows that it is the legal, not the Mosaic, character of it which is in view; and it is this which enables us to understand the experience in question. τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν κ.τ.λ.: the desire for what is forbidden is the first conscious form of sin. For the force of τε here see Winer, p. 561. Simcox, Language of the N.T., p. 160. In the very similar construction in 2 Corinthians 10:8 Winer suggests an anacoluthon: possibly Paul meant here also to introduce something which would have balanced the τε (I should both have been ignorant of lust, unless the law had said, Thou shalt not lust, and ignorant of other forms of sin unless the law had prohibited them). But the one instance, as he works it out, suffices him. It seems impossible to deny the reference to the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) when the words οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις are quoted from “the law”; but the special modes of ἐπιθυμία prohibited are of no consequence, and it is beside the mark to argue that Paul’s escape from pharisaism began with the discovery that a feeling, not an outward act only, might be sinful. All he says is that the consciousness of sin awoke in him in the shape of a conflict with a prohibitive law, and to illustrate this he quotes the tenth commandment. Its generality made it the most appropriate to quote.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
Romans 7:8. ἀφορμὴν λαβοῦσα means “having received,” not “having taken” occasion. ἡ ἁμαρτία is sin as a power dwelling in man, of the presence of which he is as yet unaware. How it “receives occasion” is not stated; it must be by coming face to face with something which appeals to ἐπιθυμία; but when it has received it, it avails itself of the commandment (viz., the one prohibiting ἐπιθυμία) to work in us ἐπιθυμία of every sort. It really is the commandment which it uses, for without law sin is dead. Cf. Romans 4:15, Romans 5:13 : but especially 1 Corinthians 15:56. Apart from the law we have no experience either of its character or of its vitality.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
Romans 7:9. ἐγὼ δὲ ἔζων χωρὶς νόμου ποτέ: this is ideal biography. There is not really a period in life to which one can look back as the happy time when he had no conscience; the lost paradise in the infancy of men or nations only serves as a foil to the moral conflicts and disorder of maturer years, of which we are clearly conscious. ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς ἐντολῆς κ.τ.λ. In these words, on the other hand, the most intensely real experience is vividly reproduced. When the commandment came, sin “came to life again”: its dormant energies woke, and “I died”. “There is a deep tragic pathos in the brief and simple statement; it seems to point to some definite period full of painful recollections” (Gifford). To say that “death” here means the loss of immortality (bodily death without the hope of resurrection), as Lipsius, or that it means only “spiritual” death, is to lose touch with the Apostle’s mode of thought. It is an indivisible thing, all doom and despair, too simply felt to be a subject for analysis.

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
Romans 7:10. The result is that the commandment defeats its Own intention; it has life in View, but it ends in death. Here also analysis only misleads. Life and death are indivisible wholes.

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Romans 7:11. Yet this result is not due to the commandment in itself. It is indwelling sin, inherited from Adam, which, when it has found a base of operations, employs the commandment to deceive (cf. Genesis 3:13) and to kill. “Sin here takes the place of the Tempter” in Genesis (S. and H.).

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Romans 7:12. The conclusion is that the law is holy (this is the answer to the question with which the discussion started in Romans 7:7 : ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία;), and the commandment, which is the law in operation, holy and just and good. ἁγία means that it belongs to God and has a character corresponding; δικαία that its requirements are those which answer to the relations in which man stands to God and his fellow-creatures; ἀγαθή that in its nature and aim it is, beneficent; man’s weal, not his woe, is its natural end. There is no formal contrast to ὁ μὲν νόμος, such as was perhaps in the Apostle’s mind when he began the sentence, and might have been introduced by ἡ δὲ ἁμαρτία; but a real contrast is given in Romans 7:13.

Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Romans 7:13. The description of the commandment as “good” raises the problem of Romans 7:7 in a new form. Can the good issue in evil? Did that which is good turn out to be death to me? This also is denied, or rather repelled. It was not the good law, but sin, which became death to the Apostle. And in this there was a Divine intention, viz., that sin might appear sin, might come out in its true colours, by working death for man through that which is good. Sin turns God’s intended blessing into a curse; nothing could more clearly show what it is, or excite a stronger desire for deliverance from it. The second clause with ἵνα (ἵνα γένηται καθʼ ὑπερβολὴν ἁμαρτωλὸς ἡ ἁμαρτία) seems co-ordinate with the first, yet intensifies it: personified sin not only appears, but actually turns out to be, beyond measure sinful through its perversion of the commandment.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Romans 7:14-25. The last section of the chapter confirms the argument in which Paul has vindicated the law, by exhibiting the power of sin in the flesh. It is this which makes the law Weak, and defeats its good intention. “Hitherto he had contrasted himself, in respect of his whole being, with the Divine law; now, however, he begins to describe a discord which exists within himself” (Tholuck).

Romans 7:14. ὁ νόμος πνευματικός: the law comes from God who is Spirit, and it shares His nature: its affinities are Divine, not human, ἐγὼ δὲ σάρκινός εἰμι, πεπραμένος ὑμὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν: I, as opposed to the law, am a creature of flesh, sold under sin, σάρκινος is properly material = carneus, consisting of flesh, as opposed to σαρκικός, which is ethical=carnalis. Paul uses it because he is thinking of human nature, rather than of human character; as in opposition to the Divine law. He does not mean that there is no higher element in human nature having affinity to the law (against this see Romans 7:22-25), but that such higher elements are so depressed and impotent that no injustice is done in describing human nature as in his own person he describes it here. Flesh has such an exclusive preponderance that man can only be regarded as a being who has no affinity for the spiritual law of God, and necessarily kicks against it. Not that this is to be regarded as his essential nature. It describes him only as πεπραμένος ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν: the slave of sin. To speak of man as “flesh” is to speak of him as distinguished from God who is “Spirit”; but owing to the diffusion of sin in humanity, and the ascendency it has acquired, this mere distinction becomes an antagonism, and the mind of “the flesh” is enmity against God. In σάρκινος there is the sense of man’s weakness, and pity for it; σαρκικός would only have expressed condemnation, perhaps a shade of disgust or contempt. Weiss rightly remarks that the present tense εἰμι is determined simply by the ἐστιν preceding. Paul is contrasting the law of God and human nature, of course on the basis of his own experience; but the contrast is worked out ideally, or timelessly, as we might say, all the tenses being present; it is obvious, however, on reflection, that the experience described is essentially that of his pre-Christian days. It is the un-regenerate man’s experience, surviving at least in memory into regenerate days, and read with regenerate eyes.

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
Romans 7:15. Only the hypothesis of slavery explains his acts. For what I do οὐ γινώσκω, i.e., I do not recognise it as my own, as a thing for which I am responsible and which I can approve: my act is that of a slave who is but the instrument of another’s will. οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω κ.τ.λ. There is “an incomprehensible contradiction in his action”. κατεργὰζεσθαι is to effect, to bring about by one’s own work; πράσσειν is to work at, to busy oneself with, a thing, with or without success, but with purpose; ποιεῖν is simply to make or produce.

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Romans 7:16. ὃ οὐ θέλω takes up ὃ μισῶ the negative expression is strong enough for the argument. In doing what he hates, i.e., in doing evil against his will, his will agrees with the law, that it is good. καλός suggests the moral beauty or nobility of the law, not like ἀγαθή (Romans 7:12) its beneficial purpose.

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Romans 7:17. Νυνὶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτό. ἐγὼ is the true I, and emphatic. As things are, in view of the facts just explained, it is not the true self which is responsible for this line of conduct, but the sin which has its abode in the man: contrast Romans 8:11 τὸ ἐνοικοῦν αὐτοῦ πνεῦμα ἐν ὑμῖν. “Paul said, ‘It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,’ and ‘I live, yet not I; but Christ that liveth in me’; and both these sayings of his touch on the unsayable” (Dr. John Duncan). To be saved from sin, a man must at the same time own it and disown it; it is this practical paradox which is reflected in this verse. It is safe for a Christian like Paul—it is not safe for everybody—to explain his failings by the watchword, Not I, but indwelling sin. That might be antinomian, or manichean, as well as evangelical. A true saint may say it in a moment of passion, but a sinner had better not make it a principle.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
Romans 7:18. It is sin, and nothing but sin, that has to be taken account of in this connection, for “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells no good”. For τοῦτʼ ἔστιν see on Romans 1:12. ἐν ἐμοὶ = ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου = in me, regarded as a creature of flesh, apart from any relation to or affinity for God and His spirit. This, of course, is not a complete view of what man is at any stage of his life. τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι: θέλειν is rather wish than will: the want of will is the very thing lamented. An inclination to the good is at his hand, within the limit of his resources, but not the actual effecting of the good.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Romans 7:19. In this verse there is a repetition of Romans 7:15, but what was there an abstract contrast between inclination and action is here sharpened into the moral contrast between good inclination and bad action.

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Romans 7:20. The same conclusion as in Romans 7:17. If the first ἐγὼ is right, it must go with οὐ θέλω: Paul distinguishes himself sharply, as a person whose inclination is violated by his actions, from the indwelling sin which is really responsible for them.

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
Romans 7:21-23 summarise the argument. εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμονὅτι: most commentators hold that the clause introduced by ὅτι is the explanation of τὸν νόμον. The law, in short, which Paul has discovered by experience, is the constant fact that when his inclination is to do good, evil is present with him. This sense of law approximates very closely to the modern sense which the word bears in physical science—so closely that its very modernness may be made an objection to it. Possibly Paul meant, in using the word, to convey at the same time the idea of an outward compulsion put on him by sin, which expressed itself in this constant incapacity to do the good he inclined to—authority or constraint as well as normality being included in his idea of the word. But ὁ νόμος in Paul always seems to have much more definitely the suggestion of something with legislative authority: it is questionable whether the first meaning given above would have occurred, or would have seemed natural, except to a reader familiar with the phraseology of modern science. Besides, the subject of the whole paragraph is the relation of “the law” to sin, and the form of the sentence is quite analogous to that of Romans 7:10, in which a preliminary conclusion has been come to on the question. Hence I agree with those who make τὸν νόμον the Mosaic law. The construction is not intolerable, if we observe that εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμον τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ κ.τ.λ. is equivalent to εὑρίσκεται ἄρα ὁ νόμος τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ κ.τ.λ. “This is what I find the law—or life under the law—to come to in experience: when I wish to do good, evil is present with me.” This is the answer he has already given in Romans 7:7 to the question, Is the law sin? No, it is not sin, but nevertheless sin is most closely connected with it. The repeated ἐμοί has something tragic in it: me, who am so anxious to do otherwise.

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
Romans 7:22 f. Further explanation: the incongruity between inclination and action has its roots in a division within man’s nature. The law of God legislates for him, and in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16) he delights in it. The inner man is not equivalent to the new or regenerate man; it is that side of every man’s nature which is akin to God, and is the point of attachment, so to speak, for the regenerating spirit. It is called inward because it is not seen. What is seen is described in Romans 7:23. Here also νόμος is not used in the modern physical sense, but imaginatively: “I see that a power to legislate, of a different kind (different from the law of God), asserts itself in my members, making war on the law of my mind”. The law of my mind is practically identical with the law of God in Romans 7:22 : and the νοῦς itself, if not identical with ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος, is its chief organ. Paul does not see in his nature two normal modes in which certain forces operate; he sees two authorities saying to him, Do this, and the higher succumbing to the lower. As the lower prevails, it leads him captive to the law of Sin which is in his members, or in other words to itself; “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage”. The end therefore is that man, as a creature of flesh, living under law, does what Sin enjoins. It is the law of Sin to which he gives obedience.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Romans 7:24. ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος· τίς με ῥύσεται; “a wail of anguish and a cry for help”. The words are not those of the Apostle’s heart as he writes; they are the words which he knows are wrung from the heart of the man who realises that he is himself in the state just described. Paul has reproduced this vividly from his own experience, but ταλαίπωρας ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος is not the cry of the Christian Paul, but of the man whom sin and law have brought to despair. ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου: “This death” is the death of which man is acutely conscious in the condition described: it is the same as the death of Romans 7:9, but intensely realised through the experience of captivity to sin. “The body of this death” is therefore the same as “the body of sin” in chap. Romans 6:6 : it is the body which, as the instrument if not the seat of sin, is involved in its doom. Salvation must include deliverance from the body so far as the body has this character and destiny.

I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Romans 7:25. The exclamation of thanksgiving shows that the longed-for deliverance has actually been achieved. The regenerate man’s ideal contemplation of his pre-Christian state rises with sudden joy into a declaration of his actual emancipation as a Christian. διὰ Ἰ. Χ. τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Christ is regarded as the mediator through whom the thanksgiving ascends to God, not as the author of the deliverance for which thanks are given. With ἄρα οὖν αὐτὸς ἐγώ the Apostle introduces the conclusion of this whole discussion. “So then I myself—that is, I, leaving Jesus Christ our Lord out of the question—can get no further than this: with the mind, or in the inner man, I serve a law of God (a Divine law), but with the flesh, or in my actual outward life, a law of sin.” We might say the law of God, or of sin; but the absence of the definite article emphasises the character of law. αὐτὸς ἐγὼ: see 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 12:13.

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