Romans 7:7
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.
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(7) What shall we say then?—The Apostle had spoken in a manner disparaging to the Law, and which might well give offence to some of his readers. It was necessary to correct this. And so now he proceeds to lay down more precisely in what it was that the Law was defective, and what was its true function and relation to the history and struggles of humanity.

In what follows the Apostle speaks throughout in the first person. He is really making a general statement which applies to all mankind; but this statement is based upon his own personal experience. Self-analysis is at the bottom of most profound psychology. The Apostle goes back in thought to the time before he had embraced Christianity, and treats his own case as typical. There can be little question that the description which follows to the end of Romans 7:24 is a description of the unregenerate state of man. It is one prolonged crisis and conflict, which at last finds its solution in Christ.

Is the law sin?—The Law had just been described as stimulating and exciting “the motions of sins.” Was this true? Was the Law really immoral? No, that could not be.

Nay.—Rather, howbeit (Ellicott), nevertheless. The Law is not actually immoral, but it is near being made so. It is not itself sin (sinful), but it reveals, and so in a manner incites to, sin.

I had not known.—Strictly, I did not know. I had no acquaintance with sin except through the Law. Before the introduction of law, acts that are sinful in themselves, objectively viewed, may be done, but they are not sinful with reference to the person who does them. He has no knowledge or consciousness of what sin is until it is revealed to him by law.

Sin.—Here a sort of quasi-personification. The principle or power of sin into contact and acquaintance with which the Apostle was brought for the first time by the Law.

I had not known lust.—The Apostle introduces an illustration from a special law—the Tenth Commandment. “Lust” is here to be taken in the special sense of covetousness, desire for that which is forbidden. Doubtless there would be many before the giving of the Law who desired their “neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant,” &c.; but this would not be coveting, it would not be desire of that which was forbidden, for the simple reason that it was not forbidden. Covetousness, then, as a sin, the Apostle did not know until he was confronted with the law against it.

Romans 7:7-8. What shall we say then? — This, to the beginning of the next chapter, is a kind of digression, wherein the apostle, in order to show, in the most lively manner, the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person, and speaks as of himself. This he frequently does when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character. See Romans 3:7; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Corinthians 4:6. The character here assumed is that of an unrenewed, unregenerated man; first, ignorant of the spirituality and holiness of the law, then acquainted therewith, and convinced of his depravity and weakness thereby, and sincerely but ineffectually striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or of any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted Romans 8:2. Is the law sin? — Macknight connects this with the preceding words thus: What then, do we say that the law is sin? is a bad institution, that causes or encourages sin? that there is any moral evil in it, or that it is intended by God, or adapted in its own nature, to lead men into sin? That this is the apostle’s meaning is plain from Romans 7:12, where he mentions, by way of inference, the proposition which his reasoning was designed to prove, namely, the law is holy, &c. God forbid — We revere the high authority by which it was given too much to insinuate any thing of that kind. Nay, I had not known sin — Either not at all, or not clearly and fully: I had not known its evil nature and destructive consequences; nor, in many instances, what really was sin; but by the law — As the apostle is speaking of the law of Moses, and, as appears from the last clause of the verse, of the moral law, the quotation there being from the tenth commandment, his words must not be understood universally. “For it is not to be supposed that the reason and conscience of the heathen gave them no knowledge at all of their sins; the contrary is affirmed by the apostle, Romans 2:14. Nevertheless, the most enlightened among them had but an imperfect knowledge of the nature and demerit of sin in general, and of the number and aggravations of their own sins in particular, compared with the knowledge of these things which they would have derived from revelation. The truth is, they fancied many things to be innocent which were real enormities; and many things trivial sins which were very heinous, as is evident from their writings. The inference to be drawn, therefore, is, that since the law discovers, or forbids and condemns sin, in order that it may be avoided, it does not directly promote it, but only by accident, by reason of the corruption of our nature. For I had not known lust — To be sin; επιθυμιαν, desire — That is, the desire of an unlawful thing, or the inordinate desire of what is lawful. The word signifies desire, or, as Dr. Macknight renders it, strong desire, whether good or bad. Here it is used in the bad sense, as it is likewise 1 John 2:16; επιθυμια της σαρκος, the lust of the flesh. “But it signifies strong desire of a good kind also, Luke 22:15 : επιθυμια επεθυμησα, I have strongly desired to eat this passover. 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Endeavoured the more abundantly, πολλη επιθυμια, with great desire, to see your face. Except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet — In this commandment, the desire that is forbidden is of what belongs to others. Now, as the operation of such a desire is to prompt men to acts of injustice, the existence of it in the mind is obviously sin, because it could not hold its place there for any length of time, unless it were indulged. However, the knowledge that strong desire, not exerted in outward actions, is sin, is not very obvious; and therefore the apostle ascribes it to the information given us by the revealed law of God.” But sin — But what I say is, not that the law is sin, but that sin, namely, the corrupt inclination of fallen nature; taking occasion by the commandment — Forbidding but not subduing it, and being excited, quickened, and drawn forth into action by it; wrought in me — While unrenewed; all manner of concupiscence — Every kind of evil desire; inclinations to sins of all sorts. This evil principle in human nature is acknowledged even by heathen, whose words are frequently quoted in illustration of it:

Gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas: Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.

“Mankind rush into wickedness, and always desire what is forbidden.”

The reader will observe, that this, which appears to be the true sense of the words, namely, that the prohibitions of the law awaken and irritate men’s evil desires, supposes such desires to exist in the mind previous to these prohibitions, and that these desires, with other evil dispositions, prompt men to make trial of things forbidden, the inclination of human nature being too generally like that of a froward child, who will do a thing because it was forbidden; and perhaps is, as it were, reminded of an evil, on hearing it mentioned in a prohibition. It must not, however, be supposed, that all evil desire arises from hence; for fleshly appetites, and other strong desires, which prevail in men’s minds, do not owe either their existence or their operation to the prohibitions and penalties of the law, or to the knowledge thereof; but only their power to kill, of which, therefore, Macknight interprets the words. For without the law sin was dead — Neither so apparent nor so active; nor was I under the least apprehension of any danger from it. Sin, which he still represents as a person, would have had no being, or at least no strength to kill men, had not the law, revealed or natural, existed; for the essence of sin consists in its being a violation of law. Though the apostle speaks this primarily and directly of the law of Moses, it is equally true of the law of nature, and may be applied to the state of mankind before the law of Moses was given. For unless there had been a law written in men’s hearts, sin would have been dead, or have had neither existence nor power to kill.

7:7-13 There is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin, which is necessary to repentance, and therefore to peace and pardon, but by trying our hearts and lives by the law. In his own case the apostle would not have known the sinfulness of his thoughts, motives, and actions, but by the law. That perfect standard showed how wrong his heart and life were, proving his sins to be more numerous than he had before thought, but it did not contain any provision of mercy or grace for his relief. He is ignorant of human nature and the perverseness of his own heart, who does not perceive in himself a readiness to fancy there is something desirable in what is out of reach. We may perceive this in our children, though self-love makes us blind to it in ourselves. The more humble and spiritual any Christian is, the more clearly will he perceive that the apostle describes the true believer, from his first convictions of sin to his greatest progress in grace, during this present imperfect state. St. Paul was once a Pharisee, ignorant of the spirituality of the law, having some correctness of character, without knowing his inward depravity. When the commandment came to his conscience by the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and he saw what it demanded, he found his sinful mind rise against it. He felt at the same time the evil of sin, his own sinful state, that he was unable to fulfil the law, and was like a criminal when condemned. But though the evil principle in the human heart produces sinful motions, and the more by taking occasion of the commandment; yet the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. It is not favourable to sin, which it pursues into the heart, and discovers and reproves in the inward motions thereof. Nothing is so good but a corrupt and vicious nature will pervert it. The same heat that softens wax, hardens clay. Food or medicine when taken wrong, may cause death, though its nature is to nourish or to heal. The law may cause death through man's depravity, but sin is the poison that brings death. Not the law, but sin discovered by the law, was made death to the apostle. The ruinous nature of sin, and the sinfulness of the human heart, are here clearly shown.What shall we say then? - The objection which is here urged is one that would very naturally rise, and which we may suppose would be urged with no slight indignation. The Jew would ask, "Are we then to suppose that the holy Law of God is not only insufficient to sanctify us, but that it is the mere occasion of increased sin? Is its tendency to produce sinful passions, and to make people worse than they were before?" To this objection the apostle replies with great wisdom, by showing that the evil was not in the Law, but in man; that though these effects often followed, yet that the Law itself was good and pure.

Is the law sin? - Is it sinful? Is it evil? For if, as it is said in Romans 7:5, the sinful passions were "by the law," it might naturally be asked whether the Law itself was not an evil thing?

God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.

Nay, I had not known sin - The word translated "nay" ἀλλὰ alla means more properly but; and this would have more correctly expressed the sense, "I deny that the Law is sin. My doctrine does not lead to that; nor do I affirm that it is evil. I strongly repel the charge; but, notwithstanding this, I still maintain that it had an effect in exciting sins, yet so as that I perceived that the Law itself was good;" Romans 7:8-12. At the same time, therefore, that the Law must be admitted to be the occasion of exciting sinful feelings, by crossing the inclinations of the mind, yet the fault was not to be traced to the Law. The apostle in these verses refers, doubtless, to the state of his mind before he found that peace which the gospel furnishes by the pardon of sins.

But by the law - Romans 3:20. By "the law" here, the apostle has evidently in his eye every law of God, however made known. He means to say that the effect which he describes attends all law, and this effect he illustrates by a single instance drawn from the Tenth Commandment. When he says that he should not have known sin, he evidently means to affirm, that he had not understood that certain things were sinful, unless they had been forbidden; and having stated this, he proceeds to another thing, to show the effect of their being thus forbidden on his mind. He was not merely acquainted abstractly with the nature and existence of sin, with what constituted crime because it was forbidden, but he was conscious of a certain effect on his mind resulting from this knowledge, and from the effect of strong, raging desires when thus restrained, Romans 7:8-9.

For I had not known lust - I should not have been acquainted with the nature of the sin of covetousness. The desire might have existed, but he would not have known it to be sinful, and he would not have experienced that raging, impetuous, and ungoverned propensity which he did when he found it to be forbidden. Man without law might have the strong feelings of desire He might covet what others possessed. He might take property, or be disobedient to parents; but he would not know it to be evil. The Law fixes bounds to his desires, and teaches him what is right and what is wrong. It teaches him where lawful indulgence ends, and where sin begins. The word "lust" here is not limited as it is with us. It refers to all covetous desires; to all wishes for what is forbidden us.

Except the law had said - In the tenth commandment; Exodus 20:17.

Thou shalt not covet - This is the beginning of the command, and all the rest is implied. The apostle knew that it would be understood without repeating the whole. This particular commandment he selected because it was more pertinent than the others to his purpose. The others referred particularly to external actions. But his object was to show the effect of sin on the mind and conscience. He therefore chose one that referred particularly to the desires of the heart.

7, 8. What … then? Is the law sin? God forbid!—"I have said that when we were in the flesh the law stirred our inward corruption, and was thus the occasion of deadly fruit: Is then the law to blame for this? Far from us be such a thought."

Nay—"On the contrary" (as in Ro 8:37; 1Co 12:22; Greek).

I had not known sin but by the law—It is important to fix what is meant by "sin" here. It certainly is not "the general nature of sin" [Alford, &c.], though it be true that this is learned from the law; for such a sense will not suit what is said of it in the following verses, where the meaning is the same as here. The only meaning which suits all that is said of it in this place is "the principle of sin in the heart of fallen man." The sense, then, is this: "It was by means of the law that I came to know what a virulence and strength of sinful propensity I had within me." The existence of this it did not need the law to reveal to him; for even the heathens recognized and wrote of it. But the dreadful nature and desperate power of it the law alone discovered—in the way now to be described.

for I had not known lust, except, &c.—Here the same Greek word is unfortunately rendered by three different English ones—"lust"; "covet"; "concupiscence" (Ro 7:8)—which obscures the meaning. By using the word "lust" only, in the wide sense of all "irregular desire," or every outgoing of the heart towards anything forbidden, the sense will best be brought out; thus, "For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust; But sin, taking ('having taken') occasion by the commandment (that one which forbids it), wrought in me all manner of lusting." This gives a deeper view of the tenth commandment than the mere words suggest. The apostle saw in it the prohibition not only of desire after certain things there specified, \ but of "desire after everything divinely forbidden"; in other words, all "lusting" or "irregular desire." It was this which "he had not known but by the law." The law forbidding all such desire so stirred his corruption that it wrought in him "all manner of lusting"—desire of every sort after what was forbidden.

Is the law sin? God forbid: here is another anticipation of an objection, which might arise from what the apostle had said, Romans 7:5, that sin was powerful in us by the law. Some might object and say, that the law then was sin, i.e. that it was the cause of it, and a factor for it. To this he answers, by his usual note of detestation, God forbid.

Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law; i.e. I had not known it so clearly and effectually, so as to humble and drive me to Christ; for otherwise, nature itself teachs a difference of good and evil in many things. He adds this as a reason why the law cannot be the cause of sin, because it discovers and reproves sin, it detects and damns it; and that it so doth, he proves from his own experience.

For I had not known lust; i.e. I had not known it to be sin. By lust here some understand that concupiscence which the school men call unformed concupiscence, which hath not the consent of the will: for the concupiscence to which we consent, the heathens themselves know to be sinful; but that which hath not the consent of the will, or the first motions to sin, they held to be no sin; as neither did the Pharisees, amongst whom Paul lived; nor do the papists to this very day. Some by lust understand original sin, which is the fountain from whence all particular lusts flow; the hot furnace from which all sinful motions, as so many sparks, continually arise: this is called lust, likewise, in Jam 1:14; and this is forbidden in every commandment; for where any of sin is prohibited, there the root also is prohibited; but more particularly it is forbidden in the tenth commandment.

Except the law that said, Thou shalt not covet: some understand the law in general; but the article used in the Greek seems to restrain it to a particular precept. Besides, they are the very words of the tenth commandment. But why doth he not mention the objects that are specified in that commandment, as, thy neighbour’s house, wife, & c.? The answer is: That that was not material; for the apostle speaking of inward concupiscence, which without the law is latent and undiscovered, it was enough to name the sin itself, seeing the objects about which it is conversant are of all sorts, and can hardly be numbered.

What shall we say then? is the law sin?.... The apostle having said, that "the motions of sins were by the law", Romans 7:5, meets with an objection, or rather an ill natured cavil, "is the law sin?" if the motions sins are by it, then it instigates and prompts men to sin; it cherishes it in them; it leads them and impels them to the commission of it, and therefore must be the cause of sin; and if the cause of sin, then it must be sin, or sinful itself: "what shall we say then?" how shall we remove this difficulty, answer this objection, and silence this cavil? To this it is replied by way of detestation and abhorrence,

God forbid! a way of speaking often made use of by the apostle, when any dreadful consequence was drawn from, or any shocking objection was made to his doctrine, and which was so monstrous as scarcely to deserve any other manner of refutation; see Romans 3:3; and next by observing the use of the law to discover sin; which it does by forbidding it, and threatening it with death; by accusing for it, convincing of it, and representing it in its proper colours, it being as a glass in which it may be beheld just as it is, neither greater nor less; which must be understood as attended with a divine power and light, otherwise as a glass is of no use to a blind man, so neither is the law in this sense, to a man in a state of darkness, until the Spirit of God opens his eyes to behold in this glass what manner of man he is: now since the law is so useful to discover, and so to discountenance sin, that itself cannot be sin, or sinful. The apostle exemplifies this in his own case, and says,

nay, I had not known sin, but by the law; which he says not in the person of another, there is no room nor reason for such a fancy; but in his own person, and of himself: not of himself at that present time, as is evident from his way of speaking; nor of himself in his childhood, before he came to years of discretion to discern between good and evil; but as, and when he was a grown person, and whilst a Pharisee, Philippians 3:5; he did not know sin during his being in that state till the law came, and entered into his conscience, and then, and by it, he knew sin, Romans 7:7, the exceeding sinfulness of it, Romans 7:13, and that he himself was the chief of sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15. Nay he goes on to observe, that by the law he came to know, not only the sinfulness of outward actions, but also of inward lusts; says he,

for I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shall not covet: as it does in Exodus 20:17. This is a way of speaking used by the Jews, when they produce any passage out of the law, thus (e), , "the law says", if anyone comes to kill thee; referring either to 1 Samuel 24:11 or Exodus 22:1; and a little after, "the law says", namely, in Exodus 3:5, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet", &c. By "lust" is meant the inward motions of sin in the heart, any and every desire of the mind after it; not only studied and concerted schemes, how to bring about and compass an evil action; but every loose vagrant thought of sin, and inclination to it; yea, every imagination of the thought of the heart, before the imagination is well formed into a thought; and not only a dallying with sin in the mind, dwelling upon it with pleasure in thought, but even such sudden motions and starts of the mind to sin, to which we give no assent; such as are involuntary, yea, contrary to the will, being "the evil we would not", Romans 7:19, and are displeasing and hateful to us; these are meant by lust, and which by the law of God are known to be sinful, and only by that. These were not known to be so by the Gentiles, who only had the law and light of nature; nor are they condemned, nor any provision made against them, nor can there be any made, by the laws of men: and though these inward lusts are condemned by the law of God, yet inasmuch as they were not punishable by men, and could be covered with the guise of an external righteousness, multitudes who were born under, and brought up in that law, were secure and indolent about them, did not look upon them as sins, or as at all affecting their righteousness; but imagined that, "touching the righteousness of the law", they were "blameless", Philippians 3:6; which was the case of all the Pharisees, and of the apostle whilst such: but when the law came and entered his conscience with power and light attending it, then he saw, such innumerable swarms of lusts in his heart, and these to be sinful, which he never saw and knew before: just as in a sunbeam we behold those numerous little bits of dust, which otherwise are indiscernible by us. Now since the law is of such use, not only to discover the sinfulness of outward actions, but also of inward lusts and desires, that itself cannot be sinful.

(e) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 62. 2.

{4} 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 {o} lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

(4) An objection: What then? Are the law and sin the same thing, and do they agree together? No, he says: sin is reproved and condemned by the law. But because sin cannot abide to be reproved, and was not in a manner felt until it was provoked and stirred up by the law, it takes occasion by this to be more outrageous, and yet by no fault of the law.

(o) By the word lust in this place he does not mean evil lusts themselves, but the fountain from which they come, for the heathen philosophers themselves condemned wicked lusts, though somewhat poorly. But as for the fountain of lust, they could not so much as determine it, and yet it is the very seat of the natural and unclean spot and filth.

Romans 7:7. Ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία;] Is the law sin? a something, whose ethical nature is immoral? Comp. Tittmann, Synon. p. 46; Winzer, Progr. 1832, p. 5; also Fritzsche, Rückert, de Wette, Tholuck, and Philippi. For the contrast see Romans 7:12, from which it at once appears that the formerly current interpretation, still held by Reiche and Flatt, “originator of sin” (διάκονος ἁμαρτίας, Galatians 2:17), is, from the connection, erroneous; as indeed it would have to be arbitrarily imported into the word, for the appeal to Micah 1:5 overlooks the poetical mode of expression in that passage. The substantive predicate (comp. Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21, al.) is more significant than an adjectival expression (ἁμαρτωλός), and in keeping with the meaning of the remonstrant, whom Paul personates. The question is not to be supposed preposterous, setting forth a proposition without real meaning (Hofmann), since it is by no means absurd in itself and, as an objection, has sufficient apparent ground in what precedes

After ἀλλά we are no more to understand ἐροῦμεν again (Hofmann) than before ὁ νόμ. ἁμαρτ., for which there is no ground (it is otherwise at Romans 9:30). On the contrary, this ἀλλά, but, brings in the real relation to sin, as it occurs in contrast to that inference which has just been rejected with horror: ἁμαρτία μὲν οὐκ ἔστι, φησὶ, γνωριστικὸς δὲ ἁμαρτίας, Theophylact.

τὴν ἁμ. οὐκ ἔγνων, εἰ μὴ δ. νόμου] Sin I have not become acquainted with, except through the law. The ἁμαρτία is sin as an active principle in man (see Romans 7:8-9; Romans 7:11; Romans 7:13-14), with which I have become experimentally acquainted only through the law (comp. the subsequent οὐκ ᾔδειν), so that without the intervention of the law it would have remained for me an unknown power; because, in that case (see the following, and Romans 7:8), it would not have become active in me through the excitement of desires after what is forbidden in contrast to the law. The τὴν ἁμ. οὐκ ἔγν., therefore, is not here to be confounded with the ἐπίγνωσις ἁμ. in Romans 3:20, which in fact is only attained through comparison of the moral condition with the requirements of the law (in opposition to Krehl); nor yet is it to be understood of the theoretic knowledge of the essence of sin, namely, that the latter is opposition to the will of God (Tholuck, Philippi; comp. van Hengel and the older expositors), against which view Romans 7:8 (χωρὶς νόμου ἁμαρτ. νεκρά) and Romans 7:9 are decisive. The view of Fritzsche is, however, likewise erroneous (see the following, especially Romans 7:8): I should not have sinned, “cognoscit autem peccatum, qui peccat.”

οὐκ ἔγνων is to be rendered simply, with the Vulgate: non cognovi. The sense: I should not have known, would anticipate the following clause, which assigns the reason.

The νόμος is nothing else than the Mosaic law, not the moral law generally in all forms of its revelation (Olshausen); for Paul is in fact declaring his own experimental consciousness, and by means of this, as it developed itself under Judaism, presenting to view the moral position (in its general human aspect) of those who are subject to the law of Moses.

τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθ. κ.τ.λ.] for the desire (after the forbidden) would in fact be unknown to me, if the law did not say, Thou shalt not covet. The reason is here assigned for the foregoing: “with the dawning consciousness of desire conflicting with the precept of the law, I became aware also of the principle of sin within me, since the latter (see Romans 7:8-9) made me experimentally aware of its presence and life by the excitement of desire in presence of the law.” What the law forbids us to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21), was no concern of the apostle here, looking to the universality of his representation; he could only employ the prohibition of sinful desire generally and in itself, without particular reference to its object.

On τὲγὰρ, forindeed, comp. Romans 1:26; it is not to be taken climactically (van Hengel), as if Paul had written καὶ γὰρ τὴν ἐπιθ. or οὐδὲ γὰρ τὴν ἐπιθ. ᾔδ. To the τε, however, corresponds the following δέ in Romans 7:8, which causes the chief stress of the sentence assigning the reason to fall upon Romans 7:8 (Stallb. ad Plat. Polit. p. 270D); therefore Romans 7:8 is still included as dependent on γὰρ. Respecting the imperative future of the old language of legislation, see on Matthew 1:21.

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.

7–25. The true function of the Divine Law: to detect and condemn sin, both before and after Justification

7. What shall we say then?] Same words as Romans 6:1.—Here opens a new and important section, including the remainder of ch. 7, and passing on in close connexion into ch. 8. The dogmatic statement and illustration of the Union of the justified with Jesus Christ as (1) the Second Adam, (2) the new Master, (3) the mystic Husband, is now closed. All these aspects of redemption, but especially the last, have suggested the question now to be definitely treated; namely, What is the true Nature and Work of the law? The expressions just used regarding the Law;—the “death” of the justified to it; “the holding down” which it inflicted on them; the “oldness of the letter;”—all point the new enquiry “Is the Law sin?” We have just read (Romans 7:5) that “the instincts of our sins were by the Law.” Does this mean that the Law is a sinful principle and motive? Is it the origin of sin? Is it sin itself?—“The Law” here, and through most of the context, (exceptions, of course, are Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23,) is the Moral Law, with a special, but not exclusive, understanding of the Mosaic Code. See above on ch. Romans 5:13.

God forbid] See on Romans 3:4.—The vehement negative is, of course, only in keeping with the many incidental assertions hitherto (e.g. Romans 6:19) of the reality of the obedience of the justified.

Nay] Lit., and far better, But. St Paul entirely rejects the suggestion that the Law is sin, but all the more insists on the fact that it does both detect sin and (in a certain sense) evoke it.

I had not known] See on Romans 3:20.—The reference of the words there “by the law, &c.,” and that of this clause, are not precisely the same. There, the law is regarded more as detecting the evil of sin; here, more as evoking its power. But the two ideas are nearly akin.—Here St Paul means that without the Precept he would not have seen, in evil thoughts, &c., that element of resistance to a holy Will which carries with it a mysterious attraction for the fallen soul. He would not have known sin as sin in this respect.

Through the whole context, to Romans 8:3 inclusive, he speaks in the first person. This change is most forcible and natural. The main topic before this passage, and very much so after it also, is objective truth;—the Propitiation, and the legal results, and logical effects, of belief in it. Here comes in subjective truth; the inner experience of the conflict of the soul. How could this be better stated than through the writer’s own experience, as the experience of a typical (but real) man?

lust] desire after forbidden things. The desire might, of course, be felt “without the law;” but the law gives it a new character and intensity.

covet] Lit. desire. This verb, and the noun rendered “lust,” are cognates. “I had not known lust as lust, but for the Law’s word, ‘Thou shalt not lust.’ ”—The reference is to Exodus 20:17; where the terms of the commandment illustrate the meaning of the word “desire” here.

Romans 7:7. ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; is the law sin?) He, who has heard the same things predicated of the law and of sin, will perhaps make this objection: is, then, the law sin, or the sinful cause of sin? comp. Romans 7:13, note.—τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, sin) We must again observe the propriety of the terms, and the distinction between them:

ὁ νόμος· τὸ λέγειν τοῦ νόμου.

the law;

ἡ ἁμαρτία· ἡ ἐπιθυμία.


οὐκ ἔγνων , (from γινώσκω·) οὐκ ᾔδειν, (from οἶδα.) ἔγνων is the greater, οἶδα the less. Hence the latter, since even the less degree is denied, is expressive of increase.[69] Αμαρτία, sin, is as it were sinful matter, from which all manner of [The all taken from πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν, Romans 7:8] disease and paroxysm of concupiscence [Romans 7:8] originates.—οὐκ ἔγνων, I had not known) Paul often sets forth his discourse indefinitely in the first person, not only for the sake of perspicuity, but from the constant application of what is said to himself; see 1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 6:12. And so also in this passage.—τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν, for even lust) Ἡ ἁμαρτία, sin, is more deeply seated [inward] and recondite: ἡ ἐπιθυμία, lust, rather assails [rushes into] the sense, and at the same time betrays [the inwardly seated] sin, as smoke does fire. The particles τὲ γὰρ, for even indicate this διορισμός, this contra-distinction; and sin, that one indwelling evil, works out [produces] a variety of lust [all manner of concupiscence]: see what follows; and again lust brings forth sin consummated [finished], Jam 1:15. [Sin lies concealed in man, as heat in drink, which, if we were to judge by mere sensation, may possibly at the time be very cold, V. g.]—οὐκ ᾔδειν, I had not known) lust to be an evil; or rather, I had not known [even the existence of] lust itself; its motion at length [when the law came, then and not till then] met the eye.—ἔλεγεν, said) Moreover it said so, [first] by itself; then, [also] in my mind: comp. when the law came, Romans 7:9.lust.the fact of the law saying [Taken out of, “Except the law had said”].

[69] The increase in force is this; I had not full knowledge (ἔγνων) of sin, nay I had not even been at all sensible (ᾕδειν) of lust.—ED.

Verses 7-25. - (b) The relation of law to sin, and how law prepares the soul for emancipation in Christ from the dominion of sin. In the section of the argument which begins at Romans 7:1 we have seen that the idea of being under sin has passed into that of being under law, in such apparent connection of thought as to identify the positions. The apostle, seeing that readers might be perplexed by such identification, now, in the first place, explains what he has meant by it. Is the Law, then, sin? No, replies the apostle; the Law itself (with especial reference to the Mosaic Law as the great and authentic expression of Divine law) is holy; and its connection with sin is only this - that, in virtue of its very holiness, it convinces of sin, and makes it sinful. And then, to the end of ch. 7, he goes on to show how this is by an analysis of the operation of law on human consciousness. He presents to us a vivid picture of a man supposed at first to be without law, and therefore unconscious of sin; but then, through law coming in, acquiring a sense of it, and yet unable to avoid it. The man assents in his conscience to the good, but is dragged down by the infection of his nature to the evil. He seems to have, as it were, two contrary laws within himself, distracting him. And so the external Law, appealing to the higher law within himself, good and holy though it be, is, in a sense, killing him; for it reveals sin to him, and makes it deadly, but does not deliver him from it, till the crisis comes in the desperate cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (ver. 24). But this crisis is the precursor of deliverance; it is the last throe preceding the new birth; the Law has now done its work, having fully convinced of sin, and excited the yearning for deliverance, and in "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" the deliverance comes. How it comes is set forth in ch. 8, where the state of peace and hope, consequent on deliverance through faith in Christ, is portrayed in glowing terms, so as thus to complete the subject which we announced as being that of the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters, viz. "the moral results to believers of the revealed righteousness of God." Two questions have been raised and discussed with regard to vers. 7-25.

(1) Whether St. Paul, who writes throughout the passage in the first person singular, is describing his own personal experience, or only so writing in order to give vividness and reality to his picture of the experience of any human soul.

(2) Whether he is describing the mental experience of an unregenerate or of a regenerate man. As to (1), his purpose undoubtedly is not (like that of Augustine in his 'Confessions ') to tell us about himself, but to depict generally the throes of the human soul when convinced of sin. But, in doing this, he as undoubtedly draws on his own past experience; recollections of the struggle he had himself gone through gleam evidently throughout the picture; he paints so vividly because he has felt so keenly. This makes the passage so peculiarly interesting, as being not only a striking analysis of human consciousness, but also an opening out to us of the great apostle's inner self; of the inward pangs and dissatisfaction with himself which had, we may well believe, distracted him through the many years when he had been a zealot for the Law and apparently satisfied with it, and when - perhaps partly to stifle disturbing thoughts - he had thrown himself into the work of persecution. Then, further, the sudden change of tone observable in the eighth chapter, which is like calm and sunshine after storm, reveals to us the change that had come over him (to which he often elsewhere refers), when "the light from heaven" had shown him an escape from his mental chaos. He was then "a new creature: old things had passed away; behold, all things had become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). As to question (2), an answer has been already virtually given; viz. that the condition described is that of the unregenerate; in this sense - that it is of one still under the bondage of sin and law, before the revelation to the soul of the righteousness of God, and the consequent rising to a new life in Christ. This seems obvious from its being the thought of law subjecting to sin that introduces the whole passage, and runs through it - the γὰρ which connects ver. 14 with what precedes denoting a continuance throughout of the same line of thought - and also from the marked change of tone in ch. 8, where the state of the regenerate is undoubtedly described. Further, we find, in vers. 5 and 6 of ch. 7, the obvious theses of the two sections that follow, in the remainder of ch. 7. and in ch. 8. respectively. Their wording exactly corresponds to the subject-matter of these sections; and ver. 5 distinctly expresses the state of being under law, ver. 6 the state of deliverance from it. Further, particular expressions in the two sections seem to be in intended contrast with each other, so as to denote contrasted states. In Romans 7:9, 11, 13, sin, through the Law, kills; in Romans 8:2 we have "the law of the Spirit of life." In Romans 7:23 the man is brought into captivity; in Romans 8:2 he is made free. In Romans 7:14, 18 there is invincible strife between the holy Law and the carnal mind; in Romans 8:4 the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled. In Romans 7:5 we were in the flesh; in Romans 8:9 not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. And, further, could St. Paul possibly have spoken of the regenerate Christian as "sold under sin" (ver. 14)? His state is one of redemption from it. We do not mean that the state which begins to be described at ver. 14 is one devoid of grace. A condition of progress towards regeneration is described; and the final utter dissatisfaction with self, and the keen yearning after good, imply a reused and enlightened conscience: it is the state of one who is being prepared for deliverance, and is not far from the kingdom of God. All, in fact, we say is that it is not till ch. 8. that the picture of a soul emancipated by a living faith in Christ begins. We may observe, further, that the mere use of the present tense in ver. 14 and afterwards by no means necessitates our supposing the apostle to be speaking of his own state at the time of writing, and therefore of the state of a regenerate Christian. He uses the present to add vividness and reality to the picture; he throws himself back into, and realizes to himself again, his own former feebleness; and he thus also more clearly distinguishes between the state described and the imagined previous one before law had begun to operate. The view which we thus confidently advocate is that of the Greek Fathers generally, the application of the passage to the regenerate Christian being apparently due to Augustine in his opposition to Pelagianism; i.e. according to his later view; for in his earlier days (Prop. 45 in 'Ep. ad Romans;' 'Ad Simplic.,' 1:91, 'Conf.,' 7:21) he had held with the Greek Fathers. Jerome also seems to have similarly changed his mind about it; and the later view of both these Fathers has been adopted by Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Corn. a Lapide, and by Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Beza, and others among the Protestants. What weighed with Augustine was that in vers. 17, 20, 22, more propension to good is implied than his doctrinal theory allowed to the natural man. Under a similar impression, Calvin says, commenting on ver. 17, "Porto hic locus palam evincit non nisi de pits qui jam regeniti sunt Paulum disputare. Quamdiu enim manet homo sui similis, quantus quantus est, merito censetur vitiosus." If, however, St. Paul's intention, obvious from his own writing, does not fit in with Augustinian or Calvinistic theology, so much the worse for the latter. The verses in question do not, in fact, express more than the apostle elsewhere allows man to be capable of, and what observation of fact shows him to be capable of, though not having yet attained to Christian faith; viz. approval of, longing for, and even striving for, what is good. It is not more than the sincere and earnest, even in the Gentile world, have been already credited with in ch. 2. of this Epistle (vers. 7, 10, 14, 15, 26, 29). It does not follow that such moral earnestness is independent of Divine grace; but there is a true and effective operation of Divine grace, suitable to men's needs and capacities, before the fulness of Pentecostal grace. And further, however "far gone from original righteousness" man in his natural state may be, still that utter depravity attributed to him by some theologians is neither consonant with observed fact nor declared in Holy Writ. The image of God in which he was made is represented as defaced, but not obliterated. Be it observed, lastly, with regard to the whole question of the intention of this chapter, that its reference to the unregenerate precludes the wresting of some parts of it to support antinomianism. Calvin, though applying it, as said above, to the regenerate, thus alludes to and guards against any such abuse of ver. 17: "Non est deprecatio so excusantis, ac si culpa vacaret; quomodo multi nugatores justam defensionem habere se putant, qua tegant sua fiagitia dum in carnem ea rejiciunt." It was observed in the note at the head of ch. 2. that, though the thesis to be then proved was the sinfulness of all men without exception before God, this did not seem to be in that chapter rigorously proved with regard to those - and such it was allowed there were - who sincerely sought after righteousness, and refrained from judging others; and it was said that this apparent deficiency in the proof would be supplied in ch. 7. And so it is in this analysis of the inward consciousness of even the best in their natural state; recognizable by all as a true one in proportion to their own moral enlightenment and moral earnestness. This consideration is an additional reason for regarding ch. 7. as referring to the unregenerate; since otherwise a link in the argument on which the whole treatise rests would seem to be wanting. We may remark also, before proceeding with our exposition, that, though we hold ch. 7. to refer to the unregenerate, and ch. 8. to the regenerate state, between which a sharp line is here drawn, yet it need not follow that either the sense of having passed at a definite time from one to the other as represented in this ideal picture, or the consciousness of entire blessedness as portrayed in ch. 8, will be realized by all, who may still be regenerate and have undergone a true conversion. Owing to the weakness of the human will, which has to work with grace, and to the infection of nature that remains in the regenerate, the triumph of the grace of the new birth is seldom, in fact, complete; and so even saints may often be still painfully conscious of the conflict described in ch. 7. They will, indeed, have the peace and assurance of ch. 8. in proportion as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" is potent and paramount in them; but still they may not attain all at once to the ideal of their regenerate condition. Similarly, in St. John's Epistles the kingdoms of darkness and of light are set forth as totally distinct, and the regenerate are regarded as having passed entirely from the one into the other, so as to have the perfect love which casteth out fear; and it is of importance that the essential distinction between the two kingdoms should be kept in view. But still in actual life, as we cannot but feel, the majority of believing Christians have not so passed entirely; clouds from the old kingdom of darkness still partially overshadow most of those who, in the main, have passed into the light, and it may be difficult for us to determine to which kingdom some belong. Such would be the case even with those whom the apostle addressed - persons who had consciously, in adult life, risen to a new life in baptism; and still more will it be so with us, who were baptized in infancy, and may have grown up more or less, but few entirely, under the influence of the regenerating Spirit. Further, it is to be observed that, though the peace and confidence of ch. 8. be the growing result and reward of a true conversion, yet the practical tests of one are ever said by both St. Paul and St. John not to be feelings only, but the fruits of the Spirit in character and life. Verse 7. - What shall we say then? (St. Paul's usual phrase, with μὴ γένοιτο following, for meeting and rejecting a possible misunderstanding of his meaning; cf. Romans 6:1.) Is the Law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known Bin, but through law. Αλλὰ, translated "nay," being thus taken, as in the Authorized Version, adversatively to the supposition of the Law being sin, and so a continuation of what is expressed by μὴ γένοιτο. So far from the Law being sin, it exposes sin. Or it may be in the sense of "howbeit," as in the Revised Version, meaning - still, law has to do with sin so far as this, that it brings it out. For I had not known lust, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet; or rather, thou shalt not lust, so as to retain the correspondence of the verb with the preceding substantive. Observe, here as elsewhere, the significance of νόμος with and without the article. In the preceding section it was the Mosaic Law that wad specially in view, and it is the idea of being sin that is so indignantly repudiated at the beginning of this verse. So also, at the end, the Law of Moses is referred to as forbidding lust. Hence the article in both cases. But in the intervening phrase, εἰ μὰ διὰ νόμον, it is the principle of law generally that is regarding as making sin known. The adducing of ἐπιθυμία as being made known by the Law seems to have a significance beyond that of its being one particular instance of sin being so made known. It may imply that the very propension to evil, which is the root of sin, is thus only made known as sinful. The reference is, of course, to the tenth commandment. Without it men might not have been aware of the sinfulness of desires as well as of deeds, and thus, after all, been unacquainted with the essence of sin. Further, we may suppose it to be not without a purpose that the apostle varies his verbs expressive of knowing, τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων, and ἀπιθυμίαν οὐκ ἤδειν Ἔγνων. majus est, ἤδειν minus. Hinc posterius, cure etiam minor gradus negatur, est in increments" (Bengel). Ἔγνων may express personal acquaintance with the working and power of sin; ἤδειν, no more than knowing lust as being sin at all. If so, it does not in itself imply (whatever may seem to be the case in ver. 8, of which below) that the Law excites lust, in the sense that I should not have lusted as I do had not the Law forbidden me to lust. Romans 7:7I had not known (οὐκ ἔγνων)

Rev., correctly, I did not know. See on John 2:24. The I refers to Paul himself. He speaks in the first person, declaring concerning himself what is meant to apply to every man placed under the Mosaic law, as respects his relation to that law, before and after the revolution in his inner life brought about through his connection with that law. His personal experience is not excluded, but represents the universal experience.

Lust (ἐπιθυμίαν)

Rev., coveting. See on Mark 4:19.

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