Romans 7
Vincent's Word Studies
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?

All Christians, not only Jews but Gentiles who are assumed to be acquainted with the Old Testament.

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.
That hath a husband (ὕπανδρος)

Lit., under or subject to a husband. The illustration is selected to bring forward the union with Christ after the release from the law, as analogous to a new marriage (Romans 7:4).

Is loosed (κατήργηται)

Rev., discharged. See on Romans 3:3, Lit., she has been brought to nought as respects the law of the husband.

The law of the husband

Her legal connection with him She dies to that law with the husband's death. There is an apparent awkwardness in carrying out the figure. The law, in Romans 7:1, Romans 7:2, is represented by the husband who rules (hath dominion). On the death of the husband the woman is released. In Romans 7:4, the wife (figuratively) dies. "Ye are become dead to the law that ye should be married to another." But as the law is previously represented by the husband, and the woman is released by the husband's death, so, to make the figure consistent, the law should be represented as dying in order to effect the believer's release. The awkwardness is relieved by taking as the middle term of comparison the idea of dead in a marriage relation. When the husband dies the wife dies (is brought to nought) so far as the marriage relation is concerned. The husband is represented as the party who dies because the figure of a second marriage is introduced with its application to believers (Romans 7:4). Believers are made dead to the law as the wife is maritally dead - killed in respect of the marriage relation by her husband's death.

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.
She shall be called (χρηματίσει)

See on Acts 11:26.

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.
Are become dead (ἐθανατώθητε)

Rev., more accurately, ye were made dead, put to death; because this ethical death is fellowship with Christ's death, which was by violence.

Who was raised

An important addition, because it refers to the newness of life which issues from the rising with Christ. See Romans 6:3, Romans 6:11, Romans 6:13, Romans 6:22.

Bring forth fruit

The figure of marriage is continued, but the reference is not to be pressed. The real point of analogy is the termination of relations to the old state.

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.
In the flesh (ἐν τῇ σαρκί)

Σάρξ flesh, occurs in the classics in the physical sense only. Homer commonly uses it in the plural as denoting all the flesh or muscles of the body. Later the singular occurs in the same sense. Paul's use of this and other psychological terms must be determined largely by the Old-Testament usage as it appears in the Septuagint.

1. In the physical sense. The literal flesh. In the Septuagint τὰ κρέα flesh (plural) is used where the reference is to the parts of animals slain, and αἱ σάρκες, flesh (plural) where the reference is to flesh as the covering of the living body. Hence Paul uses κρέα in Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 8:13, of the flesh of sacrificed animals. Compare also the adjective σάρκιμος fleshy 2 Corinthians 3:3; and Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26, Sept.

2. Kindred. Denoting natural or physical relationship, Romans 1:3; Romans 9:3-8; Romans 11:14; Galatians 4:23, Galatians 4:29; 1 Corinthians 10:18; Plm 1:16. This usage forms a transition to the following sense: the whole human body. Flesh is the medium in and through which the natural relationship of man manifests itself. Kindred is conceived as based on community of bodily substance. Therefore:

3. The body itself. The whole being designated by the part, as being its main substance and characteristic, 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 7:28; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 10:3; 2 Corinthians 12:7. Romans 2:28; Galatians 6:13, etc. Paul follows the Septuagint in sometimes using σῶμα body, and sometimes σάρξ flesh, in this sense, so that the terms occasionally seem to be practically synonymous. Thus 1 Corinthians 6:16, 1 Corinthians 6:17, where the phrase one body is illustrated and confirmed by one flesh. See Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:28, Ephesians 5:31, where the two are apparently interchanged. Compare 2 Corinthians 4:10, 2 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 5:3, and Colossians 2:5. Σάρξ, however, differs from σῶμα in that it can only signify the organism of an earthly, living being consisting of flesh and bones, and cannot denote "either an earthly organism that is not living, or a living organism that is not earthly" (Wendt, in Dickson). Σῶμα not thus limited. Thus it may denote the organism of the plant (1 Corinthians 15:37, 1 Corinthians 15:38) or the celestial bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40). Hence the two conceptions are related as general and special: σῶμα body, being the material organism apart from any definite matter (not from any sort of matter), σάρξ, flesh, the definite, earthly, animal organism. The two are synonymons when σῶμα is used, from the context, of an earthly, animal body. Compare Philippians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8.

Σῶμα body, and not σάρξ flesh, is used when the reference is to a metaphorical organism, as the church, Romans 12:4 sqq.; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:18, etc.

The σάρξ is described as mortal (2 Corinthians 4:11); subject to infirmity (Galatians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:7); locally limited (Colossians 2:15); an object of fostering care (Ephesians 5:29).

4. Living beings generally, including their mental nature, and with a correlated notion of weakness and perishableness. Thus the phrase πᾶσα σάρξ all flesh (Genesis 6:12; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 49:23). This accessory notion of weakness stands in contrast with God. In Paul the phrase all flesh is cited from the Old Testament (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16) and is used independently (1 Corinthians 1:29). In all these instances before God is added. So in Galatians 1:16, flesh and blood implies a contrast of human with divine wisdom. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:50; Ephesians 6:12. This leads up to

5. Man "either as a creature in his natural state apart from Christ, or the creaturely side or aspect of the man in Christ." Hence it is correlated with ἄνθρωπος man, 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:17. Compare Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9; Galatians 5:24. Thus the flesh would seem to be interchangeable with the old man.

It has affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24); willings (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 8:6, Romans 8:7); a mind (Colossians 2:18); a body (Colossians 2:11).

It is in sharp contrast with πνεῦμα spirit (Galatians 3:3, Galatians 3:19; Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:17, Galatians 5:19-24; Galatians 6:8; Romans 8:4). The flesh and the spirit are thus antagonistic. Σάρξ flesh, before or in contrast with his reception of the divine element whereby he becomes a new creature in Christ: the whole being of man as it exists and acts apart from the influence of the Spirit. It properly characterizes, therefore, not merely the lower forms of sensual gratification, but all - the highest developments of the life estranged from God, whether physical, intellectual, or aesthetic.

It must be carefully noted:

1. That Paul does not identify flesh and sin. Compare, flesh of sin, Romans 8:3. See Romans 7:17, Romans 7:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 2:20.

2. That Paul does not identify σάρξ with the material body nor associate sin exclusively and predominantly with the body. The flesh is the flesh of the living man animated by the soul (ψυχή) as its principle of life, and is distinctly used as coordinate with ἄνθρωπος man. As in the Old Testament, "it embraces in an emphatic manner the nature of man, mental and corporeal, with its internal distinctions." The spirit as well as the flesh is capable of defilement (2 Corinthians 7:1; compare 1 Corinthians 7:34). Christian life is to be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2; compare Ephesians 4:23).

3. That Paul does not identify the material side of man with evil. The flesh is not the native seat and source of sin. It is only its organ, and the seat of sin's manifestation. Matter is not essentially evil. The logical consequence of this would be that no service of God is possible while the material organism remains. See Romans 12:1. The flesh is not necessarily sinful in itself; but as it has existed from the time of the introduction of sin through Adam, it is recognized by Paul as tainted with sin. Jesus appeared in the flesh, and yet was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The motions of sins (τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν)

Motions used in earlier English for emotions or impulses. Thus Bacon: "He that standeth at a stay where others rise, can hardly avoid motions of envy" ("Essay" xiv.). The word is nearly synonymous with πάθος passion (Romans 1:26, note). From πάθειν to suffer; a feeling which the mind undergoes, a passion, desire. Rev., sinful passions: which led to sins.

Did work (ἐνηργεῖτο)

Rev., wrought. See 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:12; Ephesians 3:20; Galatians 5:6; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29. Compare Mark 6:14, and see on power, John 1:12.

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.
We are delivered (κατηργήθημεν)

Rev., have been discharged, as the woman, Romans 7:2. See on Romans 3:3.

We were held

Lit., held down. See on Romans 1:18.

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.
I 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.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.


Occasion (ἀφορμὴν)

Emphatic, expressing the relation of the law to sin. The law is not sin, but sin found occasion in the law. Used only by Paul. See 2 Corinthians 5:12; Galatians 5:13; 1 Timothy 5:14. The verb ἀφορμάω means to make a start from a place. Ἁφορμή is therefore primarily a starting-point, a base of operations. The Lacedaemonians agreed that Peloponnesus would be ἀφορμὴν ἱκανὴν a good base of operations (Thucydides, i., 90). Thus, the origin, cause, occasion, or pretext of a thing; the means with which one begins. Generally, resources, as means of war, capital in business. Here the law is represented as furnishing sin with the material or ground of assault, "the fulcrum for the energy of the evil principle." Sin took the law as a base of operations.

Wrought (κατειργάσατο)

The compound verb with κατά down through always signifies the bringing to pass or accomplishment. See 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Corinthians 5:3; 2 Corinthians 7:10. It is used both of evil and good. See especially Romans 7:15, Romans 7:17, Romans 7:18, Romans 7:20. "To man everything forbidden appears as a desirable blessing; but yet, as it is forbidden, he feels that his freedom is limited, and now his lust rages more violently, like the waves against the dyke" (Tholuck).


Not active.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
I was alive - once (ἔζων ποτέ)

Referring to the time of childlike innocence previous to the stimulus imparted to the inactive principle of sin by the coming of the law; when the moral self-determination with respect to the law had not taken place, and the sin-principle was therefore practically dead.

The commandment (ἐντολῆς)

The specific injunction "thou shalt not covet." See on James 2:8; see John 13:34.

Revived (ἀνέζησεν)

Not came to life, but lived again. See Luke 15:24, Luke 15:32. The power of sin is originally and in its nature living; but before the coming of the commandment its life is not expressed. When the commandment comes, it becomes alive again. It lies dormant, like the beast at the door (Genesis 4:7), until the law stirs it up.

The tendency of prohibitory law to provoke the will to resistance is frequently recognized in the classics. Thus, Horace: "The human race, presumptuous to endure all things, rushes on through forbidden wickedness" (Ode, i., 3, 25). Ovid: "The permitted is unpleasing; the forbidden consumes us fiercely" ("Amores," i., 19, 3). "We strive against the forbidden and ever desire what is denied" (Id., i., 4, 17). Seneca: "Parricides began with the law, and the punishment showed them the crime" ("De Clementia," i., 23). Cato, in his speech on the Oppian law; says: "It is safer that a wicked man should even never be accused than that he should be acquitted; and luxury, if it had never been meddled with, would he more tolerable than it will be now, like a wild beast, irritated by having been chained and then let loose" (Livy, xxxiv., 4).

I found to be unto death

The A.V. omits the significant αὕτη this. This very commandment, the aim of which was life, I found unto death. Meyer remarks: "It has tragic emphasis." So Rev., this I found. The surprise at such an unexpected result is expressed by I found, literally, was found (ἑυρέθη)

And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Deceived (ἐξηπάτησεν)

Rev., beguiled Only in Paul. Compare 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Holy, just, good

Holy as God's revelation of Himself; just (Rev., righteous) in its requirements, which correspond to God's holiness; good, salutary, because of its end.

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.
Exceeding (καθ' ὑπερβολὴν)

An adverbial phrase. Lit., according to excess. The noun ὑπερβολή means a casting beyond. The English hyperbole is a transcription.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
We know (οἴδαμεν)

Denoting something generally conceded.

Spiritual (πνευματικός)

The expression of the Holy Spirit.

Carnal (σάρκινος)

Lit., made of flesh. A very strong expression. "This unspiritual, material, phenomenal nature" so dominates the unrenewed man that he is described as consisting of flesh. Others read σαρκικός having the nature of flesh.

Sold under sin

As a slave. The preposition ὑπό under, with the accusative, implies direction; so as to be under the power of.

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
I do (κατεργάζομαι)

See on Romans 7:8. Accomplish, achieve. Here appropriately used of carrying out another's will. I do not perceive the outcome of my sinful life.

I allow not (οὐ γινώσκω)

Allow is used by A.V. in the earlier English sense of approve. Compare Luke 11:48; Romans 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:4. Shakespeare: "Thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras as I will allow of thy wits" ("Twelfth Night," iv., 2). But the meaning of γινώσκω is not approve, but recognize, come to know, perceive. Hence Rev., I know not. Paul says: "What I carry out I do not recognize in its true nature, as a slave who ignorantly performs his master's behest without knowing its tendency or result."

I would (θέλω)

See on Matthew 1:19. Rather desire than will in the sense of full determination, as is shown by I consent (Romans 7:16), and I delight in (Romans 7:22).

Do I not (πράσσω)

See on John 3:21. Rev., correctly, practice: the daily doing which issues in accomplishment (κατεργάζομαι).

Do I((ποιῶ)

See on John 3:21. More nearly akin to κατεργάζομαι I accomplish, realize. "When I have acted (πράσσω) I find myself face to face with a result which my moral instinct condemns" (Godet). I do not practice what I would, and the outcome is what I hate.

If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
I consent (σύμφημι)

Lit., speak together with; concur with, since the law also does not desire what I do. Only here in the New Testament.

Good (καλός)

See on John 10:11, John 10:32; see on Matthew 26:10; see on James 2:7. Morally excellent.

Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Now - no more (νυνὶ - οὐκέτι)

Not temporal, pointing back to a time when it was otherwise, but logical, pointing to an inference. After this statement you can no more maintain that, etc.


My personality proper; my moral self-consciousness which has approved the law (Romans 7:16) and has developed vague desires for something better.

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.
In me

The entire man in whom sin and righteousness struggle, in whose unregenerate condition sin is the victor, having its domain in the flesh. Hence in me considered as carnal (Romans 7:14). That another element is present appears from "to will is present with me;" but it is the flesh which determines his activity as an unregenerate man. There is good in the I, but not in the I considered as carnal. This is brought out in Romans 7:25, "With the flesh (I serve) the law of sin." Hence there is added that is, in my flesh.

Is present (παράκειται)

Lit., lies beside or before.

Perform (κατεργάζεσθαι)

Carry the desire into effect.

I find not (οὐχ εὑρίσκω)

The best texts omit find, and read simply οὐ not. So Rev., "To do that which is good is not (present)."

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Do not - do. (ποιῶ - πράσσω)

See on Romans 7:15.

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
A law

With the article, the law. The constant rule of experience imposing itself on the will. Thus in the phrases law of faith, works, the spirit. Here the law of moral contradiction.

When I would (τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ)

Lit., as Rev., to me who would, or to the wishing me, thus emphasizing the I whose characteristic it is to wish, but not to do.

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
I delight in (συνήδομαι)

Lit., I rejoice with. Stronger than I consent unto (Romans 7:16). It is the agreement of moral sympathy.

The inward man (τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον)

The rational and moral I, the essence of the man which is conscious of itself as an ethical personality. Not to be confounded with the new man (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). It is substantially the same with the mind (Romans 7:23).

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.
I see (βλέπω)

See on John 1:29. Paul is a spectator of his own personality.

Another (ἕτερον)

See on Matthew 6:24.

Warring against (ἀντιστρατευόμενον)

Only here in the New Testament. Taking the field against.

The law of my mind (τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου)

Νοῦς mind, is a term distinctively characteristic of Paul, though not confined to him. See Luke 24:45; Revelation 13:18; Revelation 17:9.

Paul's usage of this term is not based, like that of spirit and flesh, on the Septuagint, though the word occurs six times as the rendering of lebh heart, and once of ruach spirit.

He uses it to throw into sharper relief the function of reflective intelligence and moral judgment which is expressed generally by καρδία heart.

The key to its Pauline usage is furnished by the contrast in 1 Corinthians 14:14-19, between speaking with a tongue and with the understanding (τῷ νοΐ́), and between the spirit and the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:14). There it is the faculty of reflective intelligence which receives and is wrought upon by the Spirit. It is associated with γνωμή opinion, resulting from its exercise, in 1 Corinthians 1:10; and with κρίνει judgeth in Romans 14:5.

Paul uses it mainly with an ethical reference - moral judgment as related to action. See Romans 12:2, where the renewing of the νοῦς mind is urged as a necessary preliminary to a right moral judgment ("that ye may prove," etc.,). The νοῦς which does not exercise this judgment is ἀδόκιμος not approved, reprobate. See note on reprobate, Romans 1:28, and compare note on 2 Timothy 3:8; note on Titus 1:15, where the νοῦς is associated with the conscience. See also on Ephesians 4:23.

It stands related to πνεῦμα spirit, as the faculty to the efficient power. It is "the faculty of moral judgment which perceives and approves what is good, but has not the power of practically controlling the life in conformity with its theoretical requirements." In the portrayal of the struggle in this chapter there is no reference to the πνεῦμα spirit, which, on the other hand, distinctively characterizes the christian state in ch. 8. In this chapter Paul employs only terms pertaining to the natural faculties of the human mind, and of these νοῦς mind is in the foreground.

Bringing into captivity (αἰχμαλωτίζοντα)

Only here, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and Luke 21:24. See on captives, Luke 4:18. The warlike figure is maintained. Lit., making me prisoner of war.

Law of sin

The regime of the sin-principle. sin is represented in the New Testament as an organized economy. See Ephesians 6.

The conflict between the worse and the better principle in human nature appears in numerous passages in the classics. Godet remarks that this is the passage in all Paul's epistles which presents the most points of contact with profane literature. Thus Ovid: "Desire counsels me in one direction, reason in another." "I see and approve the better, but I follow the worse." Epictetus: "He who sins does not what he would, and does what he would not." Seneca: "What, then, is it that, when we would go in one direction, drags us in the other?" See also the passage in Plato ("Phaedrus," 246), in which the human soul is represented as a chariot drawn by two horses, one drawing up and the other down.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Wretched (ταλαίπωρος)

Originally, wretched through the exhaustion of hard labor.

Who (τίς)

Referring to a personal deliverer.

Body of this death (τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου)

The body serving as the seat of the death into which the soul is sunk through the power of sin. The body is the literal body, regarded as the principal instrument which sin uses to enslave and destroy the soul. In explaining this much-disputed phrase, it must be noted: 1. That Paul associates the dominion and energy of sin prominently with the body, though not as if sin were inherent in and inseparable from the body. 2. That he represents the service of sin through the body as associated with, identified with, tending to, resulting in, death. And therefore, 3. That he may properly speak of the literal body as a body of death - this death, which is the certain issue of the abject captivity to sin. 4. That Paul is not expressing a desire to escape from the body, and therefore for death. Meyer paraphrases correctly: "Who shall deliver me out of bondage under the law of sin into moral freedom, in which my body shall no longer serve as the seat of this shameful death?" Ignatius, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, speaks of one who denies Christ's humanity, as νεκροφόρος one who carries a corpse.


The man out of Christ. Looking back and summing up the unregenerate condition, preparatory to setting forth its opposite in ch. 8. Paul says therefore, that, so far as concerns his moral intelligence or reason, he approves and pays homage to God's law; but, being in bondage to sin, made of flesh, sold under sin, the flesh carries him its own way and commands his allegiance to the economy of sin.

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.
Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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