Robert has written a response to my post on Romans 7, which can be found here. I will be responding to some of the points in his original post and his response; point by point would be really boring so I’ll try to hit some of the most significant issues. I find that discussing issues is one of the best ways to learn as it forces you to look at things from a different angle, particularly when your debating partner is a sensible devout man such as Robert.
It should be clear to the reader, after reading Robert’s posts and my initial post, that Romans 7 cannot be understood in a straightforward manner, contra Robert who says that this is a completely unassuming passage. The question the reader must answer is which view best fits the context, the intent of the letter, the larger theology of the NT, and sound interpretive principles. This bears repeating: all sides are changing the plain sense. Therefore, no view can be rejected simply because it doesn’t offer a straightforward reading.
Humanity Under Law Approach: Attempts to read the statements in a straightforward fashion and tweak the subject to match the statements.
Paul’s Experience Approach: Reads the subject in a straightforward fashion and tweaks the statements to match the subject.
Obviously we would prefer to read both the subject and the statements concerning the subject in a straightforward fashion without tweaking, but that isn’t possible. I have explained my tweak in the first post so I will now address some of Robert’s. I will quote v. 9 and then Robert’s paraphrase and comment.
Romans 7:9 – I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”
Robert’s Paraphrase – I was once what-I-took-to-be-‘alive’ apart from the Law, but when the commandment came, sin came to be what-was-‘alive’ and I became that-which-I-thought-to-be-‘dead’.
How does Robert tweak the verse? Paul said “I was alive”, Robert says I was spiritually dead in the Eph. 2 sense, but thought I was alive. Paul said “the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” Robert says that the commandment had already come and sin was already alive and the death I died was actually conversion at which time I understood the real nature of sin, the law, and my own condition. I hope I am relating his view accurately here. You would have to make similar tweaks of other verses in this passage as well.
It’s worth addressing the already-not yet sense of the Christian life that Robert brings up in his response. We both agree that Christians are not fully delivered yet. He quotes Rom. 6:14 “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Robert seems to push this to the eschaton instead of in the immediate future. This seems unlikely to me as the reason sin will not have dominion over Christians is because we are not under law – something that has already happened, a point Paul also makes in the beginning of chapter 7. We are not waiting to be transferred out of the dominion of sin. We are citizens of the kingdom of God who, because we have not fully been redeemed yet, don’t always act as faithful members. This is another reason the I can’t be Paul as he is not sold under sin.
In both his posts, Robert brings up present day Christian struggle with sin. It’s worth pointing out that no one on either side is arguing that Christians don’t sin or don’t struggle with sin. Like I said in my first post, Christians still have flesh and therefore are susceptible to sin’s deceiving power. What I’m rejecting is that a Christian can be overpowered by sin unless they have “set their mind on the flesh.” Those who believe that Romans 7 refers to Paul’s Christian experience have to explain how v. 18 fits with what he says in 1 Cor.
Rom. 7:18-19 For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
1 Cor 10:13 God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Can these verses all be true? My answer is no, if Romans 7 is understood as Christian experience. Again we must remember that Paul is not writing about a struggle with sin but being overpowered by sin so that he is unable to do good.
Let’s talk about Paul saying he is “of the flesh.” Now I admit that it is possible for Christians to be fleshly. Paul calls the Corinthian believers fleshly meaning they are still immature and sinful. The reason Paul wrote the letter to the Romans was he wanted to establish a missionary base in Rome for his mission to Spain. Is it likely that Paul would present himself to the Romans as an immature, sinful believer? I find this very unlikely.
Lastly, let me address Robert saying that I’m grasping around to find the “I”, and doubting my explanation of Adam and Israel. The purpose of this section of Romans 7 is to defend the law while pointing to sin as the blame for death. When did death start, both spiritually and physically? Adam and Eve. But talking about the commandment not to eat the fruit wouldn’t have served Paul’s purpose of defending the Mosaic law from blame. Therefore, he quotes a commandment from the Mosaic law while talking about death to present both ideas at once. What is the common theme here? Humanity without the Spirit under the law and sin. Remember this is not the Christian experience; we have received the Spirit and are not under the law or sin. With this concept, no further tweaking in the passage is required and it fits well with Paul’s purpose and theology.
Ok. Your turn Robert.