It’s time to conclude my series on Romans 7. Robert has written his final post and given me the opportunity to have the last word. His posts are a great example of how to debate kindly. Discussions like these illustrate the importance of talking to people who think differently from us. It is easy to say those who disagree with you are crazy or twisting the truth when you don’t know them (and much hatred and political thought is founded on this), but when the person is your friend you are forced to listen and learn from them. To quote Robert “Sparks fly when iron sharpens iron, but it is a wonderful thing with wonderful consequences.”
These posts have been about who Paul is speaking of in Romans 7, himself or humanity outside of Christ. My contention has been that it could not possibly be Paul as the person repeatedly says things that are not true of Christians.
Robert and I seem to primarily disagree on two points: how death is used in chapter 7 and if sin overcomes the person.
Is Death Real or Metaphorical
Death is a crucial concept to the development of Paul’s argument in Romans 5-8. Death came through sin and spread to all because all sinned (5:12). Believers are joined to Christ’s death by baptism (6:3-5, 8), and are therefore freed from sin (6:7). Because we are dead we are released from the law, having died to it (7:6). All these appear to be literal truths. These are not things that we are waiting for; these are true now because we are in Christ. Robert says, “Romans 6:11 is a good example of how Paul is using “alive” and “dead” here, where we would probably say ‘operating’.” This verse says “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In light of what we have already seen this means that because you are dead to sin consider yourself dead to sin. It does not say “consider yourself dead to sin even though you aren’t yet.”
When coming to Romans 7 Robert says, “I could steer my argument towards the earlier part of the chapter, where Paul explicitly draws the connection from literal death and marriage to regarding oneself as dead in respect to something.” But Paul doesn’t do this. He says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” Paul is drawing a comparison between those who die under a marriage covenant and ourselves, but the comparison is grounded in the fact of our literal death in Christ not on a “regarded” or “considered” death.
Why am I saying this? I’m saying this because, in light of what Paul has said about death prior to 7:9, he could not possibly be talking about himself when he says “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”
Unable to Do or Struggle to Do
Another reason I don’t believe Romans 7 refers to Paul is the inability shown to do good. Robert counters this by saying that the I isn’t unable, he simply struggles – “Paul does NOT say ‘οὐ δυνομαι/ I am not able’, only that ‘to perform is not lying next to me.’ Not ‘I can’t’ but ‘it’s hard’.” I admit I was lazy originally and hadn’t looked at the Greek. Robert raises a good point; Paul does not say “I am not able to do good” he says “the working out of the good that I want to do is not present.” But in practice isn’t this the same thing? Paul is not saying “usually I do what is right but sometimes I struggle and sin.” He is saying “as a general principle whenever I want to do what is right I find that I don’t actually do it because of sin that dwells within me.” Again I don’t think this could be true of a believer (of course Robert doesn’t, either).
To conclude, I think that practically Robert’s understanding – Paul had to struggle with sin but overcome it through the Spirit – is fine. My qualm with this view is I don’t believe that is what Romans 7 says and I think reading Romans 7 as about Paul’s experience opens up the possibility of thinking sin can overcome us. Our struggle with sin is very real, and there are many places in the NT that talk about this struggle, I just don’t think Romans 7 is one of those places.