Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In Romans 7:19, Paul says this:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ESV

Is Paul talking about "doing evil" in his present, converted state, or in his past, unconverted state, or is this verse to be interpreted in some other way?

share|improve this question
add comment

4 Answers

General Context

The answer to this depends on understanding the flow of argument of Romans. Too often I think we approach Romans with a hermeneutic governed by the section breaks, but the flow is extremely important.

Paul is talking about sin in his present state. In chapter 6, he has discussed the death of sin (e.g. verse 1); in early 7, he has used the metaphor of marriage to describe being dead to it (vv. 1-6); in 8, he discusses living by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the solution to the distress of 7. Chapters 7 and 8 are actually simultaneous (an aspect of the paradox theologians call the "already/but not yet"); they are two sides of the same coin which result from 5 and 6. To conclude that 7 is about his former sin is to damage the structure of Romans; why would he deal with that after dealing with sin already in perhaps more detail than anywhere else in the Bible (ch. 1-3) and then presenting justification by faith thoroughly (ch. 3-5)? Moreover, the question beginning in 6 is, "Are we to sin so grace may abound?" (1; also 15). The question, then, of the relation of the Christian to present sin is the topic that occupies chapters 6-8.

Specific Context

Further, 6:15-7:25 is an exposition of 6:14:

For sin will not have lordship (κυριεύσει) over you: for you are not under law but under grace.

This is evidenced by the continuity of Paul's thinking and the parallels between the bookend verses. 6:14 speaks of being under grace; 7:25 Paul gives thanks for the grace of Christ. 6:14 speaks of not having sin as your lord (using the verb form of κύριος); 7:25 speaks of being a slave to the law of God in your mind, but of sin in your old dead nature (and mentions "Jesus Christ our Lord").

Theological Observations

Moreover, in chapter 7 he objectifies his sin; that is, he is not identifying himself with it ("So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me"—verse 17). He is taking his own command seriously: "So consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God" (6:11). He's not saying that he is not responsible for his sin, but he is recognizing that sin is unnatural for him now, out of accord with his nature, a longing for the old husband, who is already dead (7:1-6).

Grammatical Observations

Notice also Paul's use of the present tense. Someone might point out that the dramatic present is used in some New Testament books, such as the Gospels, and perhaps this is what Paul is doing. But that fails to give a theological reason for why Paul has switched into the first person in this chapter. A much more viable explanation is that in chapter 7 he is describing the experience of the struggle life in Christ before glory, whereas in chapters 6 and 8 he is talking theologically about the victory of life in Christ already. (Not that Paul would allow theology to contradict experience; but that there is a duality that the redeemed live in for now.)

Conclusion

Romans 7 is part of Paul's broader discussion the relationship of the regenerate person to sin.

share|improve this answer
    
nice stream of arguments, all going in the same direction, without anything to suggest contradiction. –  Mike Apr 13 '13 at 2:42
add comment

Is Paul speaking of his past or his present state in Romans 7? Or another way of asking is, Is the man of Romans 7 an unregenerate man or a regenerate born again Christian? This is probably one of the most debated chapters in all of the Bible and how one interprets this chapter has a lot to do with how one can interpret other scripture as well. Things such as original sin and how salvation works.

Without a doubt this is an unregenerate man Paul is speaking of contrary to the popular belief that it is a saved man struggling with sin and is not able to overcome. If one has followed closely the flow of Romans and payed close attention to Paul's continual contrasting of the sinner (unregenerate man) to the saint (regenerate man) then there should be no question of whom Paul is speaking of. Without writing a book here and only keeping it simple I will point out something here many if not most have over looked.

Paul gives us an analogy of a woman/wife and two husbands in Romans 7:1-6. This analogy is drawing us a picture to explain what has been said in Chapters 5 and 6 and then goes on to point out his basic understanding of what he is going to say in chapters 7 and 8. Paul does not stop in the middle of Romans to discuss marriage, but he does draw from what we know of how marriage works and what violates the law that binds a married couple.

Many theologians have stumbled over this analogy blaming Paul for putting such an analogy in here that makes no sense to what the context is saying. Some have said this is an analogy meant to simplify, but only made things more difficult to understand. I don't know how they come to that conclusion, as it does make perfect sense and is in detail to everything Romans 5-8 says.

One more thing before I explain How chapter 7 is an unregenerate man. Many are under the impression the first husband here is the law and the reason we are not under the law is because the law (first husband) died. No, the first husband is not the law and the law never has nor can die. We shall see who the first husband is and how we are no longer under the law.

I'll let you go back and read the verses from your Bible for the sake of writing them here, but I'll just explain them here in my own words.

Romans 7:2 and 3 is about chapter 5. In vv:2 and 3 it is understood that a woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he is alive, but if he dies she is loosed from the law that binds them together in marriage. But if she marries another while he still lives then she is committing adultery. But if the first husband dies she is not an adulterous woman while married to another man. At this point we must remember all the things Paul has been contrasting in Romans. He contrasts sin to righteousness, life to death, law to faith, Jews to Gentiles, Adam to Christ, and so on. Her we see Adam is contrasted to Christ and law to faith, so to say the first husband is the law and the second husband is Christ would be out of line to everything Paul has told us. The first husband is not the law, but rather it is Adam. Adam is the head of the human race, therefore the head of all mankind. We see in Romans 5 that our problem began with Adam and the cure for that is to be in Christ. Adam is our head before we are saved and Christ is our head after we are saved. Paul will tell us how the first husband dies in chapter 6 and this death makes it legal for us to be wed to Christ. The husband is also to be understood to be the old man crucified in chapter 6 and our flesh, body and members in chapters 6 and 8.

Romans 7:4 is about chapter 6. This is a one verse description of chapter 6. Just as we are crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him "that we should bring forth fruit unto God" in this verse, so chapter 6 says the same things.

Romans 7:5 is about chapter 7. Just as we see here in this verse this man is in the flesh and a slave to sin and brings forth fruit unto death, we see the same man in Romans 7.

Romans 7:6 is about chapter 8. We are delivered from the law, because that thing that held us to it is now dead, that thing being the flesh, old man, body, members, body of flesh, the Adam part of us is now crucified and dead. So now we should serve in newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter (law). This is a one verse description of Romans 8.

At this time we must see the tenses of Romans 7:4,5 and 6. Verse 4 is present tense, verse 5 is past tense, and verse 6 is present tense again. The man of Romans 7 is not a saved man.

I realize there are still a number of questions one may have and even still many objections, but this is only a basic outline of my thinking. Paul repeats himself a number of times reiterating what is being said in Romans and every time that the verses that fall in line for Romans 7, they are either in the past tense or describes a lost man condition.

share|improve this answer
1  
Thanks for this Dell, and welcome to the site :) –  Jack Douglas Sep 8 '12 at 5:56
    
Thanks for the welcome Jack. I just read over my post and wish I had put more time and thought into it, as it could be improved on and added to. I love the book of Romans and like to read others thoughts on it. Romans 7 is a chapter I have studied on for a long time now. –  Dell Russell Sep 20 '12 at 2:42
    
I'm hoping to have my own go at answering this if I can get my thoughts in order. If you have the time to revisit what you wrote and think you could improve it, I'd like to encourage you to do so - answers are the lifeblood of the site so that benefits everyone :) If you'd like to chat through how to go about this or your thoughts on Romans 7 in general, do pop into the site chat room. –  Jack Douglas Sep 20 '12 at 10:35
    
an afterthought: the husbands you equate with Adam/Christ but perhaps Paul does not intend a direct analogy at all - isn't the point that release from 'a law' was always possible through 'a death' - the death in question here is the death of Christ. –  Jack Douglas Sep 21 '12 at 12:11
    
Being new here and all, I'm still working my way through some of how things work here. If I wanted to redo and add more information, do I just edit what I have written or do I just add another answer? which would not be another answer, but more like added information. –  Dell Russell Sep 22 '12 at 1:11
show 3 more comments

My own conclusion is that referring to Paul's "present, converted state, or ... past, unconverted state" sidesteps Paul's actual argument, because it takes no account of the fact that Paul is not speaking of the 'unconverted' in general, but of Jews (ie those who know the law) in particular.

There are two equally correct conclusions:

  1. Paul is speaking of the experience of a Jew (referred to in the first person) trying to obtain a righteousness as if it were based on works.
  2. He speaks of one who has accepted Christ but falls back into legalistic thinking before realizing afresh the futility of this.

Why do I conclude that Paul is focusing specifically on the Jew/Gentile issue here in chapter 7?

Because this issue is fundamental to his reasoning throughout the letter.

Why was this issue fundamental?

Because a) the question among Christians of whether non-Jews could be saved was fresh, contentious and vital, and b) it is really a rephrasing of the 'Whole Bible' question "Who will inherit the promises to Abraham" - which underpins much of the dramatic tension from Genesis onwards, and is worked out with many twists, turns and subtleties along the way (eg Ishmael/Isaac; Esau/Jacob; Reuben/Judah/Joseph; Perez/Zerah, Israel/Judah, Jew/Gentile, works/election) .

share|improve this answer
add comment

7:22 Pauls inner man delights in the law of God. Clearly his born again spirit. What unbelievers spirit delights in the law of God. Let's say that this is not the case and he is not regenerated. Read 7:25 He is definitely saved when he gives thanks to Jesus Christ. Now read the words after this thanks to Christ. So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. This proves it's a battle of the flesh after being saved. 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Are body is still infected with sin. Flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God because of this. You will battle your flesh body till the day you die. You will receive a glorified body at the first resurrection commonly called rapture. This new body will not be infected with sin and we will no longer battle with the flesh.

share|improve this answer
1  
You seem to be equivocating on "flesh". What exactly do you mean by it? –  Kazark Apr 13 '13 at 15:11
    
@kazak The mind of the flesh with its lusts and desires! Thats what Id say. That mind never leaves the believer, it just gets more subtle in the presence of the truth. Maybe only those, who have been through what Paul describes here, can truly understand the meaning, and this is the way it is meant to be, for the secrets of the kingdom belong to the children and truly you are a God who hides Himself oh God of Israel savior. We may look well to men but we know nothing as we should and if any man thinks he knows something truly and fully he is deceived. We spend our lives fighting enemies within –  John Unsworth Nov 25 '13 at 21:53
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.