Romans 7:6 - But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."

8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Rom. 7:6-8 NAU)

The language in Romans 7:7 seems to indicate that the only possible way to know a human act is sin is if that act is condemned in Mosaic law. However, some think from Romans 2:15 that sin can also be known through the conscience.

Given what he says in 7:7, though, I find it difficult to believe Paul would make such a statement if he didn't intend it to be taken in its full absolute literal sense. Why would he say he couldn't have known coveting was sin without the Law condemning it, if he believed there WAS a way, apart from the Law, to know that coveting was a sin? I cannot find any commentaries on Romans that suggest Paul's language here was anything other than the absolute maxim it looks like.

Does Romans 7:7, really not leave open any logically possible room for us to have any other way to know a human act is sin, except that the act is condemned in Mosaic law?

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  • Barry - A.) I suggested an edit, highlighting what I / think / your actual question is. I feel like everything past that does not add anything to this question. However, there could be other break off questions: B.) For example: "Why was it that Paul would not have known sin without the commandment, or was this hyperbole, or should it be translated some other way?" Jun 19, 2017 at 14:57

6 Answers 6


Does Romans 7:7, really not leave open any logically possible room for us to have any other way to know a human act is sin, except that the act is condemned in Mosaic law?

The Greek text here is:

Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου· τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν, οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις·

Your translation of the portion in bold reads, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. A more literal translation would be I knew not (οὐκ ἔγνων) sin (τὴν ἁμαρτίαν), except (εἰ μὴ) through (διὰ) [the] law.

First, the verb γινώσκω ("know") is in the aorist aspect and past tense. This implies an action that was ongoing in the past, but is not necessarily ongoing in the present or future.

Second, the same verb is in the first person (i.e. it refers specifically to Paul).

Thus, the answer to your literal question is that yes, Romans 7:7 DOES leave open the logical possibility that one can know whether a human act is sin other than through the law. It is possible that someone other than Paul could determine this by some other means (admittedly an unlikely interpretation) and/or that the law served this purpose in the past, but not in the present or future (more likely).

  • Note that the aorist tense does not necessarily imply past action. The time aspect may be better determined by the surrounding verses.
    – DKing
    Jun 19, 2017 at 19:52
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    Aorist is not a tense, it is an aspect. The verb is in the past tense, aorist aspect.
    – user33515
    Jun 19, 2017 at 20:18


To answer your question: 'Can we know what sin is apart from the Mosaic law', the answer is Yes we can. Here are some scriptural reason why:

  1. Sin is defined as a transgression of the command, or law:

1 John 3:4 (ESV)

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

  1. Yahweh's commands has been here since the beginning:

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

  1. Sin has existed since Adam:

Romans 5:12-14 (ESV)

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

  1. Yahweh's instruction (commands / law) have always existed in some form or another:

Genesis 26:4-5 (ESV)

4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

  1. They are not limited to the Torah (Mosaic law) alone:

John 13:34-35 (ESV)

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son ...

  1. Lastly, Paul previously made this case earlier in Romans chapter 2:

Romans 2:12-16 (ESV)

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.


1. Question Restatement:

I believe that this theological position is refuted in Romans 7:7, that is, the language in this verse does not leave open any logically possible room for us to have any other way to know a human act is sin, except that the act is condemned in Mosaic law, so because this act isn't mentioned in Mosaic Law,

2. Verse Taken out of Context

The same book, just prior to the verse mentioned in this objection - very clearly states that the "Mosaic Law" isn't required to know what is "moral". Ever since Adam pursued the "Knowledge of Good and Evil" - mankind has been fully aware of what is "moral":

NKJV, Romans 1:18 - For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

  • kohen, I do not agree that a reader takes something out of context just because they interpret the authors words in A in a way that would conflict with what the author says in B. I do not accept your presupposition of biblical inerrancy. I'm just as open to Paul contradicting himself as I'm open to Bishop Spong contradicting himself. Indeed, why is Paul saying he wouldn't have known sin except for the Law, if he believed it was possible for him to know sin apart from the Law? Jun 23, 2017 at 23:24
  • @BarryJones - I have zero idea where you get "I do not accept your presupposition of biblical inerrancy." ... That is nowhere in my answer - so I have no idea how the rest of your comment can make sense, following that faulty assumption. Jun 23, 2017 at 23:57
  • @elikakohen the Gentiles only know the basic morality through conscience. You should argue that a tendency like greed, coveting is not so much of a basic common morality known to all. The law gave a comprehensive moral law to Paul, so he is praising the law. He never suggests that the ten commandments have been abolished but only the covenant of Moses as mentioned as "the law" abolished.
    – Michael16
    May 15, 2021 at 11:22

It is perilous to lift a sentence out of Paul's writings to serve as a proof text for points he is not engaged in discussing. This is a classic example. In order to not fly off the handle into unrelated territory it is necessary to understand the whole thrust of the passage.

In Romans Paul introduces new points with a question. See Romans 6:1, 6:15 and 7:7 as examples. Paul has just taught that the Sinai law was given in order to turn sins (which were not counted in the absence of law) into transgression . Now he must prevent the notion that to keep the law is to transgress and therefore the law is sin. So he corrects that view by showing how instead the law "flushes out" Mr. Sin, the evil taskmaster that lives in his flesh.

He starts out subtly in 7:7 by using a definite article for hAmartia:

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] Romans 7:7 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου, τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν Οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις·

See these examples of persons being referred to with the definite article:

ὁ Ἰησοῦς ➞ Jesus (not "the Jesus")

τὸν Πέτρον ➞ Peter (not "the Peter")

τὸν Ἰάκωβον ➞ Jacob / James (not "the James")

τὸν Ἰωάννην ➞ John (not "the John")

I translate as "Mr. Sin" to highlight that Paul is personifying "sin". He'll go on to describe Mr. Sin as a calculating opportunist and a slave owner who exploits his slaves:

NIV Romans 7: 8But [Mr.] sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, [Mr.] sin was dead. 9Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brough [Mr.]t death. 11For [Mr.] sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Paul is describing the plight of the Jews, attempting to be justified by the law but instead being undermined by the craven desires of his flesh, which he calls "Mr. Sin".

So Paul is not contradicting his analysis of the gentiles whose consciences act like a copy of the law on their hearts. He is showing that the law didn't legislate sinning but rather gave the sinner enough rope to hang themselves.


1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
-- Romans 13:1-5 KJV

Christians are called to be obedient, not just to God, but also to every authority that stands in his stead. The narrative of the canon of Scripture depicts a clear hierarchy of authority (OT only, or OT + NT, it matters not):


Every edict issued by any of these authorities, that does not conflict with the Law of God, must be obeyed. In the case where conflict occurs, a Christian is to obey God rather than man (Exodus 20:3).

In regard to the OP's issue with child-adult marriage, if the laws of the land prohibit it, and the Scripture is silent on the matter (as OP has declared), then it is prohibited for a Christian to practice it.

  • So would you have condemned an adult Christian man in 19th century Delaware who sexually consummated his marriage to a consenting 7 year old girl? That was the age of consent in that state in those days, and I don't see anything in the bible that would identify such secular law as sin, do you? Jun 23, 2017 at 23:30
  • Where in the Law of Moses is this condoned? As far as a simple reading of the text goes, the "consummation" of any betrothal did not happen until the maiden was of child bearing age, which is reasonably considered to be around 12 years. If you can provide "evidence" from the text that suggests otherwise, then do so. So, if the state is not upholding what can reasonably be understood from the text about the intent of God's Law, then it is in conflict with those Laws and MUST NOT be practiced, regardless of what the state allows.
    – enegue
    Jun 23, 2017 at 23:52
  • On the contrary, the issue is not whether the Mosaic law "condones" sex within adult-child marriages. Christians assert that such practice is "sin", putting the burden of proof on THEM to provide biblical reasons why they think reproduction was the sole concern of marriage for Hebrews in the days of Moses. Deut. 24:5 strongly implies sex in marriage constituted something more than merely vaginal intercourse. And Moses' specificity in condemning levels of incest/bestiality strongly imply that he left other unions unmentioned on purpose. Do not add to the word of the Lord, Deut. 4:2, 12:32 Sep 5, 2017 at 19:50
  • @BarryJones I'm not sure how your sense of logic can accommodate the notion that pointing out an absence of something from the word becomes an addition to it. On the contrary, whatever you are "not seeing" in the Law, but wish was there, is an addition. So, do, indeed, be careful.
    – enegue
    Sep 5, 2017 at 22:07
  • on the contrary, logical inferences do not add to what exists. According to Romans 7:7, you have no basis to call any human act "sin" unless it is condemned or prohibited in Mosaic Law. The logical inference from this is that whatever Mosaic Law does not condemn, you have no basis for labeling as "sin". I do not claim biblical logic is consistent, indeed it is contradictory, I only claim there IS biblical room for saying God's silence constitutes his approval, especially in light of other brutal sex acts the bible god commands or approves of, such as rape. Sep 7, 2017 at 21:19

General statements

You are interpreting the text in an absolute and extreme sense, which is impractical even in modern communication. Especially with the ancient literature like the Bible is highly idiomatic and figurative in nature. Almost no statement is absolute, even if they may appear so. Paul says in Romans 2, that (even some) Gentiles know morality, and by conscience keep the law [General statement]. He says he wouldn't have known coveting if not for the law (7:7). Coveting and fleshly desires must mean a morality of higher level. The spiritual knowledge that teaches hatred for the materialistic world and its pleasures. The basic morality of the pagans may be limited to things like the wrongness of murder, stealing, rape, and the righteousness of charity, helping someone. The pagans literally worship the gods of the world, the gods based on sex, money, death, and animals. Gentile religions are based on the fleshly desires, materialism and greed.

Paul had the privilege of the having the law of Moses, which taught morality and spirituality in great details. The corruption of traditional legalism and flesh lead to the focus on the outward letter based legalism which lacked spiritual wisdom and understanding. A true Jew or a Christian, thus is not one [merely] of the letter (revelation) but who works and understand the spirit of the letter (Romans 7:6; 2:29). In fact, the whole chapter of Romans 2 is clarifying that Jews are privileged, but they too will be judged according to works, and some of them are found guilty of sins. On the other hand, some Gentiles are found to be righteous, they are not totally lost without God concerning salvation. God shows no partiality, everyone will be judged fairly, according to their works and hearts. You must not take the text as in stereotypical and absolute sense.

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