Romans 7:19 (NRSV)

19 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."


2 Answers 2


Paul is quite specific as to what he was attempting :

ου γαρ ο θελω ποιω αγαθον [TR] Romans 7:19

For not what I will do I practice good

[EGNT - Englishman's Greek New Testament Interlinear Translation]

Paul's article is placed before the verb θελω which is the first person, singular, present, subjunctive [BAGL - Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon].

'What (or that) I will' is Paul's concern. He wishes to 'practice good' but his focus in doing so is 'what/that I will'. In his will is a willingness.

And he is specific about what he struggled with :

I was alive without the law once Romans 7:9, KJV.

His struggle was with what the law specified. That is what he is willing to do.

In order to 'practice good' he had set himself to address the knowledge of good (and evil). That knowledge he delighted in :

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. Romans 7:22, KJV.

And, even more specifically :

for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. Romans 7:7, KJV.

But far from 'doing good' he found that :

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.

By Paul's own confession, he could not do what he wanted to do : that is, not to covet.

This was internal. No man could see it. Only he knew of his inner turmoil and only God's eye could see the iniquity inside him.

Thus was revealed to Saul of Tarsus his real, inner, spiritual state. A state of iniquity and a state of enmity to true holiness. But even his position as an Israelite and even his situation as a Pharisee did not reveal (to himself) his real condition.

Only when the law came, powerfully, upon him, did he realise just how spiritual the law could be and just how sinful he truly was.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. Romans 7:8, KJV.

  • 1
    @ Nigel J: Indeed an excellent answer, Paul was referring to his inability to fulfill all the good things mentioned in the Mosaic law. Paul said that it was impossible for him and others being imperfect to fulfill its requirements. As you said Paul went on to say :" I was alive without the law once" Romans 7:9, KJV. And when was that so? When he was in Abrahams loin, before God gave the Law to Moses . Hebrews 7: 9-10 +1 Aug 25, 2019 at 16:53

"The" is used here not to specify a real-world good but to generalize "good." Semantically, it makes "good" generic but situational: "whenever I should will to do a certain good, I don't do it, but end up doing what I don't want, which is sin."

Its meaning in context is St. Paul lamenting the struggle of human life in its fallen condition, being prone to sin, susceptible to the concupiscence of the flesh (failure of the body to be in perfect subjection to the spirit): "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

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