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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Romans 7



Other Authors

[1] Tour experience of human laws helps here: you are aware that law rules a man so long only as he lives—for instance marriage binds the wife during the life of her husband; but after his death she is free to marry another. [4] So you were under the law, but you died with the Christ, by the death of His Body, and that was a death to the law, so that you became united to Another, to Him who was raised from death just in order that (in Him) we might bear fruit to GOD. [5] For when the flesh was the condition in which we lived, the sinful states which we experienced under the influence of the law were so operative in our members that we bore fruit only for death, [6] but in our present condition we have been freed from all influence of the law, we are dead in respect of that character in which we were held under its influence, so that we are now rendering our due service under the influence of a fresh action of spirit and not by an antiquated action of literal precept.

A new illustration enforces the argument of the preceding section that freedom from law does not imply freedom to sin. There is a change of allegiance which has its analogue in human laws. The change chosen as an illustration is that of the law of marriage. This suggests not only allegiance but a union which is productive of offspring. The old union is of the self with the flesh or the ‘old man’; under the influence of law that produced sin: the new union is of the self with Christ; it has been brought about by the self sharing the death of Christ, and consequently becoming united to His risen Life: this union involves as its product service to GOD under the inspiration of a fresh spirit. The progress in the main argument is in this emphasis on the new life as in Christ, developing Romans 6:11; Romans 6:23.

If the illustration is to be pressed, the conception must be that there is a persistent self, first wedded to a nature of flesh and, under law, begetting sins; then that nature dies, the self is freed from it and its law, and is wedded to Christ. In this union it brings forth the new fruit. So in Romans 6:6 it is not the self, but the old character that was crucified with Christ, ‘we,’ ‘ourselves,’ were set free. There is a distinction between the self and the character which the self assumes whether ἐν σαρκί or ἐν πνεύματι. Cf. Gifford and S.H., aliter Lft.

Verse 1

1. νόμον. Quite general—not Roman or Jewish, but a general axiom of law.

ὁ νόμος = the law under which he lives, whatever it be.

Verses 1-6

Romans 6:1 to Romans 7:6. The ethical bearing and standard of the new life in Christ.

[1] Are we to conclude that the state of sin is to continue, as a provocative, so to speak, of the graciousness of GOD the more sin the greater grace? [2] It is a monstrous thought; the fundamental characteristic of our Christian position is that when we became Christians we died to sin and our sinful life, [3] it is elementary that in baptism into Christ we shared His death, [4] His burial, and His resurrection by the manifest act of the Father; now we are in a new life and our conduct must be correspondingly new. [5] For baptism involved union of our nature to Christ’s both in His death and His resurrection; [6] His death implies the destruction of the old nature, the abolition of the rule of sin; His resurrection, shared by us—a freeing from death and sin, a living to GOD—implies that we are dead to sin and in Him living to GOD (so that sin is in the highest degree unnatural to this new creature). [12] Therefore both the use and the obedience of even your mortal body must be rendered no longer to sin for unrighteous work, but to GOD for righteousness; the authority of sin being broken because you are not under law but under grace. [15] Not under law, but not therefore free to sin, for that were a return to the old slavery; but under grace, you are under a new slavery (to use human language), willingly adopted; [19] your very members must be turned from the old slavery to the new. [20] For that was a state of slavery and freedom—freedom as against the claims of righteousness, slavery to the claims of sin and its result in death: [21] from that slavery you are freed and brought into a new slavery to GOD with its proper result, sanctification, leading to its end, eternal life. [23] For all that is earned from sin is death: but GOD gives, of His free grace, eternal life by communion with Christ Jesus our Lord.

The section deals with the response natural in those who are under GOD’s grace. It is, incidentally, a repudiation of the charge made against S. Paul that, by denying the obligation of law, he was destroying the support and the obligation of a holy life. It gives consequently the true basis for a Christian ethics: and the fundamental point is the new life in union with and dependence on Christ.

Verse 2

2. κατήργηται ἀπό. Cf. Galatians 5:4 : has been made, so to speak, non-existent as regards that law and so freed from it.

Verse 3

3. χρηματίσει, Acts 11:26 only = will be called; cf. Wetst.

γένηται ἀνδρί. Cf. Leviticus 22:12; Ruth 1:12 f.

τοῦ μὴ εἶναι. Cf. Romans 6:6 note.

Verse 4

4. ἐθανατώθητε, you were put to death, i.e. your former nature was slain but you yourselves survived to enter upon a new life, free from that law which bound the old nature, but with its own characteristic obligation. ἐθαν. corresponds to κατήργηται of Romans 7:2. See Romans 6:8 n.

διὰ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ χριστοῦ. Cf. Hebrews 10:10; Colossians 1:22; 1 Peter 2:24, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 10:16, apparently the only passages outside Evv. where the pre-resurrection Body is spoken of thus. Both Col. and 1 Pet. are parallel: and 1 Pet. so close that it must depend on this passage. Infra Romans 12:5 = 1 Corinthians 12:27, we have the sense of the Body as the form of the Church, developed in Ephesians 1:23 et passim. In Col. the words τῆς σαρκός are expressly added to mark the distinction.

διὰ τ. ς. Cf. Romans 6:3; Romans 6:8. The thought is that as they were baptised into Christ, they shared the effects of His Death in the Body as well as those of His risen life. N. τοῦ χριστοῦ: the article marks the reference to the historic action.

εἰς τὸ γεν. So that you came to be wedded to another, i.e. than that old nature which was slain.

ἵνα. Closely with ἐγερθέντι.

καρποφορήσωμεν. Sc. under the influence of the new life imparted by the Risen Lord, constituting in each individual a ‘new man’ or character.

Verse 5

5. ἧμεν ἐν τῇ σαρκί = ὁ πάλαιος ἄνθρωπος of Romans 6:6.

τὰ παθήματα τῶν ἁμ.: παθήματα only Paul, Heb. and 1 Pet. = [1] sufferings, cf. Romans 8:18, and commonly; [2] = experiences, here and Galatians 5:24 = concrete instances of πάθος, the state in which the subject is regarded as not active but receptive of experiences. So here = the effects which our sins produced upon our nature. See Romans 6:6 n.

τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου. Developed and explained in Romans 7:7 ff. These experiences came through the influence of law upon the old nature.

ἐνηργεῖτο = were constantly being made operative, i.e. by the action of ὁ πάλαιος ἄηθρωτος in reaction against law (τὰ διὰ τ. ν.); cf. Robinson, Eph. 247. ἐνεργεῖσθαι in S. Paul is always passive, implying an agent, here the context shows that the agent is ὁ παλ. ἄνθρωπος.

Verse 6

6. κατηργήθημεν ἀπὸ νόμου = ἐθανατώθημεν τῷ νόμῳ |[148], Romans 7:2.

ἀποθανόντες ἐν ᾧ κατειχόμεθα = being dead in or to that character in which we were held in a state of subjection; ἀποθανόντες τῷ (or ἐν τῷ) παλαίῳ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐν ᾧ κατ.; cf. John 5:4 T. R., the only other instance of the passive in N.T. Cf. Polyb. iv. 51. 1, θεωροῦντες τὸν πατέρακατεχόμενον ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ. The old nature was the prison in which we, our true selves, were detained.

ὥστε δουλεύειν = so that we are still servants (pres.) but in newness of spirit etc. Cf. Burton, §§ 369 f.

ἐν καινότητι πνεύματος. ἐν circumstantial. Our service is rendered in a new atmosphere marked by the presence in us of Spirit, i.e. the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus; cf. Romans 8:1.

παλαιότητι γράμματος = the worn-out system which was marked by the dominance of written precepts. Cf. Romans 2:29; 2 Corinthians 3:6; S. H. Romans 2:27. The antithesis occurs only in these passages; and contrasts the external law with the internal quickening spirit.

Verse 7

7. τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; Yet another suggestion stated, to be put aside. If under law we are slaves to sin, under grace to righteousness, it might be supposed that the law itself is sin: but as the law is a revelation of GOD‘s will, such a supposition would be monstrous.

ἀλλά introduces the true statement of the case, which covers the next few verses.

ἔγνων. Inceptive: I did not become conscious of sin but by the law, making its claim on me for right action.

τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν. Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8 (ἐάν τε γὰρ). This isolated τε introduces a particular example of the effect of law from the 10th Commandment: almost = even, or in particular; cf. Shilleto, Dem. F. L. § 176, crit. ann.

οὐκ ᾔδειν. I had remained without knowledge of the real meaning of covetousness, if the law had not kept saying.… cf. Moulton, p. 200 f.

Verses 7-25

Romans 7:7-25. The new life is effective to achieve righteousness in each man, as the law could not do.

[7] Not that the law is itself sin, but it awakes the consciousness of sin, as, for instance, covetousness is not felt as sin till it is known to be a breach of law; sin gets its opportunity through law. [9] In the personal experience, there is first a (non-moral) existence unconscious of law; when a definite precept is brought into this experience, sin springs to life, the man dies: for sin, like some alien power, gets its opportunity by this precept, deceives the man and slays him. [12] While therefore the law represents and is even in detail the standard of holiness, righteousness and good, [13] yet by this good, sin works death and proves itself so to be downright sin, [14] because of the inevitable antithesis between the spiritual character of the law, and the fleshly nature of the awakened consciousness which makes it sin’s slave. [15] It is in fact the experienced antagonism of the conscious will and the fleshly practice; the former witnesses to the goodness of the law; the latter to an indwelling power, not the personal will, but sin; [18] in this fleshly nature by itself there is nothing good; it even prevents the good will actualising itself in practice; [20] but in that case, the practice belongs not to the man but to the sin which possesses him. [21] So we are driven by analysis of our experience to recognise, if not a double personality, at least a person and a power, within consciousness; it is a principle of this twofold consciousness that the will sides with the law of GOD while in the body there appears another, antagonistic, law which enslaves a man: from this slavery I find in myself no power to escape. [25] But thank GOD there is such a power, not of me but within me, the help of Jesus Christ our Lord. So that, to sum up all, in one and the same self there is a double servitude: with my mind and heart I am a slave to GOD‘s law, with my flesh I am a slave to sin’s law.

This section then brings out the true character of the effect of law, as the revelation in positive precepts of GOD‘s will for man. Its effect is to give the knowledge of right and wrong, to awaken, that is, the moral consciousness; this at once brings out the antagonism between the nature of man as living in the flesh, and his will and intelligence, which approve the law; the antagonism arises with the attempt to act; the good will finds itself thwarted by something in the nature, which, as not properly essential to the nature and yet finding its ready instrument therein, is realised as a power lodged there and is called sin. So definite and actual is this power felt to be in our experience that S. Paul, interpreting that experience, describes it as a power imposing, on all but equal terms with GOD, a law upon his nature, a law which says ‘thou shalt’ in direct contradiction of GOD‘s law ‘thou shalt not.’ In this conflict he has found no help except in the reinforcement of his will by the new spirit which has become his, by the aid of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is developed in c. 8. The law with all its goodness does not impart such a power. The difficulty of the passage is due to the depth of the psychological analysis to which S. Paul here subjects his own experience; he analyses so thoroughly as to reach the common human element in the individual experience. See Additional Note, p. 216.

Verse 8

8. ἀφορμὴνλαβοῦσα, ‘having got a handle.’ ἀφορμὴ = a starting point, base of operations, opportunity.

ἡ ἁμαρτία throughout the passage is treated as a concrete force or power. It is remarkable that S. Paul comes as near as possible to personifying the conception of sin, but does not actually use the idea of a personal author of evil: he here limits his account strictly to the analysis of actual experience; cf. S. H. p. 145. See Additional Note, p. 218.

διὰ τῆς ἐντολῆς. Closely with ἀφ. λ.: the positive command (. = a particular law) was the opportunity; cf. Romans 3:20, Romans 5:20. The order of the phrases is due to the necessity of emphasising the manner of sin’s entry into experience; διὰ τ. . is here unemphatic.

ἐν ἐμοὶ. S. Paul analyses his own experience as typical.

κατειργάσατοπ. . The idea seems to be that the impulses of man’s nature are not recognised as being right or wrong, till the sense of right and wrong is awakened by a positive command: when this occurs, what were neutral impulses become ‘lusts,’ i.e. desires of what is forbidden; it is this perverse desire which is described as the work of ‘sin,’ impulses persisting when there is present the knowledge that they are wrong, and the will or true self is not yet strong enough to control them.

χωρὶς γὰρ κ.τ.λ. For apart from a knowledge of right and wrong sin has no power of action; there is no moral sense or moral judgment. Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56, a passage which shows that the main idea had been represented already in S. Paul’s teaching. For νόμος as imparting the sense of right and wrong cf. Romans 2:14 f.

Verse 9

9. ἐγὼ δὲ ἔζων κ.τ.λ. ‘I was living unaffected by law once.’ He goes back to a pre-moral state—not necessarily in actual memory of a completely non-moral experience, but comparatively: his life as a child was untouched by numberless demands of law, which accumulated with his moral development; at that period whole regions of his life were purely impulsive; one after another they came under the touch of law, and with each new pressure of law upon his consciousness the sphere, in which it was possible to sin, was enlarged. It was easy to carry this retrospect one step beyond memory and to see himself living a life of pure impulse before the very first voice of law reached him: and to regard such a stage as a typical stage in the general development of the moral sense in man.

ἀνέζησεν, ‘sprang to life’: only here and Luke 15:24 (= revived), not classical. We should perhaps recognise here an instance of the ‘perfectivising’ function of the preposition; cf. Moulton, p. 112. Both A. and R.V. ‘revived’: but the whole point is that at that moment sin for the first time came to life. For this use of ἀνὰ cf. ἀναβοᾶν, ἀναθυμιᾶσθαι, ἀνακύπτειν, ἀνατέλλειν.

Verse 10

10. ἐγὼ δὲ ἀπέθανον. Here of the death to the pre-moral life, a death by and in sin: aor. = became dead.

εὑρέθη = proved in my experience; more than ἐγένετο.

Verse 11

11. ἐξηπάτησεν κ.τ.λ. Here we get nearest to personification of ἡ ἁμ., with the echo of Genesis 2:13; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14. The deceit lies in the representation of the satisfaction of the forbidden impulse as more desirable than obedience to the command.

Verse 12

12. ὁ μὲν κ.τ.λ. The antithesis is not expressed; an interruption is caused by the occurrence of one more false conclusion which has to be removed. Then the line of thought is resumed in Romans 7:14.

δικαία = right.

Verse 13

13. τὸ ἀγαθὸν κ.τ.λ. Did that good thing, law, itself prove death to me?

ἡ ἁμαρτία. Sc. ἐγένετο ἐμοὶ θάνατος.

ἵνα φ. The effect of sin found to be death proves sin to be what it is.

διὰ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ = διὰ τοῦ νόμου. κατεργαζομένη, by producing.

Verse 14

14. οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι. Appeal to acknowledged principle.

πνευματικός introduces the final description of the internal conflict: it is a struggle of πνεῦμα against ἁμαρτία to win the mastery of σάρξ. In this struggle law is on the side of πνεῦμα, but only as a standard and revelation of right, not as a spiritual power strengthening man’s will; that can only come from GOD, by an internal influence on man’s πνεῦμα.

σάρκινος. Fleshy, made of flesh, marks the substance or component part of substance; σαρκικός marks character. A πνεῦμα may be σαρκικόν but cannot be σάρκινον. Cf. λίθινος, John 2:6; 2 Corinthians 3:3; ξύλινος, 2 Timothy 2:20; see Westcott on Hebrews 7:16. Here the word is precise; his nature has in it a fleshy element; if this dominates the πνεῦμα, then the man is σαρκικός; if the πνεῦμα controls it, the man is πνευματικός. σάρξ describes the man in his natural state, including not merely his material body, but his mental and volitional operations so far as they are limited to or dominated by his earthly and temporal concerns. The evil belongs to σάρξ not in itself but in its wrong relation to spirit; so far as it is brought completely under the control of spirit, it too becomes πνευματική; hence explain 1 Corinthians 15:44 f. So πνεῦμα becomes σαρκικόν if it subordinates itself to σάρξ. Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 3:3 ff.

πεπραμένος, ‘one that has sold himself under sin’ = ‘made a slave under sin,’ not explanatory of σάρκινος but a further determination of the condition. Before law came, man was σάρκινος, but not πεπρ. . ἁμ.; now he is both. Metaph. only here in N.T.

Verse 15

15. γὰρ amplifies the idea of πεπραμένος; he is no longer his own master but under a tyranny he hates.

δ κατεργάζομαι. The effects I produce are not the outcome of my own knowledge and purpose.

οὐ γινώσκω = I form no true conception of, I do not thoroughly realise—the durative present. Cf. ἐξηπάτησεν, Romans 7:11.

πράσσω, put into practice. ποιῶ, commit in act.

Verse 17

17. νυνὶ δὲ. But, in this case, this being so.

οὐκέτι ἐγὼ. It is, when this point is reached, no longer my true self that is producing these effects, but the indwelling and alien tyrant.

Verse 18

18. οἶδα = I am fully conscious that.…

τοῦτ' ἔστιν κ.τ.λ. A correction of the too wide ἐν ἐμοί; in his true self there is ἀγαθόν, the knowledge of and appreciation of law.

ἐν τῇ σαρκί. The evil is not the flesh, but alien from, though lodged in, the flesh.

παράκειται. Only here and 21.

Verse 19

19 = 15.

Verse 20

20 = 17.

Verse 21

21. ἄρα sums up the reiterated positions of Romans 7:15-20.

τὸν νόμον = this law of my condition: a new sense of the word involving some confusion of language. The law of his condition is that there are two laws at once in his complex nature, one a law of his mind, i.e. the law of GOD accepted by his mind, one a law intruded upon his ‘members’ by sin, embodying the law of sin. It is just possible however that τὸν νόμον = the law of GOD (cf. ἡ ὀργή); and tr. ‘I find as regards the Law, that when I will to do the good’ (i.e. the bidding of this law) etc. This is strained, but diminishes the confusion. Cf. S. H.

τὸ καλὸν. The ideally true and right, as referred to a standard: ἀγαθόν = that which is good, as judged by effects.

Verse 22

22. τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ θεοῦ. The law of GOD, however revealed, but always in the form of positive command.

τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον describes the inner core of personality, including mind and will. Cf. Romans 6:6 n.

Verse 23

23. ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν describes the flesh as organised and active in various directions = the σῶμα in detail. Observe that S. Paul does not say ‘of my members’ but ‘in my members.’ He carefully avoids using language which implies that this law is proper to the flesh in its essential nature; it has its lodgment there, but the flesh is destined, and must be claimed, for other and higher allegiance.

τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου = the law accepted by my mind, GOD’S law made my own in apprehension and acceptance.

αἰχμαλωτίζοντα |[149] πεπραμένος, Romans 7:14.

τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμ. The law imposed by sin.

Verse 24

24. ἐκ τοῦ σ. τ. θ. τ. The man has become all but wholly involved in his body which sin has made captive to death. τ. θ. τ. this moral death.

Just as in Romans 7:9 S. Paul’s been self-analysis carries him beyond actual memory into the imagination of a pre-moral state, so here he carries the analysis of the internal strife, perhaps beyond his actual experience, into the sympathetic realisation of the common human state and need, when man’s spirit realises its extremity and does not yet see hope: though the very realisation is the first gleam of hope. Cf. S. H. See Additional Note, p. 218.

Verse 24-25

24, 25. A parenthetic exclamation, a cry for help, and the answer.

Verse 25

25. χάρις δὲ τῷ θεῷ. An exclamation—not in construction. For the phrase cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57.

διὰ Ἰ. κ.τ.λ. Sc. ῥυσθήσομαι or ἐρρύσθην. Law being the bare declaration of right had no power to move the living springs of action: that power comes from and through the Risen Lord imparting His own new life to man. This thought is developed in c. 8.

ἄρα οὖν sums up the whole statement of the condition of man in the face of law on the one hand, and of sin on the other.

αὐτὸς ἐγὼ = I by myself and apart from any new or other power which may be available to change the balance of contending powers. It is important to remember that the whole section is an analysis of man’s state under law, definitely excluding, for the moment, from consideration all action of GOD upon man’s spirit except through the channel of communicated law. It has already been shown or assumed that there is such action, both in the case of Gentiles (Romans 2:14) and in Abraham’s case (c. 4) as typical of the pious Jew; here we are reminded that that action reaches its full and effective operation in the risen Lord. But it was necessary, by this analysis, to isolate, as it were, from these considerations, the case of man under law, in order to bring out the exact place of law in the moral and religious experience of man, and to show that more than law was needed by him and has been and is operative in him. See Additional Note on νόμος, p. 211.

τῷ μὲν νοῒ. The νοῦς is here used for the mind as capable of the knowledge of GOD and His Will. πνεῦμα seems to be avoided, because it definitely suggests the direct connexion with and dependence upon GOD as acting upon man’s spirit; and that thought is for the moment excluded. The use of the word is almost confined to S. Paul. Cf. 23, Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 2:18. Here it includes apprehension and inclination.

There is much to be said for Joh. Weiss’ suggestion (op. cit[150] p. 231 f.) that there has been here a primitive transposition of text, so that originally ἄρα οὖν αὐτὸςἁμαρτίας preceded ταλαίπωροςἡμῶν. The ταλαίπωρος clause would come most properly after the summary of the all but desperate situation in ἄρα οὖν κ.τ.λ. The last clause (χάρις κ.τ.λ.) would come naturally at the end of the whole discussion; it contains the name which has so often already been used, as a concluding refrain: and it marks the transition to Romans 8:1.


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"Commentary on Romans 7:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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