Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

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Homer
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Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by Homer » Sun Jan 03, 2016 9:58 pm

As I study this passage again (Romans 7:14-25) I find myself forced to re-examine what I have long considered - that Paul was not speaking of a Christian. It seems there are a number of possibilities:

A believer, new to the faith, Paul himself or a generic Christian.
A mature Christian, Paul or generic.
Paul under the law as a Jew, or a generic Jew.
Paul just prior to conversion.

I have excluded from the above those who do not believe in God as a Jew or Christian; they would have no concern with being unable to keep God's law.

The reason for my long held belief that Paul is not speaking of his experience as a Christian, or that of any other Christian, is primarily found in v. 14:

Romans 7:14 (NASB)

14. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

Paul is not merely saying he (or whoever) is human (flesh). He used the wrong Greek word for that. Paul used sarkikos, Strong's #4559, which refers to "after the manner of flesh", "carnally formed, inclined, and disposed". If he was pointing out he was human, sarkinos, Strong's #4560, which means "consisting of flesh" would have been the appropriate word. Sarkikos refers to carnal behavior, Sarkinos to what we are made of.

Additionally Paul says he is sold into bondage to sin after just saying in Romans 6 Christians have been set free, and again in chapter 8 that "to be carnally minded is death".

John Peter Lange wrote that the predicate "sold" in verse 14 must be tampered with to make the reference be to a regenerated, spiritual man, and made to mean, not simply "I am carnal", but "I was", "I am so to a certain extent", "I am still carnal, though not as formerly".

It might be thought that Galatians 5:16-18 presents a similar case:

Galatians 5:16-18 (NASB)

16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.


But here we find there is the expectation that they can, through the Spirit, overcome the flesh, and Paul uses an imperative, commanding them to do so. In the Romans 7:14-25 passage we find no hope, only defeat.

So how do you see it and why?

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dizerner
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Re: Who Was tjhe Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by dizerner » Sun Jan 03, 2016 10:29 pm

Thanks for the great topic.

What makes it confusing is the dichotomy, the two potential states simultaneously available. Paul describes who he currently would be any time he is under law and who he currently would be any time he is under grace.

Well, what decides if Paul is under grace or law then? This is the whole point of what Paul's teaching: what makes a man operate under law and what makes a man operate under grace.

It's not like we can argue "Because Paul's flesh is sold to sin he cannot be a Christian," because all humans flesh is sold to sin. That's the doctrine. Adam ate the fruit and all were sold to sin and thus death inside him. But if all Christians have "no good thing" in their flesh (notice: Paul, after a clear switch to describing regeneration in Romans 8, still says no good thing dwells in his flesh), then how can they ever be free?

That's the point of the interlude of Romans 6 and 7 and the end of 5. One might think without it, from the very high notes of the beginning of Romans 5 Paul could skip right to Romans 8; if it's all good news, Paul still tells us one thing: the bad news always comes first. We don't even need good news without bad news. :P

So Paul teaches us it's not automatic for a born again person to walk in grace, but there are principles to putting the old man off and not living under the law. We are not taught by Paul that Romans 7 is something we always have to live with, a cross we always have to bear, but rather it's a lesson, the key and power of going on to Romans 8 lies within it.

It's a very important and underrated and under-studied and under-preached passage (and when it is, it is misapplied more than not as in "Paul was a struggling sinner and we always have to be too").

Addendum: Try reading Romans 5 followed directly by Romans 8 and see how nicely it flows:

8 But God commendeth his own love unto us in that--we as yet being sinners, Christ in our behalf died.
9 Much more, then, having now been declared righteous by his blood, shall we be saved through him from the anger.
10 For, if being enemies we were reconciled unto God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
11 And, not only, so, but are even boasting in God, through our Lord Jesus [[Christ]],--through whom, now, the reconciliation we have received. (Rom 5:8-11 ROT)


[so what's in-between here?]

1 Hence there is now, no, condemnation unto them who are in Christ Jesus;
2 For, the-law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, hath set thee free from the law of sin and of death;--
3 For, what was impossible by the law in that it was weak through the flesh, God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh,
4 In order that, the righteous requirement of the law, might be fulfilled in us--who, not according to flesh, do walk, but according to spirit; (Rom 8:1-4 ROT)
~ Classical Arminian Christian Mystic ~

steve7150
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by steve7150 » Sun Jan 03, 2016 11:43 pm

Romans 7:14 (NASB)

14. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

Paul is not merely saying he (or whoever) is human (flesh). He used the wrong Greek word for that. Paul used sarkikos, Strong's #4559, which refers to "after the manner of flesh", "carnally formed, inclined, and disposed". If he was pointing out he was human, sarkinos, Strong's #4560, which means "consisting of flesh" would have been the appropriate word. Sarkikos refers to carnal behavior, Sarkinos to what we are made of.

Additionally Paul says he is sold into bondage to sin after just saying in Romans 6 Christians have been set free, and again in chapter 8 that "to be carnally minded is death".





I think Paul is describing himself as a regenerated man who has a divided nature which is between the mind which is set on God and his flesh which is inclined to sin. He feels like a wretched man because of the tension and weariness of battle and fits and starts but following the thread between chap 6 through 8 he grows stronger and finds victory in Christ yet the battle will continue in this life.

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Homer
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by Homer » Mon Jan 04, 2016 11:02 am

Thanks for the replies, they are helpful.

Interestingly, Paul uses "I" 24 times and "me", "my", and "myself" 14 times in the passage and also its all in the present tense indicating Paul's state as he wrote, if its about him. Perhaps it is best understood as representative of how he would be apart from Christ. But then elsewhere Paul has described himself as a self satisfied Jew before his conversion:

Galatians 1:13-14 (NASB)

13. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14. and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.


And especially:

Philippians 3:4b-6 (NASB):

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5. circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6. as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.


Also in the book of Acts.

I think most commentators interpret the passage to fit what they already believe. Lange, in his massive commentary, typically mentions the views of numerous other exegetes from the ancient ones to his day. He wrote that Augustine had come to believe it was about a Christian which would fit with the reformed doctrine. A Calvinist would seem forced to say it is speaking of a Christian since only a regenerated person would have felt the angst expressed by Paul. Perhaps they would say a regenerated person prior to commitment to Christ. One commentator said that the position of the early church fathers for 300 years was that it was not about a believer; I would take that to mean a Christian.

I think I have no bias in this. I recall the first time I read the passage I felt relief, that if this was how Paul was I must be okay. Then Adam Clarke convinced me of the view I have held for many years - that no Christian is a slave of sin. But that seems too simple.

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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by Paidion » Mon Jan 04, 2016 12:02 pm

As I see it, Paul is not describing himself at all. He is using the hypothetical "I" just as I would if I said, "If I drink a whole bottle of rum at a time, I will die." In saying that, I am not saying that I will do so.

In the first two verses of chapter 8 (which is not a new topic but a continuation of all that Paul wrote in chapter 7),
Paul wrote:There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
In chapter 7, Paul is describing the man without the enabling grace that is available to those in Christ Jesus. Such people may desire to serve God, but cannot do so consistently. For self-effort alone is insufficient. IF I do not have God's enabling grace available to me through Christ's sacrifice, then, " I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (Rom 7:25).

You might appreciate the following comments of Christians in earlier ages concerning chapter 7:

This is a fictional discussion between Pelagius and an opponent, as quoted by Augustine. Since Augustine was his arch-enemy, he may not have quoted him accurately:

Opponent: I insist that these words of the apostle, ‘For what I would, that do I not’ and ‘I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind’ intimate that man cannot live without sin.

[Pelagius:] Now that which you wish us to understand of the apostle himself, all Church writers assert that he spoke in the person of the sinner, and of one who was still under the law,--such a man as was, by reason of a very long custom of vice, held bound, as it were, by a certain necessity of sinning, and who, although he desired good with his will, in practice indeed was hurried headlong into evil. In the person, however, of one man the apostle designates the people who still sinned under the ancient law. This nation he declares was to be delivered from this evil of custom through Christ, who first of all remits all sins in baptism to those who believe in Him, and then urges them by an imitation of Himself to perfect holiness, and by the example of His own virtues overcomes the evil custom of their sins."

Vs 14 Origen:

Someone who is carnal and sold under sin does not know that the law is spiritual, so how can Paul say this of himself? In fact when he says that he is carnal and sold under sin he is playing the part of a teacher of the church by taking on the role of the weak, as he said elsewhere: “I became weak to the weak, so that I might win the weak.” (1 Cor. 9:22)

We are taught by the Psalms that it was the custom in Holy Scriptures for holy men to take on the role of sinners and for teachers to assume the weaknesses of their pupils. “I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go about mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. (Ps 38:6-8)— Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Vs 14 Chrysostom:

...Paul went on to say that he was carnal, giving us here the portrait of a man as he was under and before the coming of the law— Homilies on Romans

Vs 15 Cyril of Alexandria:

It appears that this refers to the ignorant Gentiles, whose thoughts Paul is reproducing. — Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans


Vs 16 Augustine:

The law is defended against every accusation, but we must be careful not to think that these words deny our free will, which is not true. The man being described here is under the law, before the coming of grace. Sin overpowers him when he attempts to live righteously in his own strength, without the help of God's liberating grace. Thus with the deliverance and help of him who gives it, he will not sin and will cease to be under the law. Instead, being at one with the law or in the law, he will fulfil it by the love of God which he could not have done through fear.— Augustine on Romans

Vs 19 Pseudo Constantius:

Paul here assumes the role of a person who is in the habit of sinning and who is held bound to the vices of the flesh.— The Holy Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.

Vs 25 Origen

Perhaps someone will say that here the apostle Paul abandons the role of the weak man, which he assumed in the preceding, and talks directly about himself. For he says that he serves the Law of God with his mind but the law of sin with his flesh, as if to imply that the power of sin is so great that even an apostle cannot escape it. Moreover, he also said elsewhere, “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:27).

But someone who takes this interpretation seems to me to be inflicting on every soul with despair, because then there would be nobody who did not sin in the flesh. Rather, it seems to me that here Paul maintains the role he has adopted and plays the part of the weak man, whom we have already described.— Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
Paidion

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steve7150
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by steve7150 » Tue Jan 05, 2016 3:44 pm

It's not as if Rom 7 is the only place Paul laments about this issue. In Galatians he says the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh and even at the end of his life he calls himself the chief of sinners. Really, Paul is really the chief of sinners? To me he is a divided man and because of his maturity any imperfections disturb him beyond reasonableness. The key is his mind is on the Spirit and that is why sin does not have dominion, simply because it is not what he wants to do.

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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by Paidion » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:12 pm

...even at the end of his life he calls himself the chief of sinners. Really, Paul is really the chief of sinners?
Paul called himself the chief of sinners because prior to his conversion, he had many Christians put to death.
Yes, Paul used the present tense, but that does not imply that he considered himself a practising sinner when he said it.
A man who killed someone 40 years ago, but has been a model citizen ever since, continues to be called a "murderer" by society.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

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dizerner
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by dizerner » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:13 pm

Paul laments
"Who will deliver me?" was not a lament, it was a question with an actual answer.
~ Classical Arminian Christian Mystic ~

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Homer
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by Homer » Wed Jan 06, 2016 1:04 am

Some time before Paul wrote Romans he wrote this:

1 Corinthians 9:27 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

27. but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will be disqualified
.

How then can it be maintained that Romans 7:14 refers to Paul's experience, as a Christian, at the time he wrote Romans?

Romans 7:14 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

14. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.

Both statements are in the present indicative; the action is occurring as Paul writes. If Romans 7:14 accurately describes Paul's experience as a Christian then Paul's claim in 1 Corinthians 9:27 would necessarily be false, would it not? And how could he tell people to be like him?

1 Corinthians 11:1New American Standard Bible (NASB)

11. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

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dizerner
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Re: Who Was the Wretched Man, Romans 7?

Post by dizerner » Wed Jan 06, 2016 6:52 am

I don't understand your logic. Paul is only sold into sin under the Law, but he doesn't have to live under Law because he can "reckon himself to be crucified with Christ." His reckoning that fact does not lessen what his flesh is.
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