Romans 7

Romans 7 is notoriously controversial. Good Bible people land on both sides of just who this chapter is referring to. Does it refer to a Christian's experience or the experience of the unbelieving Jewish struggle to obey the Mosaic law? I think the latter.

For me, there are three main reasons, the biggest being that the new covenant believer is not under the Law of Moses and that whole chapter is about the struggle to keep that law. He starts in 7:1 saying he is speaking to Jews: those who know the law. Then in 7:6 he says we are released from the law. So in my view it cannot refer to the Christian struggle to keep the law because we are released from that law. We "serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (7:6).

The second main point that pushes me this way is the absence of the Spirit in Ch. 7 and the abundance of "Spirit" language in ch. 8. The word "Spirit" occurs 34 times in the book of Romans and 21 of those occur in chapter 8! The Spirit as the gift of the new covenant is the solution to why a Jew could not obey. The Spirit is mentioned in 7:6 about being free from the law then not mentioned again until 8:2. I think 7:5 is unpacked in 7:7-25 and 7:6 is unpacked in 8:1-17.

The third reason is that a "Christian" reading of 7 seems to contradict what Paul writes in ch. 6 and 8 about the believer:

Rom 7:14 - "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin."

But:
  • Rom 6:18 - "and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."
  • Rom 6:22 - "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God"
  • Rom 7:5 - "For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death."
  • Rom 8:9 - "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you."
Also, note the contrast between 7:23 and 8:2:

  • Rom 7:23 - "but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members."
  • Rom 8:2 - "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."

I do not think Rom 7:14 can be true of a believer. The dilemma of 7 is resolved in 8 through the work of Christ (Ch. 6) and the Spirit (Ch. 8).

(For theologians who take this view, see the work of Moo, Fee, Robert Reymond, Hays, Wright, Ridderbos, Longenecker, Chrysostom, Hoekema)