Rebuttal of the nomist critique, 6:1-11:36

3. Freedom from the law, 7:1-25

Dead to the law, alive in the Spirit


In this, Paul's third rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, Paul explains that a believer, no longer "under the law" / "discharged from the law" / dead with respect to the law, lives "in the new life of the Spirit." In chapter 6 Paul's argument was "dead to sin" = freedom to live for God, now in chapter 7 his argument is "dead to law" = freedom to live for God.


i] Context: See 6:1-14.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, serving to argue that for a believer, dead to law = alive in the Spirit, presents in three parts:

Proposition: Death brings release from the law, v1;

Illustration: The analogy of the dissolution of a marriage by the death of a partner, v2-3;

Application: Christ has fulfilled our obligation to the law, v4-6.

Through inclusion in Christ, the believer, now separated from the law by death, is free to unite to another, namely, the guiding power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

In chapter seven, the rhetorical format of a light diatribe continues with the refutation of objections. Paul rebuts the nomist's contention that grace, without law, promotes sin, undermining the full appropriation of God's promised blessings, as opposed to their view that grace + law restrains sin, promoting holiness for the full appropriating of God's promised blessings / the fullness of new life in Christ. But what "law" is Paul speaking about and in what sense is a believer no longer under the law?

We can probably discount law in general, and certainly Roman law. As already noted in these studies, the "law" is most likely the Torah, the law of Moses, but seeing that Paul is addressing the heresy of nomism within the Christian fellowship, it is possible that New Testament ethics, in particular the ethic of Jesus (eg. the Sermon on the Mount) has been incorporated into, or at least used to illustrate, the covenant law (the ten commandments etc.). None-the-less, Paul's focus is clearly on the law of Moses, with circumcision as the visible sign of a person's submission to the Sinai covenant.

The more difficult problem is to understand in what sense a believer is no longer under the law ("is discharged from the law"). The Reformed / conservative view is the most widely accepted understanding of Paul's teaching. The believer is still under the law as "a rule of life", Calvin, but not under the law as an instrument of divine condemnation for sin, ie. the curse of the law. So, a believer is free from the law in the sense of free from condemnation. Some argue that Paul means free from the law as a mechanism for justification, eg. Stuart's old commentary, 1862 ("A believer is dead to all forms of legalism"), but not even "the weak" (nomist believers / judaizers / members of the circumcision party) would hold that covenant acceptance was established by obedience to the law. A believer "will engage in upright living as the result, but not the cause of his salvation", Morris. New perspective commentators tend to argue that a believer, incorporated in Christ, is no longer under law (the old covenant), but under grace (the new covenant), thus they are no longer bound by Jewish exclusivity ("works of the law") to progress sanctification, but rather proceed in the Christian life by the leading of the Spirit, a law written within the heart. See Jewett and Dumbrell for the law as the mechanism of Israel's national sanctification.

We are better served by understanding Paul's argument in the following terms: By being in Christ, "united" to him in his death and resurrection, we are released from (have died to) the conjoined authority of the dominion of sin, 6:15-23 and the law, 7:1-7 (note the parallel statements in these two passages). Paul has defined the law's prime function, its prime authority, in terms of exposing sin, making sin more sinful, and thus enacting the laws curse, to the end that justification (being set-right with God) might be seen to rest wholly on faith (Christ's faith/faithfulness and our faith in his faithfulness) and not obedience to the law. Consequently, a believer, united to Christ and therefore justified, is free from the law with respect to this function (the law is no longer needed to expose sin and lead the sinner to God for mercy), and as a consequence, is free from the power of sin (sin stirred up by the law), and therefore free to bear the fruit of right-living through the leading of the Spirit, cf. Schreiner 343-344.

Paul's argument at this point strikes at the heart of the nomists ("the weak", 15:1) who regard submission to the law as essential to the Christian walk. The law certainly remains a guide to the Christian life, but for a believer to return to the law as a means of restraining sin and progressing holiness (sanctification) for the appropriation of God's promised blessings, not only inevitably promotes sinful living, but serves also to enact the law's curse. The law cannot sanctify, rather it promotes rebellion and ultimately undermines faith. The truth is that a person stands eternally approved in the sight of God, holy before him, by faith, and in this faith, through the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ, they begin to live out the commands of the law, and this apart from the law.

PS. As to whether we die to the law/sin, or the law/sin dies to us, it is probably the latter, but then .........


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 7:1

Dead to the law and alive in the new way of the Spirit, v1-6: i] The analogy of the dissolution of a marriage by the death of a partner, v1-3. As far as a believer is concerned, the law is like a marriage partner. When our marriage partner dies, we are free to marry another. The point Paul is making is that God's law properly serves to expose sin and drive the sinner to God for mercy. Given that a believer has found mercy in Christ, has found forgiveness and thus, eternal life, the law's "authority" is superseded; it is like a deceased marriage partner. A believer is no longer bound by the law.

h] "-" - or. Here indicating a new step in Paul's refutation of the nomists' objection to his thesis; "Let me put it another way."

agnoeite (agnoew) pres. "do you not know" - are you ignorant [brothers]. Best presented positively, given the following causal clause; "Surely you know", Moffatt.

gar "for" - for [I speak]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul knows that his readers are not ignorant of the matter he is about to introduce; "you are, of course, aware, brethren, for I am speaking to men acquainted with the law", Pilcher.

ginwskousin (ginwskw) dat. pres. part. "to those who know [the law]" - to the ones knowing [law]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependents statement of perception expressing what Paul's readers are not ignorant of.

oJ nomoV "the law" - What law? "Mosaic law", Moo; "an objective axiom of political justice that death clears all scores, and that a dead man can no longer be prosecuted or punished", Headlam; "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed", Hodge. As noted above, in this passage, it is difficult to know what "law" Paul has in mind, and even whether he is always using the word with a similar meaning. Is Paul speaking about: i] a principle or axiom; ii] the law of marriage; iii] God's law in general; iv] Mosaic law? The issue is further confused when we try to identify how the "law" relates to Paul's marriage illustration. Note how critical Barrett and Dodd are of Paul's logic here (an anacoluthon?). I suspect that Paul always has in mind the Mosaic law, but as noted above, given that his opponents, "the weak", the law-bound, are believers, Hodge's wider definition may well be closer to the mark.

kurieuei (kurieuw) pres. "has authority" - lords it over. "Have power over", CEV; "is binding", NRSV.

tou anqrwpou (oV) gen. "over a man / over someone" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination, although technically a genitive of direct object over the verb to "lord it over", as NIV.

ef (epi) + acc. "as [long as that person lives]" - over [as much time he lives]. Introducing the idiomatic temporal phrase ef oJson cronon, "over a period of time"; "So long as they live", Phillips.


Paul now develops his point using his marriage analogy. The focus of the analogy is upon the complete cessation of the authority of the marriage partner upon the death of that partner, and of the right of the living partner to form a new relationship. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives; once he dies, she is no longer bound to him.

gar "for / for example" - More reason / explanatory than causal, here serving to introduce an illustration; "A married woman, for example, is bound by law to her husband ...", Phillips.

nomw/ (oV) dat. "by law" - The dative is instrumental, expressing means; "by means of."

uJpandroV "a married [woman]" - A hapax legomenon (once only use in NT). Literally meaning "under the subjection of a man."

dedetai (dew) perf. pas. "is bound" - has been bound. Gnomic perfect. A very strong word, "legally bound", Phillips.

tw/ ... andri (hr roV) dat. "to her husband" - to the [living] husband. Dative of direct object after the verb dew which takes a dative of persons.

zwnti (zaw) dat. pres. part. "as long as he is alive" - The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "husband".

de "but" - but, and. Adversative, as NIV.

ean + subj. "if" - if [the husband dies]. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then ...."

kathrghtai (katargew) perf. pas. "she is released" - she has been released, annulled, nullified. The obligations associated with marriage have been fully set aside. "His legal claims over her disappears", Phillips.

apo + gen. "from [the law]" - Expressing separation; "away from."

tou androV "of marriage / that binds her to him" - of the husband. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, A husband-type law", ie., a law that binds a wife to her husband, as TNIV.


ara oun "so then" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion, where ara simply strengthens the inferential oun; "Accordingly", ESV.

ean + subj. "if" - Introducing conditional clauses, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibly of coming true; "if, as may be the case ... then ....."

andri (hr droV) dat. "[she marries another] man" - [she becomes joined to another / different] man / husband. Probably a dative of possession; "if she becomes the wife / partner of another man." Not necessarily marriage; "if she gives herself to another", JB.

zwntoV (zaw) gen. pres. part. "while [her husband] is alive" - [the husband / man] living. The participle serves in a genitive absolute construction, most likely temporal, as NIV.

crhmatisei (crhmatizw) fut. "she is called [an adulteress]" - [an adulterous] she will be called. Gnomic future. "She is branded as an adulteress", Barclay.

de "but" - but, and. Adversative, as NIV.

ean + subj. "if [her husband dies]" - Conditional clause, as above. "But if, after her husband's death, she does exactly the same thing (partner another), no one could call her an adulteress, for the legal hold over her has been dissolved by her husband's death", Phillips.

apo + gen. "[she is released] from [the law]" - [she is free] from [the law]. Expressing separation.

tou mh einai (eimi) "and is not [an adulterous]" - [she] is not [an adulteress]. This construction tou + inf. usually forms a purpose clause, but here obviously consecutive expressing result; "she is free from the law and as a result cannot be called / classed / branded an adulteress." The accusative subject of the infinitive is authn, "she".

genomenhn (ginomai) aor. part. "even though / if she marries [another man]" - having been joined to [a different man / husband]" - The participle is adverbial, usually taken as concessive , as NIV, or conditional, as TNIV.


ii] Application: through inclusion in Christ, the believer, now separated from the law, is free to unite to another, namely, the guiding power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, v4-6. There is a sense where, like a marriage partner, the law of God has died. In fact, one could say, God has put it to death. This occurred because we found the grace of God's forgiveness in the cross of Christ, in his body offered as a sacrifice for us. As a consequence, we are free to "belong" to another, to marry another, namely, Christ, our risen Lord. Because of this union with the risen Christ we begin to live the life that Christ lives, we begin to be like him, we begin to "bear fruit for God's glory."

wJste "so" - so that, in order that / thus, therefore [of me]. Drawing a conclusion. Here expressing a likeness wJV + te = "and so"; "Likewise, my brothers, ...", ESV.

kai "[you] also" - Adjunctive, as NIV.

efanatwqhte (qanatow) aor. pas. "died" - you were put to death. Punctiliar aorist indicating a single past event, the passive being divine / theological??? Given the marriage illustration, there is debate as to whether we die to the law, so Morris, or the law dies to us. Either way, it is God who puts to death (divine passive) such that we are "released from the claims of the law." For the justified person, the law no longer has the authority to expose and accentuate sin for the purpose of activating a reliance on faith. Of course, "released from the law" doesn't mean released to sin. The law still retains its secondary function of guiding right-living.

tw/ nomw/ (oV) dat. "to the law" - Dative of interest, disadvantage, so Moo.

dia + gen. "through" - Instrumental, expressing means / agency.

tou Cristou "[the body] of Christ" - The genitive may be taken as verbal, subjective, or adjectival, possessive; "Christ's liberating death", Lenski. Obviously "body" refers to Christ's death on our behalf; "you have become part of the crucified body of Christ", Barclay. Some take "the body of Christ" to mean the church, but this is unlikely.

eiV to genesqai (ginomai) aor. inf. "that [you] might belong" - for [you] to belong. The preposition eiV with the articular infinitive forms either a purpose, or result clause. Result seems best; the consequence of the cross is union with Christ. Possibly carrying the sense "married", ie. married to Christ, but certainly "belonging" to Christ.

eJterw/ dat. adj. "to another" - to a different one. The adjective serves as a noun, dative of possession / direct object, dative of persons, after the verb ginomai when expressing the sense "belong to someone."

tw/ ... egerqenti (egeirw) dat. aor. pas. part. "to him who was raised" - to the one having been raised. The participle serves as a substantive, dative in apposition to "a different one." Instead of belonging to the law, a believer belongs to the risen Christ through his indwelling Spirit.

ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - from [dead ones]. Expressing source/origin, "out of", or separation, "away from."

iJna + subj. "in order that" - that [you may bear fruit]. Forming a final clause expressing purpose of a believers being joined to Christ; "that we might be useful in the service of God", TEV. Reflecting Paul's point that a person "in Christ" is free from the law, and therefore tends toward righteous-living rather than licentious-living.

tw/ qew "to God" - A dative of interest, advantage, so possibly "for God's glory."


In our natural fallen state, driven by our sinful cravings, the law served only to arouse our sinful nature to even greater disobedience; it served to expose our sinfulness, stirring us to even greater sin, so confirming our ultimate condemnation.

gar "for" - Explanatory, rather than causal; "Let me explain how it is that you have died to the law to belong to another in order to bear fruit to God."

oJte "when" - Temporal conjunction.

hJmen "we were" - The "we" certainly refers to believers, but Paul often has in mind Jewish believers, Israelites who were once under the law of Moses, but who are now "released" from it. Sometimes it is "we apostles." None-the-less, all believers, who have some sense of "the will of God as rule and duty", can be included in his argument.

en + dat. "controlled by [the sinful nature] / in the realm [of the flesh]" - in the flesh. Local, expressing sphere, as TNIV; "in the natural state of sin", Lenski. The term has numerous meanings ranging from "being merely human" to "human weakness that succumbs to temptations", as NIV. The term here best describes fallen humanity inclined to sin; "living in accordance with our lower nature", Williams.

ta paqhmata (a) "the [sinful] passions" - the passions, strong desires. The word normally means "suffering", but here an equivalent of pathos.

twn aJmartiwn (a) "sinful" - of sins. Possibly an objective genitive, "the passions that produce sins", but better adjectival, attributive, "sinful desires / passions", "sinful cravings", Moffatt, but possibly ablative, source / origin, "passions that come from sins", or verbal, objective, "passions that lead to sins", Harvey.

dia + gen. "aroused by [the law]" - by means of [the law]. Instrumental, agency, or causal, "efficient cause", BAGD. The law doesn't just expose sin (Chrysostom), but rather arouses it, makes it more sinful. "The law incited them (the sins) to work", Barclay. Note JB "quite unsubdued by the law." It is often argued that the law restrains sin, but this is doubtful, and is certainly not the point here.

enhrgeito (energew) imperf. "were at work" - were working. Progressive imperfect indicating a constant activity.

en + dat. "in [our bodies] / in [us]" - in members, bodily parts [of us]. Local, expressing space. Here toiV melesin hJmwn, "the members of us", = the self; emotional, physical.... "; "in our nature", Phillips.

eiV to + inf. "so that [we bore fruit to death]" - for [to bear fruit to death]. The preposition eiV + the articular infinitive usually forms a purpose clause, but here consecutive, expressing result. "When we were living in our carnal state, our sinful passions, stimulated by legal prohibitions, were active in our members and brought forth their deadly harvest of sin", Pilcher


Yet, a believer, "in Christ", is "released from" the "authority" of the law; we are no longer oppressed by "the old way of the written code"; it is dead to us. Rather, through the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ we begin to "serve in the new way of the Spirit." Through faith in the renewing work of the indwelling Spirit of Christ we "bear fruit for God's glory". Christ's love compels us to begin to live as Christ lives and so wee begin to fulfill in our lives the righteous requirements of the law.

nuni de "but now" - Possibly a logical development in the argument, but an adversative temporal move seems best; "but a new situation has arisen", Barclay.

apoqanonteV (apoqnhskw) aor. part. "by dying" - having died. The participle is adverbial, possibly instrumental, as NIV, or causal, "we have been released from the law because we have died to that which held us captive", or better temporal - see below.

en + dat. "to [what]" - to that [we were released from the law] in/by [which]. Possibly local, expressing space/sphere, or instrumental, expressing means, "by which." The clause may contain an ellipsis (the omitted word toutw/, "to that", dative of reference / respect; "having died with respect to that in which ...."). Moo suggests "but we have been released from the law, dying to that in which we were held captive", Again, our problem rests with who or what does the "dying". Those who have the believer dying to the law through their death in Christ, argue for an ellipsis to make sense of the passage. Of course, if the law dies to us, then the passage makes sense in its own right. Lit. "but now, we have been released (aor. pas.) from the law having died (aor. part. [it] having died, eg. temporal "when it died"), by/in (pos. instrumental, "by") which we were being held."

kateicomeqa (katecw) imperf. pas. "once bound us" - we were being held, confined, restrained. The progressive imperfect indicates an ongoing confinement. Crucial to our understanding of this passage is the identification of the old marriage partner, that which "once bound us". There are three possibilities: i] the law, ii] the power of sin, iii] the "old man of sin", ie. our sinful nature. Paul may be speaking of our "sinful nature" cf. Rom.7:18, 8:3-4, although in line with v4, it is more likely that the law is that which confined us.

kathrghqhmen (katargew) aor. pas. "we have been released" - we were released. Discharged from the law's impost; "are done with", Moffatt.

wJste + inf. "so that" - so as [to serve]. This construction will normally introduce a consecutive clause expressing consequence, result, as in the NIV. It may, on rare occasions, form a final clause expressing purpose; "so that we can serve ...", Moffatt.

en + dat. "in" - Local, expressing standard.

pneumatoV (a atoV) gen. "[the new way] of the Spirit" - [newness] of S/spirit [and not in oldness of letter]. The genitive here, as with grammatoV, "of the written code", may be ablative, expressing source/origin, of the "newness / new way" that derives from the Spirit, as compared to the "oldness" that derives from the "letter / written code." On the other hand, the genitive may be adjectival, of definition, epexegetic where "Spirit" explains the nature of the "newness", and "letter" explains the nature of "oldness", but also possibly attributive, "Spirit-newness" and "letter-oldness. It is possible that Paul does not have the Holy Spirit in mind, so, "in the new spiritual way", JB, but unlikely. Paul is speaking of the new way of living which derives from the indwelling compelling of the Holy Spirit. "To serve in the Spirit is to live the resurrected life, to claim our rightful place in Christ. Dead to sin and freed to live for righteousness, we now live lives that bear fruit for God", Mounce.


Romans introduction



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