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

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

a) The moral status of the law


In developing his third rebuttal argument against the nomist critique, Paul repudiates the suggestion that his thesis / proposition (namely, that the righteous reign of God, out of faith, apart from the law, facilitates the fullness of new life in Christ) somehow implies that "the law is sin / evil" - "that which is good (namely the law) become death to me." Paul "asserts that, far from being sin, it is that which makes him recognize sin", Cranfield.


i] Context: See 6:1-14.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, serving to argue that the law is holy, just and good, presents as follows:

Proposition: Paul's gospel of grace does not imply that the law is sinful, v7a;

Argument: The law serves to expose sin for what it is, v7b-11;


The law is righteous, holy and good, v12;

The law serves a good end, it makes sin utterly sinful, v13.


The structural arrangement of v7-25 is open to some debate. Dunn argues that v13 concludes v7-12, but at the same time leads into v14-17; so also Fitzmyer, Osborne, ... Other commentators, for example Dumbrell, Mounce, regard that v12 as the concluding statement, rather than v13. However we handle v13, v7-25 "is a digression from his main line of thought", Barrett, in that Paul draws aside from his central argument to deal with the particular implication that his thesis implies that the law is evil.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

Romans 7:7-25 prompts endless debate. Using the first person singular, Paul speaks in the past tense in v7-13, and the present tense in v14-25. The tendency has been to treat the passage as autobiographical, but at the same time aligned with what is a common human experience. Paul seems to speak as an unbeliever in v7-13 and as either a law-bound believer who is affected by recurrent sin, or a believer who is living a low level of Christian life in v14-25. Chapter 8 is then taken as an exposition of "the victory life." Some commentators propose a more theological approach suggesting that Paul speaks as a representative Adam confronted by divine law, rebelling against that law and thus facing the consequence of death, cf. Gen.3. Adam was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin raised its head (the snake) and death ensued. Taking a salvation-history approach, other commentators have suggested that Paul speaks as a representative Israelite confronted by the law at Mount Sinai, v7-13, and then with the struggle of living with the law from Sinai to the present day, v14-25. See Cranfield for a list of possible interpretive approaches.

New Perspective commentators tend to see Israel's two stages under the law as that of receiving the law and finding itself under the curse of the law (although for those with the faith of Abraham the law serves as the expression of that faith, or the maintenance of that faith, Sanders), and then (v13-25) Israel under the law post-resurrection (ie. the old covenant having been replaced by the new).

Our best way forward is to recognize that Paul, in v7-25, is no Luther struggling with oppressive guilt, but none-the-less, the "I", is to some degree, autobiographical. Paul speaks of his own experience as a person bound under the authority of the Mosaic law. As a Pharisee, he had plenty of experience in this department. Against the critique of the nomists that he devalues the law, even worse, implies that it is "sin", an instrument of evil rather than "good / spiritual", Paul explains from, his own experience, that the law functions to expose sin, making sin more sinful. It does not function, as the nomist's argue, to purify, make holy. Although God's law is good and holy, a truth we happily affirm, we are destined to respond in rebellion against it. "Who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my own sinful nature? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord", v24-25, Phillips.


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

Text - 7:7a

The moral status of the law - "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good", v7-12: i] Paul rejects the implication that his thesis implies that the law is sinful. "Am I suggesting that the law is sinful?" It seems likely that Paul's law-bound critics are of this opinion. Paul responds by condemning the suggestion. In no way is Paul implying that the law is evil. Sin is evil, the law but serves to expose evil. Paul will quote the perfect example, the command not to covet, not to allow ego-centric desire, lust, to gurgle within. Of course, the more we are told not to covet, the more we covet.

eroumen (eipon) fut. "[what] shall we say" - Deliberative future.

gar "then" - therefore. Possibly inferential, drawing a conclusion, as NIV, although probably just indicating the next step in the argument and so left untranslated; "What further shall we say on these matters? Does my thesis imply that the law is sin?

oJ nomoV aJmartia "is the law sin?" - [is] the law sin. The verb is assumed. "Is the law sinful", Morris, seems more likely than that the stronger "the law and sin are one and the same thing", Cassirer.

mh genoito "certainly not" - may it never be. "Never".


ii] The law functions to expose sin for what it is, cf., 5:20, v7b-11. New perspective commentators agree that the law "now is only a vehicle for sin. Paul's point is valid for the unbelieving nation (of Israel), but not for OT pious Jews whose delight was always in the law", Dumbrell. Yet, it seems more likely that the law has always functioned to expose sin and enact the curse on those who were not covenant compliant. The Sinai law serves to remind the pious Jew that righteousness before God is only possible by adopting the faith of Abraham, for the covenant rests on promise / grace, not obedience / law.

alla "indeed / nevertheless" - but. Here adversative / contrastive; "on the contrary", Morris, but possibly emphatic, as NIV.

ouk egnwn aor. "I would never have known what [sin] was" - I did not know [sin]. The aorist is probably inceptive, so "come to know." "Know", of course, is not just intellectual assent, but rather a knowing as a person "knows" their partner in marriage.

ei mh + imperf. "except / had it not been" - except. Often treated as introducing a conditional clause, contrary to fact, 2nd. class, where the condition is assumed to be untrue; "if, as is not the case, .... then." As is often the case in Koine Greek the particle an is omitted in the apodosis / the "then" clause. "If it were not by means of the law, I would not know sin." We may though simply classify it as introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception.

dia + gen. "for [the law]" - through [law]. Instrumental, expressing means: "by means of the law."

te gar "for" - also for. More reason than causal, here introducing a supportive example; "what I mean is", Barclay, "For example", Phillips.

ouk h/dein (oida) pluperf. "I would not have known" - I was not knowing. Most regard the pluperfect is used here as an imperfect, so expressing past durative action, an ongoing knowing / experiencing the sinful desire to covet.

thn epiqumian (a) "what coveting really was" - desire, lust. It is possible to convince ourselves that we obey most of the ten commandments, but the tenth, above all others, reminds us that our righteousness is but filthy rags. Covetousness is "the exaltation of the ego", Barrett, "the inward root of man's outward wrongdoing", Cranfield, and gurgles within each one of us independent of something to focus on. Even without the law we are well aware of this "bent" in our nature, but the law exposes the "bent" as a corruption of the divine image, exposes sin as sin, draws it out, fires it up, reminding us of our need for redemption.

ei mh "if [the law had not said]" - except [the law was saying you shall not lust]. As above.


Apart from the law, sin is powerless and relatively subdued. Sin has certainly set up a base of operations in the life of every human and remains fully destructive, but without the law it just doesn't show itself. When faced with the law, sin raises its head and bursts into life. So, in a sense, sin is like a snake lying motionless and hidden and only stirring to take advantage of its opportunity in the giving of a commandment. Well Mark Twain observed when he suggested that humans are like mules, we do the opposite we are asked to do.

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative, as NIV.

labousa (lambanw) aor. part. "seizing" - [sin] having taken. The participle is adverbial expressing manner; "sin, having set up a base of operations in my life."

aformhn (h) "the opportunity" - occasion. A base of operations, a launching pad. Possibly the commandment is the base of operations from which sin launches itself, although it seems likely that sin has set up a base of operations in our life and the commandment then provides the means by which it launches itself; "opportunity", Dunn = "opportunistically".

dia + gen. "by [the commandment]" - through [the commandment]. Instrumental, expressing means; "through, by means of."

kateirgasato (katergazomai) aor. "produced" - worked, oppressed, produced. "sin ..... promoted in me, through the commandment, every lust." Note how "through the commandment" can go with "seizing the opportunity", so NIV, but it seems likely that it goes with "produced / promoted".

en + dat. "in [me]" - in [me every kind of / all kinds of lust]. Local, expressing sphere of operation.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why the commandment served to increase sinfulness, ie., selfish indulgence in immorality. The law served this end "because in the absence of the law ....."

nekra adj. "[sin was] dead" - [without / apart from law sin is] dead. Possibly in the sense of "undefined", Mounce, or probably better "inactive / inert", Osborne, "lies dormant", Lenski, awaiting the law to motivate it to life, "useless", "powerless"; "For without law sin is unconscious", Berkeley.


Unaware of the law, we live in innocent bliss, but once we become aware of the full impact of the law, sin raises its head and our real condition of loss is easy to see. Once we come up against the demands of the moral law, any sense of innocence is soon dispelled.

pote "once" - formerly, once. Serving as a temporal adverb. "Before I knew about the law I was alive", CEV.

egw "I" - Emphatic. Paul may be speaking theologically in salvation-history terms, of Israel and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, so Moo, or possibly even as the primal "I", of Adam and the fall, so Kasemann, or as the unconverted Paul, so Calvin, Barrett, Bruce, etc. Yet, it is more likely that Paul is speaking for every human being and their experience of blithe ignorance. Even a Jewish child will, for a time, experience "no conviction of sin", Hendricksen, but sooner or later, the law will drive home the real state of affairs. Even from the grammatical angle, it is appropriate to use the first and second person "to illustrate something universal in a vivid manner", Morris.

ezwn (zaw) imperf. "I was alive" - was living. The progressive imperfect, being durative, expresses an ongoing state. "Alive" in what sense? The answer to this question is controlled by the interpretive approach we take to the passage. For example, if Paul is alluding to Adam and the fall, then "alive" means alive in every sense - alive in the garden, alive to God (walking every evening with God). "I died" would then refer to Adam's (and thus humanity's) inevitable death and separation from God (cast from the garden). Yet, it seems best to take "I was alive" in the same way we handled "sin was dead", ie., metaphorically. Like a child who burns its fingers on a hot stove in response to being told 'Don't touch the stove'", we live in blithe ignorance until the law awakens sin. So, Paul's point is clear enough: "I lived in blissful ignorance, but when the commandment came, sin took control."

cwriV + gen. "apart from [the law]" - Expressing separation; "I lived in my childhood without any consciousness of the law", Pilcher.

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative; "but".

elqoushV (ercomai) aor. gen. part. "when [the commandment] came" - [the commandment] having come. Genitive absolute participle usually serving to form a temporal clause, as NIV. "Came" in the sense of impinged itself on, so "when the command came home to me", Moffatt.

anezhsen (anazaw) aor. "[sin] sprang to life" - [sin] revived, sprang back to life, lived again. Ingressive aorist. BAGD argues that the prefix ana, "again", has lost its power, so "spring to life", as NIV, not "spring to life again."

egw apeqanon "I died" - [and] I died. As with "alive", it is difficult to know what Paul means by "died". Does he mean died spiritually, "I died spiritually in that I was separated from God", Junkins, "I died the living death of sin, precursor of eternal death", Sanday and Headlam? Possibly died eternally, condemned before God? Even a moral sense may be intended; "with the coming of the commandment, sin sprang to life and I died unto God" - rebellion became the norm, not righteousness and thus the law's curse enacted God's condemnation with its inevitable eternal death. It seems more likely that Paul continues with a metaphorical sense. We live in blissful ignorance while sin lays dormant, but when confronted by the law, sin springs to life, and we are tripped up and sent sprawling - "our goose is cooked" / "we're done in" / "dudded" / "dead as a Dodo", etc.


The commandments promote rebellion and this because of the human condition of sin. When faced with the commandment, sin springs into action and our moral intention is well and truly defeated. We are therefore foolish if we think that our Christian life is advanced by attention to the law; the law promotes rebellion, not holiness.

egw de apeqanon "and I died" - This phrase is usually taken with v9 to form a balanced statement covering v8-9: "apart from the law ... sin is dead .... I was alive / when the commandment came .. sin sprang to life ..... I died."

kai "-" - and. Connective, left untranslated, possibly even close to wJste kai, "so then", serving to introduce a consequential statement / application. If this is the case, "death / life" may now be substantial theological terms rather than metaphorical terms. It seems though that far too much weight is put on the words "life" and "death" in this context. Paul is simply making the point that sin exploits God's good law for evil.

eureqh (euJriskw) aor. pas. "I found" - [the commandment] was found. With the sense "proved to be", Jewett. Paul is making the point that the problem lies with us and not with the law. "So far as I was concerned", Barclay.

moi dat. pro. "-" - to me. Dative of interest, disadvantage.

hJ "[the very commandment] that" - the one. The article serves as a nominalizer forming a noun phrase standing in apposition to "commandment".

eiV + acc. "that was intended to bring" - to/toward. The preposition "to" probably expresses purpose, as NIV; "the commandment intended to bring life", Moo.

zwhn (h) "life" - If Paul is giving theological weight to the word we end up with numerous interpretations: Taking the Genesis 3 line, the command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil was a command that intended "life" in every sense of the word for Adam. Taking a salvation-history line, the giving of the Torah to Israel was for the continuance of the nation under God, "the living of a righteous life unto God"; "the great dilemma is that the commandment was supposed to bring life in the sense of making people right with God and helping them to experience life as he intended. Its true purpose was life-giving, but it 'was found' or 'proved to be' death-bringing. Sin has twisted the true purpose of the law and brought about spiritual death", Osborne. The law, of course, was never intended to make righteous through obedience (although the theoretical possibility was never denied - "my statues ... by doing which a man shall live", Lev.18:5), but it does certainly serve to make righteous by exposing sin and thus prompting repentance. The Sinai law served to reinforce the prior authority of the Abrahamic covenant, of promise and faith, as opposed to law and works / obedience, and this for covenant inclusion and thus blessing. Yet, this doesn't seem to be the point that Paul is making; for him the law, due to sin, brings death. Sanders, taking a new perspective line, argues that Israel's eternal standing has always been a matter of God's sovereign grace, and that covenant law was but the mechanism for maintaining that standing, rather than gaining that standing. Ouch! that's the very heresy Paul is condemning. The Sinai covenant was never intended to maintain covenant standing (although it was certainly used that way), nor gain covenant standing; it serves to encourage a reliance on faith (God's faithfulness + our faith response) and serves as a guide for the fruit of faith. The positive aspects of the Mosaic law may be in Paul's mind when he uses the word "life", but there is a good chance that he is not using the words "death" and "life" here with theological weight. Divine law presents itself to us as a beautifully designed manual for life, but sin locks onto it and twists it for evil ends.

auJth "-" - this. "This" as in "this particular law", "this same commandment", Moo. "This law, the one that was designed to bring life (lead to faith and shape righteous living in the covenant community, "a direction to life", Phillips) actually brought death (promoted condemnation)."

eiV "brought [death]" - to, into = for [death]. Here the preposition, which earlier expressed purpose, now expresses result.


gar "for" - Here introducing a causal clause explaining why the commandment brought death rather than life.

labousa (lambanw) aor. part. "seizing [the opportunity]" - [sin] having taken [the occasion]. The participle is adverbial, possibly instrumental, expressing means; "sin deceived me by seizing an opportunity ..." Sin, latching onto the commandment, springs to life and puts me to death.

dia + gen. "by [the commandment]" - Instrumental, expressing means; "through, by means of the commandment."

exhpathsen (exapataw) aor. "deceived" - deceived [me]. Constative aorist. This word may support the Genesis 3 allusion, although it is Eve who is deceived by the serpent (sin). Possibly a reference to Israel's deception, or just a good descriptive of sin.

di (dia) + gen. "-" - [and] through [it]. Instrumental, expressing means; "deceived me and through it killed me", ESV.

apekteinen (apokteinw) aor. "put me to death" - killed me. See "life" above. Either somewhat metaphorical, or used with theological weight, eg., "It was the command of God which sin has used to bring death into its dominate role on the stage of human life", Dunn.


iii] Conclusion, v12-13: a) Paul confronts the inference that the law is sinful by affirming the moral status of the law, v12. There is no verb in the sentence so the verb to-be must be supplied. Note the reference to "law" as well as "commandment". They most likely mean the same with Paul simply adding "commandment" because he used the word in previous verses. The law is "a gift of God, given to serve his purpose", Dunn.

wJste "so then" - thus. Here inferential, serving to introduce a conclusion to the argument of this passage.

men "-" - Often used with de forming an adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand the law is ..... but on the other sin is ..... Paul doesn't bother to carry the contrast through. It can serve by itself as an emphatic marker; "indeed".

aJgioV adj. "holy" - [the law is] sacred, holy. The law is God's law, originates with God and is therefore sacred.

dikaia adj. "righteous" - [and the commandment holy and] righteous, just. God's law is fair and reasonable. "Fair", Phillips.

agaqh adj. "good" - [and] good. "It is beneficial in its outlook and aim", Morris.


b) Paul confronts the inference that the law is sinful by affirming its positive function, namely "that sin might be shown to be sin." As already noted, the inference is drawn from Paul's thesis by the nomists / law-bound believers who simply do not understand that the law does not make holy, but rather exposes sin for what it is, so enacting the divine curse upon sin. As already noted, it is unclear whether this verse links with v7-12, or v14-25.

oun "then" - therefore. Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion; "Did, therefore, what was good ...."

ton ... agaqon adj. "that which is good" - the good. The adjective serves as a substantive.

qanatoV (oV) "[become] death" - death. Probably still with a metaphorical sense. In Australia we will often use the phrase "done in" to describe personal damage, or hurt. "Did that which is good wreck my life, corrupting my behavior, destroying relationships, even wrecking my relationship with God?"

emoi dat. pro. "to me" - Dative of indirect object.

mh genoito aor. "by no means" - Consummative aorist. "Certainly not / never!"

alla "but" - but [sin]. Here used as a strong adversative.

iJna + subj. "in order that [sin]" - Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, as NIV.

fanh/ (fainw) "might be recognized [as sin]" - may appear, may be shown [sin]. Constative aorist. Seen for what it is. "Sin, at the touch of the law, was forced to express itself as sin", Phillips.

dia + gen. "it used [what is good]" - through [the good law]. Instrumental, expressing means; "by means of the good law."

katergazomenh (katergazomai) pres. mid. part. "to bring about" - working. The participle may be periphrastic with the verb to-be assumed, so Moo, or adverbial, possibly modal, expressing manner, so Cranfield, or final, expressing purpose, or instrumental, expressing means, or consecutive, expressing result; "sin resulted in death for me", Moffatt.

moi dat. pro. "my [death]" - [death] to me. Dative of interest, disadvantage / dative of possession.

iJna + subj. "so that" - that. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, or hypothetical result, "so that."

dia + gen. "through [the commandment]" - Instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

kaq uJperbolhn (h) "utterly [sinful]" - [sin might become] exceedingly [sinful]. The preposition kata turns the noun "excess" into a modal adverb expressing manner, "exceedingly"; "utterly evil", "superlatively sinful", Barrett. Grundmann says, that law unmasks sin "in its demonic character as utter enmity against God."


Romans Introduction.


[Pumpkin Cottage]