Sunday, September 21, 2008

Romans 7 and Slavery to Sin

I was putting a pulse through an online class and the old subject of Romans 7 came up. The popular view of this chapter is that "If Paul couldn't help but sin, what hope is there for me?"

I've beat this dead horse before, but thought I might rehearse the evidence of Romans 6-7 again this morning. I am not unusual in this interpretation--it is the majority interpretation and, in my opinion, painfully obvious if you approach Romans with an open mind.

The train of thought in Romans 6-8 makes it very difficult to read Romans 7 as a statement of Paul's current experience.

6:1--Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Certainly not!

6:12--"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body to obey its evil desires."

6:14--"For sin shall not be your master."

6:17-18--"Thanks be to God! Though you used to be slaves to sin, you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."

Are we really to think that Paul is still a slave to sin while the Roman church is not?

6:20, 22--"When you were slaves to sin... but now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God."

7:5-6--"For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our members... now we have been set free from the law..."

Romans 7:14-25 is an explication of "when we were controlled by the flesh" yet wanted to keep the Jewish Law.

7:24-25 "Who will free me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

7:25b then summarizes the condition of the person "controlled by the flesh."

8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death."

I personally do not even think the hypothetical person of Romans 7:14-25 is a good reflection of Paul's feelings before he accepted Christ, especially in the light of Philippians 3:6. Krister Stendahl's "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" is still the definitive statement here, I believe.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I'm not sure I know what you mean by the "West and the Introspective Conscience", unless you are referring to psychological freedom, as Luther experienced from the Catholic Church. But,

I have understood that the Roman "slave" was different from our Western understanding of "slave". The oppression of our Western concept was not Rome's.

In the Old Testament the bond-servant was one who chose to serve their Master after being set free, because of the slave's love for the Master. This was a free choice of the slave to continue to serve.

Today's slave is in bondage because of economic disadvantage, or political oppression.

Luther's understanding was one of freedom FROM the law, as he had been in bondage to "measure up" to the Law. Because of the Church's system, Luther's conscience could never fully be appeased.

The Law is useful to show sin, but cannot meet the requirements of itself, why? because the spirit speaks specifically within the individual's conscience, and not from the outside.

The whole text has been Christianized in this way, as Paul was speaking before "origianl sin" was "established" by Augustine, before the discussion of what the Law was for...

The Law defined the people of God, so Paul was arguing for a letting up, so that each man could worship before God, as he was included in the people of God. Grace, after all, was what Paul argued before the Jerusalem council about circumcision...definitions bring about Law and thus undermine what faith is about...the Law distintifies, where faith does not. The Law can gauge and judge, where faith cannot be gauged or judged, unless one is open to see how the other one is living out their faith. And it just may be that the way in which it is lived out may be different from our own view.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

oops, it was not Rome and I don't know what book it was that compared ancient slavery and modern slavery...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken, you never put your input into what you think about his passage...Chris gave out handouts about how this passage had been viewed by different Church Fathers. So, what does the Biblical scholar say?