Sunday, May 01, 2011

Understanding Romans Chapter 7, Did Paul Teach that we have to Sin?

In my opinion Paul would have to be the most often misunderstood of all Scriptural writers. In the case of this chapter the problem is increased by some poor sentence re-construction between languages.

For example of what I mean let us look at the German expression, "sprechen sie Deutsch." We say that this says, "do you speak German." But "sprechen" is a verb in German, as it ends in "en." Thus it is literally "speaking" in English. "Sie" means "you." And "Deutsch" is "German." So literally it says, "speaking you German." Yet this doesn't convey the meaning to English speaking peoples. A more accurate translation to maintain the original words AND intent would be to say, "are you capable of speaking German?"

In this examination I have looked over the original sentence structure and words. I found the structure used in translations is very questionable in parts. Therefore I would like to unravel the mystery of this chapter and present what I find Paul really said.

1 "Don't you know, brothers, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has authority over a man only as long as he's alive?"

He then goes on to give an example to demonstrate what he is trying to say next.

2 "For the woman that has a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he's alive; but if the husband be dead, she is released from the law of her husband."
3 "So then if, while her husband is alive, she marries another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband is dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man."
4 "So, my brothers, you also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you might be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God."
5 "For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bear the fruit of death."
6 "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."

Considering verse 4, the subject flow and the sentence structure in Greek I believe this latter verse would be better interpreted _

06 "But now we are delivered from the law, us being dead to that which held us; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of that which is written."

The significance of this is that Christ implied that the law doesn't actually pass away, but must be fulfilled within the heart of each individual, separately.

It is important to also note here that Paul has mentioned being free from the law of death through Christ. Yet in this chapter he goes on to speak of his situation while previously under the law.

7 "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not. Indeed, I would not have known what sin was, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet."

So the law itself doesn't make people do evil. Nor is it evil. People do evil, but the law makes them aware it is evil so they can change from doing evil.

8 "But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead."

That latter verse is about as clear as mud to most people. Let me present the following rendering for consideration _

8 "But sin was produced (only existing because of the commandment) using all my covetous desires. For without the law sin was dead."

What he is saying here is that though you can have covetous desires that make you do evil, before knowing the law, once you know the law, by doing those things you have sinned, because you knew not to do them.

9 "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin was reborn, and I died."
10 "And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be to death."

This is just a continuation of the same logic. We are condemned by our knowledge of that which is evil if we do that evil in the knowledge that it is evil: It creates a spiritual death by disobedience.

11 "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me."

I would interpret it _

11 "But sin was produced (only existing because of the commandment) deceived me, and by it killed me."

Once again he is pointing out that evil acts have become sins to him because of the commandments he's received. And so spiritual death has come to him by him deliberately sinning.

12 "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good."
13 "Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful."

Would be better stated _

13 "Did that which is good become death to me? Definitely not. But the good [commandment] showing me the sin caused death in me, and therefore it was shown to be greater evil by the commandment."

He is stating that the law wasn't to his detriment in making him aware of the evil of his actions; but helped him in understand just how truly evil his actions were.

14 "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin."
15 "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I."
16 "If then I do that which I don't want to, I consent to the law that it is good."
17 "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me."
18 "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I can't find."
19 "For the good that I want, I don't do: but the evil which I don't want to do, that I do."

Paul is saying that when controlled by the carnal man he does what his mind is saying is wrong according to his teachings from the law. As the law opposes his carnal actions it shows the law to be good. It isn't the desire of his mind to do it but the carnal feelings within, that he allows to act. This happens because the flesh seeks its own desires, not those of his spiritual well being. His spirit wants to do good acts that raise the spirit, but the flesh, uncontrolled, does the opposite.

20 "Now if I do what I don't want to, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me."

This verse sounds a little strange. Some use it to justify sinning, claiming that it isn't their fault, but the fault of sin that is in them: That they had no choice. However this isn't what he is saying. He is saying that it isn't the choice of his mind but the choice of his uncontrolled flesh. He comes to answer how to deal with this problem in the next chapter; and so I will lightly touch on that at the end.

21 "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me."
22 "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:"
23 "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
24 "What a wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
25 "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."

So here he is capping off his whole chapter with the point that while the law is good, it isn't sufficient, because it still leaves this conflict between the demands of the law and the desires of his flesh. He is saying that it is extremely difficult to near on impossible to live the law of Moses and have spiritual harmony: Perfection seems out of the question.

But along comes the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel eliminates the problem by making spiritual laws of the heart its focus. Thus when Jesus Christ finished his sermon to the Nephites and Sermon on the Mount to the Jews he said, "Therefore be perfect.." Matt 5:48, 3 Nep 12:48

The next chapter of Romans goes on to say _

1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit... That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
Romans 8:1 & 4-6

Thus we see that chapter 7 isn't some justification for sin or some statement that we are doomed to sin. It is a statement that we have serious problems being perfect while under the law.

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