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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 7

Verse 1

Romans 7:1. Or are ye ignorant. (Comp. chap. Romans 6:3.) In thus appealing to experience, it is implied that every believer, whether he can explain it or not, feels that he is in the state described in chap. Romans 6:22-23, and hence has some knowledge of his freedom from the law. This knowledge the Apostle would bring into clearness and power.

Brethren, etc. Not addressed to the Jewish Christians alone; for in that age, especially, the knowledge of the Old Testament on the part of all Christians was presupposed; the custom of reading the Old Testament probably obtained in their assemblies.

Know the law. The law of Moses is meant, although the article is wanting in the original; for while the argument might hold true when based upon law in general, the subject under discussion is the relation to the Mosaic law.

The law hath dominion, etc. The whole law is meant, not simply the law of marriage: for that has not yet come into view.

For as long time, etc. This is a peculiarity of the Mosaic law, ‘that it cannot, like human laws, have merely temporary validity, or be altered, suspended, nor can one be exempt from it for a time’ (Meyer). But compare the death to the law (Romans 7:4).

Verses 1-6


1. Christians are freed from the Law.

This section might more properly form a part of the preceding chapter. The statement of chap. Romans 6:14, which has been discussed negatively (chap. Romans 6:15-23), is now taken up on its positive side: Christians are not only freed from sin, but freed from the law. This state of things is here illustrated under the figure of the marriage relation: ‘your marriage with Christ, having taken the place of the dominion of the law, necessarily leads to such a dominion of God in a new life’ (Tholuck). The relation to the law (Romans 7:1) illustrated by the law of marriage (Romans 7:2-3); the union with Christ who died to the law dissolves the old relation (Romans 7:4), with this result, that as, in the old relation, we brought forth fruit unto death (Romans 7:5), in the new relation we are dedicated to God (Romans 7:6). This idea of freedom from the law is the basis of the discussion in the remainder of the chapter.

Verses 1-25

3. Moral Results of Justification; those Justified by Faith live a New Life in the Spirit.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation; through it the will is affected, and thus is accomplished morally what the law could not do, namely, the sanctification of those born sinners. But just here the greatest objection is raised to the doctrine of free salvation; and with this objection the Apostle begins his discussion:

I. The gospel method of grace does not lead to sin but to holiness; chap. 6

(1.) Because of what is necessarily involved in the new life (Romans 6:1-11); (2.) those who partake of this new life are dead to sin and dedicated to God (Romans 6:12-23).

II. The relation of Christians to the law: it is in itself just and good, but powerless to sanctify; chap. 7

(1.) Believers are freed from the law (Romans 7:1-6), but (2.) this does not prove that the law is sin; for, as it has been proven that it cannot justify, it now appears that though holy it cannot make sinners holy (Romans 7:7-25).

III. The sanctifying work of the Spirit, the free life in the Spirit over against the life in the flesh; chap. 8 (see further analysis there).

Verses 1-25

3. Moral Results of Justification; those Justified by Faith live a New Life in the Spirit.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation; through it the will is affected, and thus is accomplished morally what the law could not do, namely, the sanctification of those born sinners. But just here the greatest objection is raised to the doctrine of free salvation; and with this objection the Apostle begins his discussion:

I. The gospel method of grace does not lead to sin but to holiness; chap. 6

(1.) Because of what is necessarily involved in the new life (Romans 6:1-11); (2.) those who partake of this new life are dead to sin and dedicated to God (Romans 6:12-23).

II. The relation of Christians to the law: it is in itself just and good, but powerless to sanctify; chap. 7

(1.) Believers are freed from the law (Romans 7:1-6), but (2.) this does not prove that the law is sin; for, as it has been proven that it cannot justify, it now appears that though holy it cannot make sinners holy (Romans 7:7-25).

III. The sanctifying work of the Spirit, the free life in the Spirit over against the life in the flesh; chap. 8 (see further analysis there).

Verse 2

Romans 7:2. For the married woman. This is an example of the principle of Romans 7:1. ‘Married’ is more fully explained as ‘subject to a husband.’

Is bound by the law. The permanent binding is indicated by the form of the original. The Mosaic law made no provision for her releasing herself from the marriage tie, though the husband might put away his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1-2).

To the living husband. The paraphrase of the E. V. is correct, but unnecessary.

If the husband have died, or, simply ‘die’; a single event is spoken of. The language is plain, out the application has occasioned difficulty. In Romans 7:1 it is not the ruling law, but the man who dies; here it is the ruling man who dies. Allegorical explanations have been suggested, but seem forced. It is better to understand it thus: Death is common to both parties; when the husband dies, the wife dies so far as that legal relation is concerned. The husband is represented as the party who dies, because the figure of a second marriage is to be introduced, with its application to believers (Romans 7:4). ‘As the woman is not dead, but is killed in respect to her marriage relation, or is situated as dead, by the natural death of her husband, so believers have not died a natural death, but are made dead to the law, since they are crucified to the law with Christ. The idea, dead in a marriage relation, is therefore the middle term of comparison’ (Lange).

Verse 3

Romans 7:3. So then. This being the case it follows. The verse forms a parallelism.

Shall be called an adulteress. This is the formal sentence, with a definite penalty stoning (Leviticus 21:10; comp. John 8:5).

Free from that law; lit., ‘the law,’ in so far as it binds her to the husband, the binding effect of the law as respects the marriage relation. ‘That law’ is a good explanation.

S o that she is not an adulteress. This clause may express either the result (‘so that’) or the purpose, ‘in order that’ The latter is perhaps grammatically more exact; the purpose of this freedom was to prevent the woman from being an adulteress in case of a second marriage. In Romans 7:4 the idea of result is evident enough.

Verse 4

Romans 7:4. Accordingly; lit, ‘so that.’ This introduces the application of the figure in Romans 7:2-3.

Ye also, as in the case of the widow.

Were made dead to the law. The idea is not of being dead, but of being put to death, at some single past time, namely, at justification. ‘The expression is chosen, not merely because Christ’s death was a violent one, but also because it describes the death of Christians to the law as a death incurred by virtue of the administration of the law’ (Lange); comp. Galatians 2:19.

Through the body of Christ. This refers to the death of Christ, either (1) as the ground of justification, or (2) as involving our fellowship in His death. The latter “is preferable; it implies the former, and suits the tenor of the whole passage.

That, i.e. in order that, ye should be married to another, one of a different kind. The purpose of the death to the law was union to Christ; the figure of a marriage is still present, and quite appropriate. ‘The exalted Christ is the husband of His Church that has become independent of the law by dying with Him’ (Meyer).

Was raised from the dead. The idea of a new ethical life is constantly joined by the Apostle to the fact of the resurrection. His own experience gave emphasis to this.

Fruit to God, i.e., for His glory, since Christ is the Husband.

Verse 5

Romans 7:5. For. A confirmation of the statement that they should bring forth fruit to God.

When we were in the flesh, i.e., in the natural condition of depravity (see Excursus at next section); still under the law is the negative side.

The passions of sins. The passions which led to sins seems a better explanation than either ‘sinful passions,’ or the passions produced by sins.

Which were through the law; occasioned by the law, since the law brought them to light, but aggravated them, as is shown in Romans 7:7-8.

Wrought in our members; to be explained literally as in chap. Romans 6:13; Romans 6:19.

To bring forth fruit to death. Parallel to the last clause of Romans 7:4, hence expressing the aim as well as the consequence of the working of the passions. ‘Death’ is to be explained as in chap. Romans 6:21.

Verse 6

Romans 7:6. But now. Comp. chap. Romans 6:22.

We have been delivered, or, ‘loosed,’ the same word as in Romans 7:2. The annulling of the marriage relation is referred to in both cases. Here the exact reference is to the simple past act of release or discharge from the law, at the time of justification.

Having died to that, etc. This is the sense of the reading now generally accepted. The figure of marriage is retained; we died so far as the law is concerned, hence the marriage tie is dissolved (comp. Romans 7:2). ‘Wherein’ points to the law, which ‘held’ us bound until we died to it (comp. Romans 7:1).

So that we serve; serve God, as the whole passage shows. A present result, of which the readers were aware, is expressed in the original, but obscured in the E. V.

In newness of the Spirit, i.e., the Holy Spirit. The sphere of the Christian service of God is a new one, of which the Holy Spirit is the ruling element or force. Comp. the life in the Spirit as described in chap. 8. The former service was in oldness of the letter. This is not simply ‘old letter,’ nor is it exactly the same as ‘in the flesh,’ or, ‘under the law.’ The religious service, before death to the law, was ruled by the letter, by the outward form; hence it had an element of decay, it was a grievous yoke. This does not imply an antithesis between the grammatical sense of Scripture and some spiritual sense, but points to the legal state where the attempt at obedience is prompted not by the Holy Spirit but by the restraint of an external, literal rule. The new service is the only true service; under the law such a service was not possible. The law said: ‘Do this and live;’ the gospel says: ‘Live and do this,’ and the doing is of a different character from all the previous attempts to earn eternal life.

Verse 7

Romans 7:7. What shall we say then? Comp. chap. Romans 3:5. The Apostle proposes to consider the wrong inference which arises in many minds, that because the law works as described in Romans 7:5-6, it is itself wrong.

Is the law sin? Because, on account of it, we sin, as already described, is it of an immoral nature? This the Apostle indignantly denies, with the usual formula: Let it never be; and then proceeds to show how the good law occasions these results in us.

Nay, but I had not known sin. The law discovers sin, and in a measure incites to it, but it is not itself sin nor the cause of sin. We take ‘but’ as ‘but on the contrary,’ for if it were not opposed to sin it would not discover it. ‘Howbeit’ is objectionable, since it concedes too much: as does Alford’s view: ‘I say not that, but what I mean is that’ ‘Known sin’ points to both theoretical and experimental knowledge of sin; the latter includes the excitement to sin which every human being feels, to some extent, when confronted with a positive precept.

Except through the law. The article is wanting, and the principle applies in part to law in general, but the next clause shows that the Mosaic law is meant.

For I had not known. This confirms the previous statement; the verb is different from that which precedes, suggesting a slighter knowledge; even this is denied.

Evil desire; or, ‘coveting,’ to correspond with the similar verb which follows. ‘Lust’ is too specific.

Thou shalt not covet. From Exodus 20:17. The objects of the coveting are omitted, for it was the evil desire itself which was made known to him by the commandment forbidding it.

Verses 7-25

2. The Law is holy, but cannot make Sinners holy.

The fact that Christians are freed from the law might suggest a wrong inference as to the character of the law. This Paul denies (Romans 7:7), but shows how the law, though in itself good, leads to acquaintance with sin and to destructive results (Romans 7:8-12). In Romans 7:13 he suggests another (but similar) wrong inference, and then portrays the operation of the law in man, producing conflict and captivity rather than holiness (Romans 7:14-23). In Romans 7:24-25, the whole description is summed up in a cry of misery, followed by an outburst of gratitude for deliverance, closing with the contrast between the service of mind and flesh.

INTRODUCTORY NOTE. This section has been a theological battlefield for fifteen hundred years: the main question being, to whom does Paul refer when he says ‘I,’ whose history is he describing? It is generally agreed that the experience is his own, but that it is applicable to all men, in so far as they are striving to obey the law. It is also generally conceded that the first part of the description (Romans 7:7-13) refers to Paul (and to men in general) before regeneration. The question which remains is: To what class does the description of Romans 7:14-25 apply? Explanations: 1. To the unregenerate man, depicting the unsuccessful strivings of his better moral nature. The main difficulty with this view is that some of the expressions indicate a higher moral purpose than is found in unrenewed man 2. To the regenerate man. In favor of this may be urged (a.) the chance to the present tense from Romans 7:14 on; (b.) the common experience of Christians as respects indwelling sin. The objection is that the whole passage up to Romans 7:25 is silent as to the distinctively Christian character of the work of sanctification. Moreover this view would tend to ignore the obvious difference between chaps. 7 and 8. If the experience is that of a Christian, it is that of a Christian who is still dallying with law as the principle of holy living. 3. It seems best to hold that the Apostle does not have in mind any sharp distinction between the unregenerate and regenerate states, but gives the experience of man attempting to become better through the law; of an awakened man, before he comes to Christ; but also of a Christian man so far as he feels the pressure of law rather than the power of the Spirit. Hence it is not always possible to discriminate, if the distinction between the regenerate and unregenerate states is emphasized. Yet the Apostle himself, as a Jew, before his conversion, probably passed through this entire experience. It was his state as a Pharisee (Godet), not when sunk in sin, but when awakened to earnest struggles against sin under the scourge of the law, under preparation for a state of grace. Many legal, despondent Christians never pass out of this conflict into the more joyous life of the Spirit. They believe that they are justified by faith in Christ, and yet attempt to be sanctified by works of the law.

But the section not only presents the common experience of individuals, it also sketches the religious history of the race. Romans 7:7-13 correspond with the phenomena of heathenism; the natural man, at first without revealed law and then convicted by it Romans 7:14-25 present the phenomena of Judaism, man under the law, his conscience quickened thereby, but he himself still in bondage, longing for a deliverer. The closing verses prepare for chap. 8, which presents Christianity with its life of freedom in the Spirit.

In the fifth century the passage was discussed by Augustine, who changed his views in regard to it after his controversy with Pelagius. Many centuries later, in Holland, the exegesis of the passage was the pivotal point in the conflict between the Calvinists and Arminians. The tendency at present seems to be in favor of the position advanced under (3).

Verse 8

Romans 7:8. But sin. This approaches a personification of sin, as in chap. Romans 5:12-21. The excitement resulting from the pressure of the law is now described.

Taking occasion. This should be separated by a comma from what follows: ‘It indicates the furnishing the material and ground of attack, the wherewith and whence to attack’ (Alford).

Through the commandment, namely, that mentioned in Romans 7:7, wrought in me all manner of evil desire; the same word as in Romans 7:7. ‘To man everything forbidden appears as a desirable blessing; but yet, as it is forbidden, he feels that his freedom is limited, and now his lust rages more violently, like the waves against the dyke’ (Tholock). Philippi calls this, ‘an immovably certain psychological fact, which man can more easily reason away and dispute away, than do away.’ The classic authors support the same principle: see the quotations given in the footnote, Lange, Romans, pp. 220, 210.

For apart from the law, or, independently of law, sin is dead. Not ‘was,’ the proposition is a general one. ‘Dead’ is here used in a relative, not an absolute, sense. Sin is relatively inoperative until excited into opposition by the law. A reference to its being unobserved, undetected, is less probable. The context shows that the Mosaic law is meant. ‘That this may be and is misused by the principle of sin, in the way indicated, arises from the fact, that it comes forward merely with the outward command (thou shalt, thou shalt not), without giving the power of fulfilment’ (Meyer). This is also applicable to the law written in men’s hearts, but because sin is essentially opposition to God, the revealed law of God with its sanctions arouses the greatest opposition.

Verse 9

Romans 7:9. Now I was alive without the law once. ‘For’ is incorrect; this clause continues the description of the state without the law. ‘Alive’ has been explained as meaning: (1.) I seemed to myself to live, because not knowing my sin. (2.) I lived securely as a Pharisee. (3.) I lived comparatively innocent. The first is too narrow; the second is opposed by the immediate context which does not point to conversion; the last is preferable, if not pressed too far. ‘Before an individual has a distinct and vivid perception of the nature and spirituality and extent of the Divine law, he is less active and desperate in his sin and guilt than after he comes to seek a knowledge’ (Stuart).

But when the commandment came; when the specific precept came home to me with its prohibition and command. This does not refer to the experience immediately preceding conversion, as some of the older expositors claim.

Sin revived, or, ‘sprang into life.’ The former is the more literal sense, out involves a difficulty in regard to the previous existence of sin, which it implies. We may, however, explain it as referring to the power of sin which is dormant, though living, until it is aroused into activity through the commandment

But I died. Just as sin became alive, he died; he, through the knowledge and excitement of sin, entered into a moral state, which he calls death. This is further explained in what follows.

Verse 10

Romans 7:10. Which was unto life. The promise of the law, covering its every ‘commandment,’ was ‘do this and ‘live;’ its aim was ‘life.’

This, or, ‘the same.’ The latter is perhaps preferable, giving a tragical force to the expression: ‘this very commandment’

Was found by me to be unto death. The aim was ‘life;’ as a matter of personal human experience the result was ‘death.’ he present misery resulting from the excitement and knowledge of sin seems to be referred to, for this only could be ‘found’ to be the result, as a matter of experience.

Verse 11

Romans 7:11. For sin, etc. In Romans 7:8, which resembles this, Paul explains the excitement of evil desire through the law; namely, how sin revived, but here he explains the other phrase: ‘I died.’ The word ‘sin’ is herein more emphatic than in Romans 7:8. It was not in the ‘law,’ but ‘sin’ that wrought this sad result.

Through the commandment deceived me. These words are to be joined together, in accordance with the analogy of Romans 7:8, and of the following clause. It first made the commandment a provocation, and then a means of condemnation. Thus what applies to Satan, that he was first man’s tempter, and then his accuser, applies likewise to sin. This passage calls to mind the serpent in Paradise, as in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (Lange). To refer this to the conviction of sin which precedes conversion seems unnecessary.

And through it slew me. It thus led to a consciousness of the state of sin and misery referred to in Romans 7:10: ‘I died.’ The experience here portrayed has been reproduced in every age: this is the universal effect of God’s law upon sinful man whose conscience is not yet dead.

Verse 12

Romans 7:12. So that. The result of the whole discussion (Romans 7:7-11) is not to cast doubt upon the law, but to maintain its character as worthy of God who gave it. The original suggests a second member of the sentence, which is indicated in Romans 7:13.

The law if holy. This positive character of the law Paul does not stop to prove; for the only suspicion against its holy character came from the sinful results already spoken of. But there the law was constantly condemning, which condemnation betokened that it was ‘holy.’

And the commandment. What is true of the law as a whole, is also true of its single commandments.

Holy and just and good, ‘Holy,’ because it comes from a holy God; ‘just,’ because of its form; ‘good,’ because of its end (so Bengel). As the specific commandment had in each case been used by sin to deceive and slay him, the Apostle gives this full declaration of the character of ‘the commandment.’

Verse 13

Romans 7:13. Did then that which is good, i.e., did the commandment itself, which was ‘good,’ designed for beneficial results, become death unto me. This the Apostle denies: The law itself was neither sin (Romans 7:7) nor the cause of death.

But sin; sin became death unto me.

That it might appear sin. This was the design, namely, that it might be shown to be what it really is; compare the last clause.

Working death to me through that which is good. This was the mode in which sin was made to appear sin: by making use of what is good to produce death in men, it reveals more fully its own hideous character. ‘As it is the sovereign right of good to overrule evil results for good, so it is the curse of sin to pervert the effects of what is good to evil’ (from Lange).

That sin, etc. This clause is parallel to the preceding one, expressing again the purpose.

Through the commandment, i.e., ‘ that which is good.’

Exceeding sinful. ‘Such is the design of the law, so far as the salvation of sinners is concerned. It does not prescribe the conditions of salvation.’ Neither is the law the means of sanctification. It cannot make us holy. On the contrary, its operation is to excite and exasperate sin to render its power more dreadful and destructive’ (Hodge). Because this is so true, it seems unlikely that what immediately follows is the distinctive experience of a Christian.

Verse 14

Romans 7:14. For we know. This is again an appeal to Christian experience, but we cannot infer from this that the experience of the ‘I’ is distinctively Christian. This verse is a proof of Romans 7:13.

The law is spiritual; in its essence it is divine, because its characteristics are those of the Holy Spirit. This view agrees best with the contrast which follows. Other views: inspired by the Holy Spirit; related to the spiritual nature of man; fulfilled by those only who have the Holy Spirit; requiring an angelic righteousness, etc. Most of these are true, but not in accordance with the Scripture use of the word ‘spiritual,’ or with the context

But I am carnal. The change of a single letter gives, as the better reading, the word meaning, ‘made of flesh,’ instead of that meaning, ‘of a fleshly character.’ The correct reading seems to give the stronger sense, though this is denied by some, in order to defend the reference to the regenerate man. We think Paul here describes himself not as a Christian, but over against the law. For he does not use the word ‘spirit’ at all in this description, and applies ‘spiritual’ only to the law; whereas in the Christian the conflict is directly between ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ (on these terms, see Excursus below). ‘It is true the situation, which the Apostle thus exhibits in his own representative Ego, was for himself as an individual one long since past; but he realizes it as present and places it before the eyes like a picture, in which the standpoint of the happier present in which he now finds himself renders possible the perspective that lends to every feature of his portrait the light of clearness and truth’ (Meyer).

Bold under sin. A permanent state of slavery is referred to; sin being personified as the master. How this state of slavery manifests itself is described in the next verse.

Verse 15

Romans 7:15. For that which I perform. In this passage there are three Greek words translated ‘do’ in the A. V. We distinguish them thus: perform, practise, do; the first is usually rendered ‘work.’

I know not. This does not mean: ‘I do not approve,’ but that like a slave he performs ignorantly the will of his master. But Lange rightly says: ‘thus one thing dawns upon him

that he acts in gloomy self-distraction, and in contradiction of a better but helpless desire and repugnance.’ The rest of the verse indicates this: For not what I with, that I practise; but what I hate that do I. We change ‘would’ to ‘wish’ on account of the contrast with ‘hate,’ though ‘will’ would be more literal. The main question here is respecting these two contrasted verbs, ‘will’ (or, ‘wish’) and ‘hate.’ Some strengthen the former into ‘love,’ in the interest of an exclusive reference to the regenerate; others weaken the latter into ‘do not wish.’ We prefer to regard ‘hate’ as stronger than ‘wish,’ while ‘practise’ is stronger than ‘do.’ This suggests that the desire for good is less strong than the hatred of evil. Passages from heathen writers express similar sentiments. It is asserted that no such ‘will’ exists in the unregenerate man, but this is true only where the sense of ‘will’ is unduly pressed. To admit that an unregenerate man can use the language of this verse, is perfectly consistent with a belief in the depravity of the human will.

Verse 16

Romans 7:16. But if. This verse is a logical inference from the position of Romans 7:15. It is, however, the logic of a Christian applied to the condition under the law, or it may mark an advanced step in the recognition of the true position toward the law.

What I wish not, that I do. Compare the similar clause in Romans 7:15. Here the weaker phrase ‘wish not’ is substituted for ‘hate.’ Even this negative attitude proves the character of the law.

I agree with the law that it if good. ‘I agree with,’ marks an acquiescence in the high moral character of the law. This acquiescence is more than intellectual, or no conviction of sin would result. Some conviction of sin is implied, and must exist in every man awakened by the claims of the law. ‘My conduct, therefore, so far as my desire is opposed to it, appears according to this contradiction, as a proof that I concur with the law that it is beautiful, i.e., morally good; the moral excellence which the law affirms of itself ( e. g., Deuteronomy 4:8) I also agree with it in acknowledging; in point of fact, I say yes to it’ (Meyer).

Verse 17

Romans 7:17. How then, or, ‘but now,’ as the case stands.

It is no longer I that perform it, i.e., ‘what I wish not.’ I am a slave under sin, what ‘I perform, I know not’ (Romans 7:16). Both ‘now’ and ‘no longer’ are logical, not temporal; they point to an inference, not necessarily to a transition from a former condition into a state of grace. ‘I’ refers to the ‘moral self-consciousness,’ but there is as yet no indication that this state of things of itself does or can lead to anything better. The desire is powerless; the ‘I’ is enslaved.

But sin dwelling in me; the master to whom I am enslaved. ‘In me’ is supposed by many to differ from ‘I,’ since Romans 7:18 explains the former as ‘in my flesh.’ The two phrases are a verbal reproduction of the apparent duality in the person who is passing through such a moral conflict. There is no sign of release, no assertion of power to do good of which the ‘I’ approves. Whether the experience be that of a regenerate or unregenerate man, the moral responsibility rests on him in whom sin dwells; the description is intended to prove the powerlessness of man under the law, not to define his responsibility.

Verse 18

Romans 7:18. For I know; not, ‘we know,’ which would point to common Christian experience. This verse proves from the experience of the man whose case is described the truth of Romans 7:17.

In me, that is, in my flesh, in my depraved human nature; ‘flesh’ being here used in its strict ethical sense. Usually in this sense the antithesis is ‘Spirit,’ and even here that idea is implied in the spirituality of the law which produces the experience under discussion. Hence it is not necessary to assume that the case is that of a regenerate man, in order to find room for a reference to the Holy Spirit, over against the ‘flesh,’ The man under the law, whether before or after conversion, is here represented as becoming conscious that he is ‘made of flesh,’ under the conflict awakened by the law. The better desire may exist (see next clause), but in every case it is powerless unless the man escapes from the law to Christ.

For to wish is present with me, lies before me. The word translated ‘wish’ (‘would,’ A. V.) is the same throughout the passage, and preserves the same general sense, of wishing, being willing, rather than of a decisive purpose or controlling desire.

But to perform that which is good is not. We follow here the better sustained reading. Wishing lies before me, but executing does not; I can and do have a desire for what is good, but I cannot and do not carry that desire into effect; this experience proves that there dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing. So far as one is ‘in the flesh,’ this is his highest moral state; only when ‘in the Spirit’ can good be truly performed.

Verse 19

Romans 7:19. For the good, etc. This verse is a proof of the last clause of Romans 7:18; and Romans 7:20, which is an inference from this verse, leads back to the statement of Romans 7:17.

But the evil which I wish not, that I practice. This is the strongest expression of sinfulness yet made. Paul, looking back from his Christian point of view, no doubt includes more than heathen writers have done when using similar expressions, but what he says is to a certain extent the experience of every man whose conscience is affected by the law.

Verse 20

Romans 7:20. But if what I wish not, etc. Since this is the case (as Romans 7:19 shows), then the position of Romans 7:17 is sustained: it is no longer I, etc. The repetition in this clause is exact, but in the phrase ‘I wish,’ some emphasis rests on ‘I.’ This is taken by many as indicating a progress in thought. But there is no sign as yet of a more hopeful condition. The progress is still toward wretchedness, despite, or perhaps because of, this increased desire.

Verse 21

Romans 7:21. I find than the law, etc. The literal sense of the verse is: I find then the law to me wishing (willing) to do the good, that to me the evil is present. Some refer ‘the law’ to the Mosaic law, because that has been. In mind up to this point. But it is very difficult to explain the verse on this theory. Moreover, in what immediately follows (Romans 7:22-23), ‘law’ is used in a wider sense, and ‘the law of God’ is specified, as if the term here used had another reference. We prefer, therefore, the usual view: ‘I find then (as the summing of my experience, Romans 7:14-20) the law (of moral contradiction) when I wish to do good, that evil is present with me.’ Romans 7:22-23 then introduce the opposing laws which make the contradiction. (Meyer thus explains the verse: ‘I find, then, while my will is directed to the law in order to do good, that evil is present with men.’ Some prefer: ‘I find then with respect to the law, when,’ etc.)

Verse 22

Romans 7:22. For I delight in the law of God. ‘For’ introduces an explanation of Romans 7:21. ‘Delight in’ is stronger than ‘agree with’ (Romans 7:16), but must not be pressed too far, since Romans 7:21, of which this is an explanation, is a summing up of the experience in Romans 7:14-20. Meyer explains: ‘I rejoice with the law of God, so that its joy (the law being personified) is also mine.’ But this is not necessary, and too strong.

After the inward man. Those who refer the experience to the regenerate man consider this phrase as identical with ‘the new man,’ under the influence of the Holy Spirit. But why is the influence of the Spirit so carefully kept out of view? Some say: Because Paul would set the conflict in the strongest light. But it is unlike him to keep Christ and the Holy Spirit in the background. We prefer, then, to distinguish between ‘the inward man’ and the ‘new man.’ The former is the internal sphere of spiritual influence where the law operates: in the regenerate man this has become the new man, but before renewal by the Holy Spirit the inner man, despite all its agreement with the law, even when in aroused feeling it might be said to delight in the law of God, is in a helpless condition, all the more miserable, because of its approval of the law. When the Christian is ‘under the law,’ his delight may be more pronounced, but so long as he seeks sanctification through the law, he is quite as helpless. ‘The inward man’ here is nearly equivalent to ‘mind’ in Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25; and also to ‘spirit,’ so far as that term exclusively applies to the highest part of man’s nature, irrespective of the inworking of the Holy Spirit. (See Excursus below.)

Verses 22-23

Romans 7:22-23. We have four phrases contrasted in pairs: ‘The law of God;’ ‘another law in my members,’ etc.; ‘the law of my mind;’ ‘the law of sin and death,’ etc. Each phrase has its distinct meaning, while those forming pairs are closely related: The law of God is the Mosaic law, but the law of the mind is the same law so far as it is operative in the mind; the law in the members is the law of sin, so far as it is operative in the members; the extreme contrast is between the law of God and the law of sin and death. ‘The law’ of Romans 7:21 is this principle of moral conflict which the Apostle found in his experience.

Verse 23

Romans 7:23. But I see a different law. Not simply ‘another,’ but a ‘different,’ one; comp. Galatians 1:6-7. Paul represents himself as witnessing the conflict within his own person.

In my members. To be joined with Maw. This does not mean ‘in my flesh,’ i.e., carnal nature, over against my renewed nature, but points to the members or the body, as the locality where the working of the opposing law is most evident. It is not implied that these members are the sole seat of sin. This is unpauline, whether applied to the regenerate or to the unregenerate.

Warring against the law of my mind. The conflict is against the law of God, not as such, but as having the locality of its operation in the ‘mind.’ This term refers to the higher part of man’s nature, or spirit; here regarded in its practical activity. This does not mean the unfallen human spirit, there being no trace of such a notion in the New Testament. Nor on the other hand is ‘mind’ here equivalent to renewed nature. In that case we would find some hint of the Holy Spirit’s influence. So far as a man is living under the law, the best that his ‘mind’ can do for him is to present a powerless opposition to the law in the members.

Bringing me into captivity, ‘taking me prisoner,’ under the law of sin. ‘In’ is the literal sense. The sense is not materially altered by this change of reading. The law in the members is the warrior that takes the captive, the law of sin is the victor under whom the captive is held; the two laws are practically identical. A wretched condition (Romans 7:24), but some recognition of it is a necessary preliminary to deliverance.

Verse 24

Romans 7:24. O wretched man that I am! Some would inclose this verse and the first clause of Romans 7:25 in parenthesis; but this is unnecessary. The word ‘wretched’ implies ‘exhausted by hard labor;’ comp. Matthew 11:28. The prominent ideas are of helplessness and wretchedness; the cry for deliverance follows. A believer may thus speak, doubtless often does; but this condition is precisely that from which we are delivered.

Who shall deliver me. Not merely a wish: would that I were delivered, but rather: who will deliver me, who can do it; not without a reference to help from a person. Those who apply the passage to the regenerate must assume here a temporary absence of relief. It does apply to the regenerate man, when by seeking sanctification by the law he forgets Christ, and deprives himself of the help of the Spirit.

From, lit, ‘out of,’ the body of this death, or, ‘this body of death.’ The interpretations are quite various: 1. This body of death; ( a) this mortal body. But this makes the body the seat of sin, or amounts to a desire for death; both of which are unpauline and contrary to the context, ( b) Still less satisfactory is the view that personifies death as a monster with a body. 2. ‘The body of this death.’ This is preferable, since the emphasis in the original seems to rest upon ‘this death.’ There is, however, no reference to physical death, but to the whole condition of helplessness, guilt, and misery just described, which is, in effect, spiritual death. But ‘body’ may be taken either: ( a) literally, or ( b) figuratively. The literal sense suggests that the body is the seat of sin, and may be made equivalent to a desire for death. Meyer guards it thus: ‘Who shall deliver me out of bondage under the law of sin into moral freedom, in which my body shall no longer serve as the seat of this shameful death.’ This agrees with the reference to ‘members’ in Romans 7:23. But the figurative sense has more to recommend it ‘Body’ is the organism of ‘this death;’ it clings to me as closely as the body. We thus avoid on the one hand making this a desire for death, and on the other giving to ‘body’ that ethical sense which is peculiar to ‘flesh.’ The ethical idea is in this ‘death’ not in ‘body.’ A turning point is now reached. It is probable that even this cry is uttered ‘in full consciousness of the deliverance which Christ has effected, and as leading to the expression of thanks which follows’ (Alford, following De Wette).

Verse 25

Romans 7:25. I thank God, or, ‘thanks to God;’ it being difficult to decide between the two. (Some authorities read: but thanks to God.) This thanksgiving is for deliverance: it is a deliverance through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not simply that the thanksgiving is through Him, but the fact that the thanks to God is due to Jesus Christ. Here is the key-note of a life distinctively Christian over against the attempt to live better under the law.

So then. This sums up the whole: since this is the conflict and a hopeless one until Christ delivers. Others would connect this with Romans 7:24.

I myself, etc. The two leading interpretations are: (1.) ‘I myself as the same man,’ live this divided life; (2.) ‘I of myself,’ apart from Christ, thus live. If (1) be adopted, and applied to the man who has uttered the thanksgiving, the inference would be that such discord was the normal condition of the Christian. To apply it to the unregenerate man seems objectionable, for how can such an one be said to serve the law of God. On the whole, then, (2.) is more satisfactory. ‘I in myself, notwithstanding whatever progress in righteousness the Spirit of Christ may have wrought in me, or will work in this life, am still most imperfect; with my mind, indeed, I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin; and, tried by the law, could not be justified but would come under condemnation, if viewed in myself, and not in Christ Jesus’ (Forbes). This suggests the connection with chap. 8. To make an alternative: either with the mind, etc., or with the flesh, is not grammatical.

With the mind, or, ‘with my mind indeed.’ Not ‘with the Spirit,’ for it is the man of the law who is still spoken of, even though he has been delivered and looks back upon the worst of the conflict.

With the flesh the law of sin. The service of the law, whose excellence is recognized by the mind, is attempted, but the flesh interferes, as the ruling power it brings into captivity in every case where the mere service of law, even of the law of God, is the aim. That the Christian is not ruled by the flesh is his distinctive privilege, but obedience from legalistic motives gives the flesh fresh power. Hence we find here, even after the thanksgiving, a quasi-confession of defeat, to connect with the next chapter.

‘The whole passage seems, by its alternations, its choice of words, as well as its position in the Epistle, to point to an experience which is produced by the holy, just, and good law of God, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ; so that even the outburst of Christian gratitude is followed by a final recurrence to the conflict, which is, indeed, ever-recurring, so long as we seek holiness through the law rather than through Christ (Riddle in Lange, Romans, p. 244).


1. BODY. This generally refers to the physical body, though it often suggests the organism of the body. A living body is usually meant. Figuratively it is applied to the Church. In a few passages where it seems to imply sinfulness, it should be interpreted in a figurative sense, as referring to the organism of sin (Romans 6:6; Romans 7:24; Colossians 2:11), since the thought that the body is the source of sin, or even its chief seat, is unwarranted alike by Scripture and by experience.

2. SOUL. The word we translate soul often means ‘life,’ animal life; the word which represents eternal life, life in the highest sense, is a different one. ‘Soul’ may mean the whole immaterial part of man, or it may be distinguished from ‘spirit.’ But the distinction is difficult to define, see under 3. It does not mean the fallen part of our immaterial nature over against an unfallen part called ‘spirit,’ nor is it to be limited to the animal life. The Old Testament usage seems decisive on both points. It is unfortunate that the influence of Hebrew modes of thought have not been sufficiently recognized in the discussions about this and kindred terms. Furthermore the analytic tendency of many modern systems has led to the acceptance of a division where the Scriptures suggest only a distinction.

3. SPIRIT. This term, the Hebrew equivalent of which is very common in the Old Testament, has in the New Testament a number of meanings. It is derived from the word meaning ‘to blow,’ and retains in rare instances (John 3:8; Hebrews 1:7) its early sense of wind. We often use it now as equivalent to temper, disposition; but in the New Testament it rarely, if ever, refers to this alone. It is, however, applied to evil, unclean, spirits, and to good angels. In these cases it refers to a mode of being, irrespective of the moral quality, which is defined by the context.

Aside from these incidental meanings, the word is used in the New Testament in three senses:

( a.) The theological sense, referring to the Holy Spirit.

( b.) The anthropological sense, referring to the spirit of man, as part of his nature.

( c.) The soteriological sense, referring to the indwelling Holy Spirit, or to the spirit of man as informed by the indwelling Holy Spirit

( a.) The prevailing sense in the New Testament is the theological one, that is, it means the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. In the contrast with ‘flesh’ (see below) it usually has this sense, but frequently in the modified form which is discussed under ( c.) .

( b.) The anthropological sense is not very common. It must be insisted upon, father for the purpose of defining the other senses and kindred terms, than for its own sake. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we find a reference to ‘body, soul, and spirit,’ but even here Christians are spoken of. At the same time we infer from this passage, from the Old Testament distinctions, and from Hebrews 4:12, ‘that in the original structure of man there is something yet remaining, needing, and capable of sanctification corresponding to the three terms, body, soul, and spirit.’ It is implied in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, that the spirit needs sanctification, and that the body and soul also are to be preserved for God. Holding fast to these points, we shall escape many of the false inferences drawn from the theory of the tri-partite nature of man (trichotomy). On the other hand we must not go to the extreme of holding that the ‘spirit’ is the renewed nature, hence that man has not a ‘spirit’ before regeneration. ‘Ft must be held fast, that man could not receive the Spirit of God, if he were not himself a spiritual being; yet it is a supposition of the Scriptures, that, since the fall, the spiritual nature is bound in the natural man, and does not come to its actuality’ (Lange). This view includes ‘the mind,’ and ‘the inward man’ (see 5, below) under the term ‘spirit,’ making the spirit the sphere in which Divine influences begin their operations, like God in mode of being, but the very inmost seat of moral unlikeness to Him. Before renewal the ‘spirit’ is itself under the power of the ‘flesh’ (see 4, (1.), (b.), below). The New Testament never contrasts ‘flesh’ with this sense of ‘spirit’ Hence this anthropological sense is rare compared with that which follows.

( c.) The soteriological sense: the Holy Spirit in the human spirit, or, the human spirit acted upon by the Holy Spirit. As distinguished from ( a.) this is the subjective sense, as distinguished from ( b.) it is a theological sense. In Paul’s writings it is very frequent, and we find it expressed in the Gospels: ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3:6); comp. Matthew 26:41 ; Mark 14:38. This sense includes the term ‘new man;’ comp. also Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10.

4. FLESH. (1.) Physical sense. In the Old Testament this term is applied to’ man with the adjunct idea of frailty’ (Tholuck), but the idea of depravity is not suggested. In the New Testament the physical sense occurs, with a reference to the earthly life and relations (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 10:3; Ephesians 2:15; Philippians 1:22; Philippians 1:24; Colossians 1:22, etc.). In these instances the contrast with man’s new relation to God is only negatively implied. In other cases the term is almost = body, or to the material of which the body is composed. ‘According to the flesh,’ as applied to Christ, refers to His human nature (or, descent), probably with the idea of frailty, as in the Old Testament use. Here, too, we may trace the notion of physiological descent, suggesting the transmission of nature, a thought not remote from the strictly ethical sense; comp. John 3:6: ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh.’

(2.) The ethical sense of flesh is recognized by all commentators. It is in contrast with ‘Spirit,’ either expressed or implied, and this gives the key to its meaning, i.e., that it refers to our unregenerate depraved nature, but the exact significance has been frequently discussed.

( a.) How much of man’s nature is included under the term ‘flesh,’ when used in the ethical sense. We answer more than the body, or the body with its animal life and appetites. The Bible nowhere justifies the Pagan view that sin is confined to our animal life. Nor can we limit the term to body and soul, excluding the human spirit from the empire of the flesh. The distinction between soul and spirit is not essentially an ethical one; the only passage suggesting this is 1 Corinthians 2:14, where ‘spiritual,’ however, implies the influence of the Holy Spirit. The antithesis to ‘flesh’ in this ethical sense never is the unregenerate human spirit. Even in Romans 7:18; Romans 7:25, where ‘inward man,’ and ‘mind’ are contrasted with ‘flesh,’ the real antithesis is to be found in Romans 7:14: ‘the law is spiritual, but I am carnal,’ which is illustrated in the description that follows. ‘Flesh,’ therefore, means, not a tendency or direction of life in one part of man’s nature, but the whole human nature, body, soul, and spirit, separated from God, the human nature we inherit ‘according to the flesh,’ from Adam.

( b.) This human nature, termed ‘flesh,’ is essentially alienated from God; antagonism to God is the essence of sin. Its positive principle is selfishness, for after God is rejected, self becomes supreme. The human nature, thus alienated from God, with selfishness as its ruling principle, seeks its gratification in the creature, for it has forsaken God, and it requires some object external to itself. This devotion to the creature has a higher form as sensuousness, and deems itself noble, in its intellectual and esthetic pursuit of other things more than God. But the course of heathenism, as portrayed in chap. 1, shows that it is an easy step to sensuality, the lower form of fleshly gratification. Hence this ethical sense of ‘flesh’ has been confused with its lowest manifestations, namely, physical appetites. But the true definition is: ‘Flesh is the whole nature of man, turned away from God, in the supreme interest of self, devoted to the creature.’ This definition links together ungodliness and sin, implies the inability of the law, and the necessity of the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit.

5. MIND. The word translated ‘mind’ in the preceding section is row, and may be distinguished from several other Greek terms occasionally rendered by the same English word. As indicated in the above comments, ‘mind’ here is not equivalent to renewed nature, nor does it include merely the intellectual faculties. It is rather the active organ of the human spirit, the practical reason, usually as directed to moral questions. Hence it properly covers what we term the moral sense, or conscience. But the Scriptural anthropology does not favor the view that this ‘mind’ of itself is not depraved; for it is used several times in connection with the worst forms of heathenism, and in other passages obviously means a sinful mind (chap. Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:17; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15). The ‘inward man’ (Romans 7:22) is practically equivalent to this term, and represents the same moral status: before regeneration under the dominion of the flesh, but made the sphere of the operations of the Holy Spirit, so that a ‘new man’ results, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. But both ‘mind’ and ‘inward man’ may cover the whole immaterial nature of man; the former in its moral and intellectual aspects; the latter in its theological aspects (so Ellicott).

6. HEART. Although this term occurs with comparative infrequency in this Epistle, it is important to understand its application in the New Testament. More distinctly than any of the other terms it shows the influence of the Old Testament. It is regarded as the central organ of the entire human personality, and includes what we distinguish as intellect and feeling, sometimes the will also. It is the organ of both soul and spirit, and yet is sometimes distinguished from the former (comp. the sum of the commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,’ etc.), never from the latter, although occasionally used as if equivalent to it (Psalms 51:10; Psalms 51:17; comp. Colossians 2:5 with 1 Thessalonians 2:17). Hence it is inferred that it is more closely allied to ‘spirit’ than to ‘soul;’ but we must beware of making divisions, where only phases of a vital unity are concerned. The important point to be remembered is, that while ‘heart’ includes the affections, the term in the Scriptures does not imply the contrast we make between ‘head’ and ‘heart,’ i.e., intellect and affections. In chap. Romans 10:9-10, believing is predicated of the ‘heart,’ but in contrast with confessing with the ‘mouth,’ not with intellectual credence. Hence the phrase ‘new heart’ implies far more than a change of feelings, just as ‘repentance’ suggests more than our English ‘change of mind,’ which is the literal sense of the Greek. For ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ alike, according to the Hebrew conceptions, had moral aspects which were the controlling and important ones. ‘Heart,’ therefore, when used in the New Testament in a psychological (not physiological) sense, implies a moral quality, but what that moral quality is depends on the connection. In the case of the regenerate man the ‘heart’ is spoken of as if it were the seat of the Holy Spirit’s influence (chap. Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 3:16-17).

The incidental meanings of the term may be readily determined.

Clearly, then, the New Testament use of terms serves to emphasize the language of the Apostle in Romans 7:24: ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ All the powers and organs of human nature are powerless from this organism of sin, until through Jesus Christ our Lord deliverance comes.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 7". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.