An Exegetical Analysis of Romans 7:13-25

The following is an exegetical paper on Romans 7:13-25. There have been many theories set forth regarding the spiritual condition of the first person engo, mentioned within this passage. While this is an argument that the current study will address during the theological analysis, one should note that it is not the purpose of this paper to deliver an in-depth survey concerning that issue.

Historical and Contextual Background
Prior to making any attempt at understanding the structure, theology, or intended application of Romans 7:13-25, it is imperative that the reader first understand the historical and contextual backgrounds surrounding the epistle. Regarding authorship, it has long since been accepted that the apostle Paul composed Romans through the hand of his amanuensis, Tertius (Rom 16.22). Evidenced internally, Romans is one of thirteen New Testament books claiming to be written by Paul within the opening line of his greeting . Externally, we have evidence that the heretic Macion, as early as the second century AD, included Romans in his list of ten epistles written by the apostle Paul. The majority of contemporary New Testament scholars would agree with H.E. Dana, who has named Romans as one of his “impregnable quartet” of New Testament books undisputedly written by the apostle Paul.

Concerning his location at the time of writing it, there is an overwhelming consensus that he was in the city of Corinth during a three-month stay prior to leaving for Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-3). The best dating for this visit is around the year 57 AD. Noting that Phoebe is mentioned both in his letter to the Corinthians, and to the Romans, it has been theorized that Paul may have employed her to deliver the epistle to the Roman believers for him.

Although he had long since desired to make the journey, we know that Paul had not yet made it to Rome when his letter reached its recipients (Rom 1.13). Nonetheless, it is clear that his intentions were to pass through Rome on his way to Spain, to collect support for the new churches he intended on planting, and to continue on with his mission (Rom 15.24-28).

In the seventh verse of chapter one, Paul addresses his readers as the “beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.” This stands out in comparison to the apostle’s other letters, which are largely addressed to specific churches. On account of this, and in conjunction with the purpose of his letter, it has been suggested that the Roman Christians had no formal organization as a “church,” but rather, were a loosely grouped community of believers. As one who reads the epistle in its entirety will quickly come to realize, this group appears to have been composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers. Although Paul had never visited the believers in Rome, his closing salutations seem to imply that he knew several of them from previous travels (Rom 16:1-21).

While studying the book of Romans, several themes will begin to develop. Among the more prominent of these is included Paul’s explanation of man’s depravity, God’s righteousness, both justification and sanctification as the result of faith, and finally, practical application for living the Spirit-filled life. All of this is intricately intertwined with Jewish / Gentile relations. Chapters nine through eleven focus on this issue alone. One cannot be certain as to how the apostle came to know of the Romans’ circumstances, but it is quite evident as to why Paul felt he must respond in such a manner.

The city of Rome was at the center of the known world. Therefore, the believers living within this crossroads of ethnicity and influence were going to inevitably have a large affect on the spread of Christianity and the understanding other cultures would develop of it. Aware of this, and the fact that the believers had no apostolic leader at their foundation, Paul purposed to write them a comprehensive theology of the cross, accompanied by practical application for applying that theology within their community.

Located in the center of Paul’s intended purpose, Romans 7:13-25 is not only a pivotal point in the apostle’s explanation of the sanctification process, but it is also noted as one of the weightiest passages affecting contemporary Christian theology. Bringing the reader to an understanding of justification through faith alone (1-6), Paul will now address the struggle and victory of sanctification (7-8), go on to speak on the Jewish / Gentile relationship, and follow through with a practical application for living the previous points out (12-15). On one hand, 7:13-25 is an argument for the inherent goodness of the Law, yet on the other hand, it’s simultaneously developing a healthy understanding of the struggle Christian’s have living as spiritual beings at war with the old nature of sin still attacking their flesh.

As do all of his remaining correspondences, Paul’s New Testament “book” of Romans falls under the customary format of a first century letter. While there was at one time a large distinction made between the formal “epistle” and the informal “letter,” most contemporary scholars no longer see an official difference between the genres. This is not, however, rejecting the ample evidence that certain letters were written in a much greater formality than others. For example, the New Testament book of Romans is one of Paul’s most formal letters, while Philemon is composed on a more personal basis.

The reader will find it helpful to know that first century letters were commonly composed in three main sections: the greeting, the body, and the closing remarks. Paul’s greetings were usually expanded beyond the identification of the author and addressee, to include a brief statement concerning the purpose of his letter. Lea and Black compare Paul’s expanded greetings to modern day “tables of contents.” Concerning the current study, Romans 7:13-25 appears in the middle of the letters main body. Furthermore, this single unit of discourse can be placed within its own category, described as a “solutionality paragraph pattern of emotional discourse producing a struggle or tension.”

As explained by John C. Tuggy in his article entitled, Semantic Paragraph Patterns: A Fundamental Communication Concept and Interpretive Tool, there are a number of different ways that a person may communicate his message to an intended party. The current study suggests that the apostle Paul, relying on the emotional pull of his argument, uses a problem-solution approach (solutionality) to resolve the tensions between sin, law, mind, and Spirit. The key elements involved in this type of an argument are 1) mixed emotions, followed by 2) an emotional reconciliation. Two more possible components, although not mandatory within this type of emotional, problem-solution argument are, 1) the process of seeking an acceptable reconciliation and, 2) any intensifying factors within the emotional problem itself. The benefit of identifying such components within an individual paragraph is based on the components’ ability to help one understand the main purpose of the author’s unit of discourse.

As relating to Romans 7:13-25, this process identifies verse 13a as Paul’s primary “mixed emotion,” the subject on which he will spend the remainder of his discourse attempting to solve. Verse 13b is Paul’s first, but unacceptable, conclusion. Tuggy has named this process of identifying possible solutions as “seeking.” Following Paul’s unacceptable solution, we observe three separate clauses (14-16, 17-19, 20-23) of “intensifying” discourse, in which the apostle discovers how difficult the problem really is, and furthermore, how great any acceptable solution will have to be. Verse 24 is Paul’s second, yet inconclusive, attempt at “seeking,” followed by his “emotional reconciliation” finally arriving with verse 25. It is at this point that the apostle believes he has not only engaged and pressed the reader’s emotions, but also satisfactorily led them to an acceptable conclusion. This well structured argument is further developed through the remainder of the letter’s body.

Looking again at the overall format of Romans, one should note that Paul’s end remarks are longer and more specific than most letters of his time. Nonetheless, it certainly falls within the category of a first century letter. Furthermore, Romans 7:13-25 is structured as an emotionally geared paragraph, argued by use of a problem-solution discourse.

Lexical and Textual Study
Before one is able to entertain a comprehensive study on any passage, he must first be aware of what decisions led him to define the passage as an independent unit of thought within the larger argument as a whole. While the current study treats verses 13-25 as a complete unit within the larger context of chapters seven and eight, the reader should note that many commentators will place verse 13, not with 14-25 as the current study has chosen to do, but at the end of verses 7-12, therefore limiting verses 14-25 as the single unit for our intended passage.

Beyond the evidence found within the semantic paragraph pattern mentioned above, there are several other reasons the current study has chosen to treat 13-25 as a single unit of thought. One of the most influential of these reasons is Paul’s use of the word hWOSTE in 7:12. A word study on the Pauline uses of hWOSTE points to an overwhelming amount of instances where it is treated as a conclusion statement within a single unit of thought. Galatians 3:24 may serve as a pertinent example to this study, as it also concludes a single unit concerning a wrongful interpretation of the law. This fact, along with the presence of the word OUV in verse 13, makes a strong argument for the inclusion of verse 13 at the beginning of 14-25, rather than at the end of 7-12 . One may also point to the presence of Paul’s rhetorical question in verse 13 as further evidence that it should begin a new paragraph of thought. When compared to verse 7 (the beginning of Paul’s previous paragraph), one will notice a great similarity. Both the rhetorical question and the optative form of GINOMAI are used in his introduction.

Therefore, this study’s proposed outline for Paul’s single unit of thought will consider verse 13 as an introduction / transition statement from the incorrect use of the law (verses 7-12) to an explanation of the law’s inherent goodness (verses 14-25). Verses 14-16 unfold as the first of three parallel explanations (including 17-19 and 20-23) of sin’s KAKOS use of the law through the SARX, against the Spirit’s KALOS use of the law through the NOOS. Finally, verses 24 and 25 are a concluding statement, both summarizing the relationship, and giving the ENGW, a hope for final victory.

The United Bible Societies has considered several variants important enough to list in the apparatus of their Fourth Revised Version of The Greek New Testament (GNT). Among the four variants listed within our passage, it should be mentioned that only the scribal addition of ENGW, in verse 20 was rated a {C} or below. As Metzger explains in his textual commentary, the external evidence is “rather evenly balanced.” If the word is original, scribal error through the process of parablepsis is most likely responsible for its omission. On the other hand, it is just as possible that EVGW, was intentionally added to conform to the following ENGW, in the same verse. The current study has chosen to accept ENGW, as original.

Theological Analysis
As to the theological concerns that may arise from this passage, they are both numerous and inconclusive. Evidence shows that the seventh chapter of Romans has been a difficult passage to understand since the time of the Church Fathers. The debate, in large, had been centered on the identity of evgw, in verses 7-25. As outlined by Martin, most theologians generally held that evgw, was not in reference to a believer, from the time of the Church Fathers until Augustine. It was Augustine, however, who first proposed the idea that evgw, might refer to a Christian under the law. Martin then moves on to note, “The mediaeval Church, Luther, Calvin, and Calvinistic theology agreed. A swing of the pendulum back to the ‘pre-Christian’ view began with PietismâÂ?¦” Today, many hold to the same conclusions that F. F. Bruce has cited in his book, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. “In Romans 7:7-13âÂ?¦ Paul repeats in terms of individual experience both the full narrative and the more general history of mankind before the law and under the law.” And concerning verses 14-25, Bruce agrees with M. Goguel and C. H. Dodd, understanding them as autobiographical of a time immediately following Paul’s conversion. It should also be noted that individuals such as Gareth B. Matthews support a repressed, psychological understanding of evgw,. This theory, however, has been all but fatally destroyed and is not respected by many contemporary scholars.

There are currently several well-developed strengths and critiques for each of the prominent views. Among the stronger points of those who propagate the unregenerate state of evgw, exists, 1) The fact that r`u,setai (verse 24) is in the future tense, 2) evgw, is unable to do good or able to do the law, and 3) sin, identified as a ruling party, is otherwise a condition of unbelievers (Gal. 3:22). While there are other strengths of this view as well, these seem to take pride among their defenders. Those who view the evgw, as a believer would differ in the following areas. 1) evgw, is most naturally auto-biographical, 2) there is no evidence that Paul struggled like this before his conversion, and 3), similar to Galatians 5:17, evgw, is a man living and struggling simultaneously within two spiritual epochs (that of Adam and that of Christ).

As has been said once, there has never held one strong conclusion for any large amount of time before another attempts to undermine the latest theories. As observed by this study, the greatest problem hindering a unified reconciliation may not be the defenses opponents take against one another, but rather the convincing job individual proponents make for their respective theories. With that said, the current study has chosen to understand evgw, as a representative of both Paul and all believers testimonies, before (verses 7-12) and after (verses 14-25) their respective regenerations.

Practical Application
Understanding that the evgw, in verses 13-25 are beneficially portrayed as the believer’s constant struggle with the flesh’s incapability to overcome the law of sin, it is imperative that the Child of God takes away several key points from this passage. The law, truths, and very character of God are holy, deserving all honor and respect from the whole of creation. Furthermore, His law is just, finding no one with excuse. Void of all partiality and judgment, God’s law becomes a vessel of His wrath to those who reject Him in ignorance and a reminder of His righteousness to those who seek Him in faith. His law is abundantly and inherently good, yet sin, taking opportunity of it, has seized a weakness in the flesh and thereby delivered death through that which is inherently good. Yet, those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God must not ignore the presence of their flesh. To believe that one may obtain that which cannot be fully reached until a future glorification is to forsake the reality of a waging war. The enemy has not lost fervor since the regeneration of the Christian, but rather, has continued to wage war and take captive the weakness of the flesh. This enemy is not a suppressive one, attacking from the outside, but one who makes use of a subtle usurpation from within. If it wasn’t for the goodness of such a great God through the person of Jesus Christ, not one of the beloved could hope to one day walk completely in the Spirit, leaving behind the flesh once and for all. To the present, though, one must face the reality of a constant battle, serving the law of God with one hand, and yet the law of sin with that which remains fleshly.

Prone to wander, Lord, I know it; prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above
that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face; Clothed then in blood washed linen, how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace.

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