Romans 7:1-12

Jun 1, 2009


This blog entry contains two pericopes - two sections of thought - in two chiastic structures.

The first pericope sets the stage and establishes Paul’s argument for the next two chapters of Romans.  Here the apostle deals with the role of the Law and the Holy Spirit for his Jewish Christian audience.  It is evident that he is speaking to converted Jews right from the beginning (vs 1) and this must be kept in mind throughout his instruction regarding the Law.  Paul’s greater thesis and point in this section is that Jewish Christians formerly were “bound” and held “captive” by the Law (vs 1, 6), but now “serve” (as slaves) to the Spirit (vs 6) through the “body” (sacrificially given in death) and resurrection of Christ (vs 4).  He illustrates this point using the analogy of marriage.  The illustration forms the inner terms of this chiastic structure while the greater point is introduced and concluded in the outer terms.  The illustration also forms an inner chiastic structure in its own right.  After introducing the general analogy (vs 2), he sets up the first half of the chiasm with specific points of the analogy (vs 3) and then applies them to the Jewish Christian in the second half, both in terms of the marriage illustration (vs 4-5) and his greater argument (vs 6).

The second pericope Paul argues for a function of the Law in relation to sin.  He expands upon what he had mentioned in 3:20, “For  by works of the law no human being  will be justified in his sight, since  through the law comes knowledge of sin.”  The knowledge of sin is said to come about through “the Law,” but he delineates this in terms of “the commandment” both in his intro (implicitly, since he includes a commandment) and conclusion (explicitly).  That he would not have known sin had it not been for the Law is in keeping with his distinction between sin and transgression as expressed in passages like 4:15, “For  the law brings wrath, but  where there is no law  there is no transgression” and 5:14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of  the one who was to come.”  The inner terms of the major chiasm also form a minor chiastic structure.  This minor structure is framed by the idea that sin (personified) “seized the opportunity through the commandment.”  Note that Paul systematically alternated between two meanings for “dead” and “alive” in these inner terms.  On the one hand, there was a time in Paul’s life (as an young Jewish male, before coming of age under the Torah) when sin was dead in the sense that lied dormant.  It was inactive, at least in his consciousness.  He certainly was a sinner, but he was not legally a transgressor of the Law.  At that time, Paul says he was “alive” in the sense that he was innocent of transgression and so he was not condemned to death under the penalty of the Law.  On the other hand, it was only when he came under the Torah, at his bar mitzvah, that he knew (via the Law) what it meant to covet.  At that point, he, like Adam, became a  transgressor and was condemned to death.  So, here we see a different meaning, in the context of the same structure, of “spiritual death.”  Please refer to the outline above for the more detailed structure of the inner terms.  For more on this topic, I recommend R. H. Gundry’s article ““The Moral Frustration of Paul Before His Conversion: Sexual Lust in Romans 7:7-25.”  Don’t let the last part of that title turn you away.  Gundry makes an excellent case both for the autobiographical interpretation here and for how this applies in the very next section of Romans 7.