Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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ROMANS - Chapter 7

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Romans 7

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  DOCTRINAL:
THE GOSPEL THE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF ALL WHO BELIEVE  
1, 18 -- 11, 36 (continued)

4.  Justification and the Christian Life  6, 1 -- 8, 39 (continued)

7, 1-6:  Christians Freed from the Law.  Now St. Paul explains and proves that the faithful are not subject to the Law, a proposition already stated (3, 21; 6, 14).    1.  Jurisprudence was the peculiar genius of the Romans, and they would readily understand this principle.  Law in this and the following verses may refer to law in general; though Paul has ultimately in view the Mosaic Law.    2.  Law of the husband: the law which binds husband and wife.    3.  Although both the Roman and Mosaic laws recognized divorce, Paul is now interested only in the general principle.    4.  The illustration applied to the Mosaic Law.  Cf. note to text.  Bring forth fruit: under the Law sin brought forth evil works; joined now to Christ, Christians are expected to bring forth good works.  It will be noticed that this application does not hold strictly to the illustration.  St. Paul's main purpose is to establish the liberation of the faithful from the Law.  For this the illustration is apt.    5.  When we were in the flesh: still under the sway of disorderly, fallen human nature.  Aroused by the Law: stimulated by legal prohibitions.  This will be explained further in the passage following immediately.  Fruit unto death: this has been pointed out in the description of human nature without Christ (1-3).    6.  By which we were held down: this refers not so much to the Law as to man's evil inclinations and passions which dominated him under the Law.  In newness of spirit: by our incorporation in Christ through Baptism a new principle of life is given us, the indwelling in us of the Holy Spirit.  Oldness of letter: the written Law now old and discarded.

7, 7-12:  The Law the Occasion of Sin.  St. Paul faces another objection.  His language may have aroused the suspicion that he regarded the Law as evil.  In answering the objection he explains the relation of the Law to sin.

7.  I did not know sin, etc.: probably the innate tendency to sin inherited from Adam.  I had not known lust, etc.: probably any illicit desire.  Good tendencies can with difficulty be distinguished from evil by a man unless a positive law teaches him.  Others explain: while a man knows in theory right from wrong, he experiences no attraction to evil until a prohibition is placed upon it.    9.  Once upon a time: i.e., in his childhood, when he had no knowledge of the Law.  Others think Paul assumes the person of Adam and refers to the divine prohibition relative to the tree in Paradise.  In this latter interpretation revive would mean "come to life."    10.  Died: lost his innocence.  That which in itself was contemplated to promote life, working in fallen nature actually brought about death.    11.  Taken occasion: the command became a stimulus to concupiscence, a goad to evil.    12.  It was sin and not the Law which led to the commission of evil.  Therefore the Law in itself is good and holy.

7, 13-23:  Sin the Cause of Death.  A further objection is faced: if the Law is not the cause of sin, it is at least the cause of death.  Paul explains that it is rather sin that causes death.

13.  The divine purpose in the Law was that sin might be recognized as sinful.  The malice of sin is known in all its perversity when it employs the Law to lead man into rebellion against his Creator.  Sin is here again personified; it is the evil inclination in man resulting from original and leading to actual sin.    14.  Spiritual: opposed to man's evil instincts, appealing to his rational faculties.  Carnal: man as ruled by his disorderly passions.  Sold into the power of sin: given over, as a slave, to do the bidding of sin.    15.  St. John Chrysostom: "I am in darkness, I am carried away, I submit to spiteful abuse, I do not know how I am overturned."    16.  This struggle, between what is known as good and an inclination to evil, is an approval of the Law in spite of the actual transgression of its precepts.    17.  I do what I do not wish: this does not relieve man of responsibility for his sin; it rather makes emphatic the struggle within man against his inclinations to evil.    18.  In my flesh no good dwells: the bodily inclination is to moral evil.  To wish is within my power: the rational faculties recognize moral good.    21-23.  This law: a constant experience, not a positive law.  Law of God: the revealed Law.  Law of mind: the Law of God recognized and approved by the mind.  Law in my members: disordered human nature.

7, 24-25:  Deliverance Due to the Grace of God.    24.  Body of this death: a slave to sin, destined for death as the penalty of sin.    25.  The Greek text reads "Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  The sense is the same as that of the Vulgate: the only way out of the hopeless struggle is afforded us by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, etc.: man left to himself is unable to escape the evil.


Confraternity Bible:

Christians Freed from the Law  1 Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know law), that the Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?  2 For the married woman is bound by the Law while her husband is alive; but if her husband die, she is set free from the law of the husband.  3 Therefore while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress if she be with another man; but if her husband dies, she is set free from the law of the husband, so that she is not an adulteress if she has been with another man.  4* Therefore, my brethren, you also, through the body of Christ, have been made to die to the Law, so as to belong to another who has risen from the dead, in order that we may bring forth fruit unto God.  5* For when we were in the flesh the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in our members so that they brought forth fruit unto death.  6 But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that by which we were held down, so that we may serve in a new spirit and not according to the outworn letter.

The Law the Occasion of Sin  7* What shall we say then?  Is the Law sin?  By no means!  Yet I did not know sin save through the Law.  For I had not known lust unless the Law had said, "Thou shalt not lust."  8* But sin, having found an occasion, worked in me by means of the commandment all manner of lust, for without the Law sin was dead.  9 Once upon a time I was living without law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, 10 and I died, and the commandment that was unto life was discovered in my case to be unto death.  11 For sin, having taken occasion from the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.  12 So that the Law indeed is holy and the commandment holy and just and good.

Sin the Cause of Death  13 Did then that which is good become death to me?  By no means!  But sin, that it might be manifest as sin, worked death for me through that which is good, in order that sin by reason of the commandment might become immeasurably sinful.  14 For we know that the Law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold into the power of sin.  15* For I do not understand what I do, for it is not what I wish that I do, but what I hate, that I do.  16 But if I do what I do not wish, I admit that the Law is good.  17 Now therefore it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.  18 For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good dwells, because to wish is within my power, but I do not find the strength to accomplish what is good.  19 For I do not the good that I wish, but the evil that I do not wish, that I perform.  20 Now if I do what I do not wish, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.  21 Therefore, when I wish to do good I discover this law, namely, that evil is at hand for me.  22 For I am delighted with the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me prisoner to the law of sin that is in my members.

Deliverance Due to the Grace of God  24 Unhappy man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of this death?  25 The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Therefore I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.
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*

4: St. Paul lays down the general principle that death severs the marriage bond.  The Christian has died mystically by reason of his union through Baptism with Jesus Christ.  But since the death was only mystical and not real, the Christian still lives and can enter a new union with Christ, and produce spiritual fruit.  St. Thomas Aquinas says, "It is evident that through the death by which we die with Christ, the obligation of the old Law ceases."

5: When we were in the flesh: deprived of the grace of God which comes from union with Christ through Baptism.  The sinful passions: i.e., evil inclinations which incite to sin.  These evil inclinations were aroused by the Law.  Prohibition whets desire.

7: I did not know sin save through the Law: St. John Chrysostom says that St. Paul here means that a thorough and complete knowledge of sin comes only through law.

8: Without the Law sin was dead: i.e., sin was comparatively weak.  The restraint which prohibitive laws put on liberty stirred it up to rebellion, and thus in law sin found a powerful ally.

15: Here St. Paul vividly depicts the inner struggle which goes on in all human beings between the lower, sensual nature, and the higher aspirations of the soul.  He concludes by saying that the higher aspirations gain victory through the grace of God merited for mankind by Jesus Christ.