He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Romans 7 Redux

One text that you're not likely to encounter on the 'Romans Road' presentation of the Gospel is Romans 7. That's because (for those who aren't aware) Romans 7 is one of those 'difficult' Pauline texts that scholars are divided on.

Consequently, it's difficult to talk about a 'standard' view of Romans 7, but the 'Paul as believer' view of Romans 7 seems to be predominant view in our conservative, Presbyterian (and Reformed) circles.

However, my friend Todd Bordow (OPC pastor in Ft. Worth, TX) summarizes some of the difficulties with that position, and why many scholars today see Romans 7 as not describing the 'normal' Christian life:

1. When did the Law come to Paul as an individual and he died? Paul grew up with the Law.

2. The Paul as a Christian view doesn't really answer the question overriding the chapter - is the (Mosaic) Law sin?

3. Paul already stated in chapter 6 that believers are not under the bondage of sin.

4. The dynamic in 7:17-23 is not a struggle with sin, but one under the bondage of sin; a slave to sin, which is not the case with the believer.

5. The passage's answer to this crying out under bondage is not the return of Christ, as would be the case with the believer view, but the gospel (past tense) 7:25 and 8:1-4.

Comments? Thoughts? Replies?


Danny Hyde said...


It's more than the "predominant view," it's the historic Reformed view. One of the reasons Arminius was suspected by some in his congregation were his sermons on Romans 7 not being the struggle of the Christian life because this was the view of the Reformed churches.

This doesn't answer the question, but gives historical consciousness to why it is predominant today.

Matt said...


I view Romans 7 in an analogous way to the 'Pope as Antichrist'.

There may be a 'historic Reformed' way to understand a given text....but are we bound (confessionally?) to hold that Romans 7 must be understood as the Christian's struggle against sin? I can't see it in the Westminster Standards.

It seems to me that those in my position (and perhaps Todd as well) don't see Romans 7 as a hill to die on. But those who are convinced of the 'Paul as struggling believer' view do see this as a watershed (slippery slope?) issue. I guess I'm curious as to why. Is it just the Arminius baggage? If so, I'm not convinced that's a good argument. For example, Ridderbos takes a non-traditional view of Romans 7...and (to my knowledge) doesn't end up anywhere near Arminius.

David said...

What follows is probably not worth reading since it is not based on what any of the great reformers have said about this chapter. Also, I don't share the concerns of Pastor Bordow. But, since I happen to be studying it (still a work in progress) I thought it would give me a chance to begin collecting my thoughts.

Paul is walking in the Spirit and has no doubt that he is at peace with God regardless of what he may choose to do (e.g., sin). So, what is it with all this death and sin that a cursory reading of this chapter might imply he was still concerned about?

Here's my take (worthless, as I have already said). An unregenerate person has an inclination to sin that he/she can not overcome. They do have the ability to make the right decisions; but, really don't have that inclination. They are 'slaves' to sin. The regenerate person has a set of inclinations that now allow them to present themselves as 'slaves' to God for righteousness. In that sense, (they now have inclinations to do right) they are no longer 'slaves' to sin. BUT, they still possess all of the old inclinations and can still yield to the lusts of sin. When the Christian tries to overcome these old inclinations by law (e.g., I really shouldn't do that . . . ), they will most likely fail. The only way to overcome the old is through presenting oneself to God as His 'slave.' After all, one can not have two masters. Following the Spirit is the solution; trying to do the right thing (i.e., obeying the law) will often only lead to failure.

chaos said...

Hey Matt (Danny)
I know I may incur the wrath of Thomasgoodwin but...
have either of you read or heard about Dennis Johnson's take on R-7? He read it during a fairly recent Warfield Seminar. I was really impressed by his confident presentation and he seemed to have gotten a few of the other profs' attention as well. He demonstrated once again that he is quite the exegete.

I have to reread it to explain DJ's view of the 'ego'if you haven't read it yet. No time today. However, I remember it seemed to go along well with a prior Warfield Seminar done by VanDrunen and Baugh which discussed the works principle (stokea tou kosmou) in Galatians.

Until I read DJ's article, which has been published by now (I can email him to find out where) I was persuaded by Moo's take.


Matt said...


Dennis' article in now out in the recent Gaffin Festschrift. I remember talking to him about Romans 7 years ago, but the specific are bit fuzzy....but he has held to this position for quite a while (as I understand it).

I haven't had a chance to get the Festschrift yet, but it's high on the list (one of reasons being so I can read Dennis' article). So I can't really comment directly on his exegesis. But my hunch is that it's going to be something very similar to the brief outline here.

A lot of it is just a footnote to Ridderbos. ;-)

Mason said...

I thought this article might be of interest: