Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (6:1-7:25)

Romans 6:1-7:25

This is the third major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first two sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment (v. 18), according to the Law (of God) (article)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)

The section, comprised of chapters 6 and 7, I define and outline as:

  • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin
    6:1-14: Argument 1: Believers are dead to sin by participation in the death of Christ, along with an exhortation not to sin (vv. 12-14)
    6:15-23: Argument 2: Believers are free from slavery to sin (and are now slaves of righteousness)
    7:1-6: Argument 3: Believers are released from the bond of the Law (and sin): Illustration from the marriage bond
    7:7-25: Theological excursus: The relationship between the Law and Sin

Romans 6:1-14: Death—Believers are dead to sin

Each of the three arguments in 6:1-7:6 begin with a rhetorical question that is provocative and sets the stage for the discussion which follows. The first (6:1) of these is also transitional, building upon language and imagery from the previous section (Rom 5:12-21): “What then [ti/ ou@n] shall we declare? should we remain upon sin (so) that the favor [xa/ri$] (of God) might be (still) more [i.e. increase/abound] (to us)? May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!” As the question (and Paul’s response) indicates, there is a strong exhortational aspect to the arguments in this section. The principal theme in 6:1-14 is death; in answer to the introductory question, believers should not (and, indeed, can not) remain in sin, since they are already dead to sin (v. 2).

Verses 2-4—Image of Baptism: Dying (and rising) with Christ

In verse 3, Paul defines the symbolic character and significance of the ritual of Baptism as participation in the death of Christ (cf. also Gal 2:19-20; 3:27):

“do you lack (the) knowledge that, as (many of) us as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death?”

He extends this participation in verse 4 to Jesus’ burial (“buried together with him”) and resurrection, with the promise of future glory; this is realized for believers already in the present, as the concluding line indicates: “so also we should walk about in newness of Life”.

Verses 5-11

The reality of this participation in the death and resurrection of Christ (v. 5) serves as the basis for two propositions:

    • Believers in Christ are dead to the power of sin (vv. 6-7), described under two motifs:
      —the “old man” (o( palaio\$ a&nqrwpo$) has been crucified together with Christ (cf. Gal 2:19-20), thus making inactive (dead) the old body (of sin) (v. 6a)
      —a slave who dies is free from slavery, i.e. sin has no power over a dead person (v. 6b-7)
    • Believers are no longer under the power of death (vv. 8-9)—this is described specifically in terms of Christ’s own death and resurrection; as a result, death no longer has any power (no longer “rules as lord”) over believers

These two ideas are combined in vv. 10-11:

    • Verse 10 refers to the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection (life), which is “to God” (tw=| qew=|)
    • Verse 11 applies this by way of an exhortation for believers similar to that in v. 4b: “so also count yourselves as dead to sin [th=| a(marti/a|] but living to God [tw=| qew=|]” in Christ
Verses 12-14

These verses follow upon vv. 10-11 with an even more forceful exhortation, which is two-fold:

    • V. 12: “do not let sin rule (as king) in your dying [i.e. mortal] body unto the hearing under [i.e. so as to obey] its impulses”—this touches back upon the idea of sin (personified) as reigning power (king) in 5:12-14ff
    • V. 13: a supplemental exhortation specifically related to a person’s (bodily) parts (ta\ me/lh), not to present them (lit. make them stand alongside) as tools (or weapons) of injustice/unrighteousness (a)diki/a) and sin, but rather of justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh)

Verse 14 gives the reason for this, which likewise is two-fold:

    • “for sin shall not rule (as lord) over you…”
    • “for you are not under (the) Law [u(po\ no/mon] but under (the) favor [u(po\ xa/rin] (of God)”

Again, we see a connection between sin and the Law, though the precise connection is not entirely clear from the context here. Because of its importance, the second half of this verse will be discussed in more detail in a separate note.

Romans 6:15-23: Believers are freed from slavery to sin

This section, like the prior one, begins with a rhetorical question (v. 15) that picks up where the last verses left off:

“What then [ti/ ou@n]? Should we sin (in) that [i.e. because] we are not under (the) Law but under (the) favor (of God)? May it not come to be (so) [mh\ ge/noito]!”

The two expressions “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon) and “under the favor [i.e. of God]” (u(po\ xa/rin) were used in verse 14 (above). Paul’s question reflects a natural (and practical) religious-ethical issue resulting from the teaching that believers are no longer “under the Law”, that is, no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah. Some people might mistakenly think (or claim) that freedom from the Law meant that Christians need not behave in a moral or disciplined manner. Paul already dealt with the issue forcefully in Galatians 5:13-25. In that passage, the emphasis was on believers being guided by the Spirit; here in Romans, the role of the Spirit is left until chapter 8, while Paul develops further his discussion on the relation between the Law and sin.

Verses 16-18

In these verses the theme introduced is specifically that of slavery, referred to by way of two verbs: (1) doulo/w (“be/become a slave”) and (2) u(pakou/w (“hear under”, i.e. respond/submit to authority, obey). Paul is drawing upon 5:12-21, where he describes Sin (a(marti/a) and the Favor/Grace (xa/ri$) of God as contrasting kings or lords ruling over human beings—one rules in death, the other rules in (eternal) life. Here, in vv. 16-18 the contrast is between death (qa/nato$) and justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) (v. 16), followed by the parallel of sin vs. justice/righteousness in v. 18. Just as one may be a slave to Sin, obeying him, so one also becomes a kind of slave in obedience to God (under his Favor/Grace). This important motif of freedom (e)leuqerwqe/nte$, “being freed”) from slavery is introduced specifically in verse 18—believers are freed from slavery to sin, and become slaves to the justice/righteousness of God (in Christ).

A key phrase is found in v. 17, where Paul contrasts believers’ former role as slaves of Sin (dou=loi th=$ a(marti/a$), with their obedience and attentiveness (“you heard/listened under”, u(phkou/sate), i.e. to the Favor/Grace and justice/righteousness of God in Christ. This new obedience is said to be: (a) “out of [i.e. from] the heart” (e)k kardi/a$) and (b) “unto/into the stamp/pattern of teaching which was given along (to you)” (ei)$ o^n paredo/qhte tu/pon didaxh=$). The precise meaning of this latter phrase is not entirely clear; probably it should be taken in the sense of the Gospel message that Paul and his fellow-missionaries have proclaimed, together with related teaching given by apostles and other early Christian leaders, which would have included transmitted sayings and teachings of Jesus. It may be similar to the “measuring stick” (kanw/n) which Paul mentions in Gal 6:16. In several places, he also refers collectively to the things “given along (down), passed down”, i.e. tradition (cf. Gal 1:14; 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). A specific association with instruction given to believers prior to baptism has been suggested, and this is certainly possible. In a subsequent article, I will deal with the question of whether (or to what extent) such authoritative teaching in the early Church takes the place of the Law/Torah for believers.

Verses 19-22

Here Paul illustrates more clearly the contrast in the situation of believers before and after coming to faith in Christ. In verse 19 the image of slaves/servants in submission to their master, from vv. 16-18, is extended—to the idea of presenting (pari/sthmi, lit. “stand alongside”) one’s physical body, i.e. the bodily parts (ta\ me/lh), for the master to use. Before coming to faith, the body was made available to Sin (here described as “uncleanness and unlawfulness”); after faith, to justice/righteousness. Note how the illustration proceeds through these verses:

    • Situation: Slaves presenting their bodies to sin unto uncleanness and unlawfulness (v. 19)
      • Status: Slaves to sin and free from justice/righteousness (v. 20)
        • Result (“fruit”): Things to be ashamed of, the completion/end/goal (te/lo$) of which is death (v. 21)
    • Situation: Slaves presenting their bodies to God (His justice/righteousness), separated unto holiness (v. 22a)
      • Status: Slaves to justice/righteousness and free from sin
        • Result (“fruit”): Holiness (a(giasmo/$), the completion/end/goal (te/lo$) of which is (eternal) life (v. 22b)

Romans 7:1-6: Believers are released from the bond of the Law (and sin)

Paul again begins this section with a question: “do you lack (the) knowledge [i.e. do you not know]… that the Law rules as lord over a man upon so (long) a time as he lives?” In verses 2-3, he then gives a practical illustration relating to marriage under the Law—a woman is legally bound to a husband only as long as he lives; once he dies, she is free from her obligation and may join in marriage to another. The verb katarge/w, “make to stop working, render inactive, ineffective, etc”, is used here (v. 2), as previously in Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6, also Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; it functions as a technical legal term, with the preposition a)po/ (“from”), to indicate that the woman is released from the law (the marriage bond)—it no longer has any active, binding force upon her. This illustration is applied to believers in verse 4:

“…you also have been made to die to the Law through the body of (the) Anointed, unto your coming to be [i.e. that you might be] (married) to another, (to) the (one) raised out of the dead, (so) that you might bear fruit to God.”

For the idea of believers dying to the Law, by way of participation in the death of Christ, see especially Gal 2:19-20. This illustration is similar to those Paul gives in Gal 3:23-4:11—there the image is of a son (and heir) who, while he is underage, is subject to the authority and control of slave-guides, guardians, and household-managers. Both types of illustrations refer to a definite time limit to the period when a person is bound to the Law—i.e., the coming of Christ, especially his sacrificial death (and resurrection). These are among the the clearest examples Paul gives to the effect that, for believers in Christ, the Law (Torah) no longer has any binding force.

With verses 5 and 6 Paul offers an exhortation, much as he does in 6:12-14. In 6:1-14 the theme was on dying to sin, and thus being freed from bondage to it; here, however, in 7:1-6, it is on dying to the Law, and so being freed from it. These verses are vital to an understanding of Paul’s view of the Law, and should be studied closely:

“For when we were in the flesh, the sufferings of sins worked (themselves) in our (bodily) parts through the Law, unto the bearing (of) fruit to death; but now we are made to cease working [i.e. released] from the Law, dying away (from the thing) in which we were held down, so as (for) our being slaves (to God/Christ) in newness of (the) Spirit, and not in oldness of (the) written (word)”

In many ways, these two verses function as a summary of all that Paul has stated in Romans to this point, and serves as a transition into the discussion to follow in Rom 7:7-8:39. Note the words and phrases which characterize the contrast of before vs. after:

Before (o%te h@men, “when we were”):

    • e)n th=| sarki/ (“in the flesh”)—the “flesh” (sa/rc) is an important term for Paul, referring to the human person in both physical/material and psychological aspects, especially in so far as human beings are under the bondage and influence of sin, and unable to fulfill the Will/Law of God.
    • ta\ paqh/mata tw=n a(martiw=n (“the sufferings of sins”)—here Sin is described practically, in terms of individual misdeeds and the impact of the sinful impulse; this is specifically sin dwelling and working “in the flesh”. The word pa/qhma is sometimes rendered “passion”, but more properly it means pain or suffering; in this context, it is closely connected with the sinful impulse (e)piqumi/a) and desire/longing (cf. Rom 6:12; Gal 5:24).
    • dia\ tou= no/mou (“through the Law”)—Paul will explain in Rom 7:7ff how it is that sin works through the Law (cf. also Rom 5:20). As indicated in Gal 3:19 and Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:7ff; 11:32, the primary function of the Law was to increase (awareness of) sin, and to place human beings in bondage to it.
    • e)nergei=to (“worked [itself] in”)—the verb is singular, but the subject is plural (“the sufferings of sins”), understood collectively as “sin”; this indicates the active power of sin, which works in human “flesh”.
    • e)n toi=$ me/lesin u(mw=n (“in our [bodily] parts”)—here the “flesh” is defined specifically as the physical body, its “parts” or members; while sexual immorality may be foremost in mind, the expression is by no means limited to this.
    • to\ karpoforh=sai tw=| qana/tw| (“the bearing [of] fruit to death”)—cf. verse 4-5 above, and note the comparison in Gal 5:17ff. For death as the completion, goal, and end result of sin, see Rom 5:12ff; 6:16, 21, 23; note also Gal 6:7-8, and the famous passage in James 1:14-15.

After (nuni\, now”):

    • kathrgh/qhmen (“we were made to cease working”)—in the sense of being released; for this verb, cf. Rom 3:3, 31; 4:14; 6:6; 7:2, also Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11.
    • a)po\ tou= no/mou (“from the Law”)—i.e., believers are released from the Law, it no longer has any active/binding force; note the parallel expression dia\ tou= no/mou (“through the Law”) above—sin works through the Law, believers are freed from the Law. The preposition a)po/ can carry the specific sense of “away from”.
    • a)poqano/nte$ (“dying [away] from”)—specifically, dying off from the Law; in English, we would be more inclined to say “dying to the Law”. On this idea, see especially Gal 2:19.
    • e)n w!| kateixo/meqa (“in which we were held down”)—the Law held human beings in bondage (to sin), cf. Gal 3:22ff; Rom 7:7ff; 11:32. For the verb kate/xw (lit. “hold down”), see Rom 1:18.
    • douleu/ein (“to be a slave”)—slavery is the main motif in Rom 6:15-23 (above). The expression with the infinitive here is nearly impossible to translate literally in English, requiring a combination of “so as to be a slave” and “our being a slave”. Believers, of course, become “slaves” in service to God (and Christ), serving his justice/righteousness and holiness.
    • e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$ (“in newness of [the] Spirit”)—the expression could be rendered “in newness of spirit”, but almost certainly Paul is referring here to the Holy Spirit. This is contrasted with e)n palaio/thti gra/mmato$ (“in oldness of [the] written [word]”). In other words, the Spirit is contrasted with the Torah, specifically in its aspect as a written law code (in Scripture). This juxtaposition will be dealt with more extensively when discussing 2 Cor 3:6 (cf. also Rom 2:27-29).

Romans 7:7-25: Theological excursus—the relationship between the Law and Sin

Because of special difficulties of interpretation involving this famous and controversial passage, it is necessary to examine it in a separate article.

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