NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson XV)
When it comes to our evil tendencies and sin, let’s look at it like this way: A homeowner has never had a problem with ants in the house. But suddenly he spots one, and then another, and then a whole army. Like most people, he will set up traps or put out poison. But when that doesn’t slow them down, he starts tracing them back to where they came from, and then forward to where they are going. He finds out that the kitchen garbage container is uncovered. He also learns that ants love dead insects, grease, seeds, and sweets. So now what is the answer? Not only to cover and seal the garbage container but if possible put it outside if it contains leftover food. Likewise at the ant hill. Do something to cut off the source of the infestation. When we take those ants as a metaphor for our evil tendencies, the same action must be taken. Not only find out what attracts those tendencies, and block access to them. Furthermore, those tendencies come from our leftover sinful nature. The best remedy for that is to feed the spiritual nature until it takes charge of the tendencies to keep them from gravitating toward satisfying the things of the flesh.
So we can see that this verse incorporates an answer to the question in 7:7, “Is the law sin?”1 It is no mystery that Paul calls the law holy, just, and good. That’s because its purpose is good and its very nature is to promote good which then leads to happiness. If obeyed, it would produce satisfaction everywhere. But that’s the problem, disobedience is the cause of misery and condemnation of the guilty. So stop blaming it on the Law.2 To see a most beautiful description of the law of God, read Psalm 19:7-11.
In Frédéric Godet’s analysis, we see Paul being credited with removing from the law all suspicion of blame for a person’s failures and put it squarely where it belongs on the individual’s choices. No matter what claims, alibis or excuses are made by the individual who committed the sin, nothing will invalidate the character of holiness belonging to the law. By using the term “law,” it is obvious that Paul is pointing to the Mosaic system in its entirety, the commandments, and each article of the code in particular. In referring to the law as holy, Paul uses the Greek word hagios which in Scripture has a broad sense of perfect love for what is Godly. Thayer, in his Greek Lexicon, offers a definition of “holy” in its moral sense, meaning, pure, sinless, and upright. And that is how it is used here.
And when it is applied to God Himself, it speaks of His will with goodness. And when used on God’s creation it signifies voluntary consecration to God, the one Being who is perfectly good. Because it is set aside for this purpose, that’s what makes the law holy, precisely because it demands such consecration. The same goes for the commandments because each one demands this same allegiance in its particular case. So when we speak of holiness or being holy, we find the two characteristics included in holiness are being Just and being Good. The law and commandments are Just because they regulate relations between different beings for their benefit. We can see this expressed in verse 10, “was intended to bring life.”3
Karl Barth raises an urgent question which weighs heavily upon a person after they realize that although they are religious, they are still in danger of rebelling against God because of what they must deal with as a citizen of this world. So the question is: “What, then, are we to do?” First of all, may God never stop questioning us! May He box us in with questions on every side! May He bar every exit and cut us off from using any excuses or alibis. May the center of our lives be bounded by a ring of questions! This is a similar thought spoken of by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tse.4 The reason is that the answer to our question will not come from the outside, but the inside. That’s why the questions must keep coming until we discover the answers. And may it never cease until God is satisfied that we know what we need to know about Him and ourselves.5
Jewish scholar David Stern has trouble with those who think that Paul was only looking for a way to escape from his responsibility to Jewish Law only to make Christianity easy for pagan converts. If so, they will have trouble proving it after reading this verse. Paul proves that he had neither a non-Jewish view of the Law nor did he have any desire to abolish it. Paul had a lifelong high regard for the Torah.6 This had been with him from his youth since his parents were Pharisees.7 It is what no doubt led to his studies at the feet of Rabban Gamli’el in Jerusalem.8 So there is no reason to suppose that his conversion to Yeshua changed all that. Even Yeshua did not come to abolish the Torah.9 So many false reports concerning Paul’s disdain for the Law could have been proven as nonsense had this verse been contrasted with everything else he writes about the law. Here is a rule to remember: God’s holy Torah for holy living will not change. Why? Because God Himself will not change.10 With that being understood, then we can say that holiness will not change. For the rest of this chapter and well into the next, we will see that Paul still had a high regard for the Torah.11
Another Messianic Jewish writer feels that it must be understood, as repeated over and over, although the Torah stirs up sin it is not sin itself. It is the revelation and instruction of the Holy One who gave it, and He is sinless. This provides an answer to the question of Romans 7:7, “Is the law sin?” The Torah is God’s will for Paul as it was for Yeshua,12 and for all who follow the Messiah. When Paul talks about deliverance, it’s not from the law but from sin and death. Following what Yeshua already said, the observance of the Torah has not been abolished for His followers.13 Just as God’s faithfulness is not voided by Israel’s unfaithfulness. That means the soul of the Torah is not contaminated because man’s heart and mind are infected with disobedience.14 But keep in mind, Jesus embodies the whole Torah, so by obeying Him we fulfill all the demands of the law and eliminate sinning.
Verse 13: Does this mean that something that is good brought death to me? No, it was sin that used good commandments to bring me death. This shows how terrible sin really is. It can use a good command to produce a result that shows sin at its very worst.
Here Paul defends the purpose of the Law. The responsibility for one’s spiritual death is blamed on sin that reveals how hopelessly lost a person is, and how impossible it would be to save themselves from the punishment of sin. Paul explained this same truth to the Galatians: “Well then, are God’s laws and God’s promises against each other? Of course not! If we could be saved by His laws, then God would not have had to give us a different way to get out of the grip of sin – for the Scriptures insist we are all its prisoners. The only way out is through faith in Jesus Christ; the way of escape is open to all who believe Him.”15
The Apostle James preached the same truth: “Remember, when someone wants to do wrong it is never God who is tempting him, for God never wants to do wrong and never tempts anyone else to do it. Temptation is the pull of man’s own evil thoughts and wishes. These evil thoughts lead to evil actions and afterward to the death penalty from God.”16 So again, the old excuse, “The devil made me do it,” is out the window; that defense is like a bucket with a big hole in the bottom that cannot hold water. God does not make you sin. Even Satan does not force you to sin. The Law and the Word of God do not cause you to sin. You and you alone are responsible for sin in your life.
Early church theologian Didymus believes that Paul is focused on Adam. And the reason is, that although he was made in the image of God,17 yet he turned away from life and chose death instead.18 By using the term “death,” Paul is talking about more than the common death of our bodily members but spiritual death as well. And spiritual death refers to the ultimate eternal separation from God.19 Ambrosiaster believes that Paul’s wording here suggests that before the law was given, there were a limited number of transgressions. But that is not what the Apostle means by saying more sin came after the law, in fact, there was much more serious sinning after than before. This merely implies that as more and more sins were revealed once the law was issued, the attacks and tricks of Satan grew more frequent and clever.20 Chrysostom compliments Paul on the way he accuses sin. By doing so, Paul shows how excellent the law really is. Each commandment showed just how evil sin is. But the Apostle also takes the opportunity to show how grace is so much more marvelous than the law. Grace is not in conflict with the law. In fact, it is superior to it.21
Under Roman Catholic teaching today we find agreement with this assessment. It says that far from improving the sinner, law purposely encourages sin to show how it transgresses or violates specific commandments.22 So when a person who has not yet experienced the justifying grace of God, or when a believer reverts to dependence on law as the criterion for their relationship with God, they will recognize a rift between their being good like the law says and their actual performance that is contrary to the law. Being unable to free themselves from the slavery of sin and the power of death, they can only be rescued from defeat in this conflict by the power of God’s grace working through Jesus Christ.23 The one thing left out of this commentary is the recommended way of accepting God’s grace for such a rescue and deliverance.
1 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 In his work called “The Feminine Tao” by Lao Tse, we read: “We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.” Another translation goes: “Thirty spokes meet in the hub. Where the wheel isn’t is where it’s useful.” Ch. 11
5 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Acts of the Apostles 13:9; 21:21
7 Acts of the Apostles 23:6
8 Acts of the Apostles 22:3
9 Matthew 5:17
10 Malachi 3:6
11 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See 7:22, 25; 8:7; Matthew 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8
13 Matthew 5:17-21; Romans 3:21, 7:12-14, 9:2-5, 11:29-29, 15:8
14 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Galatians 3:21-22
16 James 1:13-15
17 See Genesis 1:26-27
18 Ibid. 3:17-19
19 Didymus the Blind: On Romans, loc. cit.
20 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, loc. cit.
21 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 12
22 See Romans 1:24; 5:20
23 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Commentary: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.