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ROMANS 7:1-7:25
Last updated 11/28/00

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.


Introduction

In the previous chapter, Paul explored the meaning of dying with the Messiah and the concept of enslavement to sin, after having laid the foundation for this in 5:12-21. As outlined earlier, Chapter 7 of Romans continues the teaching about Torah. This is a complex chapter, steeped in Pharisaic thought, and includes a legal analogy as well as an example from Paul's personal experience.

1   Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,)

Paul uses "brethren" when speaking of new gentile believers, as well as his kinsmen according to the flesh (Jews, whether they believe or not in Yeshua.) This will be important later in this study.

This parallel language is seen throughout Romans:

  • Brethren: 1:13, 8:29, 9:3
  • Adopted sons: 8:15, 9:4
  • Children of God: 8:16-17, 9:8
  • The glory: 8:18, 9:4
  • Abraham is their father: 4:10-17
  • Seed of Abraham: 4:13-18, 9:7-8, 11:1
  • Beloved of God: 1:7, 11:28
  • Called: 1:16, 8:28, 9:7, 9:24, 11:29
  • Elect: 8:28, 8:33, 9:11
  • Foreknew: 8:29, 11:2
  • Given the service: 1:9, 9:4, 12:1

"Them that know the Law," probably refers to the Jews in the congregation, particularly in light of the subsequent teaching, which cannot be understood without a knowledge of Torah, as well as rabbinic methods of argument. However, it could also include some gentiles (learned in the ways of Torah), as Paul addresses points throughout Romans (to gentiles) that refer to the Torah.

Paul knows that the Roman congregation is made up of:

  • Jewish followers of Yeshua that have been raised in Torah from birth
  • Gentiles who converted to Judaism, prior to their faith in Yeshua and know a fair amount about the Torah
  • Gentiles who have come to faith in Yeshua and have learned some of Torah since then
  • Gentiles who know practically nothing of Torah, and/or may have the misguided view that it is not important

Notes on Verses 1-4

Here we have yet a group of verses commonly misused (to teach against Torah), due to the lack of knowledge of Paul's Pharisaic mindset and rabbinic technique. As mentioned above, this teaching was directed to those "who knew the Law," indicating a deep understanding of Torah on the part of the recipient - an understanding that is not part of the Christian mindset of modern times.

Paul, by using this an example of a widow and remarriage, appeals to a legal principle from Torah. He takes up the point made in 6:14 about "not being under law but under grace," to explain how those trusting in Yeshua are free from the law's condemnation (NOT "free from obeying God's Torah"). Everything Paul has said previously in this letter, particularly verses 2:13; 3:19-26; 3:31; 4:14; 5:20, 6:2-11, (as well as what he follows up with in 7:5-6 and chapter 8), must be kept in mind when analyzing this section.

From the context of this passage and the previous chapters, "death" in this discussion is regarded in a positive light, as we are dying to "something bad" (i.e., "that being dead wherein we were held" - 7:6).   In verse 7:1, Paul uses the same word, "dominion" (kurieuo, "to rule over") regarding the "Law," as he did in verse 6:9 (referring to death) and sin in verse 6:14. As Paul has stated, when we "die to sin," by trusting in God/Messiah, we are dying to the judgment and condemnation of God's holy Torah, that shows us that we cannot on our own, meet His standards.

In the analogy of Romans 7:1-4, Torah does not represent the husband (and thus it "dies," as some falsely teach). Rather, Torah represents the legal framework which institutes the marriage. Paul explains that the woman is legally bound to her husband as long as he is alive. When he dies, this is no longer true and she is not subject to the penalties of Torah, should she remarry.

With this Pharisaic "legal argument," Paul is saying that when a man becomes "dead to the Law," he "dies to sin" (by placing his trust in God's provision for salvation) He thus "removes himself from the judgement of Torah," and is no longer under its accusation and judgment. That man is now free to obey God by following His Torah (re: verse 6:17 and forward).1

Remember that the ultimate purpose of Torah is to give life (Leviticus 18:5, Deuteronomy 28:15-20, Proverbs 3:18, 4:4, 13, Ezekiel 20:11), and to witness to God's righteousness. The difficulty for man (trying to follow Torah "on his own") is that through the Torah, (because it is "holy, righteous and good," - re: 7:12), sin is stirred up and magnified in him. This is a problem of course, as the Torah demands that you follow its commandments. (See comments on the duality of the Torah at the end of the Chapter 5 notes.)

Although the Torah is "holy, righteous and good" (just like God, its giver) -- it does not have the power in itself to remove man's evil inclination. Paul does not say that it is the Torah that has been made dead or cancelled, nor is a believer "made dead" in having to respond to its truth. Rather, Paul is saying that, in dying to sin (through trusting in God in Messiah), we are able to perform God's will in keeping His Torah and serving Him in the newness of the spirit. (Paul will make this very clear in the next chapter.)

Paul's argument in Romans, is similar to one he made in Philippians, chapter 3, when he said he counted the past things he relied on for righteousness, "as dung." Again, due to the lack of knowledge of where Paul, (the rabbi and Pharisee) is coming from, this section is also often used to teach that Paul no longer followed Torah. This is not what Philippians (or Galatians, or Colossians, or any of Paul's writings) says however. Paul is not asserting that God's holy Torah is "dung" -- rather, he is saying that his efforts in trying to achieve righteousness by following Torah commandments on his own, outside of faith, is an exercise in futility. He counts his legalistic approach to Torah as "dung."

In Philippians, Paul is teaching along the same lines as he does in Romans, not trying to achieve salvation by doing the "works of the Law" in one's own righteousness, but through faith in Yeshua:

Philippians 3:9 - And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Paul's righteousness as a Jew, prior to his "meeting" with Yeshua, was erroneously placed in his own ability to follow the Torah to "earn" his salvation. Paul's teaching (in all his letters) is that we cannot do this on our own. We are to trust in the "righteousness which is of God by faith," and then follow His Torah with His spirit in us.

"Believing in the Messiah" is not the end of the road (as is effectively taught by Christianity). Trusting in Yeshua is the door to the path we are to follow -- the path of Torah. Note that in the same chapter of Philippians, Paul does not presume to say that "just by believing" he is guaranteed salvation:

Philippians 3:11-14 - If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul's admonition was for the Philippians to walk in the same path he did, (which was Torah):

Philippians 3:16-17 -Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

5  For when we were in the flesh

This verse looks back at the past from which we were delivered. The Torah (even today), leads us to salvation through its "negative commands," (i.e. "Thou shall not ..."), that both regulates sin in the life of an unbeliever, and causes us to see that we fall short of God's standards.2 We then realize the need to die to our sin (and to the judgment of Torah) and make way for God's spirit to enable us to do what the Torah demands. See notes to verse 6 below for the "positive aspects" of Torah.

6  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

This verse clarifies what Paul was saying with his analogy (verse 1-4) and looks ahead to what will be said in chapter 8. In "dying" to sin, and making room in your will to "let God in," a person is now governed by the "positive commandments" of the Torah (i.e. walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh, re: 8:1-15).

Paul makes it clear that we still serve God (i.e., follow His ways as He gave in the Torah.) A person must serve one of two masters. He is either "bound" in the oldness of the letter to serve his Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), or he is "freed" from this inclination to serve God. (Of course this does not mean he will never sin - even King David sinned, yet he declared himself [in Psalms, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit] to be "righteous according to the Torah.")

A breakdown of Romans 7:6 is as a follows:

"But now we are delivered from the law" - We are delivered from the condemnation of the Torah that came when we tried to follow it outside of faith and failed. Refer to the "curse of the Law" mentioned in our background study.

"... being dead wherein we were held" - Because Yeshua paid the penalty (by His death), for our violation of God's Torah, we have been released from this sentence (the fruit of unbelievers is death, re: 7:5). We are not released from the entirety of Torah however, only certain aspects, (i.e., its condemnation) just as the woman in the analogy of verses 7:1-4, was only released from certain aspects of the Torah.

"... serve in newness of spirit" - Those of the Spirit continue to "serve" (i.e., follow Torah - re: Romans 8:2-8)

"... not in the oldness of the letter." - Outside of faith, we can only grasp at the "letter of the Law." We are no longer to serve God in a lifeless spirit of self-righteous legalism, or misuse of God's Torah. We are now to follow it out of love of God, as Torah is holy, righteous and good (6:12), as well as spiritual (6:14).

(Also see notes to verse 14 below.)

Notes on Verses 7-25

This section, as the one (above) preceding it, may also be considerd as directed more toward the Jews in the audience, though not exclusively. Also, as we will see, the lesson Paul teaches here (about certain Jewish beliefs toward gentiles), will come back later in the letter when he addresses the issue of gentile attitude toward Jews and the faith of Israel.

Many people have difficulty with these verses as Paul speaks of himself, a believer in Yeshua, in the present tense (in verses 14-25), as being "a slave under sin's power." Again, people are prone to (incorrectly) think of the Torah's demands "legalistically," and thus view Torah observance as "the problem" (and thus done away by the Messiah). However, the more people are set free from thinking of the Torah in this way, and sees how it reveals (and calls you to) God's perfection, the more conscious they become of their own continuing sinfulness and arrogant self-righteousness.

What was Paul's sin?

Paul cites the 10th commandment (coveting) in verse 7. This should be kept in mind in order to understand the passage correctly. Coveting is not always about wanting what isn't yours -- it is also about wanting what may be yours, but what you should not regard as "only yours," so as to deny your neighbor. Two other Scriptures, Philippians 3 (cited above) and Galatians 2 (cited below), will help provide a clue as to what Paul's sin may have been.

The Torah had provided a "coveted status" to the Jew, as it was to them only that God provided this (Romans 3:2).

Paul himself recognized that this differentiation existed:

Galatians 2:15 - We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles

Because of man's sinful nature, it was easy for many Jews to develop a theology of, "we're in and they're out," with regard to the gentile world. With somes Jews, the Torah and its privelege had become a weapon instead of a tool (i.e., Romans 3:27-30, 9:30-10:4, 11:6).

God's purpose in Israel's calling was to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), as Israel is called "God's Messiah." Some of this "covenantal-covetousness" naturally carried over with Jews that came to Messiah. This may be seen in those who insisted on full Torah observance (conversion) for gentiles prior to "coming to faith in Messiah" (i.e., Acts 15). Without doubt, Paul's teaching against "covenantal-covetousness," rubbed some of his contemporaries the wrong way (those that wanted to remain an exclusive, privileged group), as seen in the (false) accusations against Paul that he actually taught "against Torah."

An example of this sin of covenental-covetousness involving a Jew coming to Yeshua, is seen in a case involving Peter, as described by Paul in Galatians 2:11-21. Paul tells of an incident, where Peter walked away from a group of gentile believers, when some of his Jewish brethren arrived on the scene.

This Galatians passage is yet another that is often misinterpreted to teach that Peter's "sin" was "failing to see that he didn't have to follow Torah any more." This is completely erroneous, as the text itself shows that Paul's argument with Peter had nothing to do with "food," but with his walking away from the gentiles, making them seem inferior.3

Paul's lesson in Galatians, as well as here in Romans, and in Ephesians 2 (where he describes the   "mystery" of gentiles coming to faith) is that in Yeshua this "discrimination" (Jew from gentile in the flesh by circumcision), is removed in a manner that the Law is unable to by its very nature (as a gift to the Jews) to do. This is what he rebukes Peter for in Galatians, telling him that he "lived" (was saved) in the same way as the gentiles "lived" (were saved) - both by faith.

Paul knew even back then (Galatians was written years before the book of Romans) that he and Peter (and other Jews) were guilty of this covetous nature that got in the way of being able to do what the Torah truly calls for.

He recognized the solution at that time as well:

Galatians 2:19 - For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.

In Galatians, we see a similar teaching to chapter 7 of Romans. Paul recognized that through the Torah (which taught Paul to love God and neighbor), he realized he could not keep the commandment, even though he wanted to (see verse 7:19 below).

It would seem likely, that the "personal sin" Paul is speaking about here in Romans 7, is with his covetousness of the Torah. As a Jew, Paul "died" to the Torah when he failed in trying to observe the very gift of God (Torah), by judging gentiles to be inferior with regard to salvation. In this way sin still "lived under the Torah" for him, and would lead to his death. (See verse 13 below.)

Paul praised God (7:24-25) that he (a Jew within Torah, as separate from the gentile who was "outside of Torah"), through Yeshua, cound live his life without the covenantal-covetousness that his sinful nature provoked. He could now accept gentiles in Yeshua as true brothers, according to God's righteousness, and not follow his own righteousness, which pitted Jew versus gentile. Paul could not do this before his faith in Yeshua.

This ties back to his lesson about Abraham in chapter 4 that showed how Abraham was father to both Jew and gentile who followed God. Also, see our notes on Matthew 20:1-16 - the parable of laborers in the vineyard.

Once again, the foundation of Paul's teaching lies in an understanding of the Shema, that teaches that God is One God, for Jew and gentile. As mentioned in our Matthew study, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), is the fundamental "statement of faith" of Judaism. God's first "commandment" is that we put our trust in Him ("faith") thereby "loving Him." He then says how we are to love Him -- not based on emotions, but on following His Torah:

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 - Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

What shall we say, Is the law sin?"

This is effectively answered in 7:12. Torah itself is not sin -- Torah magnifies sin (re: 3:20, 4:15, 5:12,20, 7:5). Sin existed before Torah was given, but is "given power" through the Torah. (Re: 1 Corinthians 15:56). The wages (power) of sin is death (re: 6:23, 8:6). The knowledge of sin "intervenes" between Torah and sin, making Torah "an agent" to "provide" for man's sinful passions. Torah itself is not a part of those passions, as men do sin in absence of the Torah (v. 2:12, 5:13, 15:12-14), but don't fully recognize sin for what it is, apart from the Torah (3:20).

7  except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

See notes above on Paul's sin of covetousness of Torah. As he explains of himself in this chapter, now that Yeshua lives in him, Paul "walks (i.e., follows Torah) according to the spirit," and is free to live without this sin.

11  For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me

This is another example of Pharisaic thought, i.e.:

Talmud, Hagigah 16a. - "If the evil inclination say to thee, 'Sin and the Holy One, blessed be He, will pardon,' believe it not, for it is said: 'Trust not in a friend' (Micah 7:5) and 'friend' (re'a) means none other that one's evil inclination, for it is said, 'For the inclination of man's heart is evil (ra').

12  the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

As said repeatedly though this study, although Torah stirs up sin, it is not sin, as it is the revelation and instruction of the holy One who gave it (re: 3:5). This answers the question of 7:7 (Is the law sin?). The Torah is God's will for Paul as it was for Yeshua (re: 7:22, 25; 8:7; Matthew 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8), and for all who follow the Messiah. The "deliverance" Paul preaches about, is from sin and death (the curse of the Torah), not from the Torah itself.

Paul thus reiterates that the Torah is not abrogated for believers (Romans 3:21, 7:12-14, 9:2-5, 11:29-29, 15:8), in the same fashion that Yeshua taught (Matthew 5:17-21). Just as God's faithfulness is not abrogated by Israel's unfaithfulness (v.3:3) the Torah is not contaminated because man does not fulfill its commandments.

God gave the Torah to give life, but it is also a means of death for those who use it wrongly:

1 Timothy 1:5-8 - Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

13  working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

Here Paul says that sin still "lives" under the Torah (see above section on Paul's sin), and leads to death (for the man not trusting in God's salvation), by deceiving man through stirring up his Yetzer Hara (evil inclination).

14  the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

When a man serves his Yetzer Hara, he is bound to his "spirit of flesh." As the law is spiritual, it is only with God's spirit that we can acknowledge it and consent to it in our minds. (re: 7:16, 22, 23, 25, and 8:1) Those trying to gain salvation outside of faith, grasp at the "letter of the Law" (7:6).

16  If then I do that which I would not,

This inner conflict shows that a believer should acknowledge that God's Torah is good and to be obeyed. He should delight in God's Torah (re: 7:22).

17  Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Paul distinguishes between his own "self," and "sin" as a force which dwells in his flesh. He thus personifies the Yetzer Hara, which was typical in rabbinic writings of his day (see verse 11 above). Sin is not merely "an act" -- it is something that dwells within man. The "person" who is his "master" when he is enslaved by sin is thus replaced by the spirit of Yeshua (re: 8:9) and his "body of death" (7:24) is replaced by an imperishable body (1 Corinthians 15:40-49), through "baptism" into Yeshua's death and resurrection (identification with Him).

18  how to perform that which is good I find not.

Neither the "wish" to do good -- nor the observance of the commandments as an end to itself, is enough. God wishes us to serve Him out of love and a pure heart, not just to respond because the command says to.

19  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

Two verses that contribute to this thought are:

Ecclesiastes 7:20 - There is not a righteous man on earth that does good and sins not.

Isaiah 64:5 - Even our good deeds are as filthy rags.

What these verses tell us is that there is always some self-interest in our good deeds.

21  I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22  For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23  But I see another law in my members

Paul speaks of a "law" in verse 21 that is different than "God's Law (Torah) in verse 22. This other law is not the Torah, but a "different law," as he says in verse 23. This is the law of sin, which would be equivalent to: the "power of sin," Yetzer Hara, or even a "perverse Torah."

Paul teaches that believers should agree with and delight in God's Torah, as it reveals God good will and His mercy (re: 7:16) See also: Psalm 19:8, and Psalm 119:14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70.

The "inward man" Paul speaks of, is the spirit that goes against the Yetzer Hara by dying to sin through identification with Yeshua. He thus banishes the "spirit of flesh," from his members (re: 6:13), so that he can "agree with Torah," proving through his observance of its commands that it is "holy righteous and good" (re: 7:12 & 16).

23  the law of my mind

As contrasted to the "law in my members." It is man's will that makes the choice between serving his Creator or his Yetzer Hara. Once a man allows the Yetzer Hara to become his master, his mind and will are taken captive by fleshy desires.

As stated elsewhere by Paul:

2 Corinthians 10:5 - Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

24  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Apart from God, man is unable to master his Yetzer Hara and free himself from the slavery and imprisonment of his body to the desires of evil and the wages of sin.

Note that Paul does NOT say, "Who will set me free from the Torah?" Paul thanks God that he is delivered from bondage to his Yetzer Hara, through the righteousness of Yeshua ("the Lord our righteousness"), so that he can now walk (follow God's Torah) according to the Spirit of truth and holiness, putting to death the "spirit of the flesh."

25  ... but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Alas, a man is never totally free of his Yetzer Hara until he physically dies. Those who follow Yeshua are, in a limited sense, still slaves to sin -- but in Yeshua's death we are free from the mastery of sin and death. King David was saved by the same faith. Although he sinned quite terribly ( i.e., murder, adultery), he could claim to have "followed the Torah" (i.e., Psalm 119) as His trust was in God and His Word.


1. See, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans, Joseph Shulam, Messianic Jewish Publishers, Baltimore, Maryland, 1997, p. 264.

2. Judaism recognizes 613 commands of Torah, breaking them down into 365 "negative" commands (associated with "fear of God"), and 248 "positive" ones (associated with "love of God.") The fulfilling of the positive commandments is said to be "superior" to the violation of the negative ones, as the former is achievable by those who have a trusting relationship in God. See, Ramban: Philosopher and Kabbalist, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson Inc. Jerusalem, 1998, pp. 42-45.

3. A full analysis of this subject is found in, The Mystery of Romans, Mark D. Nanos, Fortress Press, 1996, pp. 337-371.

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