The Church fathers generally interpreted Romans Chapter 7 as a non-believer or pre-Christian experience. It was not until Augustine, the 5th century Christian theologian, that the conflict of Romans 7 was considered the highest stage of Christian experience. Schreiner1 provides a description of various theologians and teachers on a timeline interpretation of Romans 7. The chart in Appendix A describes the various interpretations from the 2nd century through today. Romans 7 as the Mature Believer Major teachers and theologians of the 20th century are divided on the issue.
Charles Swindoll and John MacArthur interpret the passage as describing the mature Christian, stating the Paul uses the present tense to describe the struggle. Their position is that this indicates that his current experience as an Apostle included this struggle. Even after Christ’s deliverance in Verse 252, the battle is not yet resolved. Being a Christian does not make the battle cease. In fact, only the Christian is truly aware of the battle raging in his or her own soul3. Proponents of this view would also state that only a true Christian can be said to delight in God’s law (Verse 22).
Likewise, only a Christian can desire to obey God’s law (Verses 14-23) for the natural person is at enmity with God and cannot be said to love God’s law. Such advocates would place the emphasis on the “body of death” in Verse 24 suggesting that the battle will only be resolved after the believer’s physical resurrection. And, trying to appeal to one’s sinful nature, they would state, “Most Christians identify with the struggle Paul describes. ”
Romans 7 as the Immature Believer Notable teachers and theologians proclaiming this belief include the 19th century Bible teacher at Westminster Chapel in London, D. Lloyd Jones and 20th century Bible teachers Warren Wiersbe and Charles Ryrie4. These proponents would claim the above arguments, but would also note that the word “carnal” in Verse 14 is the same word used to describe “carnal” Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1. Thus, the battle described is that of a “carnal Christian” who has not yet understood the role of the Holy Spirit in conquering sin. The battle described in chapter 7 is not compatible with the life of victory described in Romans 6 and 8. Christians must abandon Romans 7 and put into practice Romans 6 and 8.
Ryrie, in his commentary on Verses 15-25, states, “The intensely personal character of these Verses seems to indicate that this was Paul’s own experience as a believer. This is his diagnosis of what happens when one tries to be sanctified by keeping the law. “5 Romans 7 as The Non-Believer According to M. B. Riddle in Lange’s Commentary, “The Arminian controversy really began upon the exegesis of this passage. “6 Arminius very clearly states his position, “The Apostle in this passage is not treating about a man who is already regenerate through the Spirit of Christ; but has assumed the person of a man who is not yet regenerate.
“7 Present Tense Perhaps the most tension of this passage arrives from the tense of the verbs Paul uses, making it to sound in the present tense, as if it were applicable to him at the time he wrote it. However, a close examination of the text shows that this is a common Hebrew way of thinking and speaking. In the Preface to Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, the translator tells of two principles to understand about Hebrew writers: 1. That the Hebrews were in the habit of using the past tense to express the certainty of an action taking place, even though the action might not really be performed for some time, and…
2. That the Hebrews, in referring to events which might be either past or future were accustomed to act on the principle of transferring themselves mentally to the period and place of the events themselves, and were not content with coldly viewing them as those of a bygone or still coming time; hence the very frequent use of the present tense. 8 Arminius makes this claim of present tense as he states “I will show, that in this passage the Apostle does not speak about himself, nor about a man living under grace, but that he has transferred to himself the person of a man placed under the law.
“9 Thus, Paul is speaking of a person prior to the conversion experience. Dead to Sin In Chapter 6, Paul discussed the true believer’s relationship to sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? ” (Verses 1,2) In Verse 18 he states, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. ” Romans 7 states just the opposite… “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
” In Verses 19-21, Paul says, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. ” It is obvious from this passage that Paul is describing a person who does not have a saving faith because Paul states that he keeps on doing evil (Verse 19). It was the Apostle John who taught, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin.
Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. ” (1 John 3:6) Paul, however, says that this man keeps on doing evil. Thus, we can either believe that this passage describes a man before he became a believer (perhaps Saul), or that Paul the Apostle is described and that he did not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Hardly, anyone would choose the latter – that suggests the likelihood that this passage describes pre-Christ Saul (or some other non-believer). Such a belief is characterized by Arminius’ comments…
“I prove that a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, is neither carnal, nor so designated in the Scriptures. In Romans 8:9, it is said, ‘But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. ‘ And, in the Verse preceding, it is said, ‘So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. ‘ But a regenerate man, one who is placed under grace, pleases God. “10 Sold Under Sin Paul taught the believers in Romans 6:6-7, “… knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
For he who has died has been freed from sin. ” Then, in Romans 7, Paul says precisely the opposite, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. ” In this passage, Paul states that he is sold as a slave to sin, yet he has just taught the Romans that our old self was crucified with Christ and should no longer be a slave to sin. Is Paul the Apostle an exception who is slave to sin while other believers are freed from the control of sin? Arminius would strongly reject such a notion.
“The same man, about whom the Apostle is here treating, is also said, in this the 14th Verse, to be sold under sin, or the slave of sin, and become its servant by purchase: Which title can, in no sense whatsoever, be adapted to men placed under grace, – a misappropriation of epithet, against which the Scriptures most openly reclaim in many passages. “11 Arminius goes on to claim supportive Verses, including John 8:36, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. ” Romans 6:7, “For he who has died has been freed from sin.
” Romans 6:17,18, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. ” Free From Sin Paul, in Chapter 6, uses numerous times to tell the reader that the Christian has “died to sin” (Verse 2), that we “were buried with Him through baptism in to death” (Verse 4) and “that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
” (Verse 6) He concludes this section of remarks with “For he who has died has been freed from sin. ” (Verse 7) The question then arises, has the Paul in Romans 7 been freed from sin? The answer is unequivocally, no. For he describes his condition in Verse 15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. ” In Verses 17 and 19 he says, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
” Arminius comments, “But what man conversant with the Scriptures shall distinguish reigning from indwelling or inhabiting sin, and will account indwelling sin to be the same as the sin existing within? Indeed, indwelling sin is reigning sin, and reigning is indwelling, and therefore sin does not dwell in the regenerate because it does not domineer or rule in them… “12 Could Paul say that sin is living in him or that he keeps on doing evil after becoming an Apostle of Christ?
He has just taught that believers are freed from sin, having been crucified with Christ and buried with him through baptism into death, and that anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Such a description could only be made of a pre-Christ Saul, one who sincerely wanted to obey God but who lacked the power of the Holy Spirit and did not have a saving faith in Christ Jesus as his Lord. John Wesley remarked on Paul’s comments, “To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of this discourse. “13 Captivity to the Law of Sin
In Verse 23, Paul writes, “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. ” Is it possible for a true believer to be captive to the law of sin? It was the Apostle himself who stated that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. ” (Romans 8:1,2) These are directly opposed.
Paul said he found himself to be a prisoner of the law of sin, but then goes on in chapter 8 to say that the law of the Spirit of life set him free from the law of sin. Paul didn’t have it both ways at the same time. Rather, he was a prisoner of the law of sin as pre-Christ Saul; but Paul was freed from the law of sin by the law of the Spirit after coming to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Adam Clarke responded to this issue, “The very genius of Christianity demonstrates that nothing like this can, with any propriety, be spoken of a genuine Christian.
“14 According to Arminius, “… it is not an attribute of a regenerate man, and of one who is placed under grace, to be brought into captivity under the law of sin; but that, rather, is his which is ascribed to him in the 2nd Verse of the following chapter.. (Romans 8:2)… For when he was formerly placed under the law, he was in captivity under the strength and power of sin. 15 It is clear that Paul is speaking of a pre-Christian experience – rather than something that occurs in the life of the believer.