I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. The commandment which promised my life proved my death, because sin, seizing opportunity in the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. (Rom 7:9-11)
Who am “I”? The passage could be depicting:
(a) Adam/Eve’s experience with the commandment in Eden
(b) Paul’s experience under the law as a Pharisee
(c) Paul’s experience under law as a Christian
(a) is the correct answer, and the fact that it doesn’t receive widespread support continues to amaze me.
(b) makes nonsense of Philip 3:4b-6; the Christian Paul thought he had been blameless under the law as a Pharisee.
(c) makes nonsense of the fact Christians are not under the law, even if they fulfil it; Christians have access to the best which the law promised but never delivered, by a different route (the spirit) — which is precisely why the argument of Rom 7 doesn’t apply to them (Rom 8:1-4)
Can there really be any doubt that the Genesis story was in Paul’s mind, especially in light of his preface in Rom. 5:12-21? Francis Watson, in Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles (pp 152-153), notes the abundant allusions (compare with Rom 7:9-11 above):
Adam, “alive” and newly created, is placed in Eden (Gen. 2:7-9) and “commanded” by God not to eat of the tree of life (Gen. 2:16-17), whereafter the serpent “seizes opportunity” to further its own ends (Gen. 3:1-5) and Eve complains that she was “deceived” (Gen. 3:13). God then “kills” humanity, punishing it with mortality (Gen. 3:19,22-23).
It’s clear that Paul has assumed the role of Adam in order to argue that Jewish behavior under the law replicates Adam/Eve’s failure under the primal commandment in Eden. In effect, he refers to himself (“I”) on the surface, and thus to other Jews by implication (“those who know the law”, Rom 7:1), but he’s really referring to Adam/Eve. His argument is exegetical, saying in effect that the Jewish plight under the law traces back to the horror of the fall.
The reason why Paul wishes to evoke the Eden scenario so explictly is because he is intent on severing the link between the God and sin, and thus modify his earlier (perverse) argument of Galatians. Instead of God giving the law to consign Israel to sin so that she might later be saved by faith (Gal 3:19-24), he now gives the law “unto life” (Rom 7:10), but sin (~the serpent) uses the law against the purposes of God, foiling the deity’s intent. That’s why Paul isn’t himself in Rom 7:7-13.
In the next post, we’ll see why Paul isn’t himself in Rom 7:14-25.