· Romans 7 must be understood in its context. Paul anticipates a possible objection to his gospel, namely, if the law is not a means of salvation, no longer the definitive guide to righteous living, and not the badge that marks out the people of God (the argument of Rom. 3.21–6.23), then what was the purpose of the giving of the law in the first place? In Romans 7, Paul sets out to answer this objection where he defends the giving of the law in redemptive-history. Paul argues that the law is good and holy, it can reveal our sin but it cannot release us from our sin. Even worse, the law leads to sin which brings death. Moreover, Christians are no longer under law because they have died to the law in the death of Christ. When Paul writes, ‘but now we are released from the law’ (Rom. 7.6) he will expound this point further in Rom. 8.1-17 concerning the righteous requirements of the law that are fulfilled by those who walk according to the Spirit.
· The passage cannot refer to the pre-Christian Paul since we find no evidence that Paul was tormented by the gravity of his sin and anguished over his inability to find a gracious God. The pre-Christian Paul knew that atonement was available through the sacrificial system in the temple and, at any rate, in the letter to the Philippians he apparently regarded himself as ‘blameless’ not guilt stricken (Phil. 3.6). It was the preaching of the Puritans that supposed that one should preach law in order to show sinners how wretched they were and so to drive them to Christ in want of grace. Paul was not Puritan in this regard.
· Paul is not talking about post-conversion Christians in this section since the statement ‘I am of the flesh, sold under sin’ (Rom. 7.14) conflicts with what he says about Christians in Romans 6 where he declares that they have been freed from sin (Rom. 6.6-7, 17-18, 22). Paul is not talking about Adam since Paul finished talking about Adam in Rom. 5.12-21 and it is hard to think of Adam as being under the Mosaic law.
· The ‘I’ language of Rom. 7.7-25 is very similar to some of the Psalms where the Psalmist oscillates between the ‘I/me’ and ‘Israel’ (e.g. Pss. 129, 130, 131). Likewise, Rom. 7.7-25 may be an example of prosōpopiia or a speech-in-character that was a well-known rhetorical advice in Paul’s day. Thus, Paul is speaking in the first person as ‘Israel’ and in passionate and powerful language he highlights the plight of the Jews under the law, the struggle with sin that they faced because of the law, and their inability to find salvation in the law. However, this struggle is only apparent retrospectively from the vantage point of faith in Christ. For Paul’s Roman audience, most of whom consisted of Gentiles who once had some level of attachment to the synagogue and some degree of adherences to the Mosaic legislation, this imagery was a persuasive justification for having a religious framework that focused on Christ rather than on the Torah. They could now, with the benefit of hindsight, identify with the experience that Paul narrates and thereby more readily understand Paul’s polemic against the law and agree that Paul was not antinomian or promoting godless behaviour because he spoke of a righteousness based on life in the Spirit, rather than a righteousness based on life under the law. In sum, I opt for a pre-Christian reading of Rom. 7.7-25.
David E. Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment (Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1987), 168.