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Paul, thanks for taking some time to help me think through what you’re getting at in Romans 7:1-13. Let’s start with your intended audience here. Who are you talking to?

Those who know the law.

Is the law still binding on them?

The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.

Well, since they’re alive it sounds like they are still bound to the law. But maybe I’m misunderstanding. Can you give an example of this principle from everyday life?

Sure. A married woman is bound to her husband while he lives.

You gave the initial principle as “the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives,” which had one person and a law. But now you’ve introduced two persons, bound to each other by a common law. I think I’m tracking with you. So when does that “binding” cease to exist?

If her husband dies, then she is released from the law of marriage.

And what happens if she is unfaithful while she is bound to her husband and under the law of marriage?

If she lives with another man while her husband is still alive, she will be called an adulteress.

But she’s not bound if she becomes a widow?

If her husband dies, then she is free from the law of marriage.

And if she is free from the marriage law, then she is free to join to a new man?

If her husband is dead and she remarries, then she is not an adulteress.

This marriage-law-divorce-remarriage stuff is helpful in illustrating your point: “The law is binding on a person only as long as he lives.” So what’s the upshot with regard to Christians and the law?

We have died to the law.

How did we die to the law?

We died to the law through the body of Christ.

For what purpose did we die to the law?

We died to the law so that we would belong to another—to him who has been raised from the dead.

Why did God join us to Christ?

So that we could bear fruit for God.

What kind of fruit will we bear if we are under the law and not united to Christ?

While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear  fruit for death.

So we’re not under law?

We are released from the law.

You’re saying we’re dead to the law?

We died to that which held us captive.

What are the results of our death to law?

We now serve in the new way of the Spirit . . .

As opposed to?

. . . the old way of the letter.

I’m tracking with you now. The old way of the letter—the Mosaic law-covenant before Christ—held us captive, aroused our sinful passions, and produced deadly fruit. So we have to die to it and in a sense get remarried to a new person, the resurrected Christ. So the law is now sinful?

The law is sin?! By no means!

Ok, sorry. Does the law do anything good with regard to sin?

If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin!

Can you give an example?

I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

So the law gives knowledge of sin, in this case coveting. But what led to the actual act of coveting?

Sin.

How so?

Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.

But wouldn’t I still sin even if there were no commandments in the written code?

Apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Another death metaphor! Let me try to restate: Sin was dead, then the law came and sin came to life. Sin killed me through the law. But Christ’s death made me die to the law. So before the law came, were you dead or alive?

I was once alive apart from the law.

But then God revealed his law-covenant and what happened?

When the commandment came, (a) sin came alive and (b) I died.

So something that promised you spiritual life led to your spiritual death?

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me!

And you said it wasn’t that commandment that killed you but sin using the commandment?

Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Let me try to put all this in chart form. (I work better when I doodle sometimes.)

No law Law arrives Christ dies
Sin is dead; I’m alive Sin is alive; I’m dead Sin is dead; I’m alive

Let’s go back to the law again. To reiterate: you think the law itself is a good thing?

The law is holy.

The commandment is holy, too?

The commandment is holy and righteous and good.

But this good law-covenant—the commandment—it killed you?

By no means!

Sorry! So what killed you spiritually?

It was sin, producing death in me through what is good.

Why would God do this?

In order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment sin might become sinful beyond measure.


Romans 1:7-13

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.


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Comments:


46 thoughts on “An “Interview” with the Apostle Paul on the Law, Life, and Death”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    That’s brilliant.

  2. Frank! says:

    I once had a Prof. use the verse that says that where there is no law there is no death, to show that babies went to heaven. If we are alive, then sure it makes sense. But I wonder if that’show Paul meant it. However there are many difficulties with that. In what sense were we “alive” before we came in contact with the law? In Ephesians we are told clearly how dead we are. Thoughts?

  3. Sean says:

    Awesome concept, JT. Any plans for more “interviews” like this one?

    1. Andrew says:

      By no means! haha

  4. Skeeter says:

    “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Gal 3:24

  5. Adiel says:

    Please do the rest of the chapter!

  6. Charlie says:

    Really Good! Great usage of the interview to make the meaning of Rom 7:7-13 clear.

  7. Rev. Scott Esq. says:

    I love this interview. What a great idea for helping us understand what Paul is saying! Thanks so much. Do you mind if I use this Q&A in a Sunday School class or in our worship service?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Happy for you to use it however you want!

  8. Michael says:

    I love the interview idea. But help me out here. If we’re dead to sin and alive before the law, does this mean that a person who’s never heard of the law (Mosaic law) is dead to sin? Or is Paul referring to the “law” as the moral law written on the heart (Romans 2)?

  9. Brad says:

    Very nice, Justin!

  10. Mike says:

    Great interview and treatment of the text!

  11. pdgie says:

    “I was once alive apart from the law.”

    Hey Paul, when was that? Weren’t you born a Jew? Wasn’t the torah always the context for your existence. What was this life you had apart from the law, and do you really mean “I”?

    just askin’

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      “I” might not equal “Paul as individual.”

      1. pdgie says:

        That might be. But then ALL the jews would never have been “alive” without the law, once, and the gentiles would only have come to feel dead once the letter of the law hit them in interaction with Judaism.

        or is it something else?

        1. Brad says:

          That’s a really good point pdgie.

          1. Adiel says:

            “Alive without law” is referring to the time before the “commandment came” ie the Spirit brought conviction through the commandment. A person can know all about the Ten Commandments and even genuinely seek to keep them without them “having come”, that is, truly convicting them and killing them.

  12. Nathan White says:

    This is very good; thanks for posting. I do have one concern though: it became increasingly clear to me as I read this ‘interview’ that Romans 7 cannot be properly understood apart from the chapters that come before and after. Chapters 6 and especially the first part of chapter 8 –where Paul continues and completes his thought begun in chapter 7– are absolutely critical to a proper understanding of 7. Thus, it’s easy to read this interview and walk away with a lot of wrong conclusions.

    But otherwise, very helpful indeed.

  13. Matt says:

    So we’re not under law?

    We are released from the law.

    What does it mean to be “released from the law”?

  14. Michael says:

    What does it mean to be “released from the law”?

    Matt, as believers in Christ we are release from the law in that we are no long bound by it. The law does not condemn us anymore. Before, if we sinned the law condemned. Now Christ’s final sacrifice has paid the penalty for our sins so we no longer have to.

    What it does not mean is that we ignore the law. We now can serve God through obeying the law, as the Israelites were supposed to do in the OT (Deuteronomy sermons taught this.)

    1. John Thomson says:

      Sorry Michael, I’m not with you here. Released from the law by death is total. We are no longer under law/married to law/committed to law/obliged to law/submitted to law. The Law can make no claims of any kind on a dead man – he is beyond it.

      We are alive in a new world. We are married to a new master/husband Christ. It is to him we submit. We serve not by the claims of the law on our lives but by the power of the Spirit. We listen to the Spirit, are led by the Spirit, walk in step with the Spirit etc.

      The law was not as next comment says given as ‘instructions for living from a holy and loving father.’ The Law was given a) to expose sin b) to curtail the behaviour of a people who were immature until the arrival of the Spirit and they received the maturity of sons.

      The law explicitly distanced from the father. That is the argument of Gals 3,4. There relationship was to the law not the father. It was like a tutor. The very fact it was given through mediation of angels and Moses showed it was about distance. God did not speak directly. Everything about the covenant of law spoke about relationship AT A DISTANCE. We however, through Christ know the Father. IT is Christ not the law who introduces us to the father. The Spirit not the law enables us to cry abba and so on.

      One of my worries when I read some reformed blogs (and I am in many ways reformed in thought) is the constant reference to the ‘Word of God’ as ‘the Law of God’. It is both wrong and misleading. It creates the idea that our relationship to God is as a lawgiver and not a father. It suggests that NT revelation is law and not gospel. It fails to recognise that the NT counterpart to life under law in the OT is not life under law in the NT, but life in the Spirit.

      I am not for one moment denigrating or dismissing the Word of God. But it is just that, the Word of God. The Spirit leads us and guides us into this word and through it enables us to grasp and apply the life of faith.

      Hope these few thoughts stimulate.

      JT has written an excellent pseudo-interview.

  15. Matt says:

    Michael:

    “The law does not condemn us anymore.”

    What it does not mean is that we ignore the law. We now can serve God through obeying the law, as the Israelites were supposed to do in the OT (Deuteronomy sermons taught this.)

    Agreed. I think you stated it nicely. I asked that question because if the statement “we are released from the law” is misunderstood, we find ourselves in a predicament concerning that which God commands/expects of us.

    Also (and I don’t think Mr. Taylor is guilty of this) there are people in the Reformed world who speak degradingly of the law and imply that the law itself is the thing that Jesus died to save us from. They seem to forget that the law was given as instructions for living from a holy and loving Father. While it did identify and expose sin, it itself is not sin.

  16. Michael says:

    Matt,

    Agreed. But this is a deep concept to grasp. Especially if you came to faith or were raised in a “law is bad, grace is good” type of church, which basically translates into OT=bad, NT=good.

    Psalm 119 makes it pretty clear the author loved the law. Why? Because he was already “saved”! We had OT scholar Daniel Block at our church conference this weekend, and if it wasn’t for his help, I would still be fuzzy about this. His forthcoming NIVAC commentary on Deut. promises to bring much light to this issue.

  17. Somebody didn’t close their italics. There. That should do it.

    Really enjoyed this, Justin. Thanks!

  18. I was once alive apart from italics, but when the errant HTML tag came, italics came alive and I died.

    1. MarieP says:

      ROFL!!!!!!!!!! Michael is now our Bloggeral Head.

  19. I didn’t know Paul could be so concise!

    Just kidding. Great use of creativity!

  20. Kevin Vinay says:

    Thank you for this creative, well-written post. This was certainly one of my favorite posts. Great idea! A few other passages would work well. I think Hebrews 9 & 10 would be fun (despite the discrepancies over authorship).

  21. Chris says:

    Interesting interview with Paul.

    I think I would have to ask him:

    1. Paul, if sin was dead and I was alive before the law, then why was Adam condemned, Cain cursed and man wiped off the face of the earth if they were alive? Just curious, but could it be that sin was dead and I was too prior to the law?

    2. Paul, if sin was dead and I was alive prior to the law, then what was I alive to? Certainly not righteousness…unless I was Noah. So was I alive to sin or is it something else?

    Paul, I’m sorry for the questions, I am just trying to grasp this. I’ll wait your response. Perhaps you could schedule a news conference next time. :)

  22. ryan vinten says:

    Awesome work Justin, could’ve looked like for a second there that you’d gone full-blown pentecostal-type teaching on us and believed you’d actually been to Heaven and interviewed Paul himself. Great concept!

  23. Justin Taylor says:

    I’ve continued to meditate upon this passage. What a rich and complex section of Scripture. Here’s an interpretive hypothesis to consider. You can see if you think it works.

    “we” in Romans 7 = Paul and his readers
    “I” = Adam and Israel
    “the commandment”[singular] = God’s command to Adam
    “the law” = the Mosaic Law

    If so, Paul is not talking about his own personal experience per se—although it’s not separating from his experience because he was united to Adam before Christ and in continuity with Israel.

  24. Fletcher says:

    This interview seemed to imply that the Law was abolished. As I understand it in context with the rest of the Bible, OT and NT, the death of Jesus was to pay the price for our sins, not to abolish the Law. In Matthew 5 Jesus even states that he didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. “Fulfill” meaning to meet it perfectly so that He was the perfect sacrifice. Without His perfection His death would mean nothing. Jesus was considered a rabbi. He was a teacher with authority. If He hadn’t kept the Law, He wouldn’t have been considered a rabbi.
    So what Law did He keep? It wasn’t just the big 10. It was the Mosaic Law. What Jews call the Torah. So when He said He didn’t come to abolish the Law, He meant the whole Law. Including the Feasts listed in Leviticus 23 and elsewhere. Including the Sabbath (the one named in the Word, not the one named by man). Including dietary restrictions. Jesus died so that we could be grafted in to his vine, his family. There is only one people, and as believers in Jesus we are adopted in to that family. That means that the history of the Israelites is OUR family history. That makes the hair on the back of my neck tingle.
    The Bible describes the antichrist as the “lawless one.” So we know that even in the end days to be without the law is a bad thing.
    As to the distinction between being saved from the punishment for sin and being exempted from the law altogether, I’ve realized some things through fatherhood. I can forbid my son from doing something that I know is detrimental to him, whether he knows it or not. I can tell him that if he does what is forbidden I will still love him and forgive him because he is my son (my oldest is adopted so this makes a really good analogy), though he may still suffer some very real consequences for his actions. That does not give him any freedom to disregard what I have forbidden him to do.
    I apologize if I seem to be rambling. My three children have been in and out of the room with “desparate and immediate” needs.
    I understand that many people may want to criticize what I have to say. I do believe that salvation is only through faith in Jesus, not earned by the Law, I just believe we should be growing closer to him through obedience to His Law, His Torah, not obedience to the traditions of man.
    If you have criticisms, please reference scripture that supports it. Let the Bible interpret the Bible.

  25. Theologian says:

    Inspired by Stephen Westerholm?

  26. Victor says:

    I’ve always figured that a bad law is better than no law at all.

    Do you think Paul would have agreed with that when it comes to sin?

    Peace

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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