One of the most difficult passages to interpret in the New Testament is found in Romans chapter 7. Was Paul writing about the experience of all Jews and Gentiles in their struggle with sin? Was it descriptive of his battle of sin in the past as an unbelieving Jew from his current perspective as a Christian looking backward? Or was he simply describing his own current struggle with sin? The answer to these questions and many others are addressed in this helpful book.
D. S. Dockery has stated the importance of a correct interpretation of this passage of Scripture in this manner, “Since the passage is located at the heart of Paul’s explanation of the outworking of one’s salvation, the view which is adopted will have a tremendous impact upon one’s theology of the Christian life.” In other words, what this book grapples with is not just at the periphery of the Christian life, but at the center. A proper understanding of our struggle with sin entails our views of justification (the doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls – according to Martin Luther) and sanctification – which cannot be properly understood and applied without understanding our justification rightly. Therefore, what the writers of this book tackle involve “high stakes.”
The strength of this book lies in the fact that it allows the reader to consider the various views that have been carefully articulated by the biblical scholars exegesis of the passage, and from these views evaluate which argument entails the most strengths/pros and least weaknesses/cons. Scholars who have each done advanced studies on the book of Romans present the three views.
Grant R. Osborne teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He argues the point that in verses 7 to 13 Paul is describing himself as an unregenerate Jew and then in verses 14 to 25 as a regenerate follower of Christ. He holds that the believer in Christ wants to do what is right, but often fails due to the ongoing battle with the flesh in its war against sin.
Stephen J. Chester is a professor at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. His view – seemed to me the most complicated of the three – is that Paul is writing in Romans 7 of his pre-conversion experiences with sin in retrospect now as a follower of Christ. He points out that Paul’s references in the passage are historical presents, which point to past experiences with sin.
Mark A. Seifrid is a professor at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Mark expresses the view that Paul refers in the passage to both regenerate and the unregenerate and vacillates between these two as human beings that are being confronted with the reality of the law. Mark articulates the reality that Paul is focusing on how our failure to obey the law confronts us with our need of Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to us by faith in His fulfilling the just requirements of the law on our behalf.
In the final analysis I agree with Osborne who states in the introduction to his essay, “A general consensus never has been and never will be reached on its meaning, for simply too many viable options seem to fit the context of Romans 5-8. All of the options presented in this work fit the data, and it would be arrogant to try to claim that only my view can be correct. This text is another of the many biblical passages where we simply have to admit that we will not know the true meaning until we get to heaven—and then Paul can tell us what he meant!”
Of all the views/perspective books I’ve read – so far, this was the most challenging. The discussions are very technical (especially in their usage of the Greek language – and theological depth). All the scholars have definitely done their homework and have given much food for thought. In my opinion I thought Seifrid’s argument was the most persuasive, followed by Osborne, and then Chester. I must say that I learned a lot from each of the contributors and they all did an excellent job on the passage. I will definitely be consulting this book again if I ever teach through Romans again (I preached through Romans for two years about a decade ago).
No matter which view you currently have on this passage, or even if you don’t have a view – you will learn much from this book and it will be well worth your effort. I highly recommend this book for serious students of the Bible, teaching and preaching pastors, and scholars who desire to have a better understanding of this difficult passage. It can’t help but equip you more in your understanding of the law, sin, justification, sanctification, and in elevating your view of what Christ has done for you in His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. Chad Brand’s concluding chapter was excellent tying in the practical ramifications of this passage and the contributions in the book for practically dealing with sin, salvation, and sanctification in the new covenant community.