Literature The Image of the Heart Many scholars today claim that symbols transmit a message even when their meaning escapes the consciousness.
Once this is completed, it is then possible to state clearly and concisely what the passage in question "means.
And yet we are aware that the art of hermeneutics is much more than a matter of saying, "This is what is said, and this is what it means. The weight of this understanding of literary interpretation expresses itself in the need for the interpreter's audience to realize that a given commentary on a text is a revelation of the meeting of the text and the interpreter.
To state it differently, one may say that an interpretive commentary is a commentary not only upon a text but also upon the commentator. In my own studies of the Oxford history thesis fair of Paul, nowhere have I seen this tendency more firmly demonstrated than in commentaries upon and interpretations of Romans 7.
This chapter, particularly verseshas played a great role in the history of the interpretation of the person of Paul. The apparent autobiographical nature of this passage has fired the minds of Christian scholars throughout the history of the church and has led to some rather strong claims as to the psychology of the apostle's thought.
At the same time, these verses have been read with a great sense of comfort and relief by countless Christians who, in the midst of their struggle against the power of sin within them, see in Paul's words his own experience as a Christian in the world.
My interest in this passage is not merely in the history of its interpretation or in its effect upon people who have taken it to heart. For several years after I came to faith in Christ I saw Romans 7: The community in which my faith was nurtured made quite certain that I understood that I was "of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin," that "nothing good dwells within me," that I could not do "what is right" and that I was indeed a "wretched man.
It was only once I became aware of the "wretched" mindset which fueled this view of Paul's meaning in Romans 7 that I began to question what I had been so firmly taught about myself as a Christian. Just as Paul described the law of God and the law within his members as being at war with one another, I was seeing statements in Romans 6 and 8 which appeared to be waging war with statements in chapter 7, making me a captive to the law of confusion which was dwelling within my own members and making my prospects of understanding Paul quite wretched indeed.
I am now convinced that the confusion which I have experienced in my understanding of Paul's meaning in Romans 7 is due in great part to the tendencies of many peoples' interpretations of the chapter to reflect not only the contents of the text but also the contents of the interpreters, so to speak.
Underlying the interpretation of Paul's words which says that he must be describing his Christian experience is the deeply held belief of many Christians, especially in my experience those who consider themselves to be evangelical, that the Christian life is primarily an ongoing struggle against sin, that sin is the main factor in a Christian's life.
Of course, evangelicals would immediately retort that Christ is the primary factor in the Christian life, not sin; however, the literature of a great number of respected evangelical authors reflects an unspoken attitude that, at the very heart, sin is the strongest force within human beings.
Buzzwords such as "sin nature," "die to self," "let go and let God," "Spirit control" and others, terms which I soaked up in my early years as a Christian, reflect this mindset which quietly but firmly insists that the most basic impetus of the heart, even the Christian heart, is rebellion against God.
Therefore, Romans 7 is seen as a classic case of the Christian "everyman" enmeshed in the never-ending at least in this life war against sin, a war in which the best that the beleaguered Christian can hope is "to serve the law of God with the mind, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Because the writings of Paul have had and continue to have such an immense impact upon the church's beliefs about the practical living of the Christian life, an understanding of Paul's intention in Romans 7 which harmonizes with the rest of Paul's writings is a matter not only of intellectual interest but also of practical consequence.
How we live is inseparable from how we view ourselves as Christians. For this reason, a proper understanding of Romans 7 can only aid us in determining how we should and must view ourselves, in order that our lives may bring glory to the God who gave his Son for us, the God who commissioned Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
The structure of my thesis consists of two primary parts and a conclusion. The first part will deal with the history of the interpretation of Romans 7 by significant figures throughout the church's history. Once we have seen how the interpretive tradition has influenced the church's view of this passage, I will conduct an examination of Romans 7 within the context of the rest of Romans and Paul's other writings.
By this I will seek to demonstrate both what the apostle is saying and what he is not saying concerning Christian "being" and identity. At the completion of this examination, I will conclude with some reflections upon the implications of Paul's meaning in Romans 7 for the church.
Consequently, then, I myself with the mind am serving the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. His sentiments stand behind almost every important doctrine or declaration of belief held by the church today, particularly the Protestant sector of the church.
Even so, Paul's influence did not require the Reformation to make itself known. As long ago as the early second century, the writer of the second epistle of Peter acknowledged the impact of Paul's writings upon Christian reflection, along with the danger of misunderstanding their intent.
Regarding Paul's letters, "Peter" writes, "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" 3: Unfortunately, the writer of this short letter did not bother to mention what those "hard to understand" things were, but more than one commentator have remarked with varying degrees of facetiousness that "Peter" must have had Romans 7 in mind.
Be that as it may, the history especially the recent history of the interpretation of this chapter indicates that there is anything but consensus in the scholarly world as to the meaning of this passage. Specifically, the issue comes down to three well-known options: Is Paul describing his Christian experience, his pre-Christian experience, or something else altogether?
My thesis is that Paul is describing something else altogether, a defense of which will occupy the second part of this work. But in order to set the stage so that we may appreciate the import of this position and the other options, an overview of the hermeneutical background of this passage is in order.
Because the multitude of theologians who have struggled to make sense out of this passage throughout the history of the church is great, I will make use of a limited selection of commentators, some more well-known than others, whose works are representative of the various ways of interpreting this passage.
To provide such a background, I will examine three different periods within the history of the church: From this vantage point we will launch into a closer examination of the text itself. In the course of this investigation I shall by no means attempt to rewrite everything that the people to whose works I refer have written concerning Romans 7.
Rather, my primary interest is in establishing the dominant themes behind the history of the passage's interpretation and augmenting those themes with citations of interesting or clarifying statements by the commentators in their own wrestlings with the passage.
Through this method I will establish a background against which my own exegesis of Romans 7 may stand. The Reformation The hermeneutical framework through which the church viewed Romans 7 before the time of Luther was that of Augustine, who understood Paul's words to refer to the apostle's own struggle against sin as a Christian.
His understanding of Paul's meaning has formed the framework through which much of Paul's writings are still interpreted.Welcome to the Oxford University History Faculty’s blog. The blog is written by the History Faculty’s current and former students.
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