A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 7:1-25. a). The identity of ‘I’ (continued).
One may go even further than this and detect six parallel stages in the history of Adam and Paul. First, Paul’s *once…alive apart from law* could correspond to the age of innocence in paradise. Second, *the commandment came* could refer to God’s command to Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden (Gn. 2:17). Third, Paul’s statements that sin *sprang to life* and seized *the opportunity afforded by the commandment* (8) could mean that ‘sin (the serpent) was in the garden even before man, but had no opportunity of attacking man until the command “thou shalt not eat of it”… had been given’. Fourth, Paul’s complaint that sin had *deceived* him (11) recalls Eve’s complaint that the devil had deceived her (Gn. 3:13; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3; 1Tim. 2:14). Fifth, Paul’s awakening to his sin was due to the prohibition of covetousness (7f.), while the sin of Adam and Eve was similarly one of false desire (Gn. 3:6). Sixth, disobedience to God’s commandment brought death to both Paul (9, 11) and Adam (Gn. 2:17; 3:19). Thus the sequence of law-sin-death, so prominent in Romans, is evident in Genesis also.
These correspondences are striking. At the same time, one could also draw up a list of non-correspondences. Paul is certainly not quoting from the Genesis narrative, for the only verbal parallels are the words (commandment, deceived and death*. It is not even clear that Paul is consciously alluding to Adam and Eve, since he does not mention them. The most we have liberty to say is that the two biographies (Adam’s and Paul’s) ran parallel.
So is ‘I’ Israel? This alternative is attractively commended by Douglas Moo. He points out, first, that the law throughout Romans 7 is the Mosaic law, Torah, so that a reference to Adam centuries previously would be an anachronism, even if ‘what is true of Israel under God’s law through Moses is true *ipso facto* of all people under “law”.’ Secondly, he says, ‘the coming of the commandment’ (9) ‘is the most naturally taken as a reference to the giving of the law at Sinai’, including the tenth commandment against covetousness (Ex. 20:17). Thirdly, he suggests that the sequence of verses 9-10 (life-commandment-sin-death) could be describing Israel’s history in a personal ‘vivid narrative style’.
At the same time, Dr Moo recognises that only Adam and Eve before the fall could accurately be described as ‘alive apart from law’; and that all others have been from birth ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1). Conversely, Israel’s pre-Sinai period could be styled ‘alive without the law’ only in the sense of 5:13 that ‘before the law was given, sin was in the world’, but that ‘sin is not taken into account when there is no law’. Dr Moo concludes by reminding us that ‘the individual Jew had a lively sense of corporate identity with his people’s history’, as when at Passover he rehearsed Israel’s story as having been his own, so that Paul may well have been identifying himself with Israel in their experience of the law. In this case. ‘*ego* [I] is not Israel, but *ego* is Paul in solidarity with Israel’.
Most commentators are understandably reluctant, when considering the identity of ‘I’ in verses 7-13, to be compelled to choose between Paul, Adam and Israel, and several combinations have been proposed. For example, John Ziesler suggests that Paul’s use of the tenth commandment prohibiting covetousness as a paradigm of sin’s relation to the law ‘enables him…to make a fusion between the giving of the Law at Sinai and the giving of the command not to eat in the Garden of Eden’. Yet it would be impossible to eliminate the autobiographical element altogether. Perhaps, therefore, Paul is both telling his own story and universalizing it. In brief, his experience (the sequence of comparative innocence, law, sin and death), though uniquely his own, is also everybody’s, whether Adam’s in the garden, Israel’s at the mountain or, for that matter, ours today.
Tomorrow: Romans 7:1-25. b). The law, sin and death.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.