Romans 6 vs. Romans 7 Part I – Are Christians free from sin?

Romans 6 vs. Romans 7 Part I – Are Christians free from sin?

Those of you following on Twitter saw that I had posted that Dr. Scott Hahn gave the best analysis of Romans chapter seven that I had ever heard. Romans chapter seven is a much debated passage because it seems to contradict what Saint Paul said previously in Romans chapter six:

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6).

The Apostle writes that we should no longer be enslaved to sin. This he repeats in 6:17

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”

As is clear then, Romans chapter six seems to indicate that we are “no longer slaves to sin”, because the transformative power of grace leads to an emancipation from sin.

In light of this teaching in Romans chapter six, interpreters have been puzzled by how it relates to Romans chapter seven where the Apostle writes:

“I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14).

Suddenly it seems that Saint Paul takes back everything he said about the transformative power of grace in Romans chapter six. Are we Christians “no longer slaves to sin” (Rom 6), or are we “sold under sin” (Rom 7)? Is the Apostle Paul schizophrenic? Is there a contradiction?

Well that sets up the “Pauline Aporia” of Romans. The interpretive difficulty should be clear. Contemporary scholars, especially in light of the New Perspective on Paul, have sought to show that Romans chapter seven is a description “pre-Christian Paul” despite the Apostle’s use of the present tense: “I am carnal, sold under sin.” In other words, they say, “Romans six is the Gospel truth about emancipation from sin, and Romans seven is a description of Paul’s spiritual state prior to his conversion to Christ.”

The more traditional, historical interpretation is that Christians are somehow “no longer slaves to sin” and that we are also somehow “sold under sin”. In other words Saint Paul is saying: “I am liberated from sin, but I am also still sold under sin.” Martin Luther’s simul iustus et peccator is one way to harmonize the passage. Obviously, we Catholics do not follow Luther’s interpretation. There has been another strong (and persuasive) tradition in the Catholic Church of reconciling these two teachings in Romans as found in the writings of Saint Augustine and flowing into the decrees of Council of Trent.

I’ll analyze the passages later and share something of what Dr. Scott Hahn suggested to us at the Letter and Spirit Institute. I’ll also share some things controversy that I have written in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul.

Look for a post either later today or tomorrow. Till then, “be no longer a slave to sin”.

Godspeed,
Taylor

To read the follow up post: Part II of Romans 6 vs. Romans 7 – Original Sin and Concupiscence, click here.

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About the Author

Taylor was an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth, Texas before being received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth. Taylor was also formerly the Assistant Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., located three blocks north of the White House, where he lectured regularly. He was served under Archbishop John J. Myers and Msgr. William Stetson for the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II, the canonical structure by which Anglican clergy are received into the Catholic Church and then go on to pursue Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.R. Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and University of Dallas (M.A. Philosophy). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Dallas where he studies the Natural Law theory of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae Ia Iaa qq. 94-108). Taylor and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their five children. He is the author of The Catholic Perspective on Paul (forthcoming). Visit his personal site at: www.taylormarshall.com Taylor is also the Editor of Christian and American at: www.christianandamerican.com.