Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Romans 7:15-25

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2014. 

Summary:  While this passage describes the human captivity to sin, I believe 7:22 is worth a closer look.  When Paul says he "delights" in the law, the word delight actually is a cognate of "hedonism."  The inner man has a "with-hedonism" relationship to the law.  I wonder if Paul, deep down, is pointing out that the inner person truly delights in doing the will of God.  To drive this a bit further, Paul says that he has a body of death.  We know he will later talk about an immortal body.  This immortal body, I believe, will experience tremendous pleasure doing the will of God, whether serving others, enjoying creation or praising God.

Key words:
οικει, οικουσα ("dwell" 7:17, 18, 20)  This word should be recognizable from the first few weeks of Greek (rememeber, οικος means house).  Paul will come back to this verb in Romans 8:9 and 11 as well as 1 Cor 3:16 also 8:9 and 8:11.  Here he speaks of the indwelling of the Spirit.  One key difference however is that when Paul refers to the indwelling Spirit, he is referring to the Spirit dwelling in the plural you -- all of you, not the singular you.  One might argue that he means the Spirit dwells in all of the individuals.  Regardless, it is interesting that when he returns to what God can come inside of us, he does not speak on individual terms any more.

νομος ("law"; 50 times in the book of Romans)   Alas, I cannot possibly do justice to Paul's use of this word.  What I want to bring up rather is that, t the very least, there is a theological use going on here.  By this I mean Paul is moving beyond specific commands or ceremonial practices; the law has become something else, something larger, something accomplishing God's purposes.  What exactly the law is doing and what is the connection between Paul's understanding of the law, the OT's approach to the Law and 1st century Jewish understandings of the law, well, you'll just have to do your own research on that one!!

αμαρτια ("sin" 39 times in the book of Romans).  Again, a bigger concept that I can take on here.  But I want to point out again a theological use of the word here:  sin no longer simply means a particular moral failure, but for Paul it has become a force enslaving and taking over his body.  Paul here moves from laws to law; sins to sin.

συνηδομαι ("delight", 7:22) This word is great!  It comes from hedon, like hedonism.  It literally means "with hedonism"; The noun form of this word will be found in 2 Peter 2:13, James 4:1-2, and Luke 8:14, and Titus 3:3 and will always be considered "lawlessness/debaucherous pleasure"  The irony of course is that Paul is talking about the law.  Perhaps, and I press this too far here, I believe, but perhaps the point is that deep down inside, we crave to do the will of God and this will be our true delight.

΄ρυοεται ("rescue" from ΄ρυομαι; 7:25): This means deliver. It is tough to see the cognate, but the word "hero" comes from this. Jesus is the hero who will save us.
Grammar Review:  Relative pronouns
Paul uses a number of relative pronouns in this section.  A relative pronoun works like this:
There goes Tommy, whose mom is Linda.  Whose is a relative pronoun.
I long for a vacation, which gives me the chance to relax.  Which is a relative pronoun.
In Greek, the relative pronoun functions much like it does in English. 
So Romans 7:19:  ου γαρ ο θελω ποιω αγαθος 
Literally:  "Not for [which I want] I do good"
You need to bracket out the whole relative clause.  Translate this:  ο θελω "that which I want to do."  Then move it back into the whole phrase:  "For I do not do the good which I want."
A few things make Greek relative pronouns tricky.  First, the relative pronouns themselves often look like the Greek word "the" but their accents are different (it has an accent!)  Second, Greeks are always more flexible about word order.  In English, we could not sandwhich a relative pronoun like Paul did.  Third, English gets sloppy about the true case of relative pronouns. 
"That is the woman who I love" should actually be "That is the woman whom I love."  Reading Greek we have to be ready for the fact that Greek will use all four cases for relative pronouns.  In English we still tend to use possessive relative pronouns (ie, whose) but we lump everything else together under "who" or "that" and ignore their case.  Greek, again, will use all four cases.  That said, Greek writers will also often get sloppy and the relative pronoun's case will "slide" to become like words around it instead of functioning like it shuld!
Lastly, participles in Greek take the case of the word which they modify; relative pronouns take the case of their function in the new sentence.  It can be easy to get these confused.