Interpretive Process: Romans 7:14-25 (4)

Interpretation of Romans 7:14-25

It cannot be denied that this particular passage has attracted countless debates concerning who is Paul actually referring to when he used ‘I’. This has spurred a multitude of suggestions, pinpointing to who Paul is actually referring to here. Before interpreting this particular passage, this issue has to be dealt with beforehand. A discussion detailing the probabilities of who the ‘I’ is referred to will be dealt with and then followed by the interpretation of the passage.

  • Questions raised on the passage: ‘I’ / Dealing with the ‘I’

On examining issues dealing with the ‘I’ in Romans 7:14-25, I have divided this probing study to three points which will direct our interaction deeper on the issues and thus come up with a probable solution to the ‘I’. We will start first by looking at the historical development of the issue followed by detailing some of the suggestion and arguments, for and against, that have been ascribed to ‘I’, and hopeful that this will lead to some form of conclusion to landing a probable solution to the argument.

Historical development

Douglas J. Moo, in his commentary notes that most of “the early church fathers thought that these verses described an unregenerate person”[1] The fifth century on the other hand poled on arguments held by Augustine and Pelagius, of whom held to the view that “the power to keep God’s law remains universal, despite, sin” and that ascribing the ‘I’ or in J. I. Packer’s essay the ‘wretched man’ to be “someone other than a Christian”[2]. Augustine on the other hand, although earlier ascribed the ‘I’ was, like the early church fathers, as an unregenerate person, “changed his opinion”[3] and held that Paul was writing biographically about himself, stressing on the need to focus on the mercy and grace of God for salvation and not on self designated obedience which we “always fall short.”[4]

Further proponents for Augustine’s view were the Reformers. Luther was the one that gave the explanation of the particular passage and the ‘I’ “more theological significance” who saw in the passage a person justified and sinner at the same time and with that depicting the passage as speaking about the normal Christian experience[5]. But theologians known as the pietist, at the end of the 17th Century, argued against the view of the ‘I’ held by the reformers. Men like “A. H. Francke and J. Bengle” thought the view held by the reformers as lax which “opened the door too widely to a complacent Christian lifestyle” and on this they opted to a view that Paul was referring of someone almost Christian-“under conviction but not yet reborn” a view that touched similar concerns to Wesley who opted for a view of the “experience of the unregenerate.”[6]

The 19th Century saw a confusing sea of viewpoints but the monograph written by W. G. Kummel dominated the twentieth century in where he “sought to demonstrate that ego in Rom. 7 is a rhetorical figure of speech and need not have any autobiographical reference.”[7] But although being a contribution to the discussion on ego that “was for years the “orthodox” view in scholarship”, Christians in general “showed far less inclination towards this viewpoint”[8] and had further garland “considerable criticism…among scholars as well.”[9] Moo comments that there is a steady resurgence again on Romans 7:14-25 where the ‘I’ is maintained as Paul was speaking of himself autobiographically and depicting the “normal” Christian life.[10]


[1] Moo, Douglas. The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1996)  pg 443

[2] Soderlund, Sven K; Wright, N. T. (editors). Romans and the People of God. (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 1999) pg 71

[3] Moo, Douglas. The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. pg 444

[4] Soderlund, Sven K; Wright, N. T. (editors). Romans and the People of God. Pg 71

[5] Moo, Douglas. The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. pg 444

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid pg pg 444-445

[10] Ibid pg 445

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