Interpretive Process: Romans 7:14-25 (5)

Suggestions and Probabilities to ‘I’

After detailing the historical development of the debate on ‘I’, it is good for us to look at each view in detail. Douglas J. Moo has done a comprehensive listing on suggestions and probabilities on identifying the ‘I’ in Romans 7:14-25 in where he points to strengths and argument against each view held. It will serve us well in using them as our base of reference.

Those who take the stance that the ‘I’ is an unregenerate person can focus their arguments on the its “strong connection…with “the flesh” (vv.14, 18, and 25)”, the struggle of the ‘I’ on his own in (v. 25) “without the aid of the Holy Spirit”, controlled and imprisoned by sin in (v. 14, 23) “which every believer is released (6:2, 6, 11, 18-22)”, totally defeated by sin (v. 14-25) and the “ego…struggles with the need to obey the Mosaic law.”[1] Arguments for the ‘I’ to represent the regenerated one the other hand have these one their side; the focus on the past tense shift of 7:7-13 to the present which depict Paul’s focus on speaking autobiographically, only the “regenerate truly “delight in God’s law”” (v.22, 25), the focus on the ‘mind’ in Rom.7:14-25 which has a positive outlook to God’s law is in stark contrast to the ‘mind’ of those outside Christ in Rom.1:28, the focus on “inner person” and based on verses 24-25 of chapter 7 where the “reiteration of the divided state” is further revisited after the Paul’s mention of the “deliverance wrought in Christ.”[2]

Of the two views depicted above, the one that leans towards designating the ‘I’ as a regenerated person has to come to terms with the arguments laid out in the first one (the unregenerate) and it also has to consider verses that speak the defeated nature of the believer to sin in 7:14-25 which one could find conflicting with passages like that in Rom. 6.6-7, 17-18, 22. Thus weighing on evidence as the two views are laid side by side, it is best to ascribe the ‘I’ to someone who is unregenerate. But that does not resolve the issue at hand. If the ‘I’ is designating someone who was unregenerate, what does the interpreter make of Paul’s use of the ‘I’ or ego?

A Probable solution

Two views hold for a probable solution to the ‘I’ as an unregenerate person. The first one is Paul is looking back at his experience of being a Jew from a Christian perspective where in the ‘I’ he used it to “represent himself…in solidarity with the Jewish people.”[3] In other words Paul was speaking as a representative Jew “detailing his past in order to reveal the weakness of the law and the source of that weakness: the human being, the ego.[4] But this view, although is highly probable does not seem to sufficiently answer the use of ‘I’ in the present tense. A probable solution, the second view, to this is the rhetorical method Paul might have used which is known as “prosopopoiia where the speaker presents a vivid characterization of some figure or position through first person speech.”[5] Michael Bird notes also that there is also a possible resemblance of the language Paul used to that of the psalmists where they “oscillates between the ‘I/me’ and ‘Israel’ (e.g. Pss 129, 130, 131.”[6] Although not acknowledging the rhetorical device that Paul used, I Howard Marshall sates that, “Paul here is clearly speaking on behalf of people generally and not just about his own experience.”[7]

If this view is taken then it seems to exhausts the microscopic entailment of designation focusing on the ‘I’ as autobiographical, although I do not think it as an issue of thinking if Paul was reflecting as a Jew of his past in Judaism. This view, I recon, frees the interpreter to see the text not on a lopsided scale where the whole attention is on designating the ‘I’ but, as Witherington III states this passage “is a narrative of a conversion and its theological and spiritual implications seen after the fact and from a Christian perspective.”[8] Therefore, with this in mind, although it is probable that Paul would have thought of his explanation leaning towards autobiographical leanings, this should be, I believed something of a lesser degree to direct our attention to.

[1] Ibid

[2] Ibid pg 446

[3] Ibid pg 448

[4] Ibid

[5] DeSilva, David. A. An Introduction to the New Testament: Context, Methods and Ministry Formation. pg 620

[6] Bird, Michael F. A Bird-Eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. (North Street, Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press. 2008) pg 142

[7] Marshall, I. Howard. New Testament Theology. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press. 2004) pg 319

[8] Witherington III, Ben. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.2004) pg 198

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