Who is the “I” in Romans 7?

There are three primary views.

1. Israel’s Relationship With Torah: Paul takes on a first person Jewish Torah observer. He does this to reveal the true nature of the Law as a sin revealing and guilt producing instrument.

My primary reason for holding this view is related to the overarching flow of Romans, “since understanding any part of it depends on understanding its entire sweep” (Achtemeier et al. 2001, 325). In 1:2-5 and 1:16-17, Paul’s focus is upon the unifying, universal nature of the Gospel, “understood in terms of its history in God’s activity with the Jews” (308). Topics of circumcision, the Prophets, Abraham, David and Mosaic commandments show us Paul’s trajectory as a representative Jewish believer in relationship with the Torah (2:11-16, 2:17, 3:21, 4:1, 7:7-9) a privilege given to Jews only (3:1), and the works of the Law (3:28-29) as Israel’s failed attempts at observing them before a watching Gentile world (2:24). Torah-works (4:4) becomes a complimentary theme in building Paul’s argument of Abraham’s single family promise through faith in Genesis 15 (Wright 2013, 209). This promise is fulfilled only as believers, including the Jewish community, trust inwardly in God’s righteousness and see the Torah through the proper lens as an instrument of justice rendering guilt (6:12, 20).

By taking on the “I” of a representative Israelite, Paul reveals exactly how the Law works to imprison and kill rather than liberate (7:23). Righteousness is not a primarily a personal theme for Paul but related to re-interpreting of Jewish relationship to Torah, which is a lynch pin for mending a Jewish-Gentile division. Who are God’s people? “Being counted right with God was a communal problem” (Thiselton 2010, 97).  This view best holds the original argument of Paul, that Jewish believers need no longer require Gentiles to observe the law to be in fellowship with them, which we know was causing division in the church at Rome. At the same time, as the Jewish community questions the faithfulness of God as the Gospel now grows freely among the Gentiles, Paul is able to move from Chapters 7 into 9-11 and expound on the mysterious, and glorious way in which God has in Christ revealed mercy to the non-Jewish world, albeit through their hardness and rejection of God’s mercy, bringing an end to the Law and uniting all parties in Christ (10:4). Now grafted in to the olive tree, the Gentile believers should not boast, but recognize the roots of God’s covenant with Abraham (11:17-20), participating in the blessing of God’s righteousness not by merit, but implicit trust as Abraham did when he looked to the stars and believed God would make him the father of many nations.

It’s that trust, now in Jesus resurrection that secures our place as God’s united covenant people – first to the Jew, then the Gentile.

Lastly, Chapters 14-15, in keeping with Hellenistic letter writing convention affirm Paul’s original focus on unity in Christ among Jewish and Gentile believers (Achtemeier et al. 2001, 276). With Torah rightly understood, “Jews and Gentiles can now belong to another, namely Christ, instead to sin” (317). 

2. Autobiographical: Paul is expressing the inner turmoil of his own Jewish experience as someone who failed to keep the Torah inwardly. “The first person style strongly implies some degree of autobiographical reference also” (Moo 1986, 122). 

3. Universal Humanity: Paul is representing the plight of the human race under the principles of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:12-18).

References: 

Achtemeier, P., J. Green, and M. Meye Thompson. 2001. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. 

Moo, Douglas J., 1986. New Testament Studies: Israel and Paul in Romans 7:7-12. Article: p. 122-135. Issued: 1/13/2019. URL: http://journals.cambridge.org.fuller.idm.oclc.org/action/displayBackIssues?jid=NTS (Links to an external site.)

Thiselton, Anthony C. 2010. The Living Paul : An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought, InterVarsity Press. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/fuller/detail.action?docID=2030875 (Links to an external site.) 

Wright, N.T., 2013. Paul and the Patriarch: The Role of Abraham in Romans 4. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Sage Publications. URL: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav 

This entry was posted in Bruce Posts. Bookmark the permalink.