Romans 7


Hi. I just got through Romans 7 and I am confused. What was Paul trying to tell us?


The law is holy, spiritual, and good; it’s an accurate reflection of Gods will for man in terms of morality. But man cannot live up to the law, cannot obey it consistently- because man is not spiritual; he was cut off from that part of himself at the Fall, when he was effectively separated from communion with his Creator, ‘apart from Whom he can do nothing’, to paraphrase John 5:15. Jesus comes to reconcile man with God, so that this vital, life-giving communion can be restored. Man doesn’t need to fulfill the law in order to have relationship with God; *rather man must have relationship with God In order to fulfill the law. *

God is our righteousness. Man was made for communion with God. All hell breaks lose when that communion is severed. So the law was a teacher, to teach that man could not live up to it by his own efforts. This is why, in Rom 2, St Paul tells us that the law justifies no one. To the extent that man lives in the Spirit he doesn’t need the law. He fulfills it automatically as he’s transformed into Gods image, fulfilling it by love IOW, the only authentic motivation for righteousness, as Jesus did.



Here is a link to a collection of excellent Catholic commentaries on Romans.


The beginning of chapter 7 discusses freedom from the Law.
Laws are generally written in negative terms. Thou shalt not…
The temptation is to go against the law. If I am told not to not to do something, my inclination is to do the very thing I am told not to do. Think about children. Even as adults, we’re not that much different.
The Old Covenant was about adhering to the Law, about not breaking the Commandments. The New Covenant, however, is not about adhering to the Law. It is about grace. It is about be open to the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and gives us new life and power.
Remember Jesus said that without me you can do nothing, but with God all things are possible. Through the Sacraments, we have received the power of the Holy Spirit so that Christ now lives in us. We no longer worry about following the law, because God’s grace makes it a natural part of our lives.
In the second part of the chapter, Paul talks about his continued struggle with sin. Despite our new life in Christ, we are still tempted by sin. Sometimes we slip. If I slip into sin, who can save me but Jesus Christ?


If we are not bound by the laws of the OT anymore, why are the 10 commandments still written everywhere and people are obliged to obey them? Every other OT law was done away with, but those 10 remain?


Because we still need a teacher; we’re not so spiritually mature as to always remain faithfully in love with God and neighbor, a state of being which would otherwise fulfill the law on its own:

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Rom 13:8-10

Either way, the Old Covenant has not been revoked; the law is still right; we’re just learning, with the help of grace, to fulfill it the right way, by the Spirit rather than by the letter. God has patience in this, in this work of His.


We are bound by the moral laws of the OT (the 10 Commandments) but we are not bound by the ritual laws of the OT.


Current theology holds that most of the references to “law” in Romans chapter 7 are speaking of being enslaved to the “law of sin and death.”

Verse 4 is the key because St. Paul writes:

“In the same way, my brothers, you [Romans] also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ.”

As the rest of the epistle to Romans demonstrates, the Gentile Roman Christians were never under the Mosaic Law nor required to obey it. Therefore they could have never ‘died’ to the Law of Moses. It is another “law” instead, one that Paul explains made being a Jew under the Mosaic Law condemned to death. The subject of chapter 7 is how Jesus Christ frees us, Gentile and Jews, from a common law we have all suffered under, the law of sin (and subsequently death), and how sin is so “sinful” that it even made the Mosaic Law “kill” Paul by its holy commands.–Romans 7.7-14.

It’s easy to confuse which law Paul means in this chapter because in verse 23 he uses “law” again but in the Hellenistic sense of “custom” or “principle.”

Basically Paul was trying to explain how great a freedom Christ brings to all peoples from the “law of sin.” While Christians are not obligated to observe the Mosaic Law, chapter 7 is not specifically speaking about this law every time you come across that word in this chapter. Justification apart from the Mosaic Law is taught instead in Romans 3.21-4.25. Chapters 6-8 then speak about how far this freedom extends, occasionally touching on the Mosaic Law but including the other types of “laws” that bind even Gentiles.



My humblest apologies for where I have failed to be clear on this matter for this is not what I wrote or intended to say in my comment.

While I did check other sources, most of my answer came from a study of The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, the New American Bible footnotes, and the Jewish Annotated New Testament. All three sources are relatively new and in agreement.

Also in my comment I never said that one should always think “law of sin and death” in each instance of the word “law” in chapter 7, but that there are various usages of the word “law.” Most of the texts are speaking about how the “law” of sin affects everyone, even the Mosaic Law with the result being condemnation and death, but other texts are definitely speaking of the Mosaic Law itself. I then added that at the end of the chapter Paul uses “law” in a secular Greek sense in verse 23. Read my comments again to see where you apparently missed that.

No, you cannot and should not read the word “law” as if it means only one thing all the way through this chapter. Do forgive me if I was not clear enough. You can’t read it to mean just the law of “sin” or the Mosaic “Law” or in the Hellenistic way of “principle.” You have to let the context guide you.

What the chapter does tell us is that the death of Christ has a universal effect, freeing people from the condemnation of laws that proscribe death, Mosaic or otherwise, and from the power that sin once had before Christ took that power away by the Cross.


This is the key statement to which Paul always returns. We are set free by the power of the Cross. It is not simply that Jesus was crucified. The Romans crucified many people. Jesus overcame death. He was sacrificed for sins, died on the cross, and rose again.
After the Resurrection He ascended into heaven, and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within us to empower us to overcome our sinful nature.


Ok, and I apologize if I haven’t understood well-I just re-read your post. But still Romans 2 tells us that even those who haven’t heard the law are bound to observe it, and will still be judged by it, man having the law written in his heart. I tend to think most of Pauls usage of the term is pretty consistent when contrasting the law and grace, or justification by the law vs justification by faith, for examples.


The New American Bible states in its footnote to Romans 2.12-16:

“Jews cannot reasonably demand from Gentiles the standard of conduct inculcated in the Old Testament since God did not address its revelation to them. Rather, God made it possible for Gentiles to know instinctively the difference between right and wrong.”

Again though Paul is using the word “law,” here in chapter 2 in reference to the Gentiles he is speaking of the Natural Law that is in each human, not the Mosaic Law.

I know it can be confusing because it is the same Greek word, “nomos,” which can refer to any type of “law.” The difference is that it is not Mosaic Law or Torah that the Gentiles are under. No one but Jews can be charged with breaking Torah because no one but Jews were given it in a covenant.

The Psalms even teach this at Psalm 147.19-20:

He reveals his word to Jacob;
to Israel, his decrees and judgments.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
he has *not taught them *his judgments.
–Italics added.

The “nomos” that all people have written in their hearts is the Natural Moral Law, not the Torah.–See CCC 1954-1960, 1978-1979.


OK, so bear with me but I’m not sure how is verse 4 the key, as the meaning of “law” there clearly follows from the first three verses?


That’s all right. I will explain a little where I am coming from and use a translation I am more comfortable with here in doing so.

Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ,
so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.
–Romans 7.3, RSV-CE.

Now, I grew up in a very Protestant-dominant area. And even though I was Catholic, because of my discussions with Protestants I understood Romans and this particular chapter and verse to be speaking about the Mosaic Law (I will use the term “Torah” when I mean Mosaic Law as opposed to other types to avoid confusion).

This was one of my favorite verses to quote, and just like my Protestant friends, I never blinked at the belief that in Romans Paul was teaching “justification by works of Torah vs. justification by grace.”

Then I met a Jew who became and still is a very good friend of mine. He knows his New Testament very well. I asked him why do Jews believe in justification by works of Torah?

I didn’t believe his answer.

In fact I thought at first that he was purposefully lying to me in order to win our discussion (that had turned into a heated debate). He told me that Jews believe they have a right standing with God by means of grace. He added that they don’t believe in or have a “salvation” doctrine because they also don’t have a belief in “original sin.” No original sin, my friend told me, no need for salvation.

After I had calmed down and did my research, I apologized a week later and we calmly continued our discussion. I brought up this very verse, to which my Jewish friend would insert the word “Roman” in between the words “my” and “brethren” each time I quoted or read it. It annoyed me at first, but it finally drove his point home.

Paul was writing to a mostly Gentile audience. The word “law” has many meanings, not just “Torah.” Here it could not mean “Torah” because his Gentile brethren from Rome had “died” to a law that had been over these Gentiles until Christ came and brought salvation.

Though a light went off in my head, I couldn’t accept what I was concluding (much less heard anything more my Jewish friend said next) until I checked it with Catholic sources. Indeed, the footnotes to the NAB made it clear that the “law” in this verse was NOT “Torah” but the “law of sin.” (And yes, for those of you who hate and detest the NAB I did in fact check many other Catholic sources over a period of a year to make sure I had this right. I was not easily convinced for a long time.)

People on this thread began mentioning the “justification by law vs justification by grace” issue and applying it to Romans 7. It isn’t applicable here because the word “law” is used in three different ways in this chapter. You have to read the context to see what Paul is talking about. This verse is the key because it shows you there is another “law” at work, one that the Gentiles were also under until Christ came. That is what I was referring to.

I will add something in my next post so this one doesn’t go too long. It is about what I learned afterwards about the “justification by law vs justification by grace” debates that came from this. But in the end the chapter is about how Christ saved the Gentiles from a “law” that was bringing them death just as much as Torah condemned the Jews. But the “law” here is not the same as the Torah.


I think this is where part of the confusion lies. Romans could well have been addressing a relatively large Jewish contingent*-and *chapter 7 begins with, “Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law…”, followed by three more verses that clearly seem to refer to the Mosaic law. I’d like to follow up on this later as well-my own Protestant detour may well be influencing my thoughts here but also consider this from the CCC which references Rom 7:

1963 According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good,14 yet still imperfect. Like a tutor15 it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a “law of concupiscence” in the human heart.16 However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching which endures for ever, like the Word of God.


A little more on what I learned over the years…

While it is not clear to what extent the Catholic Church did or did not develop the “justification by law vs. justification by grace” theology, it did lean in that direction.

But it gained momentum during the Reformation. Martin Luther used Romans in this light, and he is basically the father of the “justification by law vs. grace” debates. Luther felt the Catholic Church and her clergy were creating a “works-based” salvation program in the Church that went against the Gospel, especially what was written by St. Paul in Romans. In the process Luther often paid no attention to the fact that Paul was using the word “law” (Greek “nomos”) in more ways than one. Having also turned the Pharisees of the Gospels into over-demanding, oppressive and self-serving caricatures, Luther created a polemic that eventually caused a misunderstanding about Jews and the Letter to the Romans that continued down into the 20th century. Accusing the clergy of the Catholic Church of acting like his distorted Pharisee stereotypes, the polemics eventually got adopted into secular culture and became responsible not only for misinterpreting Scripture references about the Jews but got twisted even further by anti-Semitic groups, eventually being used a fuel by the Third Reich to justify the Holocaust.

It would feel good to hear this as a Catholic perhaps, except for the fact that the Catholic Church admits it used these arguments and threw them back in the face of Luther as well, fanning the flames and never putting them out until it was too late.

After the tragedies of World War II gave way to relative peace, the Catholic Church and Lutherans began a dialogue, especially around the time of Vatican II. Both Catholics and Protestants as a whole realized they were responsible for some of the secularized hatred of the Jews due to these polemics that began during the Reformation. Official study into these issues led to a revision of much theology involving Romans, and eventually to a unified statement between the Church and Lutherans regarding the issue of salvation by grace at the end of the 20th century.

Dialogue with Jews as of late has also contributed, and there have been recent developments that you might note if you read current commentaries like the Ignatius series that employs the RSV-CE 2nd Edition and the NAB, especially the updated footnotes of the new NABRE Old Testament. They may not touch very deeply on Romans 7 or these following issues, but you can see the influence of these more balanced views.

While the theology is not fully formed or fleshed out enough yet, it is now theorized that this argument from the Reformation is not the original intent behind Romans. The fact that Luther didn’t use discretion between the uses of the word “law” in the book has led to misinterpretations, such as the one I had about Romans 7.3.

Currently, from what I remember from helping out with RCIA recently and reading several books on the topic, these are the points being considered that may shape our *future *understanding about Romans in the Catholic Church:

The Jews do not see the Torah as a means of justification. On the contrary they see obedience to Torah as freedom from oppression to slavery to Egypt. This was the belief in Paul’s day and is still a current understanding among Jews to this day. Paul would thus not be arguing that the Jews were oppressed from following a legal system that could be described as “slavery.”

**The Jews believe they have a right standing with God due to Abraham’s faith and God’s gracious act of declaring him “just” as a result. **This is Paul’s argument from Torah in Romans, and this is the basis for his arguments against those who say that Torah observance is a requisite for justification. (Read Romans chapter 4.) Jews believe in a just standing for themselves based on this event that occurred prior to reception of the Torah. They have never taught that the Torah was a new replacement for this favor Abraham and his seed enjoyed from God. This further makes the issue unlikely that Paul had in mind a “works” vs. “grace” issue, claiming that Jews believed in “works” that lead to salvation. They just plain don’t believe this.

Some of this data can now be found worked into publications like those I mentioned. The recent release of the Jewish Annotated New Testament is a dialogue on the subject in Romans, currently being considered in Catholic academic circles.

Apparently the “justification by works vs. justification by grace” was an old polemic of the Reformation that many of us have been reading Roman in the light of. If you remove it and replace it with the Jewish understanding of the day you get a different picture. You also see a more universal message of salvation, one in which Paul neither condemns the Jews (though at times his words can be strong) nor downplays the importance of salvation in Christ.


Well, I guess at this point one might have to ask, in light of your understanding, what, exactly *did *Christ accomplish? Is there a difference between the old and new covenants? And hasn’t there been quite a *range *of beliefs within Judaism on some of these matter? And perhaps some vagueness, which Jesus authoritatively resolved or clarified in some instances?


With the understanding that my previous post is not a declaration of my personal convictions but a review of current theology and the path it is taking in light of history, I can answer that my beliefs are what the Church itself teaches on these matters and cannot be reduced to unrealized theology as, if you read my statements above correctly, I mentioned that the above was. Mentioning what some teachers in the Church are researching is different from saying it is what I personally believe.

The Letters of Paul discuss the “new covenant” as founded on the blood of Christ (1 Co 11.25) composed of a vertical dimension of union with the Lord through the “communion with the blood of Christ” (1 Co 10.6) and a horizontal dimension of the union of all Christians in “one body” (1 Co 10.17).

St. Paul teaches that while the Mosaic Law covenant is merely a temporary provision, the Abrahamic covenant is in contrast with this.

As such for Paul, Jesus’ establishment of “the new covenant in [his] blood” (1 Co 11.25), does not imply any rupture of God’s covenant with his people, the Jews, but constitutes its fulfilment. He includes “the covenants” among the privileges enjoyed by Israel, even if they do not believe in Christ (Rm 9.4). Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship and remains the people to whom the fulfilment of the covenant was promised, because their lack of faith cannot annul God’s fidelity (Rm 11.29). Even if some Israelites have observed the Law as a means of establishing their own justice, the covenant-promise of God, who is rich in mercy (Rm 11.26-27), cannot be abrogated.

The Pauline Letters, then, manifest a twofold conviction: the insufficiency of the legal covenant of Sinai, on the one hand, and on the other, the validity of the covenant-promise. This latter finds its fulfilment in justification by faith in Christ, offered “to the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Rm 1.16). Their refusal of faith in Christ places the Jewish people in a situation of disobedience, but they are still “loved” and promised God’s mercy (cf. Rm 11.26-32).

This is what the Church currently understands and I believe it.

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