Saturday, February 26, 2011
Reymond's Non-Augustinian Approach to Romans 7
In preaching through Romans 7 I adopted the “Augustinian” view that Paul is describing himself as a mature Christian man who continues to struggle with sin. In Appendix F (“Whom Does the Man in Romans 7:14-25 Represent?” pp. 1127-1132) in his A New Systematic Theology (Thomas Nelson, 1998), Robert Reymond, however, departs from the Augustinian position.
While acknowledging that “many of the ablest expositors … believe that Paul intended Romans 7:14-25 as description of the Christian in his struggle against the power of indwelling sin” (e.g., Calvin, Hodge, Murray, MacArthur), Reymond suggests that “the Romans passage is not a description of the regenerate person’s struggle against indwelling sin” (p. 1127). Among those who share his view he cites J. A. Bengel, W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., A. Hoeksma, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Reymond sees Paul drawing on his previous unregenerate state in Romans 7 to set forth “the impotence of the unregenerate ego to do good against the power of indwelling sin” and the “inability” and “weakness” of the law “due to human depravity to deliver the unregenerate ego from sin’s slavery” (p. 1127).
He borrows from Herman Ridderbos here (without accepting Ridderbos’ notion that the “I” in Romans 7 represents OT Israel rather than Paul’s autobiographical experience).
Here are 10 points Reymond makes in defending his position:
1. Romans 7:7-13 is clearly autobiographical as is 7:14-25.
2. To be “carnal” would be to be in a state of spiritual death (7:14).
3. Only an unregenerate man could be described as “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14).
4. This man is mastered by indwelling sin (vv. 17, 20), and this cannot be true of the Christian who has the indwelling Spirit.
5. The man says no good thing dwells in him (v. 18), and this can’t be true of the man who has God’s Spirit in him.
6. This man says sin has taken him prisoner (v. 23) which is not true of a Christian (6:14).
7. This man declares himself “wretched” (v. 24). “This is not true of the Christian nor can this be descriptive of the Christian” (p. 1129).
8. Advocates of the Augustinian view say a non-believer could not delight in the law (v. 22), but Reymond says the unconverted Saul did just this!
9. Romans 7:25 b does not describe the Christian’s state.
10. The man here is utterly defeated by indwelling sin. “This is not true of the Christian” who may struggle with sin (Gal 5:16-18) but is victorious “because of his new master, the indwelling Spirit of Christ” (p. 1130).
Reymond adds that the Augustinian view has sometimes undergirded the “carnal Christian” theology and that it is generally appealed to by antinomians. Better, he concludes, to think that Paul is describing himself in Romans 7 in his state before conversion.
JTR Response: I still hold that the Augustinian interpretation prevails. Reymond admits that Paul teaches the Christian life holds struggles (see his appeal to Galatians 5:16-18). Romans 7 affirms this. When Paul says that nothing good dwells in him (v. 18) he stresses that this is “in his flesh (sarx),” which would not exclude the presence of the indwelling Spirit. Reymond undervalues Paul’s expression of sensitivity to sin as a mature Christian (v. 24). He also disregards the role of the thanksgiving in v. 25, even suggesting that it is an ad hoc interjection by the regenerate Paul in the midst of his description of his unregenerate experience (p. 1129)! I am more persuaded by John Murray’s five reasons to take Romans 7:14-15 as Paul’s reflections on his experience as a mature Christian (see my prevous post). That this interpretation could be abused by antinomians does not mean that it should be cast off. Paul certainly dealt with this kind of misinterpretation first hand (see Romans 6:1-2).