“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6).
The Apostle writes that we should no longer be enslaved to sin. This he repeats in 6:17
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”
As is clear then, Romans chapter six seems to indicate that we are “no longer slaves to sin”, because the transformative power of grace leads to an emancipation from sin.
In light of this teaching in Romans chapter six, interpreters have been puzzled by how it relates to Romans chapter seven where the Apostle writes:
“I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14).
Suddenly it seems that Saint Paul takes back everything he said about the transformative power of grace in Romans chapter six. Are we Christians “no longer slaves to sin” (Rom 6), or are we “sold under sin” (Rom 7)? Is the Apostle Paul schizophrenic? Is there a contradiction?
Well that sets up the “Pauline Aporia” of Romans. The interpretive difficulty should be clear. Contemporary scholars, especially in light of the New Perspective on Paul, have sought to show that Romans chapter seven is a description “pre-Christian Paul” despite the Apostle’s use of the present tense: “I am carnal, sold under sin.” In other words, they say, “Romans six is the Gospel truth about emancipation from sin, and Romans seven is a description of Paul’s spiritual state prior to his conversion to Christ.”
The more traditional, historical interpretation is that Christians are somehow “no longer slaves to sin” and that we are also somehow “sold under sin”. In other words Saint Paul is saying: “I am liberated from sin, but I am also still sold under sin.” Martin Luther’s simul iustus et peccator is one way to harmonize the passage. Obviously, we Catholics do not follow Luther’s interpretation. There has been another strong (and persuasive) tradition in the Catholic Church of reconciling these two teachings in Romans as found in the writings of Saint Augustine and flowing into the decrees of Council of Trent.
I’ll analyze the passages later and share something of what Dr. Scott Hahn suggested to us at the Letter and Spirit Institute. I’ll also share some things controversy that I have written in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul.
Look for a post either later today or tomorrow. Till then, “be no longer a slave to sin”.
To read the follow up post: Part II of Romans 6 vs. Romans 7 – Original Sin and Concupiscence, click here.