Jesus Undoes the Work of Adam

Jesus Undoes the Work of Adam

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It is fair to say that Romans 7 is the most controverted and controversial chapter in the whole of Romans; in the whole of the Pauline corpus; indeed, in the whole New Testament! No passage has produced more discussion and debate, especially since the time of Augustine, and even more since the time of Luther. At issue are whole theologies about human nature, the normal Christian life, whether people by God’s grace can really avoid transgressions, and on and on.

In terms of the flow of the arguments in Romans, Paul has introduced us to Adam and Christ as historical founders and influencers on a whole race of people in Romans 5:12–21. That portion of Romans would be fresh in the minds of the listeners who would hear the material in Romans 7 only a few minutes later, perhaps as little as five minutes later. This is important because when the text suddenly goes from “we” to “I” at 7:7, the audience would have been prepared to ask which of the previously mentioned historical figures might be speaking in chapter 7. They would recognize that Paul was using a very standard and familiar rhetorical device called “speech in character,” or, “impersonation.” Using this device the speaker would briefly assume the persona of another person, in order to make key points in the argument. In other words, the “I” in Romans 7 is not Paul describing his own experiences, not his experiences before or after his Damascus Road experience, despite what both Augustine and Luther thought. As we shall see, it is Adam who is speaking in Romans 7:7–13, and all those “in Adam” who cry out in Romans 7:14–25: “who will rescue [us] from this body of death” (NRSV). This would not be a surprise to the audience in Rome who relished and appreciated the use of carefully crafted rhetorical devices and arguments.

In fact, Romans 6 develops naturally out of Romans 5:12–21, and leads perfectly into Romans 7. Having introduced the topics of sin, death, and the Law in chapter 5:12–21, Paul will explain the relationship between those three things, and also between salvation, life, and grace as well. In fact, the first two parts of a four-part continuous argument are offered in chapter 6 and this discussion is simply carried to its conclusion in chapter 7.

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