Stefano Romanello, «Rom 7,7-25 and the Impotence of the Law. A Fresh Look at a Much-Debated Topic Using Literary-Rhetorical Analysis», Vol. 84 (2003) 510-530
By means of a literary-rhetorical analysis, it can be stated that Rom 7,7-25 forms a literary unit, depending upon the propositio of Rom 7,7a. In fact, the question on the possible equalization between Mosaic Law and sin raises a new discussion, carried out precisely in Rom 7,7-25. The climax of the pericope appears to be the powerless character of the Law with respect to sin, depicted through two different examples. In the first one, in vv. 7-13, it is not stated that through the Law sin become known by the "I", but that through the Law sin gains force and becomes ineluctably effective. In the second one, in vv. 14-25, sin is an active subject quite apart from Law, that remains nevertheless ineffective in counteracting it. In any case, these two different depictions point both to the ineffectiveness of the Law. The affirmations on the positive nature of the Law are incorporated in this pericope in order to be diminished –even if not denied. This rhetorical strategy can be called concessio. In Rom 8,1-17 the believer’s life is depicted in different terms from the life of the "I" of Rom 7,7-25. This comparison leads to the recognition of the new basis on which our relation with God becomes possible. In the meantime, it clarifies that the Law cannot promote this new identity in believers. For this reason, emphasis on the incapacity of the Law must not be considered as an act of contempt for it. Instead, it clarifies the objective reasons why the Law cannot be regarded as a soteriological principle.
One of the most frequently debated sections of the Epistle to the Romans is undoubtedly Rom 7,7-25. Not only does the much-discussed question of the identity of the e)gw/ frequently raise problems among scholars, but the affirmations concerning the Law have given rise to an increasing interest in this chapter. Obviously, this subject is very interesting in itself, but a number of seemingly contradictory verdicts on the Law make this section particularly complex and at the same time stimulating to exegesis. How is it in fact possible to state that the Law is holy (v. 12), spiritual (v. 14) and divine (vv. 22.25), and that its commandment is holy, righteous and good (v. 12), while saying that sin operates every sinful desire by means of the commandment (v. 8), and that sin came to life (v. 9) and killed (v. 11) through the commandment? Or that without the Law sin is not operative (vv. 9-10), if in Rom 5,12 sin entered into the world with Adam, while the Law was introduced much later, with Moses (Rom 5,20)? No wonder such a complex chapter has caused such great debate among scholars. H. Räisänen states that here Paul, after starting with "an ‘apology for the Law’... glides back to a criticism of the Law", and that "Paul is involved in a glaring self-contradiction"1. This interpretation probably represents one extreme of the wide spectrum of scholars’ evaluations of the chapter, but there is no doubt that no consensus has been reached on its inner coherence, or on its main subject matter.
I have treated this pericope in my doctoral dissertation2, where I argued that its main topic is not an anthropological one, but rather a discussion about the Law (Torah), where the Law is not primarily defended, but its inability to rescue man from the bondage of sin and death is reiterated throughout the whole chapter. Surely here Paul seems to juxtapose positive and negative judgements on the Law. However, this seeming juxtaposition is only apparent; in fact, Paul knowingly argues