Lectionary Year A
July 7, 2002
Romans 7:15-25a

Hermeneutical Bridge


The Interpretation Commentary by Achtemeier states that Paul doesn't really mean what he says here. Here Achtemeier disagrees with Luther and other "traditional" commentators. Any debate on this?


      14 For we know that the law is of the realm of the spirit, but I am of the realm of mortal flesh inasmuch as I have been trained, sold down under (the lifestyle) sin as master. 15 After all, that for which I am working so hard I really don't understand (live out); for it is not that which I purpose that I am putting into practice, but that with which I am at cross-purposes, this is the thing that I am doing. 16 Now, if that which I do not purpose ("intend") is the very thing I am doing, in practice I am acknowledging to the law that (at least) it is of the realm of the good and beautiful. 17 What is happening here is that the "I" in the now of God's new creation is no longer the "I" that is working so hard at this cross-purpose thing but rather it is the sin that sets up housekeeping within me (and divides the new "I" from the old one). 18 For I know that what might qualify as a truly "good thing" is not keeping house within me, i.e. in my mortal flesh; for does the aim of purposeful living find a place to recline at my house, does the "good and beautiful" become the object of my working so hard? No, I am afraid not! 19 For not that which I purpose leads to doing a good thing, but what thing I am not purposing, namely an evil thing, this is exactly what I am practicing: complicity with evil!       20 Hence, if in fact that which I do not purpose is the very thing I am doing, it is no longer the "I" of God's new creation that is working so hard at the life of cross-purposes, but the sin that is householding within me [as alien!]. 21 I discover then regarding the law - the one purposing in me the practice of the good and beautiful - that evil in fact is rooted deeply in me. 22 For on the one hand I take genuine delight ("hapax" for NT!) in the law of God as regards the "inside (not-at-cross-purposes) human being" - as regards this "I" of God's new creation - 23 but, on the other, I observe and recognize another law cross-firing in my various mortal parts in a warfare with the law of my faculty for grasping and deciding and literally holding me as a prisoner of war in the confinement of sin's law which is right there in my various mortal parts. 24 As human being I am in a deplorable state; who will rescue me out of this body (life, dance?) of death? 25 The grace that is God's is delivering me through Jesus Christ our Lord! As I see it then, on the one hand, I myself (as the new I) am living as slave to the law of God with respect to my faculties for grasping and deciding, but on the other, with respect to my mortal existence as flesh and blood I am living as slave to the law of sin.


Used by permission from Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit by Merle G. Franke.

It Takes More Than Knowledge

      Philosophy and religion classrooms in college are frequently the locale of impromptu debates. Get one group started on a proposition and soon there will be an intense discussion in full progress. At least, that's what Professor Nelson like to see happen in his classes in the small midwestern church-suported college where he taught. After such a debate got a running start, Nelson would step aside and benignly watch the progress. "It's a great way for these young people to learn," he liked to explain, "have them argue their viewpoints, where they have to defend what they say they believe."

      "You're saying that if people know right from wrong, they're going to do the right?" one student asked another as the argument got started. "That's crazy!"

      One young proponent of the idea chimed in, "Listen, if these juvenile delinquents we hear so much about were taught what is and is not appropriate behavior, we'd have safer streets to walk in."

      "On yeah, tell that to the police - or the social workers," another student offered. He then wanted to make sure his professor heard him say, "That was Gnostic teaching that goes all the way back to the time of Christ. It's nonsense, it didn't work then and it won't work now."

      Another in the same vein said, "Some of the worst crimes that we hear and read about are committed by people who were raised in middle class to upper class homes, and who probably had all kinds of instruction on what is right and what is wrong."

      "So don't teach right from wrong, huh?" another challenged.

      "No, you can't logically jump to that conclusion," one of the earlier speakers replied. "It's crazy not to teach right from wrong ..."

      "You're saying that knowing isn't going to cut it ..." a student broke in.

      "Exactly ... yes, that's what I'm saying. How many of you in here knew it was wrong to whack your little brother or sister or grab something from them that didn't belong to you ... but you did it anyway? Most likely everyone in this room has had that experience," first speaker was on a roll.

      "You could have cited a lot worse examples than that, and we'd still all be guilty," someone suggested. The class laughed its agreement with him.

      But for the sake of argument one of the former speakers said, "I'm still not clear on why teach right from wrong - why establish higher moral values?"

      "Oh, now we're getting to another level," the speaker on a roll jumped in. "Values. That's more than knowledge. It's still not enough, but ... "

      Another interruption, "What else do we need?"

      First speaker paused. He didn't want to sound too pious, but he charged on, "Maybe an injection of some spiritual ingredient?"

      Professor Nelson smiled as he sauntered back to his desk.

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