"Chapter seven of Romans might well be labeled 'Paul: Before and After.' It might also be classified as an explanation of how the power of Christ can change men's lives. In the King James Version, Paul sounds very much like a helpless and largely depraved individual who has little power to choose good and live according to the things of God. Paul is 'carnal, sold under sin' (Romans 7:14). Further, those things which he knows he should do, he does not do; that which he should not do, he does. 'Now then it is no more I that do it,' he adds, 'but sin that dwelleth in me' (Romans 7:17). It is not difficult to understand how many, from Augustine to Luther to Bible students in our own day, could conclude from Romans 7 that man is basically a depraved creature, incapable of moving in wisdom's paths." (Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 52.)
"Gross misunderstanding is frequently the result of reading "Romans 7 without the invaluable assistance of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible...It is to the modern seer, Joseph Smith, that we turn for profound insights-the restoration of plain and precious truths, either of content or of intent. The Joseph Smith Translation stresses man's inabilities to effect righteousness without Christ:" (Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 50.)
Romans 7:1-3 the woman...is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth
Bruce R. McConkie
"Paul was an absolute genius at devising illustrations to drive home his gospel teachings. Here he compares Israel's allegiance to the law of Moses with that of a wife to her husband. As long as her husband lives, a wife is bound to him, must obey his laws, and if she be with another, she is an adulteress. But when the husband dies, he can no longer direct her actions, and she is free to marry another; she can no longer be subject to him that is dead.
"So with Israel and the law. As long as the law lived, and was therefore in force, Israel was married to it and required to obey its provisions. If she went after other gods, or followed other religions, it was as adultery. But now the law is fulfilled; it no longer lives; it has become dead in Christ; and Israel is married to another, even to Christ, whose gospel law must now be obeyed." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 253.)
Romans 7:9-24 when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died
This section of Romans 7 is the source of greatest confusion for readers. The Joseph Smith translation changes the passage so that it cannot be misinterpreted. But there is a lesson to be learned from Paul's teaching method. Taken in correct context, his statements make perfect sense.
Elder McConkie noted: "The fact is that the philosophical problems facing his Roman readers were wholly different from those with which we wrestle today. We do not have the Mosaic background, and are not concerned with how the law of Moses died in Christ; we are not confronted with the problem of rationalizing away those performances which had been drilled into Israel for fifteen hundred years; we are not faced with the problem of showing that the gospel grew out of the Mosaic order... Nonetheless, Paul's argument, given of old, does have worth and merit for us; it enables us to get an overall view of God's dealings with men; it helps us understand better what we do have in the revealed religion which has come to us. In effect Paul is saying that the law of Moses was good in its day, that God gave it for a purpose, but that now it is dead, and in place thereof God has given a higher law to which all men must now turn for salvation." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 257.)
What is the context of Paul's remarks? Romans 7:9-24 is a brilliant description of where we would be without the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. Herein, Paul is not speaking as an apostle; he is not speaking as one who enjoys the daily companionship of the Holy Ghost; he is not speaking as one who has been justified and sanctified by Christ. He is speaking as the natural man. In this chapter, Paul uses the terms "me" "myself" or "I" forty-two times. He does this because he is trying to explain where he would be without the atonement. Without Christ, Saul of Tarsus is spiritually dead. Without Christ, Saul of Tarsus is 'carnal, sold under sin.' (v. 14) Without Christ, Saul is truly a 'wretched man' (v. 24). Let's paraphrase Paul in this context:
Without a redeeming sacrifice, sin casts me from the presence of God..."
The Romans who trusted in the Law of Moses failed to understand how much they needed the redeeming power of the Savior. They didn't understand that without Christ, the law brings death not life. Now let's apply this same context to the latter-day saints. Imagine where you would be without Christ (2 Ne. 9:7-10)! Without the atonement, even the law of the gospel is useless. Without the atonement, your baptism was nothing more than a gathering of family and friends. Without the atonement, your priesthood has no power. Without the atonement, your endowment and your temple marriage have no force in the world to come.
Without Christ, you are carnal and sold under sin. Without Christ, no good thing dwelleth in you. Without Christ, we are all left to exclaim, 'O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'
Romans 7:14 I am carnal, sold under sin
When Paul states 'I am carnal, sold under sin,' he is not admitting to any great transgressions. He is speaking as the natural man, simply stating that he has carnal tendencies like everyone else. He is trying to emphasize that the law is perfect, but he is not-especially without Christ's help. In fact, it is by the law that he realizes his imperfections, for he said, 'I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet' (v. 7). As one commentator put it:
"The command to be good does not make us good; all the law can do is call our attention to the gap that exists between what we are and what we are intended to be. (Rom. 7:7; 2 Ne. 2:13.) Emphasizing the gap between reality and the ideal provided by the law serves as a schoolmaster. It helps us realize that we need help. The help we need is that of Christ, and this help should be found in his Church. (Rom. 1:16.)." (Neil J. Flinders, "Principles of Parenting, Part 2," Ensign, Apr. 1975, 52)
Romans 7:15 what I hate, that do I
What an incredibly perceptive description of human nature! Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn't. How many of us have thought to ourselves, "I shouldn't have said that," or "I wish I hadn't lost my temper," or "I shouldn't have watched that movie," or "that was not a good thing to do on the Sabbath." When we are in our right minds, spiritually speaking, we have no desire for these evil practices, but in the heat of the moment our imperfections take over.
"We are, after all, human, which is another way of saying that we are subject to a wide and contradictory range of feelings, passions, joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses. The Apostle Paul put it best when he said, 'For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.' (Rom. 7:22-23.)
"Paul taught, as have all the prophets, that although we are human, we have a spirit of divinity within us. In the poet William Wordsworth's insightful phrasing, 'trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.' (Ode, Intimation of Immortality.)
"The gospel's message is indeed positive and life affirming. It says that by our very nature, every human has the freedom to do good as well as evil, that God has endowed humanity with a free moral will and given it the power to tell good from evil and right from wrong. People may make serious mistakes, but those decisions are freely made, and they determine the quality of life and the eventual condition of the soul." (The Human Family , LDS Church News, 1995, 05/27/95 .)
JST Romans 7:15 But now I am spiritual; for that which I am commanded to do, I do
"To read this particular chapter in the New Testament, for [some], is to conclude that Paul the apostle (and thus all men by extension) was a depraved and helpless creature who muddled in sin as a result of a carnal nature, an evildoer with little or no hope of deliverance. The Joseph Smith Translation of Romans 7 presents a significantly different picture of Paul and of all men; it might well be called 'Paul: Before and after the Atonement' or 'The Power of Christ to Change Men's Souls.' The King James Version has Paul introspecting as follows: 'I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.' Further, 'For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not' (Romans 7:14-15, 18). The Joseph Smith Translation lays stress where Paul surely intended it: upon the fact that through the atonement of Christ man is made free from the pull and stain of sin. 'When I was under the law [of Moses], I was yet carnal, sold under sin. But now I am spiritual; for that which I am commanded to do, I do; and that which I am commanded not to allow, I allow not. For what I know is not right I would not do; for that which is sin, I hate.' Finally, 'For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but to perform that which is good I find not, only in Christ' (JST Romans 7:14-16, 19; italics added). The testimony of Lehi is a confirming witness to this principle of truth: 'Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not be acted upon' (2 Nephi 2:25-26; italics added; compare Helaman 14:30)." (Robert L. Millet, The Power of the Word: Saving Doctrines from the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 250.)
Romans 7:19 the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do
Hugh B. Brown
"Each man or boy, whatever his age or his station in life, is subject to the temptation to destroy himself by reason of a God-given power which all of us have. All of us who know good sometimes feel within ourselves the possibility of evil, and while we may condemn sincerely and without any hypocrisy the evil in us, we are conscious that at times we ourselves are tempted to do the very thing we hate, and in doing it we hate ourselves as well as the thing we do. I think this caused Paul to admit, '. . . the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.' (Romans 7:19.)
"Real character is formed in the midst of the battles of the soul. Christ offered peace, not in the sense of freedom from disturbance, but in the midst of disturbance. When He said, 'Peace, be still,' it was in the midst of a storm. We need to develop within ourselves the kind of self-control that will enable us in the midst of disturbance to find the peace that comes into the soul of a man who is living as he knows he should live." (The Abundant Life [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965], 127.)
Romans 7:23 I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity
"When we receive the Gospel, a warfare commences immediately; Paul says, 'for I delight in the law of God, after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.' We have to fight continually, as it were, sword in hand to make the spirit master of the tabernacle, or the flesh subject to the law of the spirit. If this warfare is not diligently prosecuted, then the law of sin prevails, and in consequence of this some apostatize from the truth when crossing the plains, learn to swear instead of to pray, become high-minded and high tempered instead of learning to be patient and humble, and when they arrive in these valleys they feel so self-sufficient that they consider themselves the only ones that are really right; they are filled with darkness, the authority of the Spirit is not listened to, and the law of sin and death is the ruling power in their tabernacles. They could once testify, by the revelations of Jesus Christ to them that Mormonism, or the Gospel is true; then the Spirit triumphed over the flesh, they walked in the light of God, and great was their joy, and brilliant their hope of immortality and eternal life. The rule of the flesh brings darkness and death, while, on the other hand, the rule of the Spirit brings light and life. When through the Gospel, the Spirit in man has so subdued the flesh that he can live without willful transgression, the Spirit of God unites with his spirit, they become congenial companions, and the mind and will of the Creator is thus transmitted to the creature." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 9: 288.)
Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I am!
Alexander B. Morrison
"Even the prophets of God struggle to master themselves. Indeed, it may safely be said they would not be called and sustained in their holy calling in the absence of that mastery.
"The great Nephi wept at his human weakness: 'O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations . . . which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.' (2 Nephi 4:17-19.)
"Nephi's sentiments are similar to those of Paul, who also wrote with deep emotion and obvious personal experience of the inner struggle between the flesh and the spirit. Wrote Paul: 'I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.. . . For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' (Romans 7:18-19, 22-24.)
"The cultivation of Christlike qualities is a lifelong struggle, demanding and relentless in calling forth the very best in us, stretching our souls. 'Who has a harder battle than he who strives to conquer himself? And this must be our endeavour, in a word, to subdue ourselves, day by day to gain the mastery of self and make progress towards something better.' (Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, translated by E. M. Blaiklock [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979], p. 26.) The struggle for self-mastery is not a battle we fight only once. In one form or another, we must strive every day of our lives if we are to toil the pilgrim's path to perfection. Thorns, briars, and noxious weeds abound along the path. Yet He who stands with beckoning arms at the end of our journey gives us daily strength as we look to Him for guidance." (Feed My Sheep: Leadership Ideas for Latter-day Shepherds [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 142-143.)
Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Jeffrey R. Holland
"Too often we are also in servitude to our own bodies. Paul said, 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.' (Romans 7:22-23.) I don't mean just the dramatic sins-the anger that leads to murder, or the passion that leads to sexual transgression, or the lust that leads to theft. There are more common kinds of bondage than these. The war in the body of someone who is a little overweight that makes him huff and puff by the time he gets to the top of the stairs, the war of the mattress on his back that he somehow cannot shake in the morning so he misses those precious and most inspirational hours of the day, the war of grooming and personal hygiene that could do much for us-all these are restrictive to our freedom if we don't control them." (However Long and Hard the Road [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 58.)