Dr. Ben Witherington III – The Law In Romans 7

Well it is not about the law as such. This is a presentation by Dr. Ben Witherington given at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature last year in Chicago. It is for academics and deals with ‘Preaching the New Testament as Rhetoric’.” Romans 7 becomes an illustration of that part way through – or perhaps more than part way through – coming after the subheading, RHETORIC ON FULL DISPLAY.

I thought the presentation interesting following what I have previously posted on the Law of God and what Ben Witherington says about the Apostle Paul’s use of a literary rhetoric that places emphasis and relevance of the law of God. Says Dr. Witherington, ”Romans 7 demonstrates not only Paul’s considerable skill with rhetoric, but his penchant for using even its most complex devices and techniques. This text proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did not use rhetoric in some purely superficial or sparing way (e.g. using rhetorical questions). To the contrary the very warp and woof of his argument here reflects, and indeed requires an understanding of, sophisticated rhetorical techniques to make sense of the content of this passage and the way it attempts to persuade the Roman audience.”

How often do we here this chapter being appealed to in support for our personal failings; reading chapter 8 should put that right. The Apostle Paul says that victory is provided for the believers who put their trust in the work that Jesus Christ has achieved on our behalf (Romans 8:1-4). 

As Witherington goes on to say, “Of course since the important work of W.G. Kűmmel on Rom. 7, it has become a commonplace, perhaps even a majority opinion in some NT circles that the “I” of Romans 7 is not autobiographical. This however still did not tell us what sort of literary or rhetorical use of “I” we do find in Rom. 7. As S. Stowers points out, it is also no new opinion that what is going on in Rom. 7 is the rhetorical technique known as ‘impersonation’. In fact, this is how some of the earliest Greek commentators on Romans, such as Origen, took this portion of the letter, and later commentators such as Jerome and Rufinus take note of this approach of Origen’s. Not only so, Didymus of Alexandria and Nilus of Ancyra also saw Paul using the form of speech in character or impersonation here.”

“What are the markers or indicators in the text of Rom. 7.7-13 that the most probable way to read this text, the way Paul desired for it to be heard, is in the light of the story of Adam, with Adam speaking of his own experience?” Ben Witherington asks. . .

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