Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. As long as it liveth; or, as long as he liveth. (Challoner) — This seems the literal construction, rather than as long as he, the man, liveth. For St. Paul here compares the law (which in the Greek is in the masculine gender) to a husband, whom a wife cannot quit, nor be married to another, as long as the husband liveth, without being an adulteress: but if the husband be dead, (as the law of Moses is now dead, and no longer obligatory after the publishing of the new law of Christ) the people that were Jews, and under the Jewish law, are now free from that former husband, to wit, the written law of Moses. Nay, this people also are become dead to the law, (ver. 4.) because the law itself is dead by the body of Christ, or, as in the Greek, by reason of the body of Christ offered and sacrificed for you, and for all on the cross: so that now you must look upon yourselves as spiritually married to him: which agrees with what follows, that you may belong to another, (in the Greek, to another husband) to Christ, who is risen from the dead, and is now the spouse of your souls. (Witham)
Ver. 5. For when we were in the flesh; i.e. lived according to the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law: he does not say, as St. Chrysostom observes, that they were caused by the law, but only were by it, meaning that they were occasioned by the knowledge of the law, but properly caused by ourselves, and our corrupt inclinations, that were wrought in our members, rather than did work. (Witham)
Ver. 6. But now are loosed from the law of death, by which many understand from the law of Moses; so called, because it could not of itself give the life of grace, and occasioned death. Others expound these words, free from the law of death, that is, from sins, which before they had been guilty of, and which made them deserve eternal death. (Witham)
Ver. 7. Is the law (of Moses) sin? God forbid. The apostle declares, that the law itself was far from being sinful; on the contrary, that it was good, spiritual, holy: but, saith he, I should not know concupiscence to be sinful, unless the law said: thou shalt not covet: by which it is made known to every one, that sins of thought consented to, and evil desires, are sins. (Witham)
Ver. 8. Sin, taking occasion. Sin, or concupiscence, which is called sin, because it is from sin, and leads to sin, which was asleep before, was awakened by the prohibition; the law not being the cause thereof, nor properly giving occasion to it: but occasion being taken by our corrupt nature to resist the commandment laid upon us. (Challoner) — Sin. The apostle here calls concupiscence by the name of sin; because it is the consequence and punishment of it, and drags us along to sin. This takes occasion from the precept of the law to induce us to transgress it; for we are naturally inclined to do what is forbidden. — Nitimur in vetitum — which is the offspring of a disorderly love of liberty and independence. Without the law sin was dead, because concupiscence had nothing to rouse and trouble it. It was like a torrent which rolled rapidly, without resistance in its channel, but as soon as the law came and put an obstacle, it began to spread itself far and wide, and commit the strangest ravages. Or it may be explained thus: without the law sin was dead; not being known to the world, and not imputed to us as a transgression. He speaks here of the transgressions of the written law, not of the law of nature, of which each one has a sufficient knowledge to render him inexcusable, whenever he transgresses it. (Calmet) — Without the law sin was dead; that is, many sins were so little known, that before the written law they seemed no sins; not but that, at all times, reason and conscience shewed many things to be sinful and ill done, so that whosoever acted against these lights could not be excused. See what St. Paul says of the heathen philosophers, chap. i. (Witham)
Ver. 9. &c. I lived some time without the law; i.e. without the knowledge of the law. This some understand of St. Paul in the time of his childhood, before he came to the knowledge of what was forbidden by any law. But the exposition, which agrees with the rest of this chapter, is this; that St. Paul, though he seems to speak of himself, yet represents the condition of any person that lived before the written law was given: but when the commandment came, after that the written law was given, and its precepts came to my knowledge, then sin revived, by giving me a perfect knowledge: and by transgressing those precepts, I became more guilty and without excuse. — I died: i.e. became guilty by transgression of the known law, and guilty of eternal death: and the commandments or precepts, which were unto life, which were good in themselves, and designed to direct me what I was to do, and what I was to avoid in order to obtain eternal life, were found to be unto death to me, but by my own fault; and occasionally only, from the commandments of the law and the knowledge of them, when with full knowledge I transgressed them. Thus I was seduced by sin, which with it brought death, though the law and the commandment (ver. 12) were in themselves holy, and just, and good. They could not but be good, as St. Chrysostom says, their author being the true God, and not any evil principle or cause, that was the author of evils, as the impious Manicheans pretended. We might as well, says St. Chrysostom, find fault with the tree of life [the tree of knowledge of good and evil?] and the forbidden fruit in Paradise, which was not the cause, but only the occasion of our misery, when Adam eat of it. It cannot then be said, that that which was good, (to wit, the law ) was made death to me, or the cause of my death; but sin, and my unresisted sinful inclinations, that it might appear sin, or that it might evidently appear how great an evil sin is, by that which is good, (i.e. by the transgression of the law which is good) wrought and brought death to me, that by the occasion of the precepts given and known, sin might become sinful above measure. He speaks of sin as it were of a certain person; and the sense is, that sin, which was in my corrupt nature, might become sinful above measure, when it led me into all manner of disorders and excess, which I yielded to. (Witham)
Ver. 13. That it may appear sin, or that sin may appear; viz. to be the monster it is, which is even capable to take occasion from that which is good to work death. (Challoner)
Ver. 14. I am carnal, sold under sin, a slave subject to sinful inclinations, which are only properly sins when they are consented to by our free-will. There has been a great dispute both among the ancient and later interpreters, whether St. Paul from this verse to the end of the chapter speaks of a person remaining in sin, either under the law of nature or of the written law, (which was once the opinion of St. Augustine) or whether he speaks of a person regenerated by baptism, and in the state of grace in the new law, and even of himself when he was a faithful servant of God. This is the opinion of St. Augustine in many of his later writings against the Pelagians, for which he also cites St. Hilary, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Ambrose. It is also the opinion of St. Jerome, (Ep. ad Eustochium de custod. Virg.) of St. Gregory the great, of Ven. Bede, and the more approved opinion, according to which the apostle here by sin does not understand that which is properly speaking a sin, or sinful, but only speaks of sin improperly such, that is of a corrupt inclination, of a rebellious nature corrupted by original sin, of a strife betwixt the spirit and the flesh, which remains for a trial in the most virtuous persons: of which see again St. Paul, Galatians v. 17. We may take notice that the apostle before spoke of what he was and what he had been, but now speaks in the present time of what he is, and what he doth. (Witham) — The law is styled spiritual: 1st, because it prescribes what appertains to the spirit, and to the spiritual man: i.e. to follow virtue and shun vice: 2nd, because it directs man to the worship of God, which is spirit and truth: 3rd, because it cannot be fulfilled by spiritual men, unless by spirit and grace: 4th, because it directs the spirit of man and disposes him properly towards God, towards his neighbour, and towards himself: and lastly, because the law spiritually received and understood, leads and prepares men for the evangelical law, which is the law of grace and spirit. (Menochius)
Ver. 15. For that which I work, I understand not. To know, or understand is often, in the style of the Scriptures, the same as to approve or love: so the sense here is: I approve not what I do, that is, what happens to me in my sensitive part, in my imagination, or in the members of my body, which indeed the just man rather suffers than does; and this is the sense, by what immediately follows, the evil which I hate, that I do, i.e. that I suffer, being against my will; and I do that which I would not. (Witham) — I do not that good which I will, &c. The apostle here describes the disorderly motions of passion and concupiscence; which oftentimes in us get the start of reason, and by means of which even good men suffer in the inferior appetite what their will abhors: and are much hindered in the accomplishment of the desires of their spirit and mind. But these evil motions, (though they are called the law of sin, because they come from original sin, and violently tempt and incline to sin) as long as the will does not consent to them, are not sins, because they are not voluntary. (Challoner)
Ver. 17-18. Now then it is no more I that do it: To will good is present with me. These expressions all shew that he speaks of temptations that affect the sense only, the imagination, or the members of the body, but to which the mind and the will give no consent, but retain an aversion to them; and so long they never can be truly and properly sins, which must be with full deliberation and consent. (Witham) — The apostle here means to say, that he knew by experience that evil and not good dwelt within him, according to the flesh. He does not contradict this passage when he says elsewhere, that our members are the temples of the Holy Ghost: (1 Corinthians iii. 6.[16.?] &c.) for good cannot be found in our flesh, inasmuch as it is corrupted by sin; whence our Saviour says, “What is born of flesh, is flesh.” (John iii.) But good is in our body, when our members under the influence of the soul, renewed by the Holy Ghost residing in it, are employed in good works. The meaning of this passage is, that although now healed and renewed by grace, he could have a perfect desire of doing good; yet still on account of the evil of concupiscence dwelling in his flesh, he found not himself able to perform all the good he wished, because concupiscence was always urging him on to evil against his will. (Estius)
Ver. 22. I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man. As long as the inward man, or man’s interior, is right, all is right. — (I perceive another law in my members, fighting, and different from the law of my mind: this is true in any man just striving against and resisting temptations, but not of the sinner, whose mind also and will consent to them. A man can never lose God’s favour and grace, unless his mind and interior consent. — These hold me as it were captive in the law of sin, or sinful inclinations, but which are in the members only. I cry out, who shall deliver me from the body of this death, from this mortal body with its sinful lusts, which if consented to would bring death to the soul? Nothing but the grace of Jesus Christ can secure me from such temptations, and by freeing me from this body, can make me perfectly happy; which cannot be hoped for in this life. But I have still this greatest of consolations, that I myself, with my mind and will, still serve God, and remain firm in obedience to his laws; but with the flesh, or in the flesh, I am subject to the law of sin, i.e. of sinful inclinations. — We must avoid here two heretical errors; that of those late pretended reformers, who denying man’s free will, hold the commandments of God impossible, even to a just man. See also the first heretical proposition of Jansenius. Next we must detest the late abominable error of those called Quietists, who blushed not to say that a man might yield and abandon himself to the most shameful disorders of the flesh, pretending that it was not they themselves, but sin and the devil that caused these abominations in their flesh. St. Augustine foresaw this frivolous excuse: (lib. i. de. nup. and Concup. chap. xxviii.) “That man (saith he) is in a grievous mistake, who, consenting to the concupiscence of the flesh, and to do what the flesh prompts him to, thinks he can still say: It is not I that do that,” &c. (Witham)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
We are released by Christ from the law, and from the guilt of sin: though the inclination to it still tempt us.
1 Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law) that the law hath dominion over a man as long as it liveth?
2 *For the woman that hath a husband, whilst her husband liveth, is bound to the law: but if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
3 Wherefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man: but if her husband be dead, she is free from the law of her husband: so that she is not an adulteress, if she be with another man.
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ: that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead, that we may bring forth fruit to God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 But now we are loosed from the law of death, wherein we were detained, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. But I did not know sin, but by the law: for I had not known concupiscence, if the law had not said: *Thou shalt not covet.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law, sin was dead.
9 And I lived some time without the law. But when the commandment came, sin revived,
10 And I died: and the commandment, that was ordained to life, the same was found to be unto death to me.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, seduced me, and by it killed me.
12 *Wherefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
13 Was that then which is good, made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it may appear sin, by that which is good, wrought death in me: that sin, by the commandment, might become sinful above measure.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will, but the evil which I hate, that I do.
16 If, then, I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good.
17 Now, then, it is no more I that do it; but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not.
19 For the good which I will, I do not: but the evil which I will not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I am delighted with the law of God, *according to the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.
24 Unhappy man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind, serve the law of God: but, with the flesh, the law of sin.
2: 1 Corinthians vii. 39.
7: Exodus xx. 17.; Deuteronomy v. 21.
12: 1 Timothy i. 8.
22: 1 Peter iii. 4.