I’M NOT SURE WHO TO BELIEVE.
Should I believe some of my closest friends, who say the Holy Spirit guided the entire process of putting the Bible together just exactly the way God wants it?
Or should I believe scholars who spend their career studying the Bible and who say things like this,
“Paul sounds like he got his thoughts tangled up while he was dictating, but he kept on dictating anyway.”
That’s pretty much what one of the scholars said about a confusing verse in Romans 8, which I was working on paraphrasing yesterday.
I don’t know if the Holy Spirit got the Bible word-perfect and humanity-free in the original copies because we don’t have any of the original copies. We don’t have even a piece of an original copy.
But I can tell you that if the Holy Spirit’s skill level is reflected in some of the English copies I have on my shelf, I’d offer this advice. If the Holy Spirit does anymore inspiring in the future, she ought to drink some coffee first. Because some of this stuff isn’t clear. And I’m dealing with it now.
During this past year I have been paraphrasing the writings of Paul for the Casual English Bible. I saved his toughest book for last: Romans.
Holy smoke. This is one meandering, convoluted, confounding theological masterpiece.
And here I sit at my keyboard trying to paraphrase this thing into a style of casual English that my Uncle Henry could understand if he were still alive, which he is not.
It wasn’t nearly as tough paraphrasing Paul’s other letters. There, he tells stories, gives encouragement, and asks women to kindly be quiet in church and to defer to men. That’s clear enough, whether or not we think he needs to get to know women a little better.
But in Romans, Paul goes rogue. Nothing else he writes compares to this.
What he creates is what scholars call a theological masterpiece. What I’m doing with it, by simplifying it, and making a lot of guesses and presumptions, is turning it into a Marvel screenplay for Netflix. And I hope you’ll see it soon on a monitor near you.
If you’re curious about taking a look at a work in progress, which is something writers seldom let you do, here’s my first pass at Romans seven. It probably has mistakes in it because I haven’t given it a careful second read. And it hasn’t been proofed by anyone yet. So feel free to let me know where you think I blew it in any way, including in my theological interpretive simplification. Or as Bible scholars often put it, dumbing it down.
Roman 7. Sin’s got a hold on me
We’re not married to the law anymore
7:1. I want to talk to my fellow Jews now. You do know that the law applies to us only while we’re alive.
7:2. That’s why it’s okay for a widow to remarry. The law ties her to her husband, but when her husband dies, she’s not bound by that law anymore.
7:3. It’s another thing entirely if she’s still married when she hooks up with another man. She’s committing adultery then. But if her husband dies, she’s free of the law that tied the two of them together. It’s okay for her to get married again.
7:4. Here’s the point I want you to get, my fellow Jews. The body of Christ died so that we can move on. We’re now free to belong to another—to the one who was raised from the dead. We can now give birth to good things for God.
7:5. Before this, what we produced was good for nothing but dying. I’m talking about sin. We did what our bodies told us to do. We followed our passions into sin. And the law actually contributes to this by telling us what not to do.
7:6. But now we’re free of the law. We’re dead to it. It doesn’t apply to us anymore. We’re free to get a fresh start. We can follow the lead of the Spirit instead of a bunch of laws written a long time ago.
It’s not me doing what I’m doing
7:7. What does all this mean? Is our Jewish law sinful? Absolutely not. It’s the opposite of sin. Without the law, I wouldn’t know what sin is. I wouldn’t have any idea that it’s wrong to want something that someone else has, and to obsess over it. But the law clearly said it’s wrong to covet.
7:8. But once I read that law, sin got a hold of me. It stirred up all kinds of obsessive desires. If we want to kill sin, we have to let go of the law.
7:9. The law wasn’t always part of my life. But when I let it in, along with the command against coveting, sin came with it.
7:10. I died because of that sin. Think of it. The law promised me life. But it gave me death.
7:11. Sin tricked me to death. It killed me with that commandment against coveting.
7:12. The law is good and right and sacred. So is the commandment against coveting.
7:13. Did the law, which we know is good, actually kill me spiritually? Absolutely not. Sin killed me. Sin used something good—the commandment against coveting—to do something bad.
7:14. The law is spiritual. We know it. I’m not spiritual. I know it. I’m all too human–a slave, in fact. Sin is my master.
I don’t want to do what I do, but I do
7:15. I don’t understand what I’m doing. I’m not doing what I want to do. Doggone if I’m not doing what I hate.
7:16. But if I’m doing something bad, which I don’t want to do, this shows that I know the law is good.
7:17. By now, it’s clear that I’m not the one doing these terrible things. Sin is. It has moved into me and taken over.
7:18. I know there’s nothing good inside this body of mine. I want to do what’s right. But I can’t manage to do it.
7:19. I don’t do the good stuff that I want to do. I do the rotten, good-for-nothing stuff I don’t want to do.
7:20. Think about it. If I’m doing what I don’t what to do, it’s not me doing it. Sin’s inside me, and it’s running the joints.
Who’s the boss?
7:21. Here’s the way it always seems to work. Whenever I want to do something good, sin reminds me who’s the boss.
7:22. I agree with everything in God’s law. My heart’s all in on it.
7:23. But there’s another law inside me. This law is waging war against me and the law I love. It has made me a prisoner of war. I’m a captive to sin’s law.
7:24. I’m a miserable, sad-excuse of a human being. This body of mine is nothing but death warmed over. Who’s going to free me from this sinful body?
7:25. Thank God. He saves me through Jesus Christ. Still, I serve two laws. With all my heart I follow God’s law. But my flesh and bones still chase the law of sin.
 7:5. Paul doesn’t say how the law contributes to sin. In a more literal translation, Paul simply says that sinful passions were “aroused by the law.”
It is going to be extremely difficult to translate this book and especially this chapter. My suggestion to you would be to keep it as confusing as it is because Paul himself is struggling with the relationship of the Law (and I believe he is talking about the moral law) and his relationship to his life and failure to keep it. He is leading up to salvation by Grace through Faith (which is the Good news in Chapter 8 – thank God!). Bible scholars are often confused about this chapter — is he talking about his life under Judaism or is he talking about his life as a regenerate believer? I tend to believe he is talking about the Christian life — the sin he is talking about is his humaness that is in his flesh (sinful nature which is a poor translation for flesh). All Christians struggle between their new nature (“born anew”) and their flesh (their unregenerate body). We are not “old people in a new set of clothes”, but “new people in an old set of clothes.” We are already prepared for heaven — all we need to do is shed this corruptible skin! This I believe is the frustration he is talking about. I don’t know of any “unregenerate” person that says “I really like God’s law” — that is why I think Paul is talking about his struggle as a Christian and his frustration with his imperfections in his humanity.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks Wayne. Keeping it confusing isn’t a problem. But I’ll want to make it clear that he’s confused. So I’m putting his words in English that’s easy to read.
I do make guesses and presumptions, but add footnotes to better explain or offer alternatives. This is something I may need to beef up.
This paraphrase may please no one except Bible newcomers or folks who have never enjoyed reading Romans. I think I have to embrace that reality right up front.
Richard Hagee, M.Div
Romans chapter 7 is confusing, but I think you have rendered it pretty well. Paul is describing the indescribable and so are you, nevertheless, you are doing a good job, in my opinion, keep paraphrasing.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks Richard. Romans 9 is even tougher to understand. Wow oh wow.