A special thanks to Jay Street for all the hard study that led to this video!
This video was adapted from his 6-part podcast series on Romans 7:7 - 8:4.
Check out this series on Bible Crux as well as all his other good content!
If you would like to study this issue from a more technical point of view, you can read Jay Street's article for the Master's Seminary Journal.
A special thanks to Sam Yang for making the intro music!
Check out his YouTube channel, Jungi Geetah!
"Getting Ready" by Sam Yang
"Happy & Inspirational Acoustic" by BestBackgroundMusic
WallDeca: Dry-Erase Thick Fine Line Markers
WHO IS PAUL TALKING TO IN ROMANS 7?
The third question we need to answer is this: Who is Paul talking to in Romans 7?
There are really only three possibilities: (1) He is talking to Jews, (2) he is talking to Gentiles, or (3) he is talking to both Jews and Gentiles. This is because the book of Romans was written to a mixed audience of both Jews and Gentiles (Rom 1:16). But the beginning of Romans 7 clues us in right away whom Paul is talking to, “Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?” When Paul says he is “speaking to those who know the law,” that would appear to be the Jews. Who else would know the Law of the Old Testament but a Jewish audience? They have experience living under the Law or they at least have a rich heritage in it. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Paul is talking to a Jewish cross-section of his audience at this point. In addition, Paul does not change whom he is talking to or switch the topic he is talking to them about all throughout chapter 7. For this reason, Paul seems to be talking to Jews for the entirety of the chapter.
But not everyone sees it this way. Some biblical scholars believe Paul is talking to both Jews and Gentiles, because, as they argue, everyone in his Roman audience would have had at least some familiarity with the Law. However, this is unlikely. Most Roman Gentile converts would have been very unfamiliar with Old Testament law. Although they would have been accustomed to seeing Jews living around the Italian peninsula, they were not even novices, let alone experts, in Jewish law, unless they were formerly Jewish proselytes (and most were not). But for the sake of argument, let’s give this theory the benefit of the doubt, that “those who know the law” could include all Gentile Christians. There’s still a problem. You still have to account for what Romans 7:4–6 says about these people who know the Law:
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
There are some important observations to be made here. First, this audience has “died to the law” according to verse 4 and have been “released from the law” according to verse 6, because it “held [them] captive.” Gentiles were never living under the Law of the Old Testament, to begin with, and therefore, do not need to die to it. Moreover, they were never bound to the Law of the Old Testament, and therefore, do not need to be released from it. That’s a description that belongs to the Jews alone. Second, while this audience lived in the flesh (before they were Christians), verse 5 says that their “sinful passions, aroused by the law . . . [bore] fruit for death.” Unless this is talking about a Gentile proselyte, the Law would never have aroused a Gentile to indulge in sinful passions, because they were simply not familiar with it enough. Those who know the Law were those who had regular experience with it, so much so that they were drawn into the sin the Law itself forbade. This must be the Jews; it cannot be the Gentiles.
So, if Paul is talking only to the Jews in Romans 7, and not the Gentiles, why does he limit the scope of his audience at this point? The answer is related to the last question we answered: Why is the Law emphasized in Romans 7? The Law is emphasized, because the Law is the main point of Romans 7. It’s the primary subject of interest. As a result, talking to the Jews directly makes perfect sense. Paul wants to pull aside the Jewish portion of his audience, in order to have a “heart-to-heart” with them about the Law they cherish so much. He loves that they love the Law, but he’s concerned that they are using it as a substitute for their sanctification. Paul wants to make it clear to them that they do not grow in godliness by way of the Law. The Law has no power to help them do that. If anything, all it does is just reinforce for them how sinful they really are (Rom 7:7–12). It may have been their standard for changing, but it was never their agent of change. Instead, these Jewish Christians must grow by way of the gospel of grace, just like the Gentiles do. There’s no difference in the means of sanctification for the Jew and the Gentile. Just because the Jews had the Law does not mean they have a different tool to help them change. Everyone changes by the grace of the gospel alone.
So, Paul is talking specifically to the Jews at this moment in Romans 7. Granted, the Gentiles have the benefit of listening in on the conversation, which will be useful to them as well. But the primary target of Romans 7 is the Jewish cross-section of Paul’s audience. This is very important to understand, because it’s going to help us answer an even bigger question, the most important question on our list: “Who is Paul talking about in Romans 7?” And that’s the subject of the next question . . .