7. Brides of Christ
Jewishness and the Pauline Origins of Christian Sexual Renunciation
Romans 5–8 and the Family of Grace
Romans 5–8 is often held to be a digression in the argument about the status of Israel carried on in Romans 1–4 and 9–11. Another line of interpretation and theology regards these chapters as the real center of Romans and all the rest as ancillary material. Recently N. T. Wright has argued that these chapters carry on in a direct way the argument of 1–4 and lead directly in turn into 9–11 (1992a, 193–230). “It is the continuation of the same argument, the necessary bridge between the discussion of the family of Abraham defined by faith in Jesus Christ (3.21–4.25) and the family of Abraham defined by grace not race (9–11)” (194). In general, I agree with both this point and some aspects of the particular interpretation that Wright gives as well. He writes:
The position Paul is arguing, just as in Galatians 3, is that the Torah has not alleviated, but rather has exacerbated, the plight of Adamic humanity. This can only mean that the recipients of the Torah, i.e. Israel, have found themselves to be under its judgment because of their participation in Adamic humanity. Since therefore Christians have left the realm of the παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος in baptism, they have also left the realm of Torah, coming out from the place where it could exert a hold over them. (195)
I absolutely concur in this interpretation, which accounts for much of the language of these chapters. But I dissent from, or rather offer an alternative to, Wright's interpretation of what this means in terms of Paul's religious world view. Wright argues that the essential point of Romans 7 is that the Torah has had the function of concentrating sin in Israel, so that the Christ, Redeemer of Israel, could redeem the whole world as well. What I will propose in this chapter is that the Torah has exacerbated the plight of Adamic humanity essentially because of one provision it contains, and not because of its character as law as such. This Law, which Paul refers to in verse 23 as “an Other Law” (ἕτερος νόμος), is the command to procreate, and the desire that it produces in the members. Dealing with this command is the necessary bridge that Paul must build between the family of Israel defined by race and that defined by grace, since for old Israel procreation as the means of continuation of God's People was the central and highest of goods and of religious values, but at the same time, for Israel by the first century sexuality had become thoroughly anxiety-ridden and guilty as well (Biale 1992, 39–40). Many Jews of the first century had a sense that they were commanded by God to do that which God himself considered sinful.
Sexuality and Sin in First-Century Judaism
The Palestinian Judaism of Paul's time was strongly dualist in mood and at best powerfully ambivalent about sexuality. In The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, a Hellenistic Jewish text from Palestine dated to sometime approximately in the late second century B.C., each human being is inhabited by a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit.” The evil spirit is explicitly defined as sexuality and opposed by a good spirit, which is anti-sexual: “And the spirits of error have no power over him [the genuine man], since he does not include feminine beauty in the scope of his vision ” (Kee 1983, 803). “For the person with a mind that is pure with love does not look on a woman for the purpose of having sexual relations” (Kee 1983, 827). Other passages in this same text also indicate an extremely anxious affect around sexuality. The text speaks of seven “good spirits” inhabiting human beings. Of these,
The distinction between the spirit of taste for food and the spirit of procreation is striking. Although both are listed among the good spirits, the former contributes strength to the body. We would expect, therefore, that the clause on “the spirit of procreation and intercourse” would similarly continue; “by it comes the continuation of the race, because in intercourse the race is maintained.” But instead we read, “with which come sins through fondness for pleasure.” While the spirit of taste is commingled with a spirit of insatiability, the spirit of intercourse induces to sin, even before being commingled with the spirit of promiscuity. Philo, famously, expresses himself similarly. There may be no question, then, that Hellenistic Judaism, including in Palestine, had developed extremely pessimistic notions of sexuality. The clearest expression of this Palestinian Jewish negative affect around sexuality is, of course, the term ערה רצי itself, the evil inclination as a near synonym for sexual desire.
the sixth is the spirit of taste for consuming food and drink; by it comes strength, because in food is the substance of strength. The seventh is the spirit of procreation and intercourse, with which come sins through fondness for pleasure. For this reason, it was the last in the creation and the first in youth, because it is filled with ignorance; it leads the young person like a blind man into a ditch and like an animal over a cliff. With these are commingled the spirits of error. First the spirit of promiscuity resides in the nature and the senses. A second spirit of insatiability, in the stomach. (782–85)
In a thinking person, such judgments would inevitably have been in powerful conflict, indeed creating a sort of double bind, with the commandment to procreate. The fact that sexuality, the ערה רצי, is the agent of the first positive commandment in the Torah is an irony that neither Paul nor the Rabbis could escape. The very efforts which the Rabbis were to make a century or two later to overcome the negative encoding of sexuality and desire as ipso facto evil provide eloquent testimony to the strength and problematicity of this ideology of sex for a community insisting on the unqualified goodness of procreation, owing to the doctrine of the holiness of its physical existence (Boyarin 1993, 61–64). The Rabbis for their part heavily ironized the notion of the Evil Instinct through paradoxical formulations, such as calling the Evil Instinct “very good” (Boyarin 1993, 167–96). Paul, I suggest, found a different way out. Through readings of three Pauline texts—Romans 5–8, 1 Corinthians 6, and Galatians 5–6—I hope to make a case that for Paul encratism was the ideal, procreation of no value whatsoever, and marriage indeed merely a defense against desire for the weak. The politics of this move, of course, are intimately bound up in the transcession of Israel according to the flesh by its spiritual signified.
The Law as Stimulus to Sin
In Romans 5:12–14, Paul explicitly discusses Adam and draws a distinction between his sin and the sin of all others from Adam to Moses:
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Although the wording is somewhat confusing, I think that very important points can nonetheless be derived from this passage. Paul is making a distinction between “sin” on the one hand and “transgression” on the other. Adam's transgression was correctly accounted to him, because he had been given a law: the law, of course, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge. Sin is separate from the Law. It is not caused by the Law; all men sin and the (natural?) consequence is death, even for those for whom sin cannot be accounted, because their “sins are not [accountable because they are not] like the transgression of Adam.” Adam ends up here being prototypical of two human groups: those who have the Law and thereby are subject to have their transgressions accounted (Jews) and those who are affected by unaccountable sin but nevertheless die as a result of it (gentiles). “Adam's sin was παράβασις obviously = ‘sin accounted’ since it was an act of disobedience to what he knew to be a command of God” (Dunn 1988, 276). Paul is at pains that we realize that even without accounting, sin itself nevertheless results in death, so that even those who have not sinned as Adam did—that is, even those who do not know the Law—are in exactly the same situation as those who know the Law. Paul's overall theme in Romans that Jews and non-Jews are in exactly the same situation is thus well supported by this argument. Paul is further counteracting, however, a Jewish argument or attitude which we have already seen him critiquing in Romans 2, namely, the attitude that having the Law provides some sort of immunity to sin or redemption from sin. This is the source of his assertion here and below that having the Law makes sin greater, not lesser. “God's purpose for the law was not to distinguish Jewish righteous from gentile sinners, but to make Israel more conscious of its solidarity in sin with the rest of Adam's offspring” (Dunn 1988, 286).
The only way to understand verse 20, “Law came in to increase the trespass,” is in context, in reference to Adam—one man's trespass—so Adam is clearly here the type of the Jew, human being under the Law. The content of this verse is interpretable in two ways, neither of them, at any rate, nearly so antithetical to rabbinic theologoumena as the Reformation tradition would have it. Either the knowledge of that which is forbidden increases culpability, or having the knowledge of that which is forbidden increases the desire to sin. Either way, the point is that Jews cannot claim any privilege, because they have the Law. Having the Law makes their salvation more difficult, not easier. Paul is fighting against a Jewish theology—held by some, not all, first-century Jews—which argues that just having the Law provides a privileged place in salvation for the Jews.
The “Law of Sin in our Members” is Sex
Starting from the assumption that Romans 7 continues Romans 5, I want to propose that the entire discourse about Law and commandment in this section of Romans has to do with sexuality. Of all the myriad interpretations that have been offered for the soliloquy of chapter 7, the one that makes the most sense to me, for all its problems, is the interpretation that the speaker of these verses is Adam. Watson has recently presented a strong argument in support of this reading. He presents a series of detailed comparisons between the speaker of Romans 7:7 ff. and Adam:
- Only Adam was alive before any commandment was given (v. 9).
- The commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge came and gave Sin (the Serpent) an opportunity to bring death to Adam (v. 9).
- “Sin deceived me” (ἐξηπάτησεν) is the same term that Eve uses to describe what happened to her, namely, that the Serpent “deceived me” (ἠπάτησεν με) (v. 11; cf. Gen. 3:13).
- The result of the transgression is death, so “the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me.” (Watson, 152)
Westerholm and other scholars had already rejected this interpretation, arguing that “You shall not covet” refers to the prohibition in the Decalogue and not to Adam (1988, 59). Watson, however, completely finesses this objection by interpreting the negative command involved as both the commandment to Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the command against desire in the Decalogue. They are, as I shall suggest below, in a sort of type/anti-type situation. He is thus not constrained to ignore the obvious allusion to the Decalogue in the chapter in order to maintain his reading that the speaker is Adam, for Adam's commandment is a type of the commandment to all—In Adam, all have sinned. This argument that Paul could appropriately use the verse of the Ten Commandments as a sort of catchword referring to Adam's sin can be further strengthened. First of all, the commandment in the Decalogue refers precisely to sexual lust. In the version of Deuteronomy, this is the entire content of the verse: Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor's wife (οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου). To be sure, the verse goes on, in a separate sentence, to list other objects of one's neighbor that one should not covet as well. Furthermore, in the version in Exodus 20:17, where the Hebrew reads: Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor's house or his wife, the Greek has οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου as the first item and as a separate sentence, precisely as in the Deuteronomy version. It is thus entirely plausible that Paul has the sentence “Do not desire the woman—of your neighbor” in mind when he cites οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις. This verse of the Decalogue is the only negative commandment in the whole Torah that refers to desire and not to an action. It is thus the very anti-type, as it were, of the prohibition on Adam, if that prohibition is understood, as it most often was, as a prohibition against sexual desire (Wright 1992a, 197). Furthermore, as Watson argues:
The serpent's use of the commandment to deceive leads to sin: “Sin…wrought in me every kind of desire” (Rom. 7:8).…“Desire” means primarily sexual desire, and this may be linked with Gen. 3:7: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” This suggests that the “sin” of v. 6 was sexual in nature, and for this reason Paul can identify the commandment of Gen. 2:17 with the commandment, “You shall not desire,” just as he can identify the transgression of the commandment in Gen. 3:6 f with the awakening of “every kind of desire” (Rom. 7:7 f). (Watson, 152)
Watson's argument can be amplified. The story that Paul tells in verses 8 and 11—“But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of desire. Apart from the law sin lies dead.…For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me”—seems most specifically intelligible as a gloss on the Genesis story. It was indeed the serpent (= sin) in that story who by subtly manipulating the terms of the prohibition caused Eve and Adam to eat the fruit and die. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.” Here we indeed see sin seizing an opportunity in the commandment! It thus seems to me that this reading makes the best specific and sharp sense of Paul's first-person narrative. Thus, although Westerholm's objection cannot be dismissed entirely, the other strong considerations in favor of Watson's interpretation should lead us to consider it very favorably. I believe that the speaker of Romans 7 is indeed Adam, the same Adam of whom Paul speaks in chapter 5.
If we take seriously the suggestion that the speaker here is Adam and that what he is speaking of is sexual desire, I think that we must also take into consideration the fact that Adam and Eve had been positively commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply.” In my opinion, only the interpretation that Paul is speaking of sexual lust, inflamed by the positive commandment to procreate, which “Sin” does indeed know how to exploit, accounts for such expressions as the “Law of Sin in our members” and all the talk here of inflamed passions. Sexual desire was referred to among Jews in the first century unambiguously as the ערה רצי, the Evil Inclination. As David Biale has written, “For other writers of the time, sexuality was dangerous because even if it began licitly, it could, once aroused, slide all too easily into sin” (1992, 40). This is how Sin has used the commandment to procreate in order to arouse sinful desire (Watson 1986, 152).
Sin and the Law
It follows that Paul would be making a much stronger statement—but also a much more “localized” one—about the relation between sin and the Law. If the sin of Adam and Eve was sexual—either the discovery of sexuality itself or a change in the nature of sexuality—, a view that was held throughout much if not most of ancient interpretation—then it was the positive commandment to have children that led them into it, through the occasion of Sin's (the Serpent's) manipulations. They had been commanded to procreate but also to avoid sexual desire. No wonder that the Serpent (Sin) was able to exploit the commandment to cause them to sin! Within any interpretation that begins with the assumption that sexuality is sinful, as it certainly was for many Jews and Christians in late antiquity, the blessing of procreation is going to be a logical and hermeneutical conundrum, as witness the myriad difficulties of the Church Fathers in sorting out the sequence of events here (Anderson 1989).
Adam's double bind, commanded on the one hand to procreate and on the other to avoid eating of the fruit of the tree of (carnal) knowledge, is the type of Jewish humanity under the flesh, commanded to procreate but also to not have lustful desires, let alone act on them. The Christian, however, having been released from procreation and thus from sexuality, can conquer her desires and bear fruit for God. On this reading, Paul's references to “bearing fruit,” καρποφορήσωμεν, whether for God, i.e., spiritual fruit in verse 4, or for death, i.e., children in verse 5, are precisely an allusion to the commandment: Be fruitful and multiply, of Genesis 1:28.
Children as Fruit for Death
However we understand the soliloquy of Romans 7, I think a strong case can be made for the interpretation that Paul's theme in this chapter is sexuality and redemption from it, as from the flesh through Christ's crucifixion, which make possible the crucifixion of the flesh in everyman. Paul opens chapter 7 with the analogy of the married woman whose husband dies:
Do you know brethren—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during his life. Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning her husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she married another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you 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. (7:1–4)
This parable or analogy has often been regarded as clumsy by even the most friendly of Pauline interpreters. Typical is Stephen Westerholm: “The analogy is not the most perspicuous in the literature” (1988, 206). The problem with the analogy is that Paul's parable is of a woman no longer subject to the law of adultery because her husband has died, but its application is about one who is no longer married because she herself has died. There seems to be a lack of fit. This slippage between parable and application is, however, rather typical of the parabolic structure. In the parable itself, which refers to actual human life, obviously it is the husband who must die, for otherwise his wife could not remarry. However, in the application of the parable, the Christian reality, within which, as Paul argues in chapter 6, the believer dies to one kind of life and is reborn to another, even within this world and this body, the wife through dying becomes released from her obligations to her former husband and is free to marry again. Christians, having died to their first husband, the Law, are brides of Christ, married to him, in order that they may bear fruit for God. It is indeed the Christian who dies to the Law—not the Law which dies—, but the result is equivalent to the Law having died in that the Christian is no longer an adulteress if she does not live faithfully to the Law but joins herself only to Christ.
The parable's erotic overtones, moreover, are not accidental but absolutely crucial, on my reading, to the whole context, for what has died to the Law is the fleshiness, the being in the flesh, which required the pursuit of an act which bore fruit not for God but for death. The choice of the marital analogy is exact, because being tied to the Law meant the obligation to marry and bear children that the Law enjoins in its command to be fruitful and multiply. No longer married to the Law, since they have died to the flesh—meaning both the fleshly, literal meaning of the commandment and the use of the flesh that it implies and enjoins—, Christians belong to Christ—sexually, as it were, so that as his brides they bear “fruit for God,” spiritual children.
Romans 7:5–6 repeat this precise argument in nonparabolic language:
When we were 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 discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
ὅτε γὰρ ἦμεν ἐν τῇ σαρκί, τὰ παθἠματα τῶν ἀμαρτιῶν τὰ διὰ τοῦ νόμου ἐνηργεῖτο ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ἡμῶν, εἰς τὸ καρποφορῆσαι τῷ θανάτῳ. νυνὶ δὲ κατηργήθημεν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἀποθανόντες ἐν ᾧ κατειχόμεθα ὥστε δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς ἐν καινότητι πνεύματος καὶ οὐ παλαιότητι γράμματος
These verses raise several questions: (1) What is the meaning of being “in the flesh”? (2) What is the connection between that fleshly condition and being under the Law? (3) Why does the Law arouse sinful passions? (4) How is being freed of the Law going to prevent the arousal of sinful passions?
There is, in effect, a single answer to all of these questions. Paul speaks of a situation in which “we were still in the flesh,” which is the antithesis to having died to the Law. In other words, then, being in the flesh is equivalent to being alive to the Law. This is best understood if “the flesh” is taken to refer to the letter of the Law together with all of its associated fleshinesses: generation and filiation. Being alive to the Law, that is, serving in the old being of the letter—Be fruitful and multiply—, arouses sinful passions in our members to bear fruit for death, that is to have children and thus to participate in the whole disaster of human mortality. In the new life of the spirit, however, even that most fleshly commandment to procreate will be understood in its spiritual sense, namely, as a commandment to spiritual procreation, to that which bears fruit for God and not for death.
Serving under the old written code includes the positive commandment to be fruitful and multiply—the very first commandment in the Torah—, as well as the first negative commandment not to desire (Paul's midrashic gloss, on my hypothesis, on being forbidden to eat of the fruit). Prescribed procreation leads inevitably to forbidden sexuality, and the whole process to the bearing of fruit for death. It is no wonder that Paul, given this set of assumptions, will speak of the law in the second part of Romans 7 as presenting an impossible dilemma, indeed a double bind. Do have sex, in order to bear children, but do not have desire. Dying to the law through the body of Christ relieves one of the obligation to produce children—“fruit for death”—and thus frees one to bear only spiritual fruit, fruit for God.
The Fruits of this Interpretation: Romans 6 and 8
Whether or not the specifics of this interpretation of Romans 7 as Adam midrash bear fruit and multiply, it nevertheless seems to me to be a highly plausible, if not ineluctable, line of interpretation that sees Paul's focus here as on sexuality and the contrast that he is drawing between fleshly life, with its getting of children, and spiritual life, where the propagation is of spiritual fruits for God. One of the ways of testing a new interpretation of a text is, of course, to observe that it renders clear other aspects of its context that were otherwise difficult to understand. Observing the thematic that I have hypothesized for chapter 7 will help us to solve several interpretative conundra in chapters 6 and 8.
The analogies between the nexus of Law and desire in Romans 7:5–6 and the similar one of 6:12–14 are obvious, and we are justified, therefore, in seeing these verses as glossing each other. Here, however, as in the parable that opens chapter 7, there seem to be the same paradoxes about who is dead and who alive:
We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed.
τοῦτο γινώσκοντες ὅτι ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος ουνεσταυρῶθη, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας. (6:6)
Paul, having just argued that Christians have been crucified and died, now argues that they have been brought from death to life:
Do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Μὴ οὖν βασιλευέτω ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐν τῷ θνητῷ ὑμῶν σώματι εἰς τὸ ὑπακούειν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις αὐτοῦ. μηδὲ παριστάνετε τὰ μέλη ὑμῶν ὅπλα ἀδικίας τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, ἀλλὰ παραστήσατε ἑαυτοὺς τῷ θεῷ ὡσεί ἐκ νεκρῶν ζῶντας καὶ τὰ μέλη ὑμῶν ὅπλα δικαιοσύνης τῷ θεῷ. ἁμαρτία γὰρ ὑμῶν οὐ κυριεύσει οὐ γάρ ἐστε ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ χάριν. (6:12–14)
There are two cruxes here. The first is the apparently self-contradictory account of the relation of life to death. On the one hand, Christians are enjoined to die with Christ; on the other, they have been brought from death to life. In other words, they have participated in both the death and the resurrection of Christ. But the Christians to whom Paul is speaking are still alive, and in the same bodies they were always in. Paul is speaking, in the past tense, of that which has already happened to Christians, not of future expectation. Second, how is the non-obedience to one's passions equivalent to not being under Law, or even more sharply, how can sin have no dominion over you because you are not under Law?
These two interpretative cruxes may both be solved according to the These two interpretative cruxes may both be solved according to the present line of interpretation that precisely the body of sin of which Paul speaks is the sexual body. Thus Christians have through the crucifixion died to a certain mode of living and progressed to another mode of living, both of which are, however, available in this life. I interpret this as a reference to a life which is responsible to the needs of the flesh, a fleshy life, the life of procreation, on the one hand, and a life that is dedicated to spiritual pursuits on the other. Christians have already died to the life of the body; they are no longer engaged in the getting of children together with its messy entanglements in passion, heat, jealousy—all that later Christian writers will refer to as concupiscence—which all lead to death. Rather, having been freed from “all of that,” they have been brought from a condition of physical death to a condition of spiritual life. This answers, moreover, the second question as well, for it is the Torah, the Jewish Law, which enjoins the procreation of children and thus directly and necessarily stirs the passions. In other words, literally by being not under Law, that is by not being obligated to procreate, the Christian is freed from the dominion of sinful passion, that is free to remove sexuality from her person, and thus able to free herself from being under sin.
Chapter 8 continues the theme of the immortality granted those who abandon the birth and death cycle from which Christ, through his birth and death, has freed them. The hypothesis that I have offered enables us to make sense of at least one passage which has been hardly intelligible until now, verses 9 through 13:
But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells within you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (8:9–13)
Ἄρα οὖν, ἀδελφόι, ὀφειλέται ἐσμὲν οὐ τῇ σαρκὶ τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆν, εἰ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆτε, μέλλετε άποθνᾐσκειν εἰ δὲ πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος θανατοῦτε, ζήσεσθε. (8:12–13)
These verses have caused interpreters no end of trouble. Now it is particularly the last two (italicized) verses that have caused the trouble. What does Paul mean by saying that Christians are under an obligation, but not one of the flesh? Some commentators assume an otherwise totally unknown and unalluded to gnostic sect in Rome that had practiced obligatory libertinism. According to my reading, we need assume no bizarre gnostic obligations to libertinism behind this verse. If we assume that “the flesh” here means the fleshly obligations of the Law, both their literal sense and the fact that they are concerned with the flesh, then the answer is clear. “Obligated to the flesh” in 8:12 means simply the obligation to procreate. Christians have obligations, but they do not have the obligation of keeping the fleshy commandments of the Torah and particularly, I think, in this context, the commandment to procreate, to which Paul refers as “deeds of the body.”
Adam's situation is the situation of the Jews. As Dunn and others have pointed out, then, “when we were in the flesh” must mean simply “in our pre-Christian state,” when we considered membership in the literal Israel according to the flesh (1 Corinthians 10:18) as decisive for salvation and propagation of the race as a central value and also when we were alive in our fleshly bodies and subject to the Law, before we died to the Law. If you continue in that mode of existence, then you will die, “but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body [sex and procreation] you will live” (8:13). He furthermore repeats this point at the end of the letter, when he writes, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh that desires be aroused [εἰς ἐπιθυμίας]” (13:14), which ought, on my hypothesis, to be glossed: Be baptized into the body of Christ and the new family of the spirit and make no provision for physical progeny, which provision necessitates the arousal of desires! Dying to the Law in baptism is functionally identical to the baptism of converts into Judaism who are also understood as having died to their old existence and been reborn to a new one, and it is precisely this understanding of baptism that Paul is employing. Paul and the other (formerly Jewish) Christians are no longer “in the flesh” and are thus freed of the consequences of being in the flesh.
Brides of Christ: 1 Corinthians 6
The topos of spiritual propagation as opposed to and higher than physical procreation is well-known in Paul's world. Found already in Plato's Symposium, it is also frequently mobilized in Philo, Paul's Jewish contemporary, most notably in his description of the life of the celibate Therapeutae (Harrison, forthcoming). According to my reading, Paul in Romans 6 and 7 also opposes a physical sexuality to a spiritual, that is, allegorical, sexuality. This reading can be strengthened by noting that the same antithesis occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:14–20:
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one.” But he who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins aginst his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The argument in verses 15–16 (“Do you not know…”) seems strikingly inconsequent, in that it skips from the immorality of sex with a prostitute right over to union with Christ. Moreover, the verse cited, “And the two shall become one,” refers in Genesis entirely positively to sexual union between man and wife. I would certainly expect to read here: “Do you know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one.’ But he who is united with his wife becomes one flesh with her. Shun immorality.” I think, therefore, that Paul is truly revealing his hand here. For him, sexuality per se is tainted with immorality. Paul looks forward to the becoming-one-flesh of Genesis being entirely replaced by an allegorical becoming-one-spirit with Christ. He proposes displacing this commandment, as well as the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, by their spiritual referents of marriage to Christ and the bearing of fruits of the spirit. Here, however, Paul makes the point not openly but indirectly, through what he does not say, because immediately below he is going to recommend legitimate marital sex for those not gifted as he is with the ability ro remain celibate and who would therefore be in danger of porneia were they not married. Paul says as much openly in 7:1, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman,” and 7:7, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God.”  The value system is crystal clear. It is thus manifest from these verses that the modes of sexuality Paul contrasts are not so much sex with prostitutes as opposed to legitimate sexual intercourse but rather physical union between men and women as opposed to spiritual union between people and Christ.
But what, however, of Paul's dual insistence here on the body as members of Christ and as a temple for the spirit? Neither of these expressions seems in any way a manifestation of an ascetic contempt for the flesh. Paying close attention to this inconsequence in Paul's argument gives us another moment of access to the very special Pauline anthropology that I have explored elsewhere with reference to 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5. As in those passages, Paul is at great pains to disable those strains of thought—perhaps proto-gnostic—that would claim that the body is of no significance and in radical platonic fashion only to be escaped from and denied. For Paul, not only will there be a body of resurrection, but the body in this life is to be honored and paid its due by keeping it pure and holy. He is alive always to the danger that by devaluing the flesh and its works—positive and negative—he is making room for a libertinism that will achieve the precise opposite of his intention. Thus he must insist both that the body is temple of the spirit and that the Christian in his [sic] body is a member of Christ—but precisely that membership in Christ anticipates the resurrection body which is not a body of flesh. Paul thus distinguishes between the flesh and the body. The flesh, i.e., sexuality, has been dispensed with in the Christian dispensation, precisely in order to spiritualize the body. To be sure, a legitimated marital sexuality is allowed for in Paul's system as the second-best alternative to celibacy, but the ideal is a spiritual union as bride of Christ in which he who “is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him” and not one flesh with even his lawful wife. Indeed the connection between chapters 6 and 7 of Corinthians is now much clearer.
Works of the Flesh in Galatians 5–6
The same concatenation of themes occurs in Galatians 5–6 as in 1 Corinthians 6, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ which is opposed to the fleshy or sexual nature of humans:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (5:13–24)
In my view these verses make quite clear the connection of the “paranetic” passage in the last two chapters of Galatians to the first four chapters of the letter. I think they strongly support the point of view that this part of the letter comes to correct a possible (and very plausible) misunderstanding of Paul's views as expressed in the rest of the text. Paul has throughout the letter been presenting a ringing call to Christian freedom in the spirit, as opposed to the Jewish bondage to the norms of a Law. What could be more expectable than that some people will (mis)understand his doctrine as a libertine one—as, I would claim, the Corinthians in fact did? Paul now provides the answer to that possible misreading of his intention in quite a brilliant piece of argument. Paul's very dualism provides the irrefutable answer to this confusion. Law has been associated throughout with the flesh, and its opposite, Christian freedom, with the spirit. Therefore, freedom in the spirit cannot possibly permit libertinism, which belongs entirely to the realm of the flesh. Paul's denunciation of the Law, on the one hand, and libertinism, on the other, both issue equally logically from his promotion of the spirit over the flesh! How ironic it would be were they now to allow that very freedom to be an opportunity for sins of the flesh to abound, thus giving in to the flesh even more drastically than they would by observing, say, the law of circumcision. Paul is thus not at all contradicting the message of the first four chapters of the letter but rather confirming it. If you are truly in the spirit, then you do not need Law, the Law which belongs wholly to the realm of the flesh.
This passage, once more, presents certain striking interpretative gaps. The most obvious is the leap in verse 18 from the discourse on libertinism or licentiousness in the previous verses to being “under the Law.” On my reading, in this passage Paul is guarding against an obvious danger of misunderstanding aroused by his discourse. As I have shown in detail in the previous chapter, Galatians 3:12 amounts to a disavowal of Leviticus 18 as the guide to Christian living. Leviticus 18:5 reads “He who does them lives by them, ” which Paul understands to mean: One who does the commandments lives by them and not by faith. But Paul argues: Since we know from Habbakuk that the righteous live by faith, he who lives by them and not by faith is not righteous—is not justified. Christians, therefore, no longer live by “them.” What is crucial to remember is that Leviticus 18:5 is the introduction to the catalogue of forbidden sexual connections. One could, therefore, very easily imagine Paul at the end of the letter becoming aware of the enormous danger for (mis)interpretation that his letter could produce. If he has repudiated, as it were, Leviticus 18, does it not follow that its provisions are no longer valid and sexual license is permitted? That is precisely the conclusion that some Corinthian Christians seem to have reached, and it is what Paul seeks to counter in chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians. It is, therefore, most attractive to read the passage just quoted as carrying its obvious sense in which desires and passions of the flesh are just what would be referred to in a modern use of these terms, namely, sexual desire and passion. This interpretation affords an elegant bridge over the apparent gap between verses 17 and 18, in the light of Romans 7. We now understand precisely the connection between the “desires of the flesh,” and being “under the Law,” for it is the Law which produces the desires of the flesh and thus the works of the flesh through its insistence on the bearing of children, leading inexorably to passion and thus to licentiousness, jealousy, and the rest.
An objection has been raised to the sexual interpretation of “the desires of the flesh,” ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς, because the itemized “works of the flesh,” έργα τῆς σαρκός, are not primarily works of sexual immorality. The point is well taken, of course, but not, I think, decisive. We must distinguish between the desires of the flesh and the works of the flesh, that is, the results of those desires. The desires of the flesh are indeed what they seem to be, namely, sexual desire, but the works of the flesh are the social outcome of such desire: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” Lest this sound far-fetched, the following parallel from a first-century text is unambiguous: “But to the spirit of perversity belong a greedy mind and slackness of hands in serving righteousness, evil and lying, pride and a haughty heart, deceit and cruel treachery; hypocrisy in plenty, shortness of temper but full measure of folly and zeal in insolence; deeds abominable in a spirit of lust and ways of uncleanness in the service of impurity.”  This text provides an excellent parallel to Galatians 5, for here we see also how the spirit of lust leads not only to sexual immorality but to deceit, cruelty, treachery, and even shortness of temper, a list quite similar in spirit to the works of the flesh that Paul adduces. Note also that the same concatenation of themes occurs in 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul begins his discourse attacking civil strife and jealousy and seamlessly segues into a discussion of sexual immorality. In other words, those who do not crucify their flesh with its passions and desires are those who produce a society within which not only the obvious immorality, impurity, and licentiousness occur but also idolatry and sorcery—perhaps Paul means the idolatry and sorcery of love charms—as well as enmity, strife, and jealousy. Those, however, who are unmoved by eros are capable of creating a society of agape. Philo also provides an excellent parallel to this idea when he describes first a paradisal condition in which men spend their lives in contemplation before the creation of woman but then writes, “Love supervenes, brings together and fits into one the divided halves, as it were, of a single living creature, and sets up in each of them a desire for fellowship with the other with a view to the production of their like. And this desire begat likewise bodily pleasure, that pleasure which is the beginning of wrongs and violation of the law, the pleasure for the sake of which men bring on themselves the life of mortality and wretchedness in lieu of that of immortality and bliss.”  There is, therefore, no reason to discredit the obvious meaning of “gratifying desires of the flesh” as referring to sexual desire.
The theme is carried further in the continuation in chapter 6, “For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8), where we find precisely the same metaphorical opposition that Paul uses in Romans 7:4–5. One who sows to the flesh by having children will reap corruption, i.e., the corruption of death, for flesh is mortal. One who sows to the spirit will, however, escape corruption in eternal life. “Sowing,” of course, as a metaphor for sexual activity is commonplace.
I think it is a strong conclusion, therefore, that the “desires of the flesh” in Galatians 5–6 are also to be understood as sexual. Christians are freed from sexuality. The final and ultimate fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:23 is ἐγκράτεια, and given the interpretation that I have offered here we can give this word its full technical meaning of self-control and withdrawal from sexuality.
Paul the Proto-Encratite
We thus see that at three points in his discourse Paul repeats the same highly significant sequence of ideas. In their former state of being in the flesh, Jewish Christians had been obligated under the Law. This Law is a law of flesh, because with its emphasis on fleshly obligations and especially procreation, it inevitably leads to passion and desire. However, under the new dispensation afforded to Christians through baptism, which is an enactment of Christ's death and resurrection, they are born again freed of the obligation to the flesh, that obligation which produces sinful desire in the members and fruit for death. The erotic life of Christians is ideally entirely devoted to the new bridegroom, Christ, and the joining with this bridegroom results not in fruit for death but in spiritual fruit for God.
The emphasis on embodiedness involved in being Jewish, in both senses of “flesh,” that is, valorizing circumcision and other fleshly practices as well as concentrating on genealogical connections, implies necessarily the obligation to have children. The only solution, then, is to escape from the condition of being in the flesh, to die to the Law and be reborn in the new life of the spirit, which spiritualizes precisely those fleshly, embodied aspects of the Torah, kinship and the performance of Jewish ritual and thus sexuality. Freed from the captivity of the letter, the flesh, the commandment which actually causes us to sin, we can serve God in the freedom of the spirit and escape from that which stirs up our members. It thus constitutes a return to the pre-lapsarian state in which Adam dwelled when he lived apart from the Law, that is, both the law to be fruitful and multiply and the prohibition to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. For the Christian, Christ and dying with Christ constitute return to this state of grace and redemption from the death and the bearing fruit for death which Adam's transgression occasioned, as opposed to the bearing of spiritual fruit for God of Romans 7:4. “In the flesh” here, then, like its equivalent, “in the letter,” means simply in literal Jewish existence, in Israel according to the flesh. Just as the Law itself is not sin but causes sin as an inevitable consequence of its commandment to procreate, so being in the flesh, that is, being under the Law, being Jewish and thus committed to physical, Jewish continuity, is not ipso facto evil but leads to sin, once more by preventing the exit from sexuality. Although life in the spirit is obviously superior to life in the flesh, as the allegorical is superior to the literal, “in the flesh” here has no pejorative meaning of its own, that is, it is devalued with respect to the spirit but not figured as something morally or religiously evil in itself. It is primarily, as I am claiming throughout, a hermeneutical term. The state of remaining in the literal, concrete, fleshly situation of the old Israel does, of course, have negative consequences, which Paul emphasizes, largely to disabuse Jews of any sense that the Law makes them superior to the gentiles. Jews bear fruit for death, that is, they have children who will feed the death machine, while Christians bear spiritual fruit, fruit that cannot die.
Paul never once to my knowledge mentions the bearing of children as a positive event, not even as a necessary evil! A rather obvious objection that I am certain will be raised is that Paul is speaking in an extreme eschatological situation, and his views are not to be taken as characteristic of his understanding of sexuality per se. It is unquestionably the case that Paul is indeed working in extremis. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that “For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31) is at least in part to be understood as a further argument against procreation (Fredriksen 1991, 533n.4). This does not vitiate my point at all, however, for the fact that it is precisely the function of the eschatological moment to free people from sexuality and procreation, that is, to enable them to fulfill spiritual and not physical functions of propagation makes exactly the point about Paul's thought that I wish to make. It is not, after all, in any way a necessity of eschatological expectation that the eschaton lead to an end to sexuality and procreation. As evidence for this, I cite the picture of the eschaton current in rabbinic tradition in which a major feature is “Quickly, O Lord, our God, may there be heard in the hills of Judea the voice of joy and voice of happiness, the voice of the singing of bridegrooms from their bridal chambers and youths from their marriage celebrations.”  It is no accident, of course, that this same context emphasizes the national restoration in Zion that will take place at the eschaton as well. Further documentation can be provided from two modern Jewish messianic movements, quite different from one another, both characterized by the sort of eschatological tension which marks Paul's thought and both of which engage copiously in procreative activity and place it at the center and zenith of their value systems. I am referring, of course, to the messianic Zionists of Gush Emunim and the messianic Hasidim of Lubavitch (Habad). Both groups are procreating abundantly. Paul's “choice,” then, of freedom from sex and procreation as a central marker of redemption is hardly inevitable or without a cultural message. The “law of sin,” I conclude, can be very plausibly understood as the commandment to procreate from which the eschatological moment of the crucifixion and resurrection has ideally freed Christians.
I think that if my interpretation of these passages is acceptable, a significant revision of the history of sexuality in Christendom is in order, with the encratic Fathers much closer to Paul than has been previously allowed. The meaning of Romans 7 is that it was the command to be fruitful and multiply that created the inescapable dilemma of Adamic humanity, and the horns of this dilemma were only sharpened by the Jewish insistence on the centrality of the commandment because of its role in the reproduction of the Holy People. The dual effect of the Christ event is that an allegorical interpretation of Jewish existence, one that provides significance and salvation in the promise and not in the flesh, also provides release from the terrible double bind in which first-century Jews seem to have found themselves. Commanded to procreate, for only thus could the holy seed be continued, they were plagued by a constant anxiety and sense of sinfulness about the performance of that very commandment. In one fell swoop, Paul removes the sword of Damocles by telling them that the physical continuation of Jewish peoplehood is no longer necessary. In this end-time after the death and resurrection of Christ, Israel itself is no longer according to the flesh, defined by genealogy, but has been replaced by its spiritual signified, the community of the faithful baptized. The physical command to be fruitful and multiply and thus bear fruit for death has also been replaced by its spiritual signified, to bear spiritual fruit for Christ, fruit that will never die. When Paul is read thus, the encratic forms of Christianity are legitimate (if less compromising) heirs to a vitally important part of Paul's thought.
In Chapter 8 below, further elaboration of Paul's dual relation to the body, highly favoring the spirit but allowing room for the flesh as well, will be mobilized as a means to a renewed understanding of the relation between the Letter to the Galatians and the first Letter to the Corinthians. The notion that Paul valorized the celibate life most highly but did not vilify marriage will be crucial to this reading. For Paul, the celibate or encratite ideal was not the product of a “theological/moral” dualism. It was, rather, the solution, via a cosmological/anthropological duality, of an essentially ethical problem, the search for human autonomy and equality. Only celibates were free of the restrictions of gender, and in particular, only celibate women were free of the ties that bound (and bind) women.
1. From my point of view the only seriously mistaken turn that Wright takes in the whole book is in his interpretation of Romans 7, and particularly of the parable in the beginning. Verse 4, “Likewise my brethren, you 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,” clearly means that the Law was the first husband and not “The former husband is the παλαιὸς ἄνθρωπος, the old ‘you’ that died in baptism,” and then: “It is not, then, the Torah, but the ‘old man’ that died, leaving the self—who clearly plays the part of both husband and wife in the illustration—to be married to the new man, i.e. Christ” (196). This is an exceedingly clever, even brilliant, way to harmonize the parable and the application, but I am simply unconvinced by it. The fact that the “self”—a term which Paul could not have recognized—plays both husband and wife shows that in any case the interpretation will not be smooth. It is not atypical for parables and applications to show some slippage like this, and I am certain that the old interpretation in this case is better. [BACK]
2. According to Wright, “‘The problem of Romans 7,’ and for that matter Romans 8.1–8, is emphatically not that of ‘man under the law'…but of ‘the law under man,’ or, more specifically, under flesh” (1992a, 209), but this does not take into sufficient consideration the passages in which the Law is identified with flesh as the Law of sin at work in our members, of which Wright himself has correctly insisted that νόμος in them must mean the same Law, the Torah, as in the rest of the passage, or Paul's text becomes shallow and weak (199)! This can, of course, be retrieved if we understand “the Law under flesh” to mean the Law in its fleshly, that is, literal, interpretation in which physical procreation is commanded, but that, of course, is my reading, not Wright's. On my view, then, the Law of the spirit (ὁ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος) in Romans 8:2 means the Law spiritually understood, and that is, indeed, the “Law of faith (νόμος πίστεως)” of Romans 3:27, in which the universality of this Law of faith is central (209n.23). [BACK]
3. Thus, for my interpretation, as in Wright's, the “Other Law” is the Torah as well, but the Torah has an Other within itself, which introduces an Other into the person, the Law of Sin (v. 25). [BACK]
4. Some of the material in this subsection is adapted from Boyarin (1993, 67–70). On the other hand, this should also be seen as a partial corrective to the views expressed in there, p. 3n.4. I now see Paul's discourse of sexuality as much closer to that of first-century Palestinian Judaism. [BACK]
5. Note here as well the notion of pure love, which is similar to Paul's agapic love in Galatians 5:22. [BACK]
6. For comparison of Romans 7 to the Jewish doctrine of the ערה רצי, see Schoeps (1961, 185). [BACK]
7. One could say that “law” sometimes functions for Paul semantically as הוצמ, commandment, does in rabbinic Hebrew. [BACK]
8. This obviates the sort of difficulty that Dunn runs into, because he does not understand “law” here to mean the Law given to Adam (1988, 292). Furthermore, if the interpretation of Watson that the speaker of Romans 7 is Adam be accepted (see below), then “I was once alive apart from the law” is also no problem (pace Dunn, 291), because Adam is speaking about the time before he was commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge! Sin was in the world even then but it had not yet come into the world in the sense of being accounted. [BACK]
9. I wish to dispel one possible source of confusion here. I am not claiming that when Paul refers to Adam as the type of the one who is to come, that this means the Jew or humanity under the Law. As attractive as this interpretation would be for understanding v. 20, Dunn is clearly correct that it is excluded by v. 15, which seeks to draw a contrast between type and anti-type, such that it is obvious that the anti-type is Jesus and nothing else. Nevertheless, I am arguing, Adam is being used (if not mentioned) as the type of transgressor under the Law and thus of the Jews, a crucial point for interpreting Romans 7. Quite incidentally to my argument here but important to understanding Romans 5 is the realization that an argument of de minore ad maiore (רמוחו לוק [sic]) from sin to grace or from punishment to mercy is a very common one in rabbinic texts. Accordingly, I completely disagree with Dunn (293), who regards vv. 15–17 as a qualifying afterthought of the comparison of Adam to Christ. I think, given the constant use of this type of argument throughout the chapter, Paul is saying here exactly what he wants to say. If through Adam's sin all are punished (the quality of judgment), how much more so that through the free gift (the quality of mercy) will all be redeemed. Retroverted back into Hebrew and without the christology, this could be a sentence in any midrash! [BACK]
10. For the latter in rabbinic tradition compare the rabbinic dictum that “Anyone who is greater than his fellow [in Torah], has a greater desire to sin than his fellow,” discussed at length in Boyarin (1993, 64–67). [BACK]
11. For an assessment of the various views on the identity of “I” here, see Moo (1986, 122–23). [BACK]
12. See also Moo, who writes, “How could Paul feature Adam's experience in a discussion about a law which he presents as entering the historical arena only with Moses?” (124). I think his objection is, however, no objection, because Adam is certainly presented as having had at least one commandment, which he transgressed in chapter 5, and he is the type of Israel in this respect. We do not need to appeal to a putative Jewish notion (not attested anywhere that I know of) that Adam received the Torah, only to realize that, as Paul says explicitly, Adam's small set of commandments—Be fruitful, and Do not eat of the fruit—had the same function as the Torah. Moo also concedes “the great attraction of the Adamic interpretation. ‘Life’ and ‘death’ can be accorded their full theological meanings, referring, respectively, to Adam's state before and after his disastrous confrontation with the divine commandment, and the springing to life of the previous inactive sin can be regarded as a fitting description of the role of the serpent in the garden,” but claims, “However, we have seen that, whatever its virtues, the Adamic view cannot satisfactorily be reconciled with the central concern of the text—the Mosaic torah ” (125). I claim, however, that this Adamic interpretation is eminently reconcilable with the notion that Paul is talking about the Mosaic Torah, for the reason I have already exposed, namely, that Adam and his commands are treated in chapter 5 as the type of Israel and her Torah. If the objection is taken as answered, then the attractions of the Adamic interpretation remain. I am entirely unimpressed by the arguments of Robert H. Gundry (1980) in favor of the “autobiographical” interpretation. It is, on top of all the other inconsequentialities of its argument, dependent on the totally unsupportable assumption that the concept of Bar Mitzva was present in the first century! I do agree, of course, with his assumption that Paul is talking about sexual desire. Since we agree on the sexual content of the chapter, the question of whether this is Paul's autobiography or a midrash on Adamic man becomes quite crucial indeed. [BACK]
13. Pace, e.g., Moo (1986, 123). Cp. Lyonnet (1962). [BACK]
14. I am in complete agreement with Wright's insistence that νόμος must mean everywhere the same “Law,” both in Romans 7 and in Romans 3:27, if we are not to sap Paul's writing of any strength. I think, however, that my interpretation goes much further in establishing this than his does, because for him, this “Law of Sin” must be reduced to the Torah taken over and used by sin, whereas for my reading, the Torah understood literally is a Torah of sin, because it commands sexuality. I agree with Wright that “those who are ‘in the Spirit,’ do now submit to Torah, in the sense of its righteous decree coming true in them. They are not ‘under Torah'; they are not bound by ‘works of Torah'; but they ‘submit to it,’ in the sense of its deepest intention ” (213, emphasis added), and I agree even more that “This exegesis of νόμος in Rom. 8 would give a good viewpoint, were there time and space, from which to examine Rom. 2.13f., 2.25–29, and particularly 3.27.” It is this examination which I am attempting in this very book. [BACK]
15. This argument would be even stronger, of course, if the Septuagint used the word “fruit” in this verse, but it does not. Since, however, the Hebrew does use the verb from the root for fruit, ירפ, Paul could conceivably be either remembering the Hebrew or perhaps alluding to another, more literal Greek rendition of the verse. Even without the verbal echo, the thematic one of bearing fruit, i.e., procreating, is clear. [BACK]
16. As Westerholm already acutely observed, 7:5–6—“When we were 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 discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit”—is an interpretative gloss on 6:12–14. In order, therefore, to understand the latter we must interpret the former (and vice versa of course) (Westerholm 1988, 54). [BACK]
17. The paradox that baptized Christians still have bodies of flesh has already been anticipated and answered by Paul in Galatians 2:19–20. [BACK]
18. Note that baptized converts into Judaism are not considered the children of their natural parents. [BACK]
19. For the essentially platonistic mood of this entire theme, see Symposium 207ff. Kenneth Dover has summarized this section concisely:
Procreation, as explained by Diotima, is an expression of the desire of mortal bodies to achieve a kind of immortality, and is shared by mankind with the animals (207ab); anyone, she remarks, would rather compose immortal poems or make enduring laws than procreate mere human children (209cd), and the generation of rational knowledge is the best of all manifestations of the human desire for immortality. Those men who are “fertile in body” fall in love with women and beget children (208e), but those who are “fertile in soul” transcend that limitation and the “right approach” is open to them alone. (Dover 1989, 162–63)
20. For a reading of this passage almost directly opposed to mine, see Fiore (1990, 139–40). If Ephesians is Pauline (or even if it was written by someone very close to Pauline thinking), then 5:32, in which the writer explicitly calls this verse a “mystery [μυστήριον]” and interprets it allegorically as referring to Christ and the Church, is very significant. It is in that state of spiritual joining into one body, I am suggesting, that “there is no male and female.” See also Wire (1990, 77–78) and especially, “Paul's words would be most congenial to women who have used their freedom to live separately from men, although the next chapter shows that he has no intention of ruling out sexual union for those in union with Christ. But his use of the Genesis quotation, ‘the two will become one flesh,’ to build the stark antithesis of two kinds of union appeals to those whose union with Christ replaces sexual union.” [BACK]
21. Note that in this “concession” Paul is essentially simply reinstating the ethos of Palestinian (pre-rabbinic) Judaism, as illustrated, once again, by the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: “Be on guard against the spirit of promiscuity, for it is constantly active and through your descendants it is about to defile the sanctuary. Therefore take for yourself a wife while you are still young” (Kee 1983, 792). [BACK]
22. The second of these citations makes it quite clear that in 7:1 Paul is not merely quoting or reflecting the views of the Corinthians in order to dispute them, as some commentators have argued, but in fact agreeing with and then qualifying them. As in Galatians 5–6 (for which, see below), Paul is always concerned lest an overdisdain for the flesh lead paradoxically toward libertinism! [BACK]
23. The richest discussion of this passage that I know is Barclay 1991. Barclay discusses several strategies for interpreting the relation of the paranetic ending of Galatians to the rest of the letter. He refers to the common strategy (a version of which I hold here) whereby chapters 5 and 6 are read as corrective to the first part, as readings that perceive Paul as being “apologetic” or “defensive” (12–13). On my view, Paul is simply restoring a balance inherent to his two-tier system of thought and preventing a very plausible confusion that his “freedom” language could lead to. For Barclay himself, the paranesis contains an answer to a question that the Galatians have raised (95). They have been attracted to the Law, because it tells them how to live their lives ethically, and now Paul's task at the end of the letter is to convince them of the possibility of ethical life apart from the Law. The difference between the two interpretations is that while according to mine (following a long line of exegetes) Paul is warning the Galatians of a possible and dangerous misreading of his gospel, according to Barclay's he is reassuring them that his gospel does not have those negative consequences.
As rich and rigorous as Barclay's discussion is, I am ultimately unpersuaded by this aspect of his interpretation. I find the tone of this passage to be hortatory rather than reassuring. Barclay's reading, in my opinion, does not account for the warning implied in the exhortation not to let the freedom be an opportunity for the flesh, μόμον μὴ τὴν ἐλεθυερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί (5:13), which seems strongly to suggest Pauline anxiety about possible consequences in the future and not an answer to the Galatians’ questions. The tone of this verse (and thus its meaning) is, in my view, comparable to 1 Corinthians 8:9: “Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak”—Paul was always alive to the dangers of his radical preaching. On Barclay's view, Galatians 5:13 should rather have been phrased something like: Have no fear, brothers, freedom in the Spirit will not be an opportunity for the flesh! (Barclay, of course, takes account of this verse; however, his claim that it “functions as an assurance that the Spirit can provide adequate moral constraints and directions ”  just doesn't seem to me to capture its tone at all. I think that this is the greatest weakness in his whole argument which otherwise is an enormous contribution. Barclay goes on to admit the sense of warning as an additional interpretation but does not seem to see how it contradicts [not logically, perhaps, but rhetorically] his main claim.) Second, the warning language of 5:21 seems less apt on Barclay's interpretation than on the one adopted here. Moreover, the assumption that the Galatians were drawn to the Law because it offered them an ethic seems, while possible, less than ineluctable. Barclay himself appropriately indicates its speculative nature, “One of the attractions in the agitators’ proposals for law-observance may have been the security of a written and authoritative code of law; in comparison, Paul's ethical policy may have appeared dangerously ill-defined” (106, emphases added). These are, indeed, possibilities. I cannot find anything in the text that indicates, however, that they were the case, while Paul's warning language does seem to support my construction. Finally, as Barclay himself notes, “if the Galatians were hoping for codifiable rules and regulations, they would not have been well satisfied by what Paul offers” (169).
On the other hand, Barclay's point that current interpretations entirely fail to account for the specificities of Paul's maxims and exhortations here seems well taken. He accordingly suggests—somewhat contradicting his general theory of a Galatian appeal for law and order—that these refer to and answer difficulties that had already arisen in the Galatian community. This, however, seems to me to be implausible (not impossible) in the light of the general tendency of the entire letter. I would like to make a quite speculative counter-suggestion. If, as one theory holds, Paul wrote to the Galatians from Corinth and was preaching to the Corinthians the gospel of freedom detailed in the first part of Galatians, it is clear (from 1 Corinthians) that his hypothesized concerns about being misunderstood were well placed. Indeed, it is remarkable how exactly the exhortations at the end of Galatians seem to speak to the situation of the Corinthian church (as Paul saw it), as can be reconstructed from 1 Corinthians. According to this construction, Paul already sensed at the time of writing Galatians the problems of internal strife and libertinism that were to develop into full bloom by the time he would write 1 Corinthians. A somewhat more conservative version of this suggestion would be that these problems were typical of Pauline churches, once the message of Christian freedom was fully taken in—Corinth being an example—and Paul is concerned lest his passionate call for Lawlessness be once more misunderstood as a call to lawlessness!
See also the highly illuminating discussion of this issue in Hays 1987. [BACK]
24. Note how neatly this solves the outstanding exegetical problem phrased most elegantly by Hays: “After a lengthy exposition of justification by faith, why does Paul move into a series of exhortations which sound more appropriate to the situation at Corinth than to the Galatian problem?” (1987, 289). Hays's own solution is also elegant but almost directly opposite to mine, in that for him “the flesh” refers primarily to civil strife rather than, as I claim, civil strife being a consequence of the flesh understood as eros. [BACK]
25. See also Colossians 2:20–23, which I would quote were I sure that Paul had written it. On the other hand, let me emphasize once more that Colossians and Ephesians may be the best commentaries on Pauline doctrine that we possess. I hope to return to this issue in a future work. [BACK]
26. Cp. the rather similar views of Fiore (1990, 136–38), and contrast Countryman (1988, 104–09, 296–314). [BACK]
27. Dead Sea Manual of Discipline, 4:10. [BACK]
28. Cp. the quite different view of Hays (1987, 286). My interpretation brings Paul somewhat closer to the Stoics, pace Hays, n.45. [BACK]
29. Philo (1929b, i, 121). [BACK]
30. Jewett's interpretation of this passage in Galatians is untenable, and he can make no sense of the warning about sowing, referring to it as “enigmatic” (Jewett 1971, 104). After his excellent insight that “flesh” for Paul means the literal flesh of circumcision (and I add procreation), he quickly reverts to Bultmannian conceptions: “The ‘flesh’ is Paul's term for everything aside from God in which one places his final trust. The Jew sought to gain life through the law which offers the obedient a secure future. This element of seeking the good is an essential part of the flesh idea, and may be seen likewise in the situation of the libertinist. The flesh presents to the libertinist objects of desire which man is to satisfy (Gal. 5:16). These objects lure man on because of the promise inherent in them. They seem to offer man exactly what the law and circumcision offered—life” (Jewett, 103). Jewett's interpretation is dependent on assuming that Paul is arguing that one who follows the Law is in danger of libertinism: “The struggle against the flesh is centered in the cross event and with the appropriation of this event for oneself in baptism, the power of the flesh is broken. It can threaten again only if man foolishly places his faith in the flesh again, thus setting his will in line with the flesh's lures” (106). But this is precisely the opposite of Paul's concern here. He is not telling the Galatians that if they ignore his preaching and get circumcised they will be prey to the lures of the flesh but rather he is afraid that if they take in his preaching, they will misunderstand and think that the flesh is permitted to them. That is, after all, what Paul articulates explicitly as his concern in 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Paul does, indeed, argue in other places that keeping the Law leads to sensuality, though not for the reasons that Jewett adduces but, as I claim throughout this chapter, because the Law requires sexuality and all of its fruits!
I submit, then, that flesh is flesh: human flesh. As such it can be involved in the performance of commandments, or it can be involved in sexuality; indeed, among the commandments, the command to have sex is the most fleshy of all. All the commandments belong to the realm of the flesh, and as such, for Paul share an inferior position. Paul has argued strenuously in the first four chapters of Galatians for liberation from the Law because it is fleshy; he now says, in effect, that it would be most ironic, if not tragic, were this liberation to be misunderstood as an opportunity for the very flesh that it was meant to defeat. The possibility for this misunderstanding is palpable, and everything Paul says in this passage is directed against it. The whole point, Paul says, is to enter the Spirit, and therefore, since the flesh and the spirit are entirely opposed to each other in desire and in works, to understand Christian freedom from the Law of the flesh as permission for the flesh would be grievous and tragic misreading indeed, escaping a pit only to plummet into a pitfall. All the other usages of flesh in Paul are derivations from this primary meaning through the chains of association and analogy that I discuss throughout this book. [BACK]
31. I think Dunn is, therefore, for once absolutely wrong when he writes, “The ἐν ᾦ obviously refers to the law (as most recognize), not to the ‘old man,’ or the ‘being in the flesh’ just described.” According to my interpretation, these are precisely the same thing! [BACK]
32. The quotation is from the traditional marriage blessings current from late antiquity until the present. For discussion see Boyarin (1993, 44–45). [BACK]