An Exposition of Romans 7:7

Introduction

Romans 7:7 is critical to a proper understanding of Biblical sexology because it speaks to the subject of lust and if we don’t understand what lust is, then we will fail to have a right understanding of the Biblical view of human sexuality.

But before we get into the application of Romans 7:7 as it applies to Biblical sexology, we will first examine Romans 7:7 in the context of the larger discussion the Apostle Paul is having in Romans chapter 7.

Exposition

In Romans chapter 7:6 the Apostle Paul states the following:

“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

But after making this statement he immediately follows it with Romans 7:7, the verse we will be expounding upon here:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

What is Paul saying when he refers to the “letter” and “spirit” of the law? The letter of the law refers to the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel as found in the law of Moses. The spirit of the law refers to the moral law of God which is found within the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel.

Hebrews 9:1 & 10 reveal to us that in the New Covenant(New Testament) that the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel were temporary, until the coming of Christ:

“1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary… 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”

And then with the coming of Christ, our new high priest, there was a change of the law as referenced in Hebrews 7:12:

“For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

What Paul is teaching here in Romans 7:7 is that just because the civil and ceremonial laws given to Israel are set aside with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant this does not mean we are no longer under the moral law of God as found in the Old Testament.

How Does Romans 7:7 Apply to Biblical Sexology?

It is very common within the Bible for truths to be revealed within other truths or for one truth to be built upon another. For example, the context of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is a discussion of why women should wear head coverings for prayer and prophesying. But within that discussion, the Apostle Paul builds his case for women wearing head coverings on the truth that man “is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man” (vs 7). He further states that “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (vs 9) which leads to the conclusion of his case in verse 10 where he states “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head…”.

And in Romans 7:7 we once again find one truth revealed within another. The Apostle Paul in teaching us that we are still bound by the moral law of God as found in the Old Testament teaches us a critical truth for having a right understanding of Biblical sexology. In the latter part of Romans 7:7 the Apostle Paul states the following:

“for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

So the Apostle Paul is telling us, if we want to know what lust is, we must look back to the Mosaic law and specifically the the 10th commandment as found in Exodus 20:17:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

And it is only by examining the context, the way in which covetousness is used in Exodus 20:17, that we can fully understand what lust is.

So what things do we associated with God’s command not to covet in Exodus 20:17? We see a man’s house, his wife, his male and female slaves, his livestock and anything that is our neighbor’s.

So lets look to livestock. If coveting meant that a man could never find another man’s cow or ox desirable then no purchases of livestock could ever be made. What about his house? If a man could never find another man’s house desirable then no homes could ever be sold. And then we come to “any thing that is they neighbors”. If coveting meant finding desirable anything that is our neighbors that would eliminate commerce altogether! The point is that find what your neighbor has desirable, including his wife, is NOT covetousness.

So what is covetousness? Covetousness is what precedes theft or adultery (which is a specific form of sexual theft). No one ever stole a man’s cow or committed adultery with his wife without first entertaining those thoughts in his head. Covetousness is not merely finding something or even someone desirable, or even enjoying fantasies about the use of that someone or something.

Covetousness is entertaining the desire to steal. In the context of sexual covetousness or sexual lust, it is when you entertain thoughts of enticing that person to have sex outside of marriage even if you never act on them.

Why Do Modern Translations only use the word “covet” in Romans 7:7?

Below is how the Romans 7:7 is translated in the KJV, NASB and NIV.

KJV

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

NASB

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

NIV

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Notice how the NASB and NIV both use the same word or variation of that word “covet” while the NIV uses “lust” and “covet”.

Now usually between these three popular translations the KJV is the most literal(but uses older English words), the NASB is more literal than the NIV, but less literal than the KJV with more modern words and then you have the NIV rounding out with the most modern wording, but it is often the least literal out of the three. Each of these have their value and I have used all these and other versions in my studies over the last 20 years.

But occasionally the NASB is more literal than even the KJV, and sometimes even the NIV is more literal or a better translation of a particular verse than the KJV.

So the big question is why does the KJV translate the first word as lust and only the second word as covet while these other two translations translate both words as covet? The reason is because in the Greek these are two different words:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust[Epithumia], except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet[Epithumeo].” (KJV)

Here is the definition of the Greek word Epithumia (which the KJV translates as “lust” in Romans 7:7) according to Thayer and Smith’s Bible dictionary:

“desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust”

Here is the definition of the Greek word Epithumeo (which the KJV translates as “covet” in Romans 7:7) according to Thayer and Smith’s Bible dictionary:

“to turn upon a thing

to have a desire for, long for, to desire

to lust after, covet

of those who seek things forbidden”

So while these words are synonyms they are not the same word and the KJV accurately represents that distinction in its translation where the NASB and NIV loose that distinction for the reader. If Paul meant to use the same word twice he would have said “for I had not known [Epithumeo], except the law had said, Thou shalt not [Epithumeo].” but he used a deliberate word play here with these synonyms to get his point across.

Both Epithumia and Epithumeo are used in positive and negative contexts

These words do not always represent wrong desires, lust or covetousness in the bad sense of these words.  The context of the surrounding passage is what tells us if these words are being used in a negative or positive sense.

Here is a positive use of Epithumia(translated as “lust” in Romans 7:7) in another passage of Scripture:

“But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.  For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire[Epithumia]  to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” – Philippians 1:22-24 (KJV)

This is one of those passages of Scripture where I think the NIV does a better job of making this more understandable in modern English while still staying true to the wording in the original language:

“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire[Epithumia] to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” – Philippians 1:22-24 (NIV)

In either case both the KJV and NIV correctly translate Epithumia as “desire” here. Desire is used in the sense of a positive desire on the Apostle Paul’s part to want to be with the Lord in heaven.

Here is a positive use of Epithumeo in the Scriptures:

“And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire[Epithumeo] to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.” – Luke 17:22 (KJV)

Here is a another negative use of Epithumia(translated as “lust” in Romans 7:7) in another passage of Scripture:

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection[Pathos], evil concupiscence[Epithumia], and covetousness[Pleonexia], which is idolatry:” – Colossians 3:5 (KJV)

Concupiscence is an English word that means “evil sexual desires”.  Incidentally the word translated “covetousness” here is not the same word “Epithumeo” that is translated as “covet” in Romans 7:7.  This is another Greek word “Pleonexia” which has more to do with the greedy side of covetousness, rather than the desire to possess something that does not belong to us side of covetousness and this is why the NASB translates this same passage using the word “greed” instead of “covetousness”:

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion[Pathos], evil desire[Epithumia], and greed[Pleonexia], which amounts to idolatry.” Colossians 3:5 (NASB)

The NASB except for the word “immorality”, which should be “sexual immorality” is probably the most accurate translation of this verse to the original language of the Bible here in Colossians 3:5. The Greek word “Pathos” which is translated as “passion” in the NASB has the idea of a person being led astray by emotions.

But here we see based on the context of it being “evil” that these are speaking to wrong desires.

Here is another negative use of Epithumeo (translated as “covet” in Romans 7:7) in another passage of Scripture:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after[Epithumeo] her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 (KJV)

Conclusion

Romans 7:7 with its definition of lust as violation of the 10th commandment is a crucial help in us understanding what lust in the sexual arena is. Lust is not merely finding a woman desirable, or even having sexual fantasies about her. Lust is not looking, it is not sexual arousal and it is not sexual fantasy.

When Christ condemned men for looking at women “to lust after them” in Matthew 5:28, he was not condemning normal male sexual arousal at the sight of the female form. He was not even condemning sexual fantasy which is very closely connected with sexual arousal. He was condemning men for looking at women “to lust” after them, to think of ways they could entice them to commit fornication with them.

As I said before every translation of Scriptures is just that, a translation of the Scriptures. Each translation has its strengths and weaknesses. But in this particular case the KJV rendering of Romans 7:7 by using “lust” in comparison to “covet” is accurately communicating the Apostle Paul’s attempt to play two synonyms for lust and covetousness off each other.

In the context of lust as it is spoke of in Matthew 5:27, this also proves by the fact that Epithumeo is used for lusting after a woman and Epithumeo is used synonymously of the 10th commandment in Romans 7:7 as “covet” that God equates lust to covetousness.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: