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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


In the first six verses if this chapter, the Apostle addresses the Jewish converts, and shows them that they are not “under the law” (chap. 6, verse 14). The law is dead to them; and hence their union with it is dissolved; and they have contracted other nuptials with Christ, for whom they are to bring forth the fruits of grace, as, under the law, they brought forth fruit unto death (1–6). He next shows how sin became multiplied under the law, without any fault on the part of the law. The law gave a knowledge of sin, and this was made the occasion of further transgression, owing to our corrupt nature, and to the concupiscence which dwells within us (7–9). In order to illustrate the manner in which the law contributed to the increase of sin, he represents in his own person the different states of the Jewish people before and after the law (verse 9); and shows, after the issuing of the law, how the knowledge it imparted, and the prohibition it contained, irritated and roused the hitherto comparatively dormant evil of concupiscence (10–14). He next (verse 14) shows how, even in the law of grace, this evil of concupiscence impels us to sin; and, in his own person, he describes the struggle of Just men infighting against this evil. So that, at verse 14, he passes from describing the law of Moses to the law of grace (14–25).


1. I address myself to you in particular, my Jewish brethren, who are acquainted with the law of Moses; are you not aware that the law exercises dominion over the man subject to it, so long as the law itself is in force and exists?

2. This dominion of the law over man may be illustrated by the dominion which the law of marriage gives the husband over his wife; for the married woman is bound to her husband by the law of marriage during his lifetime; but, when the husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. (So it is with the law: man is subject to it whilst it lives or is in vigour; but, he is released from it when once abrogated).

3. Therefore, she will be accounted an adulteress if she cohabit with another man, during her husband’s lifetime; but if her husband be dead, she is released from the law of matrimony, so as not to be accounted an adulteress, or liable to the penalties of adultery, by cohabiting with another man.

4. In like manner, my brethren, the law is dead to you by the body of Christ offered up in sacrifice on the cross to abolish it; and you are dead to it, by being engrafted on his body in baptism: so that you have contracted new engagements with another, who has risen from the dead, and thus should bring forth the fruit of virtue and good works to God.

5. And it is but just that after our exalted marriage engagements with such a spouse, we should bring forth fruits worthy of God; for, when we lived in the condition of the old and carnal man, under the Mosaic law, then the desires and corrupt inclinations to sin, which were irritated by occasion of the law, were consummated in our members, so as to bring forth the fruits of sin, the unhappy end and reward of which is death.

6. But now we are freed, by the grace of Christ from the yoke of the law, which was the occasion to us of death, in which we were detained captive; so that we may serve God, as spouses of his Son, in the new spirit of charity and love, and not in following the inclinations of the old man of sin, which the letter of the ancient law was the occasion of increasing, because it gave not the necessary grace for the observance of its own precepts.

7. What then! are we to infer from the foregoing that the law itself is the cause of sin? Far be it from us to assent to so impious a deduction. The law only serves to give us a more perfect knowledge of sin; for, there are many things which I did not know to be sin, until I was told so by the law; among the rest, I did not know that internal concupiscence was a sin, until I heard the prohibition of the law, Thou shalt not covet.

8. But the evil of concupiscence, latent within me, taking occasion of this knowledge derived from the law, excited and wrought in me all manner of evil inclination, by reason of this prohibition; and thus concupiscence, which before the prohibition of the law was dormant, assumed life and vigour.

9. In order the more clearly to explain to you the influence which the knowledge derived from the law had in increasing sin, I shall illustrate it by representing, in my own person, the Jewish people in two different states—viz., before and after receiving the law: At a certain time, I, as a Jew, lived without the Mosaic law (during that time I was not so subject to the action of concupiscence as afterwards; it appeared, during that time, to slumber). But after the law was given, this slumbering evil, excited by the prohibition, came into active existence.

10. But I became clearly spiritually dead, having been now manifestly guilty of sin, which leads to death. And it was found in my regard, that the commandment, which was intended for my spiritual life, became, through my corruption, the occasion to me of spiritual death.

11. For concupiscence, taking occasion from the commandment, lured and tempted me to sin, and through this sin, committed by occasion of the precept, caused my spiritual death, and involved me still more in guilt.

12. Therefore, the entire law, far from being the cause of sin, is holy; and so is every one of its precepts holy, and just, and good.

13. What then! has that which is good been made for me the cause of death? The law is by no means the cause of death; but concupiscence, the source of sin, so that its sinfulness might be made to appear more manifestly, has been the cause of death to me, even by means, or rather by occasion, of what is in itself good; hence, the excessive sinfulness of concupiscence is more clearly manifested by reason of its making the commandment, which is in itself good and holy, the occasion of sin and death.

14. The multiplied increase in sin under the law, does not proceed from the law, as we know the law itself to be spiritual. It proceeds from the carnal propensities of man, and the corruption of human nature; and these propensities we have even under the law of grace: for, I myself now feel these stings of the flesh, soliciting me to sin; I feel like one handed over to the tyranny of concupiscence.

15. For, that I am delivered over and sold like a slave under the dominion of concupiscence, is clear from the fact, that I am constrained to do, or rather to submit to, things of which I do not approve in my mind and will; for, not the good which I wish for, viz., not to experience the motions of concupiscence, can I do or accomplish, but the evil, which I hate, viz., the experiencing these corrupt motions, I am forced to submit to.

16. But if it be against my will that I experience these evil tendencies of concupiscence, by this unwillingness I bear testimony to the excellence of the law, commanding me, not to covet.

17. But now, owing to my unwillingness to experience them, these motions are not, properly speaking, my acts, but the deeds of sin which reside in me; hence, no longer attributable to me.

18. For I have known from experience that there dwells not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, corrupted and rendered rebellious by sin, any inclination to good. For, to wish for good and for exemption from evil, I find very easy, but to accomplish that good I find beyond my power.

19. For, the good which I wish for, I cannot do; but the evil which I do not wish for, or consent to, that I reluctantly do, or rather submit to.

20. But if I reluctantly do or submit to what I wish not, then, this is not attributable to me; nor, is it, properly speaking, my act, but the act of sin, which dwells within me.

21. When, therefore, I wish to do good, in accordance with the divine law, I find an opposing resistance in my corrupt flesh, acting on me like a law; and this arises from the evil of concupiscence implanted in my very nature.

22. For, I am delighted with the law of God according to my interior man; i.e., in my mind, in my intellect and will.

23. But I experience another law in my corrupt flesh opposed to the law of God, in which my mind is delighted, and subjecting me to servitude under itself, by feeling its motions, but not by consenting to them.

24. Unhappy man that I am, who will deliver me from this body, by its stings and corrupt motions inclining me to sin, entailing my spiritual and eternal death?

25. The gratuitous mercy of God one day conferring on me an immortal and incorruptible body in the resurrection, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, will deliver me. I, therefore, the self-same person, may be regarded in a two-fold respect. In my mind and will, I serve the law of God, by not consenting to the motions of concupiscence; but in my sensual part, I serve the law of sin, by feeling, although reluctantly, its motions.


1. The Apostle wishes to show that they are not under the law (6:14); and he addresses the Jews acquainted with the precepts of the Mosaic law. “The law hath dominion,” i.e., binds by its precepts and exercises its threats and menaces, “as long as it liveth;” “liveth,” in the Greek, ζῇ, may regard either “man” or “the law;” it more probably, as in our English version, should be construed with the law, “it liveth.”

2. He illustrates this by the example of the law of marriage. He appears to regard the law of marriage as it was instituted by our Divine Redeemer, according to which institution, the marriage tie is indissoluble, except by the death of either of the parties; or, if he be understood to refer to the law of marriage among the Jews, then the words are to be taken with the limitations placed by God himself (v.g.) libellum repudii, &c. as in the New Law, the ingressus religionis, “the solemn profession of religion,” by either party before the consummation of the marriage, dissolves the tie of marriage. This is a point of faith defined by the Council of Trent, SS. xxiv., Can. 6. “The woman that hath a husband;” the Greek, ἡ ὕπανδρος γυνὴ, means, “the woman that is engaged to obedience and fidelity to a husband;” “is bound to the law,” i.e., to the law of obedience and fidelity, or bound by the law to her husband.

3. “She shall be called,” i.e., she shall be reputed and regarded as “an adulteress. So that she is not an adulteress,” &c.; although she may sin, if she cohabit unlawfully with another party, who is unmarried, after her husband’s death; still, she will not commit the crime, or incur the penalties of “adultery.”

4. In this verse, he applies the foregoing example to the point in question, “therefore,” i.e., in like manner, “you are become dead to the law;” he avoids saying, “the law is dead to you,” in order not to offend and to spare the feelings of the Jews, among whom the law was held in such veneration; although this form would better suit the foregoing example, in which the husband is the party supposed to die, and the law is regarded by the Apostle as “the husband,” in reference to the Jews. The meaning, however, comes to the same, as the relation is dissolved, no matter which party dies—“by the body of Christ,” sacrificed for the abolition of the law, on the cross; or it may mean, by being engrafted on the body of Christ in baptism; both meanings are united in the Paraphrase, “that you may belong to another who is risen from the dead,” i.e., that after the death of your former spouse, you may again contract new nuptials with a more exalted spouse, Jesus Christ, “and that we may bring forth fruit to God,” to whom you are espoused. He employs the first person, “we,” from a feeling of humility.

5. And why not now bring forth fruit to God, as we formerly, in our sinful state, brought forth fruit to death, “in the flesh,” i.e., under the Old Law, when we lived according to the flesh, “the passions of sins,” the corrupt inclinations of our nature to commit sin, “which were by the law,” i.e., which were irritated by the prohibition of the law, which only excited a desire of the thing prohibited; for we are so constituted by our corrupt nature as to desire more eagerly what is prohibited. Nitimur in vetitum, &c. “Did work in our members;” the Greek word for “work,” ἐνεργεῖτο, will bear a passive meaning, signifying “were worked,” or consummated, as in Paraphrase.

6. We are now freed and loosed from the tie of the law which occasioned death, so that we should serve God “in the newness” or sanctity of the new man, produced by the spirit of grace “diffused in our hearts,” and love God as adopted children and spouses of his eternal son, Jesus Christ, “and not in the oldness of the letter,” and not serve in the sinful inclinations of the old man, which the “letter” of the Mosaic law had been the occasion of increasing, in consequence of not furnishing the grace necessary to resist our passions. In the common Greek, the reading is different from that of our Vulgate. Instead of the words, “loosed from the law of death,” κατηργηθημεν απο τοῦ νομοῦ θανατοῦ, the common Greek is, απο τοῦ νομου, αποθανοντες, “loosed from the law, being dead to it.” Both readings, however, make good sense.

7. The Apostle had said in the foregoing (verse 5), “that the passions of sin were by the law.” He also calls it “the law of death.” In order to explain these points he asks, by way of objection—is not the law, then, the cause and source of sin? He says, by no means; for, though sin abounded under the law, this was not directly caused by the law. It is to be accounted for in a different way. The law only gave a knowledge of sin for the direct end and object of restraining it. And in the next verse, the Apostle shows how this knowledge, supplied by the law, was made the occasion of increasing sin. “I did not know sin but by the law,” i.e., I did not know it so clearly, and there were other sins which I did not know to be sins at all, until after the prohibition. He refers to the law of Moses prohibiting internal concupiscence. Here, “concupiscence,” means the consent to the irregular and deordinate inclination of our corrupt nature towards the objects prohibited by the law of God. The malice of these mere thoughts of consent was neither attended to nor clearly seen by men, until after the precept prohibiting them was issued. Some persons interpret the word, “but I did not know sin, but by the law,” to mean, nay even, far from being the cause of sin, the contrary is the case; since, the law pointed out sin, &c. It is better, however, to understand the words to be merely an excuse for the law, and the Apostle afterwards shows how under it sin abounded, but as a matter quite extrinsic to the law.

8. He now shows how the law increased “sin;” it was only the occasion of exciting the dormant, slumbering passions of our corrupt nature. “Sin” is personified here as well as in the preceding chapter. The prohibition excited and irritated these passions; for, owing to the natural desire of liberty and opposition to restraint, so strongly implanted in our nature, the very prohibition only increases our desire of obtaining and enjoying the thing prohibited. The Greek word for “occasion” αφορμή, conveys the idea of receiving an impetus, or, being stimulated. “All manner of concupiscence,” i.e., all sorts of unlawful desires, so that, “concupiscence” is not merely confined to the unlawful desire of the things specified in the ninth and tenth commandments of the Decalogue; but it extends to the desire of all things prohibited. “For without the law sin was dead,” i.e., until the distinct prohibition of indulging the desires of concupiscence was issued, it comparatively slumbered—the prohibition aroused and excited it—nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata.

9. In order to render more clear what he has been saying regarding the manner in which the law contributed to the increase of sin under it, the Apostle supposes two different states of the Jewish people, before and after the law was given, and represents the Jewish people in his own person. “I lived some time without the law:” (verse 9); when as a Jew, I sojourned in Egypt. The sense requires that we should add, as in Paraphrase; during that time, I was not so subject to the action of concupiscence as afterwards. But in the next state of the Jewish people, after the giving of the law, “when the commandments came,” “sin”—i.e., the heretofore comparatively dormant evil of concupiscence—“revived,” or came into more active operation. A’Lapide says that in this verse the Apostle is not representing the different states of the Jewish people, but his own state, before he came to the use of reason, “when he lived without the law,” and after he came to the use of reason, and received a full knowledge, then “sin revived.” The former interpretation seems preferable. The interpretation which Estius gives the word, “I lived,” referring it to spritual life, I lived a life of grace in my own estimation, is very probable; and by uniting it with the meaning given in the Paraphrase, then there will be no need for supplying anything in the interpretation. It will run thus: “I seemed to myself to enjoy a life of grace, at a certain time—viz., when I lived without the law, but when the commandment was given, concupiscence revived.”

10. And then I was manifestly dead in sin, which causes the spiritual death of the soul; and through my own corruption it happened, that what had been given me for the purpose of life, became the occasion of spiritual death. The words, “and I died,” which evidently refer to spiritual death, make the interpretation of the words, “I lived once without the law,” given by Estius, very probable, since they are clearly put in opposition to each other. By saying “I died,” after the law was given, the Apostle does not mean to say that men were not spirtually dead before it, but that they were now more manifestly dead, as being now more clearly prevaricators.

11. He explains how the commandment intended for life became the cause of death, because “sin,” “taking occasion” from, αφορμη, or being stimulated by, the prohibition, seduced him, by pointing out the unreasonableness of the command, the advantages and pleasures of its violation, &c., and “by it,” i.e., owing to the knowledge which it gave, and the consequent resistance which this knowledge provoked, it “killed” him, and added still more to his former guilt, not through any fault of the law, but owing to the corruption of human nature. It is to be observed that by “sin,” often personified in this and the foregoing chapters, the Apostle understands concupiscence, which he calls “sin,” because it is the result of sin, and entices us to sin.

12. This, then, is the conclusion which the Apostle draws from the preceding, and by it replies to the objection (verse 7). “The law,” far from being the cause of sin, “is holy;” and so is “the commandment,” i.e., each of its precepts, “holy,” prescribing how God may be served with sanctity, “just,” prescribing that each man receive what is due to him, “good,” prescribing what will render each one good, if observed; or as St. Thomas explains it: “holy” in its ceremonial, “just” in its judicial, and “good” in its moral precepts. By “the law” is meant the sum of the precepts, by “the commandment,” each individual precept.

13. He now proposes an objection, grounded on the two preceding verses, “sin killed me by the commandment, and this commandment is good,” (verse 11). Hence, if the law be not in itself a sin, at least, it became the cause of sin to me, and caused my death. The Apostle rejects the observation as unmeaning. It was not the law that caused my death; it was “sin,” or, concupiscence, that caused it, taking occasion from what is good, in order that its aggravated enormity might appear, &c. The Greek interpreters make an addition to the text to complete the sense, thus: “but sin (was made death unto me) that it might appear sin, having worked death in me by that which is good.” The Greek reading, κατεργαζομενη, will admit the change in the words, having worked. However, there appears to be no necessity for any such addition, as the Vulgate makes perfect and complete sense; and the participle by a Hebraism may be taken for a verb; “wrought,” or hath worked. Here, “sin” is personified as committing great crimes, making “the commandment,” given for quite an opposite purpose, the occasion of transgression.

14. In this verse, the Apostle, according to the more probable opinion, passes from the law of Moses, and in his own person, represents mankind under the law of grace and even justified. He would appear to speak of himself in his present state, “I am carnal.” The same appears from the subsequent part of the chapter, wherein he refers to the arduous struggle he was sustaining against concupiscence; now, it is only of the just man that this could be said, since the sinner, far from struggling with, yields himself up to his passions. He even speaks of himself as “delighted with the law of God, and serving the law of God” (verses 22, 25). His object in thus describing the state of man in the law of grace, and representing it in his own person, is to show that in the Old Testament, the law was not the cause of the multiplied transgressions under it; since even under the New Law, in which grace is so liberally dispensed, we experience such difficulty in the struggle with the “law of the members.” Now, nobody would impute this to the New Law, but to the corruption of human nature; and he shows the difference between our present state and that of the Jews, under the Old Law: they obeyed concupiscence; we feel it, but far from obeying, we resist its corrupt motions. “The law is spiritual”—its end and object are spiritual—viz., man’s sanctification—and so are its precepts. “Sold under sin,” that is, given over by the sin of Adam, of which concupiscence is the consequence, to the dominion of corruption, the motions of which, even with reluctance, we must feel, but not obey, as “interiorly we serve the law of God,” (verse 25).

15. The Apostle, in the subsequent part of the chapter, describes the struggle that exists in the just man, between the sensual appetite, corrupted and deranged by original sin, and the superior faculties of the soul, when aided and assisted by divine grace. “That which I work,” in my animal part, “I understand not,” i.e., approve not, because it happens without the consent of my will, nor does my reason approve of it. “I do not that good which I will,” (“good” is not in the Greek), i.e., to be exempt from concupiscence—and to perform good actions without the resistance of concupiscence; “the evil of which I hate, that I do” (“evil” is not in the Greek), because although its takes place in my animal part, I am still said to “do it” according to the axiom, actiones sunt suppositorum.

16. This withholding of the consent of the will from the actions, or rather passions, of the inferior appetite, is a testimony, on the part of my intellect and will, of the excellence of the prohibitory law.

17. He explains how it is that he did the evil which he did not wish to do. He himself was not the principle of these actions, or rather passions, and motions of concupiscence, but it was rather the evil of concupiscence, which had been implanted, and which dwelt in his nature; and hence, these motions being involuntary, are no longer imputable to him, as free, human actions.

18. He explains the words, “sin that dwelleth in me;” for, from experience he finds that it is not good that dwells in his members, but evil; for, to wish to do good, and to be exempt from the evils of concupiscence, he finds easy enough, but to accomplish this, and be actually exempt from them, he finds impossible.

19, 20. In these two verses there is a repetition, for greater emphasis sake, of the verses 15–17.

21. The construction of this verse has been a source of perplexity to Commentators generally. The easiest and the most natural construction appears to be that adopted in the Paraphrase, I find a law opposing or contradicting me when I have a wish to do good. “Evil is present with me,” i.e., this law, or opposing resistance, arises from the fact that evil or concupiscence is present, or is implanted in my nature.

22. “For, I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man,” that is, my mind, my intellect, enlightened and aided by grace and faith, approves of, and my will is delighted with the law of God. This evidently shows that the Apostle is representing the state of a man justified. The “inward man” means, man considered as enlightened by grace and faith.

23. “But I see another law in my members,” i.e., in my rebellious flesh. Through feelings of modest delicacy, he omits mentioning the members more particularly. “Fighting against the law of my mind,” i.e., against the law of God, with which my mind is delighted (verse 22), and “captivating me in the law of sin, which is in my members,” is put by a Hebrew idiom, for “captivating me to itself,” because “the law of the members” is the same as “the law of sin,” “captivating;” by making me submit to its inordinate motions, but not forcing me to consent thereto. “Captivantem,” says St. Augustine, “motione, non consensione.”—(2 Epistola contra Pelagian., c. 10).

24. In this verse are conveyed the exclamation and groans of a just man battling with his corrupt passions, and aspiring, after the glorious liberty of the children of God, when this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall be indued with incorruptibility. “From the body of this death;” the Greek, εκ τοῦ σωματος τοῦ θανατοῦ τούτου, may also be translated, “from this body of death,”—this mortal body, subject to the same motions of concupiscence, inclining us to the spiritual death of the soul, which leads to eternal death.

25. “The grace of God,” i.e., the gratuitous mercy of God, &c., will deliver me (vide Paraphrase). The common Greek reading for “the grace of God” is, ευχαριστῳ τῳ θεῳ διὰ Ἰησοῦ, &c., “I give thanks to God through Jesus Christ,” &c. The Codex Vaticanus has χαρις τῶ θεῶ δια Ἰησου, &c., thanks to God through Jesus Christ, &c. The meaning of which may be rendered thus: I give thanks to God for liberating me, or rather for giving me hopes of future liberation through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Vulgate reading is found in some ancient MSS. and in many of the Latin Fathers, and defended by many eminent critics. “Therefore, I myself,” &c. In these words, the Apostle briefly sums up what he had been saying in the latter part of this chapter from verse 14. The sum of all comes to this, that although one and the same person, I feel within me two principles of action: through the one—viz., the animal, sensual principle, I serve the law of sin, by actually having motions of concupiscence, although with reluctance, against God’s law; and through the other—viz., the spiritual principle, I serve the law of God, by not wishing for these motions, and by not consenting to them. This clearly shows, that the Apostle is speaking of himself as representing mankind justified under the law of grace, and battling with concupiscence.

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