As previously argued, the “I” of Romans 7 cannot be Paul telling the story as Adam in the Garden, and the “I” cannot be Paul speaking about his post-conversion struggle with sin. This brings us to the third view that has been common in church history: Paul recalling his non-Christian relationship with sin.
(3) Paul recalling his pre-Christian relationship with sin. Paul uses several phrases in Romans 7:7-25 that recall the life of an unbeliever, not a believer. For example, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (7:14b). Now an unbeliever is sold as a slave to sin. Also, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom 7:18). The inability to fulfill God’s law is true for unbelievers. And, “I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (7:23). Unbelievers are prisoners of God’s law. “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Unbelievers are slaves to the law of sin.
With just a brief survey of those verses, the identification of the “I” with pre-Christian Paul seems to make good sense. But people have raised objections to identifying the “I” with pre-Christian Paul. For example, how can pre-Christian Paul say “I have the desire to do what is good” (7:18b), and how can pre-Christian Paul say, “In my inner being I delight in God’s law” (7:22)? Finally, how can pre-Christian Paul claim that, “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law” (7:25b)? After all, don’t only Christians desire what is good, delight in God’s law, and live as mind-slaves to God’s law?
While the objections raised against the “pre-Christian Paul and his relationship with sin” interpretation are good ones, they are not terminal objections. I still think this third proposal is on the right track. In other words, while I think some adjustments need to be made to this interpretation, it is not totally wrong–it is just not totally sufficient. The final post will present the most likely interpretation for the “I” of Romans 7.