At 60 years old I am still learning. Part of learning is unlearning. For example, I have always interpreted Romans chapter 7 as a description of a Christian's inner struggle between knowing what is right to do and doing, instead, what is wrong to do. Now Ben Witherington is telling me I have been wrong. Witherington claims:
- In Romans 7-8 Paul is describing "the anatomy of a conversion." (The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism, 36)
- "In Romans 7:14-25 we find a person under conviction of sin, but still in its bondage, and crying out for conversion." (Ib.)
- Romans 7:5-6 and Romans 8:1-2 make it perfectly clear "that Christians have been set free from the bondage of sin and death." (Ib.)
- Romans 7 is about "sin and its power over fallen human beings." (33)
- Re. Romans 7, "we need to take seriously that Paul here is describing a crisis experience that leads to a crying out for help. [Romans 7:24 - "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"] He is not speaking of the day-to-day mind-set of the fallen person, whether devout or not, and whether Gentile or Jew. What we have then in Romans 7:14-15 and continuing into the next argument in Romans 8 is a narrative of a conversion and its theological and spiritual implications seen after the fact and from a Christian perspective." (Ib., 31)
What can I say about this? Some thoughts:
- I respect Witherington as a scholar. Therefore, I listen to him.
- His take on Romans 7-8 does not surprise me. Because, currently, this is the sort of thing that is now happening almost weekly in my Jesus-studies and Jesus-preaching.
- I do have moments where I wonder if I've known anything at all about the Jesus-life. But because I am certain that much of real learning requires unlearning, this doesn't freak me out.
- I have no wish to hold on to the perspective on Romans 7 or any biblical thing that I have somehow in the past acquired. I just want the truth of the text, to hear it as it was heard originally. If this means I have not had parts of it right, so be it. And so should it be, I think, for all who treasure the Christian Scriptures.