Re: Roma 7:5 PAQHMATA (LONG)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Apr 24 1997 - 12:08:51 EDT

At 4:01 PM -0500 4/23/97, Jeffrey Gibson wrote:
>On Wed, 23 Apr 1997, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>> But really, I don't think we are arguing at cross-purposes here so much as
>> each underscoring the importance of one aspect of the background of Paul's
>> psychology of sinfulness.
>Thanks for your response. In one way what you say in your last paragraph
>above is exaxtly what are doing. But on the other hand, I'm not sure I
>feel as if you have understood the point I have been trying to raise. And
>that is: of *all* the possible/actual backgrounds that might have/actually
>did inform Paul's psychology of sinfulness [and leaving aside for the
>moment whether this way of putting it is not an anachronism], which, if
>any, is actually at the forefront of, and informs Paul's discussion of
>the relationship between Sin, passions, and the Law in Rom. 7?
> [snip]
>Methodolgically it must be noted that just because Paul is familar with
>the Stoic (or any other) psychology does not
>mean he is employing it here. So to me what needs to be stated is: what
>is the evidence that in Rom 7 it is Stoic psychology of sinfulness rather
>than, as I argue (and I think you admit is a possibilty, though you have
>not said so in so many words), the framework provided by Zeal.
>Does not the evidence that I outlined in my previous post (my "givens")
>seem to make this view the most likely?

Okay, I think you may still be misunderstanding my point, Jeffrey, and that
may be my fault to some extent because I have appeared to insist that it is
a Stoic meaning that is at the core of Paul's use of PAQHMA in Rom 7:5. But
that is not what I meant (although I would still argue that it is a Stoic
understanding of conscience that governs his account of Gentile
consciousness of sin even apart from any awareness of the Mosaic Law); let
me be more precise and specific: rather I meant that the ordinary usage of
the word PAQOS and its cognate PAQHMA in the Greek of Paul's time is one
that has been impacted by Stoic (and similar Epicurean) notions of psychic
conditions that are powerful stimuli that threaten to overwhelm the
conscious intent/will of the person who feels them and that may very well
lead the person to self- or other-destructive behavior.

While etymology must be used with caution in considering the semantic value
of a word, I think that the associations of PASCW and PAQOS less
essentially with the notion of suffering than with BEING ACTED UPON,
of PRATTW/POIEW and PRAGMA/ERGON) are important in the formation of
philosophic--and, I should add, medical--usage of the word- root.

Let me cite from one early paragraph F.E.Peters wonderful little book
entitled _Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon_, s.v. PAQOS:
"Philosophical speculation goes off into two different directions ...,
investigating PAQOS as both "what happens to bodies" and "what happens to
souls," the first under the general rubric of qualities, the second under
that of emotions. The bridge is provided by the materialist theories of
sensation that reduce sense knowledge to a PAQOS of the senses that, in
turn, is capable of triggering the PAQH of the soul."

So far as the later philosophical development of the term is concerned, an
important fact is that both of the major Hellenistic schools (Stoics,
including the closely-related Cynics, and Epicureans) were materialist in
their physics and therefore held to the physical origin of mental states (I
don't want to dwell on the inner contradictions which I and some others
find inherent in this perspective). The Stoics defined and described the
PAQH as pain, fear, desire, and pleasure. When PAQOS got translated into
Latin it went in two directions; while AFFECTUS (pl.) was used for pain,
fear, and pleasure especially, although also for desire, PASSIO was used
for desire, especially sexual desire, although it came to be used
particularly in Christian literature for THE suffering of Jesus on the
cross, from that other sense of the Greek PASCW and the Latin PATIOR (which
are etymologically cognate to each other). But the word AFFECTUS (4th decl.
masc.) is a good word in its emphasis upon the PASSIVE aspect of the
emotional states as perceived by the ancients--they are not things that one
PERFORMS but things that HAPPEN to a person.

The most powerful of these PAQH was deemed to be desire, especially sexual
desire. And one does not have to read an awful lot of ancient literature to
discover that the predominant view of sexual desire is that it is
tantamount to a demonic force capable of destroying a physically and
mentally healthy person. Peter Brown's recent but already classic study of
attitudes toward sexuality, _The Body and Society_, amply expounds the
prevalence of this view in Hellenistic and early Christian culture.

In the light of these perspectives, then, we can readily understand our
lexicon entries for PAQOS and PAQHMA in the Greek of the NT period. The
question is whether or to what extent the usage of these words by NT
Christian writers diverges from standard Hellenistic usage. My own view is
that it may be nuanced in special ways by the NT writers' own personal and
cultural background, but that it will not diverge terribly far from that
standard Hellenistic usage.

And now I want to cite the Louw-Nida entry bearing upon the use of these
words in the NT (I have left standing the included verb in this heading,

Louw-Nida 25.30 s.v. PAQOS/PAQHMA/KATASTRHNIAW: to experience strong
physical desires, particularly of a sexual nature--'passion, lust, lustful
desire, to have lust.'
PAQOS: Rom 1:26 'God gave them over to shameful passions'
       1 Th 4:5 'not with lustful desires, like the heathen'
PAQHMA: Rom 7:5 'the sinful passions aroused by the Law were at work in our
        Gal 5:24 'they have crucified their sinful nature with its
passions and desires'
KATASTRHNIAW: 1 Tim 5:11 'but do not accept younger widows; or when they
experience strong physical desires ...'

It's interesting that Louw and Nida locate these words precisely in the
semantic domain of sexual desire. We have to ask: is sexual desire REALLY
the central focus of PAQHMA in Romans 7:5? If I have understood Jeffrey
rightly (something I obviously cannot take for granted!), HE doesn't think
so, and if I understand him, he seems to think rather that the PAQHMATA TWN
hAMARTIWN here are rather associated with the passion to fulfill the Law.
For myself, I think I'd have to say I believe that Paul is using the word
PAQHMA here in the sense of sexual desire as symbolic for and inclusive of
all desires that bring one to sin. I find this constated in the immediately
following verses that constitute the beginning of Paul's account of the
pathology of sin in relation to Law, right at the very beginning of the

I take this to mean that Paul understands the 10th Commandment much as
Martin Buber did (_Moses: the Revelation and the Covenant_), as a
concluding summation and description of the fundamental urgency that leads
to all sin and that one must endeavor to control if one is to obey the Law
as a whole. EPIQUMIA is sexual, but not only sexual; it is every kind of
sinful desire, every kind of desire that cannot be satisfied within the
realm of the selfhood, station, and family that God has given each
individual--not just concupiscence but covetousness generally.

I've always thought it fascinating that Paul puts Rom 7:7-25 in the first
person and wondered whether he is using a rhetorical device to explore the
experience of every human being--thus, perhaps, describing the experience
of Adam and Eve as they might have described what happened in Genesis 3--or
whether he is actually in earnest giving expression to his own personal
experience. And when I think that I have--perhaps too anachronistically--a
vision of Paul at his bar-mitzvah, just at the age when sexuality ceases to
be comfortably latent and when relationships between the incipient
teen-ager and his parents are beginning to grow more tense, and I see him
becoming painfully conscious, even as he becomes a "son of the
commandment," that to be subject to the Law is at the same time to be
subject to covetousness--although the Law is not the cause of the

At any rate, that's what I think Paul is talking about when he uses the
phrase PAQHMATA TWN hAMARTIWN in Romans 7:5. While I can't see it as
associated directly or specifically with Paul's zeal that led him to
persecute Christians, I do very definitely see it in its distinctive Jewish
context. HOWEVER, I see the phrase as a Greek phrase for a Hellenistic
Jewish conception, a Greek phrase that carries--from its development within
the Greek cultural tradition--a sense of desire as something happening TO a
person, as an almost demonic impulsion; if he spoke Hebrew he may have
called it hA YETSER hA RA, but as a speaker of Greek he called it a
PAQHMA--and later in his descriptive account he used the word EPIQUMIA.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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