Wretched Man

Paul uses this expression in Romans, at the end of an explanation about the limitations of the torah. He actually addresses those who would quote the torah to him and uses the example of marriage.

Rom 7:1 Are you ignorant, brothers- for to those knowing torah I speak - that the torah has lordship over the man as long as he lives?
Rom 7:2 for the married woman to the living husband has been bound by torah, and if the husband may die, she has been free from the torah of the husband;
Rom 7:3 so, then, the husband being alive, an adulteress she shall be called if she may become another man’s; and if the husband may die, she is free from the torah, so as not to be an adulteress, having become another man’s.

He says that those living by the torah are bound by the torah for their lifetime. If they die, then their wives are free from their obligations to the torah. If, however, a husband is alive and the wife would go to another man, she would be an adulteress by the torah, until her first husband has died.

He says that the torah awoke sinful passion by means of the conflict between our flesh and the spirit, which only ends in death. To be free from death, we must be freed from such sinful passion – but this is the living strength in our limbs. It creates the inconsistency of our lives, the lop-sidedness towards hypocrisy and insincerity, and the reason for our inability to accept it.

He argues that, to free us from this dilemma, the death of Christ is a substitutional death for us, freeing us from the obligation of the torah, preparing us to bear spiritual fruit as the resurrected body of Christ. The substitution of the Son of the Father for the whole of mankind presents a conflict by encountering us with our own sinful state, recognising that the death of the man from Nazareth was unjust:

Isa 53:4 Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, And our pains - he hath carried them, And we - we have esteemed him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Isa 53:5 And he is pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace is on him, And by his bruise there is healing to us.

The age old prophecy is given a new meaning in the Cross of Jesus, he is seen as the “man of sorrows”. Originally it was not really sin that was spoken of, but the malevolence which human beings are subject to, which is not always a clear and direct consequence of some apparent sin. However, Jesus was concerned to relieve this malevolence in all its forms, whenever it came his way in the exercise of his ministry, and the implied relief was seen as a consequence of his actions, even if the bearing and lading which are primarily noted here we not always as evident as when he carried his cross.

Rom 7:4 So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the torah through the body of the Christ, for your becoming another’s, who out of the dead was raised up, that we might bear fruit to God;
Rom 7:5 for when we were in the flesh, the passions of the sins, that through the torah, were working in our members, to bear fruit to the death;
Rom 7:6 and now we have ceased from the torah, that being dead in which we were held, so that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
Rom 7:7 What, then, shall we say? the torah is sin? let it not be! but the sin I did not know except through torah, for also the covetousness I had not known if the torah had not said:
Rom 7:8 `You shall not covet;’ and the sin having received an opportunity, through the command, did work in me all covetousness–for apart from torah sin is dead.

Paul is keen to make sure that we understand that the torah itself was not sin, but it only made us see our sin by confrontation. It is only when we awaken out of the ignorance of bliss and are encountered by the moral instance that we can appreciate our disparity and our prejudice. It isn’t necessarily some morally abhorrent deed, as is often suggested, but our inability to gain a balanced view of the Unity in God. We are caught up in polarity and don’t even notice our imbalance – until we are confronted by the torah. Then we see that evil is not something “out there”, but an attribute of our existence. We bring death and are doomed to death. But the newness of the spirit lifts us out of the oldness of the letter, leaving the obligation to the torah in the dead body of sin.

Rom 7:9 And I was alive apart from torah once, and the command having come, the sin revived, and I died;
Rom 7:10 and the command that is for life, this was found by me for death;
Rom 7:11 for the sin, having received an opportunity, through the command, did deceive me, and through it did slay me ;
Rom 7:12 so that the torah, indeed, is holy, and the command holy, and righteous, and good.

It is the confrontation with the wholesomeness and unity of the torah that is like poison to the body of sin, disparity and prejudice. We are proved wrong over and over again, at odds with reality, at odds with all that is beneficial and righteous, at odds even with ourselves. Even the good we do accuses us, since it shows how we know the difference between good and bad, but we can’t see where we are in relation to that good. Even the good we mean to do is guided by prejudice.

Rom 7:13 That which is good then, to me has it become death? let it not be! but the sin, that it might appear sin, through the good, working death to me, that the sin might become exceeding sinful through the command,
Rom 7:14 for we have known that the torah is spiritual, and I am fleshly, sold by the sin;
Rom 7:15 for that which I work, I do not acknowledge; for not what I will, this I practise, but what I hate, this I do.

My predicament is that I know but I can not do good. Every attempt is unstable, iniquitous, and biased. In this state I am doomed to hypocrisy, doing the wrong thing I do not want to do, and failing to do the good that I want to do. The confrontation with the holistic goodness of God reveals my atomistic mind-set and denounces me.

Rom 7:16 And if what I do not will, this I do, I consent to the torah that it is good,
Rom 7:17 and now it is no longer I that work it, but the sin dwelling in me,
Rom 7:18 for I have known that there doth not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh, good: for to will is present with me, and to work that which is right I do not find,
Rom 7:19 for the good that I will, I do not; but the evil that I do not will, this I practise.
Rom 7:20 And if what I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that work it, but the sin that is dwelling in me.

This isn’t an excuse that Paul is presenting here, but the simple truth that I am doomed to work against the Unity of God, because I am possessed by the very disparity I want to avoid. There is something working within me that I can’t see, but whose effects I feel. It is my dependence upon polarity to understand the world, my incessant assumption that I have a balanced view, whilst I am blind to the full reality. I only see in part, I can only think in part, I lack the full picture, although I am often sure I know what reality is about.

Rom 7:21 I find, then, the torah, that when I desire to do what is right, with me the evil is present,
Rom 7:22 for I delight in the torah of God according to the inward man,
Rom 7:23 and I behold another torah in my members, warring against the torah of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the torah of the sin that is in my members.
Rom 7:24 A wretched man I! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?
Rom 7:25 I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord; so then, I myself indeed with the mind do serve the torah of God, and with the flesh, the law of sin.

My only hope therefore is to rely on the salvation that is worked for me. I must turn remorsefully and accept that I couldn’t see, and cannot see the full picture – only through revelation do I get an insight and understand that my only way is the acceptance of a righteousness that I feel is inherently unjust that substitutes my unrighteousness. The cross reveals to me in vivid pictures the consequences of my unrighteousness, my blindness, my disparity and prejudice. I can only humble myself and thank God that there is a deliverance, although I could never have achieved it myself.


I held a Bible-Study group this week with several people from a conservative faction within the church. It was interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, I knew most of the people in the group and am in fact a close friend of two of them. Secondly, I had parted from the group several years ago because of personal convictions against their leaning towards evangelical snobbery. Thirdly, this leaning had in fact become stronger amongst a few of them over the years and my invitation had been a provocation.

I didn’t know this when I arrived, but it didn’t take long to feel the mood in the room. I provoked them myself with a challenge I had retained from the years before, since I knew that they, although they took the Bible literally, were not Bible-literate. I told them that the subject of the meeting would be “Wretched man that I am!” and asked them where it was to be found in the Bible. As many of them were there with German “Good News” Bibles and other evangelistic translations, they were lost – all except my friends, who had invited me. We immediately began a discussion about the translation I had used, and whether the word “wretched” was an apt translation.

In earlier German, the term had been translated as “Schuft”, which meant “wretched”, but in the modern colloquial it means “scoundrel” or “villain”. Curiously, a number of participants remembered evangelists using this terminology. This was interesting, since I had to ask whether a “villain” is something quite different to a “wretch” and since most had the translation “unhappy” – where did this understanding come from? Did they think that Paul was chiding his listeners or readers? As it appeared, they did – although their Bibles didn’t suggest that.

I started talking about ταλαίπωρος (talaipōros), the Greek word for “wretched” or “miserable”, looking at where the word came from, its connection to having to endure something, and what synonyms there were. We came across the fatigued or laboured and heavy laden. Especially the indication of something pathetic, pitiable or pitiful and lamentable caught our eye. It seemed obvious that Paul wasn’t chiding anyone for being a villain, but was expressing regret about a deplorable condition which he too had to endure.

I spoke about the fact that Paul was talking about (and to) pious people like himself and their dilemma, not about those outside of the faith. It was the fact that they were so eager to be found righteous, eager to obey the law and even pedantic about the smallest command, that made their condition so pitiful. It is the zeal of all people who try to be better Jews, better Christians, better Moslems or whatever religion or moral teaching you want to name, which is so “wretched”, because it misses something that has been described as the dilemma of Mankind since Adam and Eve.

If we miss the warning of Christ not to judge, or the message of the parable of the plank in our own eye, as well as his criticism of those who “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men”, we miss the wretchedness of it all. Christ called those “that labour and are heavy laden” – and he meant those who see their dilemma and their wretchedness. Everything else is vanity.

You can imagine what reaction I got. If anyone is interested, I’ll carry on the “report” tomorrow.


I’m interested Bob.


I’m really uncomfortable with this idea.

Did the Jews invent morality and goodness? Is it God’s property, idea and creation, like everything else? Why can all forms of morality, spirituality and piety exist independent of the church and the bible?

I don’t know what the word “christian” means to you, but IMO – it is a faith-based, Jewish theory about salvation, emerging in reaction to a degenerating and corrupt nation of strife, monarchy and wars.

Later the “good book” got edited by the Roman Church, for their own “reasons”, and more then a million different interporatations of this book now exist. Not that I believe it was very true in the first place, but now I see it as a form of culture and opinion only…

Thanks Angel,

This is where I left off.

Paul had looked at his career as a Pharisee, regarding “the righteousness which is in the law” and had been “found blameless” by his peers, but he regarded it “a loss” and as nothing but “dung” with regard to the salvation in Christ. Why this squaring up in such a desperate way? This is the point where the separation between Christianity and Judaism begins and with it so much animosity – and therefore an important question.

One woman said it was because the Pharisees were all hypocrites and had no real relationship with God. This was why Jesus had criticised them and why Paul had broken with his past. I asked whether it is permissible for us to call the Pharisees “hypocrites”, since we are clearly talking about all pious people. How can we be sure that those zealous Pharisees were to be criticised more than us? The answer came, “because we have Jesus!”

This brought a discussion about – do we “have” Jesus, if we haven’t yet learned the lesson of the “wretched man”? Are others hypocrites and we are not? Can Christians ever talk about a “New Testament” if they haven’t learned the lessons of the old? Can we even consider exclusivity, if we haven’t yet learned the basics? It seemed to me that the basics include the recognition that we are all wretched, not just others.

I brought the group forward with a consideration that perhaps the mentality is a different one. We would return to our wretched man, but we had to make a excursion into Semitism first of all. In the Old Testament, God is seen as the opposite to “Tohuwabohu” – “formless and void” as it is translated in the KJV. Another possible translation is “waste and empty” but the implication of confusion shouldn’t be forgotten. God reforms, he disentangles and unravels the confusion, he arranges the waste and fills the void or emptiness. The Aramaic for God “Alaha” also means “Unity” and “Wholeness” or “Perfection”.

Humankind, on the other hand, is divorced, disturbed and broken – portrayed in the “Fall” of Adam and Eve. Anything but unified, whole or even perfect, Humankind is stuck in disparity, blind to its own polarity and continually falling into extremist positions against the other extreme. It is as though we are all boss-eyed and unable to focus on the complete picture – but worst of all, we don’t see it. We imagine that we have a complete picture, but we neglect half of it.

Paul, on the other hand, says he can only see in part, (1Co 13:9-10) “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” The word for “perfect” is τέλειος (teleios), which also means „complete“. Therefore, we are waiting for the perfect and complete to do away with our imperfection and partialness. This is the dilemma of mankind, and the reason too for humbleness. We are always reliant upon our fellows to complete our picture and only together, can we gain a broader view.

This is why the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which the New Testament continually cites, is not necessarily a malicious deception, but in the first instance a self-deception. To make oneself the measure of all things is in the first a sign of a deluded spirit, more than of evil. The thing that made Jesus angry apparently, was the fact that the Pharisees sat on the source that could free them of this illusion, and pretended that their behaviour would call Gods hand to turn their fate at the hand of the Romans. The opposite was true – “the realm of God is in your midst”.

The same can be said of organised religion in our day. Much of it is a question of prestige, illusion and dogmatisms, less a question of spiritual awareness. Many believers are blown back and forth by religious trends and opinions, and they are made insecure by the radical views of Evangelists who promise holy fire where they walk. In the day of Jesus, he warned the people that they shouldn’t be worried about missing the coming of the Messiah, since they wouldn’t be able to overlook it, but they should be concerned about being ready.

Being ready is the basics of faith (Matth.6:6) “… enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret …” and (Matth. 6:25) “Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?”

But the most important lesson to be learnt is what Jesus tells people after calling them to himself, “…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

More tomorrow …


Hi Bob,

Nice. Very nice. I’ll be interested in seeing what your group had to say.

In many ways, this is much the same issue as the Taoists had with Confucianism. The qualitative difference between the spirit of allowing our true nature (godliness) to lead us in our actions, and the prescribed (proscribed) morality as judged by man.

There is no battle, no war, but within ourselves.

“…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

What can I say? I have much to learn.



Bob is a Muslim. You need to reforence the Quran or Kuran. It is not a Jewish/Christion Faith based religion, But an Arabic, Islomic based one. Though the religion or faith itself consists and uses all of the things within those beliefs it also expands and theorizes diferently.

Where Christianity is based on faith alone, Islam Is based on Faith suported by logic. In otherwords in this belief if you can not explain why, Dont do it.


I thought that the wretched man did not exist for you simply because it was an illusory construct. I thought that for you there is either existence or non existence so the wretched man made up of parts recognizing God that can observe other parts that oppose its will is illusory.


I don’t want to begin a sidetrack of this thread, but man only becomes “wretched” in his constructs, which is what I think I already said or implied. Your last sentence is a bit convoluted and I have no idea of the implications of what you are saying. If you wish to discuss this further, start a thread. I would let Bob conduct this without interference.


No problem with that. I was just curious as to why you didn’t say it.

The only thing I must say is that the idea of the wretched man is not societal. It refers to the chaotic nature of each person’s inner man and the desired opening of oneself to the help of the Holy spirit. The idea of human types coming together through the realization of this inner psychological condition in shared unique perspectives to grow and help each other refers to a church or parts of the “body” of the Christ and not society or as a way of bringing peace to the world between those professing for some reason to being Jews and Christians. That is all I will say. There is nothing else for me to say. People can and will think whatever else they want to

Being ready is the basics of faith (Matth.6:6) “… enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret …” and (Matth. 6:25) “Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?”

But the most important lesson to be learnt is what Jesus tells people after calling them to himself, “…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

This caused unrest among my listeners and they asked, much like the Galilean audience, “What shall we do?” Some told me that they couldn’t see themselves as having extremist views, some just shook their head and said nothing, others just stared at me or into the room. I gave them a moment to recuperate but the woman who had been so critical of the Pharisees told me that she wasn’t convinced that what I had told them was “Christian teaching” and she wished that “Andreas”, another member of the group who was on holiday, had been there – “he would know!”

I answered her that I believed that the “truth” is universal but religion has a cultural border. That is why that she may find some of what I had said in other Religions, and I said that I would expect it. She then asked me what I would regard as the “Good News” in what I had told them.

I answered that the good news is that although we will be the “wretched” or the “labouring and burdened ones” all of our lives, Christ calls out, “Come unto me, all ye labouring and burdened ones, and I will give you rest …” So life mustn’t be so labouring or such a burden, since there is a yoke with which we can learn to carry the loads that we have to bear. There is a “Way” that we can walk if we ask what “yoke” Jesus is talking about and what does it mean to be “meek and lowly in heart”.

From a couple of people there came the idea that the “yoke” could be trust and faith in the promises of God, and that to be “meek and lowly” would mean to withhold too hasty judgement and learn to see oneself in their dilemma. To this other people offered the thought that we could begin to see others in a different light, understanding that we are no better and no worse than anyone else, but that we all have a lot to learn.

Pleased with the progress we were making, I offered only one other aspect. I warned them that it was a big one and that we could deal with it later – but I considered it important. The group saw that it had become late and said that they wanted to hear it anyway.

You haven’t reacted to “be not anxious for your life”, I said. What does this mean to you? There was silence. One person said, “perhaps we should deal with that one later …” My friend asked me if I could say something with a few words to indicate where we were going. I had the feeling that she had a suspicion. I said I thought we should postpone the discussion, since this was what I had in mind (but didn’t say):

(Matth. 19:23-25): Jesus said to his disciples, Verily I say to you, that hardly shall a rich man enter into the reign of the heavens; and again I say to you, it is easier for a camel through the eye of a needle to go, than for a rich man to enter into the reign of God.' And his disciples having heard, were amazed exceedingly, saying, Who, then, is able to be saved?’

There was a unanimous sigh as though they knew, and we adjourned with prayer and the blessing.




Hi Dan~ ,

I apologise for the late reply, I have been lumping furniture …

It isn’t a question of the Jews inventing morality, but rather humanity oblivious of it’s imbalance and needing a confrontation to even become aware of it. For the Jews it was the confrontation with the torah, which Paul says can’t be bad, but instead of the expected obedience of that law, Paul experiences the opposite. Where does this behaviour come from, if we want to do the right thing? It is in our limbs, he says, it is a part of us that the law doesn’t do away with, but reveals. This is the change for him and the difference of Christianity to Judaism.

Judaism continues to regard the torah as the directions of God and the expression of their faith, which is quite right. The problem occurs when people think that through the torah they become righteous. Righteousness by means of the torah should be by the acceptance of the fact that we are in need of improvement and seeking inspiration for betterment.

In fact Christianity to begin with, was an internal attempt at reformation – but not with new ideas, but rather returning to the old prophecies. When Peter says that what people experienced at Pentecost was the fulfilment of the Prophecies of Jeremiah and Joel, he is saying that a renewed covenant is one where the quality of faith has changed, as against the quantity of the portrayed pharisaic approach. It isn’t the number of commands I obey, but whether these commands become flesh and blood through the heightened awareness of ones own incompleteness.


Hi JT,

This is probably a common problem. I think that the “true nature” you speak of is more the nature of the enlightened person who learns to observe his own wretchedness and learn from his moral teaching how to deal with it. The Tao is clear about the “Way” not being a heightened activism – quite the opposite – but a heightened contemplation and introspection.


Hi Nick,

I believe that, whereas the first step leads into the “inner chamber” and is not something shared, the second step is. Christ doesn’t call on us to lock ourselves away altogether, but that we must begin in communion with the “secret” godly Father. The next step, however, leads us to our fellow human-beings.

I disagree, since the spreading of the Church is described as exactly that. Whether “world peace”, which you seem to use as a contrast, can be achieved in this manner I am not sure. But I believe that a realisation of the fact that this truth is universal, and only the cultural context of the particular religion is different, would I fact contribute a lot to non-violent coexistence.


Hi Angel,

I’ve had this reaction before and was able to follow up with a personal conversation - which is a little difficult here …


I’m waiting Bob.


Hi Angel,

I find that one of the greatest difficulties in a spiritual life are the compromises we make with the expectations of society. Generally these concessions are made because of the advantages we have through them – I am a Care-Manager for example because, although I experience myself as competent for the task, I enjoy the fact that I earn more than as a Care-Nurse. This is something which is regarded as quite normal in our time and something which my boss (a social worker) expects.

I once mentioned that if my career or my job were to prevent spirituality and cause me problems along those lines, then I would have to consider which one was more important. He became quite indignant and mentioned that there are “fanatics” that teach such nonsense and that he hadn’t considered me one until then. He said I had a duty to society to give my best and not follow some dream about spirituality. As you can imagine, I haven’t raised the subject since then with him.

The Pastor who is assigned to our Care-Home approached me on the subject and asked me about what I had meant in the conversation with the CEO. They had obviously been talking. Instead of taking up my position, he carefully gave theological grounding for my boss. It was then that I realised that Jesus was right – “hardly shall a rich man enter into the reign of the heavens” – even if you worked for the church.

Can you identify with that?


Yes Bob. When Jesus said; “…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls,” He was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in our heart Bob. Our spiritual life is the One and only life.