Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good…
The text is explanatory of two statements apparently contradictory, viz., that the law is holy, etc., and that this law worked death.
1. The apostle foresaw that a difficulty might arise, so, with his anxiety to be clear, he assumes the position of objector. "Was then that which was good," etc. Death here means the depraving influence of sin upon the moral nature of its victim. The expression "working in me" favours the notion, as does the result of it as described in the last clause of the verse. "Exceeding sinful" is tantamount to "death." This being so, the apostle's meaning is — The law has been shown to be holy, etc.; but death is an evil; is it then true that this evil can be wrought by that which is so good? Here is the difficulty.
2. Now for the answer. There is —
(1) The usual emphatic denial. "God forbid."(2) The explanation, which is that the law is not the cause of this evil condition of death, but sin using the law as an occasion. Suppose a person afflicted with a certain disease. He partakes of food, but this food, by reason of certain ingredients, in themselves wholesome, nourishes and feeds the disease. The man dies. The cause of death was not the food but the disease, working through that which was good. In like manner sin, that it might appear in its true character, that the fearful malignity of its virus might show itself, becomes exceedingly sinful, i.e., stronger and stronger through the commandment, which is holy, etc. The extreme heinousness of sin is demonstrated by this fact — its conversion of that which was best and holiest into an instrument of so much evil.
(A. J. Parry.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
WEB: Did then that which is good become death to me? May it never be! But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; that through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.