On Romans 7:7 and 2:14-15

There appears to be a contradiction between what Paul says about how Gentiles know sin and how he knows sin. Concerning Gentiles, in Romans 2:14-15, Paul writes:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them...

That is, Gentiles have an intrinsic, if imperfect, knowledge of what God's law requires. In this verse in the original Greek, notice how Paul switches between "a law" and "the law," i.e. the Mosaic Law.

But in chapter 7, Paul says that he would not have known what sin was if the Mosaic Law hadn't told him:

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

That's surprising. Shouldn't Jews have at least the same basic knowledge of right and wrong, just like Gentiles?

I pondered this on and off for months, getting nowhere. During a discussion last week, someone made a statement similar to Paul's: "I wouldn't know adultery was wrong unless the Mosaic Law told me." And the answer fell into place. "Then you don't know what love is," I replied, "because love does no harm to a neighbor, and your spouse is your closest neighbor."

I think the resolution to the dilemma between verses 2:14-15 and 7:7 is that Paul is letting on that he was a hard, loveless man prior to the Damascus Road. And because he had no love, he needed the Law to show him how to live in his society. That makes the love passage in 1 Cor. 13 even more impressive, as it would then have come solely from his Damascus change, where he came under the New Covenant and God replaced his "heart of stone" with a "heart of flesh".

[1] For an example of this, see
Another Short Conversation.
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