As you may be aware the thesis that I am writing is titled “Creation Waits: The Pauline Interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Epistle to the Romans with Emphasis on 8.1-25″. I may be finding what I am seeking simply because I seek to find it, but I am more and more convinced that much of the language used by the Apostle in this epistle is shaped by his interaction with Genesis-motifs (I would add the Book of Isaiah as well). For a long time I had read the reference to “the law of sin and death” (τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου) in Rom. 8.2 to be in the context of the Law of Moses which is mentioned throughout the epistle as well. Now I think this statement has Gen. 2.17 in mind.
Is the “law of sin and death” a reference to the Law of Moses? Maybe in some sense, but it would be indirect. I think there is a better contender. In Gen. 2.17 we have God announcing that if humans disobey his commandments “you will certainly die”. This cause-and-effect has been established since the Garden of Eden.
In this epistle we have a very obvious Adam-Christ contrast in 5. 12-21, but I postulate that it can be found through the entire epistle beginning with the underlying Adamic themes in 1.18-23 (read this passage with Gen. 1.20-27 and 3.4 in mind) and ending with the cryptic echo of Gen. 3.15 in Rom. 16.20a where it is written, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.
In the seventh chapter we see the Apostle merging a personification of Adam/Eve with the negative impact of the Law of Moses upon sinful humans. So when we get to 8.2 we may see the Law as playing into this, but not as the primary referent. No, rather the Apostle has Eden in mind.
The nomos of sin and death is that sin results in death. There is only one “law” that can override this: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. Why? It is resurrection that overrides death. Christ’s atoning work has made it so that when the curse of Gen. 2.17 is enacted death cannot keep us down. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in believers (even now, in this age) so it is not possible for us to remain dead, like it was not possible to Christ to remain dead (8.11).
The Adamic cry that all humans share—“Wretched person that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” (7.24)—is answered by the promise that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (8.1)
Even here in 8.2 the contrast between Adam and Christ is seen. Adam’s sin initiated the “law of sin and death”. Christ’s obedience initiates “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. For a broader commentary by the Apostle on this subject that seems to go well with what I am saying here read 1 Cor. 15.45-49.