Understanding the Relationship between Man and Woman in the Marriage Covenant
When a man marries a woman, the man becomes the woman’s owner, or “lord.”1 Likewise, the woman becomes the man’s possession since he owns her. Accordingly, in Rom. 7:3, when the apostle discusses the woman hypothetically (“if”) marrying another man, he writes, «ἐὰν γένηται ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ», literally, “...if she become another man’s.”2
In Greek, the husband becomes the wife’s κύριος, or in Hebrew, her בַּעַל (baʿal) or אָדון (adon). The literal translation of these words in English is “owner.” Hence, we have the ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος—“the lord (owner) of the vineyard,”3 the lord (owner) of the slave,4 and so forth. For this reason, the apostle Paul describes the married woman as «ἡ ὕπανδρος γυνὴ»—literally, “the woman under a man” (or even more literally, “the under-man woman”). He does so because the husband is κύριος over the woman just as a servant’s master is κύριος over the servant.
This relationship exists within the marriage covenant. As long as the man lives, the woman he is married to is his, and he has dominion over her as her κύριος. In fact, if we were to express this in Koine, we would say, «ὁ ἀνήρ κυριεύει τῆς γῠναικός»—“The husband is lord (owner/master) of/over the wife.” The Greek verb κυριεύω means “to be a κύριος (of/over someone/something).”6
If she “become another man’s,” she becomes an adulteress, because no man can sever what God has joined. (It is impossible.) The two are married unto death. Only when one of the parties of the covenant dies does the marriage covenant then become abolished. Hence, if the man dies and the woman becomes another man’s, she is not an adulteress. (Ergo, death is identified as the means by which a covenant is abolished.) Rather, “if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”7
Understanding the Relationship between Man (who knows the Law) and the Law in the Old Covenant
Having discussed the relationship between the man and woman in marriage, and the means by which a covenant is abolished (i.e., death), the apostle Paul transfers that analogy to the relationship between the the Israelite8 and the Law.
Just as the woman is under her husband (ὕπανδρος) in marriage as long as her husband lives, and the husband is thus over his wife as her κύριος, the apostle Paul describes how the Law is κύριος of/over a man as long as a man lives. Consequently, the man is “under the Law” as long as the Law lives, so to speak. By analogy, then, the wife is equated to the man under the Law, and the husband is equated to the Law. For, the husband is lord/master/owner (κύριος) of the wife just as the Law is lord/master/owner (κύριος) of the man (who knows the Law, i.e., the Israelite).
However, rather than the Law dying — since the husband of the wife had died in the apostle Paul’s previous analogy in vv. 2–3, and he equated the wife to the man under the Law — the apostle Paul proceeds in v. 4 to describe how the man under the Law (his own brethren) “become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” In other words, it is the man under the Law, not the Law itself, that dies. How so? “By the body of Christ.” What does the apostle Paul mean by that?
When a Christian receives the Holy Spirit, they become spiritually united with the Lord Jesus Christ, for the apostle Paul elsewhere wrote, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”9 By virtue of their spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ, all Christians, those who are “in Christ,” are accounted as participating in the events of the life of Christ himself. They:
- are crucified with Christ10
- suffer with Christ11
- die with Christ12
- are buried with Christ13
- are resurrected with Christ14
- are vivified with Christ15
- live with Christ16
- are glorified with Christ17
- are seated with Christ18
- reign with Christ19
- inherit with Christ20
Before believing in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, the Israelite was under the Law, i.e. married to the Law. The Law was the Israelite’s master (owner) or κύριος as long as both parties live. However, once the Israelite believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and receives his Spirit, the Israelite dies with Christ. At that time, the Old Covenant is abolished with respect to that individual Israelite, and the Israelite is no longer under the Law. The Israelite becomes (marries) “another’s, he who is raised from the dead,”21 the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
For the Israelite under the Law (bound by covenant), death is necessary to be free from the Law, as the Psalmist wrote, “Free among the dead,”22 and Job wrote that “the servant is free from his master” in death.23 Regarding Psa. 88:5, the rabbis wrote,24
“Free among the dead” — as soon as a man dies, he is made free from the commandments.
במתים חפשי כיון שמת אדם נעשה חפשי מן המצות
Therefore, the Israelite must die. But, if the Israelite dies in his sins, he perishes forever, never having received salvation from his sins. However, God has provided a means for the Israelite to live eternally by believing in Christ and to never bear the eternal punishment for his own sins, for it is written,25
Amen, amen, I say to you, “He who hears my word and believes on Him who sent me, has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation, but he is passed from death unto life.”
1 For this reason, Sarah called Abraham “my lord (owner).” cf. Gen. 18:12; 1 Pet. 3:6
2 The dative «ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ» here indicates possession.
3 see Thayer (translating Wilke), p. 365, κύριος, a.
4 Matt. 10:28
5 Matt. 10:24
6 That which the subject of the verb is κύριος of/over is identified as its object in the genitive case.
7 1 Cor. 7:9
8 Rom. 7:1: “For I speak to those who know the Law...”
9 1 Cor. 6:17
10 Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20
11 Rom. 8:17
12 2 Tim. 2:11
13 Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12
14 Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12, 3:1
15 Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13
16 Rom. 6:8; 2 Tim. 2:11
17 Rom. 8:17
18 Eph. 2:6
19 2 Tim. 2:12
20 Rom. 8:17
21 Rom. 7:4
22 Psa. 88:5
23 Job 3:19 cf. 3:13
24 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Toharot, Tractate Nidda, Chapter 9, Folio 61b, Gemara
25 John 5:24
Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.