Don’t you know brothers (since I speak to those who know the Law)...
ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ἀδελφοί γινώσκουσιν γὰρ νόμον λαλῶ...
The apostle Paul directs this to the Jewish Christians in Rome, since they were those who knew the Law.1
1 as opposed to the Gentile Christians. cf. Rom. 2:20, 2:17
...that the Law is master of the man as long as he lives.
...ὅτι ὁ νόμος κυριεύει τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐφ᾽ ὅσον χρόνον ζῇ
κυριεύει is conjugated from the verb κυριεύω, which is a denominative verb related to the noun κύριος. Just as the denominative verb βασιλεύω means “to be a king (βασιλεύς),” and δουλεύω means “to be a servant” (δοῦλος), κυριεύω means “to be a master (κύριος).” That is, κυριεύω means to be a master of a servant. Since the Law is master over the the Jewish Christian as long as he lives, the Jewish Christian is “under the Law.”2
2 Rom. 6:14, 6:15, etc.
For the under-a-husband woman is bound to the Law to her living husband...
ἡ γὰρ ὕπανδρος γυνὴ τῷ ζῶντι ἀνδρὶ δέδεται νόμῳ...
The married woman is literally called “the under-a-husband (ὕπανδρος) woman.” She is described as such because her husband is her master (“lord”).2 Even the phrase «ἐὰν γένηται ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ» (“if she become another man’s”) in Rom. 7:3 alludes to the husband’s ownership of his wife.
Bryon Allen, Jr. wrote,3
Neither the servant nor the wife were independent or free. Both, whether voluntary or not, belonged to the master or husband as property belongs to its owner.
2 Hebrew אָדוֹן (adon) or Greek κύριος (kyrios). Hence, Sarah called Abraham “my lord.” cf. Gen. 18:12; 1 Pet. 3:6
3 Allen, Jr., p. 191. See also, Davies, p. 15; Pierce, et al., p. 385
But if the husband die, she is loosed from the law of the husband.4
ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ ὁ ἀνήρ κατήργηται ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τοῦ ἀνδρός
According to the Babylonian Talmud,5
כיון שמת אדם בטל מן המצות והיינו דא"ר יוחנן (תהילים פח) במתים חפשי כיון שמת אדם נעשה חפשי מן המצות
As soon as a man dies, he is loosed from the commandments. And this is what Rabbi Yochanan said: (Psa. 88:5) “Free among the dead” — as soon as a man dies, he is made free from the commandments.
4 The “law of the husband” is the law concerning the husband. It is neither a genitive of apposition nor a possessive genitive. cf. LXX Lev. 6:9: ὁ νόμος τῆς ὁλοκαυτώσεως (“the law of the burnt offering”); Lev. 6:14: ὁ νόμος τῆς θυσίας (“the law of the gift offering”); Lev. 14:2: ὁ νόμος τοῦ λεπροῦ (“the law of the leper”); Num. 6:13: ὁ νόμος τοῦ εὐξαμένου (“the law of the Nazirite”)
5 Tractate Shabbat, Folio 151b
If while her husband lives, the wife is bound to the law of the husband,
but when her husband dies, the wife is loosed from the law of the husband,
then death frees one from the law.
After having demonstrated this proof by the example of a husband and wife, the apostle Paul proves how the Law is no longer master over the Jewish Christian, and the Jewish Christian is no longer under the Law.
so that, my brothers, you were also put to death with respect to the Law by means of the body of Christ, in order to become another man’s, he who was raised from the dead, so that you may bear fruit to God
ὥστε ἀδελφοί μου καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐθανατώθητε τῷ νόμῳ διὰ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς ἑτέρῳ τῷ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθέντι ἵνα καρποφορήσωμεν τῷ θεῷ
When a husband and wife marry, they become one flesh.6 In Paul’s analogy, the husband died, but by virtue of their unity, the wife also died with the husband. For this reason, the marriage covenant was dissolved since both parties died, whether literally or vicariously.7
6 cf. Gen. 2:24
7 Because of matrimonial unity, only one party of the matrimonial covenant need literally die in order for the covenant to be dissolved.
It should be noted that the husband dies in Paul’s example in Rom. 7:2. The reason Paul has the husband die to prove his point is because a husband could lawfully marry another [unmarried] woman, whether his first wife be alive or dead.8 In other words, his point was only possible if the husband rather than the wife died.
8 Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon all had multiple wives and were not deemed adulterers for doing so.
However, in Rom. 7:4, it is not the Law that dies, which would be analogous to the husband dying, since both the Law and the husband were the masters. Rather, it is the Jewish Christian who dies, not literally, but vicariously, by means of Christ’s own death. Some doubt this interpretation, because the analogy is reversed, but as just mentioned, the apostle Paul was compelled to have the husband (master) die in Rom. 7:2, since he could not have demonstrated the same point with the wife dying (because a wife’s death is not required for the husband to marry another woman).
Once the Jewish Christian believes in Christ, he becomes united with Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.9 Consequently, he participates in Christ’s life and thus dies with Christ.10 He then becomes dead with respect to the Law and is loosed from and made free from the commandments. The Law is no longer his master, and he is no longer under the Law. As Job wrote concerning death and the grave, “The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.”11
9 1 Cor. 6:17
10 Rom. 6:8; 2 Tim. 2:11
11 Job 3:19
By being married to Christ, now the Lord Jesus become the master of the Christian,12 the Christian becomes his servant13 and possession.14
12 1 Cor. 8:6
13 1 Cor. 7:22
14 1 Cor. 3:23, 15:23; Gal. 5:24
Questions and Answers
Q: If the husband die in Rom. 7:2, and the husband was the master, shouldn’t the Law die by analogy, since the Law was master over the Israelite?
A: The apostle Paul was compelled to have the husband (master) die in Rom. 7:2 in order to prove his point, because a wife cannot marry another man while her husband still lives. On the other hand, a husband can marry another woman while his wife still lives.
Q: In what sense is the Law dead?
A: The Law does not die, as evident by the fact that those Jewish people who do not believe in Christ are still to this day under the Law. Thus, the Law must still be alive, i.e., effective. Rather, it is the Jewish Christian who dies in Christ when they believe in Christ and receive his Spirit, becoming united with him.
Allen, Jr., Byron. His Excellent Name. Maitland: Xulon Press, 2009.
Babylonian Talmud (תלמוד בבלי).
Davies, Eryl Wynn. The Dissenting Reader: Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible. 2003. Reprint. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Fee, Gordon D. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. Ed. Pierce, Ronald W.; Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill. 2nd ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.