6

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” Romans‬ ‭7:1-6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

I have heard it taught that the first husband is the entire law. But texts such as ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭22:37-40; Romans‬ ‭13:8, 10; ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:14 and ‭‭James‬ ‭2:8 teach that the law is essentially love. It does not make sense for Paul to teach that one must die to the law of love in order to marry and live with the One who is love. I do not believe that conclusion can be supported by the Bible.

Another teaching, which makes more sense, is that the first husband is the "law as a means of salvation" and must die. In other words, we must reject the idea that it is possible to earn eternal life by obeying the law, resulting in works of the flesh which lead to death. Instead, eternal life is found in allowing Jesus to live through us, resulting in works of the Spirit which lead life.

This makes a lot more sense than the first option. Furthermore, the conclusion is theologically correct, which makes it a viable option. However, I am not confident that this is what Romans 7:1-6 is saying. It may be a case of eisegesis.

A third option is that the first husband is actually the flesh, to which the law binds us while it lives, leading us to bear fruit to death. The second husband is Jesus, leading us to bear fruit to God. This parallels Rom 6, especially verses 20-22, which teaches that the old man/flesh dies so that we can marry Jesus. Rom 8 continues with the same idea.

In this option, the "law" in Rom 7 is the “law of the husband,” which requires the wife to submit and bear fruit to her husband, and is always in effect. What changes is that our first husband - the flesh - must die so that we can marry another. The law doesn’t die, but the husband to which the law bound us.

I lean heavily toward this third option, but I don’t know any Greek beyond looking up words in a lexicon so I can’t confirm that the underlying text supports this interpretation. I would appreciate any insights on which option, including any I haven’t mentioned, makes the most sense. Thanks.

  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Good question. Up-voted. +1. – Nigel J Jul 20 at 8:34
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In my assessment the third option is the correct one, except that it is "you" who dies in this scenario not the flesh with its sinful passions. Notice that Paul says "you also have become dead" and "For when we were in the flesh" and "having died to what we were held by".

In the analogy, the wife is married to the husband. She is not married to the law. The husband is not the law. The law is what binds (δέω) the wife to the husband (v. 2). Paul then says in the same verse that if her husband dies then "she has been released from the law of the husband" (κατήργηται ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τοῦ ἀνδρός). In Paul's application of his analogy in v. 6 he states that "we were released from the law" (κατηργήθημεν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου). Paul uses the same expression as in the analogy. Paul then states in the same verse that "we" are dead "in what we were held" (ἐν ᾧ κατειχόμεθαv). Though Paul uses a different Greek verb—κατέχω (to hold) instead of δέω (to bind)—it is used synonymously. These parallels indicate that in Paul's application of the analogy the law was likewise not the "husband" but it was what held the person to the "husband".

It seems to me that the identity of the first husband is revealed in v. 5 where Paul describes the previous relationship as "when we were in the flesh". This description should be understood as a description of the previous relationship because it is set as a contrast to belonging to Christ, the new husband, in v. 4. Further, Paul then states in the same verse that the sinful passions of the flesh were working in "our" members through the law "to bear fruit for the death". This expression "to bear fruit for the death" (καρποφορῆσαι τῷ θανάτῳ) parallels contrastingly to Paul's description in v. 4 of the result of belonging to Christ, the new husband, as "we might bear fruit for the deity" (καρποφορήσωμεν τῷ θεῷ). The contrasting parallel expression indicates that the flesh with its sinful passions was the previous husband. To emphasize the point, it is not the law that does this, it is the sinful passions of the flesh through the law. The flesh was the husband not the law.

In Paul's application, what now binds the person to Christ, the new husband? It appears to be the spirit. This identity is revealed in v. 6 where Paul contrasts "the oldness of the letter" to "the newness of the spirit". Since "the oldness of letter" is presumably a reference to the law, which held the person to his flesh with its sinful passions, the spirit must be what now connects the person to Christ. I do not take this to be in opposition to what the law commands since Paul himself calls the law spiritual in v. 14. Instead, the spirit is what empowers and impels the person to do what the law stipulates. A written text, even sacred law, cannot do this alone and even has the opposite effect while a person is held in the flesh as Paul explains in v. 7ff.

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  • 1
    It all looks good to me except for who dies. For a long time I also accepted the idea that “you” die, but I was never comfortable with the idea that Paul switches from the 1st husband dying in the first half of the analogy to the wife dying in the last half. Also, being “dead to” something is not the same as being dead. Paul used that language in Rom 6:11 to show that we have been freed from sin’s enslaving power. ‭ Similarly, I see Rom 7 as saying that we should be dead to the law of the husband because our husband is dead. The law no longer has an object onto which it attaches us. – asg Jul 22 at 21:14
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First, Rom 7:1-3 is simple marital law that is literally true. However, Paul goes on to make spiritual teaching out of this marital law. So let us notice what Paul is saying.

Verse 4 is the key: "Therefore, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead." From this we observe the following:

  • It is "us" (= converted Christians) who die, and not the first husband as in V1-3. That is, the law cannot be the "first husband".
  • The death that we die is "through the body of Christ"; that is because Christ died, then "all died" (see 2 Cor 5:14). Again, this precludes the law (or Torah) as the "first husband that died". It is Christ who died and we die through Him.
  • The reason for this figurative death (through Christ, albeit Christ's death was literal!) is so that we can belong to "another, to Him who was raised from the dead"; that is Christ. It is only if we equate "belong" (γενέσθαι, literally, "become, or being reborn) with marriage to Christ that we can claim that Christ is the "second husband". However, this would only be on the basis of comparison with the analogy of Rom 1:1-3.

Paul's central point is simple - it is only a death that we can be released from the law:

  • In the case of a conventional marriage, it is the death of the "first husband" that a wife is released from the law of marriage to marry a new husband
  • In the case of e new christian, it is the death of Christ (and also vicariously us through Him) that we are released from the law of sin and death to live a new life in Christ. See Rom 8:2, "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."

Therefore, I cannot see that the Rom 7 supports any of the three options in the OP question, although option 3 is closest.

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  • I used to believe that we die according to the passage, but that requires Paul to have switched analogies in the middle of his thought. It would have to start out with the 1st husband must die, then the wife must die so she can marry a 2nd husband. I was never comfortable with the idea that Paul would be so confusing. – asg Jul 22 at 18:20
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The book of Romans is dealing with several themes simultaneously including the issue of the Southern kingdom and the divorced northern kingdom that is all tied into the Old Covenant on Mt.Sinai and hence the effects of the Law which goes along with that Old Covenant.

God did give the northern kingdom a certificate of divorce Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8

And the law that is in place makes reference to

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and  he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house Deu24:1

The issue in the early church was that the Gentiles were now “contaminated” with the bloodlines of the divorced northern tribe.

And accepting the Gentiles into the church would violate a theological/legal issue in their minds over the Mosaic Law specifically G24:1. How could a divorced northern tribe re-marry the same God they were once divorced from? Equally problematic was the fact that they were Jews who were STILL under the “Law” and how could they simply move over to a new covenant if the first husband had not yet died?

This is the “Law” that Paul alludes to in Romans 7 because immediately after making reference to the law, Paul starts to speak about a marriage covenant.

“For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭7:2‬

He is not referring to ALL the Law but to A specific law, the law of the husband Deu24:1 mentioned earlier.

As such Paul continues and explains that there is a way for the woman to be released from the law of her husband.

The husband dies. And He did die. Very publicly on a cross and then buried for three days and nights.

So now the woman (under the Law) can then go from one covenant to a new covenant. This effectively nullified the old covenant as Paul writes in Hebrews (yes I believe Paul wrote Hebrews)

“When He said, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭8:13‬ ‭

By “joining” into the death of the first husband the wife is freed from the hold of the first covenant requirements. She no longer owes the first husband anything and is free to enter into a new covenant of marriage without being guilty under the law as an adulteress. In fact if her husband were to resurrect she could now legally remarry him if she was previously divorced (in speaking of the northern ten tribes).

And then Paul continues to develop this idea further by explaining how the Law keeps anyone who was kNowledgeable of the Law under it (aplicable to bother Jews/Southern and Israelites/Northern kingdom) because they had entered into that covenant at Mt Sinai.

But since Christ died, He released both the Jews and Israelites from under the Law. (Gentiles were “technically” never under it so they are free to join the new covenant without the additional burden the Jews were grappling with). By necessity Jesus had to be the first husband in order to free those under the Law from the first Covenant. This is exactly what Paul is saying. Jesus was on Mt. Sinai and because He died G24:1 is undone

This fulfills the problem that the Jews were trying to understand from the prophets. One prophet says God rejected Israel and another prophet would say, God accepts Israel back but they couldn’t understand how that was possible given the Law G24:1.

Conclusion

Paul is simplying saying that since Christ the first husband on Mt. Sinai (Acts7:38) died He released BOTH the Jews and the Israelites, bound by the Mosaic Law from the curse of the Law invalidating the old covenant. Then Jesus made a new covenant but not of flesh, blood or will of man but by faith and of God

“who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” ‭‭John‬ ‭1:13‬ ‭

Prophecy fulfilled

“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God. And the sons of Judah AND the sons of Israel will be gathered together, And they will appoint for themselves one leader, And they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel.” ‭‭Hosea‬ ‭1:10,11

Paul alludes to this very point

“As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people (speaking of the northern ten tribes and Gentiles) I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭9:25-26‬

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  • Am I understanding you correctly that Jesus was the 1st husband who died, then resurrected so He can be the 2nd husband also? I've never heard that before. – asg Jul 22 at 18:29
  • @asg yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s the story of the prodigal son, Jesus is the father, the eldest is Judah or the southern kingdom and Efraim or the northern ten tribes is the youngest brother. Jesus existed prior to incarnation as the Angel of the Lord who was in the burning bush and the angel who was on Mt Sinai that made a covenant with all tribes of Israel. When He died on the cross He annulled the first covenant which had at its core the Law. – Nihil Sine Deo Jul 22 at 19:08
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Romans 7:1

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

Footnotes

        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

Footnotes

        2 Rom. 6:14, 6:15, etc.

Romans 7:2

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.

Footnotes

        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.

Footnotes

        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.

Romans 7:4

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

Footnotes

        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.

Footnotes

        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

Footnotes

        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

Footnotes

        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.


References

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.

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  • The wife is bound by the law to her husband. Then the husband dies. Is the law dead ? It is 'you' who is dead to the law. This reminds me of Ruth. Who is the man with one shoe ? Some say he represents the law. Then why is he a 'near' kinsman ? – Nigel J Jul 20 at 18:16
  • In what sense is the law dead? Is it abolished or nullified? – asg Jul 22 at 18:25
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We suggest that the first husband is not the Law. And that Paul was using the principle of the Law to explain what happens to a believer. And argue that the first husband is not the flesh, although this is on the right track.

But, the problem with this passage is that it’s talking about ‘spiritual’ aspects. And when The Apostle Paul did this, he tried to use terms they were familiar with to explain them. And even then, they had trouble. Even the Apostle Peter, as he says in his letter, had trouble understanding Paul at times. And was even rebuked once for getting it wrong

It’s that ‘golden rule’ of context. Chapter 7 is still talking about the same matters that chapters 5 and 6 were. We were born ‘in’ Adam. Born in ‘death’, spiritual death. Now, this ‘we’ is ‘us’, and ‘we’ are a ‘spirit’. The first ‘husband’ is what Paul called ‘the old man’, that previously dead spirit. We were under the Law of death. Born ‘in sin’, that is, separated from God. But that old man is dead. Was crucified. And that ‘frees’ us from the Law of sin and death. We are reborn, under, or rather ‘into’ the Law of Life in the spirit.

When The Apostle Paul says we are a ‘new creation’, when Jesus says we are ‘born again’, that’s exactly what it means. But, ‘legally’, The only way we could be ‘divorced’ from the Law of sin was through death. Paul was using the Mosaic Law to explain this spiritual reality.

Everything that God does has to be done ‘Legally’, or in other words, righteously. So, there had to be a ‘death’ before we could be ‘separated, or ‘divorced’ [from Adam, our ‘old man’] and joined to another. [Christ]

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