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Bible Gem 186 - Paul's marriage example (Rom 7:1-6)

March 21, 2019


Or are you ignorant, brothers, (for I speak to those knowing Law), that the Law lords it over the man for as long a time as he lives?  For the married woman was bound by Law to the living husband; but if the husband dies, she is set free from the Law of the husband.  So then, if the husband is living, she will be called an adulteress if she becomes another man's. But if the husband dies, she is free from the Law, so as for her not to be an adulteress by becoming another man's. So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, for you to become Another's, to the One raised from the dead, so that we may bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death. But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that in which we were held, so as for us to serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter. Rom 7:1-6  


How does this passage relate to what Paul has said before? What does he intend by using this example of marriage? There is much debate about this passage in the literature and commentaries. In Paul’s example it is the husband who dies, not the wife. It is the wife who remarries. What does the husband represent? Does he represent the law? If so what law? Does the wife represent something? Many see all sorts of things in the husband. How does the passage connect to the things Paul has been saying and will say in the passage following Romans 7:1-6? We must always look at the passage in context. 


The danger with this passage is that many try to spiritualize it and turn it into an allegory. It is just an illustration of Paul’s point. To me it is simple. I find it amazing at times that Bible commentators get so tied up in certain passages and make it far more complicated than it ought to be. 


Observe verse 7:1 where Paul says “Or are you ignorant, brothers, (for I speak to those knowing Law), that the Law lords it over the man for as long a time as he lives?”  Paul has already made the point in the earlier passage to reckon ourselves dead to sin. If we are dead to sin then sin no longer lords it over us. It no longer has an effect. His point here is a continuation of the same thought. Interesting that he uses the example of the wife dying. Some make much of this in allegorical ways. Again it is simple. It is the husband who had the law on his side in those times. It was not an egalitarian society. The wife had no standing before the law at all. All the benefits were for the husband. To have said the wife died would not have explained the power of the law and the release that comes from the law on the death of the husband. There was no relief from the law for the husband when the wife died. But there was significant release for the wife when the husband died. Hence Paul chooses that scenario.


Paul is simply taking another example of where death brings release from the law. So too with sin. We cannot sin when we are dead. That is Paul’s inference. Like death brings release from sin, so too release from slavery brings release from bondage and in like manner the death of husband brings release from the power of the law for the wife. So too us with regard to sin and its power over us. Paul is simply stacking up the arguments, or evidence or examples. 


Be careful of allegorising everything in Scripture.  Take careful not of the flow of the argument and the meaning of most verses of Scripture falls out from the context. So too in this case. I strongly don’t agree with the suggestions of many commentators on the meaning and purpose of Paul’s inclusion of “marriage” at this point. I believe he is still developing the same point he has been making previously. 



Sad is the day for any man when he becomes absolutely satisfied with the life he is living, the thoughts he is thinking, and the things he is doing; when there ceases to be forever beating at the doors of his soul a desire to do something larger which he seeks and knows he was meant and intended to do.  Phillips Brooks


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