By Clinton D. Hamilton
Sometimes a question is asked that involves more than the language of the text about which it is raised. Such is the nature of the question which is being answered in this column. It of necessity also involves the larger context and a generalization that the apostle makes and from which he develops an argument. One must be careful to follow carefully what the writer has in mind and how he arrives at the conclusion which he considers to be decisive.
Question: Regarding Romans 7:2. Can it be clearly shown that the “bond” here described is a dual bond to law and to husband, or is the law merely the instrument binding the wife to the husband?
Response: Paul says the law is binding on one so long as he lives. This generalization was one that he knew his readers would accept. He knew this because they were not “ignorant” (not knowing). He states, “I speak to mean who know the law” (Rom. 7:1). Then Paul proceeds to illustrate the truth of the generalization from an example with which they were well aware. A woman who has a husband is bound by the law to the husband while he lives but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband (Rom. 7:2). However, while the husband lives and she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. On the other hand, if the husband should die and she is joined to another man, she is no adulteress (Rom. 7:2-3). The language of these verses is most emphatically clear and the readers would not have any problem understanding it. Nor would they have a problem in accepting it as stating what is true and uncontroverted.
It should be noted that the woman is discharged from the law of the husband when he dies (Rom. 7:2). That law no longer has any dominion over her. In this case, she is free to be joined to another man and in this instance would be no adulteress. On the other hand, the dominion of the law of the husband is binding on her while he lives.
In chapter six, Paul had made a statement which he did not develop or argue as to why it was true. Note the language: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). However, in chapter seven he argues why they are not under the dominion of sin but under grace. He stated the generalization which we previously examined and the example of a woman’s being married which was an incontrovertible one. Having done this, the apostle demonstrates how the generalization has an application to their not being under the law of Moses but are now under grace.
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ: that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). They died to the law by the body of Christ. Consequently being released from the law of Moses, they were free to obey Christ who has been raised from the dead. How were they freed from the law of Moses? They died to it by the crucified body of Christ. According to the generalization expressed in verse one, law has no dominion over one after he dies. Having died with Christ, they are free from the law of Moses. This point in verse four can be easily overlooked unless one pays very close attention to the precise language: “Ye were made dead to the law through the body of Christ. “They are dead: therefore, the law of Moses no longer has dominion over them. Grace now has dominion over them.
When they lived according to the flesh under the law, it had dominion over them. Now that they are dead to the law, it has no dominion over them. In the illustration of the woman in a marriage, she was free from the law of the husband when he died. The surviving spouse was not bound in this illustration. But in the application of the generalization that one is bound by law so long time as he lives, Paul says the woman is not bound to the law of her husband after his death. In the application of the generalization to the Romans’ case, they are not under the law of Moses because they are dead to it through the crucified body of Christ. This shift in the applications is important to note.
From the preceding comments and Paul’s argument, one should not conclude that the law of Moses survived their death. The Scriptures are too clear on this for anyone to come to this conclusion. Make no mistake, the law of Moses was abolished on the cross (Col. 2:14). It, as the middle wall of partition separating Jew and Gentile, was broken down. Christ having abolished it (Eph. 2:14-15). In abolishing the first covenant, Christ took it away that a second one might be established (Heb. 10:9). On this basis also, it is no longer binding. What we need to do in Romans 7 is to follow carefully the argument and not twist it to say what it does not.
We need to look further at Romans 7 as the apostle develops a vital point. When they were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were exposed or revealed by the law wrought in their members to bring forth unto death (Rom. 7:5). Now, however, being discharged from the law, having died to that wherein they were held, they serve in newness of the spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6). But from this one must not conclude that the law is sin (Rom. 7:7). God forbid such a thought. One can know sin by what the law said. Apart from the law, sin is dead (Rom. 7:8).
Specifically, the querist is interested in whether the bond in Romans 7:2 is a dual oneto law and to husband. The response must be in the negative because verse two says that if the husband dies, the wife is discharged from the law of the husband. The bond is to the husband, his law. He does not have here under consideration specifically the law of Moses but the relation of the husband and wife to one another while both live and in the event the husband dies. In the latter case, the woman is discharged from the law of her husband, and she is under no bond to him.
The querist further asks, “is the law merely the instrument binding the wife to the husband?” The joining of the husband and the wife is that by which the wife comes under the dominion of the law of the husband. In Paul’s argument, he does not consider the law as the instrument of binding. Rather the relation is that which established the law of the husband over the wife.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 15, p. 5-6
August 5, 1993