What Romans 7:2-3 Really Says

Olan Hicks

"For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth, but if the husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband is dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress though she be married to another man."

It is amazing that these verses should be thought of as a statement of New Testament doctrine on the matter of divorce and remarriage. Twice in verse 1 the writer states that his reference is to a circumstance of law. In verse 2, it is stated twice more that the reference is to the law. In verse 3, it is stated yet again, a total of 5 times in the space of 3 verses! Yet, the teaching of tradition offers this scripture passage as proof that both men and women living in New Testament times and under the authority of Christ are so bound to their first mate that even after a divorce decree they continue to be held/bound to that mate by the Lord and, therefore, are guilty of adultery if they have a marriage with any other. How many times would Paul have to say that he was speaking of the law before we would accept the fact that he was speaking of the law?

It should be noted that the circumstance of the man is not mentioned in this text, only that of the woman. Her situation under the Mosaic law and under Jewish civil law at the time of the writing of Romans was indeed as described in these verses. Provision was made for men to divorce their wives quite freely, but the law did not provide that to the woman. It is clearly this situation to which Paul makes reference in these verses. This is not merely implied, it is expressly stated in the text five times in the space of three verses.

Further, the point to which this illustration applies is made clear by the inspired author, being expressly stated at verse 4. The subject is not divorce and remarriage among men and women on earth, but rather a spiritual analogy to help the Jews understand their transition from Moses to Christ. In verse 4, Paul says that from this illustration in law they should reckon themselves to be freed from the law and at liberty to be "married" to another, that is, to Christ. Thus the application made of it in the text itself is not that someone cannot be married to another, but rather that they can. The Jews were released from a "marriage" to the law that they might form a "marriage" with Christ. Again, this is not merely implied, it is expressly stated.

Note these important considerations.

1. The statement of Matthew 19:9 implies that under Jesus neither a man nor a woman continues to be bound to a mate who is guilty of fornication, though the mate remains alive. Thus, it is clear that the "law" referred to in Romans 7:2-3 is not the law of Christ. Paul makes it clear at verse 7 that the law to which he refers is the one which said, "Thou shalt not covet," which was, of course, the Mosaic law.

2. The release from the law in this case came about not because of fornication or death on the part of the law. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that the law was not destroyed but merely fulfilled. In Romans 7:12 Paul said "the law is holy and just and good." So the law did not die and it did not commit fornication. Yet the Jews were freed from it to be "married to another." The traditional theory is that either death or fornication on the part of the mate is absolutely required or the next marriage is a practice of adultery. This would have Jesus living in spiritual adultery with those Jews who left Moses to be joined to him, since they left the law without its death or guilt of fornication.

CONCLUSION: To apply Romans 7:2-3 the way traditionalist do we have to (a) disregard the five times the text itself says that the reference is to the law, (b) make the illustration mean the opposite of what Paul said at verse 4 that it means, and (c) indict the Lord Jesus Christ himself as an adulterous husband to all Jews who accept him. It would seem a wiser course to just let the text say what it says, that the law bound a woman to her husband for as long as he lived, that his death freed her, and therefore a law can be set aside where there has been death. In this case it is the death of the New Testament testator, not the "husband," but it still illustrates how the Jews may come out from under Moses to be joined to Christ without being treacherous to Moses. What the will of Christ is concerning divorce and remarriage among men and women on earth is another matter.