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Understanding Romans 7 (Dead to the Law, Married to Messiah)

Romans 7:1
Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law

Question, why does Paul preface this, speaking to Romans if in fact he is making the case that they aren’t to bother with the law at all? Since Paul says this, it is very clear then that one can not understand what Paul is saying in Romans without first knowing and understanding the Torah!

Romans 7:1-6
1 Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?
2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.
3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
So, 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, in order that we might bear fruit to G-d.
For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

One should ask this very obvious question: if Paul is writing to “men who know the Torah,” then how can anyone understand what he writes in Romans without first knowing the Torah? At best such a person would only see very dimly what he’s talking about, and at worst their conclusions could wind up contradicting the very Torah he is teaching from. Do you see the danger in removing the foundation of truth from the teaching and practice of the believers of G-d in Christ? Romans 7 is my favorite passage of all of Paul’s writings. Let’s go on:

When comparing the analogy Paul gives with the explanation Paul gives, in Romans 7, ask yourself these questions when doing the comparison:

1. Who dies.

Paul’s Analogy: The first husband.
Paul’s Explanation: “my brothers, you also died to the law”

2. Who remains?

Paul’s Analogy: the wife.
Paul’s Explanation: “the law” (for you, the first husband, died to it, remember?)

3. Who lives to the wife after the first husband dies?

Paul’s Analogy: the second husband.
Paul’s Explanation: “you belong… to him who was raised from the dead”

4. How many wives are mentioned in the analogy?

Answer: One.

5. If the second husband marries the same wife which the first husband died to, then who is this wife, which the second husband is married to?

Paul’s Analogy: the wife.
Paul’s Explanation: “the law,” is also called “him who was raised from the dead”

To stay consistent with the analogy to the explanation, one can only conclude that Paul is saying that the wife is the Torah that condemned the sinner, and is the same wife, then called the Messiah, that the regenerated saint belongs to!

And is this not so? Is not the standard Jesus lives (the Torah) the very standard that condemns sinners, but is also the very standard which he kept perfectly for the sake of the justification of saints who trust in him? Is not the Torah the full and complete description of the perfect Messiah? Is it not written that Jesus is the “Word of G-d made flesh?” and elsewhere it is written that G-d’s Word is living, which the Messiah can rightly be called the Living Torah?

So then, when our sinful natures (first husband) die to the Torah (the wife), which is the Messiah, it is our new natures (second husband) that is alive to the Torah, which is the Messiah (the wife), by what he did.

Notice then that Paul is teaching that the Torah’s relationship with sinners functions to condemn them to death, but when one becomes a saint, that relationship changes to where now the Torah, which is the Messiah living in us, functions to have us live in the Spirit by what he did, and not what we do. What’s this? When we live in the Spirit we keep the Torah? But this is precisely what Paul says next:

Romans 7:14
“We know that the law is spiritual.”

The Torah is spiritual? Of course. It is only lived by those who are spiritual. It condemns all those who live in the flesh.

And in classic rabbinic teaching, after giving the analogy, and the explanation, he then launches in the application of just exactly how we, the first husband with the sinful nature, dies to the wife, the Torah, the Messiah, and then how we, the second husband with the new nature lives, to the Torah, the Messiah, and concludes in Romans 7:24-25:

“Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to G-d—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then (because I am saved from this body of death by Jesus Christ), I myself in my mind am a slave to G-d’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Notice the difference. In his mind, now as a saint, he is a slave to the Torah; but in the sinful nature he is a slave to sin. It follows his entire application, explanation, and analogy. We miss this totally when we don’t let Paul speak for himself and insert our own anti-Torah bias in the text. This is Romans 7.

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6 Responses to “Understanding Romans 7 (Dead to the Law, Married to Messiah)”

  • Israel says:

    Below is an exchange with a reader of this article through another communication medium. It is re-posted here to help address objections other readers may have to this understanding of Romans 7.

    I don’t like this, as Messiah is NEVER seen as the wife, but is likened to the husband. ‘Overcomers’ in his body are called ‘the Bride.’ The Bride is seen in Proverbs as the virtuous woman, the unregenerate as the harlot or strange woman.

    Correct, the Messiah is our husband, not our bride; however to stay consistent with Paul’s analogy to his explanation, the wife can only be the Torah/Messiah, to which the first husband (our sinful natures) died to, and the second husband (us born of the spirit) could marry. Don’t confuse a sermon illustration exampled from the Torah with an allegorical explanation fitting the rest of scripture. After all, the point Paul is making is self-contained to his prologue “I write to men who know the Torah:”

    There is no Torah that prohibits a woman to marry a married man (men can have multiple wives); however the Torah does prohibit a man from marrying a married woman (a woman can only be married to one husband). It is this limitation that Paul is referring to – from the perspective that we are men (new creatures in Christ) and can not marry a married woman until the first husband (our sinful natures) die. That woman, according to the resulting explanation, is none other the Torah/Messiah, and is thus only free to marry us when her first husband dies. When the first husband dies, only then can we, as the second husband (those born of the spirit) can now marry the wife (the Torah/Messiah)!

    In fact since it is precisely the point that men can be married to more than one wife, that Paul can’t possibly be referring to the husband being the Messiah in his sermon illustration, since the first wife wouldn’t have to die before another could marry him! In short there would be a conflict in his application since it would effectively mean that our spirit natures, and our sinful flesh nature can both be married to the Torah/Messiah at the same time, and therefore it would make no sense for him to tell us our sinful nature has to die!

    Paul is making a very distinct point: we are dead in our sinful natures, so we can be married to the Messiah in our spirit natures. By Torah example, this understanding can only be drawn from the Torah concerning the availability of a widow to marry another man only after her first husband dies; for a man can marry multiple wives, but a wife can not marry again until she is divorced or becomes a widow. This therefore more makes any explanation of the widow as being the Torah/Messiah, and the men she is married to (but only one at a time) first our sinful nature which dies, and then later our born-again spirit nature which lives. If one flips the roles around, then the explanation and the point Paul is making, loses its sense and necessity of our fleshly nature’s death.

    I see only one difference between the Old and Renewed Covenants – the venue upon which it is written; i.e., uncircumcised heart of stone vs. circumcised heart of flesh.

    Correct. I like the term “venue” or “medium,” or as I am making the claim here: “person.”

  • Israel says:

    Email from a reader:
    Is it not also written in the torah abraham had two wives? Which Paul teaches as “hearing what the law says”?

    To stay consistent with Paul’s analogy in Romans 7 where only one two husbands and one wife is mentioned, we must view his explanation in Romans 7 where we die to the Torah and are married in our new natures to Christ, as matching that analogy of two husbands marrying one wife. One can only permit there to be one wife in the entire discourse, and thus by explanation that wife is the Torah, the Messiah which the first husband (our sinful nature) died to, and the second husband (our new nature) married.

    The two women represent two covenants. Paul calls this, what the torah says.

    The second covenant, which one of the two women are an allegory, is the new covenant in the seed of promise. This is not the woman which genders to bondage at sinai. Paul and the apostles did indeed teach torah. They taught torah as it was revealed to them, from the beginning, not just Sinai. The foundation is apostolic teaching of torah IN CHRIST, not moses. :-)

    Yes. Except this is a discussion on Romans 7, but I know where you are going with this. Paul is staying consistent not with the first analogy, but rather with the application of that analogy wherein that the sinful nature is condemned by the Torah (the Messiah), and the new nature is alive to Messiah (the Living Torah). So what you say here is correct! Thanks for responding!

  • Israel says:

    Email from a reader:
    even though we have known Messiah according to the flesh, yet NOW we know HIM in this way no longer.” 2nd Corinthians 5:16…

    excellent verse showing that the HIM is the Torah that the 1st man dies to, and is who the 2nd man lives to.

  • Thomas Glassey says:

    Hello Israel
    Thanks for your explanation of the passage in question. I used to understand it the way you do, but was never completely satisfied with that interpretation. Here is my current take on it:
    G-d can see us (the woman) in two different relations. The first husband is what we are before G-d as in the flesh and AS SUCH under Torah. This man has to go, because this man is unable to please G-d. As long as we see ourselves (the woman) as linked with that man (ourselves as we are in the flesh under Torah) before G-d, we are unable to bring fruit for G-d in our lives (because we are then in the flesh, not in the Spirit, see Rom. 8). As long as that man has not gone out of G-d’s sight, it would be unlawful for us to see ourselves in any other relation to G-d. Hence before Messiah’s death, we could not look at ourselves as in any other position before G-d than as being under Torah IN THE FLESH. Messiah put an end to this condition before G-d by substitutionally becoming the man in the flesh under Torah at the cross. What we have to (painfully) find out experientially is that we are powerless as long as we connect ourselves with the first man before G-d – see the experience related later in Romans 7.
    Since Messiah has put an end to this first man through his death and is now raised (and glorified) we are lawfully entitled to see ourselves (the woman) as in relation to Messiah raised (the second husband). From this glorified One the Spirit came and gives us the power to bring fruit in our new position before G-d (our being now linked with the new husband, so that we are in Messiah before G-d).
    The difficulty with the passage is that we are seen abstractly as the first husband and also subjectively as the woman.
    I would appreciate your feedback.

    • So your premise is that the woman is us, and the husbands are also us? Isn’t that a marriage of one? I disagree, respectfully. You’ve put a lot of thought into your position, but we really don’t need to get creative with this, after all the Torah is clear that the Torah is a feminine word, and the rabbis agree that the Torah is given as a bride to Israel.

  • Joseph Mauro says:

    I understand Romans 7:14-25 as Paul telling the tale or giving us a “verbal picture” of the Jew who comes to the end of himself—and who finally confesses that it is the Messiah as the one he needs. This is the Jew who knows that the law is spiritual, and who must admit that he cannot keep the law because he is a sinner. He is bound to the law to obey it, but he cannot obey it because “evil is right there with me”. Who can rescue such a person from “this body of death”? Only Messiah can, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us…who live according to the Spirit.”