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An Analogy from Marriage


Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The Law and Sin

7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

13 Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

The Inner Conflict

14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.


Though he had, in a brief manner, sufficiently explained the question respecting the abrogation of the law; yet as it was a difficult one, and might have given rise to many other questions, he now shows more at large how the law, with regard to us, is become abrogated; and then he sets forth what good is thereby done to us: for while it holds us separated from Christ and bound to itself, it can do nothing but condemn us. And lest any one should on this account blame the law itself, he takes up and confutes the objections of the flesh, and handles, in a striking manner, the great question respecting the use of the law. 201201     The connection of the beginning of this chapter with Romans 6:14 deserves to be noticed. He says there, that sin shall not rule over us, because we are not under law, but under grace. Then he asks, in Romans 6:15,
   “Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace?”

   This last subject, according to his usual mode, he takes up first, and discusses it till the end of the chapter: and then in this chapter he reassumes the first subject — freedom from the law. This is a striking instance of the Apostle’s manner of writing, quite different from what is usual with us in the present day. He mentions two things; he proceeds with the last, and then goes back to the first. — Ed.

1. Know ye not, etc. Let the general proposition be that the law was given to men for no other end but to regulate the present life, and that it belongs not to those who are dead: to this he afterwards subjoins this truth — that we are dead to it through the body of Christ. Some understand, that the dominion of the law continues so long to bind us as it remains in force. But as this view is rather obscure, and does not harmonize so well with the proposition which immediately follows, I prefer to follow those who regard what is said as referring to the life of man, and not to the law. The question has indeed a peculiar force, as it affirms the certainty of what is spoken; for it shows that it was not a thing new or unknown to any of them, but acknowledged equally by them all.

(For to those who know the law I speak.) This parenthesis is to be taken in the same sense with the question, as though he had said — that he knew that they were not so unskilful in the law as to entertain any doubt on the subject. And though both sentences might be understood of all laws, it is yet better to take them as referring to the law of God, which is the subject that is discussed. There are some who think that he ascribes knowledge of the law to the Romans, because the largest part of the world was under their power and government; but this is puerile: for he addressed in part the Jews or other strangers, and in part common and obscure individuals; nay, he mainly regarded the Jews, with whom he had to do respecting the abrogation of the law: and lest they should think that he was dealing captiously with them, he declares that he took up a common principle, known to them all, of which they could by no means be ignorant, who had from their childhood been brought up in the teaching of the law.

2. For a woman subject to a man, etc. He brings a similitude, by which he proves, that we are so loosed from the law, that it does not any longer, properly and by its own right, retain over us any authority: and though he could have proved this by other reasons, yet as the example of marriage was very suitable to illustrate the subject, he introduced this comparison instead of evidence to prove his point. But that no one may be puzzled, because the different parts of the comparison do not altogether correspond, we are to be reminded, that the Apostle designedly intended, by a little change, to avoid the invidiousness of a stronger expression. He might have said, in order to make the comparison complete, “A woman after the death of her husband is loosed from the bond of marriage: the law, which is in the place of a husband to us, is to us dead; then we are freed from its power.” But that he might not offend the Jews by the asperity of his expressions, had he said that the law was dead, he adopted a digression, and said, that we are dead to the law 202202     This is a plausible reason, derived from Theodoret and Chrysostom; but hardly necessary. Commentators have felt much embarrassed in applying the illustration given here. The woman is freed by the death of the husband; but the believer is represented as freed by dying himself. This does not correspond: and if we attend to what the Apostle says, we shall see that he did not contemplate such a correspondence. Let us notice how he introduces the illustration; “the law,” he says in the first verse, “rules, or exercises authority, over a man while he lives;” and then let us observe the application in Romans 7:4, where he speaks of our dying to the law The main design of the illustration then was, to show that there is no freedom from a law but by death; so that there is no necessity of a correspondence in the other parts, As in the case of man and wife, death destroys the bond of marriage; so in the case of man and the law, that is, the law as the condition of life, there must be a death; else there is no freedom. But there is one thing more in the illustration, which the Apostle adopts, the liberty to marry another, when death has given a release: The bond of connection being broken, a union with another is legitimate. So far only is the example adduced to be applied — death puts an end to the right and authority of law; and then the party released may justly form another connection. It is the attempt to make all parts of the comparison to correspond that has occasioned all the difficulty. — Ed. To some indeed he appears to reason from the less to the greater: however, as I fear that this is too strained, I approve more of the first meaning, which is simpler. The whole argument then is formed in this manner “The woman is bound to her living husband by the law, so that she cannot be the wife of another; but after the death of her husband she is loosed from the bond of his law so, that she is free to marry whom she pleases.”

Then follows the application,
The law was, as it were our husband,
under whose yoke we were kept until it became dead to us:
After the death of the law Christ received us, that is, he joined us,
when loosed from the law, to himself:
Then being united to Christ risen from the dead,
we ought to cleave to him alone:
And as the life of Christ after the resurrection is eternal,
so hereafter there shall be no divorce.

But further, the word law is not mentioned here in every part in the same sense: for in one place it means the bond of marriage; in another, the authority of a husband over his wife; and in another, the law of Moses: but we must remember, that Paul refers here only to that office of the law which was peculiar to the dispensation of Moses; for as far as God has in the ten commandments taught what is just and right, and given directions for guiding our life, no abrogation of the law is to be dreamt of; for the will of God must stand the same forever. We ought carefully to remember that this is not a release from the righteousness which is taught in the law, but from its rigid requirements, and from the curse which thence follows. The law, then, as a rule of life, is not abrogated; but what belongs to it as opposed to the liberty obtained through Christ, that is, as it requires absolute perfection: for as we render not this perfection, it binds us under the sentence of eternal death. But as it was not his purpose to decide here the character of the bond of marriage, he was not anxious to mention the causes which releases a woman from her husband. It is therefore unreasonable that anything decisive on this point should be sought here.

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