The Marriage Bond of Romans 7
So much false doctrine and sin comes from a basic failure to deal with what Romans 7 teaches us about marriage and divorce. While understanding that Paul is using marriage as an illustration here, the illustration is valid, truthful and we can learn from it. Let us begin with the text:
"For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married " (Romans 7:2-3).
The key point Paul is making is the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives. Now, how does that help our understanding of what is right and wrong in divorce and remarriage?
First, it becomes apparent there is a very real difference in being married and being bound. A person can be married to one person while being bound to another - that is exactly what the text describes. "Being bound" here just refers to the obligation between a husband, his wife and God. It is the responsibilities and restraints that go with being married, as set forth by God's law. This helps us understand why a person who is bound (under obligation) cannot scripturally marry again. That person is under obligation to his/her first spouse.
Second, Romans 7 helps us understand that in the Bible marriage is marriage, and divorce is divorce. Some want to play word games, arguing some marriages are not "real" or are not recognized by God. We hear "married in the eyes of men" or "not married in God's eyes" tossed about from time to time. Yet Romans 7:3 says she is married to another. God does not approve of this, but He recognizes that marriage as real. It actually happened. She is married, just as Herodias and Herod were really, actually married (see Mark 6:17-18). Let us dispense with complicating terminology like "married in God's eyes." Married is married, whether God approves or not.
Third, one can live in adultery. Some try to argue that adultery is a one time act, or just covenant breaking, or something else that is not an ongoing, continuing sin. Yet Romans 7 shows that one is under obligation to his/her spouse as long as that spouse lives. Thus, one who is married to another unlawfully continues in adultery because they are still under obligation (bound) to another. In simple terms, God wants that person to go back home and fulfill the obligations of marriage with their original spouse as they originally pledged when they married. To do otherwise is to continue in sin.
Fourth, God gets to decide who is loosed from this marriage bond. As best as I can find in scripture, God ends the marriage obligation (bond) upon death (this text) or when an innocent person puts away a mate guilty of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). To say the least, if one wishes to marry again, he or she needs to be certain that God does not hold them under obligation to a prior spouse lest they sin!
Let us finish this discussion of Romans 7's implications by noting the situations any person might be in. First, one can be bound and married. Ethel and Bob have never been married before. They marry. This is two people doing right, bound and married to each other. Second, one can be bound and unmarried. Ethel and Bob obtain a divorce, but no immorality has occurred. What is their status? Are they married? No. Clearly they are not married. Let us not try to pretend otherwise. But what is their obligation to each other and God? It has not ended, has it? They are still under obligation to each other, and still restrained regarding remarriage (see 1 Cor. 7:10-11). Bob and Ethel are bound to each other, but not married to each other. Third, one mate could be bound and unmarried, while the other mate is free to remarry. What if, while still married, Bob committed adultery? Ethel can then put him away for immorality and remarry (Matt. 19:9). One has been released from the obligations of marriage but the other (Bob) is still obligated to God and His law. Finally, one could be bound to a first mate while unscripturally married to another. Bob is put away for adultery by Ethel, but then he finds a new wife. Is he bound to this new wife? Certainly not. God does not have anything to do with that relationship for it is sinful. It is a marriage, but it is not a right marriage and so God does not obligate Bob in it. Bob is obligated to Ethel. He is married to someone else, but his obligation (the marriage bond) is to Ethel. This is the precise situation of Romans 7 and Mark 6.
Romans 7 answers many marriage and divorce questions for us. All we have to do is track the bonds. Who is bound to whom? What does God require? Whom has He obligated? That makes this a powerful text in our search for answers and truth in divorce questions. "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives."