Bible Question:

Does Romans 7:2-3 prohibit divorce and remarriage?

Bible Answer:

Confusion exists about the meaning of Romans 7:2-3. This occurs because an important principle in biblical interpretation is not always followed. That principle will help us understand, “Does Romans 7:2-3 prohibit divorce and remarriage?

Does the Bible Prohibit Divorce?

Believers Are Freed from the Law

Beginning in Romans 6:19-20, the apostle Paul states that before a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, he or she was a slave to sin. But when an individual believes in Christ, he or she died in Christ and was freed from sin (Romans 6:6-8). The result is the person is no longer bound to sin. In Romans 6:12 believers are urged to not allow sin to reign in their bodies again or get back on the throne in their lives. So, at the moment of saving faith, a person is freed from slavery to sin.

Then beginning in Romans 7:1, Paul begins to show that just as believers are freed from slavery to sin, they are also freed from the Mosaic Law. Verse 1 states,

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? Romans 7:1 (NASB)

Then in Romans 7:2-3 the apostle illustrates his point using the marriage relationship. He states that according to the law, a married woman is bound to her husband while he is alive. But after he dies “. . . she is released from the law concerning the husband.” He said,

For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Romans 7:2-3 (NASB)

But if she marries another man while he is alive, she commits adultery and becomes an adulteress. When he dies, she would not be an adulteress should she marry another man. Paul’s message is that the marital relationship is broken when a spouse dies.

Then in Romans 7:4, Paul summarizes his point that when we died in Christ, we were not just freed from sin but also from the Mosaic Law. We died to the Law too!

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. Romans 7:4 (NASB)

Paul’s message is simple. Salvation is not obtained by keeping the Law but by being joined to Christ. That is, believers have been freed from the Law and joined to Christ by faith (Romans 7:5-6).

This helps us understand that Paul only used the marriage relationship in Romans 7:2-3 to illustrate his conclusion that believers have been released from the Law (Romans 7:6). Salvation is not by keeping the Mosaic Law. He was not trying to give us new instruction about marriage. Paul ignored Mosaic Law instruction which is explained in the next section.

 Principle about Lifetime Marriage

The Old Testament repeatedly teaches us that an adulterer or adulteress was to be put to death. If a man or woman had sexual relations with someone who was not his or her spouse, that person was to be stoned to death.

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:10 (NASB)

If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:22-24 (NASB)

In addition, Numbers 5:12-31 outlines a test which an Israelite could request to be performed by the priest to determine if a woman was suspected of committing adultery. These verses clearly establish an unstated principle that marriage is between two people and not more.  Consequently, the “law” that Romans 7:2 refers to is a principle embedded in the Mosaic law.

Jesus reinforces this principle in Matthew 19:3-9 when He says that from the beginning “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” This principle was established in Genesis 2:24. Here Jesus is in a discussion with the Pharisees.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:3-9 (NASB)

Jesus indicates that the principle of lifetime marriage was an established principle from Genesis.  Divorce was only permitted later due to the hardness of man’s heart.  He reveals remarriage is allowed when adultery has been committed.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is the passage that Jesus referred to in Matthew 19:3-9. It is part of the Mosaic Law. In this passage, Moses gives constraints about divorce and remarriage. Here is the passage.

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife . . . Deuteronomy 24:1-2 (NASB)

Moses acknowledges that divorce was occurring among the Israelites. But notice that he does not condemn it. Instead, he states a woman could become another man’s wife. Deuteronomy 24:4 is especially important since God also tells us that it is an abomination if she marries another man and later wants to remarry her first husband. But God never calls her divorce and remarriage an abomination.

. . . then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:4 (NASB)

Then in Matthew 19:7-8, Jesus confirms that Moses allowed divorce. Notice that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 limits divorce. The passage does not command divorce. So, Paul was referring to the principle embedded in the Law and established in Genesis in his teaching in Romans 7:1-4.

Teachings of Jesus and Paul

Both Jesus and Paul fulfilled and broadened the Mosaic Law regarding marriage. Early in Jesus’ ministry, He told us that He did not come to abolish the Mosaic Law but to fulfill it.

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17 (NASB)

Then fourteen verses later, Jesus abolished the death penalty for adultery from the Mosaic law when He does not command that a spouse be put to death for committing adultery. Instead, He says this,

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32 (NASB)

It is clear from the passage that Jesus allows a “divorced woman” to marry another man. She was not killed. Jesus repeats the same message in Matthew 19:9. But the most important principle to notice is that Jesus does not disagree with Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 about divorce. Jesus agrees with Moses’ limitations on divorce; but Moses’ limitations do not prevent divorce.  This helps us understand that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 modified the principle regarding lifetime marriage. Remember that Jesus said He did not come to change the Law but to fulfill it. Other passages in the gospels about divorce can be found at Mark 10:5-12 and Luke 16:18. Please read “A Biblical Divorce.”

Paul also permitted divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. He instructs us that if an unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, the believer is to allow them to leave. Then he adds that the believer is no longer under bondage (1 Corinthians 7:15). Please read “What is the meaning of the word “bound” in 1 Corinthians 7:15?

Therefore, under the New Covenant, which was enacted by Christ, He and Paul permitted divorce. Romans 7:2-3 is not a treatise on marriage and divorce but simply an accurate teaching that believers are no longer bound to keep the Law. Believers are free from sin and the Law and bound to Christ. We must remember a very important principle in biblical interpretation. The Holy Spirit wrote all of Scripture. If Jesus and Paul permitted divorce and remarriage in a number of different and inspired passages, why should one passage in the New Testament become more important than all of the others? Romans 7:1-3 does not override the other passages.


Those who claim that Romans 7:2-3 teaches God prohibits divorce have a major biblical problem. They have ignored the biblical principle that Scripture does not contradict Scripture! God the Holy Spirit, who wrote all of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21) does not contradict Himself. He is not a liar. Why would the Holy Spirit allow Romans 7:2-3 to contradict the teaching of Moses, Jesus and Paul permitting divorce? Why would Paul prohibit divorce in Romans 7:2-3 and then permit divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 since he is the  author of both passages? The passages are not contradictory. The correct understanding of Romans 7:2-3 is that it does not prohibit divorce. But Moses, Jesus and Paul allow divorce when one spouse engages in sexual sin or an unbelieving spouse wants out of the marriage.

It is important to understand that God has given us the principles for a happy marriage in Ephesians 5:22-31. You are encouraged to read the studies at “Marriage In Splendor – God’s View.”

Suggested Links:

A Biblical Divorce
What is the meaning of the word bound in 1 Corinthians 7:15?
Why does one have the “right to remarry” after a “Biblical Divorce”?
Marriage In Splendor - God's View
Marital Paradise Lost - audio
Does Deuteronomy 24:1-4 say a person can marry their ex-spouse again?
Why does God hate divorce if He allows it?
If you are divorced and remarry, are you living in adultery?