Bible Question:

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

Bible Answer:

Will God send a person to hell if they commit adultery? Will God send a person to hell if they commit adultery and then never repent? What is the message of Romans 7:2-3? These questions will be answered in this article.

Does the Bible Prohibit Divorce?

Believers Are Freed From The Law

Beginning in Romans 6:20 the apostle Paul teaches that before a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, he or she is a slave to sin—bound to sin. But when an individual believes in Christ, he or she dies to and is freed from sin (Romans 6:7). Consequently, believers are freed from sin—no longer bound to sin. In Romans 6:12 believers are urged to not let sin reign in their bodies again or get back the throne in their lives.

Beginning in Romans 7:1 Paul says the Mosaic Law has jurisdiction over those who try to live according to the Law. That is, anyone who tries to et to heaven by obeying the Mosaic Law is bound to it.

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 Mosaic 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 is talking in reference to the Mosaic Law.

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 is no longer an adulteress. 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 freed from the Mosaic Law.

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 in Christ (Romans 7:5-6).

This helps us understand that Paul only used the marriage relationship in Romans 7:2-3 as an illustration to support his conclusion (Romans 7:5-6). He was not trying to give us new instruction about marriage. His purpose is summarized in Romans 7:5-6. In fact, Paul ignored Mosaic Law instruction which is explained in the next section.

Paul Ignored Part of the Law

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. Deuteronomy 22:22 (NASB)

Numbers 5:12-31 outlines a test an Israelite could request to be performed by the priest to determine if a woman was suspected of committing adultery. It was a safeguard for her and her husband.

The Mosaic Law also allowed couples to divorce and remarry. Then sexual activity with a new spouse was not punishable. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is part of the Mosaic Law. Moses gives instructions about divorce and remarriage. He teaches us that a husband can divorce his wife if a legal certificate is given to her.

Then 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)

That is, Moses permitted divorce and remarriage. The 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 the divorce and her 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)

In Matthew 19:7-8 Jesus confirms that Moses allowed divorce. In fact, He supports Moses.

Therefore, why did Paul ignore Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which permitted divorce? He ignored the passage because it did not support his theological point. Paul’s point is that neither the Law or sin will release us. We could figuratively say “neither the law or sin will give us a certificate of divorce.” We must die in Christ in order to become free from sin. Therefore, Paul avoided Deuteronomy 24:1-4. It did not represent the realities of spiritual life under the New Covenant—life in Christ. We can never leave the Law or sin by our own choice. We must die in Christ to be free.

Teaching of Moses, Jesus and Paul

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’ instructions about divorce. That is, divorce is allowed and both spouses are free to remarry someone else. This helps us understand that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 modified the Mosaic Law. 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, Moses, Jesus and Paul permitted divorce. Romans 7:2-3 is not a treatise on marriage and divorce but simply an accurate illustration adopted to illustrate Paul’s teaching that believers are no longer bound to keep the Law. We are free from the Law and bound to Christ.

Conclusion:

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 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? Both 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?