I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER SEVEN (Lesson II)

Along with early church scholar Ambrosiaster, we can see other factors in this analogy. Just as a woman is freed by the death of her husband and he has no more control over her, according to human nature she may want to get married again. It is important that she marries the right man whom she will serve out of love, not because the law says so. Likewise, when a person is set free from the chains of the Law and runs into open arms of Grace, that is not considered adultery. They are now free to do so. Only if that person worked to resurrect the law and bring it back to life would they be in danger of being accused of spiritual adultery. In that case, they would have no right to call themselves a Christian. Nor will someone who is joined to Christ saying that the law was now dead to them, and returns later to resuscitate the law be innocent of committing spiritual adultery. Not against the law, but to the Groom of the Church. For when the law’s authority ceases, it must remain as dead.1 When we look at Augustine’s thought process mentioned previously, and Ambrosiaster thinking here, we could say that they both take an analogy beyond what it was intended to be and treat it as literal. Paul had something else in mind. He used the illustration marriage to point out that when we are born again, the old-self dies to the Law, so the new-self is then free to serve Christ.

Martin Luther points out that there is no freedom from the law and its sinful provocation unless a person is buried in Christ, dies to the Law, and raised to new life. And Reformer John Calvin accepts Paul’s whole argument of comparing this relationship to a woman and her husband under the Law, with the woman being the believer who is freed when that relationship dies and is born again and liberated from those bonds to be joined to another – Christ.2 So the message is clear: a sinner who is wedded to the law cannot be freed to wed another until the law dies and they are freed from its hold on them. Then, and only then, can they be joined to Christ as their Lord and Master. The only way their relationship to the law can expire is when they are born again by grace and accepted by God as His child through Christ.

Then Adam Clarke makes the point that for all intents and purposes the law died when Christ was born so that anyone seeking a relationship with God is not forced to take the path that leads through the Law. Not only that, but since Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, there is no other way to the Father except through Him.3 Then Charles Hodge shares with us that St. Augustine, Melanchthon, Beza, and others point to the husband in this illustration as our corrupt nature, the wife is the soul or our physical members. When the corrupt nature (or old man) dies, the soul is free from that husband and is at liberty to marry another. However, he tells us that other scholars such as Origen, Chrysostom, Olshausen, Philippi, etc., regard the wife in this context as the Church and the husband as the law. This seems to be one of the applications Paul makes in the following verses, although it is not what is said in verses 2-3.4 In other words, there is no one perfect application that can be applied to this illustration. For most scholars, such insistence on identifying who represents the law and who symbolizes the believer is not necessary. Paul only uses this illustration to show how believers are not to follow the way to salvation through good works once they are saved by grace. They are to consider such a relationship with the Law just as dead as a deceased husband is to a wife.

Robert Haldane has interesting things to say about Paul’s use of marriage as an illustration of a Jew’s relationship with God through the Law. He sees the Apostle Paul trying to make a particular point about marriage under the Law. It involved something that God in His wisdom allowed to be part of the Law so that a woman would not be forever tied to her husband even when dead. Had He not done so, it would have been unlawful to marry a second time under any circumstances, and any woman who did so would be considered an adulteress and suffer the penalty. But God in His wisdom ordained that the Law, no matter how binding or strict, allows for those it held under contract to be freed once their relationship to its power and authority dies. This approval of second marriages was then granted. But there is more when seen from a spiritual perspective. It foreshadows the relationship between those who were once bound to the Law, but when the Law died to them they were free to be part of the relation between Christ and His Church.5

Henry Alford has quite a bit of time explaining the effect of death on the law. He says it is clear that when we come to the application of this example, we must carefully keep it in mind that the Apostle is insisting on the fact that death dissolves any legal obligation. This is important because of all the confusion caused by some Bible commentators. We must also understand that Paul is not drawing an exact parallel between the characters in his example, and those in its application. Alford says we must understand the comparisons are based on terms and circumstances that are common to both. It is clear that in this illustration death dissolves any legal obligation between man and wife. As such, the survivor (in this case, the wife) is at liberty to be married to another. When this illustration is applied to believers, Death (understood here as dying to the Law’s authority and being born again by God’s grace to serve another) dissolves the legal obligation between the law and the believer. In fact, we can take this one step further. As Chrysostom and others have implied, our first Husband was the Law, and our second is Christ. But Alford has a warning: We should always keep in mind that when we are set free it is not only because the law died to us, but we died to the law.6 So how do we die to the Law? We terminate all relationships to it in terms of using our obedience to it as a way to secure our salvation,

In one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, he makes a salient point. When we paraphrase what the great preacher had to say, we find out that while we were living under the law’s authority, we were prevented from becoming part of the new covenant – the covenant of grace. But when through confession and repentance we became part of Christ’s death on the cross, then the law became a part of our old life. It was a dead thing to us. This then allowed us to be governed by a new power and authority. So instead of continuing under the law, we now walked hand in hand with Christ under God’s banner of grace. This union with Christ is often mentioned in Scripture as a form of a marriage. But that’s not all. We are also considered one with Christ as a branch is to a vine; as a stone is being part of a wall; and as a member of one body, the body of Christ, of which He is the head. This should help all of us realize that we cannot focus on the literal aspect of the illustration but the spiritual truth it teaches.7

Douglas Moo comes to a similar conclusion. For him, what Paul says in verses 2–3 are sometimes understood as an allegorical illustration of verse 4. In that case, the woman whose husband dies, thereby freeing her from “marriage laws,” is like the Christian who “severs their relationship to the law.” And just as the death of a husband allows a woman to marry another man, so when the Law dies it allows him or her to “belong to another” – Jesus Christ. But in order to make the allegory work, some realignment of the parallels must be done. In the illustration, it is the death of the husband that brings freedom, but in the application, it’s the believer. Various explanations have been offered, but it may be simpler to take verses 2–3 as illustrating the main point of verse 1 with some application to verse 4, but not as an allegory. Paul simply wants to show that just as death can bring freedom from a marriage, so dying to the Law can offer the freedom to enter into a new relationship with Christ.8

Jewish scholar David Stern feels that he must make the point that there is no reason to understand the Greek word nomos (law) in these verses as applying only to the Jewish Torah. This principle is well known – death discharges an individual from their obligations under all kinds of law.9 Stern bases his thinking on writings already available in Jewish literature. For instance, Rabbi Johanan asked, “What is meant by the verse, Among the dead [I am] free?10 Once a man dies, he becomes free of the Torah and good deeds.11 Also, this quote is repeated again in the Talmud with the added line: “As soon as a man dies he is free from the commandments.12 So Paul had not come up with something new here, it was already well-established in Jewish thinking.

Verse 4: In the same way, my brothers and sisters, your old-selves died, and you became free from the law through the body of Christ. Now you belong to someone else. You belong to the one who was raised from death. We belong to Christ so that we can be used in service to God.

So many who hear the Gospel are thrilled at the prospect of having a “new” life with Christ. However, some become frigid and do not join in the act of Christian propagation. Others worry about their spiritual figure, afraid that they will look out of shape when exposed to being used in spiritual childbearing. That’s for the more motherly types, they say. They want to emulate angels and just stand in awe of God in their pristine piety as they sing praises to Him, and that should be enough to please Him. But that was not the reason why God redeemed us from sin’s slavery, He already has plenty of angels to do that. Oh that we all strive to become mothers and fathers to populate the kingdom of God through evangelism.

Paul told the Galatians how he became a free man in Christ: It was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying – and failing – to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.13 Paul then goes on to tell how that transformation was made possible: “Christ bought us out from under the doom of that impossible system by taking the curse for our wrongdoing upon Himself.”14 Once this transfer of servanthood from the Law to Christ takes place, Paul then tells them: “When you are guided by the Holy Spirit, you need no longer force yourself to obey Jewish laws.”15 However, Paul then goes on to warn what will happen when a believer stops following the lead of the Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains how the church in Rome was made possible:By His death He ended the angry resentment between us, caused by the Jewish laws that favored the Jews and excluded the Gentiles, for He died to annul that whole system of Jewish laws. Then He took the two groups that had been opposed to each other and made them parts of Himself.16 And in his letter to the Colossians Paul explains further: “Then He gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for He forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of His commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God took away Satan’s power to accuse you of sin, and God openly displayed to the whole world Christ’s triumph at the cross where your sins were all taken away.17

1 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.

2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 See John 6:44 and 14:6

4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 333

5 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 278

6 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 53

7 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

10 Psalm 88:6

11 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 30a

12 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Tohoroth, Masekhet Niddah, folio 61b

13 Galatians 2:19

14 Ibid. 3:13

15 Ibid. 5:18

16 Ephesians 2:15

17 Colossians 2:13-15

1 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.

2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 See John 6:44 and 14:6

4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 333

5 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 278

6 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 53

7 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

10 Psalm 88:6

11 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 30a

12 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Tohoroth, Masekhet Niddah, folio 61b

13 Galatians 2:19

14 Ibid. 3:13

15 Ibid. 5:18

16 Ephesians 2:15

17 Colossians 2:13-15

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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