Romans 7:4

"Made Dead" to the Principles of God's Torah?

Romans_7_4

reproduced from The New Testament Validates Torah

Pastor: Romans 7:4: We were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Messiah, 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.”

What is really being said by the pastor in the statement, “We were made to die to the Law…”? The implication that is probably asserted, offering Romans 7:4 as substantiation, is that the Apostle Paul says that the Torah or Law of Moses is not applicable for born again Believers. If this is indeed the case, and the redeemed have been “made dead” to the Torah’s Instruction, then would this not mean that we have been made dead to the eternal truths contained in the writings of Genesis-Deuteronomy? Does it mean that these books of the Bible no longer have any spiritual value for God’s people, and that we are not to even be concerned with its moral code and the character of God as demonstrated in the Pentateuch? The Torah’s direct words about stark ethical dilemmas facing evangelical Christianity today, such as abortion or homosexuality, should then be ignored. When Romans 7:4 is viewed from the perspective that the Torah is not to instruct Messiah followers in ways of holiness, the door is wide open to lawlessness entering in. Walter C. Kaiser offers some appropriate thoughts for our consideration:

“[T]here are scores of ethical instructions and injunctions given in the Old Testament that are not repeated in the New Testament, but are part of the ‘informing ethic,’ background, and given assumptions of the new community in Christ. Where, for example, will we find as full a statement as Leviticus gives on the holiness of God? Where will we find the image of God discussed with the implications it has for cases of premeditated murder as in Genesis 9:6? Where will we obtain authoritative materials on the abortion question if the Old Testament is not consulted? This type of question could be multiplied many times over, but the point is clear. Some of the greatest summarizing texts, which are classical teaching passages on the moral law of God, are encapsulated in the Old Testament.”[1]

Thankfully, most good evangelical Christian people—when presented with the idea that being “made dead” to the Law, means no longer following it and ignoring the Torah in one’s Bible reading and discipleship—soundly reject it. Yet, the Apostle Paul does speak about Believers having died to the Torah. How are we to appropriately understand this?

The explanatory theme of Romans ch. 7 is to detail the guilt that one who disobeys the Torah inevitably carries with him, because he knows that obedience to God’s commandments is expected, although there is an innate inability to perform them (Romans 7:14-25). This dilemma is preceded by the assertions of Believers having died to the Torah (Romans 7:1-6), and how the presence of Torah regulations frequently stirs up sin within someone’s heart, causing spiritual death (Romans 7:7-13). The overarching point that needs to be understood is how the sinner recognizes, “for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Romans 7:11), and “we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (Romans 7:14). The sinner confesses “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), which means that the Torah is not at all to be viewed as the vehicle of sin; an unregenerated heart that cannot obey the Torah is the vehicle of sin.

What does Romans 7:1-6 communicate? Paul is clear to tell his audience, “I am speaking to those who have some knowledge of the law” (Romans 7:1b, NEB), meaning that if someone is unfamiliar with what the Torah says, such a person is most likely to misunderstand the analogy he uses. He continues, asking, “do you not know, brethren…the law has jurisdiction [kurieuei; has dominion, NKJV] over a person as long as he lives?” (Romans 7:1a,c). The kind of subjection issued by the Torah in view here should be understood by Paul’s previous remark in Romans 6:9, where the same verb kurieuei appears: “Messiah, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master [kurieuei, has dominion, NKJV] over Him.” Here, we are to understand that redeemed Believers have been united to Yeshua by His sacrificial death (Romans 6:6-8), which has enacted a great supernatural change within them: “so [that] we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), a life that undoubtedly includes obedience to God.

Using his audience’s knowledge of the Torah as a point of comparison, Paul says, “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” (Romans 7:2). A woman who is a man’s wife is dedetai nomō,[2] meaning that she is bound to him by the Law. But if her husband dies, she is “discharged” (RSV) or “released” (NIV), actually being the verb katargeō, which could be rendered as “abolished.” Various interpreters have viewed Romans 7:2 as implying that the Jewish people were once married to the Torah, but now the Torah is to be regarded as dead, and because of this Jews are to regard the Torah as “abolished.” This is a very bad reading of the verse, because Paul himself earlier in Romans 3:31 said that the Law is not abolished through faith, but is rather to be upheld as worthwhile instruction for Messiah followers.

Paul has been clear to tell his readers that they must know the Torah in order to understand what he is communicating here (Romans 7:1). The married woman within Ancient Israel is in view, whose husband has died. Does this mean that with her husband dead, that instructions like the Ten Commandments or those regarding proper business or farming practices are now to be rendered inoperative? Of course not. Paul does not say that the widowed woman has been released from the Law in total; he says that she has been released from tou nomou tou andros. As Cranfield is right to inform us, tou nomou tou andros can be “understood as ‘the law of the husband’ in the sense of that part of the law which deals with the rights and duties of husbands (on the analogy of ‘the law of the leper’ in Lev 14.2 and ‘the law of the Nazirite’ in Num 6.13)…”[3] This is not difficult to understand: with the husband having died, “the law of marriage” (NIV) or “the part of the Torah that deals with husbands” (CJB) is no longer applicable (i.e., Numbers 5:11-31), with Stern rightly stating, “the death of the woman’s husband does not free her from her obedience to other aspects of the Torah.”[4] The paraphrase offered by the NLT is actually not bad: “the laws of marriage no longer apply to her.” The Torah of Moses as a whole is not in view, only “the obligations of the marriage-law” (NEB). This fits entirely with Paul’s explanation in Romans 7:3:

“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.”

The widow who remarries cannot be considered an adulteress, because there has been no violation of the Torah’s instruction regarding marriage; the woman who cheats on her husband is an adulteress.

Recognizing the specificity of Torah instruction here, the commandments regulating marriage, Paul can then say, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Messiah, 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). Does this mean that in dying to the Torah, the whole of Moses’ Teaching is now to be thrown away as not meaning that much for God’s people? This is hardly an appropriate conclusion, given the fact that Paul is clear to state humeis ethanatōthēte tō nomō dia tou sōmatos tou Christou, “you have died to the law through the body of Christ” (RSV).[5] The Messiah event and redeemed Believers being changed by it are in view, further reflected in Hebrews 10:10: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah[6] once for all.” The body of Messiah is properly recognized as Him crucified and/or resurrected, and in what His action for sinful humanity has achieved.[7]

What was the dilemma that needed to be solved by Yeshua’s sacrifice on the tree? Was it the Law of God or was it the negative effects of sin? A cursory reading of Romans ch. 7 easily demonstrates that sin is the problem which needs to be fixed. A variety of commentators recognize that being made dead to the Torah in Romans 7:4, has nothing to do with the commandments of Moses’ Teaching being rendered inoperative—but that the condemnation pronounced upon sinners is something that the redeemed have been “made dead” to. Cranfield explains, “Their being made dead to the law’s condemnation through the body of Christ is a matter of God’s merciful decision: they died in His death in that the death which He died was died for them….They were thus set free from the condemnation pronounced by the law, in order that they might belong to Christ.”[8] Bruce concurs, “It is by virtue of this death (death-with-Christ and death-to-sin) that believers have been ‘discharged’ from their former liability under the law.”[9] Stott also agrees, “to die to sin and to die to the law are identical. Both signify that through participation in the death of Christ the law’s curse of condemnation on sin has been taken away.”[10]

It cannot be overlooked that in referencing Romans 7:4, the pastor’s statement is actually quite incomplete: “We were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ.” This only concerns the first part of Romans 7:4, because after being joined to the Messiah with the Torah’s condemnation nullified, Paul says that this has occurred to the redeemed in order that we might bear fruit for God.” What is this to mean? Noting the emphasis of Romans 8:4 and how “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us,” Bruce astutely observes, “the gospel age [is] that in which the new covenant foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is realized,”[11] a time in our lives when God’s commandments are to be supernaturally transcribed upon regenerated hearts. The NLT renders Romans 7:4b with the rather poignant paraphrase, “As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.” The fruit that Believers are to have, being united with the Messiah, are good works of obedience to the Torah spurred on by the Holy Spirit implanted within redeemed hearts.

The Apostle Paul describes the pre-salvation dilemma of Believers, stating, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (Romans 7:5). The Torah definitely has an ability to stir up sin within a person, because once people are often told what they cannot do by their Creator, the natural or fleshly human tendency is to immediately disobey. Paul, however, has previously stated that born again Believers are to regard themselves as dead to sin (Romans 6:2), and that they are to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). Obedience to God’s commandments is surely expected, but it is to be done because one is united to the Messiah Yeshua and the redemptive work He has accomplished.

The opening vignette of Romans 7:1-6 closes with Paul’s claim, “now we [the redeemed] have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). What is “that which held us captive” (RSV)? The verb katechō means “to prevent the doing of someth. or cause to be ineffective, prevent, hinder, restrain” (BDAG).[12] Did God’s Torah in total actually prevent people from being blessed, productive, and happy (cf. Psalm 119)? Or, did the power of sin prevent people from being all that God intended? If the latter is the case, then surely the release/abolishment (katargeō) to be witnessed in the Messiah is the removal of the Torah’s condemnation upon lawbreakers.

The dilemma of the sinner described in Romans 7:14-25—something which certainly holds people bound captive—is the need to be released from the guilt incurred by sin (Romans 7:24), the “sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:17). Breaking God’s Torah results in sin and guilt, but it is nonetheless clearly stated: “I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (Romans 7:16). He recognizes that only with the salvation provided in Yeshua the Messiah will there be no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Still, the redeemed individual is to “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6b). This is once again an unavoidable reference to the New Covenant promise of God supernaturally transcribing His commandments upon a regenerated heart, as Stott confirms, “the new covenant which is one of ‘Spirit’ (pneuma), for the new age is essentially the age of the Spirit, in which the Holy Spirit writes God’s law in our hearts.”[13] Even an interpreter like Ben Witherington III, who thinks that the Law of Moses has been abolished, in saying “The era of the Torah covenant is over,” still has to state, “The era of the new covenant, characterized by the full endowment of the Spirit, has dawned.”[14] The challenge for many is in failing to recognize that the New Covenant promise, in the Tanach no less (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27), will enable obedience to God’s Torah.

How are today’s Messianics to approach Romans 7:4, and the fact that Believers “were made to die to the Law through the body of Messiah”? If Paul regards the instruction of God’s Torah as being abolished, then we should have some problems with Paul. Paul himself would be inconsistent in his letter to the Romans, saying in Romans 7:4 that Believers are dead to the eternal truths of the Torah, only to have said earlier in Romans 3:31 that Believers are to uphold the Torah by faith, and later in Romans 8:4 and Romans 13:8-10 that the Torah is to be fulfilled in us—by appealing to the Ten Commandments no less! Paul would be contradicting his own words, and Paul saying that the Law is dead would most certainly contradict the Messiah’s words in Matthew 5:17-19 about the Torah not passing away. Thankfully, a much better explanation than this can be offered.

Before coming to faith in the Messiah, every one of us was held in the clutches of sin—a result of our disobedience to God’s Law. We carried guilt with us, instinctively knowing that something was amiss in our relation to the Creator. Even if we tried to obey Him, we would inevitably disobey and get frustrated—not really knowing what to do. Such guilt, frustration, harassment, and angst—but coupled with a proper recognition that God’s commandments are holy and upstanding—will inevitably cause us to cry out to Him so that we can be freed from the condemnation hanging over us. This should include a recognition of how the Torah demands that each one of us receive the death penalty—first being the loss of our lives here on Earth,[15] to be followed by eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire. Yeshua the Messiah absorbed the Torah’s capital punishment due to each of us onto Himself at the cross (Colossians 2:14), and by receiving Him into our lives, we can be “released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound” (Romans 7:6), saved from sin! Yet we have only been discharged from the penalties of the Torah; we have not been discharged from the need to obey the Torah.

When Paul writes that Believers have been “made to die to the Law” or “released from the Law” (Romans 7:4, 6), he is not implying that Messiah followers should cast aside Moses’ Teaching. If Believers have actually been “released” from the Torah in the sense that its principles of righteousness are to be disregarded, then we really should have the freedom to live exactly the way we want—including worshipping other gods by committing idolatry, even if just alongside of the God of Israel. This certainly cannot be the case, and we have properly concluded that when Believers have been released from the Torah, it is in the sense that the redeemed can be freed from the penalties of the Torah pronounced upon sinners, via the atonement of the Messiah Yeshua accessible in the good news.


NOTES

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), pp 33-34.

[2] The verb deō, appearing in Romans 7:2, means “to bind, i. e. put under obligation, namely, of law, duty, etc.” (Thayer, 131).

[3] Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 333.

[4] Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 376.

[5] “you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah” (Romans 7:4, HCSB).

[6] Grk. dia tēs prosphoras tou sōmatos Iēsou Christou ephapax.

[7] Making note of the terminology for “married woman” in Romans 7:2, hupandros gunē, Moo, Romans, 412 fn#17 is right to assert that it means “under a husband,” further indicating this as “Paul’s use of the preposition…, [hupo] to indicate a relationship of bondage.” His inference is that being hupandros gunē is like being hupo nomon or “under law” (Romans 6:14, 15), or perhaps even hupo tēn hamartian or “under sin” (Romans 7:14). He thinks that being dead to the Law, though, means that the Mosaic Torah is now basically dead instruction for Christians.

What Moo has failed to do is indicate how hupandros, “under a man, subject to him, married” (LS, 830), is a rare term witnessed in the Bible for marriage, being associated in both the Septuagint and Apocrypha in instances where the loyalty of the wife to her husband is suspect on some level, or where there may be a degree of marital discord (Proverbs 6:24; Sirach 9:9; 41:21; cf. Numbers 5:20, 29; Polybius The Histories 10.26.3). The normal Greek terms one encounters for marriage (cf. LS, 159; Vine, pp 394-395; E. Stauffer, “to marry,” in TDNT, pp 111-113) include the noun gamos, and verbs gameō and gamizō.

Paul using the term hupandros for “married,” within the overall situation in Romans ch. 7 where guilt for violation of God’s Torah is in view, was quite appropriate, as it would detail a condemning husband. It can only help to support the idea that being “made to die to the Law through the body of Messiah” means dying to the Torah’s condemnation upon sinners (cf. Romans 8:2).

[8] Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 336.

[9] Bruce, Romans, 138.

[10] Stott, The Message of Romans, 194.

[11] Bruce, Romans, 139.

[12] BDAG, 532.

[13] Stott, The Message of Romans, 196.

[14] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 177.

[15] Note that the loss of one’s physical life need not necessarily (or always) occur via the death penalty required of the Torah’s high sins, as sin manifesting itself can lead to death. Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Yeshua.” This indicates how sinful behavior can lead to physical detriment.

About J.K. McKee 633 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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