“MARRIAGE” IS NOT “BINDING”
By Kevin S. Kay
One of the problems that has contributed to much of the current confusion regarding the subjects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is that many have apparently failed to grasp the Biblical distinction between being “married” and being “bound.” When the apostle Paul wrote to his brethren in Rome, he said: “For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if the husband die, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3). When he wrote to his brethren in Corinth, he said: “A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). There are several things worthy of our careful consideration in these two passages.
First, we must realize that in Romans 7, it is not Paul’s primary purpose to teach on the subjects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. He refers to God’s general law on marriage to illustrate the primary point that law has dominion over a man only as long as he lives (Romans 7:1). The exception that Jesus gives to the general law on marriage (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) is not considered in this passage, because it was not germane to the point that Paul was illustrating.
Second, Paul says that a woman “that hath a husband” is “bound” to that husband. The phrase “that hath a husband” (hupandros) means to be “under the power of or subject to a man….”[i] The word “bound” (deo) means “to bind, tie, fasten; 1. prop.... with acc. of pers. to bind, to fasten with chains, to throw into chains.... 2. metaph. ... b. to bind, i.e. put under obligation, sc. of law, duty, etc.... with dat. of pers...to be bound to one...of a wife, Ro. vii. 2...of a husband, 1 Co. vii. 27.... c. by a Chald. and rabbin. idiom...to forbid, prohibit, declare to be illicit….”[ii]
Third, Paul says that a woman who has a husband is bound “by law.” Thus, this is not a literal or physical binding but rather a spiritual and legal binding. And this fact comports with the way the word is defined by the lexicographers. The law under consideration here is not the Mosaic law of the Jews or the civil law of the Gentiles, because both of these laws allowed a woman to remarry while her first husband was still living (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This law is God’s law on marriage established in the very beginning that says: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Fourth, Paul says that a woman who has a husband is bound by law “to her husband.” Obviously, Paul is contemplating at the outset a relationship that is lawful in the eyes of God, because God’s law would certainly not bind one to a sinful relationship.
Fifth. Paul says that a woman who has a husband is bound by law to her husband “for as long as he lives.” Please note that Paul does not say that a woman is bound to her husband for as long as they continue to love each other, or for as long as there are no irreconcilable differences or for as long as they remain married to each other, but for as long as he lives.
Sixth, Paul says that if the husband dies, the woman is “discharged from the law of the husband.” The word “discharged” (katargeo) means to “1. make ineffective, powerless, idle….2. abolish, wipe out, set aside ti someth... . 3. katargoumai apo tinos be released from an association with someone or someth., have nothing more to do with, of a woman upon the death of her husband...Ro 7:2.…”[iii] The “law of the husband” simply refers to the law which bound her to her husband. We might have expected Paul to say that at the death of the husband, the woman is loosed from her husband, but that is not what he says. The emphasis here is upon the legal obligation to God’s law which binds one to one’s mate for as long as that person lives.
Seventh. Paul says that if while the husband lives, a woman be “joined” to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. The phrase “be joined” is translated from a Greek verb (ginomai) which has many different shades of meaning but which basically means “to become.” Thayer defines the word to mean: “to become....5. to become, be made, ‘in passages where it is specified who or what a person or thing is or has been rendered, as respects quality, condition, place, rank, character’.…ginesthai with Cases; a. with the gen. to become the property of any one, to come into the power of a person or thing….b. With the dat...to become a man’s wife, Ro. vii. 3 sq.…”[iv] Please note that the second relationship that Paul refers to in this passage is a REAL marriage, even though it is not RIGHT. Paul is not contemplating just a “live-in” relationship. This fact is suggested by the definition of the word that Paul uses and by the context in which it is found. The woman’s relationship with the second man would have been right if her first husband had been dead. Thus, they were not just “living together”; they were actually married to one another. The fact that the same word (ginomai) is used to describe the Christian’s relationship with Christ (Romans 7:4) also suggests that the word denotes “marriage” unless we are to conclude that our relationship with Christ is just a “live-in” relationship. Under these circumstances, this woman becomes an adulteress, not because she is not really married to the second man, but because she is married to him while she is bound by law to her first husband. Adultery is normally defined by the lexicographers to mean “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife…,”[v] and this definition is accurate as far as it goes, but the Bible definition is more precise. According to this passage, adultery means to have sexual intercourse with someone who is bound by law to another. Furthermore, this passage teaches that this woman remains an adulteress as long as her first husband lives and she is married to the second man.
Eighth, Paul says that if the husband dies, she is “free” from the law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be joined to another man. The word “free” (eleutheros) means “free; 1. freeborn; in a civil sense, one who is not a slave....of one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted….2. free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation….apo tinos, free from i.e. no longer under obligation to, so that one may now do what was formerly forbidden by the person or thing to which he was bound, Ro. vii. 3….”[vi] Please note that what was wrong while the first husband lived is right after his death.
Ninth, from the considerations above, it should be obvious that there is a difference between being “married” and being “bound.”
The word “marriage,” as it is used in the Bible, refers to the RELATIONSHIP that exists between a particular man and a particular woman. The word “divorce,” as it is used in the Bible, refers to the dissolution of the marital relationship. Either of these actions can occur with or without God’s approval, and yet He recognizes that they have occurred. The word “bond,” as it is used in the Bible, refers to the RESPONSIBILITIES that God imposes upon those who marry lawfully, and it includes both CONSTRAINTS and RESTRAINTS. The husband is constrained by God’s law to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33), to live with her according to knowledge, to honor her as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), to provide for her (1 Timothy 5:8), to satisfy her sexual desires (1 Corinthians 7:1-5), etc. The wife is constrained by God’s law to love her husband (Titus 2:4), to be submissive to his will (Ephesians 5:22-24), to rule the household (1 Timothy 5:14), to satisfy his sexual desires (1 Corinthians 7:1-5), etc. Furthermore, both husband and wife are restrained by God’s law from having any other marriage partner while the first mate lives. This is the implication of 1 Corinthians 7:39. While the husband is alive, a wife is bound. When the husband dies, the wife is FREE to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. Therefore, as long as a wife is BOUND, she is not FREE to be married to whom she will. In other words, she is restrained. Obviously, there are some situations and circumstances that may make it impossible for one to fulfill the normal CONSTRAINTS of the marriage “bond” (e.g. if one were mentally or physically incapacitated or if one were separated from one’s mate as an MIA, a POW, a convict serving a life sentence, a divorcee, etc., it would be impossible to fulfill the normal constraints of the “bond”), but this does not in any way release one from the RESTRAINTS of the marriage “bond.” The word “loose,” as it is used in the Bible, refers to the release from the obligations of law and duty imposed by God upon those who marry lawfully. God frees one from the “bond” only if his marriage partner dies (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39) or if he puts away his mate for fornication (Matthew 19:9). Thus, “marriage” is not “binding.” PEOPLE MARRY AND DIVORCE; GOD BINDS AND LOOSES!
Furthermore, the terms “husband” and “wife,” as they are used in the Bible, do not necessarily refer to one’s current marriage partner. The word “wife” is used in the Bible to refer to a concubine (Genesis 16:3; 25:1, 5-6 & 1 Chronicles 1:32; Judges 19:1-5, 7, 9; 20:4), a betrothed person (Deuteronomy 20:7; 22:23-24; Matthew 1:18-20, 24; Revelation 19:7), a bride (Judges 14:15-16, 20), a widow (Ruth 4:10; 1 Samuel 27:3; 30:5; 2 Samuel 2:2; 3:3; 2 Samuel 11:26; 12:9-10, 15), and one who is “married” to another (Judges 15:1-2; 1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:14-16; Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:17-18; Luke 3:19; 1 Corinthians 5:1). The Bible teaches that one may be “unmarried” and still have a “husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Thus, there are five possible conditions in which one may find himself. One may be UNMARRIED and UNBOUND. This is the condition of the single (1 Corinthians 7:8-9), the widowed (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 39; 1 Timothy 5:14), and the “innocent party” who has “put away” the “guilty party” for fornication (Matthew 19:9). One may be MARRIED and BOUND. This is the condition of those who are scripturally married (Matthew 19:5-6; Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). One may be UNMARRIED and BOUND to another. This is the condition of the unscripturally divorced (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) and the “guilty party” who has been “put away” for fornication (Matthew 19:9). One may be MARRIED to one and BOUND to another This is the condition of those who are unscripturally divorced and remarried (Romans 7:2-3; cf. Mark 6:17-18; l Corinthians 5: l). One may be MARRIED and UNBOUND. This is the condition of the “third party” who is married to someone who is bound to another (Matthew 5:32b; 19:9b; Luke 16:18b). The Bible makes very clear distinction between the RELATIONSHIP that is called “marriage” and the RESPONSIBILITIES of the “bond.” A failure to grasp this Biblical distinction has contributed to at least two false concepts in the current marriage, divorce, and remarriage controversy: 1) the idea that the “guilty party” may remarry and 2) the idea that an innocent put-away person may remarry. Because of these two very serious errors, and perhaps others as well, it is vitally important that we understand that “marriage” is not “binding”
(Article first published in Is It Lawful?: A Comprehensive Study of Divorce, 1989, pp. 163-167)