Romans 5-8 is arranged chiastically:
A. 5:1-11: The justified have hope for glory in midst of tribulation
B. 5:12-21: Adam and Christ: Adam's sin reversed
C. 6:1-14: Death in baptism, deliverance from dominance of sin
D. 6:15-23: Members as weapons of righteousness
E. 7:1-6: Death to the law
D'. 7:7-25: Bondage to sin provoked by law
C'. 8:1-17: God delivered where Law could not
B'. 8:18-25: Creation liberated from futility
A'. 8:26-39: Assurance of hope in the midst of tribulation
7:1-6 forms the structural center, an indication that this section of Romans is centrally concerned with the role of Torah in the fulfillment of God’s purposes: If the law doesn’t bring in the justice of God, what role does it play?
Paul starts with a commonsensical point: The law governs the living, not the dead (v. 1). More specifically, the laws of marriage govern a woman while her husband lives. Once he dies, she’s released (v. 2). If she’s joined to another man while she’s alive, she’s an adulteress; if her husband is dead, she’s free to unite to another man.
So far, so obvious. The difficulty is to determine how Paul applies this analogy in verses 4-6. If we died to the law through the body of Christ, are we the husband? That would be odd, since Yahweh or Christ is typically the typological husband. But if we’re the bride, then who is the first husband who dies? Were we married to the law, and now married to Christ?
One key to unraveling Paul’s allegory is to note the shift between verses 1-2 and 4. At first, Paul speaks of an anthropos who dies, but by verse 4 he’s no longer talking about he’s talking about death “with respect to the law.” These are two sides of the same point: The husband’s death is the means for releasing the woman from the law.
From this, the allegory is fairly straightforward. Yahweh is Israel’s husband. The only way for Israel to be released from the Torah that binds her to Yahweh is for Yahweh to die. He has, incarnate in mortal flesh as Jesus. And so Jesus’ death is the bride’s death to the law. Those who are in Christ, especially Jews once under Law, are no longer under Torah. They’ve died to Torah.
Behind this is the dilemma identified in Jeremiah 3. According to Deuteronomy 24, a woman who divorces and marries another man cannot return to her first husband. A return defiles the land.
Jeremiah applies this rule to Yahweh’s relation to Israel: Israel has abandoned Yahweh and bound herself to other gods/husbands. But repentance seems impossible. If she returns, she defiles the land. It’s a Catch-22: If she doesn’t turn, she’s cut off; if she does return, she makes matters worse.
The only solution for Israel is release from the law that binds her to her first husband, and that can happen only if her first husband dies. Jesus has died, and so Israel is free from the double-bind of Torah. Yet Jesus also lives, and so is the second Husband to which Israel is bound. The Husband is the son of David, dead according to flesh, but proclaimed Son of God by His resurrection (Romans 1:1-4).
I suspect Adam is lurking in the background (cf. Romans 5:12-21). Paul’s analogy applies not just to Jews who are in-lawed to Yahweh by Torah. It applies to the Roman gentiles as well, who are in Adam. The logic is the same: They can be released from the Adamic curse only if their husband Adam dies. He has done, on the cross, and has been raised as the heavenly Man in His Spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15). Dead to old Adam and alive in the new Man (Romans 6), the Romans fulfill the Adamic mandate to be fruitful for life, not death (7:5).
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