Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 7:1-6

Notes in red are my additions

A Summary of Romans 7:1-6.

The third fruit of justification is liberation from the Law. Already (Rom 5:20) St. Paul had indicated that the Law had only a transitory value, and further on (Rom 6:14-15) he said plainly that we are no longer under the Law. Here he explicitly declares that the Old Law is abrogated, that it no longer obliges; and he proves his statement by citing the example of the matrimonial law. We are dead to the Law, which occasioned sin, in order that we may belong to Christ in newness and holiness of life. But when saying that the Law of Moses ceased, it is necessary to distinguish between its ceremonial observances and burdens, on the one hand, and its moral precepts, on the other. As to these latter, the Law of Moses is eternal and abides in Christianity. The great difficulty and burden of the Law consisted not only in its numerous ceremonies and observances, but especially in this that, while it indicated what was to be done and what to be avoided, it did not give any of the help necessary for the fulfilment of its precepts. It is true, however, that the Patriarchs and all the just of the Old Testament received grace to observe the Law, but this grace came not from the Law; it came only from the living faith which they had in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer to come. And so far as they had this faith, and received the grace consequent upon it, they already pertained to the New Dispensation and Law of the Gospel. But we, says the Apostle, are entirely freed from the servitude of the Old Law, because we are living under the New Law of the Gospel, which not only indicates what we are to do and what we are to avoid, but also gives us the grace necessary to fulfil all its precepts. 

Rom 7:1. Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) that the law hath dominion over a man, as long as it liveth? 

Know you not, i.e., you certainly do know. 

Brethren, i.e., Christians, both Jewish and Gentile. If the first law here meant the Mosaic Law, we could interpret brethren as referring to the Jewish Christians only, or chiefly, at least, as some authors do; but since the second “law” (which hath dominion, etc.) doubtless refers to a law far more general than that of Moses, namely, to a law recognized among the nations, to which St. Paul makes appeal, it seems better to understand the first “law,” as meaning, not the Law of Moses, but a general law known among the Romans and all nations, and consequently to understand “brethren” as referring to all the Christians in Rome. If only Jews were addressed, Paul would have said (verse 5): “When we were under the law”; but, addressing all the Roman Christians, the majority of whom were Gentiles, he has rather said: “When we were in the flesh.” 

The law (ο νομος), i.e., the law of marriage recognized by all civilized peoples (Lagrange). The Apostle’s argument is this: According to the recognized law of marriage, a woman is bound to her husband as long as the husband lives, so that she cannot rightly marry another man during her husband’s lifetime, but when her husband is dead, she is free (verses 1-3). But to you, Roman Christians, the Law of Moses is dead; or rather you, although really alive, are mystically dead to it, i.e., it no longer can have any dominion over you. Therefore, you are free from the Law of Moses, that you may belong to the New Law of Christ risen from the dead (Rom 7:4). Note: most modern scholars (rightly, in my opinion) see the reference to law here as meaning specifically the Mosaic Law regarding marriage, not the marriage law of all “civilized people.” 

Rom 7:2. For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

A married woman is bound to her husband as long as she or her husband lives, according to the primitive matrimonial law promulgated by God (Gen 2:24), and renewed by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 5:31, 32; Matt 19:4-9). Marriage renders the wife one flesh with her husband, and hence as long as he lives, she cannot lawfully contract marriage with any other man. But when the husband is dead, the wife is freed from the law that bound her to her husband.

The Greek should be translated: viventi viro alligata est lege, and not as the Vulgate has it (Lagrange).  The Vulgate read viventi viro alligata est legi (“bound by the law to her husband while he lives”). The New Latin Vulgate has  lege in place of legi, thus reading: “while her husband lives (she) is bound by the law”. 

Rom 7:3. Therefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man: but if her husband be dead, she is delivered from the law of her husband; so that she is not an adulteress, if she be with another man.

St. Paul again shows that there is no dissolution of the matrimonial bond before the death of one of the contracting parties, so much so that any further marriage contracted by either party while both are living would be nothing short of adulterous. What holds good for the woman holds likewise for the man. From the law of her husband is in Greek only “from the law,” but the context clearly shows that the meaning is from the law of her husband. 

Rom 7:4. Therefore, my brethren, you also are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ; that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead, that we may bring forth fruit to God.

The Christians are become mystically dead to the law. Literally, “Have been made to die,” i.e., the Law has lost all its binding force in their regard. And this emancipation has been effected through the body of Christ, i.e., through the Passion and death of Christ, in which the Christians by Baptism have become mystical participants (Rom 6:2-3, 6; Gal 2:19). Through Baptism the Christians have mystically died with Christ to sin and to the Law, so that they might be free to belong to another, i.e., to Christ risen from the dead and glorified, for the ultimate purpose of producing good works for the glory of God.

Although we cannot put the Law on the same level as sin, still it disappeared with the disappearance of the reign of sin, and the reign of sin was conquered by the death of Christ. With grace commenced the reign of righteousness. 

Rom 7:5. For -when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death. 

In the flesh, i.e., in a state of sin and disorder, when the old man sin was yet alive (Rom 6:6)

The passions of sins, i.e., the evil disorders of our fallen nature, which were by the law, i.e., which the Law pointed out and made responsible, but did not give the power and help to restrain. 

Did work (ενηργειτο) , i.e., were continually operative and did move our members to evil deeds (Rom 6:12, Rom 6:19), the consequence of which was death (Rom 6:21). Cf. Rom 3:9-21. 

Rom 7:6. But now we are loosed from the law of death, wherein we were detained; so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

Now through our mystical death with Christ we are liberated from the regime of the Old Law which, by increasing our responsibility, and failing at the same time to give the grace necessary to fulfil its precepts, was the occasion of sin and death to us. And the purpose of the liberation from the Old Law is that we should serve God and justice in newness of spirit, i.e., according to a new principle of life, namely, the grace of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:15; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), and not in the oldness of the letter, i.e., according to the old man of sin subject to the Law of Moses.

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