Romans 7:1–6 —The Law of the Husband Explained
How many of us have read the first few verses of Romans chapter seven and assumed that somehow Paul is telling us that we are dead to the entire Torah-law—that we are no longer bound to it, that we no longer have to keep it? Is this what he is really saying? If so, does this mean that it’s now all right to violate the Torah’s prohibitions to steal, lie, murder, commit sexual sins, covet, worship idols, dishonor our parents, take YHVH’s name in vain and worship idols? If not, then what is Paul really saying in this passage—one that is often used by perhaps well-intended but misguided people in an attempt to prove that the Torah-law that YHVH Elohim gave to Moses and the children of Israel has been “done away with”?
To understand what Paul is really saying in Romans 7:1–6, let’s take a trip back into the Torah to understand what he is saying with regard to a specific law that has to do with the marriage covenant which Paul refers to as “the law of her husband” (v. 2), and which law a wife is dead to (v. 4) if her husband dies, and then how this relates prophetically to Yeshua’s death on the cross and the saint. You are to discover a deep truth pertaining to the gospel message that has been hidden in plain sight all along!
In Deuteronomy 24:1–5 we read,
1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her [The Stone Edition Tanach: found in her a matter of immorality; found her offensive in some respect] then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before YHVH: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which YHVH your Elohim giveth thee for an inheritance. [Emphasized sections are to be discussed.]
The word uncleanness or immorality is the Hebrew word ervah (Strong’s H6172) which according to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament refers simply to “nakedness or the resulting shame therefrom.” Strong’s Expanded Concordance adds to this definition: an indecent thing or figuratively the idea of disgrace or blemish. According to Strong’s Concordance this word is used in a various ways in the Tanakh (Old Testament) with reference to shameful sexual exposure or nudity as in the case of unlawful cohabitation (Lev 18:6), or the shame resulting from Israel’s spiritual adultery (Lam 1:8); or any “indecent thing” that represents defilement or uncleanness resulting from the misuse of the physical body (e.g. uncleanness [due to not burying human excrement] in the military camp, or violation of any laws of sexual abstinence, or being in a state of impurity from sexual cohabitation or nocturnal emissions). With regard to Deuteronomy 24:1 Strong’s comments, “ervah appears to bear this emphasis on any violation of the laws of purity—if a groom is dissatisfied with his bride ‘because he hath found some uncleanness in her,’ he may divorce her. Obviously this evidence is not of previous cohabitation, since such a sin merits death (Deut 22:13ff).”
The exact meaning of ervah is of great controversy between scholars. In his commentary on this passage, Jewish Torah scholar Samson Raphael Hirsch says nothing about the subject, although he goes into great detail about the peripheral issues relating to divorce and remarriage, the legalities concerning the bill of divorcement (Heb. get), etc., but not the cause of the divorce in the first place (i.e. the biblical meaning of unclean thing). Likewise, a cursory search of the Mishna on the subject reveals dozens of pages of minute details regarding divorce and remarriage and various attendant subjects, but I could find no legal definitions regarding the meaning of ervah or had how a marriage could be dissolved because a man found ervah in his wife. The meaning of this word and what were indeed grounds for a man to “put his wife away” was a controversy that raged in the first century between the two main Pharisee camps as well (i.e. the Schools of Hillel and Shammai). Even Yeshua weighed in on this controversial subject in Matthew 5:31–32 siding with the more conservative school of Shammai. The meaning of his exact words have fueled theological debates among Christian scholars to this day with regard to what constitutes legal grounds for divorce among believers.
In the simple or literal (Heb. pashat) meaning of this text ervah may or may not be specifically referring to the loss of the bride’s virginity prior to consummation of her marriage with her new husband, since Deuteronomy 24:1 neither specifically states, nor implies that this is the first marriage for both of them. This is underscored by the Torah’s use of the Hebrew word ishah (wife or woman) in verse one as opposed to either the words bethulah or almah both of which lexically have stronger references to a virgin, youthful bride or young maiden as opposed to the more generic term ishah. Therefore, based on the generic meaning of the word ervah (as discussed above) there could be broader meanings as to why the husband was compelled to “put his wife away” (e.g. as for adultery). If this is the case, do we find any example of this elsewhere in Scripture which could give us additional insight into the Hebraic understanding into the meaning of ervah?