Bound for Life, Released Only by Death (Mt. 19:8; Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:25-28, 39)

By Timothy Sparks


Twice Paul uses the same root word δέω (deō), “to bind” in reference to marriage (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39): 

“The married woman has been bound by law to the living husband; but if the husband may have died, she has been released from the law of the husband” (Rom. 7:2; unless otherwise stated, translations are mine).

“A woman has been bound for as long a time as her husband lives. But if the husband may have died, she is free to marry whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

Paul uses δέω (deō), “to bind” in reference to betrothal (engagement) one time (1 Cor. 7:27):

“Have you been bound to a woman? Do not seek to be loosed. Have you been loosed from a woman? Do not seek a woman. But if you may have married, you did not sin, and if the virgin may have married, she did not sin. . . .” (1 Cor. 7:27-28). The NIV renders it similarly: “Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. . . .”

Here, Paul’s use of “bound” is not in reference to a “wife,” as the translation reflects (i.e., “woman”). The context of Paul’s statement is concerning “virgins” (v. 25), not those who are married. Paul mentions “the present necessity” (v. 26) and addresses men who have been “loosed from a woman” (v. 27). The men who have “been loosed” are those who are no longer betrothed (engaged). Paul tells these men, “do not seek a woman.” Then Paul says, “But if you may have married, you did not sin” (v. 28). In 1 Cor. 7:25-28 Paul discusses the virgins and does not include those who are divorced.

Twice Paul says the law of husband and wife is in effect until death—divorce does not unbind or set one free from the law of marriage—only death does (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39). One is “bound” by marriage and is “loosed” when a spouse dies. The one whose spouse is dead is not bound by the law of marriage but is free to marry. Jesus and Paul taught the one-flesh law is for life (Gen. 1:27; 2:23-24; Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-8). 

Divorce does not sever those who are “bound.” Notice the perfect tense of δέδεται (dedetai) occurring in both Rom. 7:2 and 1 Cor. 7:39. Corey Keating says, “The basic thought of the perfect tense is that the progress of an action has been completed and the results of the action are continuing on, in full effect. In other words, the progress of the action has reached its culmination and the finished results are now in existence. . . .” (

Jesus and Paul uphold God’s will concerning marriage “from the beginning” (Mt. 19:4, 8). Notice the perfect tense of the negated γέγονεν (gegonen, “has not existed”) in reference to Moses’ permission to divorce: “from the beginning it has not existed this way” (Mt. 19:8). This means that permission to divorce did not exist in the beginning and continues not to exist to Jesus’ present time. Marvin Vincent says, “The A. V. is commonly understood to mean, it was not so in the beginning. But that is not Christ’s meaning. The verb is in the perfect tense (denoting the continuance of past action or its results down to the present). He means: Notwithstanding Moses’ permission, the case has not been so from the beginning until now. The original ordinance has never been abrogated nor superseded, but continues in force” (Vincent’s Word Studies,

Paul emphasizes that a married woman “has been bound” (perfect tense, Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39). Once bound, the results of that action continue in full effect until death: “A woman has been bound for as long a time as her husband lives. But if the husband may have died, she is free to marry whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

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