Q – I am really curious about this passage from 1 Corinthians 7 –
 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.  And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.  For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
My questions/comments are these:
First, I’m guessing this refers to two unbelievers who married and then one became converted. The context is rules for marriage and divorce. “Unbeliever” is apiston, der. of apistis, literally, without faith.
Jim – That’s how I read it, too. Obviously, the First Century church was full of new believers, and most married people in the church would have converted after marrying. One or the other – either the husband or the wife – may have converted and that caused rifts within the marriage. After all, it had to be upsetting for a man to work hard all his days and have his life and livelihood threatened because of a wife’s sudden commitment to a “cult” that could get you killed. Equally threatening would be a woman with children whose husband followed Christ and now the children were in danger. So, Paul offered his opinion that the unbeliever’s departure was not the fault of the believer and there was no bondage – such as the guilt of divorce, or prohibition against remarriage – imposed on them.
On the other hand, if a believing husband had a wife he loved who was an unbeliever, he was not required to “put her away” or divorce her. If they could live peaceably together, that was Paul’s first choice – “God has called us to peace.”
However, the main thrust of his comments had to do with departing unbelieving mates and the consequences on the believer. Remember that as we continue toward your next questions.
Q – Second, it’s interesting that Paul said ‘sanctified,’ but not ‘justified.’ I know Paul is not saying in verse 14 that one makes the other saved. But then, what does verse 16 mean? It switches from ‘hagios’ (holy or sanctified) to ‘sozo’…and that means salvation. But I never see in Scripture where a pistis (faithful) husband creates faith in his apistis (faithless) wife. A bit confusing, but think I have that much clear.
Jim – Right, and that’s a definitive difference. God’s blessings and hand of protection and mercy would be on the believer’s household because of the believer within the walls. The unbelieving mate fell under that blessing by association. But, that was not equal to salvation. You are absolutely correct when you say that the faith of one mate cannot produce faith in the other. In fact, no individual’s faith is capable or producing saving faith in any other person. But, that’s not what Paul was inferring. We’ll get to the hagios question and verse 16 momentarily.
Q – Okay, third, verse 15 makes sense to me. If two married people are not believers, then do not share the Christian marriage relationship of two being one or of reflecting Christ and His church. So there would be no ‘bondage’ – or ‘obligation’ as NIV says.
Jim – Yep. Plus, the believer would not be able to keep the unbeliever from fleeing in order to save his or her own skin. The trouble in the household would have resulted from the introduction of Christianity. And, Paul would not blame a believer (nor would God) for the consequences that accompany conversion to Christ.
Q – So, in light of all that, what does verse 16 mean? Have I mentioned I’m stuck on that verse? Because of the context it almost appears to be an off-the-cuff comment by Paul, not teaching that men and women can save each other but to hold out hope that their apistis spouse may yet be saved. In other words, stay together if the spouse likes; if the spouse leaves, don’t quarrel and know you are free from your obligation. Why? Because God may yet save the person.
Jim – Actually, I’ve always read that verse just the opposite way. The context has to do with departing unbelievers. Paul just said, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
So, if a husband or wife leaves, let them leave. A believing man or woman is not under any bondage, or additional obligation, in such cases. After all, God has called the Church to live peaceably with one another. Don’t fight it, don’t argue, and don’t threaten – let them go. It’s okay. No bondage.
After all (if I understand Paul’s words at this juncture), you don’t know whether your spouse will ever be saved. Your faith cannot produce their salvation, so there may be no advantage to forcing them to remain in the marriage. Let them go. Only God can save them, and you have no promise or proof that your faithfulness will result in their salvation. So, let them go. You don’t know; so don’t impose an additional burden on them when none is placed on you.
That’s how I’ve always read that passage. Paul was saying that we don’t know the eventual outcome of our unbelieving spouses, so we cannot assume that our faith will result in their salvation. If they want to go, let them go. There’s no punishment for that act of peacefully letting them go their way.
It’s not so much that God might save them, it’s that you don’t know whether God will save them and your faith does not guarantee their salvation.
Q – So, what does it mean to say that the husband, wife or children are holy if they are unbelievers and not in Christ?
Jim – They are separated (the root meaning of “hagios”) for God’s purpose. They are not like the wondering masses of humans who have no involvement with God in their lives. They are not “unclean,” which would make render them off-limits to the sanctified believer. Remember the verse – “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”? That’s also written to the Corinthian church – 2 Cor. 6:17.
But, if a woman was saved, sanctified for God’s use, and her husband and children were unclean, she was to separate herself from them and not even touch them. And, the promise of God’s acceptance was attached to that behavior. But, in order to keep the family intact, the faith of a parent sanctified the mate and children so that living with them was not looked on as an act of rebellion or sin. It was an absolute necessity that those intimately connected to the sanctified one also be sanctified for their sake.
But if they left, the fact that they were clean for their spouse’s sake was never any guarantee that they would have been saved. And, since a believing spouse had no guarantee of their mate’s salvation, they were under no bondage when the unbeliever left.
So, don’t confuse faith and salvation, and don’t confuse God’s gracious acceptance and cleansing of unbelievers in the household of a believer with God’s promise of eternal life through Christ.
At least it should give you more grist to chew on. 🙂
Q – Erk! (The sound of my perspective being adjusted slightly)
I see it! I see it! Yep, that makes PERFECT sense!
Thank you Pastor Dude!
Jim – You’re very welcome. It’s fun to watch the lights go on. And, thanks for perpetuating my new favorite nickname!
Jim (the Pastor dude)