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1 Corinthians 7:12–14

“The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy“ (v. 14).

As the gospel went forth into the pagan world through the preaching of the early Christians, there would be cases where a husband would believe in Christ but not the wife and vice versa. Given the importance and intimacy of the marriage relationship, one question naturally arose: Is it appropriate for a Christian to remain married to a non-Christian, or does the non-Christian spouse somehow render the believer unholy? Paul takes up this issue in today’s passage.

Unlike the case of a married couple who were both believers, which Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 7:10–11, Jesus offered no teaching during His earthly ministry on the matter of an unbeliever who is married to a believer. Thus, Paul clarifies that what he is about to say on the subject comes from him by virtue of divine inspiration and his Apostolic authority (“I, not the Lord”; see v. 12). The Apostle does not have a word on this matter that Jesus spoke during His three-year teaching ministry in Galilee and Judea. Nevertheless, what Paul has to say is equally authoritative because the Apostles were commissioned to speak on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says that if a believer is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever is willing to remain married, then the believer is not to seek a divorce (vv. 12–13). The idea here is that the unbelieving husband or wife remains committed to the marriage and is willing to allow the believing wife or husband to practice the Christian faith. As long as a non-Christian spouse tolerates the Christian faith of the other spouse, the Christian is to remain married to the unbeliever.

Instead of the unbeliever’s defiling the believer in a mixed-faith marriage, Paul notes, the believer sanctifies the unbeliever and the children of the union are holy (v. 14). The Apostle does not mean that the unbelieving spouse is automatically saved by being married to a Christian or that the children of the marriage are guaranteed eternal life. Here, holiness involves being set apart unto God for a special use. For instance, the old covenant priests’ garments were holy (Ex. 28:4) because they were used in the worship of God and not because they were granted eternal life. Similarly, the unbelieving spouse is set apart to God. The unbelieving spouse will not be saved without trusting in Christ, yet the non-Christian husband or wife is brought under God’s special care as part of the Lord’s concern for the believing spouse and what is dear to that child of His.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

That children of at least one believing spouse are holy (1 Cor. 7:14) is one justification for baptizing infants. Such children are regarded as holy by God, set apart to Him, by virtue of their parentage, so it is right for the church to recognize this publicly through baptism. These children will not be saved unless they personally trust Christ, but being a part of a Christian home puts them under the umbrella of God’s special concern.

For Further Study
  • Genesis 17
  • Acts 2:37–41
  • Romans 7:2
  • 1 Corinthians 7:39

Remaining Married

When the Unbelieving Spouse Separates

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue