Spiritually Mixed Marriages
Questions About Spiritually Mixed Marriages 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Translation: 12) To the rest I say (I, not the Lord): If any brother (Christian man) has a wife who does not believe and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13) And if a Christian woman has a husband who does not believe and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce her husband.
I say this because the husband who does not believe is purified (sanctified) in relation with (through) the Christian wife. And the woman who does not believe is purified (sanctified) in relation with (through) the brother (Christian man). Then otherwise your children would be unclean (impure), but as it is, they are purified (sanctified).
But if the unbeliever departs (leaves), let him depart (leave). The brother (Christian man) or sister (Christian woman) is not in bondage (bound) in these circumstances. God has called us to be in peace. 16) How do you know, woman, if you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, if you will save your wife?
Comments: In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Saint Paul is discussing the matter of spiritually mixed marriages in which a Christian is married to a non-Christian. He indicates that in his teaching he is not quoting something that Jesus said directly during His ministry. However, Paul is speaking on his authority at a divinely inspired apostle who receives his teaching from God. Paul speaks the true word of God. Many of these spiritually mixed marriages occurred when one of the spouses was brought to faith in Christ after he/she was already married. In these verses Paul treats these questions:
- Is it wrong and against God’s will for a Christian to be married to a non-Christian? 2) How does God regard/treat any children that come from the marriage of a Christian and non-Christian? 3) Should a Christian who is married to a non-Christian continue to remain in that marriage or should the Christian end the marriage through divorce?
Paul gives these answers: 1) It is not a sin for a Christian to be married to a non-Christian. Marriage to a non-Christian does not change the believing spouse’s spiritual relationship with God2) God finds it acceptable for a Christian and a non-Christian married couple to have children. God does not refuse the children of such a marriage the opportunity to enjoy His saving grace. 3) God wants a Christian who is married to a non-Christian to remain in that marriage as long as the non-Christian is willing to be married. Through the influence of the believing spouse, the unbeliever in the marriage may come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. God does permit a Christian to divorce a non-Christian if the unbeliever forsakes the marriage and does not want to continue in it.
One thing that Paul does not teach in 1 Corinthians 7:14 is that the non-believing spouse is “automatically” saved just because he/she is married to a Christian. The Christian spouse’s faith cannot and does not guarantee or insure that the non-Christian partner will be spared God’s judgment on his/her sins and go to heaven.
In verse 14, Paul does say that the unbelieving spouse is “purified or sanctified” (the Greek word is hegiastai) in relation with the Christian spouse. This “purification or sanctification” is not “salvation.” Paul makes this clear in verse 16 where he tells us that a non-believing spouse may come to faith because of the influence of the Christian spouse. He does not say that the non-Christian will, must or does come to faith. In verse 16, Paul indicates that marriage to a Christian by itself does not give salvation to the unbeliever.
What Paul is saying in verse 14 is that in a spiritually mixed marriage, God regards the marriage as something that is acceptable to Him and that does not spiritually defile the Christian. He also says that the unbelieving spouse is able to enjoy the Christian love and good works of the believing spouse as a special blessing to him/her. This enjoyment of the Christian love and good works of the believing partner also applies to the children in the family whom God views as “purified” (Greek: hagia), not “unclean” (Greek: akatharta)
Paul’s teaching here is consistent with the rest of the Scriptures teaching about salvation. In the Bible, God clearly teaches a person is saved through his/her own faith in Jesus Christ and is lost through his/her unbelief. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)
In Ezekiel 18 God teaches a person is responsible for his/her own sins and is not held responsible for someone else’s sins. One person’s sin and unbelief is not transferred to or held against another family member: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him. The wickedness of the wicked man will be charged against him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
In Matthew 3, John the Baptizer tells his hearers that a person cannot be shielded from God’s judgment on his/her sins just because of a family relationship to a believer such as Abraham. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:7b-9)