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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 7 - Verse 14

Verse 14. For the unbelieving husband. The husband that is not a Christian; who still remains a heathen, or an impenitent man. The apostle here states reasons why a separation should not take place when there was a difference of religion between the husband and the wife. The first is, that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. And the object of this statement seems to be, to meet an objection which might exist in the mind, and which might, perhaps, be urged by some, "Shall I not be polluted by such a connexion? Shall I not be defiled, in the eye of God, by living in a close union with a heathen, a sinner, an enemy of God, and an opposer of the gospel?" This objection was natural, and is, doubtless, often felt. To this the apostle replies, "No; the contrary may be true. The connexion produces a species of sanctification, or diffuses a kind of holiness over the unbelieving party by the believing party, so far as to render their children holy, and therefore it is improper to seek for a separation."

Is sanctified. hgiastai. There has been a great variety of opinions in regard to the sense of this word. It does not comport with my design to state these opinions. The usual meaning of the word is, to make holy; to set apart to a sacred use; to consecrate, etc. See Barnes "Joh 17:17".

But the expression cannot mean here,

(1.) that the unbelieving husband would become holy, or be a Christian, by the mere fact of a connexion with a Christian, for this would be to do violence to the words, and would be contrary to facts everywhere; nor,

(2.) that the unbelieving husband had been sanctified by the Christian wife, (Whitby,) for this would not be true in all cases; nor,

(3.) that the unbelieving husband would gradually become more favourably inclined to Christianity, by observing its effects on the wife, (according to Semler;) for though this might be true, yet the apostle was speaking of something then, and which rendered their children at that time holy; nor,

(4.) that the unbelieving husband might more easily be sanctified, or become a Christian, by being connected with a Christian wife, (according to Rosenmuller and Schleusner,) because he is speaking of something in the connexion which made the children holy; and because the word agiazw is not used in this sense elsewhere. But it is a good rule of interpretation, that the words which are used in any place are to be limited in their signification by the connexion; and all that we are required to understand here is, that the unbelieving husband was sanctified in regard to the subject under discussion; that is, in regard to the question whether it was proper for them to live together, or whether they should be separated or not. And the sense may be, "They are by the marriage tie one flesh. They are indissolubly united by the ordinance of God. As they are one by his appointment, as they have received his sanction to the marriage union, and as one of them is holy, so the other is to be regarded as sanctified, or made so holy by the Divine sanction to the union, that it is proper for them to live together in the marriage relation." And in proof of this, Paul says if it were not so, if the connexion was to be regarded as impure and abominable, then their children were to be esteemed as illegitimate and unclean. But now they were not so regarded, and could not so be; and hence it followed that they might lawfully continue together. So Calvin, Beza, and Doddridge interpret the expression.

Else were your children unclean, akayarta. Impure; the opposite of what is meant by holy. Here observe,

(1.) that this is a reason why the parents, one of whom was a Christian and the other not, should not be separated; and,

(2.) the reason is founded on the fact, that if they were separated, the offspring of such a union must be regarded as illegitimate, or unholy; and,

(3.) it must be improper to separate in such a way, and for such a reason, because even they did not believe, and could not believe, that their children were defiled, and polluted, and subject to the shame and disgrace attending illegitimate children. This passage has often been interpreted, and is often adduced to prove that children are "federally holy," and that they are entitled to the privilege of baptism on the ground of the faith of one of the parents. But against this interpretation there are insuperable objections.

(1.) The phrase "federally holy" is unintelligible, and conveys no idea to the great mass of men. It occurs nowhere in the Scriptures, and what can be meant by it?

(2.) It does not accord with the scope and design of the argument. There is not one word about baptism here; not one allusion to it; nor does the argument in the remotest degree bear upon it. The question was not whether children should be baptized, but it was whether there should be a separation between man and wife, where the one was a Christian and the other not. Paul states, that if such a separation should take place, it would imply that the marriage was improper; and of course the children must be regarded as unclean. But how would the supposition that they were federally holy, and the proper subjects of baptism, bear on this? Would it not be equally true that it was proper to baptize the children whether the parents were separated or not? Is it not a doctrine among Paedobaptists everywhere, that the children are entitled to baptism on the faith of either of the parents, and that that doctrine is not affected by the question here agitated by Paul? Whether it was proper for them to live together or not, was it not equally true that the child of a believing parent was to be baptised? But

(3.) the supposition that this means that the children would be regarded as illegitimate if such a separation should take place, is one that accords with the whole scope and design of the argument. "When one party is a Christian and the other not, shall there be a separation?" This was the question. "No," says Paul; "if there be such a separation, it must be because the marriage is improper; because it would be wrong to live together in such circumstances." What would follow from this? Why, that all the children that have been born since the one party became a Christian, must be regarded as having been born while a connexion existed that was improper, and unchristian, and unlawful, and of course they must be regarded as illegitimate. But, says he, you do not believe this yourselves. It follows, therefore, that the connexion, even according to your own views, is proper.

(4.) This accords with the meaning of the word unclean, akayarta 

(a.) in a Levitical sense, Le 5:2;

(b.) in a moral sense, Ac 10:28; 2 Co 6:17; Eph 5:5.

 

The word will appropriately express the sense of illegitimacy; and the argument, I think, evidently requires this. It may be summed up in a few words. "Your separation would be a proclamation to all, that you regard the marriage as invalid and improper. From this it would follow that the offspring of such a marriage would be illegitimate. But you are not prepared to admit this; you do not believe it. Your children you esteem to be legitimate, and they are so. The marriage tie, therefore, should be regarded as binding, and separation unnecessary and improper." See, however, Doddridge and Bloomfield for a different view of this subject. I believe infant baptism to be proper and right, and an inestimable privilege to parents and to children [This is Barnes' opinion, not necessarily the opinion of Online Bible]. But a good cause should not be made to rest on feeble supports, nor on forced and unnatural interpretations of the Scriptures. And such I regard the usual interpretation placed on this passage.

But now are they holy. Holy in the same sense as the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; for different forms of the same word are usual. That is, they are legitimate. They are not to be branded and treated as bastards, as they would be by your separation. "You regard them as having been born in lawful wedlock, and they are so; and they should be treated as such by their parents, and not be exposed to shame and disgrace by your separation.

{a} "now are they holy" Mal 2:15,16

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