George Booker
A New Creation

20. Being Married to an Unbeliever

“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...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?” (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

In this section of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is answering questions from the ecclesia (7:1). Therefore we need to reconstruct the original questions which were put to him. The believers had probably asked something like: “What is the position of a man or woman already ‘married’ under Gentile law at the time of his or her baptism? Is he or she to be considered by the ecclesia as a married person? Or should the ‘marriage’ entered into before learning the Truth be considered no marriage at all? If this is the case, can such a new brother or sister take steps to end the legal union and leave the unbelieving partner?”

In a situation like that described in Acts, where “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8), there would inevitably be a number of cases where one mate accepted the Truth but the other did not. How were they to react in this difficult situation?

We note that the apostle describes the unbelieving partner as “a wife” or “a husband” who believes not. That is to say, he regards the brother or sister concerned as being truly and properly married to their partner, no matter under what situation or what law the ceremony had been performed. This ought therefore to be the attitude of the ecclesia in the matter. If two people are regarded as married by generally accepted law, then the ecclesia should also recognize them as married — with all the Scriptural implications that such recognition carries with it. Thus the apostle lays upon the one believing partner in such a case exactly the same obligations to maintain the union (vv. 12,13) as he has previously laid upon two believing partners (vv. 10,11).

The baptism of one partner in an existing marriage does not give that one any authority or right to seek to terminate the marriage. In fact, the apostle Paul teaches the very opposite: the believing partner should use the marriage relationship (and the practical application of the spiritual lessons of marriage), even in trying circumstances, in such a way as to seek to bring the other to salvation (v. 16)!

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