December 7, 2012

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #6: Questions Concerning Marriage, 1 Corinthians 7.1-7.40



Lesson 6.2: The Unmarried and Widows
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7.8-16

1 Cor 7.8-16 (KJV)

8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 
12 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. 
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 
14 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. 
15 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. 
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?


In this passage the apostle develops guidelines for three categories of individuals: the unmarried and widows (vss. 8–9), the married believers (vss. 10–11), and mixed marriages (vss. 12–16). Some of the topics covered are; celibacy, chastity, marriage, stoicism, and virgins.

The Unmarried and Widows

8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows,
Here Paul began his answer to the question of whether unmarried persons (widows and widowers, naturally included) should marry or not. He is not giving these Corinthian believers a command, but advice. By the "unmarried" he means, either those men who were never married, or those men who had been married, but their wives were dead; the latter meaning seems more agreeable, since they are mentioned along with "widows", which is a term that usually designates women who had lost their husbands; however, it is used here for those who were at that time unmarried, and his reasoning applies to both classes; unmarried women and widows, but chiefly to widows and widowers. No doubt, widows would have had cause to consider their situation a sad one, and therefore desire to have it changed. At the close of this chapter (vs. 7.25) Paul gives particular consideration to females who had never been married.

it is good for them if they abide
It is good for them to remain unmarried, because in the present circumstances of persecution and distress that existed against Christians, it would be better not to be encumbered with the cares and anxieties of a family. This is the advice the apostle gives later in his epistle, and it is very similar to what he said here: “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be… But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord…But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife…There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Cor 7:26, 32-34; KJV). His advice for them is to stay like they are; if they are not married, do not change! It is not that it was sinful to marry again, since he allows it in the next verse, in case they do not have the gift of continence (the ability to control their sexual desires); and therefore "good" here, is not opposed to evil; it only signifies that it would be better for them to remain single, since they would be more free from the cares of life, have less trouble, and have more time available to serve the Lord. And he knew this by experience, and therefore, he offers himself as an example; even as I.

even as I.
If they have the apostle’s self-control, it is well for them to remain unmarried, even as he. Not that the unmarried state is better, but on account of "the present distress"—“I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be (unmarried). There are times when it is best to remain unmarried; for instance, in a time of war. The grounds for his advice are not moral, but prudent.

At that time it seems certain that he did not have a wife; although whether he had had one, and she was now dead, or whether he had never been married, may be matter of dispute; the former seems the most likely, since he offers himself as an example to widowers and widows; and having known what it is like to be both married and single, he was qualified to give his opinion of both.

Note: The personal reference here is not identical with that given in verse 7. The point of verse 7 has to do with being content with the gift God gives you. This verse merely points to the matter of remaining unmarried. 

9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

But if they cannot contain, let them marry:
Almost all versions read "if they do not contain"; if they do not have the gift of continency (self control; the ability to control their sexual desires); if they are not even willing to make an attempt to control their sexual desires because they think it would be impossible for them to do; if they lack either the will or power to contain their desires, if they find it inconvenient and uncomfortable to continue as widowers and widows, “let them marry.” It is not only lawful for them to marry, but it is right and best for them; but they should never be compelled to marry. And so, we gather from this that second marriages are lawful, although they were condemned by some of the ancient people: because it is better to marry than to burn, which is the next clause. “To burn” does not refer to material fire, such as Judah ordered Tamar to be burnt with for the sin of whoredom; nor does it refer to hell fire, which is the just reward of a life without Christ; but to the fire of lust itself; and so the Syriac version has it, "it is better to marry than to be burnt with lust." When a person finds himself having lustful notions and desires, and a growing craving to satisfy his sexual desires, he is said to be on fire with the lusts of the flesh, and he may be in great danger of being drawn into committing fornication, adultery, and even unnatural acts; it is much better for him to enter into marriage, though it may have its concerns, inconveniences, and difficulties, than to be under temptations and unholy desires that could eventually ruin your Christian testimony and cause the loss of eternal rewards. Paul's recommendation to marry in such cases as we have mentioned is not based on marriage being more or less spiritual, but on very practical concerns, that were especially relevant in his day (as explained in 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29, 32). A godly sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage is God's plan for meeting our sexual needs. Though Paul preferred the unmarried state for himself, he doesn't want anyone to think that being married was less spiritual, or more spiritual. It is all according to an individual's gifting. Remember that Paul told Timothy that forbidding to marry was a doctrine of demons: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron…Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1-3; KJV). Paul was aware how powerfully a counterfeit show of purity deceives the godly. McGarvey's analysis of Paul's answer has this: "He advises the unmarried who have the gift of self-control to remain unmarried, but those lacking it should avoid unlawful lusts by marriage."

for it is better to marry than to burn.
This expression is not to be taken to indicate that the apostle envisions marriage in mere physical, brute terms. Rather, it is to be taken in light of the preceding clause. That is, if a person’s gift is to be married, then let him not try to exercise a gift he does not possess by remaining unmarried.

Paul recognizes marriage as a legitimate refuge from pressures of sexual immorality. One should not feel they are immature or unspiritual because they desire to get married so that they will not “burn” with passion. “It is better to marry (but it is not preferred) than to burn” with passion, but Paul is not speaking about what we might consider "normal" sexual temptation. It is one thing to burn, another to feel heat . . . what Paul calls burning here, is not merely a slight sensation, but being so aflame with passion that you cannot resist it. At the same time, if someone has a problem with lust or sexual sin, they should not think that getting married will automatically solve their problems. Many a Christian man has been saddened to find that his lust for other women did not magically "go away" when he got married. Sometimes, only the dew of God's grace is able to stifle the flame, which otherwise would thrust men into hell-fire.

The Married Believers (vss. 10–11)

The next two verses contain a commandment. Paul is putting it on the line. The wife is not to leave her husband, and the husband is not to leave his wife. If one or the other is going to leave, then they are to remain unmarried.

Now there was a new problem which presented itself in Corinth. After Paul had come and had preached the gospel to them, a husband in a family would accept Christ but the wife would not. In another family it might be that the wife would accept Christ and the husband would not. What were the believers to do under such circumstances?

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

And unto the married I command,
When Paul spoke to the unmarried and widows he only gave advice and counsel to remain unmarried, provided they could control their sexual desires; but if not, he advised them to marry; but when advising persons who were already married, what he has to say to them is in the nature of a “commandment” that they were obliged to observe; they were not at liberty to do as they will. Remember that in this chapter, Paul is answering questions written to him from the Corinthian Christians. He will deal with other situations in the following verses. He has already dealt with the questions about the relative merits of being married or single, and if it is more spiritual to abstain from sex in a marriage relationship. “And unto the” indicates he is moving to another question, and these questions and answers have to do with marriage and divorce. This verse and the next answer the inquiry, whether it was proper, under the conditions that existed, for those who were married to continue this relationship, or whether they ought to separate (or divorce). The reasons why anyone may have supposed that it was best to separate may have been: 
1. That the troubles and persecutions they faced were so severe that they thought it best for families to be broken up. 
2. That it was unlawful for a Christian wife or husband to be connected at all with a heathen and idolater. 
3. And some might say, "If the unmarried state is best, it will be better to leave our marital partner." To this he replies, "The Lord commands otherwise": 
• “And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (Mark 10:12; KJV).
• “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matt 5:32; KJV).
•  “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt 19:9; KJV).

yet not I, but the Lord,
The third question from Corinth was “Is divorce permitted”; and here Paul answered in the negative. The words "not I but the Lord" have been construed by some as an admission on Paul's part that some of his advice in this chapter was not inspired, but no such meaning is logically derived from what is said here. What Paul declared here is that it was unnecessary for him to give any inspired utterance on such a subject, because the Lord himself had given a specific commandment on this very thing (See Matthew 5:32; and 19:9 in the preceding paragraph; also Mark 10:9 and Luke 16:18). In this verse, Paul distinguished between Jesus' command during his ministry and his own apostolic rulings.  He did not take upon himself authority over them to make laws that they are required to follow. What he was about to deliver, was not a law of his own making, but what their Lord had taught—“I do not give my own private opinion or judgment in this case; for the Lord Jesus commands that man shall not put asunder them whom God hath joined” (See Matthew 5:32; 19:6). And God has said the same: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24; KJV). In some cases he writes by his inspired apostolic authority, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37; KJV); that is, it is Christ's commands, because he is the person known in the Christian church as Lord. The continued influence of Christ by the Spirit over the minds of his apostles, which is a divine prerogative, is asserted here. At other times, such as he does here, he writes on the direct authority of the Lord Himself--“And he (Jesus) saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her…And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (Mark 10:11-12; KJV). In both cases, the things written are inspired by the Spirit of God; therefore, this directive is not to be understood as merely advice, but rather a solemn divine command that must be obeyed. Paul here professes to utter the language of inspiration, and demands obedience. The precept of Christ, which is repeated by Paul, is that the marriage tie was sacred and unbreakable.

let not the wife depart from her husband:
The same law that commands a man to cleave to his wife, obliges the wife to cleave to her husband, (See Genesis 2:24 in the preceding paragraph) and those words of Christ, "what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6) are for both the husband and wife. That is true, as well, for the rules he has given, forbidding divorces only in case of adultery, (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9). The wife therefore should not leave her husband; not on account of any quarrel, or disagreement that may arise between them; or for instances of grumpiness and unkindness; or because of diseases and ill-health; or even on account of differences in religious views, which, by what follows, seems to be the case in view here. The apostle was aware of the problem of divorce within the Corinthian church because it was reported to him and he had observed it with his own eyes. Rampant divorce entered the church by way of some rules and customs among the Jews and Gentiles, which allowed divorcing and separating from one another for even trivial matters. It was not only husbands divorcing their wives, but wives also left their husbands; although, in former times, Jewish women were not allowed to divorce or leave their husbands, but the practice crept in from other nations among them. A wife could leave her husband for almost any reason, even if she didn’t like him or liked someone else more. Sometime a document of Divorce was given, and sometimes it was not. Divorce was common in Christ’s time. One case is supposed to be behind the Lord’s comment in Mark 10:12; but a very flagrant instance is given in the Lord’s remarks regarding the woman of Samaria, who had had five husbands, not in a lawful regular manner, but one after another upon their respective deaths or divorce: “You've had five husbands, and the man you have now isn't your husband. You've told the truth” (John 4:18; GW). She had been married five times; the easy divorce laws of the age, permitting a “divorce for any cause,” would allow many changes without the death of either party. Some of her husbands may have died; a part were almost certainly divorced. Her sixth alliance did not have even the benefit of a marriage. As for Gentiles, divorce was probably easier to obtain than with the Jews. Divorces dissolved the marriage bond and they were easily obtained by both the Jews and Gentiles, and the parties might remarry with others. This was contrary to the original institution of marriage, and is opposed both by our Lord and the apostle. Note: Paul’s command here is in opposition to Greek and Roman law which permitted a woman to divorce her husband.


Modern Divorce

In the Bible, God clearly states, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). Research continues to unveil why God despises the breakup of families. It has been a long-determined fact that children of intact families are better adjusted and have a higher level of satisfaction in life. Most recently, though, an international study by sociologists at the University of Illinois discovered another dynamic surrounding the issue of divorce. Many have contended that children of divorced parents don’t fare as well because of the social stigma that has been associated with divorce. In essence, they were saying children do equally well in nations where divorce rates are high and there isn’t a stigma attached to divorce. This study found the exact opposite. It revealed that children of divorced parents do best in countries where divorce is less common. Regardless of a nation’s divorce rate or social views of it, divorce hurts and hampers its victims. God simply hates divorce because of the pain and problems it brings to those he loves.—SBC Life, May 1999, p. 15

11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

But and if she depart,
Paul describes a likely situation, where a woman commits a rash and foolish act by leaving her husband; something that is lawful only is he has committed fornication. If she dissolves the marriage vow for any other reason, she has only two choices; she can remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. She is not at liberty to marry another. If the sin of separation has been committed, then the sin of a new marriage is not to be added to it: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matt 5:32; KJV). This may refer, I presume, to instances where wives, who are ignorant of the commandment of Christ, thought that they had a right to leave their husbands, had impulsively left them, and believed that the marriage contract was dissolved. Paul tells them that this was impossible; and that if they had separated from their husbands, the laws of Christianity did not recognize their right to do so, and they must either be reconciled to their husbands or remain alone. The marriage tie was so sacred that it could not be dissolved by the actions of either party.

let her remain unmarried,
While Paul disapproves of separation on any grounds, he recognizes that there will be cases of separation that are not sanctioned by God’s Law. In these cases, they are to “remain unmarried.” The only other option is reconciliation. She should not marry another man; her leaving does not make the marriage void; nor can it be made void by any difference that exists between them, either on religious or civil grounds. Divorce is permitted only in case of adultery; and therefore, if she separates from her husband for any other reason, and then she marries another, she is guilty of adultery.

or be reconciled to her husband:
“Reconciliation” is God’s preference, and it is better for one to choose that course, than to remain separate and unmarried. If she is the one who has committed the offence and caused the separation, she ought to admit it, and ask forgiveness from her husband, and return to him and live in faithfully with him; and if the fault is on his side, she should use all proper methods to convince him of it, forgive him for the hurt he has caused her, and they should continue to live together and be faithful to their marriage vows for as long as they live.

It should be noted that Paul left out of this verse the exception Jesus gave in Matthew 19:9, "except it be for fornication"; but this may not be construed as a denial of it. Paul's failure to mention the exception was likely due to the fact that it did not apply in the case reported by the letter from Corinth. As DeHoff said, "Paul told her either to remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. Divorce never solves a problem; it only creates more problems." Of course, exactly the same rule applies to husbands who left their wives. It is evident that this rule is still binding, and that no one who has separated from their spouse, whatever the cause may be, unless there is a regular divorce, according to the law of Christ (Matthew 5:32), can be at liberty to marry again.

The Ideal Mate

In the midst of marital disagreement it is not uncommon for a spouse to wonder if there isn’t somebody with whom they would be more compatible. Suleyman Guresci, of Izmir, Turkey, divorced his wife of twenty-one years after a bitter six-year court battle. In an effort to find the ideal woman, Guresci turned to a computer dating service. Ironically, from a list of two thousand prospective brides, the computer selected his former wife (his wife opted to use the same company in her search for a new husband). He responded to this information by deciding to remarry his wife just nine months after their divorce. He said, “I did not know that my ex-wife had been the ideal counterpart for a marriage. I decided to give it another try by being more tolerant toward her.” The ideal mate might just be the one you’ve already married.

and let not the husband put away his wife.
And a husband is not to divorce his wife: Paul applies the same principle to husbands that he applied to wives, and he makes the important distinction between one who might leave (separation while still honoring the marriage covenant) and one who might divorce. Divorce is not allowed except for sexual immorality, as Jesus described in Matthew 19:3-9: “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?...And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female…And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?...Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder… They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?...He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so…And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Two Christians never have a valid reason for divorce. Just as importantly, Jesus never commands divorce in the case of sexual immorality. He carefully says it is permitted, and that the permission was given because of the hardness of your hearts. The Bible mentions only two specific grounds under which God will recognize a divorce: (1) when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:3-9); and (2) in the case where a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse—“ But if the unbelieving partners leave, let them go. Under these circumstances a Christian man or Christian woman is not bound {by a marriage vow}. God has called you to live in peace” (1 Cor 7:15; GW). On any other grounds, God will not recognize divorce, even if the state does. And, if God does not recognize the divorce, then the individual is not free to remarry—they can only be reconciled to their former spouse.

 Jesus said the one who divorces for invalid reasons, “and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). When Jesus' disciples understood how binding the marriage covenant was, and how it could not be broken (in the sight of God) for just any reason, they responded, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). They understood Jesus perfectly, and so should more people today, before they enter into the covenant of marriage! Therefore, if a person says "God just doesn't want me to be married to this person any more" or "God brought someone better to me," they are wrong and not repeating what God said at all. God never recognizes a divorce for such reasons.

A Christian couple may in fact split up for reasons that do not justify a Biblical divorce. It may be because of a misguided sense of spirituality, it may be because of general unhappiness, or conflict, or abuse, or misery, addiction, or poverty. Paul recognizes that one might separate under such circumstances, but they cannot consider themselves divorced, with the right to remarry, because their marriage had not split up for reasons that justify a Biblical divorce.  The partners are expected to honor their marriage vows even during their period of separation, because as far as God is concerned, they are still married—their marriage covenant has not been broken for what God considers to be Biblical reasons.

Mixed Marriages (vss. 12–16)

12 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.

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:
Now the apostle turns his attention to the special case of mixed marriages, by which is meant a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever; and the subject of verses 12-16 is “Divorce and remarriage when a Christian is married to an unbelieving spouse.” The instruction he gives is not to be taken as denoting a contrast between inspired Scripture and what Paul is about to say. On the contrary, while on the earth, the Lord Jesus explicitly gave instructions about marriage and divorce. However, He did not make any specific reference to the case of a mixed marriage. Consequently, it is incumbent on the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to give additional instructions regarding this kind of situation. The instruction is essentially the same.

The apostle was addressing the problem of divorce when both parties are Christians, which was reported in a letter from some leaders in the church at Corinth, and this problem may have been mentioned in the same letter. Now he turns his attention to the “rest”; those having a mixed marriage, where one of them is a Christian and the other is not; referred to some places as being “unequally yoked.” We should not think Paul is any less inspired by the Holy Spirit on this point, simply because he says “I, not the Lord” am the one telling you this, because he simply means that Jesus did not teach on this specific point, as He had on the previous situation in Matthew 19:3-9 (see comments on verse 11). So, if Jesus did not speak on this specific point, this Jesus-inspired apostle will! This is a “clue” that Paul may NOT have been conscious of the degree of inspiration he worked under as he wrote First Corinthians and perhaps other letters. He simply knows that though he based his remarks in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 on what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:3-9 (yet not I, but the Lord), he has no specific recorded command from Jesus in the case of a Christian married to an unbelieving spouse. He knew he was writing to the Corinthians with God's authority, but he may not have known he was speaking with authority to all the church in all ages, and being used to pen God's eternal Word. But if Paul was not fully aware of how inspired these words were, they are no less inspired because of that. “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord” makes it seem as if he had said: “What I have already spoken is supported by the testimony of the Lord by Moses, and of my own Lord and Master, Jesus Christ; but for the directions which I am now about to give there is no written testimony, and now I will deliver them for the first time.” His words do not indicate that the apostle was not now under the influences of the Divine Spirit when he wrote them; but, that there was nothing in the sacred writings which bore directly on this point.

Paul’s authority is derived from his own apostolic commission, but his words carry the full weight of inspiration and authority. One must deplore the blindness of many commentators on this exceedingly important point. How easy it would have been for him to attribute some saying to Jesus on this, instead of assuming full responsibility for it himself; but, in the light of his example, we may be sure that no apostle ever did such a thing. How vain, therefore, are the speculations of a certain school of critics who accuse the apostles of attributing to Jesus words which were, in fact, their own deductions and not the words of the Lord. Paul's admission is an overwhelmingly powerful testimony to the truth of the entire New Testament.

if any brother hath a wife that believeth not,
That is, if any man who is now a “brother” (Any Christian; one called by the grace of God, born again by the Spirit of God, and is in church fellowship), has a wife who was an “unbeliever” when he married her; who stayed as she was when he married her (a heathen, not yet converted to the Christian faith); who disbelieves, denies, and rejects, the truths of the Gospel.

and she be pleased to dwell with him,
There might be many cases where the wife or the husband, that was not a Christian, would be so opposed to Christianity, and so violent in their opposition, that they would not be willing to live with a Christian. When this was the case, the Christian husband or wife could not prevent the separation. But if a Christian is married to an unbelieving spouse, and the unbeliever is “pleased (Gr. Consents-implying they are in agreement) to dwell” with the believer, then divorce or separation is prohibited. Paul’s advice here is intended to answer any of his Jewish converts who might be inclined to make an unwarranted application of the situation recorded in Ezra 10:3: “So we must now make a promise to our God to get rid of all foreign women and the children born from them, as my lord {Ezra} and the others who tremble at the commandments of our God have advised us to do. We must do what Moses' Teachings tell us.” Jews were not permitted to marry an infidel by Mosaic Law. There were good reasons for this prohibition, which is evidenced by the decline of the Jewish nation during the reign of the Judges, when intermarriage with infidels was common.

let him not put her away.
“Infidelity” is no reason for a divorce. The Gospel revelation does not dissolve the natural obligations men and women have to honor the marriage vows they made to each another. The Jews had a law prohibiting marriages with heathens and idolaters; and such marriages were dissolved, and the wives “put away,”—“Then your sons will end up marrying their daughters. When their daughters chase after their gods as though they were prostitutes, they'll lead your sons to do the same thing” (Ex 34:16; GW)—but this was a law peculiar to the Jews, and was not obligatory on other nations, and it has no place under the Gospel dispensation. Paul’s instruction is, “Though she is a heathen, and opposed to his religion, the marriage vow is sacred and unbreakable. It is not to be dissolved by any change which can take place in the opinions of either party. It is evident, that if a man were at liberty to dissolve the marriage tie, or to discard his wife when his own opinions were changed on the subject of religion, that it would destroy all the sacredness of the marriage union, and render it null and void. The only effect of religion should be, to make the converted husband or wife more tender-hearted, kind, affectionate, and faithful, than they were before. There may have been some Corinthian Christians married to unbelievers—this is a situation which arose, not from Christians marrying pagans, but from the conversion of one out of a pagan couple—who thought, "God can't be glorified if I'm married to an unbeliever; therefore, for the sake of spirituality, I should divorce them." To these, Paul says, let him not divorce her. This is a valid spiritual concern, and a good reason for not marrying an unbeliever: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14; KJV). But it is not a reason for ending an existing marriage with an unbeliever.

Paul's command here is that the marriage stands, unless the unbeliever is unwilling and will not allow it to stand.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not,
The teaching here is the same as in the previous verse, except it applies to the Christian woman, just as 1 Cor. 7:12 applied to the Christian man with an unbelieving marriage partner. Specifically stated it is: “And the woman” converted from heathenism to the Christian faith; “which hath a husband,” who still abides in heathenism; “if he be pleased to dwell with her,” even though she has become a Christian since their marriage; “let her not leave him” because he still continues to be a heathen.

and if he be pleased to dwell with her,
He loves her and wants to continue the marriage even though he is opposed to her Christianity.

let her not leave him.
This is simply a change of phraseology from the last verse, to suit the circumstances. Under Greek and Roman law, the wife had the power to divorce her husband. However, Jewish Law said the wife did not have the power to divorce the husband, and expel him from his own home; but she might think it was her duty to be separated from him, if she was converted. The apostle counsels her not to do this; and this advice should still be followed. She should still love her husband, and seek to make him happy; she should still be a kind, affectionate, and faithful wife; and even more so than before, so that she may show him the excellence of the Christian religion, and be successful in bringing him to Christ, to faith in Him and love for His religion. She should even put up with abuse, and bear it as long as she can; she should not leave him unless her life is made miserable, or she is in danger; or unless he neglects to provide for her, and causes her to suffer. In such a case, no statute of religion forbids her to return to her father's house, or to seek a place of safety and of comfort. But even then it is not to be a separation on account of a difference of religious sentiment, but for brutal treatment. Even then the marriage tie is not dissolved, and neither party is at liberty to marry again.

14 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.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,
In order to understand this verse we need to know the meaning of “sanctified,” as it is used here. There has been a variety of opinions in regard to the meaning of this word, in the context of this verse and passage. The usual meaning of the word is, to make holy; to set apart for a sacred use; to consecrate, etc. The same word is used in John 17.17: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Barnes gives this explanation for “sanctify them”—“This word means to render pure, or to cleanse from sins. Sanctification in the heart of a Christian is progressive. It consists in his becoming more like God and less attached to the world; in his getting the upper hand over evil thoughts, and passions, and impure desires; and in his becoming more and more weaned from earthly objects, and attached to those things which are unseen and eternal. The word also means to consecrate, to set apart for a holy office or purpose. Jesus said: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19; KJV); and “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36; KJV). When Jesus prayed here that God would sanctify them, he probably included both of these ideas, that they might be made personally more holy, and might be truly consecrated to God as the ministers of his religion. “Ministers of the gospel will be really devoted to the service of God just in proportion as they are personally pure.” There are some things, however, that this expression CANNOT mean here.
1. That the unbelieving husband would become holy, or be a Christian, by the mere fact of a connection with a Christian, because this would go against the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the teaching of Paul, and it would be contrary to facts published in the Word of God.
2. That the unbelieving husband had been sanctified by the Christian wife, because this would not be true in all cases.
3. That the unbelieving husband would gradually become interested in becoming a Christian by observing its effects on his wife, and though this might be true, the apostle, at that time was speaking of something else; something which rendered their children holy. 
4. That the unbelieving husband might more easily be sanctified, or become a Christian, by being connected with a Christian wife, because he is speaking of something in the connection between a Christian mother and her children which made the children holy. But it is a good rule of interpretation, that the words which are used in any place are to be limited in their significance by the context in which they are found; 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 of whether it was proper for them to live together, or whether they should be separated or not. And the sense may be that, "They are by the marriage tie made one flesh. They are unalterably united by the ordinance of God; because they have been selected by Him for the purpose of being joined together in marriage, their marriage union received His sanction, and since one of them is holy, the other is to be regarded as sanctified, or made holy by the Divine sanction of their union. Therefore, it is proper for them to live together in the marriage relationship." And Paul says the proof of it is this; that if it was not so, if the connection was to be regarded as impure and vile, then their children would be considered illegitimate and unclean. But now they were not looked upon that way, and could not be; and for this reason it followed that the husband and wife could lawfully live together. They can live together (in a ceremonial sense), but he does not have the kind of holiness that is produced by salvation, and neither do the children; because that kind of holiness cannot be associated with an unbeliever. Paul simply means that the Old Testament principle of the communication of uncleanness does not hold. The union is lawful and confers privileges on the members, such as the protection of God and the opportunity of being in close contact with one in God's family. Those who want to find here any authority for infant church membership are frustrated by the fact that nothing of the kind is even allude to. There is not one word about baptism here, not one mention of it; nor does the argument in the remotest degree bear upon it. Furthermore, as Morris pointed out, the "holiness" here ascribed to children applies only "until the child is old enough to take responsibility upon himself."

This passage has been debated, and misunderstood. The “unbelieving husband” or “wife” is NOT made personally holy, and the children of believers do not have personal holiness transmitted to them by virtue of their birth relationship. “Sanctification,” then, means something besides personal holiness. To sanctify means to separate for a sacred use, or relationship: (Exod. 20:8; 28:38). In 1 Tim. 4:4, 5, food is "sanctified by the word of God and prayer" Here Paul uses the term to denote that one Christian member of a household brings a sanctifying influence to it, so that all the members are to be regarded as separated in some measure from the great, ungodly, unclean world. Nehemiah commanded Jews to part from heathen wives on the ground that they were ceremonially unclean. Paul insists, rather, that the believer cleanses the other, and that the unbelieving partner, or the children, are rendered ceremonially clean.

In the event that his readers should have any misgivings, the apostle shows why his advice is sound. When he says, “The unbelieving … is sanctified and the children are holy,” it is not meant to indicate that the children or the spouse of a believer are automatically born into the family of God. The words “holy” and “unclean” in this text are equivalent to “sacred” and “profane.” The apostle’s thought has an Old Testament background that is illustrated by Haggai 2:11–13: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying,…If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No…Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean: And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean” (Hag. 2:11–13). You see, on December 24, 520 B.C., Haggai went to the priests and asked them two questions. Putting it very simply, these are the questions: (1) If that which is holy touches that which is unholy, will it make the unholy holy? The answer is no. (2) If that which is unclean touches that which is clean (holy), will the unclean make it unclean (unholy)? The answer is yes, that is what it will do.

Now these questions are important; so let’s look into the background that lead up to them being asked. There were many facets of everyday life in Israel which were not covered in detail by the Mosaic Law. There were complicated situations and there were knotty and thorny problems which arose in their daily lives, and there was nothing specific given in the Law which would adequately cover them. Then how did Israel function under the Law when there was no specific law to govern certain situations? Well, there is a case in point in Numbers 27 regarding the inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters. The Mosaic Law had made no inheritance provision when a man had daughters but no sons. Zelophehad didn’t have any sons, but he had a house full of girls. When their father died, the girls went to Moses and said, “Look here, what about our father’s property? The Law says that sons are to inherit, but our father had not sons; he had only girls. So we should have the property.” Maybe Moses was not too enthusiastic about this women’s lib movement; so he took the matter to the Lord. Well, it is quite interesting to see that the Lord was on the side of the girls. He said, “The daughters of Zelophehad speak right; thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren.” So this took care of that particular question.

God made adequate provision for justice under the Law. This is the way it worked: When a matter arose that was not covered by the Law, they were to appeal to the priests. Deuteronomy 17:8–11 says: “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee: According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.” When a certain situation arose that was not covered by the Law, the people were to appeal to the priest; he would make a decision, and his decision became the law for cases which dealt with the same issue. That was God’s method, and it is the provision God made for Israel. Not every specific case was covered by the Mosaic Law, although great principles were laid down. The priests were to know the Old Testament, and when a case arose which was not covered specifically by the Law, the people were to bring the matter before the priests for a decision. And the priests would interpret the Mosaic Law for the people according to the great principles found in the Word of God.

The unbeliever and the children are considered holy in a positional sense. Hence, the principle of the communication of uncleanness given in the Old Testament does not apply here (also see Rom 11–16). The unbelieving spouse and the children share in God’s blessing, along with the one who is saved, and they are more likely to become converted by the presence and influence of the saved partner. “Why should a Christian try to keep their marriage to a non-Christian together?” Because God can be glorified in such a marriage, and eventually, the believing spouse may draw the unbelieving spouse to Jesus Christ.

I apologize for the lengthy explanation, but I thought it was necessary to clarify what the apostle has said in this very important verse.

and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband:
The oldest manuscripts read, "by the brother." Paul provided the fact that the husband is a "brother," that is, a Christian, though the wife is not; but that one fact sanctifies or hallows the marriage. This is a reason the apostle gives for them living together. However, this cannot mean that there is an internal sanctification, which is never the case; an unbeliever cannot be sanctified by a believer in this sense, because such sanctification is only provided by the Spirit of God. It is equally true that the marital union CANNOT produce external sanctification, or an outward reformation, although the unbelieving spouse may sometimes show improvement, it does not always happen, or it doesn’t last.

else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
If this kind of relational sanctification was not allowed, the children produced from the marriage could not be received into the Christian Church, or enjoy any rights, or privileges as Christians; but the Church of God never failed to admit such children as members, just as she admitted children that had sprung from parents both of whom were Christians.

The Jews considered a child whose parents were not proselytes at the time of the birth, born out of holiness, even though they became proselytes after the birth. On the other hand, they considered the children of heathens born in holiness, provided the parents became proselytes before the birth. All the children of the heathens were presumed unclean by the Jews; and they believed all their own children were holy. This shows clearly what the apostle's meaning is.

Else were your children unclean—that is, outside the hallowed status of God's people: in contrast to "holy," which is just the opposite; or, all who are within the consecrated limits. The phraseology is in agreement with that of the Jews, who regarded the heathen as "unclean," and the entire elect nation as "holy," that is, partakers of the holy covenant. Children were included in the covenant, because God made the covenant not only with Abraham, but with his "seed after" him (Ge 17:7). So the faith of one Christian parent gives to the children a close relationship to the Church, just as if both parents were Christians (compare Ro 11:16). Paul appeals to the Corinthians to accept the principle, that the infants of heathen parents would not be allowed Christian baptism, because there is no faith on the part of the parents; but where one parent is a believer, the children are allowed to share in the Christian covenant, even in infancy, because the Church presumes that the believing parent will rear the child in the Christian faith.

But now are they holy. Holy in the same sense as the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. That is, they are legitimate. They are not to be branded and treated as bastards, as they would be, if the couple separated. "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.”

15 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.

But if the unbelieving depart,
If the “unbeliever,” whether husband or wife, walks out of the marriage, and utterly refuses to cohabitate, the marriage can be broken; but this isn't to be initiated or sought by the believer. Paul has counseled that the Christian partner should do what they can to keep the marriage together, but, when the unbelieving spouse has made that impossible, the Christian is not under bondage to the marriage covenant. Now the question which is asked is whether the Christian partner is free to marry again. I believe that under certain circumstances Paul would have given permission for that. I do not think one can put down a categorical rule either way for today. I think that each case stands or falls on its own merits. I’m afraid this can easily be abused, even by Christians. I am afraid sometimes a husband or a wife tries to get rid of the other and forces them to leave in order that they might have a “scriptural ground” for divorce. There is also the situation where the unbelieving husband or wife insists upon making the Christian profession the grounds for separation; let them have their way. Examples of this kind occur in every age, and the rule is always applicable. This means they are, in fact, free to remarry because God has recognized their divorce as a valid divorce.

let him depart.
It is assumed that the believing partner has done all they can do to keep the marriage together, and that the unbeliever will not be prevented from leaving, unless some unreasonable and sinful conditions are met, let him depart. You cannot prevent it, and you are to submit to it patiently, and bear it as a Christian.

A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:
“A brother or a sister” refers to a born again believer, and a brother and sister in Christ. A Christian is not to be subject to an unbeliever in matters of conscience, in things pertaining to the worship of God, and the service and glory of Christ; neither are they to continue in a marriage where the unbelieving partner will leave unless they forsake Christ. Paul’s advice in this case is “Let him depart. You are free to remarry another person after all proper methods of reconciliation have been tried and failed.”  Desertion in such a case is a breach of the marriage contract, and the deserted person may lawfully marry again. There is no conflict here between Paul’s advice and that of our Lord in Matthew 5:32. “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”  The point is that the divine standard cannot be imposed upon the unregenerate. There is nothing the believer can do but submit to the divorce.

Some question whether or not such a brother or sister might remarry; but the opinion here is that, if they cannot, then the brother or sister would still be in bondage: bound to renounce the faith for the sake of retaining his or her unbelieving husband. This is another exception to "adultery," which is the only acceptable justification for divorce mentioned by the Lord: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt 19:9; KJV).We should keep in mind that Paul was dealing with mixed marriages, which were not within the realm of Jesus' teaching at all. The believer does not lie under the same obligation in the case of a union with an unbeliever, as in the case of one with a believer. In the former case he is NOT bound NOT to separate, if the unbeliever separate or "depart," in the latter nothing but "fornication" justifies separation.

but God hath called us to peace.
Our Christian calling is one that is predisposed to "peace"—“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18; KJV). To live in a state of peace with one's neighbors, friends, and even family, is often very difficult. But the man who loves God must make an effort to do this, because it is vitally important, even for his own sake. A man cannot have fights and misunderstandings with others, without having his own peace substantially disturbed: If he is to be happy, he must be at peace with all men, whether they will be at peace with him or not. The apostle knew that it would be difficult to get into and maintain such a state of peace, and his own words are ample proof of it: And if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably.  Therefore, the believer should not leave the unbelieving spouse, except for those exceptions already mentioned (See 1Co 7:12-14). On the other hand, in the exceptional case of the unbeliever having his mind made up to leave the marriage, the believer is not bound to force the other party to stay in a state of continual discord, and they should let the unbeliever go. It would be better not to enter into such unequal alliances at all: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14; KJV). Calvin supposes that this declaration pertains to the first part of this verse, which says “But if the unbelieving depart,” and that Paul means to say, that if the unbeliever leaves the marriage, he or she is to be allowed to do so peaceably, rather than to have contention and strife, because God has called us to a life of peace.

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Paul ends this section with a great deal of hope, because many Christian who are married to unbelievers are discouraged. They have prayed for their loved one and tried so hard to get them to go to church with them; but nothing moves them to desire religion. The unbelieving partner may hate all forms of religion and even come to hate their believing spouse, because he or she will not relinquish their faith in Jesus; but the apostle knows that with faith and patience, they can look for God to work in their present circumstances, difficult as they might be. His words provide a reason why they should NOT give up on their heathen partners: He tells them, “You may be the means of their salvation. Bear your cross, and look up to God, and he may give your unbelieving husband or wife to your prayers.” Separation and divorce is a last resort and should only be sought after all proper methods to save the marriage have been tried and failed.

Christians married to unbelievers should also know what Peter says in 1 Peter 3:1-6: that your unbelieving spouse will not likely be led to Jesus by your words, but they may be lead by your godly and loving conduct. This has occurred in thousands of instances. I love the saying, “You may be the only Bible they ever see!”

In this question, Paul is simply asking, “Christian wife, if you remain with your unbelieving husband, don’t you know that you may be able to save him?” This does not mean that the wife can forgive the sins of the husband; but through her prayers and godly living she may be the means of him being saved from the lake of fire. The same is true of the believing husband in relation to the unbelieving wife. God does the saving in answer to the prayers and faithfulness of the born again companion.

If you, dear friend, are living with an unsaved mate, do not despair! If it is at all possible to live with that unbelieving companion, if life is not made unbearable for you—and especially if there are children in the home—stay with your husband (or wife, as the case may be); pray faithfully, live as God would have you live and set a Christian example in the home. Upon the promise of the Word of God, there is a good chance that you would be the means of leading that companion into salvation—and that will be worth all the heartaches and heartbreaks you experienced along the way.

I will end this section with a story about Vince Lombardi. If you don’t know who he is, I would add simply that he was the coach of the Green Bay Packers’ football team in the early 1960’s. Through the years, Vince Lombardi’s thoughts on winning have been frequently misquoted. The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers is purported to have said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” In reality, Coach Lombardi said, “Winning is not everything . . . but making the effort to win is.” Christians, more than any other group of people, should follow this advice and make every effort to win people to Christ; and they should begin in their own home—with their marriage partner and children.

Contact Tom with your questions and comments