The Unmarried and Widows - Page 4 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

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.

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