Sanctifying Unbelieving Spouses

Having just preached three messages on the relationship between baptism and church membership, here is a small follow up. Paul Jewett’s compelling book on infant baptism gives a clear and persuasive interpretation to a puzzling text.

Here’s the text and the interpretation.

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1Corinthians 7:13-14).

 According to the interpretation we shall suggest, in 1 Corinthians 7:14 Paul has in view the sanctity of lawful matrimony and the purity of the resulting offspring. When he says that the unbeliever is “sanctified” by the believer, he is simply referring to the marriage covenant by which the unbeliever has been consecrated and set apart for the exclusive fellowship of the believer in the bond of marriage. He writes to assure his Corinthian converts that this exclusive propriety, which the marriage covenant seals, is in no way abrogated by any disparity of religious commitment, great as this disparity may be. Christians, then, should never fear defilement through cohabitation with an unbelieving spouse: indeed, such defilement would imply that their children were also defiled, which they grant is not the case. In other words, he reasons from what is allowed to what is in doubt. If that relationship were unclean from which the children came, then the children would be unclean too; but everyone agrees they are not. Rather, they are “holy” in the sense that they are not contaminated with the taint of illegitimacy. Therefore, the union of  which they were born is likewise above suspicion and reproach. (Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, 133)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.