What Does It Mean For Widows To Marry Only In The Lord In 1 Corinthians 7:39,40?

This question is taken from 1 Corinthians 7:39,40. Two possible answers are mentioned below with possible objections addressed after each answer:

1. “Widows Can Only Marry Christians” Position

(1) This position is the simplest, most straightforward, most natural answer to the passage. (2) The phrase “in the Lord” sometimes means “Christian” (see Romans 16:11; 1 Corinthians 7:22). (3) This position would also seem to be more consistent with various principles throughout the New Testament: (a) Christians are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Is it God’s desire for a faithful Christian to become close friends with, date and marry a person of the world – even if they are a “good, moral, religious type person”?, Matthew 6:33; (b) Christians are to lay up treasures in heaven, for where a Christian’s treasure is – that is where his/her heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21). How can a faithful Christian argue that their primary focus is on heavenly treasures when they have made a willful and conscious effort to become close friends with, date and marry/spend the rest of their life with a person of the world? (c) Christians are to imitate/have the mind of Christ. All of Jesus’ close friends were His disciples. Jesus was neither a glutton, winebibber, or close friend with tax collectors and sinners. In fact, Jesus said that His friends were those who did what He said. God’s close friends are only those who trust/obey Him (Matthew 9:15; 11:19; John 15:14-15; James 2:23; Matthew 20:13; 22:12; 26:50). If faithful Christians are to imitate Christ and have His mind, then how can they rationalize becoming close friends, dating and marrying a person of the world? (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 3:13). (d) Christians are not to be a friend of the world (James 4:4). To do so would make one an enemy of God. And yet one would reason that it is not a contradiction to teach/practice that faithful Christians can be close friends with persons of the world – even to the point of dating and marrying them? (e) Christians are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship/communion does the righteous/light have with the lawlessness/darkness? Instead of having fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness, we are to expose them – and yet the righteous people of light can be close friends, date and marry persons of the world? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 15:33). (f) Christians are to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light. Their everyday walks and ways of life are to be consistent with the principles of the New Testament - and yet they choose a person of the world to be “heirs together of the grace of life” with them (1 Peter 3:7)? Such a choice results in dire consequences not only between the believer and the person of the world throughout the marriage (increasing the chances of divorce, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16) but also the struggle the children will have as they submit to a believer and an unbeliever (assuming they have/adopt children, Ephesians 6:1-3). Be assured that if a Christian woman marries a non-Christian man – this man of the world will not bring up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, nor will a non-Christian wife be able to pass a genuine, Christian faith on to the children (Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 1:3-7). (g) Christians are to walk carefully and wisely in what is good. As the gospel began to be preached in the 1st century A.D., some existing marriages began to be troubled because one of the spouses obeyed the gospel while the other did not (dividing homes, Matthew 10:34-39). It was not a situation where a Christian chose to marry a non-Christian, but where a non-Christian spouse obeyed the gospel while the other did not. Thus, the understood questions in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 would be: “Is my legitimate marriage now a sinful marriage because I have obeyed the gospel and my spouse has not? If my non-Christian spouse wants to depart from/divorce me, am I a sinner if I allow my non-Christian spouse to depart because of my loyalty to Christ?” The understood question of the Christian in 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 would be: “While legitimately married if my spouse dies (whether he is a Christian or not), am I free to remarry? Answer: you would be happier to remain single; however, if you do choose to remarry – then marry only in the Lord. Certainly, a Christian who was married to a non-Christian would realize how difficult it was to walk carefully and wisely with a non-Christian spouse whose ultimate goal was not to go to heaven. The fact that another opportunity has presented itself to make a wise, Bible-based choice of building a marriage on the foundation of Christ makes the most sense (so long as the faithful Christian is marrying a Christian who is authorized by God’s word to marry/remarry - 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Ephesians 5:15-17; James 3:13).

Objections: (1) Scriptures as a whole do not generally seem to place limitations upon whom a child of God may choose to marry. In the very beginning, God commanded man to leave father and mother, be joined to his wife and the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). There is general authority for all people to become married, unless there is specific prohibition (such as is found in Matthew 19:9; Matthew 5:31,32). But there is no specific prohibition against a Christian marrying a non-Christian. Refutation: 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 is a prohibition (see also 1 Corinthians 9:5); therefore, the objection does not fully stand. Furthermore, under the other dispensations there are several other incidences of explicit or implied prohibitions against God’s children intermarrying (Genesis 6:1-7; 24:2-4; 26:34-35; 28:1-2; Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Judges 14:1-4; 1 Kings 11:1-8; Ezra 10:9-19; etc.). (2) In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Paul answers the question about some of them being married to unbelievers. He does not tell them that being married to a non-Christian is sinful. Christians married to non-Christians are to remain in the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-13). Further, Paul says that by being married to the non-Christian, he or she may become a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:16). To say that a widow must marry a Christian violates Paul’s teaching here that the marriage is sanctified if married to an unbeliever. Refutation: The overall New Testament context is more consistent with an existing marriage where one obeys the gospel and other does not. In such cases, God says to remain married. Therefore, there is no violation of Paul’s teaching here. (3) If a widow marrying a non-Christian is a sin, then what must one do to repent of that sin? They must put away the unlawful marriage. How else could a person repent of this action if it is a sin to marry an unbeliever? The only answer is through divorce. Is this what God has told us to do? Is this what we will preach to people that Christian widows must divorce unbelieving spouses? Again, this is in clear violation of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Paul said if the unbeliever is content to dwell with the Christian, do not divorce. Refutation: In this case, there is no sin – just consequence. In the case of a Christian becoming close friends with a person of the world – even to the point of dating and choosing to marry them, the sin is not the marriage but the sinful/worldly/carnal desire and attitude to be friends with/date/marry a person of the world. As Wayne Jackson states, the sin of which the Christian must repent is not the marriage (God joins it according to Matthew 19:6), but the sinful “disposition” that led to the marriage (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/313-should-a-christian-marry-outside-the-faith). A Christian is not any more obligated to divorce the non-Christian in the name of repentance than the Christian is to remarry their former spouse from whom they divorced for an unscriptural reason (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The rules are: Christian do not have a sinful disposition and become close friends with/date/marry a non-Christian. Christian do not have a sinful disposition to separate what God has joined together. But, if these things do happen, Christian stay with the non-Christian or Christian remain unmarried or be reconciled to your spouse.

'In The Lord’ Means According to the Law of God Position

(1) “In the Lord” means according to the law(s) of God. There are many scriptures where the phrase “in the Lord” is used in such a way. Ephesians 6:1 states: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Colossians 3:18 states: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” These are two clear passages where Paul uses the phrase “in the Lord” to refer to obeying God’s will. Paul is not telling children to only obey their parents if their parents are Christians. He is telling children to obey their parents because that is God’s will. Wives are to submit to their husbands (whether Christian or non-Christian) because that is God's will.Therefore, Paul is telling the widows that they are free to remarry whomever they choose so long as it is according to God’s law and God’s will (meaning, they cannot marry a person who is not a candidate for marriage, such as one who has been divorced because of his/her fornication, etc., Matthew 19:9)

Objections: This position is not the most natural reading of the text. It seems more natural to understand the passage as referring to marrying Christians. Refutation: As already noted, while this may be a natural reading, it is full of too many conflicts and difficulties. Also, the use of the word “only” in verse 39 is a limiting factor. Paul is placing a limitation upon the widows in some sort of regard.



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