Pauline Triads

Triads in Paul Help Our Understanding of Courtship

To quote one sociologist:
Another typical way that we explain social behavior is to use some authority other than our senses. The Bible, for example, has been used by many persons to support or condemn certain activities, such as slavery, capital punishment, war, or monogamy. The Bible, however, is ambiguous on many subjects, offering contradictory statements.

Religion, like race and ethnicity, evokes an emotional response in individuals. It is difficult to be neutral about religion. It is almost impossible to accept the idea that religious beliefs other than one's own are equilegitimate. Religion also has a polarizing effect because it is often the basis for selecting (or rejecting) mates, friends, neighbors, schools, and employees.

—D. Stanley Eitzen, In Conflict and Order, Understanding Society326

In trying to understand 1st Corinthians 7—failing completely to understand our "expert" in places—I am struck by the fact that Paul is responding to specific questions which are not available to us, and in the framework of a culture partially removed from ours. These are not trivial considerations.


    Fifth: 327 in addition to the linguistic relativity expressed in the culture, other forms of relativity apply to language, meaning, and perception. The meaning each individual perceives is relative to his experience, and for a message to be understood, there must be some overlapping of experience between the sender and receiver. Their relations to each other help to determine meaning. Within a face-to-face group, interrelations grow more complicated as more members are added. Logic and reason form only part of the communication process, and not always a dependable part. Really to understand a person we must know something about his feelings, needs, and motives.
I maintain that as Paul is addressing a number of interrelated issues surrounding marriage, from the perspectives of a number of marital statuses—virgin, celibate, married-to-Christian, mixed marriage, widow, divorcee—his answers are necessarily a bit complex. Furthermore, it just seems to me that the "expert" view coming out against a Christian entering a mixed marriage is based on a pseudo "logic and reason" to the exclusion of understanding the "feelings, needs, and motives" of the people involved. If the widow has a tendency to marry wantonly against Christ, then Paul could easily have cautioned her to marry only in the Lord without meaning only to another Christian as "logic" alone might suggest.

As an exercise, therefore, let's look at a modern example of someone thinking about celibacy issues, and then think about how Paul and/or our expert might advise us.

"You saw the car," she said. It was more a statement than a question.


"Who could it be?"

"I don't know. We're not expecting a mail drop for two weeks."

"Could be something important. Maybe a part for your computer."

"Like an instruction booklet." Matt's computer sat in a corner, unused as always. He had not been able to master it—he was a man of the past, not the future, he liked to say—and his incompetence made him the butt of jokes from his students.

"It could be a message from the university. Maybe the dig's being funded for another six months."

"When they hand out money they don't send someone halfway around the world to do it. They announce it at night—in an empty room."

She laughed. He stood up and stretched.

"Anyway," he said, "whoever they are, they're too late for lunch." He moved toward the opening.

"I just hope it's not bad news," she said. "I love it here. I've found my life's work."

He smiled. "It's got its moments," he said, then bowed and gestured past the tent flap, an invitation to leave. She shot him a glowering look, and as she passed she ran her forefinger slowly across his lower abdomen, mussing his shirt and brushing his skin below the navel. Despite himself, he felt himself stir.

Why didn't he sleep with her? It was not that he didn't feel desire—that, thank God, had not abandoned him. He thought back to the evening when Nicole had made her move. She simply slipped unnoticed into his tent, and he found her waiting in his cot. She was naked under the canopy of the mosquito netting, which hung around her like a transparent gown. Matt had felt a tangled rush of desire and dread. He reached into his box of gear and pulled out a fifth of whiskey and sat on a crate near the bed. They passed the bottle back and forth. She sat up, holding a blanket across her chest, and once or twice as she reached over to take the bottle she let it sag and he caught a full view of her breasts, small and firm. How long had it been since he had made love, ten weeks? Three months?

They drank in a spirit of camaraderie until they had killed the bottle. He staggered out for a walk under the stars, and when he returned an hour later she was gone. For days afterward she was furious. Then, strangely, her anger melted and she began acting as if she had a special claim on him. At meals she sat next to him, and she looked up to him and smiled in a wifely way at his jokes.

Once or twice she engineered situations to be alone with him to talk. He spied the moments coming and, feigning blindness, he diverted the conversation with a banter so unartful it was almost cruel. He felt base, but it struck him as so predictable and wearying—the campfire romance between the graduate student and the safari-hardened professor—as much the lore of digs as the serendipitous bones in the earth. He didn't want to go through all the declarations, the revelations, the recriminations. Perhaps I'm getting old, he mused, but I feel like embracing abstinence the way I used to revel in self-indulgence.

Suddenly, at thirty-eight, Matt had become conscious of time. He chided himself for hypocrisy in romance; all the games, the stabs at mystery, the flirtatious routines he had perfected over the years like a politician's hollow patter now struck him as vapid. Only once had he been able to strip away all that pretense, years ago. And that he had messed up.

He felt restless and dissatisfied, his edges worn away like stones awash on a beach. He told himself that he treasured his solitude, which was true, but something else was true, and he was honest enough to recognize it during the odd sleepless night: He was lonely.

Still, the situation with Nicole was unstable. He had to do something to acknowledge her feelings or they would explode, and that could wreck the expedition. It always amazed him how the cohesive sense of the group was essential to a successful dig.

Outside, Matt looked into the bowl of the valley. The car on the plain below was closer. The dust seemed to shoot straight up like an explosion and then rain down behind in a plume.

"Thing I like about this site," he said. "No one can sneak up on you."

"Gives you time to rig the defenses." Nicole turned and looked meaningfully at him to emphasize the double entendre. As she walked ahead on the path, he stared at the back of her frayed shorts. The bits of thread hung like whitened bangs upon the exposed flesh of her upper thigh, and as she led him along slowly he could see the outline of her panties and watch the rolling sway of her buttocks.

—John Darnton, Neanderthal328
You know, that could almost be a sermon title: "Embracing abstinence the way I used to revel in self-indulgence." I am sure our expert could give a good sermon on this material: the desire's still there, celibacy makes life simpler, but one still gets lonely. Oh, he would have to explain the importance of the marriage vows beforehand, but that's a given.

When he got to expounding on, "the declarations, the revelations, the recriminations," he'd tell us that was a triad.

    Triads329 Parallel series of three units are so common in writing, especially in formal writing, that they form a definite trait of style. Such a series is called a triad:
          To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous
          quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman.
          —George Santayana, Reason in Society, p. 84.

Triads are prevalent throughout the Bible, e.g. (Judges 20:10) "And we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel." (Matt. 1:17) "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." And then he would give us triads from 1st Corinthians 7 that we are studying, with the parallel structure Paul uses.

       (1 Cor. 7:17) "|But |as God hath distributed to every man,
                      |    |as the Lord hath called every one,
                      |         |so let him walk. And
                      |         |so ordain I in all churches."
   (I Cor. 7:18-24)   |
|"Is any man called   |
| being circumcised?  |
|  |let him not become|
|  |   uncircumcised. |
|Is| any called       |
|in| uncircumcision?  |
|  |let him not be    |
|  |circumcised.      +===============+
     |Circumcision is nothing, and    |
     |uncircumcision is nothing, but  |
     |the keeping of the commandments |
          of God. [is something]      |
                                      | Let every man abide in the
                                      | same calling wherein he was
                                      | called.
|Art thou called being a servant?     |
|  care not for it:                   |
|but if thou mayest be made free,     |
|  use it rather.                     |
  |For he that is called              |
  |  in the Lord, being a servant,    |
  |  is the Lord's freeman:           |
  |likewise also he that is called,   |
  |  being free, is Christ's servant. |
Ye are bought with a price;           |
be not ye the servants of men.        | Brethren, let every man,
                                      | wherein he is called,
                                      | therein abide with God."

The major triad here ties the marital state, the penis state, and the bondage state all together, Paul advocating ones status quo in all three cases.

Okay, then the expert gets to the place where, "Nicole turned and looked meaningfully at him to emphasize the double entendre." What was that all about? Our expert explains:

Echoes Desmond Morris,330 the face is
           ...without any doubt, the most expressive region of the entire
           human body, capable of transmitting incredibly varied and subtle
           emotional messages by means of its complex expressions.
If this be true of the face, then even more so is it true of the eyes. From the time of the Rhodian School of Oratory in Greece, eye contact (eye gestures) has been considered extremely important in communication because of its primacy as a focus of attention and as a distant agent of touch.
—Dominic A. LaRusso, The Shadows of Communication331
The student's eye contact with her professor served well to emphasize her double entendre. We might add that in a letter using a triad as Paul did, the saying in it, (1 Cor. 7:17b) "... And so ordain I in all churches," might also serve to emphasize there are matters here we are expected to get, like finding application from the three parts of the triad to the marital issues being discussed, just as a double entendre is used to apply a saying to another dimension.

At this point we might ask our expert how he knows to take Paul's triad about abiding in ones calling to be something like a double entendre? The church material from the seminar on Christian maturity includes:


          2. Study to discover what a passage says, what it
                   means, and how it applies.
               d. Understand figures of speech (metaphor, simile,
                   hyperbole, etc.)

If we encounter a saying that is used as something like a double entendre, it will have an application beyond the immediate literal one, so we would want to be aware of that and ask our expert how he comes up with it?

Our expert, to be honest, admits that there is more than one interpretation of that passage. It's just that the experts who take it as a double entendre are more sensitive to their wives (who sometimes communicate that way) than are the experts who see only logic and reason to theirs, and who will sometimes ignore their wives' feelings not being explicitly stated. As a result of that, the double-entendre experts tend to rule their own homes better and so they are the ones who get looked to for advice. Who wants to take advice about marriage from a man who is failing at his?

Still, that doesn't seem like a very satisfactory answer, so we press our expert for more. He agrees to give us a fuller explanation on one condition, that we don't accuse him of adding to the canon. In order to explain the correspondence, he needs to look at both sides of it, and since only one side is in the canon, he could easily be accused of adding to it unless he qualifies his statements. They are just background, what the questions would or could be in order to provoke Paul's triadic answers on the subject.

So, first he gives us a metaphor which is also a triad.

In the sixties of Ferray's youth, Haiti was so poor that its largest export was, literally, the blood of its people. Every day hundreds of poor Haitians would line up outside the clinic hoping for a chance to stretch out on a wooden plank and watch a pint of their life drain from their undernourished black arms into clear American jars. When the jars were full, the grateful donors would each receive a white Band-Aid and enough money to keep him in scraps until he was strong enough to come stand in the line again. ...

Tourism had been another cruel joke. Rather than boost the economy, as the politicians had promised, tourism had actually driven the children of the poor out into the streets to barter their hard little bodies for a few desperately needed American dollars. No one had suspected that along with their money the tourists were giving Haitians something called AIDS.

The colonel felt a burning behind his eyes as he recalled how those same American benefactors who had so generously fucked Haiti's children had then decreed that because of AIDS, America would no longer send tourists to Haiti or buy Haiti blood, thus managing to make "the black Bangladesh"—as one witty congressman had phrased it—even poorer.

And all that, Ferray reminded himself, steering carefully, was mere prologue for the next betrayal: America's unilateral decision, announced with typical Yankee arrogance, to return Haiti's former leader—that little gelding of a priest who had gotten himself expelled from both his country and his church—to the presidential palace. The festive, televised restoration was accomplished by a convoy of American helicopters landing on the palace lawn while squads of heavily armed American troops patrolled the streets and an armada of American warships clogged the harbor.

—Steven D. Salinger, White Darkness332
Now, first of all blood. What is that a metaphor for?

For the Israelites, blood was understood not just as a bodily fluid somehow necessary to life but as the location of life itself. Thus it is stressed repeatedly in the Old Testament that "the blood is the life" (Deut. 12:23) and "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11).
Let's let the poor return for Haitian blood represent interference with the believer's life whereby he doesn't gain adequate recompense for the trouble he has been caused.

Now let's look at marriage.


Marriage was one of the cornerstones of ancient Israelite society. It provided social stability, strengthened family solidarity, and produced children. Held up as the ideal state for both men and women, it was often used as a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel.

Marriage was also an economic arrangement, as families strove to improve their status by alliances with those possessing wealth and position. It was accepted that marriages were arranged by parents, after prolonged discussion of ancestry, property, and the size of the dowry and bride price. Nevertheless, a young man or woman usually had some choice in the matter, even if only to decline a particular partner. To keep wealth within the extended family, parents tried to marry their children to relatives.

Okay, so here you have extended discussions, and presumably some bargaining over marital arrangements. Undoubtedly among the Corinthians there were some who had questions of whether they should maintain the good deal that their parents had arranged for them or "decline a particular partner" for not being Christian. Paul after answering (in the positive) another question regarding the sanctity of marriage can be expected to answer this question too, before he goes on to talk about whether virgins should start such negotiations. He'd have to satisfy them in this as a "cohesive sense of the group was essential to a successful" church.

In answer to such a question, and within their cultural framework, Paul's answer makes perfect sense. (1 Cor. 7:17) "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches." The distribution of wealth and calling within families was the life blood of marital selection.

We do have one fine example of a couple in the Bible planning to marry, where one member receives Christ and the man is told to remain in his calling as his intended's future husband with what God has distributed. (Matt. 1:18-25) "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."

Take another Jewish couple, let the man be the one who receives Christ and Paul be the angel telling him to remain as he has been called and distributed to, and you can readily see the application where he does not put her away privily but proceeds to marry her. The new sister in Christ from Singapore who came to me with her complaint that her fellowship had forced her to break up with her nonchristian fiancé had been engaged to him for nine years. I can't really see all that much difference between her situation and that of Joseph when one of them accepted Christ.

At the dig we saw a student having camaraderie with her professor over a bottle of whiskey, and then the banal conversations from time to time. How do we know she wanted to sleep with him? There was nothing said to that effect. "Logic and reason form only part of the communication process, and not always a dependable part. Really to understand a person we must know something about his feelings, needs, and motives." We understood well enough her "feelings, needs, and motives" when she crawled into his cot. Likewise, within a Biblical culture we may take it that ones calling within his family and distribution of wealth has direct bearing on mate selection, and these "feelings, needs, and motives" were what was addressed by Paul. And yet when I bring that up, that this was the kind of question posed to Paul, I fear I will be accused of adding to the canon.

So say keeping ones availability for marriage intact according to family place and economics is a metaphor for a Haitian keeping his blood in his veins. If we want his blood we should recompense him for it, he is poor. If a good family member has become Christian and we want him to change his plans and marry only another Christian, that should be beneficial to him.

Say, Joe would be the best match for Alice except that he has a drinking problem, so we are thinking of marrying her off to someone else. Then Alice becomes a Christian and suddenly marrying a Christian is made a priority. Then Joe converts and gives up drink. We marry them and they live happily ever after. That's like a Haitian getting top dollar for his blood.

But as many are called but few chosen, we are likely to have a diminished pool to choose from if we must pick a Christian (chosen) as opposed to the larger pool of the merely called that we witness to by our lives—especially if they marry one of us.

Say, it is real important to marry sister off within the family. She has a number of eligible cousins, so no problem. Then she becomes a Christian and she is told that she must marry only a Christian. Well, the only Christian in the family is a fourth cousin who is not even a good match and has no money. Such a union is barely acceptable within the calling of her family and is the pits for distribution of wealth. To promote such a union is like giving the malnourished Haitian barely enough payment for his blood to last until next time.

Our culture with respect to marriage and courtship has undergone profound changes since Bible times which we need to factor in when trying to apply the teaching of Paul.

The individualism that has been so devoutly upheld as the basic principle of American economic life has extended to marriage. Marriage is primarily an individual matter, largely devoid of any broader social implications. Like so many other aspects of American culture, this situation may be explained in part by the continuous and pervasive influence of the frontier.

Under Old World conditions, young people were subject to family authority in all matters, including the choice of a mate. In the New World, this authority was undermined from the beginning by the fact that the young people moved westward and left the parental family behind, perhaps forever. Husbands and wives chose each other, rather than accepting their parents' decision. Individual considerations early became the primary criteria for a happy and successful marriage. ...

The equality of frontier democracy made it theoretically possible for almost any man to marry almost any available woman. Class distinctions were at a minimum. ...

Life in the New World emphasized freedom for the individual in all matters — freedom to move from place to place, to rise in the social scale, and to choose his own wife from all available candidates. ...

The democracy of the frontier was supplemented by the individualism of the large city, which furthered the element of free choice and romantic love. The family in a peasant society (and to a somewhat lesser extent in an open agricultural society) is held together by property, economic interest, and social status. In the urban community these ties are relaxed and social relations are based upon more secular and ephemeral considerations, such as physical attractiveness, economic success, and fascinating "personality." Many of these same factors bring two persons together in romantic marriage and may also serve to draw them apart in romantic divorce.

—Mabel Elliott, Ph.D. and Francis Merrill, Ph.D., Social Disorganization335

With industrialization, the declining importance of extended families fosters growing individuality and more personal choice in courtship. Therefore young people need to gain extensive experience in courtship because they will have a greater say in selecting their partner. ...

Despite some variation, marriage concludes a long period of dating. Courtship generally begins as group dating, in which several girls and boys interact together. In time, group dating gives way to couple dating. In the United States today, courtship frequently involves a period of sexual experimentation. ...

Sociologists have long recognized that Cupid's arrow is aimed by society more than individualistic Americans like to believe. Even today, most married couples are about the same age and of the same race, religion, and social class. This pattern is called homogamy (literally, "like marrying like"), marriage between people who are socially alike.

Homogamy is common, first, because people of one social background tend to interact in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, and frequent the same recreational settings. Second, a common socialization encourages similar tastes and interests, so that we are likely to be attracted to people with the same social backgrounds as we have. Third, parents and peers often discourage marrying an "outsider."

—John Macionis, Sociology336

Dating is an American invention, and it is proving to be one of the more diffusible inventions of our civilization. It is being borrowed widely throughout the world wherever American films and American soldiers are to be found. ...

Perhaps one can blame the American frontier for too much, but certainly it was responsible for banishing caste lines. A man on the frontier came to be measured by his performance; woman, by her ability to hold her own in meeting the challenge of an untamed environment. ...

To the influence of the frontier as a factor in breaking class barriers and institutionalized marriage forms we must add the growth of urban industrial culture and of a mobile population — all developments that have made dating, as a way of getting acquainted, a necessary innovation in mate choice. ...

In the horse-and-buggy days, "keeping company" was standard practice. Dating as it is now known was not a part of the accepted pattern of life. Taking a girl home from church was almost the equivalent of being pinned and engaged today. The reason was that everyone knew everyone else, their families, their reputations, their economic status, their character. When young people "walked out" together, they already knew a great deal about one another. Intentions could be and were more or less serious from the beginning. A boy and girl seen together more than once were assumed to be "courting."

Dating is a social engagement between two people for the sake of the date itself, and without marital intentions. Dating has evolved as the natural and logical product of the anonymity, urbanization, individualism, secularization, and the emancipation of young women from chaperonage that has gradually come to characterize American society. While many of the transplanted families tried to maintain what they considered the "high standards" of their rural past, this usually meant isolation and loneliness for the young people of the family. After all, a girl in a large city who was forbidden to go out with anyone she had not known for years, usually found that, in effect, this meant she did not go out at all. ...

It is possible for a person to date through high school and/or college without ever having any serious intention to select a mate. Although potentially any date may develop to the point of serious interest, dating as such is now a part of the normal social activity of young people. By dating, they size up members of the opposite sex and extend their close acquaintance with them long before they have any inclination of choosing a partner for marriage.

—Paul Landis, Making the Most of Marriage337
When I was at Bible school, I seemed to have been transposed outside of my ordinary disposition of goods and social calling. I was not allowed to date the coeds (we had to sign an agreement) although I was able to get away with having a girlfriend in town —who then became a Christian. I was hard put to even listen to the music I liked. One sister complained to me, "If you're a Christian, why don't you listen to the Christian station?"

Anyway, I found a country station I could abide, and I ended up with a favorite song on it that one of the staff and I would sing. It was one of the few ways I had to stay sane.


Mama don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks;
Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such.
Mama don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
They'll never stay home and they're always alone,
Even with someone they love.
See, the Bible school was teaching that courtship is a brief affair with one you've already selected as God's will for you. You go to church functions together, pray some, act like brother and sister, and then launch on into marriage. I couldn't help relating it to this song where playing guitars and driving those old trucks is the signature Christian music and church van the couple gets into for all those Christian activities. The result is that they are unable to have intimacy with each other when married, even though they have Christian love for each other. They just hadn't been properly prepared through the courtship process. The church (Mama) is not supposed to let that happen.

The solution: "Let 'em be doctors and lawyers and such." Doctors and lawyers have money and status; they can get dates. Dating has prepared them for intimacy in marriage, so they don't feel lonely even with someone they love.

Cutting down on dating is going to leave the hapless Christian like the emaciated Haitian blood donor, all wrung out. I believe that according to the teaching of Paul as applied to today, Christian singles with aspirations of marriage need to continue gaining a broad dating experience which means dating from the pool of the many called, providing a witness in the process— missionary dating.

Now for the second part of the triad: circumcision.


After God commanded Abraham to circumcise (cut the foreskin of) every male descendent eight days after birth, circumcision became the physical, external SIGN of the covenant between God and his chosen people (Gen.nbsp;17:14). ...

In New Testament times circumcision was the cause of the first major controversy within the fledgling church. As Greeks and other non-Jews heard the message about Jesus and believed, some Jewish Christian leaders told them, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). Paul argued adamantly that the gospel message required that Gentiles be accepted without converting to Judaism.

Okay, we are all familiar with that controversy. It somewhat pains me to follow it through to the end. The Corinthians were a factious, divided church. When the controversy hit them, the Jewish Christians were bound to tell the Gentile Christians to get circumcised. The Gentiles at such a factious church would necessarily retaliate by telling the Jews circumcision was a thing of the past, we are not going to slice our foreskins, it is you who should go get the operation to become uncircumcised. Yes, they were so divided.

But the women weren't going to be a calm sea of tranquility amidst the debate. They weren't going to stomach having their men cut up in their privates one way or the other. We have one good biblical example of marital strife over circumcision.

(Jasher 79:1-18)
  1. And in those days Moses was feeding the flock of Reuel the Midianite his father-in-law, beyond the wilderness of Sin, and the stick which he took from his father-in-law was in his hand.
  2. And it came to pass one day that a kid of goats strayed from the flock, and Moses pursued it and it came to the mountain of God to Horeb.
  3. And when he came to Horeb, the Lord appeared there unto him in the bush, and he found the bush burning with fire, but the fire had no power over the bush to consume it.
  4. And Moses was greatly astonished at this sight, wherefore the bush was not consumed, and he approached to see this mighty thing, and the Lord called unto Moses out of the fire and commanded him to go down to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to send the children of Israel from his service.
  5. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, return to Egypt, for all those men who sought thy life are dead, and thou shalt speak unto Pharaoh to send forth the children of Israel from his land.
  6. And the Lord showed him to do signs and wonders in Egypt before the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his subjects, in order that they might believe that the Lord had sent him.
  7. And Moses hearkened to all that the Lord had commanded him, and he returned to his father-in-law and told him the thing, and Reuel said to him, Go in peace.
  8. And Moses rose up to go to Egypt, and he took his wife and sons with him, and he was at an inn in the road, and an angel of God came down, and sought an occasion against him.
  9. And he wished to kill him on account of his first born son, because he had not circumcised him, and had transgressed the covenant which the Lord had made with Abraham.
  10. For Moses had hearkened to the words of his father-in-law which he had spoken to him, not to circumcise his first born son, therefore he circumcised him not.
  11. And Zipporah saw the angel of the Lord seeking an occasion against Moses, and she knew that this thing was owing to his not having circumcised her son Gershom.
  12. And Zipporah hastened and took of the sharp rock stones that were there, and she circumcised her son, and delivered her husband and her son from the hand of the angel of the Lord.
  13. And Aaron the son of Amram, the brother of Moses, was in Egypt walking at the river side on that day.
  14. And the Lord appeared to him in that place, and he said to him, Go now toward Moses in the wilderness, and he went and met him in the mountain of God, and he kissed him.
  15. And Aaron lifted up his eyes, and saw Zipporah the wife of Moses and her children, and he said unto Moses, Who are these unto thee?
  16. And Moses said unto him, They are my wife and sons, which God gave to me in Midian; and the thing grieved Aaron on account of the woman and her children.
  17. And Aaron said to Moses, Send away the woman and her children that they may go to her father's house, and Moses hearkened to the words of Aaron, and did so.
  18. And Zipporah returned with her children, and they went to the house of Reuel, and remained there until the time arrived when the Lord had visited his people, and brought them forth from Egypt from the hand at Pharaoh.
(Exodus 4:24-26) "And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision."
Here the conflict over circumcision which was between Moses and his father-in-law spilled over to his marital relations and he ended up sending her away. She was squeamish over it.


Moses first meets Zipporah at a Midianite well—an auspicious beginning, as love blossoms at biblical wells (see ISAAC AND REBEKAH and JACOB AND LABAN'S DAUGHTERS). Wanted for murder in Egypt, the fugitive Moses happens to be sitting by the well when Zipporah and her six sisters come to water their father's flock. When shepherds run these maidens off, Moses rises to the women's defense and helps them water their animals.

Zipporah's father Jethro (also called Reuel), gratefully taking Moses in, gives the Hebrew both a job (as a shepherd) and Zipporah to marry. She bears Moses two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, still children when Yahweh calls Moses to go back to Egypt and tell the Pharoah to "let my people go." (On the Hebrew problem in Egypt, see ISRAEL.)

On Moses' way to Egypt there occurs one of the most mysterious episodes in the Bible. Yahweh, for some reason, tries to kill Moses, and it is Zipporah who comes to the rescue: with a sharp stone she circumcises "her son"—which one is not specified—and holds the severed foreskin to Moses' genitals (euphemistically called "feet") while saying, "Surely a bloody husband art thou to me." As a result, Yahweh spares Moses, with Zipporah reiterating, "A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision."

Scholars today can only guess at the meaning of this primitive passage. Is Yahweh angry enough to kill him because Moses—raised as an Egyptian—is uncircumcised, and does Zipporah therefore circumcise Moses vicariously? (See CIRCUMCISION: "SIGN OF THE COVENANT.") In any case Moses, thanks to Zipporah, escapes by the skin of his feet to fulfill his biblical mission. Zipporah and her sons live with Jethro while Moses leads his people out of Egypt, then they rejoin Moses in the desert. But after that Zipporah is not mentioned again—unless complaints by Moses' brother Aaron and sister Miriam about his "Cushite woman" (RSV, NRSV) refer to Zipporah (Numbers 12). "Cushite" in its broad sense would include "Midianite"; only in its narrow sense does it mean "Ethiopian" (KJV). (If Moses has a black wife, and if that is why Miriam complains, there is irony in the way Miriam is punished by Yahweh: her skin is turned a leprous snow-white.)

Zipporah may be the Bible's most underrated woman. Were it not for the Midianite lady's swift action, saving the life of her husband Moses, the Pharoah might never have let those people go. (Exodus 2:11-22; 4:19-26; 18:1-6)

I put that last in to show that the experts still puzzle over the meaning of an incident that is pretty plain from reading the book of Jasher which has been available for some time—my copy is a facsimile of a translation from 1840. (It's mentioned in Joshua and 2nd Samuel even though not included in the canon.) So assuming our expert has not read Jasher, he might not catch the marital strife over circumcision, women being squeamish about the bloody act. Therefore he might miss the question to Paul, should we circumcise ourselves or go through the process of uncircumcision, the women being up in arms either way? These seem to have been issues of concern back in Paul's day as attested to by other historical sources:
Using Abraham as their prototype, both Josephus and the Talmud emphasize the 'circumcision' aspect of the conversion process despite the fact that at least Josephus portrays Queen Helen, the mother of Izates and Monobazus, as 'having horror of circumcision' because it would put her in ill repute with her people. Despite her conversion, allegedly to Judaism, 'circumcision' as such was evidently not part of the religion she was taught by Ananias and his unnamed companion.

[A] mysterious 'Galilean' Rabbi, named 'Eliezer' in Josephus, countermands Ananias' and his companion (Paul?)'s teaching on the matter of the unnecessariness of circumcision as a prerequisite for the conversion of the male members of Queen Helen's household.

—Robert Eisenman, The New Testament Code341
Here is one incident in modern reading:

"But he's taking advantage," said Silvia. "He always has. I did not even realize he had been lying to the rabbi until he took off his pants on our wedding night."

This remark seemed mysterious at first, and then deeply shocking. The revelations seemed to ripple off, not around Silvia, but about Stern himself. He was being informed about something deeply telling, yet he could not read the message. By then he had engaged in dozens of athletic competitions with Dixon, stood with him time and again in various club locker rooms. Dixon did not fan dance; the fact, as it was, was plainly displayed. He must have assumed that among men, creatures of the here and now, this centuries-old ritual could be disregarded as brutal or passé. Who ever knew exactly what Dixon thought? But certainly he would not believe that Stern had simply not noticed that Dixon had never been circumcised.

—Scott Turow, The Burden of Proof 342
Paul's only reply could be (I Cor. 7:18-20) "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called."

You would think that circumcision had nothing to do with marriage until you read about Zipporah—and then even the experts puzzle over that unless they read a bit of the book of Jasher. But then you'd also think like the politicians, that bringing tourism into Haiti would not affect the demand for their blood. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The tourists introduced AIDS to Haitian prostitutes and that contaminated the blood supply and terminated the market for it. If being a Christian man means he has to mutilate his penis, he might find himself unwanted as a mate by the squeamish women in Corinth.

A modern application that I have made is that if one is forced to go through the trauma of breaking up with an intended, he might find himself emotionally unprepared to enter serious relations with someone else, even a Christian. A broken spirit and a bloody penis are both unattractive.

To recap, our experts have been missing the boat in the first two parts of the triad. "Logic and reason form only part of the communication process, and not always a dependable part. Really to understand a person we must know something about his feelings, needs, and motives." It is logical and reasonable to say that Paul telling us to remain in the calling, with the distribution God has given us, is merely repeating his instruction to remain with an unconverted spouse. However, that ignores the "feelings, needs, and motives" of those in that culture engaged in lengthy discussions and negotiations for suitable mates based largely on their respective places (callings) in the family/society and relative distributions of wealth. In modern times with preparation for marriage developed through dating while playing the field for broad experience, one would want to keep a large pool (many called) to select from rather than the small pool (few chosen) of strictly believers. Otherwise one ends up being a "cowboy" unable to maintain an intimate relationship with his (eventual) spouse, and he would have been better off as a "lawyer or doctor" who had no problem getting dates.

When it comes to relating the circumcision/uncircumcision question to the marriage topic, our "experts" in not reading correctly the incident with Zipporah and her "bloody" husband, don't catch the full import of Paul's reply not to hurt ourselves over outward signs, but to keep God's commandments. Therefore, they fail to make a modern application not to hurt ourselves breaking up with nonchristian partners (boy/girlfriends, fiancé(e)s, etc.) so long as we are able to follow God's commands.

Now we get to part three of the triad where the experts have given it the old college try relating slavery to marriage.

Level VII, The Law, 326-351 C.E.343

"Yohanan," the groats maker said gently, "we must first try to find what God's will is in this matter."

"I want to get married," the big man mumbled.

"My reply must be what it was last week. Tirza is a married woman. No man may ask her to marry until we have proof . . . proof."

The big stonecutter growled, "Three years ago her husband ran off with the Greeks. He's dead. What more proof do you want?"

Almost as if he understood the symbolism of his act the little rabbi took his hands from beneath his beard and placed them upon a scroll of law. "In cases where the husband's death can neither be proved nor disproved, we require fifteen years to pass before the woman can be declared a widow."

"He used to beat her. Must she wait fifteen years for him . . ."

"Until the fifteen years have passed, Tirza remains a married woman. The law says . . ."

"The law! The law! Fifteen years for a woman who's done no wrong?"

"So far she's done no wrong. But if she lives in sin . . . outside the law . . ."

"We don't care," the big man shouted, rising to his feet so that he towered over the little rabbi. "I'm going to marry Tirza today . . ."

[Time passes.]

Rabbi Asher found that Yohanan wanted to discuss a problem which the rabbi had long anticipated, so with some apprehension God's Man said, "We can't discuss it here. Stop work and come to my house." The two men left the synagogue and moved to the cool stone house from which the rabbi's wife managed the groats mill while he was absent. Asher led the way to the alcove where he kept his volumes, and there, surrounded by visual evidence of the law, he sat in a large chair, placed his hands on his table and said, "Now what do you wish to tell me about your son?"

"How did you know?"

"We will discuss him many times."

"He's nine. He's growing up."

"I know." Rabbi Asher could visualize the boy Menahem as he played in the streets, a vagrant child who seemed likely to become a handsome young man. The rabbi sighed with regret over what he must now say, and postponed his judgment by asking, "You're wondering what to do with Menahem?"


"I'm wondering, too," the rabbi said.

"In what way?"

Rabbi Asher retreated a little, like a legalist seeking protection in documents. Clasping his knuckles firmly, until the tips of his fingers were white, he said, "Now come the difficult years, when those who break the law begin to reap their rewards."

"What do you mean?" Yohanan demanded.

Rabbi Asher, having delivered his sermon, relaxed the nervous clasping of his hands and said gently, "I've been wondering what we shall both do about Menahem, and I find no solution. For he's a bastard."

"I'll protect him!" the stonecutter insisted.

"He remains a bastard," Rabbi Asher said softly, "and he can never marry."

"I'll buy him a wife."

"Not a Jewish wife."

"I'll make him part of this town," Yohanan shouted, driving his fist against the Rabbi's table till the parchments trembled, but the little man did not flinch, for he had anticipated the problem now to be faced by Yohanan, and it could not be dispelled by force.

In Deuteronomy, God's law was stated in clear, cruel terms: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter . . ." Ten generations was a euphemism for eternity and in Palestine the law was enforced: bastards were outcasts forever and ever. Of course, in simple cases where an unmarried girl had a child by an unmarried father, bastardy was not involved, for the girl could marry any man and make her child legitimate, nor did bastardy result from the frequent instances in which Jewish women were raped by invading soldiers, for such children inherited the Jewishness of their mother and were easily absorbed into Jewish life; but when a man like Yohanan willfully had intercourse with a married woman, the event was a threat to all Jewish homes and the offspring had to be stigmatized as bastard and eternally outcast from the community.

With tears of compassion forming, Rabbi Asher explained this implacable law to the stonecutter: "Why does Menahem play alone? Because he's a bastard. Why is he marked wherever he goes? He's a bastard. When he grows to manhood, why will he be unable to find a wife? Because of the sin you committed against the law."

"No!" the distracted workman cried. "This law I will never accept," and with this threat he terminated the first of his many confrontations with the rabbi.

[More time elapses.]

"The stonecutter of whom I spoke . . . and his bastard son. They're outside and I thought to bring them in."

The Kefar Nahum rabbi protested against discussing individual cases, but an old man who had come from Babylon for these sessions said, "Our great Rabbi Akiba would have stopped discussion even with God in order to speak with children. Fetch the boy."

So Rabbi Asher returned to the street and summoned Yohanan and Menahem into the cool courtyard, where the scholars saw with their own eyes what a promising youth was among them, and the old man from Babylon cried, "With the appearance of such a youth the sun rises!"

Menahem was made to stand facing the great expositors, while his father remained against the wall, listening, and at last the scholars reached a typical rabbinical conclusion: "A bastard may under no circumstances enter the congregation of the Lord for ten generations. But there is a way."

The old man from Babylon explained: "Rabbi Tarfon, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Shammua, too, said, `Let the bastard boy when he is past the age of twelve steal an object worth more than ten drachmas. He is arrested and sold into slavery to a Hebrew family. Then he is married to another Hebrew slave. And after five years the owner emancipates them both and they become freedmen. And as new freedmen their children will be welcomed into the congregation of the Lord.'"

Yohanan heard the words with dumb astonishment. While rabbis solemnly discussed where the theft must take place to make it an honest theft, and how the boy must be arrested and before what witnesses, the big stonecutter felt that the world of incomprehensibility was crashing about his ears. This was insanity, what the rabbis were saying, and it would take a man with no beard and no learning to tell them so.

[Time marches on.]

It was now that Menahem voluntarily reopened the subject which he had first heard discussed twelve years before under the grape vines at Tverya and which he had often subsequently pondered. With deliberate care he asked, "But if tonight I steal goods worth ten drachmas . . ."

Eagerly Rabbi Asher replied, "We would arrest you as a slave, marry you to another slave, and after five years set you completely free."

"And I would be clean?"

"Not you. But your children." The old man paused. He was approaching his final years and was increasingly aware of his responsibilities as God's Man, and something of the joy and love of the non-legal discussions in Tverya flooded his heart, and he confessed, "Menahem, you are my son, the keeper of my mill. Please, please steal the ten drachmas' worth and win back your place within the law." Leaving his parchments he ran with short steps to where Menahem stood, and throwing his arms about the young man, kissed him and cried, "At last you shall be a Jew of the congregation."

[At last.]

In his work with Father Eusebius, Menahem had come to respect the cool efficiency of the Spaniard. He had watched him weigh facts, such as which houses to tear down, and reach a conclusion on the evidence. And once he spoke, the dark-haired priest was willing to abide by the responsibility he had taken upon himself. Menahem found him a just, courageous man, dedicated and hard-working, not easy to know but solid like a rock when known. He now stared at Menahem, deep lines in his cheeks, a cold but just face resting on his left hand. "Slowly and with no lies," he repeated.

Menahem swallowed and said, "My father married a woman who already had a husband."

"He sinned," Father Eusebius said. "Grievously he sinned."

"That makes me a bastard."

"Without question."

"I could not be a Jew nor take part in any services." Menahem hesitated and said a boyish thing, recalling an old hurt, "When I was thirteen I was not allowed to read the Torah."

Father Eusebius made no comment, so Menahem continued, "I could not marry. I could not pray. At Tverya the rabbis told me what to do." He could not continue.

"Go ahead," the Spaniard said, his face betraying neither compassion nor concern.

"They told me . . . I myself could never be saved. But if I stole ten drachmas' worth . . ." The words came with great pain, for they recalled the spiritual crisis he had suffered when Jael was married. "They would arrest me, sell me into slavery, marry me to another slave, later set us both free, and while we would not be restored, our children would be."

For some time Father Eusebius sat silent, reviewing this incredible tale which he had refused to believe the first time he heard it. He dropped his hand from his chin and gradually lowered his austere head until no part of his face was visible, and Menahem realized he was praying. Then slowly he looked up at the would-be Jew and tears of compassion stood in his eyes. As if from the depth of a great basilica he said in a whisper, "The salvation you sought, Menahem, has always been at hand." He turned and pointed at the crucifix. "When He ascended that cross, when He gave His life for you and me, He took upon Himself the burden of sin that you have been carrying. The moment you accept Him, Menahem, you are free."

The priest rose, came to where the Jew was sitting and knelt beside him on the beaten earth. Placing his hand in Menahem's he brought him to his knees also, and in this position the Spaniard prayed, "Jesus Christ, our Lord, smile upon this young man Menahem ben Yohanan, who has carried such a dreadful sin upon his shoulders. Not his sin, Jesus, but the original sin of the world. Smile upon him and transfer from his shoulders to Yours the burden which he has so manfully borne."

In the quiet room, a miracle took place. The crushing weight under which Menahem had struggled drifted from his back, the clouds of obscurity from his mind. He felt the actual burden slipping from him, as if he had been carrying three sacks of groats, and he began to sob with joy, as if he were a child to whom something had happened.

"And now, Lord Jesus," the Spaniard continued, "invite this outcast into Your brotherhood. Tell him, now, that he is free to join us."

The priest turned on his knees to face Menahem, then rose and with extended hands drew the young Jew to his feet. "You need be outcast no more," the priest cried joyfully, and he embraced Menahem as if he were his son. Seating the young man on the chair, he returned to his own, and with a countenance radiant with love, with the gray at his temples shining like silver in the light of the oil lamps, he said, "Rabbi Asher was right in all he did, Menahem. There is sin in the world, and your father created more by his willful actions. Sin was indeed upon you, too, and you were properly an outcast. But the old law that kept this sin permanently upon your soul is abrogated." He saw that the young man did not understand this word, but he was inspired and hurried on. "The harsh old law is no more and in its place has come the new law of love and redemption. If this night you tell me that you are willing to join Christ, your sin will vanish forever."

Finally Menahem spoke: "I can join your church?"

You will build it. It will be yours."

"I helped build the synagogue, but it was never mine."

"The church of Jesus Christ is available without restraints."

"I can sing with you? Pray with you?" He did not see Father Eusebius nod agreement, for he was looking at the floor. In a soft whisper he asked, "Would you allow me to marry?"

"Any girl in our church would be pleased to marry with you, Menahem," and the priest led the young Jew to the crucifix, before which the Spaniard kneeled in the dust, drawing Menahem with him, and after the two had prayed for some moments Eusebius said, "Lord Jesus Christ, I bring You tonight Your servant Menahem ben Yohanan, who offers his soul and his life to Your care." He nudged Menahem.

"Lord Jesus Christ," the outcast said in a whisper. "No longer can I bear my portion of sin. Accept me." His voice choked and on a mighty impulse he prostrated himself the full length before the crucifix. "I cannot bear it any longer . . . I cannot," he repeated many times. "Oh, Jesus, help me."

When Menahem had lain thus for some time, Father Eusebius rose, went to him and raised him to his feet. When the handsome young man, ashen faced like a ghost, stood before him, the Spaniard kissed him twice and said, "Tonight you are Menahem ben Yohanan. Three days from now when you receive the sacrament of baptism and the mass you shall become Mark, and your new life begins from that moment." He gave his first local convert his blessing and sent him out into the night, a man whose once insupportable burden no longer existed.

Here, somehow, the advice of the "great expositors" has failed to live up to the Pauline advice of the good priest. Let's see if we can't figure out the question Paul was addressing.

A servant was one who worked as a household domestic, messenger, guard, or attendant. One of the most common Hebrew words for servant is also translated "slave." ... Maids could bear children on behalf of their mistresses. When Jacob's wife Leah could no longer conceive a child, her maid Zilpah bore two more sons for Jacob, and both babies were considered legally to belong to Leah.
A maid converting to Christianity and finding herself still in bondage to her master—bearing his children for him—might start comparing herself to a Christian freewoman and have some questions for Paul. A manservant might have some questions too.
(Exodus 21:1-6) "Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever."
Okay, say I am a Hebrew servant of another Hebrew. After two or three years of work he provides me with a wife who gives me a child or two. After six years my servitude will be complete and I may go free in the seventh, but the wife and child are to remain with my master. However, I have the option of making myself his bondservant forever, in which case I stay with my wife.

During my time of servitude I convert to Christianity. I have all kinds of family values. I also have some questions. Do I remain a bondservant forever in order to stay with my wife and children or do I accept my freedom after six years? You know, it would be really handy to have an apostle to ask my question to.

(I Cor. 7:21-24) Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
Of course, he is addressing just such questions, because how else could using the opportunity for freedom be to remain in ones calling except in Hebrew-Hebrew servitude where one normally is freed (sans wife the master provided) in the seventh year?

Now picture the reaction of my fellow Christians when I have been meeting with them a few years, they know my wife and children, and they know my master. Come the seventh year, I leave my position as servant, and my wife and child stay behind. I am a single brother again.

You think the brethren will just say, That's great? No way! They will be up in arms telling me I can't do that. They will be quoting the Bible, quoting church fathers, quoting "experts," quoting their pastor. I would be snubbed and publicly ridiculed.

Or maybe not if they understood the custom, but today I would be. It would be like the Yankees reinstalling the president of Haiti, so would the brethren be up in arms. But his people and his church did not want him. Well, the servant doesn't want to stay in bondage and God says he may be free, so who are we to deny him that?

I'd like to say this situation doesn't apply today, but you'd be surprised. All I am applying it to here is the way Christians get totally up in arms about a Christian who does mixed dating or mixed marriage. Man, they come at him from every side and will completely overwhelm a new convert who doesn't understand the scriptures or his marvelous freedom in Christ.

The two passages they will use, about marrying only in the Lord and not being unequally yoked, do not justify their forcing a new convert to break up with his intended or stop mixed dating.

Mixed Marriage and the Word of God345

Does the New Testament really forbid Christians marrying unbelievers? It seems to me that as much or more "damage"—if it is damage—has been done by the evangelical insistence that Christians only marry born-again Christians than by the denial of priesthood to women. Is it hermeneutically sound? Does Jesus command it? Did Paul insist on it? Are the texts controversial, isolated or against the main spirit of the New Testament?

Peter Jensen "Using Scripture" in The Bible and Women's Ministry: An Australian Dialogue (Acorn Press, 1990) p.15

It is time for an answer—or at least a Bah! Humbug!. The question is: does God's word written forbid the marriage of Christians to non-Christians? It is not whether such matches are wise, or dangerous, or to be discouraged. It is not about the appropriateness of any particular couple becoming man and wife. It is simply whether, as with adultery, homosexual sex, idolatry, greed and the other forbidden practices, God has told us that a Christian must not marry a non-believer. The Standard Answer: Don't get married but do stay married. Our standard answer is that God forbids a Christian to marry a non-Christian, though if a Christian finds him/herself married to non-Christian they ought to stay together. This is based on 2 Corinthians 6:14 "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers" (RSV and NRSV) or more literally "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (NIV™ and AV), together with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 "If anyone has a wife/husband who is an unbeliever, and she/he consents to live with him/her, he/she should not divorce her/him." On this view the act of entering into a mixed marriage, but not the staying together, is sin. It is disobeying Scripture.

My misgivings

The more I have thought about it, the more misgivings I have had with the traditional teaching. Here's three.

1. The context of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 does not support its application to mixed marriages. The passage comes in the middle of Paul's appeal to the worldly Corinthians to open their hearts to him, their apostle. (See 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 and 2 Corinthians 7:2ff.) Why on earth would he interrupt his appeal to urge against mixed marriages? The final words of the passage, "let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1) suggests that Paul is strongly appealing to his readers to turn from their conformity to the worldliness of their society in their dealings with him. It's like Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world." Not that this means that there is no relevance to broader questions including mixed marriages. But it is not declaring it to be sin.

2. If 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 does directly apply to mixed marriages, then it proves too much. The passage does not say "don't get unequally yoked, but if you are it's OK" but rather "don't be unequally yoked" at any time, and in the words of 2 Corinthians 6:17 "come out from them and be separate from them". If this did apply to marriage in itself then Christians would have to follow Ezra's example in the times when mixed marriages were forbidden. He made no bones about the need for the Israelites to separate from their foreign wives and children. (Ezra 9 and 10)

3. It is 1 Corinthians 7 which explicitly excludes the married relationship from the 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 ban on defiling contacts. If, as 1 Corinthians 7:14 says, the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband, how can entering into a mixed marriage be, in the words of 2 Corinthians 6:14, a partnership of righteousness and lawlessness or light and darkness? Stupid, maybe—but not in itself sinful?

Someone may urge 1 Corinthians 7:39 against my misgivings. "[the widow] is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord." But does "only in the Lord" really mean, as the NIV™ (quite misleadingly) translates, "but he must belong to the Lord"? Couldn't it more likely mean something like, "but only as is appropriate for a Christian" or "remembering that she is a Christian." If so then the caveat is not irrelevant to the mixed marriage question and may well exclude many such alliances, but is not a blanket prohibition.

What's at stake here? The authority and place of Scripture, that's what. Let us teach and advise wisely, but not go "beyond what is written". (1 Corinthians 4:6)

If we look at Paul's teaching about remaining in ones own state, it might help for us to recall how God has traditionally dealt with us in these states we are in. (Psalm 138:2) "I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." God gives more credit to his word in the clear teaching of Paul (abide in your calling) than he does to the use of his name (only in the Lord). (Psalm 138:6) "Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off." God has given a lot of respect to the lowly mixed (Christian-nonchristian) marriage in his word (1 Cor. 7) while the prideful equally yoked marriage (Priscilla-Aquila) is found far off (in the salutation).

As for the arrogant Yankees trying to install partners the free Christian—like the Haitians who won their freedom as the first Black republic in the Western hemisphere, after a bloody revolution that lasted for years—chooses not, (I Sam. 2:3-9) "Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail." (Luke 1:46-53) "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away." (Gen. 29:31) "And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren." It is perfectly consistent with God to exalt "missionary dating" while putting the equally yoked Christian couples off in obscurity.


Dating Questions, God's Answers
Questions of Greek scholarship, context, sanctification, dating, God's authority, & authority of the church
Yoked Together in Christian Ministry,
an attempt to sort out the confusion.
KJV | Context | Mixed Marriage
Comparing the KJV with modern English versions; looking at mixed marriage and being unequally yoked in their own contexts; proper handling of the word of God; vulnerability of widows addressed.
Parable of the Laborers
Episcopalians & diversity. Parable of the laborers.
Unequally Yoked Metaphor
"Unequally yoked" metaphor. New translations muddy the waters regarding a widow marrying "only in the Lord."
Holy Seed
Evil report & good report; King James Bible; "unequally yoked" examined; holy seed means sanctified marriage; marrying "only in the Lord"; Christian liberty; Corinthian epistles
Only in the Lord
"Only in the Lord" for a widow's remarriage; application to the times; sanctification of marriage; accuracy of Bible translations.
Breaking Up Blues
Breaking up is the pits.
Missionary Dating
Missionary dating; circular arguments; "expert" disagreeing opinions; Priscilla & Aquila; parallels in Paul's writing; spread of primitive Christianity; parable of the laborers.
Pauline Triads
Questions from Corinthian cultural framework; the expert's opinions; triads in Paul; courtship.
Expert Opinion
Eureka! An actual "expert;" the Corinthians' perspective; modern framework; Paul's thought.
Note on Paul's Triad
Note on the triad.


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2003, Earl S. Gosnell III Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this study--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.

I have used material from many sources for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. The sources are included in notes. Such uses must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV™) were taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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Pauline Triads