Mixed Marriage in Context

within the KJV

"A person go[ing] to Europe ... should know that many cab drivers are paid kickbacks from clip joints to bring customers in. So if you ask a driver for information on ... night life, you may be taken for a ride." --Whitman's The Best European Travel Tips --Wayzata MN:Meadowbrook, 1980, p. 176.

Studying the Bible is like going to Europe: I'm not familiar with European cities or biblical languages. Fortunately there is the cab driver and Bible translator to help me out. They know the area well. The downside is I am at the mercy of their agendas.

The Authorized Version was translated by humble men not seeking their own, using good manuscripts--the best in its day--, and acquiring a universal acceptance from a broad base of English speakers over centuries. Unfortunately the very time span of proven reliability had its own liability.

The King James Version, completed in 1611,...won its way into the hearts of the people and has remained a favorite to the present day.

Language changes through the course of time. ... This eventually calls for a new translation. ...

Attempts have been made to produce translations in present-day English, but God's people, with good reason, have become wary of any translation made by a man or men who do not hold to the Divine inspiration of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, the blood atonement, etc. ...

The way to get the most out of this translation is to use it alongside one of the older standard versions. We will see the same old truths that have been precious to us through the years, but often in clearer outline, and sometimes with a wealth of detail unnoticed by us before.

--The Epistle to the Romans, in the language of the people221

Starting with the KJV, Paul said, (I Cor. 3:2) "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." Paul geared this letter to his audience, and we should not expect to find any major gear changes in it.

He makes a general statement, (ch. 3:21b-23) "For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Appolos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's," which is similar to (Psalm 108):

God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver; Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast my shoe; over Philistia will I triumph.

"Whether Paul" belonging to the Corinthians is demonstrated in (I Cor 7:7,8) "For I would that all men were even as I myself. ...It is good for them to abide even as I," that they have his example of celibacy to follow. "Or Apollos, or Cephas," is demonstrated in (ch. 8:5) "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" There are multiple examples of Christian marriages to follow.

"Or the world," in possession is shown by the unbelieving spouse being sanctified by the believer. "Or things present, or things to come," is if you are already married or get married later, also covered in ch. 7. Falling in love with and marrying an unsaved person is intimated by the reference to Shechem from Psalm 108, who was a prince in love with Dinah.

The very context of 1st Corinthians allows us to appropriate the future as well as the present. After we read I Cor. 12, to grasp that different members functioning differently is essential to the life of the body, we go to II Cor. where (ch. 1:13,18, 4:2) "For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;... But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay; ... nor handling the word of God deceitfully." In other words Paul is not in this second epistle writing something different either to conflict with the first letter "yea and nay" or to sneak another message by us. When we get to the "unequally yoked" passage the context is different, one of Christian ministry (ch. 6:1), "Workers together with him," and the parallel psalm is number 26, "I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked...Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth...My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the Lord." He is even-footed in the house of God, not unequally yoked like some Chinese who go to a Buddhist temple and the Lord's house as if they can't make up their minds. But to try to apply this passage to say a Christian can't marry a non-Christian is to conflict with the earlier teaching of a direct application, and to use the Bible as (Gen. 34:13a), "And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully," by writing first that the unbelieving spouse would be sanctified and then shooting him down later. Paul was not writing deceitfully so we can't take the "unequally yoked" passage from II Cor. to negate the "sanctification" passage of I Cor. 7.

One issue we hope Paul will address is the vulnerability of the widow. (I Tim 5:11f) "But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith." Indeed he does by telling them that they may marry, (I Cor 7:39) "only in the Lord"--KJV. That is consistent with the context, (vs 7b) "But every man hath his proper calling of God, one after this manner, and another after that," that the widow marrying in the Lord would mean within God's design for her, not operating outside the realm of a faith she had cast off. The I Timothy 5 passage is also in a context of Paul censuring those who forbid meats and marriage, two subjects likewise addressed in I Corinthians where he has a widow remarrying "only in the Lord," i.e. not wantonly against Christ.

"Only in the Lord," would encompass (John 12:26a) "If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be." Where is the good shepherd? (Matt 18:12-14)

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
It is part of one kind of proper calling of God to ignore a whole congregation of eligible mates to pick up and marry one who had gone astray to influence him to return, as an act of faith in Christ. In fact in a rightly functioning body we would expect it.

Now, let's see how other Bibles translate, "only in the Lord" (I Cor. 7:39b). The New King James Version says, "only in the Lord." No change. I guess the English expression used then is the same today, a simple prepositional phrase, "only in the Lord." Nothing hard about it at all. Now let's see how a modern English translation turns the phrase: (J.B. Phillips translation) "but let her be guided by the Lord." basically the same idea with a narrower application. Should she ignore, say, her common sense in favor of a questionable revelation (guidance)? Now let us look at The Living Bible paraphrase: "but only if she marries a Christian." A different idea entirely. The NIV® says of the one she marries, "but he must belong to the Lord." It seems that the translations fall into two camps, the old reliable ones stating that the widow must be in the Lord in remarrying, and the paraphrases saying that the one she marries must be in the Lord.

I found one source that tries to have it both ways.

Marriage should only be acceptable to people at an age and time, when they know that they are moving in the perfect will of God. If marriage takes place out of the will of God, you are going to be handicapped and prevented from doing His will and you will be hopelessly disadvantaged in coming into your ministry. Be certain that it is in the will of God.
--"One in the Spirit," from The BLESS-INS222
He seems to have the concept of "only in the Lord" down pat. His next paragraph deals with physical desires.
If you are a Christian, forget about sex, because it is just a fulfillment of physical appetite. I cannot see a Christian settle for that if he wants a walk with God. If he is married, he should elevate his marriage to a high spiritual plane, so that it becomes a means of communication in the realm of the spirit more than just a physical experience.
Paul (1st Cor.) did allow for elevating communion through fasting and prayer, but only with the other's consent, and then only periodically. This guy makes a distinction between a person who was married when converted and one who was not. If it's OK for a married Christian to have sex sometimes, why would it not be OK for an unmarried Christian to get married so he could have sex sometimes? Where do people come up with the rule that if you were married already when you became a Christian it's OK, but not if you are already a Christian and then seek to get married? Continuing:
The young people become hung-up, spending a good many hours in the course of a year, dating and keeping company; more hours are spent studying schoolwork. How many hours do you spend goofing-off? In comparison how much time is given to the word of God? Do you take time to communicate with the Lord?
That's about right, the intent of Paul's I Cor. 7, that we not get hung up. If a single Christian can live without sex, he is less tied down to remain single. We can spend too much effort being distracted looking for a mate, or studying to advance a career--like a slave trying to get free. Paul just wants us free.

But if a single brother is distracted by his singleness, he may get married. If he marries a Christian, then they may pray and fast together, with the other's consent. If he marries a nonchristian, then he can influence the other to convert--again with that other's free-will acceptance. But that arbitrary dividing line between married or unmarried at conversion does not derive from my Bible, although some Christians paraphrase it that way.

John MacArthur in his otherwise good study of Guidelines for Singleness and Marriage, when he comes to Paul's teaching in 1st Corinthians 7:12-17 on the sanctification of mixed marriage, Christian to nonchristian, skips ahead (vs. 39) to quote the widow's instruction to marry "only in the Lord," applying it generally to all Christian singles and interpreting it to mean only to another Christian, without first looking at the context to see what it means. That verse in fact got written after Paul's clear instruction of sanctified mixed marriage in which context one would ordinarily interpret the phrase "only in the Lord" to mean something other than excluding marriage to a nonchristian.

John MacArthur in fact does develop well the concept of a believing spouse sanctifying an unbelieving one. Citing a parallel example--in Genesis 18--he reminds us of Abraham's conversation with God about sparing Sodom. "Ten righteous people could have been the means of the blessing of the whole city. But why? Just being around some of the Lord's people means you are the recipient of some of God's sanctifying blessing. [Similarly] it's a blessed thing for an unbeliever to be married to a Christian. Better stay that way."

But while such a mixed marriage is sanctified if they were already married when one converted, it is supposed to be wrong for a Christian to enter such a marriage with an unbeliever. Following the above analogy, the ten righteous people would have sanctified Sodom only if they were already living there at the time of the pending judgment; God would have considered it cheating to move ten righteous there to stop the judgment. Ten righteous immigrants wouldn't have done it.

That's just following his analogy along the lines of his teaching. But we read in (Gen. 19:17-22), "And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my LORD: Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live. And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken. Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar." Here righteous Lot goes to live in a little city which the angels accepted as reason not to overthrow it. A Christian marrying a nonchristian can just as well sanctify the "little city" of that new family. Much of the argument raised against entering such a union have it that the Christian is in essence outnumbered by too strong an opposition from the heathen mate when in actuality what the Christian must deal with is on the order of that "little city" which was sanctified by Lot's presence after he moved there.

Dating Questions | God's Answers
to 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.
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 and diversity. Parable of the laborers.
"Unequally yoked" Metaphor
"Unequally yoked" metaphor discussed. New translations muddy the waters concerning a widow marrying "only in the Lord."
Holy Seed
Evil report and 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 the Triad
Note on the triad.


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

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King James Version | Context | Mixed Marriage