'Only in the Lord'

for a Widow's Remarriage

I'm excerpting from a Bible study, eliminating some rambling.

Only In The Lord285
"If A Widow Remarries, Must She Marry a Christian?"
By Steve Higginbotham

The question is sometimes asked, "Must a widow, if she decides to remarry, marry someone who is a Christian? The origin of this question is a statement made by the apostle Paul as he gave instructions concerning marriage to the Corinthians.

Here's what the apostle Paul said:

          (I Cor 7:39) "The wife is bound by the law as long as
          her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is
          at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the
Before I address this question and this specific passage, allow me to make a few remarks concerning marriage in general.
Here his remarks are more than a few, taking up about a full page listing the challenges encountered in marriage and the wisdom of meeting them with another believer. I have also heard preachers declare that a marriage to an unbeliever will necessarily pull one away from the Lord (e.g. Solomon), while I myself am trying to defend the ones I know who have entered very workable mixed marriages only to encounter severe opposition from the Christian community. I am going to look at it thus:
The meaning of meaning286

Let us imagine a high-level discussion between A and B about dogs. "All dogs are trustworthy," says A with a dog lover's rapt expression. "Try trusting one of them with a five-dollar steak," says B, with a dog hater's glare. The difference can develop into a stupendous row on this "all dogs" level. But if A and B can come down to an inspection of some actual dogs, they will find, of course, that Rover1 is so savage that he must be constantly chained up; that Rover2 is so gentle he is welcome at a cat show; and that Rover3 to Rovern are at various stations of trustworthiness between these limits. The variations could be plotted to form the standard frequency distribution curve. By finding the referent down below, A and B avoid a meaningless battle up above. Agreement can be reached in ordinary affairs, as well as in science, when both A and B can point to the same dog, pat his head and say, "You see what I mean?" Up on the high level, anything can happen. "The ablest logicians," say Ogden and Richards,287 "are precisely those who are led to evolve the most fantastic systems by the aid of their verbal technique. ..."
"Rover1, so savage that he must be constantly chained up," is the seven nations that God forbad the Israelites to marry into, because they would invariably lead them into idolatry. "Rover2, so gentle he is welcome at a cat show," is Ahasuerus, a complete pushover to Queen Esther, and indispensable to the Jews. Many a preacher has built an elaborate system of thought forbidding intermarriage, based on Rover1, but that would have no more universal applicability than one based on Rover2. The study I am quoting has some lengthy remarks based on a "Rovern at [a particular] station of trustworthiness between these limits." I shall skip ahead:
Having said that, I do not however, believe that one commits a sin by marrying a non-Christian. I certainly question the wisdom in such actions, and would advise against it, but I do not believe that God's word condemns such relationships as being sinful.

Earlier in this seventh chapter of Corinthians, the apostle Paul said:

          (I Cor 7:12-14) "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any
          brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell
          with him, let him not put her away.  And the woman which hath an
          husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her,
          let her not leave him.  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified
          by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband:
          else were your children unclean; but now are they holy."
One of the truths this passage sets forth is that a marriage relationship consisting of a Christian and an unbeliever is not viewed by God as sinful. It is not an unholy relationship which God demands one sever. In fact, Paul's inspired instruction was for the Christian to maintain his marriage to his unbelieving spouse.

But how is Paul's specific instruction to widows to be understood? Many suggest that it seems rather obvious—i.e. that a widow may only marry if she marries someone who is a Christian.

As you well know, a superficial look at many passages can leave one with an incorrect understanding of that particular passage. There are a host of passages that, while on the surface seem to say one thing, a closer examination reveals something else.

For instance. A casual reading of 1 Timothy 4:10 looks like all men are going to be saved:

          (I Tim 4:10) "... we trust in the living God, who is the
          Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe."
However, such an understanding of this passage contradicts a myriad of other passages, and therefore cannot be a correct understanding.

Likewise, a casual reading of 1 Corinthians 7:39 may result in one thinking that a widow, if she decides to remarry, must only marry a Christian. However, I believe a closer examination of this passage will reveal otherwise.

At the heart of the matter is how one is to understand the phrase "only in the Lord." One must determine whether this phrase is a prepositional adjectival phrase (modifying the man being married) or whether this phrase is a prepositional adverbial phrase (modifying the manner of the marriage).

Let me attempt to explain. As you know, adjectives modify nouns, whereas adverbs modify verbs. If the phrase "only in the Lord" is an adjectival phrase, then it would refer to the man the widow was marrying. In other words, the man must be "in the Lord" (i.e. a Christian). However, if the phrase "only in the Lord" is an adverbial phrase, the phrase "only in the Lord" does not refer to the man she is marrying, but to the manner in which she marries.

Consider the parallel passage from:

          (Eph 6:1) "Children, obey your parents in the
          Lord: for this is right."
In this passage, just as in 1 Corinthians 7:39, one must decide if the phrase "in the Lord" is an adjective or an adverb. In other words, is the phrase, "in the Lord" modifying the parents or the manner in which children are to obey? Is Paul simply saying that children must obey their parents who are Christians (in the Lord) or is he saying that children are to obey their parents, whether they are Christians or not, in a way in which the Lord would approve?

I believe that nearly everyone would agree that the latter is the case. The phrase "in the Lord" is understood to be adverbial, modifying the child's obedience, not adjectival, modifying the status of the parents.

Those who believe that if a widow remarries, she must marry a Christian believe that the phrase "only in the Lord" is adjectival, modifying the person she is marrying. However, if the phrase "only in the Lord" is adverbial, it doesn't describe the person she is marrying at all, but rather describes the manner in which she marries (i.e. in harmony with the Lord's teaching, or as the Lord sees fit).

From a grammatical standpoint, there is no way to determine whether the phrase "only in the Lord" should be viewed as a prepositional adjectival phrase or as a prepositional adverbial phrase. Grammarians come down on both sides of that issue. Thus, we are left with the context to decide the matter for us.

As for the grammarians, people say all kinds of things, and I suppose grammarians are no exception. I would have liked to have seen him give some examples from both sides to see what caliber of grammarian says what. My own source is one sided:
In the Lord - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

(en Kurio):

A favorite Pauline expression, denoting that intimate union and fellowship of the Christian with the Lord Jesus Christ which supplies the basis of all Christian relations and conduct, and the distinctive element in which the Christian life has its specific character. Compare the synonymous Pauline phrases, "in Christ," "in Christ Jesus," and the Johannine expressions, "being in Christ," "abiding in Christ." "In the Lord" denotes:
  1. the motive, quality, or character of a Christian duty or virtue, as based on union with Christ, e.g. "Free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39), i.e. provided the marriage be consistent with the Christian life. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 3:1; 4:1,2,4,10; Ephesians 6:1,10; Colossians 3:18, etc.;
  2. the ground of Christian unity, fellowship, and brotherly salutation, e.g. Romans 16:2,8,22; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:7;
  3. it is often practically synonymous with "Christian" (noun or adjective), "as Christians" or "as a Christian," e.g. "Salute them of the household of Narcissus, that are in the Lord," i.e. that are Christians (Romans 16:11); "I .... the prisoner in the Lord," i.e. the Christian prisoner (Ephesians 4:1); compare Romans 16:13; 1 Corinthians 9:1,2; Ephesians 6:21 ("faithful minister in the Lord" is identical tofaithful Christian minister); Colossians 4:17 (see Grimm-Thayer, Lex. of New Testament, en, I, 6).

Returning to the Bible study:
According to my understanding, the weight of the contextual evidence falls on the side of this phrase being adverbial (i.e. describing the manner of the marriage rather than the person she is to marry) and against it being adjectival (i.e. describing the person she is to marry). Here are some of the reasons.
Then he goes on to list four obvious reasons and four additional ones. What I would like to suggest is that since Paul was answering specific questions of the Corinthians, and he was not being coy, we can expect they would have grasped his meaning, no problemo. "A phrase or clause should clearly modify the word the writer intends."289

Let's try a modern example:

The bus boycott was sparked by Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who quietly but adamantly one day on the way home from work refused to move from a seat in the front of the bus reserved for whites to a rear section.
Mary Farrell Bednarowski, American Religion290

We understand perfectly that "to a rear section" is a prepositional adverbial phrase modifying the verb "to move." That is, she was supposed "to move to a rear section." How could we not understand that? Of course, we are all to aware of our times.

Suppose a couple millennia go by, and society is rigidly classified, with whites as the warrior class, and further broken down into whites fighting on the forward, middle, or rear section of the battlefield. The rear fighters, of course, are the privileged ones, and they can, for instance, bump a civilian off the bus for transport to the lines.

This future society reading that statement would be inclined to see "to a rear section" as a prepositional adjectival phrase modifying the noun "whites" who going "to a rear section" are allowed to bump civilians off the bus.

Well, we are the future society to the one Paul addressed. The society in his day had one social problem concerning widows marrying: (I Tim. 5:11-12) "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." And they had one solution: (Rom. 13:13) "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying." To walk in the day, to marry in the Lord, is to walk not in wantonness, to not wax wanton against Christ, which is how the Corinthians would have understood it, just as we in our day understand the seating arrangements on the bus.

You know, there is another Bible verse where we are faced with the same kind of choice: (II Cor. 6:14a) "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ..." Is "unequally yoked" an adjectival phrase modifying the pronoun "ye" telling us not to so be, or is it an adverbial phrase modifying the verb "to be" telling us not to put on a yoke with an unbeliever? Well, if we apply it to marriage saying we should not marry (yoke up with) an unbeliever, but if we are already married (yoked) we may remain that way without violating the command, then it's adverbial. Then if we go to apply it to, say, a joint teaching ministry, we find the command telling us not to join in such a ministry with an unbeliever, but if we'd already joined one, that's okay.

What I got was a rear-of-the magazine piece entitled "Seeking the Good Life on Distant Shores: Americans Looking for Foreign Bargains Often Find Themselves on the Losing End."
Jonathan Kellerman, The Murder Book291
Is "on the Losing End" a prepositional adjectival phrase modifying the noun "Americans Themselves", describing where they end up, or is it an adverbial phrase modifying the verb "Find" the place they are looking. In both this and the Bible verse (II Cor. 6:14) it's an adjectival phrase.

Again, it is possible to be thrown by a time gap.

Apple1and Apple2292

Our languages, continues Korzybski293, are full of primitive metaphysical concepts, and the effect is like emery dust in a delicate machine. General Semantics seeks to substitute a good lubricant for the emery. "We usually have sense enough to fit our shoes to our feet, but not sense enough to revise older methods of orientation to fit the facts."

Stop, look, and listen

How shall we go about revising older methods? Korzybski suggests five little warning signals in our talking and writing.
  1. dates to remind us that objects are in process, in a state of constant change.

Korzybski's time signal is especially useful for events in process, where the change is clearly recognizable. Seeing the date, one stops and reflects that the situation now is not what it was a hundred years ago, or a year ago, or ten minutes ago. Britain1066 is not Britain1920, and Britain1939 is not Britain1953, and to speak of "The American Way" as something fixed and unchangeable is to speak nonsense.
If we want to use the word yoke as it was meant in 57 A.D. when Paul wrote II Corinthians, let's call it yoke57AD, defined:

(Matt. 11:30) "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
The yoke is a wooden device that harnesses oxen to a plow or wagon. The word can also refer to a pair of yoked oxen or to the amount of land such a team could plow in one day. Egyptian tomb paintings show that paired oxen were originally harnessed by ropes tied to their horns. The first improvement on this method, which placed great stress on the animals' necks, was to tie a beam across the oxen's horns and hitch the plow or wagon to that. Later, a second beam was added under the animals' necks and fastened to the upper beam by stout pegs, enabling the oxen to handle the load with ease. Yokes were also used on Donkeys and horses, but they could press against the animals' windpipes and choke them. Mosaic law forbade plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together—Deut. 22:10.

Biblical writers often presented the yoke as a symbol of slavery or oppression. Jeremiah, for example, speaks repeatedly of "the yoke of the king of Babylon." The device can also symbolize submission to God's law. In the passage above, Jesus says that following his teachings is an easy burden.

Actually, I think the verse about "following his teachings being an easy burden" is I John 5:3, this one about an easy yoke and a light burden having more to do with labor in the word, as in, (Phil. 4:3) "And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life."

So, Moses used yoke1405BC literally for plowing arrangements, Jeremiah was using yoke605BC metaphorically as a symbol of slavery, and Paul—who used the feeding of oxen to represent payment of a minister of the gospel— used yoke57AD together to represent joint labor in the gospel.

In today's world, we have to include other meanings:

I wondered if he was happy in Alaska. He was working on a fishing boat—rigorous enough work to test the right-arm, right-leg weakness that was the legacy of his Vietnam tour. For almost twenty years he'd yoked himself to his denial. Maybe I'd done the same.

After four years of complicated interaction with him—I couldn't call it romance, really—I supposed he'd remain my silent partner for a long time. He was still the one I talked to in my head, the one I showed things to and justified things to. It was, on the whole, unpleasant to support so harsh an inner companion. But maybe that's why I did it.

Lia Matera, Face Value296
Here yoke1995 has nothing to do with yoke1405BC—plowing a field—,or yoke605BC as a metaphorical symbol of slavery, or yoke57AD labor in the gospel. It's meaning includes:
yoke297v. 3.join; unite: be yoked in marriage.
That is the sense in which the authoress was using it above. Mr. Garnett gives a list in the Proceedings of the Philological Society, vol. i. p. 171 of Welsh words that have entered the English language which list includes gweddu meaning "to yoke, unite, marry," from which derives our word wed.

In current events class one day I had pointed out that the Salvation Army had evidently been violating the scriptural injunction not to be unequally yoked57AD together with unbelievers, in that they were cooperating too strongly with California in giving benefits to unmarried couples in order to receive state supplements. The class pretty much agreed with that, and one member added that the command not to be unequally yoked57AD together with unbelievers also means not to be unequally yoked1995 in marriage. I tried to point out that he was using the word differently than Paul was, and as we were about to change the subject, our teacher said that our disagreement could be resolved by the command to marry only in the Lord.

Trying to resolve whether one phrase is adjectival or adverbial needs to be done from its own context; that other phrase would need to be resolved from its own other context too; and trying to use the one to solve the other is not the kind of approach I would have expected from a class teacher who's an ex-English teacher, although as a Zen riddle, it can't be faulted, because to solve it one would have to be at one with the universe.

Rather than seeing how the not-unequally-yoked1995 command applies to marriage, we have to ask about the not-unequally-yoked57AD one. To be equally yoked57AD in marriage is like:

The Shining Light Foundation was a nonprofit run by the Reverends Fred and Glenda Stephenson—a pair Miloh knew because back in his uniform days he'd transported bums to their soup kitchen on San Pedro. He'd found the couple to be saints who put in twenty-hour days serving the poor.
There is no question that such a shining example of marriage would be completely sanctified by God. From there we use the parable of the talents and the parable of the laborers: What happens if only one member of a Christian married couple is in the ministry? Well, God would still want his minister to labor, and the minister's spouse to be supportive, and such a marriage would receive some degree of sanctification.

Okay, what if neither member of a Christian married couple is in the ministry? Well, God would still expect them to live out the relationship of Christ to the church in their marriage to their best capability (some more some less), and such a marriage would likewise receive some degree of sanctification.

What about a Christian who marries a nonbeliever? Well, God would still expect the Christian to live out a good example of a Christian life in order to be a positive influence on the other for salvation even though the couple itself couldn't do more. And God undoubtedly rewards this marriage with some sanctification.

Now, per the parable of the laborers, let's see how sanctified these marriages are: (I Cor. 7:12-14) "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." Well, we've got it flipped around, starting with the last category first, but such a marriage is sanctified. Then two chapters down the line we find, (I Cor. 9:5) "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?" It's a rhetorical question. "rhetorical question.299 A question is often put not to elicit information, but as a more striking substitute for a statement of contrary effect. The assumption is that only one answer is possible, & that if the hearer is compelled to make it mentally himself it will impress him more than the speaker's statement." Paul's rhetorical question is more striking than if he had simply stated he had the right to marry. In the list he gives, the Corinthians have enough examples to fill in a yes answer. The mixed marriage scenario would not have worked in a rhetorical question, because they were too unsure to provide the right answer which is why they'd asked, and Paul answered, earlier. Nevertheless, there are enough examples for Paul to make his point. Furthermore, in the process of mentally supplying the answers, we can develop the remaining three categories of marriage as acceptable alternatives to being single, although they come in the reverse order we'd started.

The implication here is that all four categories have the same degree of sanctification as the mixed marriage specifically stated as sanctified. Paul gives us to understand that the other three categories are perfectly acceptable, nothing added.

Those entities closely associated in the sequence of time are perceived as being related and this relation—its sheer existence—is given a certain value by the individual. In its gross sense, this value is echoed by the phrase post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this). ...

It behooves the sensitive communicator to recall that any attempt to share concepts, attitudes and desires which does not consider a mutually agreeable order for the communicants is inviting failure. From the beginning of an interest in the art of communication (some 2,500 years ago under the label: Rhetoric), the matter of order has always received attention. Among rhetoricians (ancient and modern),301 order has been thought to carry a probative force of its own and is considered one of the major canons of art. More recently, a concern for the role of order in communication in medicine, religion, education, and law has led to some interesting research. For example, it has been observed by more than one legal scholar that "the order of evidence in an adversary proceeding has an important effect upon the final determination of guilt or innocence."

L. Walker, et al., "Order of Presentation at Trial,"302
There is one excellent example from Shakespeare, King Lear303 that shows such time value in maintaining an argument:
     EDMUND    Come, come! When saw you my father last?
     EDGAR     The night gone by.
     EDMUND    Spake you with him?
     EDGAR     Ay, two hours together.
     EDMUND    Parted you in good terms? Found you no displeasure
               in him by word nor countenance?
     EDGAR     None at all.
     EDMUND    Bethink yourself wherein you may have offended
               him; and at my entreaty forbear his presence, until
               some little time hath qualified the heat of his dis-
               pleasure, which at this instant so rageth in him that
               with the mischief of your person it would scarcely allay.
     EDGAR     Some villain hath done me wrong.
     EDMUND    That is my fear. I pray you have a continent
               forbearance till the speed of his rage goes slower;
               and, as I say, retire with me to my lodging, from
               whence I will fitly bring you to hear my lord
               speak. Pray ye go; there's my key. If you do stir
               abroad, go arm'd.
     EDGAR     Arm'd, brother!
     EDMUND    Brother, I advise you to the best. I am no honest
               man if there be any good meaning toward you. I have
               told you what I have seen and heard--but faintly;
               nothing like the image and horror of it. Pray you
     EDGAR     Shall I hear from you anon?
     EDMUND    I do serve you in this business.

Paul is speaking peace, not conflict, but the sanctification of a marriage that he brings up in chapter seven is added-to again in chapter nine. Chapter eight is small enough not to interfere, not that there even were chapters originally.

Besides First Corinthians 9 being developed in the same letter as chapter 7, there is some foundational material on diversities earlier in the epistle which wasn't accidental.

How Does Writing Happen?304

Firstly, most of what happens during the activity of writing occurs at a subconscious level and is therefore invisible to an observer. ...

The writing act is made up of two broad categories—dare I call them behaviors?—namely, subconscious components and observable components.

There are three major subconscious, and therefore covert, components, namely:


The way in which decisions about purpose, audience, information, contact and process are resolved, precipitates selection behaviour. Writers must choose from their range of linguistic options the most appropriate sounds, words and ways of organizing those words, to achieve their intent. Every writer has a repertoire of linguistic knowledge which can be used in order to complete the writing task. ... Constructing the written text entails the following:

Selecting from the options which are in the linguistic data pool, forms of words and ways of organizing these which will best solve the writing problem which the intent and decision-making has created. In most instances, this is an unconscious process. ...

It is important to realize that the form which any written text ultimately takes is a consequence of these linguistic choices.

When Paul wrote the first part of First Corinthians and made statements illustrating the concept of diversity in ministry but the same body, he already had in mind some sort of response to their questions about different marital statuses. It would be perfectly reasonable to suppose that his Spirit-inspired subconscious mind had him draw out such illustrations that could later be used in illustrating the diversity in marital status. The major difference between the two diversities is that in the body of Christ all our various gifts operate according to the same principle of love, edification, letting everyone have his chance, and more honor to the less honorable—the one difference being that women were to keep silence in the church—, and as for marriage, every man has his proper gift of God, various manners of same, operating with different principles: abstinence vs. due benevolence, or no-divorce vs. letting the unbeliever depart.

It is perfectly reasonable to take, (I Cor. 1:12) "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." and see in "I am of Paul," a man saying he is single, "and I of Apollos" a man equally yoked in a gospel team marriage à la Priscilla and Aquila, "and I of Cephas" someone like Peter whose wife tends the home fires but does not join him in working miracles, "and I of Christ," someone whose marriage is not so much defined by a particular Christian ministry he has, but who with his wife live out in their marriage the relationship between Christ and the church, "and I of Christ."

And we should readily see the implications of (I Cor. 3:21-22) "Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your's." These all things that are ours include, "Whether Paul," being celibate per his example if that is one's calling. They include, "or Apollos" if one is called into a marriage cum joint Christian ministry. "Or Cephas" if a minister marries a woman to tend the home fires. "Or the world" if one has an unsaved spouse. "Or things present, or things to come," depending on whether you had the world, unmarried spouse, presently when you got saved, or as a thing to come if you marry such a one afterwards. "Or life, or death," living out the parallel of the death and resurrection of Christ in your marriage relationship. "All are your's."

That is generally how one takes scripture, from a particular context. One thing we are not allowed to do, and that is if Paul has made a definite statement, or one that the Corinthians would have believed to be definite, in First Corinthians saying a mixed marriage is sanctified, and then import the unequally-yoked57AD passage from Second Corinthians to say it is not. That is because after he has written and sent 1st Corinthians, Paul starts out 2nd Corinthians saying, (II Cor. 4:2b) "... not handling the word of God deceitfully." We all know one case of deceit, (Gen. 34:13) "And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister," where their deceit was to say the mixed marriage would be okay, and then change it later.

That leaves us with sorting out whom the widow may marry from something other than the unequally-yoked57AD passage, because if we needed something from later in 2nd Corinthians to impart an understanding that the widow had to marry only another Christian, then the Corinthians would not have understood such a restriction from 1st Cor.., just the reverse, and Paul would have been seen as deceitful to later tell them not to be unequally-yoked1995. But its own context does not support such a restriction as the Bible study continues to point out:

  1. Why would Paul forbid a widow, who is much more knowledgeable about marriage than a virgin, from marrying a non-Christian, but place no such restriction upon a virgin who wishes to marry?
  2. Why would Paul restrict a widow in whom she may marry, by demanding that she only marry a Christian, but place no such restriction on one who has scripturally divorced and desires to remarry?
  3. If it is not a sin for a Christian to be married to a non-Christian, and it is not according to (I Corinthians 7:12-14), then why would it be a sin for a Christian widow to marry a non-Christian?
  4. If this passage means that a widow must only marry a Christian, then that is true of all widows, whether they be Christians or non- Christians. Please note that Paul doesn't say this is what "Christian widows" must do. He simply addresses "widows." So if this view demands that widows marry only Christians, then non- Christians widows as well as Christian ones must only marry Christian men. This seems unreasonable to me.
In addition to these matters, the following questions must be answered by those who believe that this passage demands that widows marry only Christians:
  1. Does a widow sin if she marries someone who is not a Christian?
  2. If the widows sin in marrying someone who is not a Christian, how is she to correct such a sinful relationship?
  3. Should a widow who marries a non-Christian be disciplined by the church for her sin?
  4. Should a preacher who marries a widow to a non-Christian be disciplined by the church?
While I have never and would never encourage a Christian to marry a non-Christian for a number of reasons, ... according to my understanding, I Corinthians 7:39 does not obligate a widow, if she remarries, to marry only a Christian. It does, however, obligate a widow, if she remarries, to marry only as the Lord sees fit, or in harmony with the teachings of the Lord. In other words, I Corinthians 7:39 teaches that a widow is free to marry anyone she chooses, Christian or not, so long as she does not violate some teaching of Christ about marriage (e.g. marrying an unscripturally divorced person, etc.).

I Corinthians 7:39 & The NIV

           The New International Version (NIV) translates
           I Corinthians 7:39 as follows:
           "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.
           But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone
           she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord."
In this passage, the translators of the NIV™ are guilty of interpreting the text rather than translating the text. The Greek text actually states that a widow may marry whom she wills, monon en kurio [Greek]—or "only in the Lord."

The NIV™, rather than translating the Greek text in this passage, instead took up the task of interpreting and offered their understanding of the phrase "only in the Lord." By translating the phrase "only in the Lord" as "he must belong to the Lord," the NIV™ translators have in effect made the decision of how you are to understand this passage for you.

This is one of the dangers of translations that choose to pursue dynamic-equivalence (i.e. thought for thought) rather than formal-equivalence (i.e. word for word), as has the NIV™.

In fact, in the introduction to the New Living Translation, which is also a dynamic-equivalence translation like the NIV™, one reads:

"A dynamic-equivalence translation can also be called a thought-for-thought translation, as contrasted with a formal equivalence or word-for-word translation. Of course, to translate the thought of the original language requires that the text be interpreted accurately and then rendered in understandable idiom."

Interestingly, the translators of the NLT translate I Corinthians 7:39 in the following manner:

"A wife is married to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry whomever she wishes, but this must be a marriage acceptable to the Lord."

So with regard to this passage, the NIV™ translators interpreted the phrase "only in the Lord" as adjectival, modifying the man being married, whereas the translators of the NLT interpreted the phrase "only in the Lord" as adverbial, modifying the manner in which one marries.

What I believe this illustrates is the danger of translations which are based upon the principle of dynamic equivalence.

Personally, I don't want the translators doing the interpreting for me. I want translators to translate and to leave the interpreting up to me.

The Greek text does not say, as does the NIV™, "he must belong to the Lord." Again, this is not translation, but interpretation on their part. The text actually says "only in the Lord," and that phrase leaves the reader with a decision to make. Is it to be understood as adjectival (modifying the person being married) or is it to be understood as adverbial (modifying the manner in which a widow is to marry)?

True enough, but I'm wondering, though, whether letting the reader decide smacks of private interpretation? I mean, we'd hardly let a kid decide for himself how he wanted to interpret, (Eph. 6:1) "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." If he had unsaved parents and he decided not to obey them because he was going to treat the phrase as adjectival, we could rightly object that he was using private interpretation. Likewise, since Paul evidently wrote to the Corinthians in a manner they were expected to understand, we should be able to determine his meaning well enough. I mean, God didn't give us his word to hide the truth from us.

Now, if we were to say Paul's statement to the widow meant she could marry only another Christian—supposing she herself were a Christian which Paul doesn't specify—, then that command is so ambiguous as to be no command at all. I mean, if a command isn't clear, how can it be regarded as a command?

  1. The Bible makes one wise unto salvation. It does not save—-only Jesus can save. But the Bible does contain the information we need to know in order to act in faith to appropriate God's salvation in Christ.
  2. The Bible enlightens concerning the principles of human conduct which are acceptable to God. The Decalogue (Ten Commandments), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), and the books of James and Proverbs are especially helpful in this task.
  3. The Bible demonstrates the importance of the home and explains how a happy, profitable home may be established. Numerous examples on the subject of the family abound on how not to do and how to do.
  4. The Bible provides both wisdom and understanding for those who peruse its pages under the teaching ministry of God's Holy Spirit. In a day of chaos and bitterness, no other text answers man's queries and satisfies his longings as does God's perfect book—the Bible.

Such a (NIV™) command not to marry an unbeliever doesn't "enlighten" us (2) as do passages of wisdom, it reverses what Paul was telling us "how not to do and how to do" (3) with regard to the home, and rather than "providing both wisdom and understanding for those who peruse its pages under the teaching ministry of God's Holy Spirit" (4), it adds to "the chaos and bitterness" of our day. I saw a new sister in Christ devastated when her fellowship showed her out of the NIV™ that she had to break up with her non-Christian fiancé of nine years.

As long as we are opening the door to let individuals decide how to treat a verse, we might as well compare one of the church fathers whose writings were not included in the canon but would nevertheless throw light on the thinking in Bible times.



     2 Exhorts to Faith, Hope, and Charity.
     5 Against covetousness, and as to the
     duties of husbands, wives, widows,
  1. THESE things, my brethren, I took not the liberty of myself to write unto you concerning righteousness, but you yourselves before encouraged me to it.
  2. For neither can I, nor any other such as I am, come up to the wisdom of the blessed and renowned Paul; who being himself in person with those who then lived, did with all exactness and soundness teach the word of truth; and being gone from you wrote an epistle to you.
  3. Into which if you look, you will be able to edify yourselves in the faith that has been delivered unto you, which is the mother of us all; being followed with hope, and led on by a general love, both towards God and towards Christ, and towards our neighbour.
  4. For if any man has these things, he has fulfilled the law of righteousness: for he that has charity is far from all sin.
  5. But the love of money is the root of all evil. Knowing therefore that as we brought nothing into this world, so neither may we carry any thing out; let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness.
  6. And teach ourselves first to walk according to the commandments of the Lord; and then your wives to walk likewise according to the faith that is given to them; in charity, and in purity; loving their own husbands, with all sincerity, and all others alike, with all temperance; and to bring up their children in the instruction and fear of the Lord.
  7. The widows likewise teach that they be sober as to what concerns the faith of the Lord: praying always for all men; being far from all detraction, evil speaking, false witness; from covetousness, and from all evil.
  8. Knowing that they are the altars of God, who sees all blemishes, and from whom nothing is hid; who searches out the very reasonings, and thoughts, and secrets of our hearts.
  9. Knowing therefore that God is not mocked, we ought to walk worthy both of his command and of his glory.

A widow in marrying becomes a wife. A widow is (vs. 8) "an altar of God, who sees all blemishes, and from whom nothing is hid; who searches out the very reasonings, and thoughts, and secrets of our hearts," who in marrying becomes a wife whose duty is (vs. 6) "to walk likewise according to the faith that is given to them; in charity, and in purity; loving their own husbands, with all sincerity, and all others alike, with all temperance; and to bring up their children in the instruction and fear of the Lord." It seems to me that her choice whom to marry "in the Lord" would be to someone she could "love with all sincerity ... with all temperance."

Understanding "only in the Lord" means having a general understanding of m-f relationships along the lines of Polycarp, and lacking that, a man is not qualified for high office, (I Timothy 3:5) "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" Therefore I cannot trust the NIV™ translation (and its ilk) as a standard for faith in any matter. If it fails on (2), (3), and (4), how in the world am I going to trust it on (1) "making one wise unto salvation"?

As for those who want to interpret "only in the Lord" as a command, what is there to stop them from marrying another Christian if they want to? One doesn't need a commandment to do so. It may help one feel good about his decision to think that in obeying the "not unequally yoked" command in selecting a mate, God is really going to sanctify such a marriage, and indeed God will sanctify it. But not any more than he does a mixed marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever, not according to his word, and God is free to sanctify as much as he wants.

And what is wrong with saying a widow must marry only as fitting in the Lord? It's certainly better than her waxing wanton against Christ.

The author of the piece I quoted contrasted the NLT with the NIV™. My experience was similar with the J.B. Phillips pitted against the NIV. When I was in high school our family went to a church which used the RSV a lot, but my dad gave me a J.B. Phillips for my birthday so I'd have it in modern English.

During the nineties I was going to a Chinese Church. They preached that a Christian was not permitted to marry a non-Christian. In their members' testimonies they made a big deal of their marriages to fellow Christians. In the midweek (English speakers) Bible study, they read in their New International Versions™ that a widow—and presumably anybody else—must marry only to another Christian. I looked at my J.B. Phillips Bible which didn't say that, but that the widow must marry by the guidance of the Lord. It said nothing about him having to be Christian.

That started an argument. I wanted to use my King James Version to straighten it out, but they were not at all familiar with it. They argued that their version used better manuscripts than the KJV. According to my textbook chapter on Bible translation, it is difficult for those holding different interpretations to reconcile their points of view, and it is well nigh impossible if they are using different versions to support their beliefs. I could make no headway with them.

I used my Phillips and they used their NIV's. We were studying First Corinthians. When we got to the point where Paul was saying whom a widow may marry, my Bible said anybody she wanted to, only let her be guided by the Lord, but their Bible said instead that he must belong to the Lord. These ideas were incompatible, and we had a bit of an argument.

The NIV™ (I Cor.. 7:39b) "but he must belong to the Lord" contradicts the earlier clear teaching that a mixed marriage is sanctified. But Phillips' "let her be guided by the Lord" also is problematic as Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family Bulletin, vol. 18, no. 12, "God Told Me to Marry You," cautions against relying too heavily on some "strong impression from God" whom to marry if it seems to contradict the "wisdom, common sense, and discretion" God gives us.

My high school youth group pastor explained to our impressionable minds that we can trust the Bible even though it has been translated, because the God who had inspired it in the first place will watch over the translation. Sounds good to me, but here the God who has been "watching over" translation had let it be translated into two incompatible ideas, neither of them correct as it turned out.

As so often happens, God really doesn't deserve any blame if we understand the situation more fully. Back after the flood, God had wanted the various families to disperse according to their various tongues, but man in his rebellion tried to remain together unified under one language. Therefore God confused their tongue so they couldn't understand each other.

The regime of the First Ennead lasted only eleven years until the Tower of Babel judgment. Everyone understood from the judgment that an authoritative supernatural power opposed the pan-Hamitic idea and that the different linguistic stocks would have to be maintained as such.
John Pilkey, The Origin of the Nations306
It was from Shemite languages that Greek and Hebrew derived, chosen languages to embody God's word. God didn't want his word subsumed into the (unified) language of rebellion. From Wycliffe through Tyndale through the translators of the King James Version, a sacred English dialect was developed and polished, easy to understand and the best English vehicle for conveying what was expressed in the original languages.
Wycliffe, then, must be considered as having originated the diction and phraseology which for [six+] centuries have constituted the consecrated dialect of the English speech; and Tyndale as having given to it that finish and perfection which have so admirably adapted it to the expression of religious doctrine and sentiment, and to the narration of the remarkable series of historical facts which are recorded in the Christian scriptures.
George P. Marsh, The Student's Manual of the English Language307

When it [KJV] appeared, it was by no means regarded as the embodiment of the everyday language of the time. On the contrary, its archaisms, its rejection of the Latinisms of the Rhemish Romanist version, and its elevation above the vulgarisms of the market and the kitchen, were assailed by the same objections which are urged against it at the present moment.... I remarked that the dialect of the authorized version was not the popular English of the time, but simply a revision of older translations. It is almost equally true that the diction of Wycliffe and of Tyndale was not that of the secular literature of their times. The language of Wycliffe's Testament differs nearly as much from even the religious prose writings of his contemporary and follower, Chaucer, as does that of our own [KJV] Bible from the best models of literary composition in the present day; and it is still a more remarkable and important fact, that the style which Wycliffe himself employs in his controversial and other original works, is a very different one from that in which he clothed his translation. This circumstance seems to give some countenance to the declaration of Sir Thomas Moore, otherwise improbable, that there existed English Bibles long before Wycliffe; and hence we might suppose that his labours and those of his school were confined to the revision of still earlier versions.

If we compare Tyndale's New Testament with the works of his contemporaries, Lord Berners and Sir Thomas More, or the authorized version with the prose of Shakespeare, and Raleigh, and Bacon, or other writers of the same date, we shall find very nearly, if not quite as great a difference in all the essentials of their diction, as between the authorized version and the best written narratives or theological discussions of the present day. But, in spite of this diversity, the language of the authorized version, as a religious dialect, is and always has been very familiar to the English people. ... If the Bible is less understood than it was at earlier periods, which I by no means believe, it is because it is less studied; and the true remedy is, not to lower its tone to a debased standard of intelligence, but to educate the understandings of the English people up to the comprehension of the purest and most idiomatic forms of expression which belong to their mother-tongue.

...Scarcely 200 words occurring in the [KJV] Bible are obsolete [compared] to a century ago [from 1868] when hundreds of words in its vocabulary, now as familiar as the alphabet, were complained of as strange or obsolete.

George P. Marsh308
The confusion of tongues resulting from trying to unify the Bible English dialect with modern English dialect was God's way of letting us know He did not approve of such "unity," that he wants a sacred English dialect for our Bible maintained.

In that Bible study I experienced tremendous peer pressure to marry only to a Christian. Everybody else was convinced so. Furthermore, after my sister's experience of eloping with a Negro whom she'd fallen in love with after dating for a time, I knew it was not a good idea to date anyone from a class I would have difficulty marrying. If I couldn't marry a non-Christian, then I shouldn't be dating any of them in the first place. If I'd accepted their doctrine, I'd have quit dating the girl I was seeing at the time, and she might not have in fact gotten to church and thus saved as she has since done. I understood what was what, but I could see how the new-in-the-Lord Singapore sister could have been pressured to end her engagement, reducing the chances of her fiancé being saved. I sure understood.

At that point it was impossible for me to tell the others to stop trusting their (NIV™) Bible they rely on all the time. The time to question its reliability is before such controversies come up.

One of the qualifications for high office is that a man must know how to rule his own house. Applied to qualifying a Bible version for high authority, the place where scripture itself talks as a man is Paul's saying in 1st Corinthians that the mixed marriage is sanctified. That the NIV™ contradicts it shows that it is not qualified as a version to be an authority on purely religious matters either. If we rely on it every Sunday for our doctrine there is a presumption that it has already qualified on family matters at a human level. That we accept its authority on religious matters shows it passed muster on family stuff.

In Second Corinthians (11:20) Paul criticizes the Corinthians for accepting authority from men who "take of you." The NIV™ took from that sister what was hers, her fiancé of the world as a thing to come in marriage. I feel that if I accept authority from the NIV™, I would be partaking of its sin in taking potential spouses from the believers.

I have covered up the word Holy on the cover of my NIV™ "Holy Bible" so it now says, "Profane Bible," so I can accept it for such uses as politics, advertisements, and entertainment, but not as a standard for faith. Because of its continued use in many of our Christian services, I submit this warning to the reader.


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 the writings of Paul; spread of primitive Christianity; parable of the laborers.
Pauline Triads
Questions from Corinthian cultural framework; the expert's opinion; 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.


guestbook logo
View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook


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

Contact: feedbackatbibles.n7nz.org

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

Any particular questions or requests for permissions may be addressed to me, the author.

Web page problems?
Contact: webfootsteratbibles.n7nz.org

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional    Valid CSS!

Only in the Lord