Notes on 1 Corinthians 7:15-24

1 Corinthians 7:15-24
We have seen then the striking contrast between the gracious power of the gospel and the weakness of the law. Under the one, the unbeliever sanctified in the believing relation and the fruit of their union holy; under the other, the Jew defiled and the children unclean.
But it may be well here to notice the use made of verse 14 by both the parties to the baptismal dispute. Thus writes Dr. Wall, in his “History of Infant Baptism” (I., 145, Ed. 4, 1819): “Mr. Walker has taken the pains to produce quotations out of almost all the ancient writers, to show that this was a common phrase with them to say, an infant or other person sanctified, when they mean baptized; and I do, for brevity's sake, refer the reader to his book. The scripture also uses it so (1 Cor. 6:1111And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11); Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26)), which makes that explication of 1 Cor. 7:1414For 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. (1 Corinthians 7:14), ‘Now are you children,' which is given by Tertullian, St. Austin, St. Hierom, Paulinus, Pelagius (chap. 19), and other ancients, and since by Dr. Hammond, Mr. Walker, &c., much the more probable; whereby they make the words (ἄγια) holy, and (ἡγίασται), has been sanctified, to refer to baptism. Their explication is also the more probable, because there has no other sense of those words been yet given by expositors but what is liable to much contest; but especially that sense which some Antipredo-baptists have endeavored to affix to them (of legitimacy, in opposition to bastardy) seems the most forced and far-fetched of all. The words are ἡγίασται, κ. τ. λ. The grammatical translation of which words is, ‘For the unbelieving husband [or an unbelieving husband] has been sanctified by the wife;'.... and our translators altered the tense, and put is sanctified instead of has been sanctified; because they thought, it seems, the sense required it; but without any such alteration, the paraphrase given by many learned men is to this purpose: For it has ordinarily come to pass, that an unbelieving husband has been brought to the faith, and so to baptism, by his wife; and likewise an unbelieving wife by her husband. If it were not so, and if the wickedness or infidelity of the unbelieving party did usually prevail, the children of such would be generally kept unbaptized, and so be unclean; but now we see, by the grace of God, a contrary effect, for they are generally baptized, and so become holy, or sanctified.”
The intelligent Christian will see that, the ancient fathers notwithstanding, scripture does not warrant this usage. 1 Cor. 6:1111And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11), and Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26), teach a truth as different from the bearing of 1 Cor. 7:1414For 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. (1 Corinthians 7:14) as from 1 Tim. 4:4, 54For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4‑5), the cleansing power of the word as applied by the Spirit. The Christian, the assembly, is thus sanctified. It is a real divine work: cf. John 13; 15, and 1 John 5 Blood expiates, but water purifies; that is, the word, as the expression of the truth, and the revelation of God in Christ, judges all contrary to God within and without. Thus are the saints, from first to last, formed morally to have part with Christ on high. His power will complete all at His return, as His first coming in love laid the foundation for all in the gift of Himself for us. It is ignorance of these scriptures to confound with them 1 Cor. 7:1414For 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. (1 Corinthians 7:14), as may yet be shown more fully. But the ancients, and those who build on them, are scarce darker as to this than the moderns, even if evangelical. Washing by the word is outside their traditions; it is perfectly certain in scripture, and most momentous for Christian doctrine and practice,
But Dr. Wall's criticism is unsound. Our translators were far nearer the troth than he. His alteration of the tense is not only not required, but falsifies the sense. The aorist would be the form, rather than the perfect, to convey his notion and bear his paraphrase. The perfect expresses a state consequent on an act, whether we say “is,” or “has been, sanctified.” But it means the permanent result of a completed action, and not what ordinarily comes to pass, a sense of which the gnomic or iterative aorist may approach, as in James 1:10, 2310But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. (James 1:10)
23For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (James 1:23)
Peter 1:24. Hence the teaching deduced is all wrong. The apostle means a sanctified, or holy, state, actually and always true of the husband and children of a believing wife, not of what generally becomes true. Not a hint is dropped in this verse of being converted or brought to baptism.
Must we then embrace the view which prevails among Baptists? Not so. Legitimacy is out of the question. The children are said to be ἅγια, not γνήσια the danger was lest they should be ακάιαρτα, not νόθα. The marriage of believers is no more lawful than that of unbelievers. The question is as to God's sanction for the Christian's conscience of a mixed marriage, and its fruit; and, as to this, the apostle decides that the unbelieving partner is hallowed in the believing one, and the children holy, not unclean: the one being placed in that state of holiness by the faith of the other, and the children viewed as in it already. Of fitness for baptism, on the one hand, the text says nothing: if it did, it would assert it for the unbelieving husband or wife, no less than for the children. On the other hand, it is a mean and untrue sense of ἡγίασται that it refers to the lawfulness or validity of the marriage, especially as all turns on the faith of at least one of the parties. So Mr. Booth's effort to render ἐν to, instead of “in,” is futile. Luke 1:1717And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17), 1 Thess. 4:77For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:7), and 2 Peter 1:5, 6, 75And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Peter 1:5‑7), give not the least warrant for it, any more than 1 Cor. 7:1515But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15). The first is elliptic, and has a pregnant force. John was to turn disobedient ones not merely to, but so as to abide in, thoughts of just men. (2) God called us, says the apostle to the Thessalonians, not for uncleanness, but in sanctification, which similarly is far stronger than εἰς, to. (3) Peter calls on the Christian Jews, in their faith, to supply or have also virtue, in virtue, knowledge, &c.; as Paul reminds the Corinthians, God hath called us in peace.
It remains clear then that the unbelieving husband is sanctified in virtue of the Christian wife, and the children holy, to the relief of those that were troubled by scruples from God's judgment of such a state of things among the Jews. God's grace in the gospel reverses the sentence of the law, to the pure making pure what had hitherto been unclean. Otherwise it might have seemed the duty of the believing husband to have put away his unbelieving wife and their children, as Gentile admixture was abhorrent to the law. Hence the apostle keeps up the language of the Jewish ceremonial, even where he determines the question by God's gracious and holy sanction of such marriages and their offspring, in contrast with the obligation of the Jews as shown in Ezra and Nehemiah.
We have now the question raised of separation on the part of the unbeliever. “But if the unbelieving separateth himself, let him be separated. The brother or the sister1 is not in bondage in such [circumstances]: but God hath called us2 in peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, if thou shalt save thy husband? or what knowest” thou, O husband, if thou shalt save thy wife? Only3 as the Lord4 divided5 to each, as God6 hath called each, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the assemblies.” (Ver. 15-17.) Thus, if the unbelieving party in the relationship were to sever himself from the other, the believer is released from bondage, be it the brother or the sister in the case. Not that such an act on the unbeliever's side gives to the believer thus abandoned license to marry, but that the believer is thereby left the more free to serve the Lord by the other's separation. Such a union after all is apt to involve strife, the natural man hating the life of the Spirit. Not that this would justify anything on the believer's part to break the marriage tie: the unbeliever is supposed to have broken it of himself or even herself; and “in peace hath God called us,” (or “you,") not to seek separation. On the contrary, whatever the trial involved in such a life, the brother or the sister must earnestly desire the salvation of the unbeliever; but this after all is in God's disposal. “For what knowest thou, woman, if thou shalt save the husband? or what knowest thou, husband, if thou shalt save the wife?” If it were so, what a joy! We have to acquiesce therefore in the ordering of the Lord and as we should on no account take the initiative into our own hands, so also to save the unbeliever is a question, and should not swamp everything else. Thus the apostle even here cautions by pressing the rule, whatever the issue: “Only as the Lord divided to each, as God hath called each, so let him walk.” This was intended to guard against undue or excessive, feeling. Our place is one of intelligent subjection, owning the Lord's allotment and God's call: the one at the time of conversion, the other the permanent condition. So was each to walk. If Judaism enfeebled, Christianity strengthened a sense of relationship, and meets every difficulty and complication in grace. Nor was the apostle laying down anything peculiar on the Corinthians because of their peculiar circumstances: “So I ordain in all the assemblies.” There may be ever so many assemblies, but the order of all is one, and apostolic authority is universal. Nothing is more opposed to its trite idea than ecclesiastical independency. The notion of different bodies, each with a distinct regimen, is a modern invention, while the assumption of a continual power of regulation in or over the church may be ancient but is no better. Neither the one nor the other was “from the beginning,” when the foundation was laid by the apostles and prophets. There is no authoritative regulation now outside the word of God, though the Lord raises up those that guide and take the lead, but they, as all, are bound by scripture to which the Spirit answers in power.
It will be seen that the authorized version following the common text inverts the true relationships here. It is God that has called, the Lord that divided, not the converse, as in what is known as the Received Text.
“Was any one called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Hath any one been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping God's commandments. Let each abide in that calling in which he was called. Wast thou called [as] a bondman? Let it not be a care to thee; but if also thou canst be free, use [it] rather. For the bondman called in [the] Lord is [the] Lord's freedman: likewise he that was called free is Christ's bondman. Ye were bought with a price; become not bondmen of men. Brethren, wherein each was called, in this let him abide with God.” (Vers. 18-24.) Christ thus raises the Christian superior to all circumstances. Hence, when called of God, it is not worth while to change. Why should the circumcised man care to disguise or obliterate the fact of his circumcision? Why should the uncircumcised seek or submit to it? It is no longer a question of distinctions in the flesh. What God values, and what the Christian should, is keeping His commandments, not forms of truth or schools of doctrine, which are an unquestionable danger. The believer is sanctified to obedience, and this, the obedience of Christ, not that of a Jew, as the apostle of the circumcision himself insists. (1 Peter 1:22Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2).) So does the apostle of the uncircumcision here.
But we are led somewhat farther. “In the calling in which each was called, in this let him abide. Wast thou a bondman? Let it” (that is, the bondage) “not be a care to thee, But if also thou canst be free, use it” (that is, the freedom) “rather.” I am aware that many in ancient (Chrysostom, Theodoret, Oecum. Phot., &c.,) and in modern (Bengal, De Wette, Estius, Meyer, &c.) times take this last verse (21) quite differently, supposing it to mean, Even if thou canst be free, use it rather (that is, the bondage). Prefer to be a slave rather than a freeman. This however appears not only to be extravagant, but to make the human circumstances of too much weight, as if slavery were more favorable for Christian walk than freedom. Yet even the Syriac so construed the words; and such is the view taken in one of the most recent of English versions. The true sense is given in the authorized Bible; and such was the conviction of the Reformers and of most since the Reformation.
It may be well to notice here the grounds of the question. The Dean of Canterbury thus argues for the sense of remaining rather in slavery: “This rendering.... is required by the usage of the particles, εἰ καί-by which, see Hartung, Partikel-lehre, i. 139, the καί, ‘also' or ‘even,' does not belong to the εὶ, as in καἱ εὶ, but is spread over the whole contents of the concessive clause.... It is also required by the context: for the burden of the whole passage is, Let each man remain in the state in which he was called.'“ It is remarkable that the same commentator, in his note on Mark 14:2929But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. (Mark 14:29), seems to reverse this statement, and says that the καἱ before εὶ intensifies the whole hypothesis; the καἱ after εὶ intensifies only that word which it introduces in the hypothesis, citing Klotz on Devar. p. 519 f. (I cite from the fifth edition of both vols.) Allowing however that the latter is incorrect, I maintain that the principle is quite consistent with the ordinary version and view. For the effect of καἱ following εὶ is in some cases simply to emphasize the verb that follows; whereas καἱ εὶ, were this the reading, would really be more in favor of the sense desired. For we should then translate it, Wert thou called, a slave? Let it not trouble then; but even if thou canst become free, use it [that is, slavery] rather. But these very epistles to the Corinthians furnish plain instances, which prove what is just affirmed. Thus, in 1 Cor. 4:77For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7), the Dean gives (New Testament newly compared, 1870) “if thou didst receive.” As Madvig observes, the καἱ is often best rendered by the emphatic present or past (do, did), or emphatic auxiliary. So 2 Cor. 4:8, 16; 5:16; 7:88We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; (2 Corinthians 4:8)
16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
16Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. (2 Corinthians 5:16)
8For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. (2 Corinthians 7:8)
(three times), 12; xi. 6, 15; xii. 11. In every case the right rendering is “if also” where an additional fact is intended; “if even” or “though” where it is not. In the text under discussion the apostle meets the question as to one called while a slave by the answer, Let it [that is, δουλεία, understood from the preceding δοῦλος) not be a care to thee; as he meets the added supposition, but if also thou canst be free, which of course might occasionally be, rather use it (that is, ἐλευθερία, understood from the preceding ἐλεὐθερος.). The context is in no way decisive against this; for as abiding in the marriage state has the exceptional provision for separation enforced by the unbeliever, so for the slave there is the analogous provision for the use and even preference of freedom. Manifestly too if the unmarried have an advantage in being less divided in caring for the things of the Lord, a similar remark tells perhaps as much in favor of the freeman compared with the slave. (See vers. 82-85.) The objections urged are null. Thus καὶ is in its right position here, not after δύνασαι. Again, ἀλλ εἰ is required rather than εἰ δέ, as one may see by comparing 2 Cor. 4:1616For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16), and Phil. 2:1717Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. (Philippians 2:17). Nor is a demonstrative needed after χρῆσαι, more than before μελέτω. The imputation of inconsistency with the general context and with verse 22 in particular has been already disposed of; the depreciation of the prevalent view of the apostolic precept as “worldly wisdom” is as unjust, as it seems important to rescue this teaching from the total absence of sobrietyimplied in the preference of slavery to freedom. Gal. 3:2828There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28), and 1 Cor. 7:29-3129But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. (1 Corinthians 7:29‑31), are quite consistent, and with one equally as the other. Nor is there any weight in the argument as to χράομαι, the import of which suits the use of freedom as a new thing no less than slavery as an old. Besides, it was meant to express not the act of entrance on freedom, implied in ἐλεὐθερος γενέσθαι, but of using it when given. Indeed it is evident that, as the other view of slavery, μ. χρῆσαι is a hard or vague phrase, and thus differently understood by Bengel, &c., of late, as compared with Chrysostom of old.
The apostle explains, “For the bondman that was called in [the] Lord is [the] Lord's freedman.” Such is the correct force, “freedman” rather than freeman. ἀπελεύθερος means one who was made free, not who was free born. It is the accurate term here, and it is the more emphatic, because freeman or free-born (ἐλεύθερος) follows immediately. “Likewise he that was called [being] free is Christ's bondman.” Christ alone puts every one in his place and true light: emancipation by human means cannot effect or approach it. The Christian slave is the Lord's freeman; the Christian freeman is Christ's slave. The Lord's authority breaks the fetters of the one to his faith; the grace of Christ reduces the other to slavery for his heart. “Ye were bought with a price.” Whether it be the freeman or the bondman, all were bought. The saints are the purchase of Christ's blood: so indeed is all the world; but believers alone acknowledge it, and they are called to act on it. “Be [or come] not slaves of men:” an exhortation as incumbent on the free as on the slave. A single eye alone secures true service, and yet is perfect liberty. They were already serving the Lord Christ: only so can the Christian serve aright in any case.7 Strange to say, none are so prone to slip into human bondage as those who profess the Lord's name: so the second Epistle to the Corinthians shows. But this was real forgetfulness of Christ and unfaithfulness to Him. Christianity in its true power brings into responsibility no less than into liberty, and as this is true in doctrine, so it is of all consequence to be remembered in practice. “Wherein each was called, brethren, in this let him abide with God.” “The calling” appears to mean a man's providential condition when called of God, as here we see it applied to circumcision or uncircumcision, freedom or slavery, not earthly occupations, commonly supposed, some of which might involve not a little that would clash with God's word and offend a Christian's conscience. Here all pleas for continuance in evil, because one was converted by God's grace spite of them, is effectually cut off, for the believer is called to abide “with God.” If one cannot continue with God, it is high time to ask His direction who assuredly never calls a saint to do evil but to cease from it at all cost.