MARRIAGE, THE WIDOW, AND 1 CORINTHIANS 7:39
Several bulletins have crossed my desk recently containing articles on the subject of marriage and the widow of 1 Cor.7:39. The writers of these articles claim that the Bible teaches against a Christian marrying one who is not a member of the church of Christ and seem to think that this passage forever settles the matter. The passage reads, 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 LORD. It is rather amusing that anyone would conclude that verse 39 forbids such marriages, when verses 12 through 14 not only recognizes them as being holy; but forbids the Christian from leaving the "unbeliever" because of his unbelief. Then in verse 16 Paul points out that the unbeliever can be saved through the influence of the Christian. How could Paul approve such marriages and give regulations governing them in the first part of the chapter, and then forbid them in the latter part without contradicting himself? I certainly do not believe that Paul contradicted himself. Therefore, I find myself in disagreement with some of my brethren.
But, someone is quick to reply, "Such a prohibition is against widows only. A widow may not marry out of the church." But why should God so restrict the widow and not the virgin? In view of the fact that He is no respector of persons, I do not believe that He does. Any interpretation placed on the passage that makes Paul contradict himself, or that makes God a respector of persons would be a misinterpretation.
Does the expression "only in the Lord" mean "only in the church"? as some would have us to believe; or does it mean something else? In all sincerity, I believe that the passage describes the marriage relationship and not the marriage partner. Let us look carefully at the passage:
In discussing the widow, Paul says, "but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord." Emphasized in the verse is a certain liberty of the widow. What Liberty? To be married to whom she will. If that was all the verse said, then we might conclude that she could marry anyone that she wanted to. But someone says, she can, but he must be a member of the church. If this is the meaning of the passage then it is at odds with what Paul taught in chapter 5 of this same letter: For in verses 9-11 he forbids the Christian from keeping company with a "member of the church" who is a covetous, a fornicator, an idolater, a railer, or a drunkard. In fact, there are some nine different classes of church members that she could not even keep company with, much less marry with the Lord's approval. In view of this it can be seen that the widow is not free to marry anyone she wants just so long as he is a "member of the church."
What does the expression, "in the Lord," mean? Whatever it means, it is regulated by the word "only." The expression appears some 67 times in the Bible; 38 times in the Old Testament, and 29 times in the New Testament. Since the church did not exist during the O.T. period it would be impossible for the expression to have referred to a church member then.
Let us consider some of the 29 times that
the expression appears in the N.T.
1) Eph.6:1 Children obey your parents IN THE LORD; for this is right.
2) Col.3:18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as if fit IN THE LORD."
Do these verses teach that children are to obey their parents if they are members of the church, or that wives are to submit to their husbands provided they are members of the church? Obviously not! The expression "in the Lord" does not describe the spiritual condition of the parents, nor the children, nor the wife, nor the husband. It simply indicates that children must obey their parents, and wives must submit themselves to their husbands, because it is the Lord's will.
It is my honest conviction that the expression "in the Lord" means according to the "will of the Lord." Therefore, in 1 Cor.7:39 it means that the widow is at liberty to marry whom she will; only that the marriage relationship must be in harmony with the Lord's will.
By Herbert Knight MIRROR OF TRUTH, Vol.12, #4, April 1977
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