Vol. 1 - No. 5
Some Inferences of I Corinthians 7:39
by Vaughn D. Shofner
To properly evaluate scriptural marriage we must consider its origin and continuance through time. The dignity and intellectual ability of man was declared in God's purpose of his creation. "And God (plural of Eloahh) said, Let us make man' in our image, after our likeness:
and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth ..." (Genesis 1:26) God fulfilled that purpose. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." (Ibid. 27,28) A more explicit account of the creation of man is found in Genesis 2:7: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and he became a living soul."
At the precise time that God breathed the vital breath into the form of dust and he became a living being, man also received an afflatus of the intellectuality and personality of the Godhead, including immortality. God's dealing with man has always been through this image, this indwelling intellectuality and spiritual personality. Consequently, at the exact time man became a being in the image of Elohim, and could thereby understand and consummate the laws necessary to his well being, God said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." To "subdue" the earth and have
"dominion" over all life evidently meant that he was to bring it into subjection through the orderly and intelligent use of the resources. of God's economy. God equipped man with intellectual ability to utilize all lower life to his own benefit, including vegetable life. (Genesis 1:29) It is evident that any theory of the Holy Spirit dwelling in man can not be true if it ignores the eternal capacities placed in man by his Creator, and the necessary use of those capacities.
In the account of the creation of Eve it is stated that she is of man, "because she was taken out of man." She was to be a help meet for man. Man, as male and female, are to fulfill the needs they have for each other according to creation by forsaking father and mother and becoming one flesh. Paul emphasized God's appointed means for the orderly behavior of this union: "The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3) He was knowledgeable of all that God had made known about this relationship when he wrote, "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." (1 Corinthians 7:39)
Gentle reader, this verse cannot be isolated from the controlling spirit of God's revelation concerning the relationship of man and woman, but must be allowed to be respectful of all that he has revealed about it. He made man male and female, and for this cause they were to coalesce as one flesh in the reproduction of flesh. There is no way to unsex the institution of marriage. There is no other way to bring the home of God's design into existence. God did not issue any other laws regarding its establishment.
The relationship which produces the home by God's appointment existed by his approval long before the church was brought into being, is not dependent upon the church for its origin and continuance, and is not a church ordinance; but is in no way at variance with the church. Instead, the home is a complement to the church.
Being respectful of the God-appointed makeup of the marriage union demands that death is the only natural severance of it. Unfaithfulness to this relationship on the part of one of the two so joined is the only exception allowed by the Lord. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) When one of the partners of this union dies, or one is unfaithful to the coalescent purpose of it, the other is free to marry someone of his choice, "only in the Lord."
The phrase "in the Lord" is traditionally accepted as a law of restriction concerning the remarriage of a widow or widower. By this traditional law a widow/widower, who is a member of the church, cannot lawfully marry someone who is not also a member of the church. I cannot believe that Paul by inspiration would acknowledge the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever and give instructions about their dwelling together and about the children of such a union (1 Corinthians 7:10ff), and then affirm the respect of persons by denying the widow the right to marry anyone but a church member. At this place, the phrase "in the Lord" modified the verb "be married," and not the pronoun "whom" in the phrase "to whom she will." God's eternal laws regulate the marriage, but not the persons of the union beyond male and female as the partners of the union: Humankind is not given a place in this world that is free of the temptations of this world.
Marriage, the relationship of man and woman, is not an ordinance of the church, and it has always existed and does now exist with God's approval outside the realm of church membership. God knew that Phillip and Herodias were husband and wife, and that Herod was disrespectful of the fact by taking his brother's wife. (Mark 6:17,18) The church had not been built at this time. Thus it was unlawful to live adulterous lives before the church existed; and it was lawful to live as husband and wife before the church was set up. The marriage bonds are not dependent upon the church in any way.
Please notice other places in the New Testament where the phrase "in the Lord" is used. In 1 Corinthians 11:11 we read, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." It is foolish to think that the makeup of man and woman allows them to be without each other if they are not church members. "In the Lord" here simply refers to the order of things by divine appointment. From creation they have been male and female, and dependent upon each other by this appointment of the Lord. It is emphasized here that man being the head over woman does not lessen his need for her. Therefore, the inference is that 1 Corinthians 7:39 refers to "in the Lord" with consideration of God's eternal directives regarding marriage.
In Ephesians 6:1 the same phrase is used. "Children obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." If "in the Lord" specifies church members here, then this directive of God relating to the home does not include anybody but church members. If true, how could anybody but church members commit sins regarding the obligations of the home? And, followed to its logical conclusions there could be no sins charged to persons who are not church members, because sin is sin! Then, what was the reason for a Savior in the first place? "In the Lord" at this reading modifies the verb "obey", not the nouns "children" and "parents." Consequently, there are moral obligations to the home whether church members or not! Likewise, "in the Lord" of 1 Corinthians 7:39 must impose obligations of a moral nature on all humanity, not just church members. The laws of the marriage union are universal, not restricted to the church member. However, the church member is amenable to them.
In Colossians 3:18 we find, "Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as is fit in the Lord." As was the case when John the Baptist condemned Herod for unlawfully marrying his brother's wife, it is fit in the Lord to respect the laws of this union whether the persons involved are church members or not. Sin is the transgression of the law, and a person can transgress law whether a church member or not. Therefore, the marriage relationship is indifferent to church membership. Like all other permissible yokes of believers and unbelievers, marriage is an unequal yoke only if it hinders the life of the church member as a Christian. Marriage of a church member to one who is not a church member is recognized by God, (1 Corinthians 7:10 ff) and the sin of the union is necessarily in the behavior of the partners of the union after marriage. Gentle reader, according to Galations 3:26-29, when persons are baptized into Christ and become church members, it does not render them unnationalized, nor does it unsex them. Being heirs of the everlasting home in heaven is not dependent on the God-appointed conditions and distinctions of this world, but upon human beings' behavior in this world. Paul emphasized this when he advised the Corinthians regarding the "present distress" of 1 Corinthians 7. The adverse conditions made it easier for those people who were the least burdened with the responsibilities imposed by the bonds of this world, but this did not justify the believer putting away the unbelieving companion who "pleased to dwell" with the believer. And if one at the age of marriage could live morally pure unmarried, Paul wrote that it was right to remain in that state during the "present distress." That is, justification depends on living lawfully, and marriage is compliable to law. Consequently, the conditions and associations of this world which are appointed of God are indifferent to church membership. The church of Christ is not of this world!