MARRIAGE–”Only in the Lord”

Don Tarbet

Christians, of all people, should be concerned about the religious affiliation of the one they choose to marry, whether it be the first mate or second. Jesus makes it very clear that if one puts away a mate for any reason other than fornication, and then marries another, “adultery” is the result. Cf Matt. 5:32; 19:9. This is the Lord’s teaching, and any marriage should be in harmony “with the Lord” and His teaching on the subject. The teaching here is for “any man” or “any woman”, whether they are members the body of Christ (the church) or not. It is the Lord’s teaching for the sacredness of the institution of the marriage union for the good of society and the church.

The teaching of “one man” for “one woman” being joined together for life is the teaching of the Lord, or is “in the Lord”, His divine arrangement, as per the Lord’s teaching in Matt. 19:4. Paul emphasized this in 1 Cor. 11:11, when he wrote, “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” This passage emphasizes the fact that by their very existence, man and woman need to be togethe ras they even depend for their existence. Then In Rev. 14:13, John records a beatitude for those who “die in the Lord”, as the man is “in the Lord”, OR is persecuted to death because His life was righteous “in the Lord.”

Then, the Lord’s teaching by the apostle Paul provides for the surviving mate in a union where one mate has died. Paul states that if a man dies, that his widow is free to be married to another man, for she is then loosed from the law of her husband. Otherwise, her “marriage” would be adulterous, and not “in the Lord” and His teaching. The church in Corinth was given additional information on this subject. Paul 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.” (KJV). There are two basic views this passage is interpreted. 1St, it is said that she should marry a man who is a Christian, “in the Lord.”

Some translations so render this passage. 2Nd, it is also said that this passage is saying that the “marriage” itself must be in the Lord, in harmony with His law of divorce and remarriage as stated in Matt. 19:9 and Rom. 7:2-3.

When I attended Freed-Hardeman College in the 1950’s, I often visited the Allen and Edgewood congregation in Jackson, Tennessee, where Flavil Nichols preached. He took me under his wing, and into his home. One Sunday evening, he received a phone call to help rescue a marriage. It seems that one of the ladies in the congregation had lost her husband by death, and married a non-Christian. Being devoted to the Lord, she was very concerned, as to what they should do—should she, in repentance, divorce her husband because he was not “in the Lord” or just what should she do? Bro. Nichols went to 1 Cor. 11:26, where Paul referred to their “present distress” and presented the possibility of the fact of the hardship that would have been placed on the woman in that time of social upheaval caused by the Roman empire, in the event of her not having a believing husband to be with her in this time of distress. Bro. Nichols was not firm in his this possibility, but left the door open to in an effort to save a marriage, that was already “in the Lord”, as per Matt. 19:9 and Rom. 7:2-3.

In analyzing the text of 1 Cor. 7:39, it becomes obvious that Paul just might not have been talking about a “man” being in the Lord, but that the marriage itself should be in the Lord, or in harmony with His teachings. Was Paul simply reminding the brethren that they should remember that any marriage should be in harmony with the Lord’s teaching, and that the widow must guard against violating the Lord’s teaching, and to be sure that she marry an eligible man, one who himself had been married without just cause of fornication.

Perhaps a key to the matter could be seen in the word “only”. This word is an “adverb, which modifies verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs” (a rule of grammar). That being the case, the way it is used here would be for it to modify the “marriage”, and not the “man” (unless he be not eligible for a marriage by reason of an unscriptural divorce). Young’s Literal Translation renders the passage “….whom she will—only in the Lord.” This translation joins “will” (marry), with “marry” being implied, for that was the concern of Paul’s teaching. The Interlinear renders it, “she wills to be married only in (the) Lord.” The Greek Diaglott also joins them together, as “whom she wills to marry, only in Lord.” Both of these sources join”will marry” to “in the Lord,” making the idea of marriage itself being “in the Lord” on the basis of the Lord’s teaching.

The word “only” comes from the Greek word monon, an adverb, and adverbs cannot and do not modify nouns. Years ago, I became friends with a brother among us who had authored more than one Bible Commentary. He held the view that 1 Cor. 7:39 referred to his being “a Christian.” When I presented the above to this brother, he assured me that I was wrong, and would prove it to me. I began waiting, and eventually reminded him of his statement. He was at a loss for words, as he could not make the language of 1 Cor. 7:39 refer to the man as just “being a Christian. Through the years, he has yet to present the proof he thought he had. It has been suggested that if Paul was requiring widow to marry a Christin, why would he have used the broad term “whomsoever she will”? Grammatically speaking, since an adverb can not modify a noun, then it would not do so in 1 Cor. 7;39, it has to modify action, namely that of “marrying”, the subejct of this passage.

A somewhat parallel thought of “in the Lord” is found in Eph. 6:1-2, that children are to obey their parents “in the Lord.” Does this mean that children ”only” needed to obey their parents IF they are in the Lord, or does it mean obey them if their requirements were in harmony with the teachings of the Lord? The term “in the Lord” is found in 1 Cor. 11:11; 7:39 and Rev. 14:13, and since it modifies action in 2 of these 3 passages, it likely does so in other passage. Think about if!

Personally, I think that all Christians should marry a mate who is in the Lord as a Christian, lest there be serious issues down the road, even the strong possibility of one leaving the faith for the sake of keeping the marriage intact. However, can we be absolutely certain that this is what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 7:39?

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