Sanctified by the Believer

or Mixed Blessings

Doug Wilson sees evidence for the classification of “Covenant children” in 1 Corinthians 7:14.

“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” (1 Cor. 7:14).

The Corinthians had wanted to know whether unbelief on the part of a spouse was in itself grounds for divorce. Paul has replied no, provided that the unbelieving partner is pleased to be together with the Christian in a marriage as biblically defined. If the only thing that is wrong is the spouse’s failure to believe in Christ, then the couple should still remain together.

But isn’t it somehow a spiritual contaminant to have sex with a pagan? No, Paul argues. A Christian ought not to marry a non-Christian (2 Cor. 6:14), but once married to one, a Christian needs to be faithful to his vows regardless. That means being faithful to all the vows, including the sexual commitment. But sex is an activity that often results in children. What about the children? Won’t the offspring of a mixed marriage be outside the covenant? No, Paul replies again. In this regard, the new covenant is not like the old. In the old covenant, the unclean contaminated the clean (Haggai 2:13-14). Jesus reversed this order—He would make the unclean clean by coming in contact with it (Mark 5:25).
And this means that in a mixed marriage, when the wife conceives a child, that child is not unclean, but rather holy. The word for holy here is hagia—and this is striking because when word is applied to persons, it is almost always translated or rendered as saints. A child of at least one believing parent is a saint, and is to be treated as such. [1]

If these children of a “mixed marriage” are “saints,” then the unbelieving spouse is also a “saint.” That is, they are not regenerate but still “under Covenant” according to the Federal Vision thinking. To be consistent, the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized, to demonstrate that through this marriage to a believer they are being “discipled.”

The argument against this is that such a person clearly has not believed, or has apostatized, so they are disqualified, but that the child is yet to be disqualified.

This does not deal with the inconsistency, at least not without the fairytale of faith beginning at conception. It just promotes the inconsistency sideways. We are waiting for a response from the child, but surely we are also waiting for a response from the unbelieving spouse to the gospel, which is the real issue here.

The word hagios gets used for all sorts of things in the New Testament, just as its corresponding meaning in English gets used for many things. If I go to the fridge to grab a steak, and my wife says, “Don’t touch that! It’s for the BBQ Sunday,” then it has been set apart. Concerning the BBQ, that steak is holy, just as unregenerate Israel was holy. One could be set apart without yet being cooked by the Pentecostal fire.

That could be the meaning here. But what is setting these unbelieving spouses and, presumably, unbelieving children, apart? They are set apart by the New Covenant thing that replaced the Old Covenant circumcision, and that is not baptism, it is the gospel. They are “in school” under the “elemental truths” in a New Covenant way. But they are, spiritually, still children, still under the tutelage of angels. And under the New Covenant, it is those who are born again and baptized who are those angels, the messengers. They are not merely “set apart” for transformation. They are the transformed.

Pastor Wilson made a very sound objection to this:

Hagiadzo is a verb that means to consecrate, dedicate, or set apart. The unbelieving spouse is hagiadzoed in such a way as to result in children who are hagia. Hagia is used in all kinds of ways, sure enough, but it is not used in all kinds of ways when it is describing people. Overwhelmingly, when hagia is talking about people, an appropriate translation would be saints.

Good point.

However, Matthew Colvin insisted that both Pastor Wilson and I are barking up the wrong trees. He writes:

I don’t find this persuasive. The Greek αγιαζω means “to consecrate” alright, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “to God”. A better interpretation takes it as “consecrated to one’s spouse”, as the Jewish marriage formula to this day says, “I consecrate you to myself”, and the Mishnah tractate on marriage is Qiddushin (“consecrations”).

Contextually, this makes sense: Paul is answering a Corinthian question about whether they need to leave their unbelieving spouses. His answer is that they need not, because they are legitimately married.

As a result, the children are “holy”, meaning “legitimate,” not bastards.

That doesn’t mean that Pastor Wilson is wrong about the “federal holiness (to God)” of the children of (even one) believer. Comparison with the OT’s parallel situation proves it: the Israelites who return from the exile in Ezra and Nehemiah DO have to separate from their pagan wives. But it does mean that 1 Corinthians 7 isn’t teaching this quite as directly as Pastor Wilson supposes, and that we can rummage in lexicons looking up hagiazo and hagios all day, and we won’t really make any headway.

Colvin links to some posts on his blog, which explain his position in detail. I like it for two reasons: 1) It means this passage gives no support to the practice of paedobaptism, and 2) it means the word hagio can be used of people without designating some kind of unregenerate sainthood, which the Federal Vision logically requires to maintain its practice of paedobaptism.

Colvin writes:

One of my Greek III students, Annelise B., surprised me with a translation I had never heard before. On further reflection, I decided that she was right and all the major translations (NIV, ESV, NKJV, etc.) are wrong. Her translation fits well with my preferred interpretation of 1 Cor. 7, which is that of David Daube.

In what follows, I’ll explain what her translation was, and why I like it.

First, the background, from an old post on this blog:

[Daube's view] makes sense of one of the most difficult passages of the Bible: 1 Cor. 7. First, the difficult verse, 7:14 — “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother [sc. believing husband]” — is cleared up in an elegant way. Remarks Daube, “New Testament scholars have enormous difficulty infusing a measure of meaning into [ἡγίασται in 7:14]. The various conjectures often then become bases for more general theories about Paul’s concept of holiness. All this must be jettisoned.”

Daube explains that the Mishnah tractate on marriage is entitled “qiddushin” — “consecrations” or “sanctifications”, and that this is the ordinary way that the Rabbis conceived of marriage: “to consecrate a woman to wife” is to make her holy, special and proper, to one’s self, even as Israel is — as Steve Schlissel likes to put it — Mrs. YHWH. The verb qiddesh means “to consecrate to wife.” We thus no longer have to wonder what sort of “sanctification” is meant.

For Daube, then, 1 Cor. 7:14 is to be translated as, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified in [= is married to] the wife, and the unbelieving wife in [to] the brother [sc. believing husband]. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart.” [2]

Annelise, being already familiar with this rendering, continued on to 7:15b, which reads in Greek:

οὐ δεδούλωται ὁ ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἡ ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις…

Now, you are probably familiar with such renderings as “a believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (NIV) or “the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases” (KJV, NASB, ESV and NKJV). But Annelise, whether because she didn’t remember these English translations, or because she had an idea of her own that she wanted to try, rendered it this way:

“The brother or sister is not bound to such persons.”

I believe she is correct. There are several factors that commend her reading.

First, she interprets δεδούλωται to mean “bound in marriage to someone.” There is very good reason for thinking this, since it is in the perfect tense, and thus parallel with the twice-repeated ἡγίασται in 7:14. That verb was rendered as “has been consecrated/sanctified”, with the result that one is now “married.” That is, it refers to the action in the past by which the present state of valid marriage was produced: namely, the decision to continue living with one’s pre-conversion spouse. By contrast, οὐ δεδούλωται in 7:15 would similarly refer to the past action that has resulted in the present state of freedom to depart: namely, the refusal of the unbeliever to continue the marriage, evinced by his separation, so that the believer “has not been bound” by such cohabitation, and is thus not married.

Second, Annelise takes ἐν τοιούτοις as an inclusive masculine, not as a neuter: the believer is not bound “to or by such persons”, not “in such circumstances.” I cannot recall the use of the neuter substantive τοιαυτα in the dative to mean “such circumstances” or “such cases” in any other Greek literature. By contrast, Annelise’s reading of the word as a masculine substantive is paralleled several times within 1 Corinthians itself: “such persons” (τοιούτοι) will have affliction in the flesh (7:28); the church is to hand “such a person” (τοιούτον) over to Satan (5:5). As for its being dative, there is now an immediate parallel with “ἡγιάσται ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ” (“sanctified in the brother) in the preceding verse (7:14). In both instances, ἐν + dative.

Daube’s rendering of ἡγίασται rendered otiose centuries of tortured attempts to figure out how an unbelieving person can experience sanctification just by being married to a believer. Annelise’s rendering of δεδούλωται eliminates similar problems that have beset all attempts to understand Paul’s marriage and divorce halakhah. For instance: on the reading of the KJV and succeeding English versions, we are left wondering why the believer is “not bound in such circumstances”. The mere departure of one’s spouse does not, after all, dissolve a marriage. Hence the medieval privilegium Paulinum whereby abandonment, normally not grounds for divorce, becomes grounds when the departing spouse is an unbeliever. Such a halakhah is unprecedented. But on Annelise’s reading, the verse is merely stating the fact that the believer has not been bound to the unbeliever who departs. Since the original marriage was destroyed by the conversion of the now-believing spouse, and the unbelieving spouse departed, there has been no cohabitation to effect a new bond. Hence, the perfect tense is precisely what Paul wants: there has been no past action, and so there is no present state.

I am grateful to Annelise for this reading. I still vividly recall when I was in a similar situation with my teacher Dr. James Lesher in 1996. Without knowing the tortured scholarship on a particular fragment of Heraclitus, I translated it in a new way, and he, for his part, was persuaded. It got me a footnote in his next article, and launched me, for better or worse, on a career as a scholar. I regret that I’m not in a position to give Annelise more than this mention in a blog post. [3]

A Federal Vision friend remarked that looking for answers in extra-biblical literature is not the way to go about interpreting the Bible. I agree with that. And yet the extra-biblical literature we are looking at here is the Talmud. Much of what Jesus Himself said was for the purpose of contradicting the Oral Law, which the Jewish leaders had used to subvert the true faith of Israel. I do not believe Daube, or Colvin, are doing anything different here.

[1] Douglas Wilson, Children As Saints.
[2] Matthew Colvin, Sanctified by the Believer”? 1 Corinthians 7. This is reproduced in full below for those interested, and for my own reference just in case his blog goes offline some day.
[3] Matthew Colvin, 1 Corinthians 7:15 and Serendipity in the Greek 3 Class.

“Sanctified by the Believer”? 1 Corinthians 7 – November 10, 2006

Quite some time ago, I wrote a blog post criticizing Mark Horne’s understanding of 1 Cor. 7′s language about children of mixed marriages (“otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy”). I advocated an opposing interpretation, rather forcefully. I have now come to believe that I was wrong, and that a third way is correct. As usual, consideration of the neglected Jewish background provides the answer.
David Daube’s contention is that two of the scenarios in 1 Corinthians — the incestuous union of chapter 5, and the marriage that becomes mixed as a result of the conversion of one spouse in chapter 7 — both depend upon a doctrine of conversion as new creation. By conversion to Christianity, the believer loses — in principle, at least — all his previous relations. Daube also suggests that this principle is at work in the epistle to Philemon in the case of the slave Onesimus.
The principle is at work in both ch. 5 and ch. 7, but not in the same way. In ch. 5, Paul’s concern is to rebuke the Corinthians for their misunderstanding and misapplication of the doctrine of re-creation. The principle, Daube suggest, is “the Rabbinic teaching that a proselyte is as a newborn child. Hence he has no relations from before; and as far as his pre-conversion ties are concerned, in principle the rules of incest do not apply; in principle he may marry his stepmother or indeed his own mother — neither is related to him, a new man.”
Of course, in 1 Cor. 5, the “new man” in question emphatically may not marry his stepmother. Paul prohibits such a union as porneia. Why does he do so, if this doctrine of new creation really applies to new converts, and the man in question is a new convert? The answer Daube gives is that what is true in principle cannot be used to flout the perceptions of others. Thus, although meat sacrificed to an idol is in principle fair game for a Christian to eat, Paul “will never eat meat again” if such eating “causes my brother to stumble” (ִεἰ βρῶμα σκανδαλίζει τὸν ἀδελφόν μου). Focusing on 8:9′s general maxim (“watch out that your very right to do something does not become a stumbling block to the weak”), Daube concludes that Paul restricts the freedom that the believer has in principle. He suggests that a similar restriction is at work in the case of πορνεία in chapter 5. As support, he adduces the words, “and such πορνεία as is not even among the gentiles” – sc. even Greeks and Romans did not allow marriage between stepson and stepmother.
(We note, by the way, that both of these issues are probably occasioned by the delivery of the Jerusalem council’s four commands, which Paul must have communicated to them at some time prior to the Corinthians’ first letter to him — making 1 Cor. itself the third piece of correspondence in the exchange, unless Paul delivered the Jerusalem prohibitions in person. That the council’s decrees were aimed specially at Gentiles, to urge them to follow the commands of Lev. 17-18, is thus further confirmed by Paul’s addition of “not even among the gentiles” to his mention of πορνεία in 5:1)
There are certain glaring objections to Daube’s reading, and I am not wholly convinced myself. But let me first explain why I find it attractive.
It makes sense of one of the most difficult passages of the Bible: 1 Cor. 7. First, the difficult verse, 7:14 — “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother [sc. believing husband]” — is cleared up in an elegant way. Remarks Daube, “New Testament scholars have enormous difficulty infusing a measure of meaning into [ἡγίασται in 7:14]. The various conjectures often then become bases for more general theories about Paul’s concept of holiness. All this must be jettisoned.”
Daube explains that the Mishnah tractate on marriage is entitled “qiddushin” — “consecrations” or “sanctifications”, and that this is the ordinary way that the Rabbis conceived of marriage: “to consecrate a woman to wife” is to make her holy, special and proper, to one’s self, even as Israel is — as Steve Schlissel likes to put it — Mrs. YHWH. The verb qiddesh means “to consecrate to wife.” We thus no longer have to wonder what sort of “sanctification” is meant.
As so often with Daube’s suggestions, this recourse to a Jewish explanation results in the unraveling of further puzzles — which thereby serve as a confirmation of the solution to the first crux. In the present instance, I note a point that Daube did not mention: the odd locution “ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ” — which occasioned so much wrangling between me and Tim Gallant and Joel Garver — becomes crystal clear as a Hebraism: Paul is almost certainly translating literally the Hebrew idiom קָדַשׁ בְּ, which is used several times in the OT ( Lev. 10:3, 22:32; Ez. 20:41, 39:27, 36:23, 38:16; Nu 20:13). In all these instances, God is speaking of himself being “sanctified in Israel” — not human marriage, but perhaps similar if one considers the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. Later, the phrase becomes technical: in the Talmud, the idiom means “to marry someone.” The inseparable Hebrew preposition בְּ may mean “in” or “by”, and Paul has chosen the Greek ἐν rather than ὑπὸ + gen for agency, because he conceives of the consecration in question as the automatic effect of marriage (by whatever mode) rather than as the result of that someone’s agency within the marriage. In this, he is just like the Rabbis.
As a parallel for his understanding of 1 Cor. 7, Daube summarizes y.Yeb. 12a:

‘A heathen converts together with his two wives, who are mother and daugher or sisters. The ruling, it will be seen, implies that the marriages are now extinct, that neither woman is related to the other, and that continuing cohabitation will bring about a fresh marriage. This is what the Rabbis ordain: (a) he should keep one and dismiss the other; (b) once he has had intercourse after conversion with one, this is his wife; and (c) if he has had intercourse after conversion with both, both are his wives. The rationale of the decision is as follows. Jewish law prohibits marriage with a woman and her daughter or sister. However, owing to conversion, neither of these women is any longer related to the other. In principle, therefore, there is no objection to marriage with both. Nonetheless, according to (a), one ought to be discarded, because otherwise Judaism might look like a lighter sanctity: even heathers do not customarily marry mother and daughter or sisters, though as the present case shows it does happen. Which of the two is to go is up to the man; and it is worth noting that the verb in the text, hosi’, “to lead out,” may refer not only to dissolution of a marriage but also to dismissal where there is no room for divorce proper — e.g. to Halitzah. For, again, owing to conversion, the marriages are ended. He simply bids one of them leave. With the one he keeps, a fresh marriage is constituted by continuing cohabitation. This is evident from (b) where it is provided that once he has cohabited with one, he has lost his free choice: she has become his wife. It is confirmed by (c): by cohabiting with both, however undesirable it may be, he has made both his wives. It seems that the Rabbis do not even insist that he now divorce one of the two: the risk of giving the impression of a lighter sanctity is not in this case so overwhelmingly grave as to call for further measures once he has remarried both — heathens do occasionally contract this union.’
- “Pauline Contributions to a Pluralistic Culture” in Jesus and Man’s Hope, vol. 2, 223-45, repr. in CWDD II, 537-52.

The parallels with the situation in I Cor. 7 are apparent. If Daube is right, there is no “Pauline Privilege” to divorce in the case of conversion. The Roman Catholic Church has made that up on the basis of a misinterpretation. Rather, one simply allows the unbeliever to leave. Do not send him away if he is willing to continue. A fresh marriage is constituted by the cohabitation, so any child of the marriage is not illegitimate, but ἅγιος. Incidentally, Daube’s interpretation provides a clear reason for the difference between the status of the unbelieving spouse (ἡγίασται, “has been sanctified”) and the status of the child (ἅγιος, “holy” or “clean,” i.e. “legitimate”) — a difference which has proved difficult for other interpretations to explain.
Daube’s view also provides a basis for the permission to allow the unbeliever to leave the marriage. On the Privilegium Paulinum reading, the apostle is said to be allowing divorce, and for a reason that Jesus himself did not countenance. (There is no mention of πορνεία on the part of the unbeliever.) But on Daube’s reading, there is no divorce in view at all.
On the other hand, if the unbeliever wishes to stay, then the reconstituted marriage is to be welcomed by the believer, who is to prefer the possible conversion of the unbeliever to any exercise of spiritual rights.
All this I find fairly persuasive. It has huge consequences for Christian thought about marriage and divorce, which has been going merrily along for many years now pitting Paul against Jesus or trying to “reconcile” their supposedly different teachings.
We have now come full circle to reconsider 1 Cor. 5:1, where Daube suggests that the same doctrine is at work, and being abused. The Corinthians would not have tolerated open incest. But in this case, they are “puffed up” and proud of it. The reason, he suggests, is that they see the man who has his father’s wife as a shining example of the spiritual freedom they all have as new creations in Christ. Paul’s objection to this activity is based, Daube says, on the fact that it would present a stumbling block to pagans. Paul does not want the surrounding Greco-Roman culture to suppose that Christians are looser than themselves in matters of sexual morality.
The problem with this view was aptly put to me by my former student Betsy P., now in her first year at Hillsdale: Isn’t it absurd to suppose that Paul thinks marrying one’s stepmother is in itself unobjectionable, but doing so when the pagans would raise their eyebrows is grounds for ostracism from the church? It is indeed.
Yet it still seems to me that Daube’s reading accounts well for the spiritual pride of the Corinthians about this matter, and for Paul’s attacks on the same.
I would like to do some more research to get some more Rabbinic evidence. The most relevant tractate of the Talmud is b.Quddishin, which deals with the laws of marriage. Its content, however, is naughty — so much so that it is usually omitted from English translations, is not available online, and is not offered by Soncino Press for individual purchase. (You have to buy the whole Talmud to get it. I will eventually, but I don’t have the $850 for the whole set yet.)

Share Button

Comments are closed.