There is an interesting expression in 1 Corinthians 7:14 which may need clarification. It says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.” The most basic thing we need to know is the meaning of “sanctified.” It simply means, “set apart.” It does not mean sinless, or saved. The vessels of the tabernacle which were set apart for God’s use were holy or sanctified. The saints (Christians) atCorinthhad been called and set apart for God’s use, but committed many sins.

What is meant by the statement that the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife? It is not “by the wife” as if she were the agent by whom the sanctification took place, but “in the wife” because it is the marriage relationship of which he speaks. It is noteworthy that the words “sanctified” are perfect tense. That denotes the present state that results from a past action. Apparently the past action to which he refers was the sanctification that took place when the couple married, and still is in effect. He is simply saying that the wife who has an unbelieving husband does not need to put him away as she would if the relationship itself were wrong or unholy. Although he is an unbeliever, the marriage bond was and is still sacred, so the unbeliever is set apart in a sanctified relationship. In this context it has nothing whatever to do with salvation from sin.

Paul goes on to say that if that were not true and they were simply living together in an unholy relationship, any children they might have would be considered unclean. Stated another way, if they were not really husband and wife, their children would be illegitimate. When he uses the word “unclean” he does not mean that the child is a sinner. In the Old Testament a person who touched the carcass of a hog or camel would be unclean until the evening (Lev.11:24). Even a woman who bore a child would be unclean for seven days (Lev.12:2).

So a child born of an unholy union does not reflect on the child’s relationship to God at all, nor should it cause us to castigate or make unkind remarks about the child. So Paul simply means that God recognizes and approves of the marriage relationship, even if one of the persons is an unbeliever, for if he did not, he would not approve of a child being born in that relationship. But since the relationship is sacred or sanctified, the child born in such a relationship is legitimate.

There are many lessons we can gain from this verse, including the fact that marriage is sacred, even to an unbeliever. This is given as the reason for the previous verse, which indicates its permanency. It shows that unmarried persons should not bear children, but does not suggest that children born in an unholy relationship are at fault.

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