Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:13-14

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a atheist who is happily married to a Christian. The fact that Cori and I are in a healthy cross-faith relationship has perplexed some, but interested most.

When we talk to others about our cross-faith relationship,
the 'do not be yoked with unbelievers' verse (2 Corinthians 6:14) is often raised in conversation. Cori and I are friends with another cross-faith couple in Pretoria, and while we were talking to them about this verse, they raised an interesting point:

What did the early Christians do about marriage?

Think about it. When the church first sparked into life, there would have been very few converts to begin with. If you were a recently converted woman in the early church, it would have been quite difficult for you to find a Christian husband, simply because there were few Christians to begin with. Did this mean you could not marry at all?

But what if you were already married, and you converted to this new religion but your partner did not? In the first few years of the church, most converts would have been adults, most of whom would have already been married to non-Christians.

I wonder if this is the reason for 1 Corinthians 7:13-14, a verse that Juno posted up on one of my earlier blog posts regarding this topic. It reads:

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Could it be that inter-faith relationships were the norm in the early church, and only later did it become the exception?


atimetorend said...

Interesting speculation, with a lot of variables. One would be the timing and circulation of this teaching within Christian communities. 1 Cor. was likely written before the gospels, so it is possible that it preceeded the teachings of Jesus against divorce.

Another important thing would be the context of the teaching. Paul seems to have taught that that Christ's return was imminent. That changes things a lot concerning marriage. Staying single is a much more realistic and reasonable thing if Jesus is coming back next year, then if you are going to remain unmarried for a lifetime.

These are pretty idle speculations from someone not so well read in the bible (me that is). Ultimately, I think it does show that we need to interpret the bible for ourselves in our time, and cannot assume that the teachings from the 1st century need be applied the same way today. Even if we could confidently understand their original context.

The Spear said...

Thank God! Pheweeee! That means I'll go to heaven too!


Sarge said...

My wife and I have been married for over forty years, she is xian, I have been an atheist since age five.

We've had our ups and downs, disagreements and other differences, but never has a question of religion benn one of them.

Our closest friends are a cousin of mine and his wife. He is also atheist, and his wife of forty two years has been a methodist preacher for forty of them. She's just retiring. They've never had a religious argument either.

All the religious things have come from outside of the pair.

Nikeyo said...

I think you make good points. It's an excellent question to ask what were the marital situations during this time of primitive Christianity. Certainly there were interfaith marriages. This issue was touched on with the passage by Paul which you quoted.

In general, however, this was a difficult time all together in terms of marriages. This could be read in Paul's teaching of "it best not to be married." Certainly Paul could not have been making a general statement through time to all people. If it was better not to be married, and all took this advice, well then we would cease to be! We would cease to propagate.

The best question is to ask how the readers of those days read the verse. Did they really read it the way we read it today? What does it mean to be "yoked"? Can we equate it to marriage? What is an unbeliever? Does a Jew count? Does a God-fearer count? There's a lot of issues that need to be asked before people jump to interpreting it in black and white.

These are my opinions and observations however. =) Unfortuantely! I find too many people that takes this verse to the extreme. Even Christians whom they don't believe are "true Christian" (doctrinal issue) they'll cease being friends with. So it's a difficult verse.

William Cody Bateman said...

Something is very wrong with your theology my dear friend.

1. You cannot be an "ex-Christian" because, in order to the a "Christian" in the first place, you must have been "born of the Spirit." In fact, God makes it very clear that, "...unless you are born-again, you will NOT enter the kingdom of God."

2. Jesus Christ declares that all who are His (having been born again) are "hid" in Him! In fact, all who are born again, are kept by that the "power of God" awaiting our salvation - Jesus Christ.

3. You may have "tasted" of the goodness of God but were never His follower because you were never born of His Spirit but remain in your flesh to follow its lust of this world.

As far as marriage goes - there is no real confusion concerning believers (true followers of Jesus Christ) NOT being yoked with unbelievers. If one becomes born again in Jesus Christ after having married an unbeliever - the burden is on that true Christian spouse to:

A. Remain with the unbelieving one that, by their testimony they may become convinced of their need for repentance and salvation.

B. If the unbeliever leaves because of the faith of the believing spouse - the believing spouse is to "let the unbeliever leave" that there might be peace amongst the brethren (of true believers.)

Yes, a issue of one being a "true follower of Jesus Christ" is indeed, a doctrinal issue - not from man's point of view though. No! It's a doctrine of God Himself!

I hope sir, that you will carefully consider your lack of being "born of the Spirit" and why your eternal destination depends on this.

He loves you but He also declares that, "If you reject me you are become my enemy."

Please, He loves you enough to tell you that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life! John 14:6

anon said...

I've subscribed to your blog, and have been reading it with great interest and sometimes trepidation. I am an ordained Methodist minister and have been in ministry for the past 10 years. I have had a very experiential faith in God, have believed myself to be filled with the Holy Spirit and have witnessed many miracles and fruits of my ministry.

For a long time I have struggled with the role of the modern church as it has deviated from Jesus' teachings both in doctrine and practice. I chose however to remain within the context of the church and address these hypocrisies from within.

Unfortunately, the longer I served God, the more I tried to 'seek His face' the more I began to suspect that God is not as actively involved in our lives as we would like to believe. (I still believe in God but no longer believe in the deity of Jesus, although I don't doubt he was very connected to God).

Your theological insights resonate with much that I am struggling with in myself. I appreciate your reflections. I differ from you in the sense that I think we have made God in OUR image as opposed to there being no God at all.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Sarge! Welcome! Thank you for your comment and I hope to see more of you in future posts.

Anon wrote:

For a long time I have struggled with the role of the modern church as it has deviated from Jesus' teachings both in doctrine and practice.

Welcome to you too, anon. Thank you for your kind words, and I hope to hear more of your thoughts on this blog. You raise an important point here. Someone mentioned earlier (or maybe on another post of mine) that the early church did not have the entire New Testament to guide them. This means that much of what the modern church defines as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of behaviour was probably not yet fully defined in those early years.

I think – and this is pure speculation on my part – that the early church was exciting, adventurous, but also messy. I don’t think early Christians got so hung up on pedantic moral issues that the modern church find so important. After all, wasn’t Jesus himself accused of been a ‘glutton’ and ‘drunkard’ (Luke 7:33-34). I imagine, if Jesus existed as the Bible claims, he would have been the life of any party. And I don’t think this fact, if true, would distract from his message.

Zillah said...

Hi Kevin,

Well your comment sparked in me a passionate return to studying my Church history textbooks. I just about read the whole Church History 1 text book in one sitting. As I was poring over things like the canonisation of the bible as well as the introduction of various dogmas, such as the deity of Jesus etc. It struck me how 'unrighteous' the process was, and that it was not an obvious revelation of truth to the early church. It is also striking the fact that huge quantities of Christians at the time thought the Council at Nicene and Tertullian trinitarian ideas were heretic in nature. Only 3 centuries later did the controversy die down and for some reason was accepted universally by the church. I found this quite perplexing, as despite studying this before this truth did not strike me.

It's as if we have tried to protect the church through our protection of these insane theologies in order to continue this 'us' and 'them' concept. In order to feel that we have Christian assurance possibly.

This is obviously just my thought on the matter, but I wonder why we so easily accept certain doctrines yet challenge those less core to the faith.

I also cringed when I saw anon come up on your blog. I hate not having a backbone!

So thanks again,

Karla said...

I think the spiritual union is difficult when different faiths are involved. But not impossible. The Scripture does not encourage a believer to leave an unbeliever.

Swimmner said...

I am a woman who recently met a man who treats me with respect, admiration and great care. I have been working toward Christianity for a while. He is agnostic. I am confused. Sometimes I think I might strive harder to understand my faith as I continue to see him. It is a long distance relationship but we talk every day.
Any comments?

Amelia said...

My husband with whom I have been in a relationship for 9 years and married for 1 1/2 has had a startling spiritual epiphany. Startling because I never would have guessed that of all the trials and tribulations of marriage that he would have a revelation and want to "make things right with God"(quoting his words, I'm not being facetious).

My husband is currently incarcerated and will be for the next 3-4 years. I received a letter last night and was utterly gobsmacked by this. I felt we were so of the same mind previously, and simply didn't forsee this as ever becoming an issue.

I feel betrayed, but I see that I am not being betrayed, not really. It's the expectation of "sameness" that was mentioned somewhere. It's daunting to feel your boat rocking. Especially when we already endure so many other obstacles with him being in prison.

this wasn't a "jailhouse conversion" and it didn't involve anything but his personal struggle with reconciling his life. I believe that childhood trauma that wasn't relieved by praying caused him to be angry with his god and to rebel against him.

I never had anger with god or even much with the religion I had growing up (a liberal Catholic upbringing). I just felt, around age 10 that god was like Santa, the promise of presents as a way to get you to behave. And later I began to believe that man created god for himself, in his image rather than the other way around. And I just felt it wasn't for me.

I don't knock whatever works for people, but I'm already feeling some amounts of disapproval of me from my husband and it scares me. I love him so much and we've come so far together. He's tired of battling his demons and he feels now that he has been doing it all wrong, that he needs to let god take over. I'm worried that as a newly reminted theist (I'm not sure if he has taken on the mantle of Christianity at this time) that he will have a tendency to be judgemental and on his high horse. And I'm more worried that I will react in ways to enflame him, not purposely, but just because I am confused and unsure how to proceed.

i think this blog is amazing. I applaud you both for overcoming these obstacles. I have found thus far that we feel closer and more loving when we overcomme things that would destroy other marriages.

this is a big one, though. It has me frightened out of my wits!

Anne said...

I know your post is a year old, but I just stumbled across it. My boyfriend is a Christian who believes in Jesus and all that. I am an atheist and have been all my life. He doesn't go to church and doesn't spend time studying the Bible. He just feels strongly, as strongly as I feel that we are just creatures living on this planet for a time, that God exists. He says he feels his presence every day.

We have talked enough for me to know that he is a good Christian. He doesn't want to indoctrinate his children. He doesn't have problems with gay people. He's just a good person and thinks beliefs are personal.

My one concern is that he can't answer a very important question of mine: Am I going to hell? He doesn't think I should care because I don't believe anyway. I think he should care because I am a good person and what kind of God would send me to hell? And if that's where I'm headed to, shouldn't he want to save me? Eventually, he told me that he believes I am in his life so he can bring me to God. I told him that won't happen. But he still can't answer my question. It's important to me.

There is a great NPR story about a man named Carlton Pearson, who is a minister from my state, Oklahoma, who stopped believing in hell and what that did to his life. I can respect that kind of religion. The kind that doesn't damn good people. I was listening to Dan Savage's advice podcast today when a caller had my problem. Dan's advice was.. good but not helpful to me. On the next week's episode, a man called to say that the girl with the Christian boyfriend should have him look up 1 Corinthians 7. Is it really possible that, if I marry my boyfriend, he can use this passage to believe I'm not going to hell? I'm asking because I have no religious background. Maybe I'm missing something.