These words are found in 1 Corinthians 7:39. In that passage; we are told: (a) that a widow may marry again; (b) that she may marry “whom she wishes”; (c) But, if she marries, she should marry “only in the Lord.”
Now, I have heard brethren try to explain this passage in different ways. (a) Some have suggested that what is being taught in the restrictive phrase, “only in the Lord,” is that the widow must make sure that she is marrying consistent with God’s will – i.e. not violating passages such as Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:11a, etc. (b) Others have repunctuated the sentence structure, putting the phrase with verse 40; Thus, making the words “only in the Lord” mean in essence – “As a Christian (only in the Lord) however, I believe (after my judgment) that she will have a happier existence if she remains unmarried (if she so abide) … due to the present distresses faced by the early church at this time” (cf. v. 26-27). But, (c) the most common explanation is that this passage teaches that a widow may, indeed, marry. However, if she does, she must marry a Christian.
Now, with all of those explanations it is easy to get confused; However, if we could soberly consider an Old Testament passage, and compare it to 1 Corinthians 7:39, I believe that the actual meaning will be clear. Consider Numbers 36:5-6.
Watch the parallel:
Numbers 36:5-6 daughters of Zelophehad 1 Corinthians 7:39 widow
let them marry she is at liberty to be married
to whom they think best to whom she wishes
- they may marry only within the family of the their father’s tribe only in the Lord.
Watch the following facts: (1) The language of Numbers 36:6 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 are very similar in wording; (2) The restive clause of the Numbers 36:6 passage clearly concerns instruction as to whom one should marry. Doesn’t it make sense then, that must be what 1 Corinthians 7:39 is referring to as well?
The wording “In the Lord” may be used in different ways Biblically. However, it seems clear to me that 1 Corinthians 7:39 does teach that a Christian widow woman should marry an eligible Christian man, if she is going to marry.