Marrying “Only in the Lord”

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:

  1.   Numbers 36:5-6                daughters of Zelophehad                                                                 1 Corinthians 7:39                      widow
  2.  let them marry                                                                                                                              she is at liberty to be married
  3. to whom they think best                                                                                                                 to whom she wishes
  4. 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.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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3 Responses to Marrying “Only in the Lord”

  1. Teresa Demory says:

    Brian wouldn’t that make a God a respecter of persons requiring something of one group (widows) which is not required of anyone else? I agree it is best to marry a Christian but since it is not a requirement then why all of a sudden would God require it of just one particular group of women? What about widowers?

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      Hi Teresa,

      I hope all is going well with you, Mike and the new work. Perhaps, one day I will be able to visit this work.

      In reply to your questions:
      (1) I do not think that passages about God not being a respector of persons applies. The context of such passages, e.g. Acts 10:34-35, 1 Peter 1:17, is judgment. However, these words cannot be applyed to everything. God chose to communicate through certain selected prophets. God selected to work His plan through one nation. God has specified who can serve as elders and deacons. He has said which gender is to lead the assembly.
      (2) I will not be so bold to know why God requires this or anything. He is God. He sets the rules. However, I know of no passage where one who was already a Christian married a non-Christian. It is at least unwise. Paul would marry a believer, if he married (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5).
      (3) I believe that this likely should be applied to widowers as well. When Paul said “If her husband dies, she is at liberty to marry,” don`t you think that he is also authorizing widowers to remarry? When Jesus said ” whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery,” don`t you think that this equally applies to whoever marries him who is divorced? When Paul said ” Fathers do not provoke your children to wrath..,” he was not saying that it was OK for mothers to do so. When he said that women were to wear “modest apparel…which is proper for women professing godliness,” he did not mean that it was OK for men to dress immodestly.
      (4) Now I will address Ephesians 6:1 The literal reading is “The children obey you the parents of you in the Lord for this is right.” There are three common views as to what the phrase “in the Lord” modifies. (a) Some think that the words modify “obey.” That is, children obey your parents as long as doing such involves no disobeying of God (cf. Acts 5:29). Foy Wallace Jr. is an example of one who held this position. It is absolutely true that obedience to those in authority has the limits of God as the ultimate Authority.( b) Some think that the words modify the parents. That is, children obey your parents because they are Christians. Gary Workman is an example of one who held this position. I have a difficulty with this view. I find many instances in the Scriptures where submission is instructed even unto those who are not Christians, or even godly. (c) Some think that the words modify the children. That is, children, because you are christians, be obedient to your parents. B. W. Johnson, G. C. Brewer, Roy Lanier Sr., Buster Dobbs are examples of men who have held this position. I believe that this position is correct. Clearly, all children should be submissive to their parents. However, children who are Christians especially have incentive to do so. They are suppose to be Christians. Paul is appealing to this fact. It is worth pointing out that Paul clearly, is not addressing this to babes or small children. He is addressing those old enough to hear and obey the command. However, the issue is not how the phrase is being used in Ephesian 6:1. The issue is how is the phrase being used in the passage under consideration.

      I believe that the words “in the Lord” are used in different ways in the Bible. However, it is used for those who are in Christ, Christians, or faithful Christians – consider, Romans 16:11; Ephesian 6:21; Revelation 14:13. Moreover, consider a simular term “in Christ” – 2 Corinthians 12:2; Galatians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 4:16, etc.

      These are my thoughts. I submit them for your consideration.

      Abide in Him, Bryan

  2. Teresa Demory says:

    Brian consider another scripture “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Eph. 6:1) children obey your parents only if they are Christians??? Doesn’t make sense to me.

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