Let’s read verses 12-16: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (NKJV).

Paul is teaching the saints at Corinth something that had never been spoken of by the Lord Jesus when He was on the earth, for the subject of a marriage consisting of a believer and an unbeliever was not addressed in the gospel accounts. The instruction he gives them in verses 13-14 is astounding, for “under the law” if a Jew married a Gentile and they had children, they had to divorce their spouse and put their children away. Ezra 10:2-3 declares, “And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to PUT AWAY ALL THESE WIVES AND THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BORN TO THEM, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of the our God; and let it be done according to the law.” But Paul is addressing believers who are “under grace,” and thus if a person was converted and their spouse remained an unbeliever, they are encouraged to stay with them. This does NOT condone a new believer marrying an unbeliever, for that would contradict Paul’s teaching in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

It is precious to see the reason why Paul encouraged them to remain with their unconverted spouse, for he clearly states that the “unbelieving spouse is SANCTIFIED by the believing spouse.” The word “sanctified” means “set apart” and in this case it means that the unsaved spouse is “set apart in a place of influence.” If they desire to stay with their saved spouse, they will have a godly testimony manifested before them in the home. They will also be prayed for and possibly have scriptures that bring out God’s way of salvation read to them. This in turn may lead to their salvation, for we read in verse 16 that the believing spouse may “save their unsaved spouse.” Of course God is the One who saves them, but He is pleased to use their testimony to that end.

We also read that the children in this case “are holy.” We saw in Ezra 10:2-3 that children put under the law were to be “put away,” but in this “dispensation of grace” children are “put in a place of godly influence,” just like the unsaved spouse. The word “holy” has the same meaning as “sanctified,” so both speak of being “set apart in a place of privilege” where they will be exposed to the gospel of grace.

What happens if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce? Paul instructs the believer to “let them go” (verse 15). In other words, the believer is not obligated to “fight the divorce.” And once the divorce is finalized, they would be free to remarry, for they are “not under bondage in such cases.” In saying this, I am well aware of the fact that some Bible students believe this verse is speaking of being “separated” and not “divorced,” and thus they go on to teach that there is no thought of being “free to remarry.” They say that the words “not under bondage” imply that they are “not bound to keeping the unbeliever from separating from them. “But I believe the words “not under bondage” was, as one has said, “equivalent to being free”; free to remarry because the marriage has been severed by a divorce. (272.7) (DO)