Tim’s Blog

“Your Children Are Holy”

June 7, 2024

1 Corinthians 7:14 says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: since otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy [or, saints].”

In terms of the logic of this verse, what is axiomatic is the hagia (“holy”) status of the believer’s children. That is axiomatic, not least due to what Jesus says in Matthew 19:13–14 and elsewhere.

In the context, Paul is using this to argue that an existing marriage to an unbeliever (as opposed to willfully entering into a marriage with one) remains God’s will. The spouse’s unbelieving status does not render the marriage illegitimate or unholy because the unbelieving spouse is in that respect sanctified by the believing one.

The two words in the verse, “sanctified” and “holy,” share the same Greek root. They are not, however, the same Greek word; the reference to children is an adjective, while the reference to the spouse is a verb.

This opens up a play on words, and certainly shows a relationship, but it is saying too much to say one is simply the verb form of the other. The verb has a broader usage relating to various levels of consecration, dedication, and so on. The use of the noun, however, can be seen throughout the epistle, starting in 1:2, where the letter is addressed to the “called saints” in Corinth (cf 1 Corinthians 16:15). 1 Corinthians 7:14 is identifying the believer’s children as saints.

Aside from lexical issues, the contextual usage within the verse differs. The reference to the believer’s children being hagia means they are holy seed along the lines articulated throughout Scripture.

Remember again: this statement arises because of a question whether a believer should divorce an unbelieving spouse. Paul says no, and he appeals to the saint-hood of the children as a proof. That is, he is reasoning that if the offspring of the marriage are holy seed, we must not see the marriage itself as illegitimate, even though the spouse is an unbeliever.

The form of argument here is formally similar to how Augustine argues against Pelagius, albeit in a different direction. He appeals to infant baptism to demonstrate the reality of original sin. Infant baptism is the axiom (the agreed-upon view), and the logic is that since baptism washes away sin, therefore, infants must be sinners, too (contra Pelagius).

So again, in this case, the axiom is the hagia status of the believer’s children. Since that is a given, the marriage is legitimate (and therefore should not be forsaken); the unbeliever is in that (limited) sense set apart for this marriage — in contrast to what was required by Ezra and Nehemiah.