By William B. Wright
Due to some apparent misunderstanding of sonic of the points I advocated in my article, “The Beginning of Sorrows,” which appeared in the September 28, 1972 issue of Truth Magazine, I wish to attempt to clarify some of those misunderstandings, which have been called to my attention. This additional statement is intended to accomplish this goal.
As a first consideration, however, I suggest that the interested reader try the following procedure:
1. Write on paper all the scripture references contained in my article plus any others that may seem to be relevant.
2. Read those references carefully and in context.
3. Then, using his powers of common sense, ask: “What is the inspired writer saying?”
This should help him considerably. Now let I s look at some of the principal misunderstandings known to me.
Misunderstanding No. 1
Nehemiah 13:23-27 condemns the “mixing of races” and secondarily deals with possible spiritual damage. The object, according to some, of this teaching is to maintain a pure lineage for Christ.
I urge the candid reader to read Nehemiah 13: 23-27 carefully along with Deut. 7:1-4 and Josh. 23:12-13. The conclusion is inescapable that the leaders of Israel who feared God and were in receipt of His teaching condemned mixed marriages and cited as a reason why it should not happen that God’s people would be led away from Him by mixed marriages.
In my article I cited Old Testament passages to point out a principle-nothing more. That some of the old worthies married women not of the family of Israel is beyond question. Boaz married Ruth (a Moabites) and their son was in the lineage of Christ. Evidently Rachab (or Rahab) was not of the family of Israel, but her son was in the lineage of Christ. Joseph married a lady of Egypt. The mother of Rehoboam was an Ammonites and her son was in the lineage of Christ. The point in all of this is not that men of God married women who by the incidence of birth were born to people of Moab or Egypt or Ammon, but the fact that God did not want His people corrupted by false gods, false worship, and false practice. These things were in integral art of the ways of other nations. Thus, warnings were issued more than once, in effect, “Marry your own!”
Today, it isn’t the incidence of what family one is born into that matters nor his previous condition of religious servitude, but whether the two partners to marriage bring to each other a full and unreserved submission to Christ so as not to corrupt the worship and work of each other. That is the real issue! It is exceedingly poor reasoning to think that a non-Christian did not subtract something from the Christian who is married to him. regardless of how moral the non-Christian is supposed to be.
Misunderstanding No. 2
Let’s look at the matter of 1 Corinthians 9: 5. At issue here in the minds of some is the question of whether Paul’s statement thus forbids the marriage of a Christian to a no Christian. I consider this “the wrong end of the stick.” We who are members of the church of Christ has repeatedly told our religious neighbors that God told us to sing and said nothing about mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship. Therefore, we sing-which is safe and commanded-and reject mechanical instruments of music in worship because they are excluded from reference or condemnation. They just aren’t discussed in the Sacred Scriptures. We have followed similar arguments on sprinkling and quarterly communion. Since God said through Paul it is right to have a Christian companion, why not practice that which is safe? Why should I exempt the question of marriage from this interpretation of Scripture? I can positively prove that marriage of a Christian to a Christian is right. I need make no excuses for it or argue from a negative standpoint. No one will challenge this position its to its being right and safe. It is the best thing a Christian can do. Why not stand here? One need not worry about recommending or having recommended this position to young and old alike.
Misunderstanding No. 3
Another matter which some suggest which varies from the position I took in my article is that the phrase, “in the Lord,” in 1 Cor. 7:39, does not mean the marriage partner of a Christian widow must be a Christian. Some offer what I consider to be an amplified translation saying of it along with the same phrase in Eph. 6: 1; “The expression, rather, seems to mean widows are to marry and children are to obey their parents only to the extent that they would not be caused by ‘obedience’ or marriage’ to disobey the Lord.” I believe this point of view is quite labored. Would one be willing to argue the same in regard to ‘in Chris- in Gal. 3:27? In both cases, Paul was instructing Christians how to conduct themselves. In Ephesians Paul has some instructions for all members of a Christian home. He is not speaking to non-Christians. He had instruction, first, for wives and husbands (Eph. 5:22-23), then children (6: 1-3), after that fathers (6: 4), and finally servants (6:5-9). If one can explain away “in the Lord” saying it does not mean Christian, there are an infinite number of possibilities for explaining away many passages. I conclude that the argument above cited is a matter of extracting an expression that happens to contain exactly the same three words from two contexts and causing them to govern both situations in a very narrow word “strait-jacket.”
While I do not consider the words of a commentator to be inspired, I do feel that when someone expresses a truth better than I it is proper to quote that individual. Therefore, I wish to insert at this point a quotation by Lipscomb and Shepherd on 1 Cor. 7:39 (Gospel Advocate Commentary on First Corinthians, pp. 114-115):
“This prohibits the widow marrying one not a Christian. I know no reason why a widow should be more restricted as to whom she marries than a virgin. Under the Law of Moses the man was prohibited marrying out of the family of Israel, save when the woman would identify herself with the chosen people. The reason given was lest they should draw them into idolatry. Solomon violated the law, and, despite his wisdom and power, his wives drew him into idolatry. Influence is frequently more potent for evil than authority or power.”
Then, a paragraph later:
“The whole drift and tenor of the Scriptures, both of the Old Testament and the New, is that in the close and intimate relations of life the people of God should seek companionship of servants of God, that they might help and encourage each other in the Christian life. “
Misunderstanding No. 4
Another point that I believe is misunderstood by some is the meaning and use of 2 Cor. 6: 14-18. One must recognize that every principle and teaching must be first interpreted within its context and its application may have some limitations. I said in my article: “He also admonished the Corinthian Christians to avoid being unequally yoked with unbelievers, (2 Cor. 6:14) Now in what condition is a person more ‘unequally yoked’ to an unbeliever than in the marriage relationship?” I have heard preachers who preached excellent sermons on such questions as marriage, the danger of marriage to those not Christians, 2 Cor. 6:14-18 etc., then turn around in the same sermon and say these verses do not apply to marriage and it is no sin to marry one not a Christian. Concerning these verses (2 Cor. 6:14-18) some argue that it is contradictory to teach that they apply to marriage because verse 17 states that one is to come out from among them and Cor. 7:12-13 suggests that the Christian who is married to a non-Christian is to remain with his non-Christian mate as long as that one is content to dwell with him.
I deny that any contradiction results from applying 2 Cor. 6:14 to marriage. Obviously it does not apply to marriage alone. It applies to any circumstance (marriage, business, social organization, fraternal organization) where a Christian is bound to a non-Christian. But the difference is I can dissolve a business partnership, or cease attending a social group, or resign from a fraternal order without God ordained penalties being visited upon me. With marriage a prior restriction exists, namely, a man is not to put away his wife for every cause. Thus, in all circumstances that I can think of save one, I can come out and be separate. But, from marriage, I cannot. For Paul to have spent his time writing to the Corinthians setting forth all the exceptions would have turned the letter into a 900-page doctoral dissertation instead of the small book of simplicity which provides us with precepts, approved examples, and necessary inferences adequate to our needs.
What would one know about baptism if be chose to use only the 16th chapter of Acts without using, the 8th chapter of Acts and other passages such as Rom. 6:4 and Col. 2:12? What would one know about the Lord’s Supper if he used only Acts 20:7? See what I mean?
Misunderstanding No. 5
1 gather that it is not clear to some that I fully understand the implications of what I said about the treatment accorded a couple where a Christian marries a non-Christian, once the event had taken place. Further, some suggest that I contradict myself in this. So let’s have another look.
First, I do believe the Christian who marries a non-Christian commits an act of sin. Make no mistake about that! This must follow from my view of 1 Cor. 7 :30 and 9: 5. At no time in all of this did I think otherwise or have I tried to imply otherwise.
Second, if I understand the New Testament correctly, the only prerequisite for a male and female being validly married is that there be no disability to it in the eyes of God. The only disability I can identify that would make it no marriage is a previous marriage undissolved in the eyes of God. If a Christian and a non-Christian are married where no such disability exists, then the marriage is a valid one. The Christian cannot put away his wife just because he wishes to do so (1 Cor. 7:12-13).
Third, but what does that Christian do about his act of sin? Seek the forgiveness of God. Can he thus remove the problem of living with someone who has no interest in the Christian faith? Of course not! He can no more remove that (with God’s approval) by his own action (except through conversion) than a Christian who becomes an alcoholic and then repents can remove the physical problems (sclerosis, for example) that were caused by his sin. He has to make the best of it.
Fourth, what should other Christians do about brethren who sin in this or any other circumstance? Try to help them in every way possible to do right! There are brethren who feel as I do about this matter who seem to think we ought to ostracize brethren after they marry out of the church. I can think of no good thing coming from such an attitude. The object of the true Christian is to take his fellowman (Christian and non-Christian alike) where he finds him and to do his best to insure his eternal, salvation leading him to completeness in Christ.
Therefore. I solemnly affirm that my attitude is consistent with the truth as it is in Christ and is in no way inconsistent with truth.
A Word Of Counsel Especially For Preachers
I wish to counsel brethren who feel that I am wrong in my approach to this question, and especially to preachers who make “much to do” about the position I bold in this matter. They make much of what we say and teach on this subject though they must acknowledge the way we propose is unquestionably safe. They lend all the encouragement in the world to Christians who have formed romantic attachments outside the church. They always say, “we don’t recommend it,” yet they spend so much time arguing that “God didnt say not to do it,” that the Christian so inclined does not hear the recommendation. I know quite a number of young people who have made that unfortunate decision to marry out of the church and have either been completely destroyed as Christians because of it, or have most certainly been much weakened because of it.
How much encouragement would it be to Brother Preacher, who is sound in the faith and knowledgeable of the importance of obeying the Scriptures, to go home at the evening hour to put his arms around a wife who did not share with him the common faith? How would it be for him, if at the approach of the hour of worship, it was not taken for granted that all members of the family were going to the place of worship? How would he react if his mate were to tell him she did not see the point to giving as he is prospered’! Suppose his mate saw nothing wrong in gambling a little or a social drink? How can we expect one not a Christian to be governed by any of the laws of Christ unless that one first embraces the faith in Christ? If this would be a major problem for Brother Preacher who is sound in the faith and trained in the faith, what is it for the young sister or young brother who does not bear the preacher’s recommendation because he protested so loudly that “God didn’t say not to do.”
Though he does not intend it, Brother Preacher inadvertently leads young men and women into destructive circumstances that will destroy the soul. I do not say this with any intent to be harsh. But it is just as important that I call forcefully to the attention of the preachers who choose to read this article what is really happening as it is for them to preach on adultery and sectarianism which also destroy the soul. I personally feel that preachers would be better advised to give a much stronger emphasis to the wise action young people should take, namely, select their mates in Christ, and less emphasis to their disagreement with me over the question of whether it is a sin or not. They unquestionably agree with me that it is wiser-far wiser to marry in Christ. Our difference then becomes somewhat academic. God will judge whether it is a sin or not. But the end product in both instances should be to urge young people to marry in Christ. I believe all – nearly all- of them feel that way. If they do not, then we are truly at issue and the question is not academic. They are entirely within their rights to question whether I have practiced sound hermeneutics. I can think of no reason why they should refrain from so doing. But I urge them in challenging my point of view on this question to be certain that their teaching now is something they can be certain they will be content to live with for the rest of their lives and will not be ashamed of in the judgment.
To the candid reader I say from the depths of my being, do not be influenced by what “seems” to be the case, or what some man thinks, or conclusions drawn from negative judgments, or by amplified renderings of the Scriptures which read into the text that which is not or may not be there, but rather be influenced by that Which is right and cannot be wrong!
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 26, pp. 8-11
May 3, 1973