The previous post explained the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 7:14 as dealing with the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. This post is a discussion I had with an OPC pastor regarding the text. By the end of the discussion he acknowledges that the text does not prove infant baptism and that he does not know what the holiness of the spouse is.
On Facebook, Jim Cassidy, frequent co-host of Reformed Forum, posted a link to a sermon by Glen Clary on 1 Cor. 7:14 with the title “The Case for Infant Baptism.” Cassidy commented “And that just about ends that debate! Give it a listen….”
So I gave it a listen, and then commented. Here is the discussion (posted with permission). I greatly appreciate Clary’s willingness to discuss openly and to follow the logic. He blogs at Ancient-Reformed Worship.
Matthew Thanks Jim for posting. I listened to it and thought his presentation was clear and that he made a number of helpful points.
I have one question: if ‘holy’ in this passage means a covenantal status that grants the privileges of baptism and membership into Christ’s church, then should the unbelieving spouse also receive baptism since they are also holy? If the the spouse is also covenantally holy then I have two more questions. 1. On what basis can we withhold baptism if they are covenantally holy and a member of Christ’s church? Secondly, would we not have to excommunicate them for apostasy or leading an unrepentantly sinful life (1 Corinthians 5), and if so then wouldn’t we have discipline them at that same time we would have to baptize them (wouldn’t that excluded them from the sign)?
Glen Clary: Matthew. You’re second point answers your first one. The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief (likely an idolater … in first century Corinth). The child would also have to be excommunicated if (God forbid) he grows up to deny the faith and worships idols.
John M. Mason addressed that very question in the 19th c. Here’s his answer.
The only plausible difficulty which lies against our view, is, that “According to the same reasoning, an unbeliever, continuing in unbelief, becomes a member of the church in consequence of marriage with a believer. For the apostle does not more positively affirm that the children are “holy,” than he affirms that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife sanctified, or “made holy,” by the husband.
Therefore, if holiness imparted by the parent to the children, makes them members of the church, the holiness imparted by one parent to the other, makes him or her, a member of the church.
This will not be maintained. For it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife. Well then, if the “sanctification,” which an unbelieving wife derives from her believing husband, does not make her a member of the church, the “holiness” which children derive from a believing parent, cannot make them members of the church.”
The objection is shrewd: but, like many other shrewd things, more calculated to embarrass an inquirer, than to assist him. Our answer is short. First, It makes the apostle talk nonsense. The amount of it when stripped of its speciousness and tried by the standard of common sense, being neither more nor less than this, that all his discourse about the sanctification of husband and wife, and the holiness of their children, means—just nothing at all.
For if it be not an internal holiness, which we do not affirm; nor an external relative holiness, which the objection denies; then a person is said by the apostle to be holy, whose holiness is neither within him nor without him; neither in soul, nor spirit, nor body, nor state, nor condition, nor anything else: which, in our apprehension, is as genuine nonsense as can well be uttered.
If those who differ from us feel themselves wronged, we beg them to show in what the holiness mentioned by the apostle consists.
Secondly. The objection takes for granted, that the sanctification of the husband by his wife, or of the wife by her husband, is precisely of the same extent, and produces on its subject the same effect, as the holiness which children inherit from a believing parent. This is certainly erroneous. (1.) The covenant of God never founded the privilege of membership in his church upon the mere fact of intermarriage with his people: but it did expressly found that privilege upon the fact of being born of them. (2.) By a positive precept, adults were not to be admitted into the church without a profession of their faith. This is a special statute, limiting, in the case of adults, the general doctrine of membership. Consequently, the doctrine of Paul must be explained by the restriction of that statute.
“Sanctify” her unbelieving husband the believing wife does; and so does the believing husband his unbelieving wife; i.e. to a certain length; but not so far as to render the partner thus sanctified, a member of the church—The former cannot be doubted, for the apostle peremptorily asserts it—The latter cannot be admitted; for it would contravene the statute already quoted. The membership of infants does not contravene it. And, therefore, although the holiness which the apostle ascribes to infants involves their membership; it does not follow that the sanctifying influence over an unbelieving husband or wife, which he ascribes to the believing wife or husband, involves the church membership of the party thus sanctified.
(3.) The very words of the text lead to the same conclusion. They teach us, in the plainest manner, that this sanctification regards the unbelieving parent not for his own sake, but as a medium affecting the transmission of covenant privilege to the children of a believer. A simple, and we think, satisfactory account of the matter, is this: Among the early conversions to Christianity, it often happened, that the gospel was believed by a woman, and rejected by her husband; or believed by a man, and rejected by his wife. One of the invariable effects of Christianity being a tender concern in parents for the welfare of their offspring; a question was naturally suggested by such a disparity of religious condition, as to the light in which the children were to be viewed. Considering the one parent, they were to be accounted “holy;” but considering the other, they were to be accounted “unclean.” Did the character of the former place them within the church of God; or the character of the latter without it? or did they belong partly to the church and partly to the world, but wholly to neither ? The difficulty was a real one; and calculated to excite much distress in the minds of parents who, like the primitive Christians, did not treat the relation of their little ones to the church of God, as a slight and uninteresting affair.
Paul obviates it by telling his Corinthian friends, that in this case where the argument for the children appears to be perfectly balanced by the argument against them, God has graciously inclined the scale in favour of his people: so that for the purpose of conveying to their infants the privilege of being within his covenant and church, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband. If it were not so, it must be the reverse; because it is impossible that a child should be born in two contrary moral states: then, the believing husband being rendered “unclean” by his wife; and the believing wife “unclean” by her husband, their children would also be “unclean,” i.e. would be born, not in a state of separation to God; but in a state of separation from him; like those who are without the bond of his covenant, and, not being appropriated to him, are “common” or “unclean.”
But now, saith the apostle, God has determined that the parental influence shall go the other way. That instead of the interest which a child has in his covenant, by virtue of the faith of one parent, being made void by the infidelity of the other; the very fact of being married to a believer, shall so far control the effect of unbelief—shall so far consecrate the infidel party, as that the children of such a marriage shall be accounted of the covenanted seed; shall be members of the church— Now, saith Paul, they are HOLY.
The passage which we have explained, establishes the church membership of infants in another form. For it assumes the principle that when both parents are reputed believers, their children belong to the church of God as a matter of course. The whole difficulty proposed by the Corinthians to Paul grows out of this principle. Had he taught, or they understood, that no children, be their parents believers or unbelievers, are to be accounted members of the church, the difficulty could not have existed. For if the faith of both parents could not confer upon a child the privilege of membership, the faith of only one of them certainly could not. The point was decided. It would have been mere impertinence to teaze the apostle with queries which carried their own answer along with them. But on the supposition that when both parents were members, their children, also, were members; the difficulty is very natural and serious.
“I see,” would a Corinthian convert exclaim, “I see the children of my Christian neighbours, owned as members of the church of God; and I see the children of others, who are unbelievers, rejected with themselves. I believe in Christ myself; but my husband, my wife, believes not. “What is to become of my children? Are they to be admitted with myself? or are they to be cast off with my partner?” “Let not your heart be troubled,” replies the apostle: “God reckons them to the believing, not to the unbelieving, parent. It is enough that they are yours. The infidelity of your partner shall never frustrate their interest in the covenant of your God. They are ‘holy’ because you are so.” This decision put the subject at rest.
And it lets us know that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason of the doubt, whether a married person should continue, after conversion, in the conjugal society of an infidel partner, arose from a fear lest such continuance should exclude the children from the church of God. Otherwise it is hard to comprehend why the apostle should dissuade them from separating, by such an argument as he has employed in the text. And it is utterly inconceivable how such a doubt could have entered their minds, had not the membership of infants, born of believing parents, been undisputed, and esteemed a high privilege; so high a privilege, as that the apprehension of losing it made conscientious parents at a stand whether they ought not rather to break the ties of wedlock, by withdrawing from an unbelieving husband or wife. Thus, the origin of this difficulty on the one hand, and the solution of it, on the other, concur in establishing our doctrine, that, by the appointment of God himself, the infants of believing parents are born members of his church.
Brandon Adams: [responding to the claim in the sermon that there was only ever one people of God, therefore Israel was the church and holiness if the congregation of Christ is the same as holiness in the congregation of Israel]
appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from Rom. ix. 3, 4, 5… It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh. For the apostle is speaking here of the unbelieving Jews, professed unbelievers, that were out of the christian church, and open visible enemies to it, and such as had no right to the external privileges of Christ’s people…
that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him. Such were those that annexed the blessing to the land of Canaan, and the progeny of Isaac and Jacob. Just so it was also as to the covenant God made with David. 2 Sam. vii.. and Psal. cxxxii.. If we consider that covenant with regard to its marrow and soul, it was the covenant of grace: but there were other subservient promises which were typical of its benefits; such were promises of blessings to the nation of Israel, of continuing the temporal crown to David’s posterity, and of fixing the blessing to Jerusalem or mount Zion, as the place which he chose to set his name there. And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.
On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…
That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace
Much of the most plausible argument of Romanists is derived from the analogy of the old dispensation. That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church…
The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church…
It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.
When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37). The Church, therefore, is, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership.
Brandon Adams: Glen, thank you for that extensive quote in response to Matthew’s question. However, I do not believe it sufficiently answers the dilemma, for a number of reasons.
1) Mason criticizes his objectors by saying they provide no definition of what holiness means. However, Mason winds up in the exact same situation. He denies that the holiness of the spouse is the same as the holiness of the child. The holiness of the child accounts them a member of the church, and thus a right to baptism. This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis? What is this holiness if it is not covenant holiness? Mason suffers the problem he criticizes others of: he provides no definition of the spouse’s holiness.
2) If the spouse is considered holy by their membership in the covenant of grace, just like the child, then they have a right to baptism, just like the child. However, Mason rejects this idea when he says “it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife.” Mason thus rejects the idea that the spouse is covenantally holy by virtue of their marriage to a believer. Along the same lines, you said “The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief.” If someone is excommunicated, they are not considered part of the church, nor part of the covenant of grace, and therefore not holy (unless you can offer a different basis for holiness, which goes back to #1).
3) Using a modus tollens form of argument, Paul argues from the status of the child to the status of the spouse:
If P, then Q,
Therefore, Not P.
If the spouse is unholy, then the children would be unholy.
But the children are holy (not-Q),
Therefore, the spouse is holy (not-P).
Per #2 above, you and Mason acknowledge that an unbeliever is unholy. Thus, according to Paul’s logic, the children are likewise unholy.
Glen Clary: Hmmm. Interesting points.
The unbelieving husband certainly has an unholy nature. No question about that. The child may also have an unholy nature, though that is not certain, since he may very well be regenerate.
The status of the unbelieving spouse is, in some sense, holy, since that’s what the text says. The unbelieving spouse derives his/her holiness from the believer; he/she is holy in or through the believing spouse.
The holy status of the children is derived from the status of the parents. The argument seems to be that if both parents are not holy, then the children would be unholy/unclean.
Re: Mason’s explanation, I see your point that he’s guilty of doing what he accuses his opponents of doing. Not sure what to make of that. I’ll have to chew on that some more.
The point Matthew raised about excommunicating the unbeliever/idolater seems to be significant. The unbeliever can’t be baptized because he’s an unbeliever; he would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief. That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?
I preached a couple of sermons on this text. I try to deal with the nature of the holiness of the unbeliever. I referred to him/her as the unbelieving saint.
Here are the links if interested
http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp… Marriage and the Gospel Part 3
http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonid=320161259164 The Case for Infant Baptism
That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?
Yes, though that’s not directly my point of focus here.
Glen Clary: Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been working on this verse for a while. Not an easy one.
Brandon Adams: Thanks, I will listen to the sermons. Could you provide a brief answer? Is the spouse holy because they are in the covenant of grace?
btw, I listened to the second link already. In that sermon you define the holiness as covenant holiness.
Glen Clary: On the one point that you raised
This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis?
The basis of the holiness of the unbelieving husband is his union to his believing wife. The unbelieving husband is made holy in virtue of his union to his wife. I take that to be the meaning of the preposition EN in the text. Still not exactly sure what that means, but…
Yes, I think covenant holiness is in view with regard to all three parties: the believer, the unbeliever and the child.
The reason I take it that way is the holiness that covers all three parties must be the same as the holiness of the believer, since it’s the believer’s holiness that stands behind the holiness of all three. At least that’s what it looks like it’s saying to me.
Brandon Adams: Do you believe that an unbeliever who has been excommunicated from the church is still covenantally holy?
Glen Clary: no
Brandon Adams: Then I am confused. At what point is the unbelieving spouse covenantally holy?
Glen Clary: well, not so sure about my “no”. it depends. if an excommunicated person were still married to a believer, then he would have some sort of holiness as per 7:14
The unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy in some sense as long as he/she is married to a believer
Brandon Adams: Can you define that sense? I’m having a hard time understanding how someone can be excommunicated from the church, yet still be a member of the covenant of grace.
Glen Clary: but that holiness (if it be a covenantal holiness) is derived from his/her marriage union to the believer not from his/her union to Christ
you’re having a hard time with it? I think I am too and so was Mason.
Brandon Adams: Well, personally, I don’t have a hard time with the passage. I have a hard time with your view of the passage.
Glen Clary well then… 😉
Let’s hear your explanation. smile emoticon
Therefore Paul answers that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike opinions of God if the impious person do not cast away the other. And for comfort, he adds as a reason, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Meat is sanctified for that which is holy in use that is granted to believers from God. So here he speaks the use of marriage to be holy and to be granted of God. Things prohibited under the law as swine’s flesh, and a woman in her pollution, were called unclean. The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards and so unclean, but your children are not bastards therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. And how bastards were unclean under the law shows Deut. 23.
Glen Clary: Ran across that view in a few commentaries. I wasn’t and am not convinced of it. It’s not the marriage that is sanctified; it’s the unbelieving spouse who is sanctified. The legitimacy of the marriage and of the children is not the issue in the text. So I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation of the meaning of the text.
Brandon Adams: The legitimacy of the marriage is quite obviously the context 🙂 v 13 “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”
Given that you have not provided a viable alternative interpretation…
Glen Clary: Granted my interpretation poses problems, but that does not prove the legitimacy of the legitimacy interpretation. If legitimacy were obvious, then there should be much more agreement on the interpretation of the text. Fact is, most commentators do not take that view
That interpretation raises all kinds of problems with regard to what scripture teaches about marriage. If neither spouse were a believer, the marriage would be legit and their children legit. Common grace ordinance…
Brandon Adams: Yes, most commentators do not take that view because, like you, they rely on it to prove infant baptism.
But your interpretation results in direct contradiction which you have not resolved.
Glen Clary: Actually, I’ve read +40 commentaries on the text, and most do not use the text to prove infant baptism. In fact, there are some commentators (ancient and modern) who use it to disprove infant baptism.
Pelagius, for example, used it to prove that infants should not be baptized. Augustine countered his interpretation.
There are difficulties with my view, but that, of course, is not the same as contradiction. There are no contradictions in the traditional Reformed interpretation of the text. Difficulties? Yes. Contradictions? Nope.
Brandon Adams: Contradiction: the unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy but is not part of the covenant of grace.
Glen Clary He is only holy in virtue of his one-flesh union to one who is a member of the covt
Brandon Adams: But the child’s holiness is on a completely different basis and produces completely different consequences, and you cannot define or articulate what the non-covenantal covenantal holiness of the spouse is?
Glen Clary: The child’s holiness may be on a different basis. I cant go beyond the text. If the text doesnt articulate or define the holiness of the unbeliever then neither can we. One thing is clear … his holiness is derived from his union to a believer. No doubt about that
Brandon Adams: If you believe the child’s holiness is by virtue of their membership in the covenant of grace, then you must conclude their holiness is on a different basis than the spouse, who is not a member of the covenant of grace. Correct?
Glen Clary: I have no prob with that
Brandon Adams: So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v14 is by virtue of one’s membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?
Glen Clary: Yes it does. The believer is only holy because of his membership in the covenant of grace. The unbelieving spouse is holy only in virtue of his one-flesh union to the believer. The preposition EN makes that clear. If the believer were not a member of the covenant of grace, neither married partner would be holy in any sense at all. So the text does require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v. 14 is by virtue of membership in the covenant of grace.
Brandon Adams: Let me rephrase then:
So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness of the unbelieving spouse or the child is by virtue of their individual membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?
Glen Clary: Correct. The text doesn’t state the basis of the children’s holy status, and I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.
I do think it is telling that Paul does not argue here for the holy status of the children. He assumes that the Christians in Corinth take that as a given. He uses the holy status of the children (which they are certain about) to prove his argument for the holiness of the unbelieving spouse.
One wonders why the holy status of the children is something that he assumes is a given. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace (which scripture explicitly states elsewhere) is a good explanation for that.
Brandon Adams: Ok thanks. Seems Jim Cassidy was a bit over-zealous in his claim that your sermon ends the debate on infant baptism, since the sermon does not claim that the sermon text proves infant baptism. Once again, upon examination, we find another text that only “proves” infant baptism if you first approach the text with the assumption that infant baptism is biblical.
The legitimacy interpretation mentioned above explains the holy status of children quite clearly and why Paul could assume it.
Glen Clary: The legitimacy interpretation, my friend, is ridiculous, which is why virtually every commentator rejects it today. It has no merit to it whatsoever (other than it might get you and other credobaptists off the hook for explaining the holy status of ourchildren).
I’ve made my case for the paedobaptist interpretation. There are difficulties with that interpretation, I know, but at least one thing it has in its favor is that it is a genuine exegesis of the text. It doesn’t totally redefine the meaning of holy as legitimate, a meaning which it NEVER has anywhere in Paul’s letters.
The legitimacy interpretation fails on that account, and for that reason, it must be rejected as incorrect.
Having said that, I fully admit that even if the legitimacy interpretation is wrong (which it is), that does not prove that the paedobaptist interpretation is correct. Both could be wrong. But I remain convinced that despite its difficulties, ours is correct.
You’ve done a fine job of pointing out the difficulties of the text, but you’ve done nothing at all to demonstrate any exegetical or theological fallacies in our interpretation.
1 Cor. 7:14 is not an easy text because it’s a bit unclear. What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture. And what’s equally clear is that children have always been included in that covenant.
I’m checking out of this conversation because we’re now repeating ourselves. In fact, as Mason illustrates, this debate over the meaning of holy in 7:14 is not new. Same old debate.
Credobaptists will never prove that God now commands children to be excluded from the covenant of grace even though he at one time commanded their inclusion.
Brandon Adams: Thank you for your time Glen. In conclusion, the spouse’s holiness is not derived from their membership in the covenant of grace, thus there is no reason one must conclude the child’s is either. That assumption is brought to the text from elsewhere to explain the text.
What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture.
Yes, but it does not therefore follow that Israel was the church nor that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace (see my previous quotes before this conversation from Edwards and Hodge).
Have a good night!