The Ancient Faith

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Ronny Wade

Question: If it is wrong to marry a non-Christian, would God sanctify such a marriage were it to take place? If not, would it be an adulterous relationship?

Answer: Down through the ages, it has been God’s express desire that His people marry from among His people. In Genesis 24:3 we read the words of Abraham who said “Thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Caananites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go to my country and unto my kindred and take a wife unto my son Isaac.” Again in Genesis 28: 1 we find Isaac instructing Jacob his son: ‘Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.” Later in the Law of Moses we read ‘”Thou shalt make no covenants with them … Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me” Deut. 7:2-3.

During the time of Ezra the people were told “Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel” Ezra 10: 10. All these passages were written “for our learning” Romans 15:4.

They happened “unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition” 1 Cor. 10: 11. In the New Testament Paul addresses this question in 1 Cor. 9:5 “Have we no right to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as the other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?’ The NIV translates the passage “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us?” Rotherham: “Have we not a right to take round a sister wife …” The NEB “Have I no right to take a Christian wife with me …” McGarvey writes: “Have we no right to lead about (in our constant journeyings) a wife that is a believer (i.e., a lawful wife; it was unlawful to marry an unbeliever…).

Macknight says, “…that is a Christian wife …” Paul could have simply said that he had the right to be married or lead about a wife. However he specified the kind of wife to which he had a right i.e. a “sister” or a “Christian.” So far as this writer is concerned, that settles the matter. Christians should marry Christians.

But what about a situation where a Christian marries an unbeliever even though the Scriptures teach otherwise? Are they married in the sight or God? Does he sanctify the marriage? In 1 Cor. 7: 13 we read “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.” Most writers assume that this is a marriage where two unbelievers were married and one obeyed the gospel, becoming a believer. However this marriage came about, the following facts are clear: (1) it is a marriage recognized by God, (2) if the unbeliever is willing to remain with the believer, the marriage should not be broken, and (3) the believer brings a sanctifying influence to the marriage.

To summarize: it is the will of God for Christians to marry Christians, one who disregards the Lord’s will and marries an unbeliever is “married in the sight of God. Such a marriage does not in and of itself constitute an adulterous union. For anyone contemplating marrying outside the faith: if what has been said thus far has not discouraged you in such a course, please consider the following: Two Harvard researchers Dr. C. C. Zimmerman and Dr. L. F. Cervantes studied 60,000 families and discovered: “A higher than average divorce rate in interfaith marriages, two or three times as great. These psychologists also discovered that when the mixed marriage did not end in divorce, it often was still a ‘sick’ marriage.”

Lynn Anderson of the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX did a study of mixed marriages in that church. Using a base figure of 49 he found in such marriages 21 out of 49 left the church. Twelve out of the 49 remained faithful but never converted either mate or children. Nine out of the 49 were able to win their mates to the Master and to be his instrument of converting the whole family. Aside from the fact that the scriptures teach against such marriages, even statistics bear out the great difficulty in making such a marriage successful.

[Querist Column, October, 2001 OLD PATHS ADVOCATE]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”