Explain 1 Cor 7:16 purpose

“[16] For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”
[1 Corinthians 7:16]

What is v16 saying? What does it mean? Why is it here? Is it unnecessary or does it clarify the previous verses?

v15 is the fundamental, scriptural authority for the doctrine called the Pauline Privilege (PP) - not to be confused with another Church doctrine called the Petrine Privilege - but then v16 is in opposition to the PP. So I’d like to see if anyone has a good, thoughtful explanation for v16 in the context of this part of scripture.

Context (DR): Instruction to Christians about marriage, about divorce and about remarriage.
But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment. [7] For I would that all men were even as myself: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that.
[8]But I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I.
[9] But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to be burnt.
[10] But to them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband.
[11] And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.
[12] For to the rest I speak, not the Lord. If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
[13] And if any woman hath a husband that believeth not, and he consent to dwell with her, let her not put away her husband.
[14] For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband: otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy.
[15] But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace.
[16] For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

If the act of letting the non-Christian husband (or wife) leave unbinds the Christian from their marriage is part of some plan to ‘save’ the non-Christian, then the sentiments expressed earlier, all of which are oriented towards the couple remaining in a marital relationship, even with an non-Christian, would rather support the idea that the abandoned spouse should wait for their non-believing spouse to be saved and return, have their marriage canonically validated in the Church and therefor have the full Sacrament of Matrimony. And NOT have the Christian divorce their spouse to ‘marry’ someone else?

If you take out v16, the PP would be better supported. But v16 is there. Hence my inquiry of others as to their thoughts about why its there, what it means especially how it explains v15.

I think it hinges on whether or not the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay with the believing spouse. If not, the PP comes into play. If so, V16 comes into play. They aren’t contradictory.

If I understand what you are saying, you think 16 reinforces 12-14 and doesn’t link to 15?

Elsewhere in the NT, the idea of a wife having influence over her husband so that he comes to believe is mentioned, so the idea of sticking it out with the unbeliever if they stay so that they might come to believe is validly supported.

Try switching 15 and 16. Then it reads as you seem to suggest. 16 supports the idea of sticking around if the unbeliever stays. And then throws in the exclusion, the ‘but,…’ of v15. That would make PP much clearer. However, seeing as how swapping 15 and 16 does strengthen and clarify the PP doctrine, and yet the order is 15 and then 16, then the question remains, why is 16 after 15 instead of before it?

Ok let me take a stab at it.
Verse 16 states that neither the believing wife or husband can know whether they will be the cause of the salvation of their unbelieving counterparts.

And so if the unbelieving counterpart stays within the marriage it is enjoined on the believing party to treat them as if they were Christians and never invoke divorce.
Hope this help.

Peace!

Thanks for the try, but my question isn’t about 12-14 (staying with the unbeliever), its about 16 coming right after 15 (not under servitude) which the PP interprets as freeing the believer from the civil union to marry someone else when the unbeliever leaves (eg. divorces the believer).

The v16, ‘for how do you know wife whether thou shalt save thy husband’, is referring so some effect the believer will have on the non-believer that might play a role in their salvation. But if being a non-believer was the only issue that made him leave in the first place and that becomes removed by his conversion, wouldn’t Paul want them together?

v15 seems to say that if the non-believer cannot find a way to stay married to the believer, Paul is telling the believer that if he threatens and does ‘leave’ (eg. divorce), that she is under no obligation or rather is under the higher obligation as a Christian not to obey the husband ordering her not to be a Christian nor fighting the non-believer but letting them make a free choice so that all the consequences are upon their shoulders and not the believer.

But again, I’m looking at 16 and trying to solicit an interpretation that makes better sense or is at least competitively plausible with my previous conjecture.

Another thought would be to say that 16 is just some summary on the whole rest of the paragraph. If he stays, stay; if he goes, let him go and you are free; but who knows what will happen. This interpretation makes v16 sound a little flippant to just stick on the end., “…but who knows.” And I don’t think Paul would be flippant.

1 Cor. 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. 16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

Notice in verse 15 where separation is occurring Paul uses/identifies them as “partner”; however in verse 16 Paul identifies them as “husband” and “wife” - so the verse applies to when they are still living together as husband and wife.
Paul just closes his teaching on the topic by telling them why it is good to stay with an unbelieving partner who wants to remain married.

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JGD - First, thank you for the response. However, I didn’t quite follow you. Can you elaborate?

Firstly, I don’t see how using a translation that say’s ‘partner’ changes anything. They’re talking about a mixed marriage (ie. a civilly married couple where one then converts to Christianity and how the Christian should act based on various scenarios - unbelieving spouse leaves or stays - and why - not obligated to abandon Christianity to satisfy unbeliever spouse, nor to pressure their unbeliever in a non-peaceful way over their Christianity. So I didn’t follow what you’re reference to the word ‘partner’ is all about or how it changes anything.

Notice v15 uses ‘parner’ but v16 uses ‘husband and wife’

Are you saying that v16’s hopeful message only applies when ‘there is hope because the non-believer is still there’ and otherwise v15 says, there is no reason to hope because the non-believer has left, so stop trying to hold out for them? Or in modern terms, hope all you want until that person divorces you, then you can give up on any marriage with them?

Secondly, you state that v16 is explaining why v14 is good. Are you saying it has nothing to do with v15? That Paul is going in one direction on v14, shifts to v15 and then is back to the v14 line of thought in v16?

Trying to get clarity on what you’re saying…

You seem to be overthinking the passage as well as the verse cited.

None of us know if the other will be saved. And the issue becomes a bit more focused if the spouse is not a baptized Christian. It is not particularly difficult to see that if the unbelieving spouse leaves, that the believing spouse is exceedingly unlikely to draw the other into the Church.

And if the Church holds that the believing spouse can marry after the unbeliever leaves, then it is up to the believer to determine if marriage should be entered into with another (presumably a believer).

And factually, it is somewhere between rare and extremely rare that a couple divorces and later reunites. One can spend the rest of one’s life waiting for that reunification; there is not a demand that they marry another. But the Church obviously (and Paul) are not presuming any likelihood that the unbeliever will return. Obvious because they allow the believer to marry.

FYI: I am looking for some really good arguments about this specific scriptural question. Hence my trying to make sure I am clear on the responses.

By ‘good arguments’ I mean something like this…

For the issue of abortion, if science demonstrated that a baby didn’t have any higher level brain activity (ie. beyond just autonomic system like pumping heart, etc) until the baby was out of its mother, then that would be a ‘good argument’ for abortion being morally acceptable. I wouldn’t agree with it at all, but it would be something someone might reasonably say, ‘it could be argued based on this scientific evidence…’ - ie. its a contender for debate, even if it can be defeated in debate.

An example of a ‘not a good argument’ would be that it’s just a lump of cells. “So, the lump isn’t a human life one minute when its in the womb and the next minute once its out of the womb, shazam, the lump of cells is now a human - one of the most complex organisms every to exist, with a soul and spirit that’s protected by law so much that anyone who takes it looses their own life?” That’s a ‘bad argument’.

I think a ‘good argument’ makes the person with even the most forthright position have to go away and think about it, and to think about it a lot. ie. a ‘good argument’ makes the person think deeply; makes them truly consider their thesis in this new light. That’s what I’m hoping for.

So it’s a argument quality thing, and the degree of assessing that quality (one’s judgement about how good or bad it is) can vary subjectivity.

So hopefully, if I sound challenging, its a welcome response and generates an intellectually sincere and fruitful exchange.

Thanks again for everyone who has and will post their input.

You seem to be overthinking the passage as well as the verse cited.

I don’t think I am actually. I think instead, that I’m reading the text directly and asking a very good question about the Pauline Privilege (PP). Pretend that you are in Corinth, and you just read the letter and the PP wasn’t an ‘established’ idea. As I stated above, if v16 didn’t exist or was swapped with v15, the PP would be VERY clear (IMHO). But its not. And read as it is written, it doesn’t seem to support the PP idea (I have expounded on supporting evidence in above posts).

It is not particularly difficult to see that if the unbelieving spouse leaves, that the believing spouse is exceedingly unlikely to draw the other into the Church.

I disagree. I think I have a strong argument for this: If the non-believer (NB) leaves someone who he was ‘bonded’ to (ie. loved and/or was in a marital relationship with), those ties are very emotionally strong in most people - or they wouldn’t have bonded in the first place. For someone’s spouse to join another religion such that their spouse leaves them, it must be a hugely disruptive event that overrides all the other reasons for staying in the bond, especially if they have children. That bond is very strong. It has become a defining part of that person’s life since they have integrated themselves with their spouse. It persists forever to some degree or another with the abandoning spouse for the rest of their life. That is a powerful draw. Paul, by calling the Christian to peace, magnifies all the reasons for the NB to stay or even return. If anyone on earth is going to be the most natural of advocate’s for the NB to convert, it would be their Christian spouse - but not if the Christian spouse abandon’s them for a new one. Then all that support is gone - the Christian is focused on their ‘new’ spouse.

And factually, it is somewhere between rare and extremely rare that a couple divorces and later reunites. One can spend the rest of one’s life waiting for that reunification; there is not a demand that they marry another. But the Church obviously (and Paul) are not presuming any likelihood that the unbeliever will return. Obvious because they allow the believer to marry.

Let me clarify your ‘fact’ a little. While I agree with you that it is rare for marriages to be restored after divorce and especially after ‘remarriage’, it does happen, and perhaps not as rarely as you might think. But it is rare.

However, you are talking about those who ‘remarry’ after ‘divorcing’. The act of ‘re-marrying after divorcing’ sets up a situation that fortifies that new position. That is why it is nearly impossible for restoration.

In fact, Paul, who was big on ‘staying as you are’ regarding marriage and re-marriage elsewhere in scripture, in v16 could be suggesting that by staying unbonded with another, you keep the door open for the abandoning spouse to return. If that door is closed, then I agree that the ability to restore that marriage feels like it requires some kind of miracle (caveat - see 1 in other post below). Especially if backed up by an authority (cultural, legal, etc) that acknowledges divorce. A spouse would have to disagree with their entire culture and legal system, basically all of society which could include their religious organization - with all their authority - in order to even consider restoring their marriage to the NB.

Therefor I think you’re ‘fact’ is a bit misleading. We are talking about what Paul is saying to some in the situation where they are abandoned because they became a Christian. Not ones that have been abandoned and gone off and married someone else already. We don’t have the exact questions he was asked, but the discussion he is having seems to indicate someone who was already married and has become a Christian where either the NB stays or leaves - we’re at that point in the timeline of events. And it is at that point in time when v16, right after the second scenario (NB leaving) is elucidated in v15, that Paul suggests that they, the Christian spouse, may cause for their spouse to be saved.

16] For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Here we see that he is almost responding to the kind of objections that you raise. Its as if someone is protesting saying, “But Paul, if he leaves, why should I stay oriented towards marriage with them? There is no future with them. They are not coming back. There is nothing more I can do to save them.” To which Paul replies, “How do you know?” He then is specific, “O wife”. Ie. how do you know Wife that ‘you’, specifically is talking about the wife’s actions here, won’t save your husband. Notice he doesn’t say 'How do you know God won’t perform a miracle." He says, “how do you know you won’t save your spouse.” (see 1 above)

Either v16 has nothing to do w v15 or v16 does relate to v15 and possibly both 14 and 15. If the later, there are two possibilities meanings for v16 to make sense w v15 - either divorcing him and remarrying someone else somehow ‘saves’ the NB, or staying unbonded and waiting for the NB saves them. Whether either actually happens isn’t the question here, but that Paul (if v16 relates to v15) is suggesting a action or orientation to the Christian that he thinks could save the NB.

And if the Church holds that the believing spouse can marry after the unbeliever leaves, then it is up to the believer to determine if marriage should be entered into with another (presumably a believer).

But that’s not the issue I’m discussing. I’m trying to determine what Paul is saying. If the Church decided that divorce was o.k., even among baptized catholics, but say only once like the eastern orthodox Church does (if I’m not mistaken), then that’s the Church making rules, and so be it. But I’m examining Paul’s text since the Pauline Privilege comes from this text.

If it was up to the believer, then I don’t see why Paul would have offered his take on the matter or he would have said its up to them. If it was up to the spouse, then divorce is o.k. and marriage is not permanent. If divorce is o.k., then the vows are wrong or lies.

He could be saying that divorcing a NB and remarrying a B is o.k. if the dispute with the NB is causing such a rift over the B’s Christianity that to save the B they can divorce the NB, but that’s the Petrine Doctrine, not the PP.

So I think this part distracts from the discussion, which is: the text of v16 in context of v12-16 and the PP.

And factually, it is somewhere between rare and extremely rare that a couple divorces and later reunites. One can spend the rest of one’s life waiting for that reunification; there is not a demand that they marry another.

While I would love getting into other aspects related to this specific inquiry, I think this strays from the question I’m trying to focus on, which is the scripture text itself and what Paul is saying.

But the Church obviously (and Paul) are not presuming any likelihood that the unbeliever will return. Obvious because they allow the believer to marry.

Again, this is un-focusing the question. What the Church does is another, related and important, but larger scope that what I’m focusing on.

As for Paul ‘not presuming any likelihood that the NB will return’ is one argument about this text that as I’ve pointed out is contrary to v16’s message of hope based solely upon the Christian’s actions for the NB’s salvation, if v16 is relevant to v15.

I understand the appeal to support the argument for the PP doctrinal idea from an appeal to pragmatism - “look at the world, people don’t return”. But there are more preposterous things to believe in Christianity than this - the ultimate example being the cross itself which we are all called to emulate. If fact, standing for the NB to return is inarguably more like the cross than divorce, where even Christ’s best friend, Peter, denied him, they all abandoned him, and he was not saved by angels from death. In every human and worldly perspective, Christ LOST. He did not win, he lost, he died. Yet, He did it knowing he would lose, would die. Because God’s ways are not our ways. Christianity often debunks worldly pragmatism.

Again, if v16 wasn’t there or was swapped with v15, then PP makes complete sense. But its not, and the question to ask is, can there be a different understanding of what Paul is saying that is contrary to what the world asserts? I think asking that question, and seeking answers is a genuinely, reasonable and noble pursuit and a duty to faithful, intellectual honesty. So thank you for engaging in this discussion.

Verse 16 states that neither the believing wife or husband can know whether they will be the cause of the salvation of their unbelieving counterparts.

And so if the unbelieving counterpart stays within the marriage it is enjoined on the believing party to treat them as if they were Christians and never invoke divorce.

Yes, v16 can say this about v14. However, that’s provides no discernment about the question. v14 already ‘tells’ the believer what to do, so why put in v16 to support it, especially after v15.

It could just as easily, if not more easily be argued, that it’s more likely that v16 addresses both v14 and v15 together OR just v15.

Your answer links v16 to v14. But what about v15 then? Are you advocating that v16 has nothing to do with v15?

so, are you saying that because your version says ‘wife/husband’ in v16 and only ‘partner’ in v15 that only verses that use ‘wife/husband’ are related (eg. 14 and 16) and therefor since v15 uses ‘partner’ v16 can’t be related to 15 and must be related to 14 only?

Verse 15 tells the believer (the Christian) that if the unbelieving husband or wife wish to separate from the union then the Christian counterpart should let them do so. Which means that we cannot impose our faith on any one. It must be freely accepted.
Furthermore if the unbeliever remains that is considered a valid marriage by the Church.
Notice that St. Paul enjoins us NOT to initiate the separation only to accept it if the other party chooses to. Also it would seem that the “PP” as it is called is only valid upon the entering in the faith of 1 of the 2 parties in the marriage. Once that initial stage has ended if the unbeliever should leave, the christian one must remain chaste.

Peace!

If they leave, then the bond was not as strong as whatever was their reason for leaving. I understand your comments; I simply disagree with them based on 74 years of knowing and watching people.

Paul puts being “equally yoked” quite high - and I thoroughly agree with him.

Marrying someone who is not a “believer” is being seriously unequally yoked. You are looking at marriage through the eyes of a believer, and the unbeliever is exceedingly unlikely to view marriage through those lenses.

The presumption that the unbeliever has this very strong bond is your assumption; I have seen altogether too many people who do not have that bond structure and that goes for both believers and unbelievers. An unbeliever with a believer is likely to have one of two reactions; they are either going to be attracted (which does not of itself imply they will become a believer - they may simply be attracted to someone who believes strongly), or they may be repelled.

Meeting and knowing someone with a really strong belief is not of necessity an attractant; and as the one with the belief over time shapes their life around the belief, it may work to cause friction, and the longer it goes, the more the friction grows.

The belief itself - time, treasure and talent - may be the source of marital discord; as the believer spends more time, treasure and talent in the belief system, it may serve as a growing wedge between the two. Belief is not something you carry around in your pocket and take out once in a while for airing. It becomes a primary motivating force of life - not only of self, but of family, friends, activities, and on and on.

And that can work in two ways; one as an attractant, and the second as a widening gulf.

Paul is right - let them go.

Thank you for the response.

Verse 15 tells the believer (the Christian) that if the unbelieving husband or wife wish to separate from the union then the Christian counterpart should let them do so. Which means that we cannot impose our faith on any one. It must be freely accepted. Furthermore if the unbeliever remains that is considered a valid marriage by the Church. Notice that St. Paul enjoins us NOT to initiate the separation only to accept it if the other party chooses to.

I have above and do here agree. But what you’ve said so far does not indicate anything about going off to marry someone else which is what the PP says based on v15. If v16 were not there or was swapped with v15, then it would be easier to argue that Paul is saying the Christian is free to marry someone else when the NB leaves -ie. the PP.

Note, technically the Lord (not Paul) in v 11 in the text even allows the wife in a Christian marriage to ‘separate’ but this is not divorce, but at most akin to today’s ‘legal separation’. But the marriage is intact and she and he must remain chaste.

Once that initial stage has ended if the unbeliever should leave, the Christian one must remain chaste.

This may indeed be indicated since it seems Paul is talking about what to do within a relatively short time after the believer becomes a Christian.

Speaking outside the text, it seems the Church tries to formalize the situation to help prevent any ambiguity if the NB leaves say much later after initially staying, and has some rules about that too.

Life in the Church requires all to be chaste - married or single.

The Church does not interpret the PP as requiring the believer to be celibate after the other leaves. Currently one would need to go through the tribunal process, but upon a finding of the PP, one would be free to marry.

I was hoping to stick closer to the text than getting off into anecdotal observations - which is far too easy to do, me included. As I indicated earlier, I could spend a great deal of time showing many examples, biblical, practical, actual, etc. on the subject.

Paul puts being “equally yoked” quite high - and I thoroughly agree with him. Marrying someone who is not a “believer” is being seriously unequally yoked. You are looking at marriage through the eyes of a believer, and the unbeliever is exceedingly unlikely to view marriage through those lenses.

If equally yoked was so high, he would recommend the B leave the NB regardless. But he doesn’t - we at least agree that in v14 he says to stay with the NB - he’s advocating the un-equalness over finding a more equal person, a Christian, to marry instead.

I didn’t see anything regarding why v16 is there and what it means in the context of v14 and 15 - which is the question. In other words, if what you are saying is true, what is v16’s purpose in context?

Paul is right - let them go

If by ‘let them go’ you mean Paul is saying a NB should be allowed to separate - I don’t think that’s in dispute since its explicitly stated in v15. I would even agree that ‘leaving’ in v15 includes legally divorcing. The question is not about leaving/divorcing but about allowing the Christian to remarry - that’s the PP. And the question is about v16 and its purpose and meaning in the context of v12-15.

If however, you’re last line is saying “Paul and I agree and we are advocating that after the NB divorces the B, the B has the freedom to remarry” then, wow, that’s a huge leap from the rest of your comment that doesn’t seem to add anything to the discussion, but rather tries to end it.

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