“The Unbelieving Husband is Sanctified by the Wife”—1 Corinthians 7:14

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NKJV)

12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who DOES NOT BELIEVE, and she is willing to live with him, LET HIM NOT DIVORCE HER. 

13 And a woman who has a husband who DOES NOT BELIEVE, if he is willing to live with her, LET HER NOT DIVORCE HIM. 

14 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. 

15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 

16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? 


This portion of Scripture (particularly vs. 14) has confounded many a Christian and Bible scholar.

The questions which arise from the same are:


• Is an unsaved spouse AUTOMATICALLY saved (“sanctified“) because he/she is married to a Christian?

• Is salvation AUTOMATICALLY passed on to children of a saved man? (“now they are holy“).


The answer to both questions would be NO.

Paul’s statement in vs. 16 makes it CLEAR that the unsaved spouse remains unsaved (“For how do you know, O wife, WHETHER YOU WILL SAVE your husband?“).

Salvation is also not diffusionally “inherited” via familial relationships. A child does not automatically receive his parents’ sins or righteousness (see Ezekiel 18).

A man must make a CONSCIOUS decision to RECEIVE the gift of salvation by faith in Christ (Acts 16:30-31, Rom 10:9-10).

So what then does the Apostle Paul seek to communicate with these words? Particularly by saying, “…the unbelieving husband is SANCTIFIED by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is SANCTIFIED by the husband” and that “their children are HOLY“?

The key to interpreting this is to understand contextual usage of words. A salient rule in Bible hermeneutics is not to give a generalized meaning to any word (get the Bible resource “5 Helpful Tips For Bible Interpretation” by Pastor Josh Banks). Greek and Hebrew words, by nature, are very nuanced (i.e. they possess multiple layers of meanings).

The words “sanctified” & “holy,” in vs. 14 (“hagiazó” and “hagios” respectively), although often used for the holy status of the saved man (see 1 Corin 6:11, Heb 10:10), can also mean other things.

Paul seeks to explain (in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16) that a marriage entered into BEFORE salvation is yet real/authentic/lawful in God’s eyes.

The words “sanctified” and “holy” (“hagiazó” and “hagios“) essentially mean “set apart” in the Greek. In the context of 1 Corinthians 7:14, however, they mean “legitimate.”

The unbelieving husband is “sanctified” (legitimized) by the wife. He is YET regarded as the legitimate husband, set apart to be married unto his wife, and vice versa. They are still legally married, although one has now changed his religion.

It is ideal for Christians to marry “in the Lord” i.e. to marry fellow Christians (see 1 Corin. 7:39). But God would excuse a Christian who married a sinner BEFORE salvation (in ignorance).

Their children are thus holy, that is, legitimate (lawfully begotten), just like their parents’ marriage.

The legalistic mind would say otherwise—that the unbeliever and believer cannot be married, because their marriage would be illegitimate. But Paul says differently.

They were ALREADY LEGITIMATELY MARRIED before one received salvation. That legitimacy continues even AFTER salvation and is passed on to their children.

You cannot say that the children of an unbeliever and a believer are not legitimate if they were legitimately married.

The interpolations below will help foster a better understanding of the text:


1 Corinthians 7:14

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified (is reckoned by God as legitimate, because he has been set apart to be married) by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified (is regarded by God as legitimate, because she has been set apart in marriage) by the husband; (that is, God sees their marriage as lawful, even though it was done while they were yet sinners)

Otherwise (if you two weren’t legitimately married in God’s sight) your children would be unclean (illegitimate, born out of wedlock),

But now (seeing that their parents are lawfully married in God’s sight), they are holy (legitimate children, not bastards).


Paul is simply saying, “God will not disregard a marriage simply because it was entered into by two unbelievers.”

So God still acknowledges the marriage of unbelievers (as well as the offspring of same marriage), and they need not separate for the mere reason that one of them is now saved. If the salvation of the other is not an issue (or cause for offence) for the second party to the marriage, then they may yet stay together.

God considers the unbelieving spouse “sanctified” (lawfully married to & separated to his wife/husband in marriage) & their children “holy” (that is, legitimate issues of a LEGITIMATE marriage). Marriage remains sacred in God’s sight (Heb 13:4), even though it was entered into ORIGINALLY by two unbelievers.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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