1 Corinthians 7:10-16:
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
This post is a roundup of Reformed Baptist responses that can be found on the interwebs regarding this verse. These are just brief summaries. We want you to click the links for details.
John Norcott (-1676), Baptism Discovered Plainly and Faithfully
18. But the Children of Believers are holy, therefore they ought to be baptized.
As it is said the Children are holy, so it is said the unbelieving Husband is holy, or sanctified by the believing Wife. This Holiness is wholly to the use of Marriage, for the Apostle is in that place, ( 1 Cor, 7. ) speaking of Marriage, and whether those who have believed should live with unbelieving Husbands, or put them away, as I Cor. 7. 13. So that the Holiness here spoken of, it is wholly to their use ; it is said, Zech, 14.20. There shall be Holiness on the Horses Bells, and every pot in the Lords House shall be Holy. Now do you think this was a sufficient warrant to baptize Bells, as you may read they did in the Book of Martyrs? But there is a being holy for the use of the Believer, as every Creature is Sanctified by the Word of God and Prayer, 1 Tim. 3. 4, 5.And to the Pure, all things are Pure, Tit. 1. 15. That is to their use : Thus Children are holy, and unbelieving Husbands are sanctified to their use ; But if you think, Believers Children are inherently holy, doth not your experience tell you the contrary ? do not we see good Men have ungodly Children, and bad Men have holy Children ? So that they are only holy for their use,they are not born in uncleanness.
John Gill (23 November 1697 – 14 October 1771), John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
“The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.”
Abraham Booth (1734–1806), Paedobaptism Examined, Vol. II.
Reflect. IV. The incompetency of this passage to prove the lawfulness of infant baptism will farther appear, if the following things be considered. Whatever the apostle intends by the term holy, as here applied to children, one of whose parents is a believer, it is not confined to the infants of such persons, but belongs to all their offspring, whether younger Or older; whether born before the conversion of either parent, or after that happy event had taken place; for the children, without any distinction, are pronounced holy. If, therefore, it be lawful to baptize them on the ground of this holiness while infants, it must be equally so when grown up. That holiness, of which the inspired author speaks, is not inferred from the faith of the believing parent, but from the sanctification of the unbelieving party, by or to the believer. See No. 17. Whence it follows, that the holiness of the children cannot be superior, either as to nature or degree, to that sanctification of the unbelieving partner from which it is derived. For Paul as expressly asserts, that the unbelieving husband hath been sanctified by, or to the wife; and that the unbelieving wife hath been sanctified by, or to the husband; as that the offspring of such parents are holy. Agreeably to which Bengelius considers the holiness of the children, and that of the unbelieving parent, as the same: because (Greek) and (Greek), differ only as, to be made holy, differs from, to be holy. If, then, that sanctification of the unbelieving husband gives him no claim to baptism, the holiness thence arising cannot invest his children with such a right.
William Shirreff (-1832), “Lectures on Baptism“
“1 Cor. vii. 14, ”For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband ; else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.” The Corinthians had consulted Paul whether a believer might live with an unbelieving spouse. He acquaints them with the law on the subject, which sanctified the relation. He is not treating of baptism, nor does he mention, in any way, the sprinkling of infants.”
Alexander Carson (1776-1844), Baptism in its Mode and Subjects
“Give me Scripture for infant baptism, and I will receive it. Give me any reasoning that is founded on a basis of truth, and I will weigh it. But I can have no respect for a mode of reasoning that founds on nothing, or on untrue assumption. A man would read himself blind, before he would find anything like family baptism in Gal. iii. It cannot be truth that requires learned and ingenious men to adopt such a mode of defence. Mr. Ewing, either yield, or give us argument. Do not continue to force and misrepresent the word of God, to sanction the traditions of men. You are floundering in a quagmire, — every plunge to relieve yourself, will only sink you more deeply.
“Mr. Ewing has perceived that the passage cannot be consistently quoted for the one and not for the other, and that it applies equally to the Lord’s supper : he therefore, instead of giving up the argument, as proving too much, boldly adopts all its consequences. The unbelieving wife, then, is to be baptized, and to be admitted to all the privileges of a believer’s house. This privilege, it seems, is granted on the right of property. The unbelieving wife is to be baptized as the property of her husband. Slaves have a similar claim. To refute so monstrous a position, is anything necessary but to state it 1 Is this like the kingdom of Christ? Can anything be more contrary to the Scripture accounts of baptism and the Lord’s supper? Faith is necessary to entitle to admission into a church ; faith is necessary to eat the Lord’s supper without condemnation ; faith is necessary for baptism. How, then, can an unbelieving wife, or unbelieving children, be admitted to such privileges by this passage? Can any passage in the word of God give a warrant to persons to eat and drink condemnation to themselves ? Can any passage warrant the admission of unbelievers into a church from which the Lord has excluded them? Can any passage sanction the baptism of unbelievers, when all the accounts of baptism require faith ? Can any passage give countenance to persons evidently in their sins, to be admitted to an ordinance that figuratively exhibits their sins as, by faith in the blood of Christ, already washed away?
“Well, suppose they are all determined to adopt the shocking consequences avowed by Mr. Ewing, their hardihood will show only their disposition — it will not save their cause. This holiness of the unbelieving wife and children, is a holiness not of the truth nor of the Spirit ; and therefore cannot entitle to any ordinance of Christ’s kingdom. It is a holiness of marriage, which is an ordinance of God for his people, in common with all men. It is a holiness which is here expressly said to belong to unbelievers ; and therefore can have nothing to do with ordinances that were intended for believers. It is a holiness that demands the believing husband or wife to live with the unbelieving, not to baptize such. The question treated of is solely this. There is no reference to any ordinance of the kingdom of Christ. Why, then, should this unbelieving holiness admit to the ordinance of Christ’s kingdom, more than it will admit to heaven ? All the ordinances of Christ imply, that the partakers of them have the holiness of the truth by the Spirit. If this can be dispensed with as to an avowed unbeliever, the declaration “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” may equally be dispensed with for his salvation. The same reasoning that will baptize the unbelieving wife, will introduce her into heaven as an unbeliever.
“But why are unbelievers of this description baptized rather than any other unbelievers? Because, says Mr. Ewing, salvation is come to the house. Salvation come to the house! But it seems it has not yet reached the wife ; and if it had reached her, it may not have reached the children. The wife is here said to be sanctified while an unbeliever. Then salvation has not come to her, except the Gospel is false, and she can be saved as an unbeliever. Why, then, should she be baptized, or receive the Lord’s supper, which supposes that she has been already made a partaker of salvation? But it may be said, she will yet believe. I reply, although this were certain, it would be no reason to give her an ordinance that implies faith and sanctification of the Spirit through the truth. This, however, is not certain, for the reason by which the husband is urged to live with her as an unbeliever, is, not the certainty that she will yet believe, but the mere possibility of this. ” For what knowest thou, O.wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or, how knowest , thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife ?” Here the mere possibility of the future salvation of the unbelieving husband, or wife, through the means of the other party, is urged as a reason to continue in the marriage relation. Nothing can be a clearer confutation of the opinion of our opponents with respect to the meaning of the expression, ” salvation is come to this house,” than this passage. The utmost that the apostle states as a ground of not forsaking the unbelieving partner, is, that it may turn out to the salvation of such ; there is not a single promise pleaded. If this is a ground for baptism, we might baptize any person; for we do not know but he may yet receive the truth.”
Adoniram Judson, Jr. (August 9, 1788 – April 12, 1850), A Sermon on Christian Baptism
The following passage also has been supposed to favor the church membership of infants : “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband ; else were your children unclean; but now are they holy? (1 Cor. vii. 14)
The holiness ascribed to the children, cannot be moral holiness, for it is ascribed to the unbelieving parent also. Nor can it be ceremonial or federal holiness, securing a title to church membership, or any church privilege ; for though it is ascribed to the unbelieving parent, he is not considered a member of the church, or entitled to any church privilege. Nor is this interpretation consistent with the apostle’s reasoning. It appears, that the Corinthians had inquired of the apostle, whether it was lawful for believers, who were married to unbelievers, to continue the marriage connexion. The apostle determines, that it is lawful ] for, says he, the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer, that is, as ‘ every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving ; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.’ (1 Tim. iv. 4, 5) In this sense, the unbeliever is sanctified, so that it is lawful for the parties to dwell together. Now if it was not lawful to dwell together, your children would, of consequence, be unclean. But they are not unclean. Therefore, you may be satisfied, that your cohabitation is lawful marriage. But to urge the church membership of children, or their title to any church privilege, as proof, that the unbeliever is sanctified to the believer, so that it is lawful for them to dwell together, would have been quite irrelevant.! (Pages 69-70)
When I proceeded to consider certain passages, which are thought to favor the Pedobaptist system,. I found nothing satisfactory.
The sanctification, which St. Paul ascribes to the children of a believer, (1 Cor. vii. 14.) I found that he ascribed to the unbelieving parent also; and therefore, whatever be the meaning of the passage, it could have no respect to church membership, or a right to church ordinances. (Page 99)
James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), Reasons of a Change of Sentiment and Practice on the Subject of Baptism.
“Another passage which has been brought forward is 1 Cor vii 1 4 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband else were your children unclean but now are they holy”. This may at first seem to afford reason for supposing a peculiar holiness in the children of believers But it would not only establish the baptism of the children but of the unbelieving husband or wife for if the children are holy the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified This therefore cannot be a good argument Indeed it has no relation to baptism of young or old but to the question whether a believer might lawfully remain in the married state with an unbeliever ver 12 13 The idea that this was not lawful appears among other Jewish notions to have been creeping into the church and the apostle instructs them on the subject and shews that although a believer was bound only to marry in the Lord ver 39 yet if they were already married and the unbeliever chose to remain they were not to separate for as to the pure all things are pure Tit. i. 15. the unbelieving husband or wife was sanctified by the believer so that their connection was lawful and the apostle adds “else were your children unclean but now are they holy”. Were it not that the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer your children would be illegitimate or unclean and must be put away as well as the husband or wife He here refers to what is recorded of the Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when they were not only obliged to put away their heathen wives but the children born of them Ezra x. 3. 44., Neh. xiii. 23. 24 (If the Jews being called holy though in unbelief Rom xi. 16 be no reason for baptizing them surely the children of believers being called holy cannot affect the question of infant baptism Holy is here opposed to unclean.)”
Fred Malone, A String of Pearls Unstrung
It is my conclusion that 1 Cor. 7:14 is referring either to the children’s legitimacy in the eyes of God, or at the most, to their “set apart” position for the sake of their parents’ gospel heritage rather than covenant position. And how can we give two separate meanings to the sanctification of the children, on the one hand, and not to the unbelieving parent, on the other hand, unless we do so arbitrarily? It is impossible to do so except by a prejudicial treatment of the text. This verse makes no mention of covenant children’s baptism even though this would have been a perfect opportunity for Paul to explain that practice to these Gentile Corinthians. The use of this text to support infant baptism is completely unwarranted.
Greg Welty, “A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism”
“In addition, the paedobaptist interpretation of this text is a classic example of what was previously identified as “Judaizing” the New Testament. That is, distinctions peculiar to the Old Testament, such as “external” or “covenantal” holiness, are read into New Testament texts. Paedobaptists forget that the entire concept of “covenantal” holiness has been abolished in the NT. In Acts 10:28, Peter informed Cornelius’ household that “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure [koinon] or unclean [akatharton].” In the context it is obvious that Peter is speaking about external, covenantal holiness, based upon external membership in the covenant community. Thus the very thing which God commanded Peter never to do (call men unclean because of their birth outside the covenant community), paedobaptists do with respect to the children of non-Christians (call them unclean). They forget that such distinctions have been abolished in the New Covenant era, as God taught Peter.”
These books also contain responses to 1 Cor. 7:14 but aren’t available online: