Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 23, 1953


Cecil B. Douthitt, P. O. Box 67, Brownwood, Texas

Marrying In The Lord

Following are some questions that I would like for you to discuss in your "Questions" in the Guardian. These are some of the questions that have been asked me recently, and if some of them seem to be overlapping or repetition, it has occurred only because I am anxious to have you see the precise points that need your attention.

Does 1 Cor. 7:39 teach that it is sinful for a Christian widow to marry one who is not a Christian? If sinful to marry thus, would it not be sinful to remain so? Does "be married" refer to the state of marriage, or to the simple act of becoming married? How may we know? If reference is made merely to the contracting of marriage, why would this act alone be sinful and the maintaining of the union not sinful? Would it not be sinful to continue in a union which was sinful to form?

If a widow thus married and refused to repent (or failed to do so), would she be lost? If not, in what sense would she sin in forming this union? Is entering such a union doing what God forbids her to do in 1 Cor. 7:39? Can one be saved and do what God forbids? Is it any worse to do one thing God forbids than to do another?

Why should the widow's marriage be thus restricted, and the virgin allowed to choose a mate from within or without the body of Christ?

What does the expression "in the Lord" mean? Does it have the very same meaning every time it appears in the New Testament? What about Eph. 6:1 — "parents in the Lord"? What does "in the Lord" mean in Col. 3:18? Could "in the Lord" mean the same thing in all three passages — 1 Cor. 7:39; Col. 3:18; Eph. 6:1?

The passage (1 Cor. 7:39) mentions the widow whose husband is dead, but says not one word about the widow whose husband deserted her for another woman. Is this latter case also restricted by 1 Cor. 7:39, if there is to be a new marriage? If so, how are we to know, since it is not mentioned?

If this passage forbids the widow to marry anyone who is not a Christian, could she marry a man who had been one, but who had become unfaithful? Would this indicate that she must be able to know the heart of him whom she married?


Our querist is an able preacher and a diligent student of God's word, and his questions confront us with points that all of us should ponder carefully and prayerfully.

The scriptural answer to all his questions may be determined by the correct grammatical analysis of the three sentences in which the prepositional phrase, "in the Lord," appears in the three passages cited — 1 Cor. 7:39; Col. 3:18; Eph. 6:1.

I have met a few Baptist preachers whose misunderstanding of Acts 2:38 was due, I thought, to a failure to diagram the sentence correctly. The meaning of 1 Cor. 7:39 can be understood easily, if we know what the phrase, "in the Lord," modifies.

In Eph. 6:1 "in the Lord" is an adverbial phrase modifying "obey"; it is not an adjective phrase modifying "parents." If the phrase modified "parents," the injunction would not be binding on children whose parents are aliens, or apostates, or hypocrites. The passage would not require children to obey, unless their parents were Christians. But they must obey "in the Lord"; that is, what they do in obedience to their parents must be in keeping with the teaching or authority of the Lord. It is the children's obedience, not their parents, that must be "in the Lord."

The prepositional phrase, "in the Lord," in Col. 3:18 does not modify "husbands"; it modifies "fit," and the thing that is "fit in the Lord" is the wives' submission. The clause, "it is fit in the Lord," reverts to the verb "submit," and not to the noun "husbands." The Holy Spirit is not telling the wives that their husbands are "fit in the Lord"; it is the wives' submission that is "fit in the Lord," and they must "submit" in everything that is fitting, whether the husband is in the Lord or not. (1 Peter 3:1)

The phrase, "in the Lord," in 1 Cor. 7:39 does not modify the pronoun "whom"; it is an adverbial phrase and modifies the verb, "married." Therefore the widow's marriage, like that of all other Christians, must be in keeping with all the requirements of the Lord governing marriage. If the Holy Spirit had not modified the verb, "married," by the phrase, "only in the Lord," then some might conclude quite logically that the widow is not under the restrictions and regulations binding other children of God in the marriage relation. But the widow's marriage must be "in the Lord"; that is, her marriage must be in keeping with or within the authority of the Lord, and she has no right to marry a divorced man not scripturally separated from his wife, nor to violate any other law of marriage binding on other Christians.

If any passage of scripture teaches that the husbands of Christian women must be "in the Lord," then widows must marry husbands who are in the Lord, if they marry at all because their marriages, in order to be "in the Lord," must be according to all the requirements of the Lord concerning marriage.