1 Corinthians 7:16
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
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(16) For what knowest thou, O wife . . .?—This verse has been very generally regarded as a kind of modification of the previous one, as if the Apostle suggested that it might be advisable not to let the unbelieving partner depart from the marriage union when he so desired, in any case where there was even a chance of the believing partner effecting his or her conversion. The true meaning of the passage is, however, precisely the opposite. The Apostle declares that the remote contingency of the unbeliever’s conversion is too vague a matter for which to risk the peace which is so essential an element in the Christian life. If the unbelieving partner will depart, do not let any thought as to the possible influence you may exercise over his religious convictions—about which you cannot know anything, but only at most vaguely speculate—cause you to insist upon his remaining.

Some historical results, arising from the view that this is a suggestion of the good which may result from such union being continued, are interestingly alluded to by Stanley in his note on this passage:—“This passage, thus interpreted, probably had a direct influence on the marriage of Clotilda with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert, and consequently on the subsequent conversion of the two great kingdoms of France and England to the Christian faith.”

7:10-16 Man and wife must not separate for any other cause than what Christ allows. Divorce, at that time, was very common among both Jews and Gentiles, on very slight pretexts. Marriage is a Divine institution; and is an engagement for life, by God's appointment. We are bound, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men, Ro 12:18, therefore to promote the peace and comfort of our nearest relatives, though unbelievers. It should be the labour and study of those who are married, to make each other as easy and happy as possible. Should a Christian desert a husband or wife, when there is opportunity to give the greatest proof of love? Stay, and labour heartily for the conversion of thy relative. In every state and relation the Lord has called us to peace; and every thing should be done to promote harmony, as far as truth and holiness will permit.For what knowest thou ... - The apostle here assigns a reason why the believing party should not separate from the other needlessly, or why he should not desire to be separated. The reason is, the possibility, or the probability, that the unbelieving party might be converted by the example and entreaties of the other.

Whether then ... - How do you know "but" this may be done? Is there not a possibility, nay a probability of it, and is not this a sufficient reason for continuing together?

Save thy husband - Gain him over to the Christian faith; be the means of his conversion and salvation. compare Romans 11:26. We learn from this verse:

(1) That there is a possibility that an unbelieving partner in life may be converted by the example of the other.

(2) That this should be an object of intense interest to the Christian husband or wife, because:

(a) It will promote the happiness of the other;

(b) It will promote their usefulness;

(c) It will be the means of blessing their family, for parents should be united on the subject of religion, and in their example and influence in training up their sons and daughters; and,

(d) Because the salvation of a beloved husband or wife should be an object of intense interest,

(3) This object is of so much importance that the Christian should be willing to submit to much, to bear much, and to bear long, in order that it may be accomplished. Paul said that it was desirable even to live with a pagan partner to do it; and so also it is desirable to bear much, very much, with even an unkind and fretful temper, with an unfaithful and even an intemperate husband, or with a perverse and peevish wife, if there is a prospect that they may be converted.

(4) this same direction is elsewhere given; 1 Peter 3:1-2.

(5) it is often done. It is not hopeless. Many a wife has thus been the means of saving a husband; many a husband has been the means of the salvation of the wife - In regard to the means by which this is to be hoped for, we may observe that it is not by a harsh, fretful, complaining temper; it is to be by kindness, and tenderness, and love. It is to be by an exemplification of the excellency of religion by example; by patience when provoked, meekness when injured, love when despised, forbearance when words of harshness and irritation are used, and by showing how a Christian can live, and what is the true nature of religion; by kind and affectionate conversation when alone, when the heart is tender, when calamities visit the family, and when the thoughts are drawn along by the events of Providence toward death. Not by harshness or severity of manner, is the result to be hoped for, but by tender entreaty, and mildness of life, and by prayer. Pre eminently this is to be used. When a husband will not hear, God can hear; when he is angry, morose, or unkind, God is gentle, tender, and kind; and when a husband or a wife turn away from the voice of gentle entreaty, God's ear is open, and God is ready to hear and to bless. Let one thing guide the life. We are never to cease to set a Christian example; never to cease to live as a Christian should live; never to cease to pray fervently to the God of grace, that the partner of our lives may be brought under the full influence of Christian truth, and meet us in the enjoyments of heaven.

16. What knowest thou but that by staying with thy unbelieving partner thou mayest save him or her? Enforcing the precept to stay with the unbelieving consort (1Co 7:12-14). So Ruth the Moabitess became a convert to her husband's faith: and Joseph and Moses probably gained over their wives. So conversely the unbelieving husband may be won by the believing wife (1Pe 3:1) [Calvin]. Or else (1Co 7:15), if thy unbelieving consort wishes to depart, let him go, so that thou mayest live "in peace": for thou canst not be sure of converting him, so as to make it obligatory on thee at all costs to stay with him against his will [Menochius and Alford].

save—be the instrument of salvation to (Jas 5:20).

The apostle having before determined the lawfulness of a Christian husband’s or wife’s abiding in a state of marriage with a wife or husband that was an infidel, if she or he were willing to abide with the believer, now argues the great advantage which might be from it, for the glory of God, and the good of the soul of such husband or wife.

What knowest thou, O wife? saith he; it is not certain that God will so far bless thy converse with thy husband or wife, as that thou shalt, by thy instruction, admonition, or example, be an occasion or instrument to bring them to Christ; but it is neither impossible nor improbable, and their willingness (notwithstanding their difference from thee in religion) yet to abide with thee, may give thee some hopes that they will hearken to thee. They are often (in the language of holy writ) said to save others, who are instrumental to bring them to Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:22 1 Timothy 4:16 Jam 5:20. We ought to bear with many inconveniences to ourselves, where our bearing with them may any way promote the glory of God or the good of souls.

For what knowest thou, O wife,.... These words may be understood, as containing a reason either why the believing party should be easy at the departure of the unbeliever, after all proper methods have been used in vain to retain him or her; taken from the uncertainty and improbability of being of any use to them, to bring them to the knowledge of Christ, and salvation by him; "for what knowest thou, O wife"; thou dost not know, thou canst not know, thou canst not be sure,

whether thou shall save thy husband? be the means of bringing of him under the means of grace, and so of his conversion and salvation; there is no likelihood of it, since he is such an implacable enemy to Christ, and so bitterly averse to the Gospel, and the ordinances of it; and therefore since he is determined to separate, even let him go: or else, as rendering a reason why the believer should seek for peace and reconciliation, and by all means, if possible, continue to dwell with the unbeliever; taken from hopes of being serviceable under a divine influence and blessing, for their spiritual and eternal good, the wife for the good of the husband; by whose conversation he may be won over, and prevailed upon to entertain a better opinion of the Christian religion; to take a liking to the Gospel, and to attend upon the ministry of the word, which may be made the power of God unto salvation to him:

or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shall save thy wife; this may possibly be done, in the same manner as now suggested: persons in such a relation have often great influence upon one another, and are by divine Providence often great blessings to each other, in things spiritual as well as temporal. This puts me in mind of a case related by the Jewish doctors (a):

"it happened to a holy man that he married a holy woman, and they had no children; say they, we are of no manner of profit to the blessed God; they stood up and divorced one another; he went and married a wicked woman, and she made him wicked; she went and married a wicked man, "and she made him righteous";''

or, to use the apostle's phrase, "saved him".

(a) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 17. fol. 14. 4.

For what 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. Confirmation of the foregoing thought, that the Christian is not bound in such cases, but, on the contrary, ought, in accordance with his vocation, to live in peace; for neither does the (Christian) wife know whether she, by continuing to live with her (non-believing) husband, shall be the means of his conversion, nor does the (Christian) husband know, etc. This uncertainty cannot be the basis of any constraint to the hurt of their peace. Comp de Wette, Osiander, Neander, Ewald, Maier, Hofmann. Most expositors, on the other hand, from Chrysostom downwards, take εἰ in the sense of εἰ μή (see also Tholuck, Bergpredig. p. 251 f.), and hold that 1 Corinthians 7:16 enunciates a new reason for not breaking up the marriage, namely, the possibility of the conversion of the non-believing husband. Ἀνάδεξαί φησιν ἐπὶ χρησταῖς ἐλπίσι τὸν πόνον· ἔχεις τὸν Θεὸν τῆς προθυμίας ἐπίκουρον, Theodoret. That is to say, they find in ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κ.τ.λ[1140] the thought: yet the Christian partner should do everything to maintain peace and bear with the heathen consort,—and either link to this the new reason given in 1 Corinthians 7:16 (Flatt, Rückert, Olshausen, following Calvin and others), or else regard 1 Corinthians 7:15 as a parenthesis (Grotius, al[1141]). But the parenthetic setting aside of 1 Corinthians 7:15 is as arbitrary as the turn given to the idea of ἘΝ ΔῈ ΕἸΡΉΝῌ Κ.Τ.Λ[1142] is contrary to the context. With respect again to taking εἰ as equivalent to εἰ μή, it is perfectly true that εἰ, following upon the notion of uncertainty, may answer in meaning to εἰ μή) Thuc. ii. 53. 2; Krüger, § lxv. 1. 8; Esther 4:14; 2 Samuel 12:22; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9); but the thought which would thus emerge does not suit the connection here, because in it the point is the οὐ δεδούλωται, to which the proposed rendering of the εἰ would run counter.[1143] Moreover, this use of ΕἸ is foreign to the N. T., often though it occurs in the classics (see especially Kühner, a[1144] Xen. Mem. i. 1. 8, Anab. iii. 2. 22).

τί] precisely as the German: “was weisst du, ob,” etc., so that in sense it is the same as: how, in how far (Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. p. 823); it is not therefore the accusative of the, object. Comp ΤῚ ΟἼΕΙ, ΤῚ ΔΟΚΕῖς, Xen. Hier. i. 15. Regarding the future σώσεις, comp Stallbaum, a[1147] Gorg. p. 249; Klotz, a[1148] Devar. p. 508.

[1140] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1141] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[1142] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1143] A limitation of the οὐ δεδούλωται, and that, too, of a quite general sort, comes in only with the εἰ μή κ.τ.λ. in ver. 17.

[1144] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1147] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1148] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

1 Corinthians 7:16 follows up the appeal to Christian principle, by a challenge addressed in turn to the wifely and the manly heart: “(Keep the peace, if you can, with the unconverted spouse), for how do you know, O wife, that you will not save your husband? or how do you know, O husband, that you will not save your wife? “That εἰ in this connexion (see parls.), after τί οἶδας implying a fear, may mean “that … not” in English idiom (as though it were: “How do you know? it may be you will save, etc.!”) is admitted by Hn[1056] and Ed[1057], though they reject the above interpretation, which is that of the ancient commentt. from Cm[1058] down to Lyra, of Cv[1059] and Bz[1060], and of Ev[1061] and Lt[1062] amongst moderns: see the convincing notes of the two last-named; “Confirmatio est superioris sententiæ: non cur discedente infideli liberetur fidelis; sed contra, cur ita sit utendum hac libertate, ut infidelem, si fieri potest, retineat fidelis ac Christo lucrificet” (Bz[1063]).—τί οἶδας; connotes “not the manner in which the knowledge is to be obtained, but the extent of it” (Ed[1064])—“what do you know as to the question whether, etc.?”

[1056] C. F. G. Heinrici’s Erklärung der Korintherbriefe (1880), or 1 Korinther in Meyer’s krit.-exegetisches Kommentar (1896).

[1057] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[1058] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[1059] Calvin’s In Nov. Testamentum Commentarii.

[1060] Beza’s Nov. Testamentum: Interpretatio et Annotationes (Cantab., 1642).

[1061] T. S. Evans in Speaker’s Commentary.

[1062] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[1063] Beza’s Nov. Testamentum: Interpretatio et Annotationes (Cantab., 1642).

[1064] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

The above sentences are curiously ambiguous; taken by themselves, they may be read as reasons either against or for separation. The latter interpretation is adopted, as to 1 Corinthians 7:15 b by most, and as to 1 Corinthians 7:16 by nearly all execent exegetes (including Bg[1065], Mr[1066], Hf[1067], Hn[1068], Al[1069], Bt[1070], Ed[1071], Gd[1072], El[1073]): “God has called us in peace (and peace is only possible through separation); for how do you know, wife or husband, that you will save the other?” As much as to say, “Why cling to him, or her, on so ill-founded a hope?” Grammatical considerations being fairly balanced, the tenor of the previous context determines the Apostle’s meaning. In the favourite modern exposition, the essential thought has to be read between the lines. It should also be observed that the Cor[1074], with their lax moral notions, needed dissuasives from rather than encouragements to divorce; and on the other hand, that to discountenance the hope of a soul’s salvation is strangely unlike the Ap. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:33). On the construction here adopted, P. returns at the close of the Section to the thought with which it opened—μὴ χωρισθῆναι.

[1065] Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti.

Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[1067] J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[1068] C. F. G. Heinrici’s Erklärung der Korintherbriefe (1880), or 1 Korinther in Meyer’s krit.-exegetisches Kommentar (1896).

[1069] Alford’s Greek Testament.

[1070] J. A. Beet’s St. Paul’s Epp. to the Corinthians (1882).

[1071] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[1072] F. Godet’s Commentaire sur la prem. Ép. aux Corinthiens (Eng. Trans.).

[1073] C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

[1074] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

16. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?] Until the 14th century the meaning of this passage was supposed to be that the believing partner was not to leave the unbeliever, in hope of bringing about his conversion. See 1 Peter 3:1. But Lyra then pointed out that the opposite view was more agreeable to the context. The preceding verse recommends departure, and the following verse, beginning with a qualifying particle ‘but’ or more literally except, only, seems to imply that the advice in 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 was to be looked upon as referring to a particular case and was not to be tortured into a general rule. For the insisting on marriage rights when the unbelieving party to the contract was desirous of severing it was an attempt at compulsion which was undesirable in itself, and might not, after all, be followed by the salvation of the unbeliever. Dean Stanley remarks on the influence of the earlier interpretation upon history in such marriages as that of Clotilda with Clovis and of Bertha with Ethelbert of Kent.

1 Corinthians 7:16. Τί γὰρ, for what) Therefore thou oughtest not to distress thyself too anxiously; but to preserve the tranquillity of thy mind, exertions must be made according to the measure of hope.—ἄνδραγυναῖκα, husband, wife) averse from thee, and therefore from the faith.—σώσεις, thou shalt save) The one consort ought to lead, as far as possible, the other consort to salvation.

Verse 16. - For what knowest thou, O wife, etc.? The meaning is as follows: - You may, perhaps, plead that, by refusing to sever the union, the believing partner may convert the unbelieving; but that possibility is too distant and uncertain on which to act. St. Peter does indeed show that so blessed a result is possible ("That, if any obey not the Word, they also maybe won... by the conversation of the wives," 1 Peter 3:1); but he is only speaking of cases in which the unbelieving husband did not wish the union to be dissolved. The ancient misinterpretation of the passage (due to neglect of the context and of the argument as a whole) viewed it as an argument for mixed marriages, founded on the chance of thereby winning souls. Most misinterpretations of Scripture have done deadly harm; this one, however, has been overruled for good, and led, as Dean Stanley points out, to such happy marriages as that of Clotilde with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert of Kent. 1 Corinthians 7:16
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