In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul says “the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her husband” (7:14). Does this mean that unbelievers are saved by virtue of being married to believers?

First, if unbelievers can be saved through marriage, there would be at least two ways to be saved: one by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone; the other by marriage to a believer. Not only so, but unbelievers would be forced into the kingdom of Christ against their wills.

Furthermore, being sanctified is not the same as being saved. In context, to be sanctified means to be set apart. As such, the unbeliever has been sanctified for the sake of the marriage, not for the sake of salvation. In other words, the believer is not defiled by the spiritual deadness of the unbeliever. Rather the unbeliever comes under the special influence of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, in the self–same context, Paul distinguishes between being sanctified and being saved by writing, “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (v. 16, emphasis added). As such, sanctification is not synonymous with salvation.

For further study, see Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).


“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

John 14:6