We read in Lev 10:8-10 (NRSVCE):

And the Lord spoke to Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean

We see the Lord categorizing the objects to be used for worship into holy/common and clean/unclean. The definitive instructions were preceded by the punishment imposed on Aaron's sons for violating them:

Now Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord (Lev 10:1-2)

Now, see St Paul writing to Corinthians in 1 Cor 7:14:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Read with Lev 10, St Paul's mention of referring to 'unclean children' appears out of place. Is it that the Church considered children born out of marriages between two non-believers, as unclean? Going by Lev 10, they could at the most be called 'not-yet-holy'.

My question therefore is: What is the significance of St Paul referring to 'unclean children' in 1 Cor 7:14 vis a vis God's instructions in Lev 10:8-10? Inputs from any denominations are welcome.

1 Answer 1


Since Paul generally taught that ritual purity laws did not apply to Christians, we can presume that he was using the term "unclean" here to something like "not holy" or "not-Christian" rather ritually unclean. The context is a discussion of whether Christians married to non-Christians need to abstain from sex.

Earlier Paul emphasized that Christians must not unite their bodies with prostitutes, as apparently some in the Corinthian church were doing:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Cor. 6:15-19)

His teaching on sexual morality in chapter 7 constitutes a warning not to go to the other extreme and refuse one's marriage partner the right of sexual intimacy and/or children:

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (7:1-5)

In this context, the OP's question boils down to the issue of whether children of mixed-faith marriages are to be considered as belonging to God or not. Paul answers in the affirmative. This would be an extremely important question if infant baptism was practiced.

In any case, the underlying issue here was not one of being ritually 'unclean' as in the OT examples, but of being considered a child of Christian parentage. Children of non-believers were obviously not to be considered members of the church community. Children of mixed marriages were given the benefit of the doubt. If infant baptism was practiced they would be candidates.

The issue of infant baptism is addressed in the linked post.

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