What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 7:14 when he said, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy”? This verse has perplexed many Christians throughout the centuries and paedobaptists use this verse to support infant baptism since they argue that the holiness Paul speaks of demonstrates that the infant children of believers are part of the covenant community and therefore are deserving of the signs of the covenant. Despite the confusion, the answer to what “holy” means here is obvious from the context of the verse. Paul is addressing the question of whether or not a Christian should leave her unbelieving spouse and children. His answer is a resounding “no” and verse 14 gives the reason why.
The point that Paul is making is simply this: unlike in Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 when the Israelites had to forsake their pagan wives and children, a believing husband should not leave his unbelieving wife and children because the marriage is truly valid in God’s sight and therefore your children are legitimately yours and not illegitimate. A similar use of “holy” is found in 1 Timothy 4:5 in reference to acceptable food that would of been unclean prior to the coming of Christ: “For it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” God’s Word now declares that all food is clean (Mark 7:19). There are no more food laws binding on the New Testament Christian and the Old Testament laws concerning the invalidity of mixed marriages are not binding on Christians today though Christians are instructed to only marry in the Lord (1 Cor 7:39).
This means that these children are legally the children of the believing spouse and not illegitimate offspring. This use of “holy” is similar to the Hebrew term kosher describing that which is acceptable or allowed. If the marriage was not valid (like the mixed marriages of Ezra and Nehemiah), then the children born would be illegitimate and have to be sent away. But on the contrary, Christians are not Old Testament Jews living in a theocracy, but individuals called to dwell in the midst of an unbelieving world; to be a light shining in the darkness. For a Christian to forsake his children would bring reproach upon the gospel.
The paedobaptist argument based on this text is also invalid since the unbelieving spouse is likewise called holy since Paul uses the verbal form of the same word that is used to describe the children. If the children are to be baptized because they are holy, then the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized because he or she is holy too! As Abraham Booth explains, “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.”