Unequally Yoked

Does 2 Corinthians 6:14 apply to marriage? What does God say about a believer and unbeliever marrying?

photo credit: crispul21 on stock.xchang

Well first, let’s look at 2 Corinthians 6:14 in a broader context:


14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:“I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
18 And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

To understand this passage and how it might relate to marriage, we have to go back to the Old Testament and look at the commands God gave the Israelites.

Exodus 23:32-3 ~ 32 “Make no treaties with them or their gods. 33 They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry.”

Exodus 34:12-16 ~ 12 “Be very careful never to make a treaty with the people who live in the land where you are going. If you do, you will follow their evil ways and be trapped. 13 Instead, you must break down their pagan altars, smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. 15 “You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. 16 Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.”

Deuteronomy 7:1-41“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.

It is clear that God made a strong prohibition against marrying foreigners because it posed a threat for the nation of Israel. By association, they would be tempted to turn away from God. When you’re dating, you begin to like things that your partner likes and do things that they enjoy in order to be with them and make them happy. If a believer marries an unbeliever, the believer may be tempted to conform to the lifestyle of the unbeliever and thereby stray from God. That doesn’t mean it can’t work the other way—that the unbeliever will start hanging out at church and become saved—it just means that the believer is at a greater risk than if they were dating/marrying a believer.

And indeed, Israel was corrupted by the surrounding nations. Both the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah) were eventually punished by God. He allowed other kingdoms to take them into captivity. After the time of Daniel, some Jews began to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. When they did, they recognized their sin and purged the foreigners from among them. We see these passages from Ezra and Nehemiah…

Nehemiah 10:28-30 ~ 28 Then the rest of the people—the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand— 29 joined their leaders and bound themselves with an oath. They swore a curse on themselves if they failed to obey the Law of God as issued by his servant Moses. They solemnly promised to carefully follow all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the Lord our Lord: 30 “We promise not to let our daughters marry the pagan people of the land, and not to let our sons marry their daughters.

Nehemiah 13:23-27 ~ 23 About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 Furthermore, half their children spoke the language of Ashdod or of some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all. 25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land. 26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”

Ezra 9:1—10:44, especially 9:10-12 ~ 10 “And now, O our God, what can we say after all of this? For once again we have abandoned your commands! 11 Your servants the prophets warned us when they said, ‘The land you are entering to possess is totally defiled by the detestable practices of the people living there. From one end to the other, the land is filled with corruption. 12 Don’t let your daughters marry their sons! Don’t take their daughters as wives for your sons. Don’t ever promote the peace and prosperity of those nations. If you follow these instructions, you will be strong and will enjoy the good things the land produces, and you will leave this prosperity to your children forever.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the New Testament. Because of Jesus, there are no more “foreigners” in terms of nationality. Instead, anyone who calls on the name of the Lord can be saved—Jew or Gentile. The distinction we have now is believers and unbelievers, but I think the same premise remains. Believers should be discouraged from marrying unbelievers because such relationships can be a spiritually destructive.

Paul echoes the OT sentiments 1 Corinthians 7 and provides additional insights on marriage in light of Christ’s atonement of us.

1 Corinthians 7:12-19,32-35,39 ~ 12 Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. 13 And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. 14 For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. 15 (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) 16 Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

17 Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. 18 For instance, a man who was circumcised before he became a believer should not try to reverse it. And the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now. 19 For it makes no difference whether or not a man has been circumcised. The important thing is to keep God’s commandments.

32 I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. 33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul urges the believers in Corinth to stay in the relationship where God has placed them. His most important concern is with the believer’s relationship to God (7:33-35). But it seems clear in 7:39 that believers that are seeking marriage should marry other believers.

From the Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (1983), David K. Lowery writes,

The only constraint Paul placed on a widow who sought remarriage was the obligation to marry another Christian (he must belong to the Lord)—an obligation which though previously unstated, he no doubt meant to apply to all who sought marriage partners.” – pg. 520

So, back to the original question. Does 2 Corinthians 6:14 apply to believers entering into marriage with unbelievers? If you look at the context of the passage, Paul is not addressing marriage.

From the Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (1983), David K. Lowery writes,

“Though verses 14-15 are often applied to various sorts of alliances (e.g., mixed marriages, improper business associations), Paul’s primary association was probably ecclesiastical. The rival suitors were possibly pagan idolaters (cf. 1 Cor. 10:14) or more likely false apostles (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-4). In censure or correction Paul was equally candid.

“The solution to the dilemma was for the Corinthians to separate from the false apostles. Whatever may have been their own and others’ estimation of their spiritual status, Paul considered the false apostles to be unbelievers (cf. 11:13-15) from whom the Corinthians needed to separate. But Paul did not say that Christians should have no contacts whatever with unbelievers. Earlier he argued the absurdity of such a position (1 Cor. 5:9-10). But religious unbelievers might lead believers astray from “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3), and the fact concerned Paul greatly. A believer can be rightly yoked only with Christ (Matt. 11:20-30).” – pg 570

Dr. Thomas L. Constable (he has really thorough commentaries for free on his website http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm) writes (2012),

“Paul was not saying that Christians should break off all association with unbelievers (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10; 10:27). He had previously encouraged the saved partner in a mixed marriage to maintain the marriage relationship as long as possible (1 Cor. 7:12-16). He had also urged his fellow Christians as ambassadors of Christ to evangelize the lost (5:20). Rather Paul commanded that Christians form no binding interpersonal relationships with non-Christians that resulted in their spiritual defilement. This is an extension to human beings of the principle underlying the prohibition against breeding or yoking an ox and a donkey together in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:10. Such alliances can prevent the Christian from living a consistently obedient Christian life. The fulfillment of God’s will must be primary for a believer. Obviously some relationships with pagans do not pose a threat to our faithfulness to God. Where they do the Christian must maintain his or her relationship with Christ even it if means forfeiting relationship with unbelievers. There is a conceptual parallel here with what Jesus (Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25), Paul (Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2), and Peter (1 Pet. 2:13-17) taught about the believer’s relationships with God and the state. We should obey both authorities unless they conflict, in which case we must obey God.” (http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/2corinthians.pdf) pg 62

That pretty much sums up my stance as well. The question is not “Does unequally yoked apply to marriage?” The question is rather, “what is God’s intent in our relationships?” As a believer, we must be wary of relationships with anyone who may cause us to stray from God. Friend, family member, co-worker, love interest, whoever. We must guard our hearts. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to evangelize unbelievers, it means that some unbelievers may be a special temptation for us and we would do well to recognize that and to play our eyes firmly on Christ.
Now, what do you do with the story of Hosea? 🙂


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