Provocative Bible Verses: Do Not Be Unequally Yoked With Unbelievers

Posted: October 27, 2009 in Christians and Culture
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Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NASB)

In recent weeks I have had several people quote this verse to me. They have done so in an attempt to explain why Christians should never be a partner with or cooperate with people who are not Christians. In the context of the discussions it is clear that they are talking about not partnering with non-Christians on any level. Is that really what Paul intends? Are we to not have any dealings of cooperation or partnership with people who do not share our faith in Christ?

If Paul meant that we are to have no association or dealings with unbelievers then I have found my first ever, clear example of the Bible being in contradiction with itself. In fact it would mean that Paul is in contradiction with himself in his communication to these same Christians in Corinth. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul says that he never intended for them to have no association with “sinners” since to accomplish that they would have to leave the world. Paul actually pushes in the opposite direction. We are to be engaged with the lost people of the world so that they come to know Christ. We are Ambassadors for Christ. We are Witnesses to Jesus. We cannot do that if we don’t engage others in some kind of relationship. So the question is, what kinds of relationships are legitimate between followers of Jesus and those who are not and what kinds of relationships are forbidden.

The New American Standard Bible that is quoted above says that we are not to be unequally bound together with unbelievers. The old King James language says “Do not be unequally yoked”. The words are reminiscent of Deuteronomy 22:10 which says not to yoke together a oxen and a donkey in the same team pulling a plow. The two would be mismatched and result in disaster. Being yoked together is a particular kind of relationship. It is one of being bound together. It is one that you cannot easily extricate yourself from. Another good word of translation for yoked would be “mismatched”.

The most common understanding of this verse is that Paul is telling Christians not to marry an unbeliever. He clearly said this in his first letter to the Corinthians. That is an appropriate interpretation and application. Contrary to the wisdom of our age that says what we believe is really not important in the grand scheme of things and that two different religions should have no problem living under the same roof, the reality is the opposite. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have no business entering into a marriage with a non-Christian. For starters, that which is most important in your life, or at least should be, your relationship with Christ, is not important to that potential spouse. You are starting off like that oxen and donkey trying to plow a field together. It just doesn’t work. More than that, as a follower of Christ you are united with Christ and He dwells in you by the presence of the Holy Spirit. With your spouse you are also to become one. You are to be united in a deep and very real spiritual way. That can’t happen if your spirit is united with Christ and theirs is not.

But the imagery and context here goes beyond that of marriage. The verses following 6:14 bring to mind images related to worship. The Corinthians had a huge problem living in the midst of numerous temples to false gods and a society that was built on such idolatry. Paul is telling the Corinthians to make sure that they keep their fellowship with Christ and their worship of God free from the pollution of idolatry. The references to the Temple, to idols, to Belial, and a quote from Leviticus and Isaiah bring the worship context to the foreground. This is a verse about compromising who God is and our worship of Him. We are not to mix with the religious practices of the idolatry of the world.

That does not mean that we can’t be a business partner with a non-Christian. We certainly need to be wise about the dangers that can result in having two different world views. It does not mean that you can’t have a business contract with a non-Christian. It doesn’t mean that you can’t cooperate with a non-Christian for a common cause. If a Muslim and a Christian and an Atheist all want to end abortion then there is no reason not to work together. They may have different reasons for wanting the same result but that is no reason not to find common ground for common good.

We need to be very careful in declaring that we are not to engage with, and work with, those who do not follow Christ. The danger is that we will draw into our own little Christian ghetto more and more. We cannot be salt if we are not in contact with the world. We cannot be light if we are hidden under a basket. The answer is not withdrawal. The answer is wise engagement under the influence of the Holy Spirit and guidance of God’s Word. We need to know where the line is and be sure not to cross it. That line would be whenever we are so “yoked” together that we are bound and unable to extricate ourselves or when the involvement clearly endorses the worship of false gods. With those two safe guards we are to be Ambassadors who engage the world for Jesus sake.

Comments
  1. Peter Jenkins says:

    Thanks Dan, I’ve been struggling as I prepare a message about Rejoice and be glad from Matthew 5:11-12 and your comments about rejoicing have been really helpful. Peter

  2. Dan Lacich says:

    Peter,
    I am glad this was helpful for you. I would love to get a copy of the sermon once you preach it.
    Dan

  3. Lori Lauth says:

    Dan, Thanks for writing such a great post. I think your right on your interpretation of the verse. I have been married for 18 years. I became saved and now serve the Lord for the past 10 years. It’s a tough road to be unequally yoked in marriage. We started out on the same page on lots of issues, but the divide grows more and more as I study God’s word. I’m trusting God to work out the details as I hang on to Him.
    Blessings. Lori

  4. Steve says:

    This is the post of yours I agree with the most. I’m glad you’ve considered the context. What you say here is good.

  5. nicholas says:

    I believe that Paul did mean not to be yoked with unbelievers in a buisness enviroment as well. Simply because its like the prostitution of isreal found in ezekiel ch. 16 where God refers to isreal as a woman he saved and made beautiful then she shared her belongings with other nations who worshiped idols which made God angry. So I do believe that God will meet all your needs and will provide a way for you not to be in a situation of being unequally yoked. Please rember God does test the heart, so I hope your not in love with money more than you are with God. Don’t let money get in the way of you honoring God who has a limitless supply of treasure to bless you with. The righteous will not be forsaken. God bless you brother

  6. kim says:

    Good encouragement, Nicholas!! Thank you!

  7. Justin says:

    Firsty, this is a very good topic of discussion. I was wondering if anybody could help me with something very similar that tends to be quite the touchy topic for me and another. I’m in a relationship (serious) and she is catholic, and I am christian (non denominational). I have been searching for info to tell me if this is an ungodly relationship or not, because I deeply care for this relationship. If anyone has any spiritual wisdom I would much appreciate this.
    Thank you

  8. vicky says:

    i am a born again christian who believes in christ Jesus and the finished work on the cross. I am in a relationship with a devoted muslim male, who was born and raised in a christian household but got converted into islam latter on in life.We are at the point of making a commitment towards marriage, and am not very comfortable about this decision as we have potential areas of disagreement like child rearing and observation of religious holidays. I really need some healthy advise. can anyone give me an input that can be helpful in making a decision weather to back off or to proceed with this decison

  9. Does this also apply to a spiritually unequal Christian couple?
    My boyfriend & I have our two different views to Christianity because we go to two different churches. I’m SDA & he goes to Assemblies Of God.
    Really tired of having the same arguments over & over again.
    I need some advice..
    Thank you..

  10. Dan Lacich says:

    Dear Chipego,
    I can understand the struggle of have two very different perspectives on important issues like that Sabbath and the work of the Holy Spirit. However, this does not fit within what Paul is talking about being unequally yoked. He is clearly talking about a Christian being married to a Pagan or unbeliever. Unbeliever would be understand as not believing that Jesus is Lord and we are saved by His work on the cross. What you are experiencing is certainly difficult but it is something that I think God would want you to work out. Let me go so far as to say that preserving your marriage is more important that who is right about theological issues or worship styles. Let’s assume for a moment that you are right about an issue like the Sabbath on Saturday and that you allow this to be a reason for ending your marriage. When you get to heaven I have a hard time seeing God saying, “good job, at least you upheld the sanctity of the 7th day, even it is meant you marriage ended in divorce”. My suggestion is that you both need to grow in appreciation for how God speaks to your spouse and instead of arguing over who is right, try to understand how the other connects to God in a different way. It might mean going to a church that is neither SDA or Pentecostal and being content with that compromise for the sake of the marriage. And let me say this, compromise is not a bad thing. The early church had a huge compromising moment in Acts 15 that the Holy Spirit blessed and Paul urges us, “as much as it depends on you, be at peace with ALL people”. How much more should that be true when it comes to a spouse.
    Praying for agreement
    Dan

  11. Amanda says:

    Enjoyed reading this! what about a person thats been in a relationship with someone for over 5 years and maybe like to marry him before long if he proposes but doesnt believe he is saved…what do i do?

  12. wayne says:

    hi peeps,blessings in Jesus! i dont like to come across as critical on such matters but i am critical when it comes down to the text.@amanda,wat did jesus say? he who loves others more than me is not worthy of me.i understand about having emotional feelings for some1 who is not saved b4 engaging in marrige with them (im experienced on this).but the corinth passage does go further t state that if the unbeliver is content with the beliver,then let it be.but at the same time,u being the beliver should never stray from doctrinal truths at any time for the sake of your relationship with a unbeliver.your first and formost priority should be with jesus and his word,never to for sake him.it is a very hard line to walk sometimes and testing moments do come about.e.g. my wife became very upset and we had words because one year i became convicted by the spirit that embracing halloween was something i shouldnt be embracing and i didnt want to expose my children to it.obviously at first she didnt understand and didnt agree with my point of view but i prayed to the lord and things smoothed over.the following year i didnt recive a fighting spirit from my wife regarding the matter but an acknowledging one,which i belive was a little reward to me from the lord for standing firm by his word on this particular matter.i hope this sheds a little light on your matter. @Dan Lacich……again,not to be divisive,but i disagree with you on the notion of compromise.you cannot compromise truth for the sake of human emotion,there is no room for it,and theres no text in context to support that theology.thats why the holy spirit gave us john4….here jesus dealt with the womans false belief systemand told her the truth without compromise.by definition,a unbeliver is someone who does not belive the truth,therefore they have the spirit of antichrist.that itself has many forms for which we dont need to go into but to stay on subject,sda is a antichrist relgion because they dnt belive in the finished works on the cross and tie people back into legalism which is primarily the reason paul wrote to the galatians.there is no compromise when the holy spirit was calling paul to simply be at peace with people.that text had nothng to do with compromisig truth,but simply stating to be at peace with them (not war with them). for Chipego Habanyama, its time to get right with the lord.theres no need to argue but simply base your theology o the word of God.if theres a passage which seems to contradict your theology then your theology needs to be re-examined,not the bible.we are called to be humble and accept that scripture is there for our correction,so let it correct us.the sabbath keeping was given exclusively to he nation israel for the m to keep,it was never given to the church.for belivers that feel they wish to observe it is between them and he lord,but it isnt a damnation to those who do not observe it.which is wat sda effectively teaches.jesus is the sabbath and we rest in him,every day of the week, so why obseve just one specifically?especially when jesus nowhere in the new testament directly told the church they must observe it,but simply that he was it,and the lord over it.may God be with you all as we await the coming and apperence of our Great God and savior Yeshua, ha’ maschiach.

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