[Marriage and Unbelievers]

Many have read the passage in the Bible where Paul admonishes: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," and have then assumed from it, all kinds of restrictions on Christian marriages. What constitutes an unequally yoked together marriage, or for that matter, an equally yoked together marriage?

Many will be shocked to learn that this verse is not referring to "marriage" at all.

The phrase "unequally yoked together" is not a phrase that signifies a "marriage." Nonetheless, in principle it certainly applies to marriage.

First, let's read the entire Scripture:

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (II Cor. 6:14-18).

The phrase "unequally yoked together" is the translation of just one Greek word, heterozugeo, which is a compound word that means, "to yoke up differently; to associate discordantly; unequally yoke together." It is used but this one time in the Bible.

The word "yoke" means a coupling as when two oxen are coupled or yoked together by a pulling beam to do work such as plowing a field or pulling a wagon.

And so Paul is telling the Corinthians congregation which was steeped in paganism and their cities peppered with pagan temples, that they should not be "unequally" yoked with those that practiced paganism or any works of darkness. They were to avoid: "unbelievers, unrighteousness, darkness, Belial, infidels, and idols." There it is. That's the list Paul gave them, exactly as we read above. Nothing is mentioned about marriage, but it does apply to marriage.

So what did Paul mean by all these? Well, first of all it is not possible to live in a country, state, county, city, or village without constantly coming in contact with just such persons. Even Jesus Himself prayed and specified to His Father exactly how He desired for us to live under such circumstances in this life:

Joh 17:15 I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil.

In a sense Jesus was requesting that His disciples would "not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

So how do we apply these verses to marriage? Was Paul suggesting that members of the Corinthian Church congregation could not and should not marry other members of the congregation? NO. He was very specific: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with UNBELIEVERS." Were they all spiritually converted? NO. Could a spiritually-minded Corinthian marry a carnal-minded Corinthian? Good question. Are not all "believers" spiritual-minded and all "unbelievers" carnally-minded? Let's back up to Paul's first epistle to these same Corinthians:

1Co 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

1Co 3:2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

1Co 3:3 For ye are yet carnal..."

Remember that the word "ye" does not mean the singular "you," but "ALL of you." Not that there wasn't maybe a single mature, spiritual-minded one among them, but as a group, they were carnal. So if they wanted to marry within their faith, most of them would have had to marry someone carnally-minded.

Now we need to understand what's important in this teaching. Paul did not say they could not marry someone if they were "carnal." He did not even say that they could not marry someone if they were an "unbeliever." He warned against being "UNEQUALLY yoked with unbelievers." It is the "UNEQUALLY" yoked aspect that is most important.

Next let's notice that "BE ye not..." is not the best translation, for if that were the case, then Paul would be saying in effect that anyone who was already unequally yoked in marriage with an unbeliever, SHOULD DIVORCE THEM. But we know that Paul never suggested such a thing, but just the opposite:

1Co 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

1Co 7:13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

So much for the King James, "BE ye not unequally yoked..." The proper translation is "Become ye not unequally yoked..." or "Don't you be getting unequally yoked..."

What did Paul mean by "unbelievers?" We just read that the "ye" of the Corinthians were "yet CARNAL." But, were they "unbelievers?"

1Co 3:5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

1Co 15:2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

1Co 15:11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

From what we have read, we can clearly see that the Corinthian Church was a congregation of "carnal BELIEVERS." Of course, you can be a believer and yet be carnal. Listen, the entire two billion member Christian congregation around the world ARE BELIEVERS. That is they believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Christ, and that there is salvation in Him. That is what makes them believers. From there they fall into all kinds of categories and doctrinal differences, but nonetheless, they are believers regardless of how many of them are "yet carnal."

I believe that the key phrase in all this is to not become "unequally" yoked. Now Paul said with unbelievers, which makes it obviously the wrong thing to do. First you would be "yoked unequally" and to make it worse, to an "unbeliever." Now Paul tells us that this admonition came from him personally under God's inspiration certainly, nonetheless he adds: But to the rest speak I, not the Lord" (I Cor. 7:12).

And so I will take a little liberty myself and suggest that when it comes to marriage (remember Paul is not specifically speaking of marriage here), and say that we should neither become unequally yoked together with BELIEVERS. In other words, we should not become unequally yoked with another, but especially Unbelievers.

The word translated "unbelievers" is apistos and it means "without [Christian] faith, a heathen, incredible, faithless, infidel, unbeliever." It is the same word translated "infidel" in verse 15, although infidel usually signifies something a little stronger than just lacking faith.

We do not need to totally avoid unbelievers, but we are not to become unequally "yoked" to them either. Paul permitted a certain amount of socializing with unbelievers:

1Co 10:27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

Probably most of us have some relative in our family that is not a believer, but with whom we could have certain social intercourse with.

For sure Paul is not forbidding interaction with "The many called and the few chosen." However, even there, we should not become unequally YOKED with them, or how can we say we came out of her as God's people (Rev. 18:4).

I have personally seen marriages between a believer and a non-believer that were more loving and equally yoked than some marriages between two believers. So we need to pay close attention to ALL the words of these profound Scriptures.

We can advise and try to help people see different aspects of a situation. We can relay our own personal knowledge of such things. But we should not get involved in being overly righteous in these matters lest we be guilty of "forbidding to marry" (I Tim. 4:3), which is a doctrine of demons (Verse 1).

The key is becoming "unequally yoked." And that can mean marriage, but it can also mean which church one attends; of which clubs one is a member; which establishments one goes to for entertainment; which TV shows become a regular habit; with whom one becomes business partners; Etc.

Never become unequally yoked with anyone, and always avoid: "unrighteousness, darkness, Belial [an epithet of Satan], infidels, and idols."

We've all seen matches made in heaven that didn't work out, and conversely, we've seen marriages doomed to failure from day one, that are still going strong (or maybe not so strong, but still going, nonetheless) after 30 and 40 years. Only God knows for sure how marriages will turn out. Birds of a feather flock together, but then again opposites attract. Marriage is an area best left up to the bride and the groom.