“Unequally Yoked” Does Not Mean What You Thought It Meant

And What To Say When Saying "Don't Marry a Non-Christian"

How many times have you heard the phrase, “don’t be unequally yoked?” If you’ve been following Christ for some time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it many times. If you haven’t been following Christ, you may have never heard it at all. Normal people in the 21st Century do not talk about being “yoked.” So, what does “do not be unequally yoked,” mean in the Bible?

Unequally Yoked

Paul writes this phrase in the middle of his second letter to the Corinthian church. This means the phrase is part of a flow of thought found in the middle of his second letter.

At the start of the letter, Paul restates the importance and excellence of the ministry of Christ. Then he transitions to a defense of his ministry to the Corinthians. This defense includes his authority from God to teach along with his reasoning to write such a harsh previous letter.

Throughout the entire letter, there is no reference to marriage, or even to sexual relations. However, Paul covered this extensively in his first letter to the Corinthians. For a small overview, please see the following articles:

Therefore, if Paul never mentions marriage in this second letter, this means that the phrase, “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” cannot possibly be talking about a marriage partner.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…

– 2 Cor. 6:14-16

“Unequally Yoked” Does Not Mean What You Think

Paul is teaching that Christians should avoid aligning themselves with those who do not follow Christ. God calls for a separation from unholiness in the people who are following Him. This includes separation from people who advocate false teaching, who insist on blending the worship of Christ with the worship of idols, and those who claim Christ but continue to practice unholiness and immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:11-13).

Pauls string of rhetorical questions all bring the same answer: None. Furthermore, the phrasing of his first question, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness,” would remind the Corinthians about not settling business disputes between believers in front of an unrighteous judge, but rather, to reconcile difference within the community of Christ (see 1 Cor 6:1).

The issue was worship of Christ, not marriage between husbands and wives. A common issue the Corinthians encountered was misteaching about freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ does not permit the worship of Christ to take form in the worship of false gods.

Thus, the reason for separation from unholiness and dedication to righteous living is a natural response to the message of salvation in Christ.

“Unequally Yoked” Can Apply In The Way You Think

Since, the principle Paul teaches during this passage is separation from unholiness and commitment to Christ, this principle can apply to dating and marriage. We should avoid anything that would detract or influence us away from following Christ. Therefore, this principle can apply to a situation in dating, but the application of the principle is not what the phrase originally meant in the Scripture.

How To More Accurately Explain The Reasoning Why Not to Date an Unbeliever

What is the purpose for dating? To find a marriage partner.

What does Paul teach when seeking a marriage partner?

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.

– 1 Cor. 7:39

Paul teaches that at the time when dating was common in his culture, the person dating should only consider those following Christ. For a more in-depth look at this verse, make sure to check out the article Can I Date A Non-Christian?

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