here is a big-time, defining statement by the apostle paul:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-16
this is the passage that the majority of christians use to substantiate their belief that it is a sin for a christian to marry an un-believer.
i have three problems with this interpretation.
first…the context of paul’s teaching has nothing to do with marriage.
second…paul does not say it is a sin for a believer to marry an un-believer.
third…we need to be very careful about building an entire doctrine around a word that only appears once in the new testament and twice in the old testament…and not in the context of the doctrine you are trying to build.
(don’t stop reading yet. don’t assume i’m saying something i’m not saying!)
in this passage, the word at the center of the controversy is actually a compound word that means do not come under an unequal or different yoke or do not be unequally bound together. in the two places the same word appears in the old testament, it’s in laws about animals (Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:10).
there is no question that the command of being unequally yoked is a principle that can…and should…be applied to marriage. sound biblical application allows for it. biblical extrapolation is something we do all the time. frankly, logic and common sense screams for it. experience has an abundance of examples of what happens when people ignore it.
but strict contextual interpretation does not give us license to call the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever sin. it just doesn’t. nor is it uniformly condemned in scripture. it just isn’t. nowhere will you find the command “thou shalt not marry an unbeliever.” though never the ideal, there are even references and teachings in both the old and new testament writings about such unions.
look. here’s the deal. i grew up in a church environment that loved to make laws for christians, even where laws didn’t exist in the bible:
- you can’t dance
- you can’t play cards
- you can’t drink
- you can’t date someone of a different race
- you can’t listen to rock and roll music
- you can’t go to R-rated movies
- you have to give 10%
- you can only use the king james version
- you have to pray before meals
- you can’t have long hair…if you’re a boy
- you can’t wear bikinis…if you’re a girl
- and the list goes on…
the interesting thing about that list (and many other things that could be added to it) is that you could build a pretty good case for the validity…and maybe even the wisdom… of each those laws. but none of them are expressly stated in the bible as sin or as a black and white command.
and i made a decision years ago that i would do my best to avoid making laws where they didn’t exist in the bible. and that includes the absolute prohibition of a believer being married to an unbeliever.
but make no mistake. just because i don’t believe we have a black and white law of prohibition, doesn’t mean i believe it’s a good thing.
throughout my life as a guy who gets to be pretty involved with people who want to get married, i’ve had my fair share of couples who want my blessing to be unequally yoked.
- some have been couples where both claim to be believers, but they are clearly not on the same page theologically or practically as it relates to following jesus. these unions always end in serious concession. they often end up with constant conflict. occasionly, they even end in divorce…even though both claim to be “saved”.
- some have been couples where one is clearly an unbeliever…and the other is so immature spiritually, they really don’t understand the concept of being a follower of christ. their faith is nothing more than mystical fire insurance. i treat them both as unbelievers.
- some have been couples where one goes through the motions of feigning or forcing “faith” in order to satisfy the desires of the other. it’s a con, but when one is so emotionally attached to another, they want to believe anything.
- still others have been couples where the believer truly expects their love to lead the other to faith. they believe it with all their heart. they have seen it happen with others and they believe it can happen in their relationship, also.
although there have been a sprinkling of these marriages that have had some measure of good come from their union, the rest have been filled with misery, conflict, emptiness, sadness and separation.
i hate being a killjoy, but those are just the facts.
i have (and will continue to) consistently and patiently discouraged couples from being unequally yoked in marriage. at a minimum, it always ends with the believer compromising their commitment to faithful service, in order to accommodate their unbelieving spouse. and for some, this is a tremendous kingdom loss. and it breaks my heart.
in the end, the risk of walking down a road that wisdom…experience… scripture… logic…counsel…and common sense says is dangerous…is too great for me to ever give my blessing. especially to people i know and love.
do i think the believing spouse will be condemned to hell for their decision to get married? no.
do i think the believing spouse has committed the unforgivable? no.
do i believe they are even sinning? perhaps. do i think they are making a huge mistake? every time.
will i still perform the wedding ceremony? maybe, as long as the couple is willing to let me brutally honest. it is my responsibility to speak the truth. it is their responsibility to listen and be accountable to god.
some will say that my participation in their ceremony is the equivalent of giving my blessing. first of all, god is the only one who can ultimately give blessing or condemnation. people don’t. not even ministers…(another thing i can’t find in the bible that seems to have been perpetuated for about 2000 years!).
second, i am a shepherd, not a judge. if people are bent on making a potentially dumb decision, i figure they need my friendship more than they need my rejection. it just seems more christlike to me.
i realize that not everybody will agree with me on this one, but i have to stand before god for what i do.