What does “unequally yoked” mean?



I was reading over some of your questions and answers on marriage. I came across Is it wrong for a Christian to marry a non-believer? and I found it a little confusing. Could you explain how being unequally yoked only applies to situations where the unbeliever has power over the believer?


"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?
And what communion has light with darkness?
And what accord has Christ with Belial?
Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?"
(II Corinthians 6:14-16).

Lists can be dry, but when the action word has a number of synonyms, varying the verb gives more interest and gives greater meaning. Paul talks about being

  • Unequally yoked together
  • Partnership
  • Fellowship
  • Harmony
  • Common portion (part)
  • Agreement

Each verb is talking about the same thing. Each could have been used in any of the pairs. But by distributing them, they each add to the idea being expressed.

There ought to be an equality of binding love and concern between brethren. But Paul is concerned that the Corinthians are giving more of themselves to unbelievers and thus are becoming unequally yoked with them. The concept comes from the Old Testament law, which required that oxen and donkeys not be yoked together (Deuteronomy 22:10).

Some immediately see Paul’s warning as it applies to marriage, but Paul has far more things in mind than just marriage (Ephesians 5:7,11; I Corinthians 15:33; I Timothy 5:22). There is no commonality between believers and unbelievers. Our views are just too different (I Thessalonians 5:5).

To prove his point, Paul lists things which have no common ground:

  • Righteousness and lawlessness
  • Light and darkness
  • Christ and Satan (The word “Belial” is the transliteration of a Hebrew word for “worthless” or “unprofitable” and is one of the names for Satan.)
  • Believers and unbelievers
  • The Temple of God and idolatry

Is Paul forbidding all ties between Christians and the rest of the world? Paul did say in his first letter, "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world" (I Corinthians 5:10-11). In fact, as we look at life, we have many situations where a Christian may be tied to an unbeliever:

  • A Christian married to a non-Christian (I Corinthians 7:12-15; I Peter 3:1-2
  • A Christian working for a non-Christian  (I Peter 2:18)
  • A Christian having non-Christians working for him (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1)
  • A Christian in a nation ruled by a non-Christian (Romans 13:1-2)

Through it all, we have to find a way to live in this world without being a part of the evil of this world. "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14-16).

The Corinthians had not been successful in keeping out worldly influences. In the first letter, we find that they were allowing an incestuous man to worship with them (I Corinthians 5). That was corrected but in the second letter, Paul scolds them for tolerating false teachers. "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. ... For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face" (II Corinthians 11:4,19-20).  Unlike the false teachers, Paul points out, "Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one" (II Corinthians 7:2).

As I've mentioned before, marrying a non-Christian is not generally wise. The non-believer is more likely to erode the faith of the believer. But that is also true when working with non-believers or living in a corrupt society. I have to hang on to my faith and my moral principles despite the pressures of those around me.

However, in II Corinthians 6:14-7:1 I see Paul talking more about how people tend to bring the world into their religion and think they can still worship God. Thus, this passage would apply to the person who thinks he can attend worship services and live with his girlfriend. It applies to those who claim that God accepts people having homosexual sex as His people because times have changed. It includes those who say the worship of God can be modified to appeal to the ungodly, such as by adding instrumental music. You can't blend Christianity and worldliness. Oil and water don't mix.


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