(2 Cor. 6:14) Why is it wrong to marry a non-Christian?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14 NIV). Paul’s metaphor for being “yoked” would include partnerships of various kinds—not the least of which would be marriage. Why is it wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian?

RESPONSE: Paul is drawing this “unevenly yoked” metaphor from the OT. The Septuagint uses this word (“yoked”) to refer to breeding animals together (Lev. 19:19).[1] Moreover, Deuteronomy 22:10 states: “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” In the original context, it wouldn’t make sense to have an ox and a donkey plowing a field alongside each other. The “yoke” (or harness) around their necks would be broken, because the ox would be pulling a lot harder than the donkey. In the same way, Christians should not marry non-Christians, because they will be pulling the non-Christian in a direction that they do not want to go. Consider some of the effects of interfaith marriage:

First, this is unfair to the NON-CHRISTIAN. When a Christian believer marries a non-Christian, they aren’t being fair to the non-Christian. If Christ is at the center of your values and purpose in life, then this will necessarily have an effect on your spouse. Being a follower of Christ is not analogous to having a favorite flavor of ice cream or a favorite hobby. These sorts of things could be compromised in marriage for the good of the spouse. However, dedication to Christ should never be compromised. Therefore, by marrying a non-Christian, the believer is really pulling a bait-and-switch; they are getting their spouse to marry them under the presumption that they really aren’t interested in Christ, when in fact they really are.

Second, this is unfair to the CHRISTIAN. In marriage, two people become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), being united together spiritually. When we get married, it is no longer “me” who follows Christ; it is “we” who follow Christ together. Marriage can be comparable to a three-legged race. You might be the fastest runner on Earth, but this doesn’t matter in a three-legged race. Your speed will depend on how well you work together with your partner, and it will also depend on how well you choose your partner. When a believer marries a non-believer, it will greatly hinder their own ability to be influential for Christ. By overlooking their spouse’s spiritual life, they are putting themselves into a potentially volatile situation.

While it’s possible that the non-believing spouse could come to Christ through the marriage (1 Cor. 7:12-14), even Scripture tells us that we cannot know this. Paul writes, “How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 7:16).

Third, this is unfair to the potential CHILDREN that might come from this marriage. Fighting over faith in the home can have a devastating effect on children of such homes. When parents are fighting over central values and meaning, it leads to instability for the family.

How do interfaith marriages compare to same-faith marriages?

Garry Walz (the Former President of the American Counseling Association) explains some of the research that has been discovered for families of interfaith marriages:

Sherkat (2004) asserts couples possessing differing religious viewpoints may be affected in many arenas, including conflict with one’s spouse, domestic violence, divorce, and struggles regarding fertility. Lehrer and Chiswick (as cited in Lehrer, 1998) report the divorce rate for homogenous faith couples ranges from 13% to 27%; the divorce rate for heterogamous faith couples ranges from 24% to 42%. Sussman & Alexander (1999) also report a higher divorce rate among heterogamous faith couples.[2]

Evelyn Lehrer (a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago) found these statistics regarding interfaith marriage:[3]

  • Members of mainline Christian denominations have a 2 in 10 chance of divorce in five years.
  • A Catholic and an evangelical have a 3 in 10 chance of divorce in five years.
  • A Christian and a Jewish spouse have a greater than 4 in 10 chance of divorce in five years.

Naomi Schaefer Riley (an American journalist) writes, “According to calculations based on the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, a survey of more than 35,000 respondents, people who have been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-faith marriages.”[4]

Often, spiritual differences do not emerge until the couple decides how to raise their children. Sadly, this is the time that children need to hear a resolute message from both mom and dad on their core values. Moreover, children often resent the parents for asking the kids to make such a major decision that they themselves were unwilling to make. For this reason, while a couple might be currently getting along fine, they need to consider how they will get along when kids become a factor in the equation.

[1] Kaiser, Walter C., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996. 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Yoked with Unbelievers.”

[2] Walz, Garry Richard., Jeanne Bleuer, Richard Yep, and Tammy Shaffer. Compelling Counseling Interventions: VISTAS 2009. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association, 2009. 93.

[3] Evelyn L. Lehrer and Carmel U. Chiswick, “Religion as a Determinant of Marital Stability,” Population Association of America (Vol. 30, No. 3, Aug., 1993), pp. 385-404.

[4] Naomi Schaefer Riley, ‘Til Faith Do We Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p.123.