On Marrying Unbelievers and Other Things Connected to 2 Corinthians 6:14

by | Jun 2, 2024

When Christians talk about dating one another, leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of it all for a second, a Christian in the discussion invariably raises the point of 2 Corinthians 6: 14, which states, “Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, what fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14, NET).  

They take from this statement a principle that can be summarised as saying that Christians should not date non-Christians. We will look into whether that is the right application of the verse before moving on to the correct interpretation of the text and finally seeing where the logic of those who apply this reading actually leads.

So, let’s begin with the common understanding that this verse teaches we should not date non-Christians. We shall see the verse, in context, has absolutely nothing to say about dating. It talks about something else, but more on that later. I want, however, to say that this application of the passage is indeed valid; it is a strong, conservative reading of the text and sits at the far end of the spectrum of ways of reading the text. The people, knowingly or unknowingly, are reading the text through a principle of ‘by analogy’ as we shall see. The passage is about joining in pagan worship with Christian worship, and the principle established is – that we should not because we are a people of a covenant. Since marriage is itself a covenant relationship, to enter that covenantal relationship with a non-believer compromises the living sacrifice of the Christian party when they marry a non-Christian.

However, the imagery of being yoked is an agricultural image that we may not be familiar with as children of the Industrial Revolution. The reference also has Old Testament law in mind, when Deuteronomy 22:10 states that the children of Israel will not plough a field with an Ox and Donkey together. The Ox was a clean animal, and the Donkey was an unclean animal. The importance of having two strong animals to pull the farming equipment in a straight line is important to maximise the use of the land and to yield many crops because straight lines help to get the most out of each acre of land. If one Ox was stronger than the other, it would pull the line of centre – and thus crop lines would be bent, reducing the yield in the field. The assumption of the application is that the Christian will be the weaker party in the relationship – however, whilst that certainly can be a danger – is it always the case? I have met several Christians who were brought to the faith by dating a Christian and marrying one! Including Muslims (though in much smaller numbers than the other way around). Therefore, it is not the case that the Christian is always the weaker Ox.

I want to suggest, therefore, that since the reality is, until we fix it, that there are more women in the Church than men, our pastoral approach as a Church should not be the default: ‘Don’t date a non-Christian.’ Rather, unless the Christian really is the weaker ideological partner, Churches should develop means and ways of supporting those Christians who are dating non-Christians to bring their non-Christian partners to the faith. The application of analogous thought does not necessarily lead us to the conclusion of the exclusivist position – especially if it is apparent that the Christian is the leading force in the relationship. Obviously, the pastors should know their flock, or we should know the person we are talking to – or better still – get the person to know themselves to see if they are the stronger or weaker party and advise accordingly with this rationale. I want to stress that this position is not saying we should never discourage the dating of unbelievers. Rather, saying to the body of Christ we need to work with the reality we have – disproportionate numbers of women to men and that people do date out of the faith. I think, as Christians, we are missing a trick; we should conspire as congregations and networks of the friends of those Christians doing this to engage and love bomb the non-Christian partners of our brethren into entering the faith and building up and supporting our Christian brethren to be the stronger Ox.

So, what then of the clean and unclean dynamic of the image, the Ox and the Donkey? Well, I will meet one analogous reasoning with another. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, we read, “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). 

Paul here was offering comfort and guidance to those who found themselves, now believers, but in a marriage to an unbeliever. He is rightly discouraging divorce! However, his reasoning is that the ‘unclean’, ‘unholy’ party is being made clean and sanctified (not saved) by the believing party. By analogous thought, therefore, if a married couple should be maintained in their covenant relationship even when both have previously been pagan, one is now Christian, their Christianity trumps the unbelieving party through the sanctification of the household. It holds, I argue, that a couple of a believer and a non-believer can be together, so long as the Christian is baring more influence on the unbeliever than the opposite direction.

So, since this whole discussion is based on analogous thought, let’s just take a moment to think about that for a second. What is analogous thought? It’s when you take a principle that is clear from Scripture and apply it to another situation – not touched on in Scripture – like Baal worship and dating. Obviously, an entire discussion could be had on whether dating is even Christian and whether dating non-Christians is analogous to joining worship with pagans. Both questions I intend to lay aside in this article. This ‘key’ of interpretation should help you, brethren, in thinking out how Scripture can apply to your life.

With that said, let’s look now at what the verse was truly saying. The passage comes immediately after an encouragement to persevere under duress for the faith. One of the temptations of the Corinthian Church would have been to compromise with the surrounding ocean of paganism and merge the worship of Christ with the worship of the local pagan pantheon, or to incorporate pagan beliefs into their worship of the GOD of Israel. Indeed, as the passage continues, we are called in the strongest terms to come out – to be separate from pagan practices and culture and not participate in it.

Much more directly – the application of this verse has more to do with the modern pagan practices of the West such as the worship of institutions like the Army and the NHS; ‘clapping for the NHS’, or the ever-insufferable ‘Pride’ month activities; participation in Eid parties, or the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday. Clearly, this passage most obviously forbids multi-faith acts of worship, but it also, I would argue, prevents Christians from participating in music concerts in which the band is literally idolised by the crowds or participating in the idolisation of any figure at all! This includes both your favourite footballers and music artists, or any other celebrity.

Alexander of Alexandria, the Bishop of Arius, said the following:

“Can the truth itself and God the Word receive? In what respect can the life and the true light be made better? And if this be so, how much more unnatural is it that wisdom should ever be capable of folly; that the power of God should be con-joined with infirmity; that reason should be obscured by unreason; or that darkness should be mixed up with the true light? And the apostle says, on this place, “What communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?” But they will not prevail; for the truth prevails, and there is no communion betwixt light and darkness, no concord between Christ and Belial.”

Augustine of Hippo said the following:

“Now, I speak to the true Christians. If you believe, hope and love otherwise [than the pagans do], then live otherwise and gain approval for your distinctive faith, hope and charity by distinctive actions. Pay attention to the apostle when, in earnest admonition, he says: “Do not bear the yoke with unbelievers. For what has justice in common with iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? … Or what part has the believer with the unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

We as Christians, I would argue, should separate ourselves from the culture that surrounds us. This world worships a god of self, and all expressions of devotion to self-worship and the worship of humanity should be alien to us as Christians. One of the reasons why the Church has the authority to bind and to loose is so that, when things like Pride Month come along, the Church can instead – devote the Church to something Christian and forbid the Christian from entering into Pride Month activities. Therefore, I want to call upon all faithful Bishops to forbid, from the cathedra, the active participation of Christians in any way to participate in such idolatry as Pride Month or the other applications alone; so that faithful Christians can appeal to their authority in the courts and sue their employers – if they try to force them. I would also call faithful leaders, to condemn all apostate clergy who are grifting off the Church who are doing the opposite.

However, there are a range of applications to the analogous application mentioned on dating that the advocates of such thought shy away from; and I want to be clear, I agree that their application of the verse is valid, but I am at a loss as to why they do not complete their thinking in all the way it applies. So, I am going to highlight some now, but like any list in the Bible, it’s not a complete list. This analogous reasoning also applies to friendships, business partners, tenancy agreements, loans, political parties, political causes, banking, and so on… in short… this analogous reasoning firmly points us all in the direction of setting up Benedict-style communities. Only that way can we yoke ourselves with believers in all the areas to which this principle of analogous thought applies.

I want to pick up just two examples from my unexhaustive list above to try and show my point.

Political parties: Christians often join political parties in the hope of bringing Christian values and beliefs into Christian law, and often, these political parties are not in and of themselves Christian. Resultantly, the Christian politician dilutes the application of their faith to fit in with the party and to achieve high office, diluting their Christianity so much – nothing of their politics is Christian! I will give a few examples of this in the UK context. All the following are Christians who have done this very thing in the party politics of the UK: Tim Farron in the Liberal Democrats, Tony Blair in the Labour Party, Jacob Reese Mogg, Theresa May in the Conservative Party, and many Christians in the Reform movement. Each time a Christian joins these non-Christian parties, they dilute their Christian faith.

Furthermore, this is the unguarded underbelly of the Church. When faithful, well-meaning Christians engage in the political narratives of the non-Christian, they inevitably adopt premises of that worldview – that is itself un-Christian – and thus begin to operate from this non-Christian worldview. When this is done deeply enough, the whole faith becomes undermined. This is how Liberal secular politics undermined the Church. This is happening again and again in our churches because we lack a Christian worldview applied to politics, a point we need to drastically correct. We Christians need to build our own Christian political institutions and political parties.

Another example would be that of political causes, and I am going to use the pro-life movement here. I am a campaigner for a pro-life culture. I’ve attended marches and protests and speak avidly about it often. Chief among the champions of the Christian community on this issue is the Catholic Church, which has led this noble campaign – much to the embarrassment of other Christian groups who share this value and belief but are noticeably absent from the marches and activism! I have, however, met with some disquiet and attitude amongst some in the movement to downplay our Christian identity – to make the fight for life – more inclusive of non-Christians. I want to say clearly that this is a path to being unevenly yoked with the unbeliever. We cannot dilute anything of our Christian identity. We cannot downplay the fact that the reason why we fight for life is because we are Christians; not despite that. To do so is to downplay our Christian identity, and thus, we are hitching up with the unbeliever on terms acceptable to them. We can, of course, build alliances, so long as we lead!

In conclusion, while I argue for a more liberal application of this analogous reasoning from a scriptural principle than many will have heard, I agree with the use of the analogous application and argue that there is far more that this passage analogous application could be used to guide the people of GOD upon.