Why Shouldn’t Christians Date Non-Christians?
What’s Wrong With Christians Dating Non-Christian?
A friend of mine sent me a link to a brilliant article written by Cheryl with the title “WHY CAN’T CHRISTIANS DATE NON-CHRISTIANS?”
In the article, she elaborates on several reasons why a Christian shouldn’t be dating a non-Christian. She used what is perhaps the pivot of her main arguments, a very well-known Bible verse that has often been quoted in relation to this particular subject.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2 Corinthians 6:14
Although I sympathize with what she went through, I can’t help but cringe at how often people use this verse and zero in only on that subject. I’m not disagreeing with her, for I am now engaged to a beautiful Christian woman and the thought of dating a non-Christian almost never crossed my mind.
To be honest, I have not yet met, out of the many sermons I’ve listened to or books that I’ve read, a single preacher using this verse for anything other than that subject. Such a narrow focus has made me think, surely the apostle Paul, when writing his letter to the Corinthians, intended for this sentence to mean more than just that?
Could the verse have more to say, other than that a believer should not date nor get married to an unbeliever?
If that was his intention, why can’t he made it anymore clear and pointed?
Since she posted the article last week, hundreds of comments, all with differing opinions have all but taken the thread by storm. I can’t help but think that this is a topic that resonates with so many people but no one seems to have a definite answer to.
I have decided to conduct a bit of a research into this topic and present my findings for those truth-seekers that is still out there. I have no intention for this article to be a rebuttal nor a counter-argument for Cheryl’s article. The purpose of this article is to present my case based on what findings I discovered during my research.
From Historical Perspective
There is an accepted notion that both letters that Paul wrote for the Corinthians were a letter written out of concern for the moral integrity of the church.
The letter itself contains many rebukes and exhortations on many issues. Since our subject of interest is related to marriage and perhaps the implication of it, I shall jump onto chapter 5 and 6 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
During Paul’s times, Corinth was a bustling city, being one of the capital of Greece’s commercial and political power. Thus, Corinth was practically a center for open and unbridled sexual immorality, which is the result of worship of Aphrodite (goddess of love in Greek mythology). Such worship fostered prostitution, with up to 1,000 sacred (priestess) prostitutes serving at her temple.
Interestingly, the Greek verb “to Corinthianize” now came to mean “to practice sexual immorality”. Two problems which aroused in the church of Corinth that Paul specifically addressed in his first letter was:
1. a man sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:1), and
2. Believers sleeping with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:16).
Afterwards, nowhere in Paul’s remaining writing to the church of Corinth were there any hint or reference to the subject of marriage, or sleeping with prostitutes.
Let’s study the outline of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:
* Paul began by expressing his comfort and joy because the Corinthians had responded favorably to his first letter (2 Cor 1:3-4; 2 Cor 7:8-9, and 2 Cor 12 – 13),
* to let them know about the trouble he went through while in Asia (2 Cor 1:8-11),
* to explain why he had changed his travel plans (2 Cor 1:12 – 2 Cor 2:4).
* All the above is then followed by the writings in 2 Corinthians 6, the chapter that we are interested in.
Regarding verse 14, there is possibility that Paul wrote that sentence with the intention of reminding Corinthians to keep their morality. However, I wasn’t sure that he wrote that in regards to the subject of marriage.
Why not? Because, as I have mentioned earlier, although there are hints towards the subject in his first letter, it does not seem to be referring to marriage between believer and unbeliever as an issue. I made these deductions merely by inferring from other parts of Paul’s letters that at least, are not disputed.
So what subject was Paul trying to address then? I believe Paul was urging the Corinthians to avoid aligning themselves with those who view him (and others) according to false standards. These unbelievers, given enough influence, might cause Corinthians to rebel against Paul and dissolve the unity of the church in Corinth. These unbelievers were false teachers making attempt to challenge, among other things, Paul’s personal integrity and authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 11:4; 1 Cor 12:11)
From the literal meaning of the sentence
Let’s look at the verse again:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2 Corinthians 6:14`
What is a yoke? A yoke is a wooden bar placed over the neck of a pair of animals so they can pull together.
The Greek word for “yoke” was zugos. The definition for zugos was, to a Jewish person, a heavy burden, comparable to the heavy yokes resting on the bullocks’ necks; a balance, pair of scales. The word zugos was used a total of six times in the New Testament. Nearly every time it was used, the author was referring to a burden that was put upon people.
Jesus Himself, when He spoke about yoke, said “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt 11:30).
I believe Jesus is saying that following Jesus means that He won’t give us such heavy burdens previously imposed upon them by the religious and law leaders.
If Paul were writing this letter to discuss an issue that was of much significance, I couldn’t comprehend why he chose to use a word that since the times of Jesus was never used to refer to an intimate relationship between husband and wife?
There are others who pointed out that the figurative meaning of the yoke may mean combining what was previously two to become one, much like how God intended marriage itself to be, which is a combination of two becoming one. That kind of inferring may of course be true. Why then is it only used in that kind of manner only once out of all his epistles? Furthermore, if Paul considers it so important a topic, surely he would have made more referrals to it throughout his writings?
What I have noticed is that a lot of people used this verse, perhaps not carefully reading through what Paul meant. Some of the English bible translates “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers …”, while some others translates it “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers …”. I can’t help but wonder what Paul was trying to say when he said “unequally”.
If an animal is “unequally yoked” with another animal, it means that one of them is carrying a heavier burden than the other, thus may have to do the harder portion of the work.
As I mentioned above, the word “unequally yoked together” was used once only, which was the Greek translation for heterozugeo. Heterozugeo literal meaning was “to yoke up differently”, or figuratively, “to associate discordantly”. My guess is that Paul was exhorting the church to avoid getting too closely associated with those that are “unbelievers, unrighteousness (lawlessness), darkness, Belial, infidels, and idols” (2 Cor 6:14-18)
Here is how I paraphrased it, “Look, you are redeemed by Jesus Christ and son of the most high God, you couldn’t ask for any higher privilege nor position in life than that, why bother spending time, associating together with those who will not be able to carry their own weight when needed? Wouldn’t engaging in such association means that you will have to be the one with the more difficult burden of maintaining your holiness than they keeping their unrighteousness?”
According to L. Ray Smith, in his article, “Unequally Yoked“, there are possibilities that although the verse was written to address other issues perhaps more related to one’s holiness, lessons that we drew from the verse may very well be applicable to marriage.
There is a caveat I’d like to point out from what we have discussed about the above. Many believers, unfortunately, may have used the meaning of the verse somewhat too literally. I am saying this out of concern that the Great Commandment became neglected.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
How do we love our neighbor without being in close association? Too often, churches or believers made a dichotomy which made precisely those who needed Jesus felt uneasy or rejected before they even stepped foot inside.
There are many who are sick, heavy-burdened, and in bondage. These people needed Jesus, but if they felt a sense of repulsive from those inside the church that was meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus, where else would they turn to but outside? Is this the kind of church Paul would have liked the Corinth to be?
Is it possible that Paul might have written this with something else in mind?
From other relevant writings of Paul himself
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul gave what was perhaps the strongest hint towards marriage between a believer and an unbeliever.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
1 Corinthians 7:12-13 (emphasis mine)
Paul with no uncertain terms instructed believers that a believer shouldn’t divorce his wife just because she is an unbeliever. Similarly, a believer shouldn’t divorce her husband just because he is an unbeliever. Why not? Didn’t Paul himself said later to not be “unequally yoked together” with an unbeliever? Isn’t marriage, one of the strongest possible bond between man and woman, and thus, is a yoke? Why then, that a believer is not to divorce an unbeliever? Because, Paul said, the Lord told me so in the preceding verse.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:10 (emphasis mine)
There are of course, two possibilities of how the above situation came to be:
* married couple who were both unbelievers and either the husband or the wife became a believer later.
* married couple who got married while either one of them was an unbeliever, and the other, believer.
From Paul’s letters, I have seen no evidence that Paul was addressing only the first possibility. Equally the same, I have seen no evidence that Paul was addressing the latter. If he did not think it’s necessary to point out how the marriage came to be, is it possible, perhaps that he really did not consider it important?
What is important is that, God made it clear that no divorce should happen, regardless of their spiritual difference.
From Case Studies
For this, I jumped on to the internet to find possible examples of such a situation. And the results vary. A survey conducted by ChristianityToday.com found an all time high figure of 42 percent of interfaith marriage.
A similar study conducted by Pew Research found that four-in-ten Americans marry a spouse of different religion.
John Shore, a popular Christian blogger posted a letter from his atheist friend who is married to a Christian. The author wrote about how they talked about their differences, their struggles but also how they decided to stay together, by understanding and not trying to impose one’s belief on the other. The author ended his letter as such:
Marriage is a partnership. Each partner brings the best and the worst parts of themselves to their marriage, and the success or failure of their union depends on how they embrace the good and the bad. In a successful marriage, two people, who are different by virtue of being people, find the common ground on which they relate to each other, and use that as a foundation. They grow toward each other by learning about and respecting their differences, and then stay together by willingly meeting each other’s needs, whether they fully understand them or not. That last part, that really hard part—that’s love.
That love is what my interfaith marriage is all about. Rachel would call that the manifestation of God’s love and grace in our marriage. I call it my profound privilege to be able to spend every day of the rest of my life growing a little bit closer to my wife.
Back in 2014, I stumbled across a very interesting article, about a Christian whose best friend is a non-Christian. Courtney Humphreys, a Christian, and Nishta J. Mehra, a non-Christian, formed an unlikely friendship that is a rare sight to behold, especially in modern church. Both are females, happily married with kids, and I find it such a beautiful story for them to recognize their differences in their beliefs, but still have learned and grown from their friendship.
An even more “outrageous” example of interfaith marriage is a testimony written by J. Dana Trent, who is a an ordained Southern Baptist Minister. Dana married a Hindu Monk and wrote of how “it took a person of another faith—a seemingly “unequally yoked” partner, to strengthen my Christian walk.”
Counter examples of where marriage or dating relationship between a believer and an unbeliever failed miserably are of course, only too common. In John Shore’s post above, there are hundreds of comments from readers sharing their failed relationship because they insisted on being “unequally yoked together”.
I know for a fact that although experiences are real, they are not necessarily the truth. The cases that I have presented above, although involves real people, is unique to their situation.
What did Jesus Himself Have to Say About Interfaith Marriage
Interestingly, Jesus said nothing in His teachings about marriage between a believer and a non-believer.
From my personal point of view
Following this research, I still have not found a conclusive evidence, or clear direction as to whether it is wrong, in the eyes of God, for a Christian to date / marry a non-Christian.
My personal choice is that I will only marry a believer, not because of the consequences I might be facing if I didn’t, but because I could not imagine living with someone I love, yet unable to talk openly and share about my faith and my struggles with God.
It is a commitment that many will find difficult to make. However, just because I made the commitment, I prefer not to impose my commitment unto someone else. For someone who believes in Jesus Christ and chose to marry an unbeliever, I believe that even if that might have been a wrong decision, Jesus still loves him anyway.
Thus, the verdict is still unclear. What is absolutely clear is that Jesus told us to love our neighbor. What should you do then if you see a brother or a sister who is about to marry an unbeliever? Should you, out of “love”, told him that he is living in sin and should repent? Whenever I am tempted to reprimand a brother or sister because of their sin, I am reminded by the model Jesus has set.
I knew that if I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn’t have felt very loved if I were to be the receiving end of such an accusation, even if it is true. I am sure, you wouldn’t have liked it either.
Too many people bring it to the discussion of whether it’s sin or not to marry a non-Christian.
I find comfort to direct my focus on Jesus, instead.
I decided that even if my brother in Christ made the wrong choice, I tell him that he’s righteous anyway because of what Jesus has done and that I wish him well.
Isn’t it more loving, than saying … you are a sinner? Isn’t it more loving to say, “Regardless of your decision, I am still your brother”, than to say “Your marriage will end terribly because you disobeyed God?”
Where To From Here?
My conclusion is that, even if it is a sin for a Christian to date or marry a non-Christian, we shouldn’t be focusing our attention on sin. We should be laser-focused on following Jesus whole-heartedly. And Jesus modeled a truly beautiful example where He never judged, nor condemned a sinner but forgives, and then heals them anyway.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is far too great, far too grandeur, far too glorious for us to be dealing with sin and to be so concerned about it. Jesus has completely obliterated the power of sin to rule in our lives.
His finished work on the cross means that sin has no power nor dominion over us and we should rather be concerned about living with Jesus as the center of our lives, not “not sinning” as the center of our lives.
The writer of the Hebrew epistle encourages us to “… fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)
I hope this has been an encouraging and inspiring reading for you.
I am still, as much as you, a learner and a truth-seeker. If you are struggling with this very issue, know that I love you and I believe in you that no matter what your decision is, I will pray for you, and with you and that Jesus loves you no matter what your decision is.
Please share in the comments if you needed prayer or encouragement in this issue. I would also love to hear if you have your own experience or stories to share.