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Unequally Yoked – What the Bible Says and Your Powerful Opportunity

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Unequally yoked. We hear of it in church and we’ve probably read about it online or in Bible Studies, but what does it actually mean? Before we take a look at the verse that this phrase comes from, let’s first look at the phrase itself.

I loved this simple explanation from Got Questions.org:  A yoke is a wooden bar that joins two oxen to each other and to the burden they pull. An “unequally yoked” team has one stronger ox and one weaker, or one taller and one shorter. The weaker or shorter ox would walk more slowly than the taller, stronger one, causing the load to go around in circles. When oxen are unequally yoked, they cannot perform the task set before them. Instead of working together, they are at odds with one another.

So what does that have to do with biblically being unequally yoked? There are many unequally yoked Bible verses, but let’s examine just a couple of them.

2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Or from the KJV:

2 Corinthians 6:14

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

Unbelievers tend to have different worldviews than those of believers. Those views include things on sin (premarital sex, morals, values, etc.)  While, I don’t believe that it is a sin to marry an unbeliever, it would, however, be unhealthy to the marriage in the long run and the faith of the believer.

Let’s look at few issues that may come up when a believer marries an unbeliever:

Children – how would they be raised? To believe that Jesus was the son of God? Would that result in confusion that one parent believes that and the other doesn’t?

Tithing – how would the unbeliever react to the believer giving the first 10% of his or her earnings to God? Would they resent it? Find it silly? What problems could arise?

Church attendance and ministry involvement – would the unbeliever resent the amount of time that the other is spending at church or in ministry? What issues could this situation present?

Social Life – while this may not be true for all, the unbelieving spouse may want to do things, socially, that are out of alignment with the values of the believer. Things that may involve immorality, excessive drinking or even drugs or other activities. Not necessarily illegal, but uncomfortable for the believer.

Those are just a few. But wait, doesn’t the Bible say that unbelieving spouses are made holy through the believing spouse?

1 Corinthians 7:14

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.

Well, not exactly. The Gospel Coalition explains it this way: That the unbelieving husband “is made holy” does not say that he enjoys salvation vicariously through the believing wife, but rather that proximity to his wife’s Christ-centered living creates opportunities for godly influence. Each time a wife models godliness (1 Peter 3:1-6) to her husband, that’s another moment he’s not being influenced by the godlessness that desires to lay claim on his soul. In this way he “is made holy” because he is set apart from the world and more likely to receive the gospel. Similarly, because of the decision to remain intact as a family, children of the marriage have a greater opportunity for exposure to the influence of biblical truth.

married to an unbeliever, unequally yoked, what the Bible says about being unequally yoked

So what do you do if you are married to an unbeliever? The most important two things are 1) Pray for their salvation 2) Model Christian behavior. God is working on turning your spouse’s heart and will use you and your actions to do so. This is not to say that you have failed God if your spouse doesn’t believe. You cannot force someone to love Jesus, but you can show them what God’s love looks like through your own words and actions.

Are you or were you married to an unequally yoked spouse? What struggles did you or do you face?

For deeper reading on this subject, here are some great resources:

Unequally Yoked: Staying Committed to Jesus and Your Unbelieving Spouse by Miranda J. Chivers (Kindle edition – free as of this writing)

Unequally Yoked, Now What? by Jana Barr

I’m praying for you, my friend.

In Him,

Sue

For a look at the Proverbs 31 wife, see this prior post HERE.

Susan is a writer, speaker and the creator of Women of Noble Character ministries. She is passionate about helping Christian women deepen their walk with God through Bible study and creative worship and strengthen their marriages.

She lives in rural North Central Missouri with her handsome and hilarious husband and a myriad of dogs, cats and chickens.

Susan runs on Jesus, coffee and not enough sleep.

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13 Comments

  1. I read this while listening to God of Wonders by City on a Hill… good read and tells me I’m on the right track for my husband. Thank you <3

  2. I was once married to the grand daughter of a Baptist preacher. I was never baptised but grew up in a Christian family. I read the bible, taught Sunday school at their church, attended services every Sunday and the family dinner directly after. Before our wedding the grandfather sat us down and explained how the uneven yolk was bad for our marriage and that I needed to be baptised. I politely declined, but continued services and teaching Sunday school. I prayed, and I was a devoted husband. Thoughtful and loving. I deployed to Iraq after we had been married almost two years. While I was away she also with over 10 men, and several women. The first time I saw her grand father after I landed he reminded me that we were an unevenly yoked couple and her actions were a direct result of my not being baptised. I was floored. I haven’t shared this story with many, but the title of your article hit home, and when I read it, and it was written in the manner stacked completely condemning anyone who doesn’t line up with your views, I felt compelled to share it with you. Being a believer doesn’t mean that you don’t do things wrong, certainly doesn’t mean that a “non believer” will be responsible for their falling out of line. Quite honestly the hypocrisy and pretentiousness within most churches these days is far more likely to drive sheep away from the flock. Perhaps before worrying about the wolves outside the flock, you should be looking for the wolves in sheep’s clothing. It was certainly Christians that drove me out of Christianity. I hope when you all pray next you will take a moment to remember that believing doesn’t place you above a non believer, and try to remember that the way you carry yourself as a Christian will quite often determine how non believers see your cause. Consider Matthew 6:5.
    Sorry for the long comment, but it felt really good to get that out there. I hope you all have a great day.

    1. Thank you for your views. My post is, as all of them are, not only my opinion, but when they consider biblical views, are usually reviewed by at least one pastor. The Bible states that we are not to be unequally yoked – that is not my opinion – that is the Bible’s teaching. As for your experience, I am so sorry to hear that. My first husband cheated on me many times. It is a terrible thing to go through. Your wife, though she may have claimed to be Christian, was not walking with the Lord. And, yes, there are many Christians who push others away by their actions and words. I do agree with you that a non-believer is not responsible for a Christian “falling out of line”. We are responsible for our own behaviors. I disagree with your ex-wife’s grandfather. Your relationship with God and whether or not you are baptised (baptism is an outward symbol of an inward belief system) had no bearing whatsoever on the sins that she committed. Thank you again for writing. You will be in my prayers. I pray that you are in a better place and marriage now and that you still walk with the Lord.

  3. I most certainly was not equally yoked in my marriage. I can attest to the hardships it creates. In many ways we got along and worked well together as a team, but our moral values were never aligned. We met when we were young and spent 17 years trying to make something work that probably never would have due to those core, moral values being so different. I still deeply love that man, though the relationship was very emotionally unhealthy. I am still, one year later, working on recovering from the emotional wounds of deception, habitual unfaithfulness, and out right discarding. Choosing a partner who you are equally yoked with doesn’t mean problems won’t arise or that you won’t face hardships, but if you both follow the same “road map,” I believe you have a greater chance at finding joy and peace in your marriage. God didn’t call us to happiness but to Holiness. Now, I am taking this time to figure out who I am in Jesus. I was so very young when I feel in love with the only man I have ever known. I didn’t grow into an adult without that man shaping a very large part of who I was. Now, I need to become the person God intended for me to be.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Amanda. I pray that God reveals to you your beauty and value and in Him. I will keep you in my prayers!

  4. I just came across this post, which I know is over a year later. I figured maybe I could still comment and maybe my story could help encourage others in similar situations?!?

    To summarize my story without going into a long post, I was raised in a Christ-serving home. I eventually fell away from God and during that time, I married my husband. At that time, we were close and loved spending time together. When we got pregnant, I knew I needed to turn my life around so that my children would see the true example of a Godly mother. I knew that would cause my marriage to be on the rocks. I really had to get to the point where I didn’t care what he thought, because he wasn’t choosing my eternity!
    I knew my life would change, but I had no idea the struggles I’d face and the lessons the Lord would teach me. It took me a while to feel like I was “back on track”, in a sense. But I knew my relationship would need to be a deeper and more personal walk with God than before.
    I felt as though I was a single mom as my husband was either drinking with friends, sleeping off a hangover, or just sleeping all day/watching tv.
    I began resenting him and making comments I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to be in this marriage, but I continued to reread passages in the Bible regarding divorce, and I couldn’t find any loopholes for my situation. I even told God several times, “I’d much rather be a single mom than to be in a loveless marriage.”
    I remember one day, I was crying out to God like I had many times. I remember hearing a still, small voice saying, “I hear your prayers. I’ve seen your tears. I am working on him. You may not see any change, but I am doing a change in him. Trust in Me and let Me do things in My timing. If things are done in your timing, they won’t be the best results. My results are best. Focus on you and your baby [focus on my life with God, and raising my son to love the Lord too], and I’ll do the work in him.”
    See, I had this issue with trying to play the Holy Spirit and try “convicting” (more like condemning) him of things I felt needed to change (the shows he watched with my oldest son in the room, his words, his lack of involvement, not coming to church with me, drinking, etc.). But each time I tried, I felt the conviction in my heart that I needed to quit- and that is WAY easier said than done when you are dealing with it every day!
    But when I let go and let God, that’s when the change became visible. Now, he has never told me that he gave his heart to God, but he did tell my Grandpa at one point he had asked Jesus into his heart.
    There are still things that I don’t 100% agree with, but he’s a little more involved with the 2 boys, he comes to church willingly, goes to men’s Bible study, comes around to family functions, is more cautious of the things he watches in front of the kids, doesn’t swear as often, and when he drinks (which is rare), he has 1 or 2 beers and is at home or with his family. He has even told me that he has been praying about certain situations!
    Don’t get me wrong, I do get discouraged and frustrated, but I am reminded of how far he has come from 3 years ago. His heart is softer and more genuine! I think us Christians that have been Christians for many years expect a complete 180 as soon as they give their heart to God. But more times than not, it is a process. We spend our whole lives on earth growing in God, so we can’t expect for a new Christian to be completely different the second the decision is made. The Lord knows us and knows our growing takes time patience. I need to strive for His patience while my husband continues to grow.

    I pray part of my story can help encourage someone else going through the similar situation. I know I am truly blessed that my husband has changed! There are some that have had it going on for years and years. I didn’t go into great detail, as I already wrote half of a book as it is (haha!), but to whom it may concern: please be encouraged that I have been through the same struggles, those same nights you cry yourself to sleep and pray that God would take you out of that marriage. Be encouraged to know that if we strive to be the men or women of God, our spouse will see that change! We are not responsible for their actions and thoughts, but we ARE responsible for our own! Be encouraged that the Lord is doing work that we don’t see! And remember that even if you don’t feel that love from your spouse, you have a God that loves you and wants to show you! You just have to accept it (I’m still really struggling with this)!

    1. Oh, Kayla! Thank you for sharing your story. God is a miracle worker and He is in control. Often, we think we have all of the answers but, just as you did, we need to pray and wait for God to work. I’m so happy to hear your story. Thank you for writing and stopping by!

    2. Thank you for sharing your story.I am relatively young in marriage-less than a year.I got married to a new believer and i’m at the verge of calling it quits.Spirituality is so central to me but we can’t seem to agree on stuff and he argues without knowing what the scripture says on an issue. I feel like I am slowly losing myself and sinking into depression. May God help me

  5. You don’t believe that it is a sin to marry an unbeliever? So you don’t believe that what Paul prohibits are not from the Lord and therit against God? What kind of Christian teachings do you have?

    1. Hi, Ron: There are many reasons one would marry an unbeliever – an arranged marriage (often for money), for one, or, in my case, not being saved when one married. I came to Christ after I was married and my husband wanted nothing to do with God. We were unyoked and I was not to divorce him just for that reason. The Bible also tells us that we are to lead them to Him through loving them as He loves us. So, yes, there are reasons that Christians marry unbelievers. I’m living proof and I love Christ with my whole heart. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. You may have posted this a long time ago but it is never going to not be needed! Thank you so much for giving some tips and advice on this, it is much appreciated. Sometimes I feel like a spoiled brat because my husband is not as bad as I know others have to deal with. I guess it doesn’t matter whether someone is a full-blown atheist or someone who says they believe but deep down is full of doubt. (Mine is the latter and has said things that reveal he just doesn’t quite grasp what real faith is. Probably stemming from growing up Catholic and as an adult not really focusing on faith of any kind)
    I was having another day of feeling like giving up but I went online for some encouragement because unless you have been in this situation, it’s hard to say the right thing. I don’t have one person I can talk to in real life that understands and this can get so exhausting! I’m glad I came across your article, I’ve never thought about it the way it’s described that my spouse is actually in a better place to receive the gospel than someone who isn’t married to a believer. That’s certainly true and very encouraging!

    Thanks again for the encouragement!

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