What the Bible Says About Being Unequally Yoked: Relationships, Business, and Unequally Yoked Marriage

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Unequally yoked. We hear of it in church and probably read about it online or in Bible Studies, but what does it mean? Before we look at the verse from which this phrase comes, 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.

image of oxen yoke for post What the Bible Says About Being Unequally Yoked: Relationships, Business, and Unequally Yoked Marriage

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 few.

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 (ESV)

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

2 Corinthians 6:14

A yoke or zugos is “a heavy burden, comparable to the heavy yokes resting on the ox’s necks; in a way, a balance or pair of scales. The Greek used in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is heterozugeó means “unequally yoked.”

Christ’s word zugos is found in Matthew 11:28-30, where he invites those listening to:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

When one is “yoked” to a partner, two people should equally share the burdens of life and the purpose of their calling in Christ to glorify God. Their work will be light even though there will still be toil because they will be striving to go in the same direction, joyfully burdened for Christ. Their burden will be light because their equal yoke will bring peace and rest.

Paul’s counsel to the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is part of a larger conversation with the church of the Christian life. He discouraged them from being in unequally yoked partnerships and relationships with unbelievers because believers and unbelievers are very different.  They are opposites, just as light and darkness are opposites. They have nothing in common, just as Christ has nothing in common with “Belial,” a Hebrew word meaning “worthlessness” in verse 15 below.

What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:15 (ESV)

Here Paul uses the word Belial to refer to Satan. In this way, he illustrates that Satan’s principles direct the pagan, wicked, and unbelieving world and that Christians should keep themselves separate from that evil world, just as Christ was separate from all the schemes, ideas, ideals, and plans of Satan.

We should not try to live a Christian life with non-Christians for our close friends and allies. It will only cause us to go around in circles.

The “unequal yoke” is also often applied to business relationships. Entering into a business partnership with an unbeliever is very dangerous. Theirs are opposite values, morals, and worldviews so that any decisions will reflect one partner’s or the other person’s perspective.

When a businessperson abandons his moral center for profit, it can have detrimental effects on both themselves and others. More often than not, in these cases where someone leaves their Christian principles behind to grow an organization more quickly-they find themselves pressured by those around them who seek only selfish gains at any cost, including sin.

Unequally Yoked Marriage

Arguably, the most popular interpretation of this verse is that it centers on marriage. However, John Calvin correctly refutes this interpretation, saying, “Many are of opinion that he [Paul] speaks of marriage, but the context clearly shows that they are mistaken.” Calvin continues, “When, therefore, he prohibits us from having partnership with unbelievers in drawing the same yoke, he means simply this, that we should have no fellowship with them in their pollution.”

The scholar summarizes his view, saying that “to be yoked with unbelievers mean nothing less than to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and to hold out the hand to them in token of agreement.”

While I agree that Paul’s primary application of 2 Corinthians 6:14 does not strictly pertain to marriages, we should not interpret it as simply admonishing other relationships, including business, friendship, and others.

Instead, we should recognize Paul’s instruction as a repudiation of engaging in idolatrous and ungodly living and worship contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and avoid any relationships that would encourage such evil.

 Of course, the closest relationship one person can have with another is marriage, which is how the passage is usually interpreted. God’s plan is for a man and a woman to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), a relationship so intimate that one literally and figuratively becomes part of the other. Uniting a believer with an unbeliever is essentially uniting opposites, which makes for a complicated marriage relationship.

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 it is a sin to marry an unbeliever, it would be unhealthy for the marriage and the believer’s faith in the long run.

Let’s look at a 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 their 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 believer’s values. Things that may involve immorality, excessive drinking, 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?

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7:14 (ESV)

Pair of oxen with halter yoked together ready to pull a load for the post on unequally yoked marriage

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.

When two people are unequally yoked together, there is no way for them to live in harmony. One person will be pulling while the other pushes because of their uneven partnership, and life becomes complicated with constant conflict over which direction things should go. There can be no peace and no rest for either.

The plow cannot go straight, which means the work is hard and the yoke is heavy.

Paul’s contrasts of light and dark evoke the painful division potentially inherent to a marriage like this.

Another negative consequence of an unequally yoked marriage is the potential for the Christian spouse to abandon their faith under pressure from the other party. God addressed the issue of intermarriage when he gave his people the Ten Commandments and other rules they were to follow to live righteously and peacefully with one another and with God.


More about an Unequally Yoked Marriage

In Deuteronomy 7, we find Moses instructing the Israelites about their responsibilities as the people of God. They have been freed from slavery and are now free people, about to enter the Promised Land. But Moses gives them a warning:

“You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly”.

Deuteronomy 7:3-4 (ESV)

Several hundred years later, Israel is in direct rebellion against God’s command:

“So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods”.

Judges 3:5-6 (ESV)

For some reason, the Israelites chose to ignore this command from God. They may have rationalized it due to a lack of women or safety alliances. Still, the Israelites began to form covenants between themselves and people who either didn’t know God or worshipped other “gods.” By doing so, they were led astray.

Throughout Scripture, we see this issue repeated. First, Samson, who repeatedly sought out unbelieving women, a choice which in the end destroyed him (Judges 14), and then Solomon, called the wisest man in the world – until his multiple wives led him to worship other gods (1 Kings 11).

Direct disobedience occurs when we join with people who do not love or follow Christ.

We must not be in a harmonious, God-pleasing relationship with an unbeliever because there is no fellowship between light and darkness.

We must not be in a harmonious, God-pleasing relationship with an unbeliever because there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Click To Tweet

God knows this; He designed this. It’s why he commanded the Israelites to marry only other Israelites, and He inspired Paul to issue the same command.

This is for our spiritual protection! Righteousness has nothing in common with someone who believes they are good enough on their own apart from God.

No relationship apart from Christ can be indeed “good” No “love” apart from Christ is true love. A relationship may seem good or filled with love from the outside but will never be aligned within.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Mark 10:18 (ESV)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

1 John 4:16-17 (ESV)

Potential Positive Outcomes of an Unequally Yoked Marriage

It is possible that a believing spouse could influence their partner to consider the gospel.

Where one spouse was converted when they were already together, he said the two who are unequally yoked should stay together for “the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:14).

There is a chance that a believing wife who models godly living in front of her husband (or vice versa) could win him over for the Lord. Or, more accurately, God would win over the unbelieving spouse and invite them to participate in his saving work.

God’s love for you does not change; He is the one who redeems, whether He redeems and resurrects your spouse’s heart or you find your passion and need for God growing more robust because of the difficulty you face. Trust Him to bring about renewal, and trust that the form renewal takes will glorify him and be good for you, even if your spouse never gives his heart to Jesus.

My Story of an Unequally Yoked Marriage

I married my high school sweetheart at age 22.  We were raised Catholic (he even went to Catholic school from K-9).  We made all the sacraments (baptism, communion, etc.), but neither of us had a relationship with Christ.

About ten years into our marriage, I found Christ and gave my life to Him.  We began to live very different lives.  I began to watch my word so as not to denigrate the Lord.  I took my sons to church.  I read the Bible to them every day. We prayed before meals and at bedtime. I was no longer interested in partying or other entertainment that we had both enjoyed together.  I was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, my husband did not like this change in me. When he left my sons and me, he cited that I was now a “Jesus Freak.”

When I spoke to our priest and sought the counsel of godly friends, they talked with me about being unequally yoked. I was advised to model godly living and pray for him to be saved.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough. I was devasted as I knew that God despises divorce. 

Years later, I met the man whom I later married.  One who loved the Lord prayed and attended church with me.  One who did daily couple’s devotions with me. God had a better plan, and my unequally yoke marriage was part of that plan.  I had to go through what I did to see the good in my second husband.  To see what being married to a believer meant and how many disconnects in my prior marriage shined a light on what it meant to be 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 and 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 words and actions.

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

You may enjoy this video about being unequally yoked.

Jesus and His Yoke

To wrap up, I want to remind you that the yoke (as well as all of scripture) should point our hearts and minds to Jesus. The “yoke” calls us to remember the one who pronounced,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

I pray that we are not yoked to idols but Jesus Christ.

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

The Helpmate: Unequally Yoked by T.M. Leathers 

I’m praying for you, my friend.

In Him,

Sue

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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

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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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