Most people in our modern society could not name the divine institutions much more know God’s purpose in them. In short, God provided man with institutions that would support man in his fallen state. The institutions were particularly designed to lesson or slow mankind’s descent into greater depravity. Knowing that man would fall into sin God instituted marriage between one man and one woman. It was to be a covenant between them to join as one and operate no longer as individuals but as a team. The sinful behaviors of homosexuality, adultery/fornication and unequally yoked relationships were certainly direct targets of God’s institution of marriage. From man’s vantage point these three sins appear to be assaults upon the institution of marriage, but God intended marriage to be a preemptive strike upon these three sins. Some have begun to worship the institution as some in Jesus’ day worshipped the Sabbath. At that time Jesus told them that the Sabbath was for man and not man for the Sabbath. Men do not serve marriage, but marriage serves man by slowing his descent into greater sin. Thus it is to our advantage to honor it and keep it holy. That attitude allows God’s institution to have His desired effect upon the fallen race of mankind.
These three sins of homosexuality (including gay marriage), adultery/fornication, and unequally yoked marriages will be briefly discussed in ascending order. Much noise is being heard from some Christian circles decrying the legalization of gay marriage in an ever increasing number of states. It is claimed that the institution of marriage will be destroyed by these laws. Many seem to be ignorant to the fact that rampant adultery in the United States has already dealt a much greater blow to God’s institution. The biggest blow of all has been the ubiquitous occurrences of unequally yoked couples into holy matrimony. As God instituted marriage to slow the descent of humanity into these three sins, any culture that embraces these sins will be a culture that rejects the institution. Likewise, any culture that begins to reject the institution will rapidly fall prey to unequally yoked alliances, adultery and homosexuality.
First, homosexuality is pretty rare (less than 2% of mankind is even tempted with this sin), and the desire for homosexual marriage is even more unusual. Therefore the bible does not speak about homosexuality with any great frequency. The condemnation of homosexuality in God’s word is very straight forward. In addition, homosexuality is portrayed as a particularly abominable sin because it is an unnatural behavior. Knowing the rebellious heart of man God rarely mentions this sin because so few are drawn toward it and frequent condemnations would actually increase interest levels in depraved creatures. Thus, homosexuality does not get mentioned in the Ten Commandments.
Secondly, adultery differs from homosexuality in that it is numbered among the Ten Commandments. Because the sin of adultery is much more prevalent it is very frequently discussed in scripture. Fornication and adultery together describe the sinful behavior of having multiple sexual partners regardless of whether or not the sinner is married. Prior to marriage the temptation to have sexual relationships without the obligation of marriage is great. In fact, in many cultures this is so commonly practiced that even so-called Christians do not see it as a sin. Once married, some will enter into extramarital affairs whenever they desire, but many people will first divorce their spouse to free the path to having sexual relations with another person. These are merely two paths to the same destination. Jesus informed these people that they cannot avoid committing adultery by simply getting a divorce first. Divorcing a spouse without biblical grounds is not a legitimate divorce, which means remarriage is equivalent to adultery.
The third sinful behavior affecting marriage is that of being unequally yoked in marriage, which is to bind together in marriage a believer with an unbeliever. This sinful behavior is mentioned in scripture far more frequently than are adultery and homosexuality combined. It could easily be said that the prohibitions against this sin are ubiquitous in God’s word. One of the reasons the scriptures mentions this sin so frequently is that it is so very commonly committed by God’s people. It is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments because it is one of the foundational themes of God’s Law. In other words, it is not one of the ten because all of God’s commandments speak against this sin. The very first commandment in scripture is implied and it is in Genesis 1:4, “God separated the light from the darkness”. We are commanded throughout scripture to do likewise.
As sexual relationships outside of marriage have begun to become “acceptable” within many Christian cultures, unequally yoked marriages (indeed all unequally yoked relationships) have long been acceptable within most Christian cultures. The acceptance of this sin by God’s people has been so broad that for centuries even the church leaders have misinterpreted scriptural teaching on it. Much of the church has correctly taught that it is sin to enter into unequally yoked relationships (including and especially marriage), but they have failed to teach that it is sinful to be in unequally yoked relationships. The inconsistency of this position has proven to be disastrous for the church. All that is necessary to see the monumental flaw in this way of thinking is to ask the question: Is the real sin against God in the entering into such relationships or is it in the being in such relationships? The answer is, of course, both are sinful. However, it is not the entering of such relationships that does so much harm to God’s children, but the being in them. It is not the entering into them that is a continuation in sin, but the remaining in them.
Since unequally yoked marriages are prohibited in scripture the church should be consistent in its encouragement against any participation of this behavior for all of God’s children. Sadly that is not the case. The church has traditionally been strong on warning and even not participating in the joining of unequally yoked couples into marriage, but it has held the exact opposite view after the marriage has taken place. The claim is that marriage is God’s holy institution and man cannot separate what God has joined together. Even the church will not participate in joining a believer with an unbeliever in marriage, yet most church fathers make God a participant in unequally yoked marriages because He instituted marriage. He instituted the state as well yet the Psalmist does not ally God with evil kings. “Can a throne of destruction be allied with You, one which devises mischief by decree? They band themselves together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (Ps. 94:20-21). God instituted marriage in part to prevent His children from unholy alliances, so why do so many think that the same institution would intransigently or grimly bind them immutably in the very same sin? It is cruel and ungodly to remove the opportunity for repentance. The more consistent position for the church would be to proclaim that it will not participate in such marriages, God will not be a participant in such marriages, and as long as the unbelieving spouse remains unregenerate you will be called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage as proof of your own obedient walk in Christ Jesus. Repentance can often be very costly as it would undoubtedly be so in such cases. But the rewards of repentance are far greater. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, also Luke 18:29-30). The blessing of an equally yoked marriage will alone far outweigh the cost of the painful divorce from an unregenerate spouse.
Again if we understand that the institution of marriage was conceived by God expressly to slow man’s descent into greater sin, then we must use the institution in such a way so as to achieve that goal. God gave us the institution to prevent alliances with unbelievers, fornication and adultery, and homosexuality. If we use the institution of marriage to embolden men to commit these sins, then we have missed the mark altogether. We have done this in two ways: most recently through homosexual marriages, and for much of the Christian era through the refusal to allow the dissolution of unequally yoked marriages. Repentance through the dissolution of such relationships can end the sin of being unequally yoked to an unbeliever, but when it comes to marriage most of the church fathers have decided that it is a sin to dissolve unequally yoked marriages. In so doing we have begun serving the institution of marriage rather than allowing it to serve us.
The problem should be quite clear. It is a sin mentioned throughout scripture to be (remain) in an unequally yoked marriage, and it is said by most of our church fathers to be a sin to dissolve the same? This is a logical fallacy, and it must not continue. It is obvious that God has prohibited unequally yoked marriages. Therefore the prohibition to dissolving them must be a man-made doctrine and inconsistent with God’s word. Clearly in the purification of the people of God Ezra and Nehemiah saw the necessity and prudence of divorce for all those married to unbelievers. They even made a covenant with God to divorce all the wives and their children who were not believers (Ezra 10:3). The simple-minded approach of marriage is good and divorce is bad has not served the church well. Sadly, many modern Christians cannot even fathom making a covenant with God to dissolve hundreds of marriage covenants. They cannot fathom this action because they have come to serve the institution rather than let the institution serve men toward repentance.
It is equally clear that the New Testament continues this teaching. Paul says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Many theologians and pastors use this text to tell young people not to enter unequally yoked marriages, but they change their view after the wedding has taken place. They say, “Clearly this text does not refer to marriage relationships.” This is for many the most godless statement that has ever proceeded from their lips. How dare they utter such nonsense? One need only look at the text and immediately determine that it must apply to the marriage relationship. How could it not?
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols (2 Corinthians 6:14-16a)?
A believer being in a marriage to an unbeliever is like putting lawlessness with righteousness or light with darkness or Christ with Belial or the temple of God with idols. Note that four of Paul’s five examples of unholy unions are impossible, which is to say in the strongest terms that the fifth example is not possible either. Think about these two examples: righteousness and lawlessness cannot have a partnership, and light and darkness cannot have any fellowship. These things cannot be done. It is not possible. Paul is not saying in this passage that these things ought not to be done, but he is saying these things cannot be done. Paul is warning believers to avoid unequally yoked relationships as you would avoid the wrath of God, or the eternal fires of hell because a believer being yoked to a child of Satan will only give the appearance of being legitimate to the world. In reality, the two yoked together have no partnership, no fellowship, no harmony, nothing in common and they cannot have agreement. They are serving two different masters, they have different ends, different goals, different marching orders, different values, different desires, etc. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
This is precisely what Jesus was teaching in Matthew’s tenth chapter verses 34-39, “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Vs. 35-36). At the end of Matthew chapter nineteen verse 29 (also Luke 18:29) Jesus says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” Most modern versions of the bible have removed the word “wife” from the Matthew passage (but not from the Luke passage) because it does not fit the man-made doctrine against divorce for unequally yoked marriages, but Jesus said it. And it fits the rest of scripture. When Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” can this be any less true of a spouse? Jesus instructs His disciples to separate themselves from the world because such unions will destroy them.
Since so much of the church has deemed it sinful to divorce based upon the grounds of being bond together with an unbeliever, then the logical conclusion must be that they do not think it a sin to be unequally yoked. How can this claim be made in the face of so many biblical passages forbidding unequally yoked relationships? Here is the logical argument upon which so much of the church rests their case:
A marriage is legitimate when it is in conformity to biblical precepts. So it must have one man and one woman, they must both be faithful believers and they must both be free to marry (not already married). Illegitimate marriages would involve polygamy, homosexuality, incest, two lost individuals, unequally yoked individuals, and one or more individuals already married to someone else.
However, it is argued that God makes allowances validating certain marriages that are not otherwise legitimate. These are polygamy (concubines), both unbelievers, and unequally yoked couples. Thus these marriages are valid in that they are founded upon truth or fact, capable of being justified and having legal force. Therefore some marriages are valid even though they are not legitimate. As the argument goes these marriages are valid and the believer is not sinning by being unequally yoked and secondly as a valid marriage, it cannot be dissolved unless the grounds for divorce meets a legitimate biblical condition for divorce.
Assuming that these concepts are biblical it seems logical that if an illegitimate marriage is validated by an allowance that God makes for a believer embarking on a sinful path, then God would be abundantly pleased to make an allowance for this same believer to repent of his sinful path by dissolving their illegitimate marriage to a child of Satan in order for them to enter into a marriage that is both legitimate and valid with a fellow believer in Christ Jesus (after the biblical example of Ezra and Nehemiah). Forgive the repetitiveness; nevertheless, because so many Christians seek to serve the institution rather than being served by the institution a divorce and remarriage is considered sinful when in fact a divorce and remarriage would be the very act of repentance that the institution of marriage encourages for the believer who has bound himself to an unbeliever in holy matrimony notwithstanding the common misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians chapter seven (see two articles on 1 Corinthians 7 in this blog). Again, God instituted marriage to curb the sins of godless alliances, fornication and adultery, and homosexuality. Christians have been using this same institution to force their fellow saints into lifelong alliances with the sons and daughters of Satan. Where God instituted marriage, in part, to prevent alliances with unbelievers thus keeping His people holy, Christian leaders have been forcing people to remain in these godless alliances to keep the institution of marriage holy. God forgive us and help us get this straight once again.
Secondly, even if an illegitimate, unequally yoked marriage were valid in that it has happened and is now a reality, the churches’ position must be that the believer will be called to repent and come out from this unholy union. Scripture compares these unions to a partnership of righteousness to lawlessness, a fellowship of light with darkness, harmonizing Christ Jesus with ungodliness and destruction, and joining in agreement the temple of God with idols. Dear brothers and sisters, these things cannot be—they are impossible. Therefore an unequally yoke marriage cannot be. The body of Christ is to work toward cleansing all of its members from such uncleanness.
When our father Adam could not find a suitable helper God fashioned a woman and the man and woman joined to become one flesh. Suitability is so important that without it you do not have a help mate—you do not have someone who corresponds to you. What made Eve suitable? She was a human made in the image of God(like Adam), her female body corresponded to Adam’s male body, and she was without sin (like Adam). They were two halves of a whole.
In the same way, what makes for a suitable help mate for God’s elect children? The same list: They must be humans made in God’s image, they must correspond to one another as members of the opposite sex and they must both possess the righteousness of Christ. If even one of these necessary attributes were missing then a suitable help mate could not be found. Two out of three isn’t bad right? By no means! All three are necessary for God’s elect children to be obediently walking in His ways. Being unequally yoked to an unbeliever is not one of the ways of the Lord. To be walking in a way other than God’s ways is sin. We need to repent of all sin and turn back and walk the way of the Lord. Christian marriages must be two halves of a whole. Both must be in Christ Jesus for their marriage to bring honor and glory to God.
In conclusion, consider the example of Judah’s good king Jehoshaphat. His story is among the most mournful in all of the bible. He was among the very best of Judah’s kings, but he failed to understand the importance of this one truth. He kept yoking himself to his godless brothers in Israel. He was such a godly man that we might suspect his motive was to help wicked Israel turn to God. After a second incidence of Jehoshaphat yoking himself to the godless Israelites God’s prophet asked Jehoshaphat a rhetorical question, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the LORD (2 Chronicles 19:2)? A few short years later Jehoshaphat, who by all accounts was obediently serving God well, allied himself once again with the king of Israel and this time the LORD’s wrath came upon him mightily. The very same godless souls that he was helping and loving were the ones who destroyed him and his whole family. His kingdom became their kingdom. The wicked woman (Athaliah) whom he took for his son in marriage was none other than the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She oversaw the murder of Jehoshaphat’s family, she destroyed his legacy, and she took his place on the throne ruling Judah for nearly seven years doing much harm to God’s people in the process.
God’s people are commanded to advance the gospel. God’s people are prohibited from being bound to unbelievers. God’s people cannot hope to effectively advance the gospel while practicing the sin of being bound to unbelievers. Bad Company corrupts good morals. Dating evangelism is a horrible idea. Unequally yoked evangelism is even worse. Only when two godless people are already married and subsequently God saves one of them are they to follow Paul’s advice in 1 Cor. 7 and see if the Lord intends to save the as yet unbelieving spouse. But believers who have knowingly or ignorantly yoked themselves to unbelievers cannot expect a different outcome than Jehoshaphat’s.
The primary reason God has forbidden unequally yoked marriages is because they will destroy the believer as surely as Jehoshaphat’s unholy alliances destroyed him. He did everything else just as God commanded, but he continued in the pattern of yoking himself to the godless Israelites. The believer who continues in an unequally yoked marriage will be destroyed. Only those who have languished in an unequally yoked marriage for years and have finally been set free can clearly see how much destruction was being done to them and how completely it inhibited their walk and ministry. If a believer appears to be doing well in their walk with God while being unequally yoked, how are they any different than Jehoshaphat? Their destruction is coming. Their unregenerate partner will have the greater influence upon their children, and that will only be the beginning of the destruction they will experience if they do not obediently repent of their godless union to an unbeliever. None can bring idols into the temple of God and expect God’s favor.
Valid or not, unequally yoked marriages should be repented of as soon as humanly possible. When the New Testament provides infidelity and abandonment as the two grounds for legitimate divorce it was understood that the marriages being dissolved were thought to be equally yoked relationships because unequally yoked marriages had long since been forbidden and were unthinkable. God does not change. Unequally yoked marriages are still forbidden according to the word of God. “Do not be unequally yoked to unbelievers.” “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the LORD?”