In a Nutshell: The Biblical View of Divorce for the Unequally Yoked

What does the Bible say on the topic of marital divorce for the unequally yoked believer? Separation of light from darkness is among the most ubiquitous commandments found in God’s revealed word. In the Old Testament God forbid marriages to “the nations”. Israelites were not to marry foreign women and they were not to give their daughters in marriage to foreign men. This command was specifically provided in a greater context of remaining separate from the nations in general. Often such forbidden romances were the cause of bringing Israelites together with the nations, but other factors caused Israel to fall into this sin as well such as security, financial gain and misguided obedience to God’s command to love one’s neighbor.

Idolatry always immediately accompanied the sin of intermingling with the nations through marriage, which is clearly why God forbid these unions. God frequently used the themes of marriages to “strange women” (foreign) and adultery with the same in order to depict Israel’s worship of foreign gods that drove Him to jealousy. God intended Israel to remain pure and undefiled from the nations, but Israel could not help herself but to become entangled with the nations through marriage which always led to idolatry. Ultimately God divorced both Israel and Judah for their adultery/idolatry.

If it is God’s will for the righteous to divorce the unrighteous, then why did God say, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16)? Any quote taken out of context can be shown to say anything anyone wants it to say. In context the priests of Israel were “putting away”, not divorcing their wives and they were acting in this treacherous way so that they could marry daughters of foreign gods. They were already equally yoked to Jewish women and they were putting them out without so much as a divorce decree and marrying gentile women. This passage should be used to defend divorce for the unequally yoked and to defend marriage within the family of faith, but instead blind guides have shrewdly allowed this passage to be seen as a sledge hammer against divorce for their blind followers who prefer platitudes over reason and biblical truth.

Again, God’s command was to be pure and undefiled by remaining separate from the nations with great emphasis on marriage. What happens to the people who transgress the command of the Lord? The best cure seen in the Old Testament is Ezra and Nehemiah’s covenants to divorce the unbelieving wives and children. Repentance is the only recourse once a sinner has embarked upon a path of sin. God’s ways do not include unequally yoking light to darkness. That which has been done, must be undone. A promise or covenant to remain on a path of sin must be broken. The people of God must importune their godless spouses for release (Prov. 6:1-5). In so doing God’s people are not breaking the marriage covenant because their godless partner has already broken the conditions of the covenant. How you ask? By refusing to obey God’s command to repent and believe in the Christ.

God instituted marriage so He has the right to set its conditions, and He has clearly prohibited His children from being in unequally yoked marriages (2 Cor. 6:14-7:2). The duration of a marriage covenant ends upon the death of either participant or the death of the covenant itself through the broken conditions. Those who restrict the access to divorce more narrowly than does the word of God deny the second manner of duration. In so doing they deny both scripture and reason as all covenants have conditions that, when broken, release the innocent party from the covenant and often call for damages to be paid by the violator. Unintentionally these legalists render the conditions of the marriage covenant void since they cannot activate the second manner of duration.

When people enter into the covenant of marriage they have no expectation of a biblical interpretation that removes the very conditions of the covenant that were included for their protection.  Having this done is like being found guilty of a crime not committed and being sentenced to life in prison.  Or it is like forcing the victim of rape to marry her attacker because he was the first man to have relations with her.

Getting back on track, unequally yoked marriages exist under an unlawful, broken covenant and the believing spouse is no longer bound.  He/she is free to remarry in the Lord; however, they must also pay a price for their release. The price is paid not to God, but to the godless spouse.  It is not godly to simply abandon those who have been made dependents. Provisions must be made until other means have been established because part of true repentance is making restitution for harm done to others. Although the unbelieving spouse has broken the covenant by refusing repentance it is the believing spouse who has entered into an unequally yoked marriage thus breaking God’s prohibition.

Even when the believer entered the marriage unsaved and subsequently became saved they must fulfill the duty of making restitution for their divorce because they are the one bound by God’s law to obey His prohibition against unequally yoked relationships. This does not prohibit the believer from receiving child support from the unbelieving spouse, but the believer should do everything in their power to make restitution. Taking their spouse to court to get everything they can out of him/her is prohibited by scripture and unconscionable behavior for God’s children. It would be foolish to think that repentance from this sin is easy.

Most seem oblivious to the reality that family is worshipped (made an idol) and has been for a very long time. God instituted marriage and family, but blood does not run thicker than faith. The marriage covenant has been treated in a mystical fashion as though it were worthy of worship itself. Motherhood has also been idolized by the church from the beginning in part because of an unbiblical view of Jesus’ own mother, yet Jesus Himself when he was told his mother and brothers were looking for Him said, “’Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward his disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'” (Matt. 12:48b-50).

At the beginning of the 21st Century, America’s young adult population intensely craved praise and adoration because they have been made to feel entitled by a culture of high self-esteem that places too great a value on the family’s children. It was Jesus and not the popular culture today who had a proper understanding of the place and value of family members. On the subject of divorce for the unequally yoked man of God, Jesus included wives in the list of family members that the believer should leave behind if they are not obedient to the word and will of God (Luke 18:29, Matt. 19:29, Ps. 69:8-9). And Jesus said these believers would receive “many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” for their willingness to leave godless wives and family members in order to faithfully follow Christ.

So how should we interpret Jesus’ words in the gospels that are used to argue that He does not allow divorce for those married to unbelievers? In the light of the previous paragraph we must understand that such a position would infer that Christ contradicted Himself. Secondly, context is everything. The overarching context of our Lord’s teachings was the Old Testament itself.  Jesus taught Jewish people who understood that mixed marriages were forbidden.  Whenever Jesus taught about divorce it was assumed by our Lord and by His listeners that the marriages in question were between two of God’s people.  This was the context of everything Jesus said about marriage and divorce.  The Jews called the gentiles dogs at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry…they never would have considered marrying them.  The Jewish people hated the Samaritans for marrying gentiles.  The Samaritans grew out of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim and they first became carnal and later intermingled with gentiles. During the life and ministry of Jesus Jews were not entering into mixed marriages, so the issue had no need of dialoge or clarification by Jesus.

What of Paul’s words to the Corinthians instructing them to remain with an unbelieving spouse who wants to stay in the marriage?  His words were intended as a temporary injunction for the new believer in Christ Jesus.  Christianity had just begun.  Some practical issues were popping up such as what was to be done when a person experienced regeneration by God’s Spirit while their spouse had not yet experienced this new life.

This concern exists in every generation of the church as married couples who are not in the Lord encounter the gospel and only one of the two receive regeneration.  Paul is instructing the believer to remain in the condition in which you came to God.  His tone and phraseology make it clear that his instructions were for the immediate timeframe. With the passing of time God will either regenerate the unbelieving spouse or the unbeliever will harden to the gospel at which time it will be clear to the believer that light and darkness must be separated once again (Genesis 1:3 and ubiquitous throughout God’s word).

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians makes his view on unequally yoked relationships abundantly clear when he says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Bilial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? Therefore, ‘COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE’, says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN’; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

It should be Paul’s second Corinthian letter that clarifies the first in part because it is subsequent thus having the former letter in mind, and secondly because the second letter’s statement is so much more universal, forceful and straightforward. Unfortunately, stubborn men have used the former letter, that provided a temporary injunction so that time could be given for God to soften or harden the spouse’s heart, to interpret the second letter.

Reprehensibly, many preachers apply 2 Cor. 6:14-18 to single people considering marriage but not to the married. This cannot be said more emphatically; men who utter the words “We know that this passage does not apply to the marriage relationship” when speaking on the last five verses of 2 Corinthians 6 are greatly sinning, and they are doing so in order to support their own misguided bias against divorce. These men dare not call God a sinner for divorcing Israel and Judah, yet they prohibit His children from following, to the letter, the very example God Himself has set.  Their sins of stubbornness and a judgmental spirit raises an holy anger within me for two reasons: It lessons the glory of God’s holy name by missing the mark God has set, and secondly, it has, for centuries, caused so much needless pain to brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need of God’s merciful provision of divorce when unequally yoked.

The bottom line is that God wants His children to be in relationships with one another. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1)!  Any believer who yokes themselves to unbelievers whether in marriage or any other relationship can expect God’s wrath instead of God’s blessings.  “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the LORD (2 Chron. 19:2)?  God wants all of His children to walk in His ways. Being unequally yoked is not a way of the Lord.  So dearly beloved of the Lord, walk in the ways of the Lord God Almighty.

Biblical view on divorce

About Joe Porter

By the abundant lovingkindness and grace of God I have been in Christ for nearly 40 years. I live to love and serve God in whatever capacity He has in mind. And can do no other but to follow my conscience as scripture and reason guide me threw the shadow lands. I raised 5 children one of whom now sees clearly as he walks on streets of gold. God has blessed me after all these years with a godly, prudent wife. I cannot imagine a greater gift on the earth. I have a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I own a business in Nebraska, but I live to serve God. I have preached in three different churches for a period of 10 years. I love preaching God's word. Because of my divorce I am not currently serving in any official capacity, but I know that the Lord has a ministry for me. My goal is to write a book on the topic of divorce when unequally yoked, and this blog is a step in that direction. No brother or sister in Christ should divorce their spouse solely upon the advice they find here or anywhere else for that matter. Immerse yourself in God's word, and go before the Lord--wait upon Him and He will make it clear when the time comes that you are called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage. Christ's continued blessings, Joe View all posts by Joe Porter

2 responses to “In a Nutshell: The Biblical View of Divorce for the Unequally Yoked

  • Torrey

    Hello,
    When my husband and I were dating and decided to get married, God was the center of our relationship. We built everything on this knowledge and desire. But 4 years into our marriage, my husband decided he no longer believed the God of the Bible exists or cares about us individually. As you can imagine, this is absolutely devastating to me. When he told me this, I had just found I was pregnant with our daughter. I can honestly say that she is the main reason I am still in this marriage almost 5 years later. The realization of my husband’s choice makes itself known more and more by his mindset and actions. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good man who loves us dearly, but the amount of emotional pain this brings me is becoming unbearable. When I want to pray about something, I can no longer come to him. When I need spiritual guidance, I can’t seek him for Godly counsel. It’s like I have to live in a surface level marriage, avoiding the hard, knitty-gritty conversations because our differing world views will cause heart ache. On one hand, I know God is always in favor of a marriage being redeemed…but on the other, I’m in an unequally yoked marriage that I didn’t agree to. Not to mention the fact that being married to a man of God is something I desire, so it makes it very confusing for me as a married woman when I find myself longing for a man who does love the Lord. I don’t know what to do. I feel like walking away will completely devastate my little family and won’t help in setting an example of Christ’s love to him. If anything, I worry that it will make matters worse. And I wonder what my daughter would think someday when she’s older: would she condemn me for leaving? Would she claim me as the one who abandoned the union?…And then I wonder if God is saying “Hold on a little longer because if you stay, you’ll see that there will be restoration for your husband, but if you leave, you won’t get to be the one to share the benefits and joy of that testimony.” I just don’t know what to do…

    Thanks for listening. Any prayerfully sought wisdom is appreciated.

    Sincerely,
    Torrey

    • Joe Porter

      Torrey,

      Your letter reads like so many before you and appeals deeply to my own heart and story. I say this so that you may know that you are not alone. You and I do not know one another at all, so understand that my reply at this time can be based solely upon general doctrines from the word of God. This is usually a multi year process, but that is because people are slow at studying and processing the information they will need to understand in order to take the difficult step of divorce, which is biblical for those unequally yoked in their marriages.

      The first step is to be certain that you are in fact unequally yoked in marriage. You will want to return to the blog and read the article titled: What Is an Unequally Yoked Marriage? The great concern here is not whether or not your husband is in Christ because he has made it clear that he is not. So the only question is whether or not you are actually born-again. Please do not overlook this concern; remember that you and your husband once thought that he was saved. Modern Christians are unbelievably proud and ignorant, which is a deadly combination. Most people who call themselves Christians today are the very same whom Jesus said “I will reply to you, depart from me you who practiced lawlessness for I never knew you.” Read the article and humbly petition God for your forgiveness. Do not make the foolish mistake of assuming you are a Christian. We are not Christians because we grew up that way, go to church, occasionally read our bible, say things like “God bless you”, invited Jesus into our hearts, celebrate Christmas and Easter, etc. Real Christians have died to self. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.” Hear is a test of your genuine faith: Go to MLJTrust.org and listen to the great man of God, Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach. If you fall in love with his preaching, then it is far more likely that you are in Christ. If you find his sermons boring, then you are most likely unsaved and need to cry out to God for mercy. Why? Martyn (who died in 1981) was among the greatest men of God in the 20th century and changed tens of thousands of lives by his preaching. He speaks directly to the hearts of those saved, and his sermons have helped thousands become saved. He is entirely unlike the myriads of preachers in our day who merely like to hear their own voices and who use their personalities to attract large crowds.

      The redemption of marriage is not a theme in the bible whatsoever. I am uncertain of where you got that idea, but it most likely came from a book on marriage that you have read trying to find ways to fix your unequally yoked marriage. Such cannot be fixed by any means other than salvation for the unsaved spouse or divorce. Christ died to redeem lost sinners. No such sacrifice has been made for marriage. Jesus told the Pharisees that the Sabbath rest was meant to serve man and not man for the Sabbath rest. The same is true of the institution of marriage. Marriage was meant to serve man, not man to serve marriage. The Catholic church got this backwards just as the Pharisees had with the Sabbath, and the concept of holy matrimony was adopted by the protestants after the reformation. So unfortunately Christians have this unbiblical notion that marriage is an institution that is above man. Marriage serves man and not the other way around. Unequally yoked marriage does not serve the Christian well. For a more complete understanding you can read on the blog: Allowing the institution of Marriage to Hit Its Mark

      You said, “Being married to a man of God is something I desire” I can speak from personal experience that being equally yoked for the last 8 years after a 27 year unequally yoked marriage is unbelievable. Words do not fully express how delightful it is to be married to a sister in Christ. Being with another believer is absolutely God’s will for his children. Much more could be said, but you are right to desire a husband who lives in the fear of God.

      You said, “I feel like walking away will completely devastate my little family” Your little family will cease being a family, so yes divorce will devastate your family of three, but if it is God’s will, then what choice do you have? It will not be easy to say the least, but if it is the right thing to do, then it will end well (Luke 18:29-30). Plus, by eventually finding a genuine man of God as your husband this will allow your daughter to see the love of Christ from both a mom and a dad. She will see how a loving, believing couple walks with Christ side-by-side, she will also see her dad and his new godless wife and how they live. It will give her the opportunity to see how Jesus makes families infinitely better. Finally, it is not in your hands to save your daughter. That is God’s responsibility and I can tell you as a father of five who are now adults that not all of our children will believe. My godless wife had a greater influence on the children because they could relate to her godlessness and they were greatly injured by her influences. Today three of my children are saved. One thinks she is saved and attends church weekly, but biblical evidence of her salvation is entirely lacking. Currently my youngest son appears to be rejecting God entirely but God is not finished with him yet, so we are praying for him. He lives in the Seattle area and Christianity is not popular up there. He is planning on moving back to Nebraska in a year or two, which can only help. You will be encouraged by reading the following blog article: Are You Crazy? Wont Your Understanding of God’s Command to Divorce Ruin Lives?

      Paul did provide the Corinthians with a scenario where you could remain married to an unbeliever so you will want to read a final blog article outlining Paul’s plan: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 In Context Strengthens the Case For Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

      Torrey, My heart goes out to you. My current wife had your exact situation in her previous marriage except with no child. She thought she was married to a believer, but after two years of marriage it proved not to be the case. Her’s was even harder to tell because he claims to be a believer and attends church weekly. What you are considering is a difficult road at first, but it is so very worth obeying God. Sadly, even the church will not support you as you go through your divorce. But God will be there every step of the way. Draw closer to him if and when you decide this is what you must do. My wife Hilary and I will be available too. But you must first petition the Lord and make sure the Holy Spirit is moving you in this direction. You cannot take the word of any man (male or female) as to what you must do. I would never say follow your heart. But we must always follow our conscience. The Holy Spirit moves your conscience. Many things can move our hearts including sin. When you have drawn as close to the Lord as you have ever been and he is moving your conscience toward repenting of the sin of being unequally yoked, then obey God and you will be blessed a hundred fold (Luke 18:29-30).
      Christs Continued Blessings

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