One of the troubling positions held by Christian leaders when it comes to divorce being forbidden for the unequally yoked believer is the fact that this position is 180 degrees off of God’s clear teaching for believer’s in the Old Testament era. We have selected a few quotes from the Puritan Matthew Henry’s commentary on Ezra 10 showing the unexplained change in direction based on a single verse in First Corinthians that should have been interpreted in the light of the rest of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian churches as well as the rest of scripture, but inexplicably this verse has been understood so as to turn God’s law upside down hence dragging the body of Christ down into a horrible position.
He (Shechaniah) advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for the divorcing
of strange wives. The case is plain; what has been done amiss must be undone again as far as
possible; nothing less than this is true repentance…As to us now, it is certain that sin must be
put away, a bill of divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to have any thing more to
do with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy bosom, nay, as a right eye or a right hand, other-
wise there is no pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but must
be restored; but, as the case of being unequally yoked with unbelievers, Shechaniah’s counsel,
which he was then so clear in, will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and
ought not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fieri non debuit, factum valet–That which
ought not to have been done must, when done, abide. Our rule, under the gospel, is, “If a
brother has a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her
away, 1 Cor. vii. 12, 13.
To this we must ask the question, “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?” Since God is immutable it falls upon these Christians, who have heretofore failed to explain this reversal, to faithfully answer the question: What transpired during the 400 years between the Old and the New Testaments to cause God to change His mind on divorce for His children married to unbelievers? We would like to think that the church’s answer would be that nothing has changed and we repent of our position, but that has not happened. Perhaps it is not happening because nobody has pressed the issue, because nobody is asking the question that R.C. Sproul asked in a sermon titled The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother regarding any number of God’s laws no longer being dutifully obeyed. The question: “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?”
In the Old Testament Law unequally yoked marriages were forbidden as God’s law states, “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you…Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4, 11). In the New Testament these are also forbidden marriages as God’s Word proclaims, “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 Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)?
Those who teach that God’s will has changed use the biblical analogy of marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship to His bride the church, which is of course a beautiful picture. But are not Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and all the Old Testament saints also part of Christ’s church? The point is made that just as Christ’s union to the church is eternal so also must the union between husband and wife be eternal. However, in making this claim do they not ignore the biblical teaching that Christ has no union with Belial nor has He any union with the sons and daughters of Belial. If Christ is not the husband of the unregenerate, then should the saints be married to the unregenerate? Paul taught the Corinthian churches that the believer is forbidden to be bound to the unbeliever. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this passage specifically refers to marriage, but the vast majority of Christian leaders say, “We know that 2 Corinthians 6:14f does not apply to marriage because of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.” The very point we see Matthew Henry making above.
When Herod the tetrarch was in a forbidden marriage to Herodias John the Baptist did not hesitate to demand that Herod repent of his sin by divorcing Herodias. “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). The forerunner of Christ had no difficulty recognizing that God’s institution of marriage does not mean that God has joined together every husband and wife. Herod was uncovering the nakedness of his own brother by marrying his brother’s wife (Mark 6:17). Those who marry against the will and law of God are not bound together by God. They are bound together by man and since man bound them together man must draw them asunder in order to get right with God.
Since God instituted marriage, He has the right to forbid certain marriages. Those who enter into these forbidden marriages are not bound by God’s institution but rather are in sin through their unholy union. But somewhere along the line the church usurped God’s authority over His institution and began to acknowledge every marriage union as legitimate and permanent. Reading the Old Testament book of Ezra chapter 10 leaves no doubt that God desires divorce for marriages that yoke His children to unbelievers. “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:2).
The average Christian, whose current understanding of marriage was founded upon marriage being a sacrament, would say that the hope these Israelites had must have been that they could take their forbidden marriages and use them to glorify God by loving their godless wives and showing them the love that God has put in them. The Church’s position says that Christians must honor God’s institution of marriage by remaining in these unlawful marriages until death parts them because the wife is the husband’s body and the husband is the wife’s head. The two have become one flesh and what God has joined together let no man separate. Oh what a beautiful picture! But is it really so beautiful since it is not the biblical picture? The biblical picture: “Israel’s hope” was shown in the following verse, “So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3).
God’s people, led by the eminently godly leader Ezra, made a covenant with God to divorce their unbelieving wives. The continuation of all unlawful marriage covenants is unrighteousness. The absolution of an unlawful marriage covenant is righteous. Therefore, Ezra led God’s people into a covenant with God to end all unlawful marriages with the godless. Divorce for the believer married to an unbeliever is God’s will because God forbids marriages between His children and the children of this godless world. Why? God instructed His people that marriage to unbelievers pulls the people of God toward the false gods of the nations. For this reason God desires that his children be bound together with one another. God knows that the godless will drag His children into sin. God knows that there will be no peace in the home of a believer married to an unbeliever, that the children will be heavily influenced by their unbelieving parent as they too are not yet in Christ, that the believer’s sanctification will be seriously held back, that Christian couples will not fellowship with an unequally yoked couple and that partnership, fellowship, harmony, congruity and agreement cannot exist in an unequally yoked home (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). As our Lord Jesus Christ said, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Again we ask the Church leaders, tell us what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him? Their answer is that 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 made marriage for the Christian permanent. We have two major problems with this answer: First, it does not answer the question “what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?” Second, they incorrectly interpreted Paul’s teaching causing it to be in stark contrast to everything else he said to the Corinthians, and making it contradictory to the rest of God’s revelation on unequally yoked marriage.
To discover the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, one that agrees with 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and with the rest of scripture, see our article titled, “1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Properly Interpreted Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1”
September 11th, 2021 at 9:41 AM
Hi, Joe. I stumbled across your page last night and have read many of your articles since. This was the most recent one, so I chose to comment here. Are you still active on this site? If so, how can I email you? If you’re still doing this, that is. I can see by the correspondence in your comments that you have sacrificially spent hours and hours of your time ministering to confused spouses who are unequally yoked, and have been blessed by reading these comments. Very appreciative, brother.
September 11th, 2021 at 9:52 AM
I am still active as this is the ministry the Lord has given me. I very much enjoy interacting with believers who are unequally yoked and motivated to seek information beyond the standard “Never divorce” advice given by most church leaders. I will email you personally to begin our conversation.
Christs Continued Blessings,
May 22nd, 2021 at 5:34 PM
I think this answers my question on if the unbeliever consents to biblical conditions, the believer must not divorce:
May 22nd, 2021 at 6:13 AM
What if my spouse were to be saved, for instance in the next week, does Scripture require us to then stay married?
Thank you again.
May 22nd, 2021 at 7:45 PM
I suspect this is a terrifying yet desired outcome (spouses salvation). One cannot anticipate the will and mercy of God, but it is unlikely that God will suddenly save your husband now. If he does, then by all means you restart the process and see what your marriage is like with a regenerate man. The change is drastic when actual salvation comes. Remember that the vast majority of those claiming salvation are not actually saved but merely more religious and not in a good sense. But you are correct in recognizing that 1 Corinthians 7 would instruct you to remain in your marriage if true salvation or even complete consent to Paul’s instructions were met. However, that is not permanent as a spouse submitting to consent today may withdraw that consent tomorrow at which time the believer has to determine if they are still unequally yoked to a rebel and there is no chance of peace in the home.
May 22nd, 2021 at 7:59 PM
Joe, I believe this to be wise counsel. Thank you.
May 2nd, 2021 at 6:50 PM
I have been familiarising myself with these posts and am grateful, as well as relieved to finally find this blog.
May 3rd, 2021 at 10:47 AM
As believers in Christ Jesus we must always follow our conscience, so I strongly encourage you to take deep breaths and petition the Lord for His will and not your will. Our will can be fallible. If we always do what we want, then we frequently wonder from the Lord. However, our consciences must be instructed by the renewing of our minds through the Word of God. And the Word of God is interpreted by men. I am convinced that the Word of God provides divorce for those truly unequally yoked to an unbeliever unless the unbelieving spouse agrees (this includes their actions) to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 as interpreted in the article titled “1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Properly Interpreted Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1”. The body of Christ has missed the mark on God’s instructions regarding unequally yoked divorce for longer than they had them correct. I am thrilled for you that you have found this blog if you have indeed been unequally yoked for any length of time. God’s mercy in demanding His children not be bound together with unbelievers is a delightful precept to obey as are all of our Lord’s laws.
Christ’s Continued Blessings!
May 4th, 2021 at 10:34 AM
Sir, thank you for your welcome, and your faithful work on this vital issue.
I am indeed being cautious, as I already I have been in an invalid union for twenty years. I believe God planted many questions in my search, over the last two years, and found myself on line separating the advice found in counsel.
It was because I found Bahnsen’s theology being explored here that drew me in to your biblical defense.
As no man has truth consistently, I had to reject even ‘godly’ counsel from two pastors whom I expected to at least read your blog to defend their traditional view of staying in an unequally-yoked ‘marriage’, when I brought my burden to them. They, in my view being the most consistent in reformed theology than almost all pastors at this time, did not even ask of my context, and as you have mentioned, a counselor is expected to do such, before offering counsel.
I have struggling deeply for two decades of loneliness in my union, only to have it rubbed more so in my wound by theological experts I look up to. I do pray for the Lord to reveal to them the truth and show them, because this is crucial in bringing down the towel of Babel, in order to rebuild God’s kingdom.
These godly pastors who know my husband assume that my husband is so decent that he would not abuse or neglect me, which to me is the sin of presumption.
I do prefer that the Lord save my husband, rather than me having to find another one, for obvious reasons. It would be amazing to experience what it must be like to be loved as a wife.
I am praying and relying on the Lord for His way forward, as I have been totally dependent on my husband all these years.
Are you available on email for further counseling?
Do you know of a support group?
May 4th, 2021 at 12:31 PM
I am always available to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Those of us who understand that the body of Christ has taken a path that restricts divorce more than God’s Word are somewhat on an island. The majority are entrenched in their viewpoint. There is no openness to an opposing understanding for many reasons. Some of those are as follows: For starters, divorce and even more so divorce for the unequally yoked is a tertiary issue at best. Most Pastors and theologians have married believers, so they cannot imagine the life we have lived with godless spouses. They think that the bumpy rough patches of marriage must be endured by everyone including the unequally yoked. They have no clue, and I have found that they do not even try to put themselves in our shoes. Second, pastors have used divorce in Christian marriages as a top three evidence of the declension in the church. Of course I have an article debunking this, but they misclassify divorce as a sin, when the Bible nowhere does the same. Therefore, divorce is so heinous in the minds of many Christians that they have no capacity to stop and think about alternative interpretations of the Biblical passages that deal with the subject. If they took the time, I am convinced that they would come to the same conclusions that I have reached because I have worked diligently to remove my prejudices and search the heart and mind of God on this subject. You might think that I am constantly debating these brothers and sisters when they come across my blog but you would be wrong. Since 2014 when I first posted many articles to start this blog I have had two or three men write negative and damning comments. Why? Because they do not read my blog. They are no longer learning about the doctrine of divorce. They think it is a settled issue. “God hates divorce.” What more does one need to know, right? Well, they need to know what that passage actually means. And why did God divorce Israel if He hates it and if it is a sin? Why did Ezra make a covenant with God to have all the unequally yoked Israelites divorce their godless spouses? Nehemiah did the same thing. Why does 2 Corinthians 6:14 say, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” instead of do not get bound together with unbelievers? That is what they claim. Do not marry an unbeliever but if you do then you must remain bound. Their prejudice is so strong that they do not see the words in Scripture as they were intended. That is what presuppositions do. They are asking precisely none of these questions of God’s Word on the doctrine. Third, this perspective dates back to the mid Dark Ages when the concept of marriage becoming one of the seven sacraments was being baked in the Church of Rome’s ovens. The reformers recognized rightly that marriage was not a sacrament so they removed the title or designation, but they failed to remove the sentiment. It has stuck to this day. Fourth, the doctrine is a labyrinth which requires a large amount of time and mental energy to grasp. Why would they bother studying something they already think is settled. Apathy is their unintended response to any request that they reconsider their perspective. There are many more reasons, but time does not allow them all here.
I want to offer you hope. I was unequally yoked for 27 years. I prayed that God would restore the lost years of my life with this unbeliever. I too prayed earnestly that God would transform my godless wife. I wanted a front row seat, being her spouse, when God transformed her from darkness to light. I thought that would be far better than having to go through an ugly divorce (made so primarily by the churches’ attitude toward divorce). But God showed me a better way. Obedience to his command to not be bound together with an unbeliever. I have now been married to a beautiful child of God for nearly ten years. My wife is much younger than I and she adores the Lord. She is a brilliant student of God’s Word. I now know what it is to have peace in my home. I can fully appreciate and understand Psalm 133:1 “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity”. It is true for a sister and brother in marriage as well. God has truly restored the lost years. And my godly wife is a better mother to my adult children than their mother ever was even though she never had any children of her own. God is good.
The only support group I am aware of is true brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who have lived with the Lord for many years will generally be less judgmental on this topic and will share your pain. Those truly born-again are on a second island. We are so few in number as most in the churches are not in Christ Jesus. These will be the most vicious. They are also to be avoided as Paul taught the Corinthian Churches. So find any true, mature believer and open up to them. If they are mature in Christ and capable of reading and learning then maybe they would read some articles so that they can come alongside you for support. I will send you a personal email so that you have my email contact and we shall continue our discussions there.
Chrsit’s continued blessings dear sister in the Lord