Throughout the history of the nation of Israel and Judah, a recurring theme is Hebrew men marrying foreign women. This is something God forbids. It isn’t that God hates other ethnicities. They are part of his creation too.
Instead, he gives his people this restriction because he knows if the men involve themselves with women who hold other beliefs, the men’s attention will turn from him to other gods and from holy practices to unholy behaviors. God wants his people to worship him only, to do so with purity and purpose. He desires them to raise their children to do the same.
Throughout the Old Testament, when the men stray from God’s command and give their physical affections to women of other faiths, they also end up giving their spiritual attention to other gods. Disaster results.
Later Paul commands the people in the Corinthian church to not yoke themselves with unbelievers. In explaining such a pairing, he uses two contrasting sets of words: righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness. While this instruction to not be unequally paired with others can apply to close friendships and business partnerships, the most critical application is marriage.
Starting in the Old Testament and continuing into the New Testament, we’re encouraged to marry people who share our faith. Failing to do so will only cause problems.
This is a great lesson for those not yet married and a comfort to those married to someone who shares their essential beliefs, but what about those who are married to an unbeliever?
To those already in marriages with unbelievers, Paul offers some practical advice. He says if the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay in the marriage, do not seek divorce. The nonbelieving partner will receive blessings through his or her spouse and their children are likewise set apart for God. In time, the unbelieving spouse may one day believe in God, but this is not a guarantee, just a possibility. However, if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, Paul allows it.
The main principle is to seek to live in peace. Paul ends his teaching by saying we should remain faithful to our beliefs whatever our situation.
Whether in marriage, business, or key friendships, we should seek godly partners in all situations. And if we are unequally yoked, we should hold to our faith and be an example, pointing others to Jesus.
In what ways might we be unequally yoked? How have we allowed others to distract us from God?
[Discover more about foreign women in Exodus 34:11–16, Deuteronomy 7:1–4, 1 Kings 11:1, Ezra 9:2, Ezra 10:2–44, Nehemiah 13:26–27, Malachi 2:11, 1 Corinthians 7:12–17, and 2 Corinthians 6:14.]
Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.