By Clinton D. Hamilton
Issues about marriage are of great interest. This is not astounding because marriage is co-extensive and basic to the human family. Likewise divorce and remarriage are topics of real concern. Questions related to these have been dealt with in this column.
Question: The querist whose question is the subject of this article stated as a background to it that he basically affirms the “conservative” position on the marriage-divorce-remarriage issue. He then asks, “Is the Christian/non-Christian marriage question an acceptable one to ask?” He had posed this question: “Should a Christian, who is scripturally unmarried, marry a non-Christian?”
Response: It must be clear what the question really is. I could understand the querist to ask “May a Christian marry a non-Christian?” The first section of this response will focus on this sense. The presupposition he sets is that neither party has an impediment in so far as God’s law is concerned. Should is interpreted to mean may. Certainly he could imply that should has the meaning of must. With these understandings expressed, the response to the question follows.
Marriage as announced by God in the beginning needs first to be addressed. When Eve had been made and presented to Adam, God said, “And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24). Jesus made reference, to the account in Genesis 2 when he was questioned about marriage by the Pharisees. He makes clear whose statement is related in Genesis 2:24.
The Pharisees raised this question: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Matt. 19:3) His response was couched initially in a question: “Have ye not read, that he who made them in the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?” (Matt. 19:4-5) He then added this statement, “So they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6). God joins a male and a female. Because one is male and the other is female, they shall leave mother and father and cleave to one another and the two shall become one flesh.
Essentially marriage is a joining of a male and a female. To be within the law of God it is a male and a female that are to be joined together. When a male and a female decide to leave mother and father and to cleave to one another and consummate this, God declares this to be marriage according to Jesus.
May one be a Christian and the other an unbeliever? This is the issue before us. The response is in the affirmative. Amplification of this response is now given.
With this response some strongly disagree. They sometimes argue that a Christian cannot marry an unbeliever because that would be an unequal yoke which God condemns (2 Cor. 6:12-7:1). Exactly what does this Scripture say? A Christian or believer cannot be yoked unequally with an unbeliever or non-Christian. The term unequally yoked is heterozugeo which is compounded from heteros, one of a different kind, and zugos, a yoke which couples two things together. It is used metaphorically in this passage. It is yoking together two of different kind.
A believer must not couple himself/herself with an unbeliever in practices which partake of the unbeliever’s iniquity, darkness, portion, and temple of idols. Rather the believer is not to participate in the sinful acts unbelievers do; he is to be a temple of God, doing righteousness, walking in light and being in concord or agreement with Christ. Were a believer to leave these and practice iniquity, or unrighteousness, idolatry or serve Belial (the Devil or Satan), he would be coupled with unbelievers unequally. Should this be the case, the believer is instructed to do this: “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1).
A fair exegesis of the passage calls for Christians not to engage in sinful acts which characterize unbelievers. They are to cleanse themselves from all defilement both of flesh and spirit and perfect holiness or purity of behavior in the fear of God.
Is marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian such an unequal yoke? Let us appeal to the Scripture for the answer to this question. To believers married to unbelievers Paul gave the instruction not to leave them (1 Cor. 7:12-13). If marriage of a believer to an unbeliever is within itself an unequal yoke, the instruction is to come out from it and be separate. However, Paul instructed believers married to unbelievers to remain with them. It is evident, therefore, that such a marriage is not of itself an unequal yoke. One is unequally yoked as a Christian when one engages in idolatry, unrighteousness, and agreement with Belial. Marriage is not within the purview of Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 6.
Some say that if Paul had the right to lead about a wife that is a believer, then all Christian can only have a believing companion (1 Cor. 9:1-5). Paul is not dealing with what is the right things to do but rather is considering what he had a right to do. He claimed for himself the right to do what other apostles did. One must not take this text dealing with a right and bind it to say that this is the only right thing to do. Certainly one may be married to a believer. He claimed this right also.
Some also say that the instruction in 1 Corinthians 7:39 shows that a Christian must not marry a non-Christian. Paul says, “A wife is bound so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” The instruction given was under the “present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26). He was not setting forth commandments but his judgment under the circumstances (1 Cor. 7:25). He concludes his judgment statements in 1 Corinthians 7:40, “But she is happier if she abide as she is, after my judgment, and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.” Statements between verses 26 and 40 convey his judgment under the circumstances then current.
Although he gave his judgment, he was guided by the Holy Spirit in the expression of it. He used the Spirit’s words in the expression of what he taught (1 Cor. 2:13). One can rely on the judgment in that what he says does not contradict the will of God. He says, “. . . I think I also have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40).
Paul advised a young unmarried woman not to marry under “the present distress” but also said that if marriage does occur there is no sin (1 Cor. 7:36). But he said it would be better not to marry (1 Cor. 7:38). One might choose for good reasons not to do the “better” thing. However, this would not be a sin. Of right things to do, one might be better.
To use 1 Corinthians 7:39 to argue that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian is to lift it from its context and to give it a meaning that was not intended. This passage cannot be properly, contextually, and exegetically used to argue that marriage by a Christian to a non-Christian is sinful.
Now let us consider the sense of should in the question to refer to what is best. Make no mistake about it: It is far better for a Christian to marry another Christian. We strongly urge young Christians so to do. However, should they marry a non-Christian one cannot charge them with sin only on that account. Scripture does not teach such is a sin.
The querist inquired whether a Christian should marry a non-Christian. It would be better that one marry a Christian. Many trials, tribulations, and heartaches can be avoided by so doing.
On the other hand, a Christian married to an unbeliever can lead, by a life consistently lived in harmony with the will of God, to the conversion of the unbeliever (1 Pet. 3:1-6). One so married must diligently follow Christ and not be led into apostasy.
If it is sinful within itself, and therefore prohibited for a Christian to marry a non-Christian, then their children would issue from an unholy or unsanctified union. However, the word of God declares otherwise (1 Cor. 7:14). Such a choice of a marriage companion is not the better course of action but according to Scripture, it is not a sinful course of action within itself.
One can cite instances when marriage to a non-Christian by a Christian may have resulted in apostasy for the Christian. This is a tragedy indeed. On the other hand, one can cite instances when the non-Christian is led to Christ. Even Christians married to one another may apostatize. Individual circumstances differ. I strongly urge a Christian to marry another Christian. This is decidedly the better way.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 4, pp. 105-106
February 20, 1992