Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Question on being
"unequally yoked"

Can Christians marry non-believers?

I need to address this last issue: should we use this verse (2 Corinthians 6:14) as a proof text that Christians are forbidden to marry non-believers? Many fine Christian scholars do. Maybe they are correct. Marriage is not specifically mentioned in the immediate context; however, maybe the principle can be applied to marriage. I think that to do so is a very long stretch. 

If one is looking for a “proof text” that would ban Christians from marrying non-believers, a better one would be this, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). 

Even in this verse, the meaning is cloudy. Some scholars adamantly insist “in the Lord” means the widow can only marry a Christian, and extend the principle to all marriages. However, (including John Calvin) others say it means that the Christian should marry with reverence, wisely, and in the fear and leading of the Lord. They take a wider view.

In fact, no less a scholar as R. C. H. Lenski writes in his commentary on this verse, “Yet many take “in the Lord” in a wider sense, namely, “in a Christian way” or “in the fear of the Lord,” asking his blessing. For there are cases in which a marriage with a non-Christian may be justified.”

To me it seems that in deciding whom to marry, there are other issues and principles to consider. I personally think it important to apply the “sound mind” principle. Paul wrote Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). The word “discipline” can be translated, “sound mind.” In other words, we have and should use a sound, stable, clear-headed, disciplined mind. It is common sense to put it another way.

A second valid principle is this: if something is not clearly, plainly, and expressly forbidden in Scripture, then it is fine to do. It is not sin. The decision, however, must be in reverence, seeking the will of God, wisely, and with sound judgment.

If we can use the sound mind principle, then in many cases one should definitely not marry a non-believer. The marriage might be a snare that would trap the Christian into participating in idolatry or some other sinful activity. One would be foolish to marry a non-Christian who is a cheating drunkard who does and deals drugs and lives in the dark underworld of crime, violence and prostitution. 

Other problems come up. In marriage, one should consider compatibility, cultural backgrounds, status in society, age differences, similarities, and a host of other criteria. There should be deep friendship, solid commitment, and the spark of passion on the part of both. Failing these other criteria could also nullify two Christians from marriage. 

Based on the wider view of “in the Lord,” and the “if not forbidden” principle, one could conceive of another scenario. Suppose a young Christian single mom was living hand to mouth, and could not care for herself and her children. Along comes a fine looking, well educated, highly moral, successful professional young man with great integrity who truly falls in love with her, and is quite willing for her to attend church and raise her children in the Christian Faith. But…he is not a Christian, nor does he want to become one. Such a marriage could probably be justified, but done with reverence, wisely, and in the fear and leading of the Lord.

On the other hand, the other side would say that the Scriptures are plain and trump the sound mind and not forbidden principles. 

Here is another situation: in many cultures marriages are arranged. Suppose a young Christian girl is selected by her non-Christian parents to marry some non-Christian young man who is a ranking chieftain in the tribe. If the young girl refuses, then she disobeys her parents (cf. Galatians 6:1-3), and commits a cultural taboo. Even Esther and Ruth married outside their Faith. 

Well, Sheryl, I have given you plenty to think about. I hope what I have said does not cause too much trouble and controversy in your circle. The issue is not as clear-cut as many think. Thank you for your genuine interest in seeking the Lord, and finding truth in His Scripture. 

All the best, and God bless, 

Dr. Newman 

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