What does it mean to be unequally yoked?

by Matt Slick
1/22/2018

Yoke The term "unequally yoked" is found 2 Cor. 6:14 in the KJV and the ESV. Basically, it deals with a Christian being joined together with unbelievers in an ungodly way. This should be avoided. The term comes from ancient biblical times where two oxen would be joined together with a yoke. The yoke was the wooden piece that went around their necks so they could be teamed up and controlled. If one ox was weaker than the other, then they were unequally yoked and would not perform well together.

In the context of Paul's writing, it appears that Paul was dealing with the paganism found in the Corinthian area. He says in the following verses, "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 or what agreement has a temple of God with idols?" (2 Cor. 6:15-16). Belial was a very negative term.

  • "Belial, Beliar, Common Hebrew noun meaning “baseness,” “worthlessness,” “wickedness,” or “lawlessness...Intertestamental literature often used “Belial” as a proper noun and thus prepared the way for its NT usage. In the NT the term appears once as “Belial” (or Beliar in 2 Cor 6:15) and is identified with Satan, the personification of all that is evil. Noncanonical writings of the NT period commonly used it as a name for Satan or the antichrist."1

There were pagan temples and many ungodly practices in the Corinthian area at the time of Paul. As is natural with people, Christians were tempted join with unbelievers in business and sometimes even in marriage. But Paul said this was wrong.

  • "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14, ESV).
  • "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14, NASB)

This sentiment of being very cautious in your dealings and associations with unbelievers is found in the Old Testament.

  • "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," (Deut. 7:3).
  • "But they mingled with the nations And learned their practices, 36 And served their idols, Which became a snare to them," (Psalm 106:35–36).
  • "Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, 25 Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself," (Prov. 22:24–25).
  • "Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals," (1 Cor. 15:33).

Conclusion

The general principle is that the people of God need to be careful with whom they interact and enter into contractual agreements. This verse is often used to warn believers not to marry unbelievers. In such a case it would most definitely be unequally yoked. Christians should only marry Christians. As far as business arrangements go, Christians must be cautious with the unbelievers around them, especially when it comes to business. Christians are supposed to represent Christ in their dealings and should, therefore, be honest, and their word should be their bond. But what's to prevent an unbeliever from breaking his word or leading the Christian into compromising situations in order to gain financial profit?

It is best to avoid such situations and not be unequally yoked. We need to seek the wisdom of God in the world. Therefore, we should seek the company of Christians as much as possible and be cautious when entering into agreements with unbelievers.

 

 

 

  • 1. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.