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Should Christians Date Unbelievers August 8, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.


For those who know me, it should be obvious where I stand on this issue. My goal in writing this though is not to just give my opinion, but to see what the Bible actually says. One of the biggest problems in the Church today is that people do not take the time to search the Scriptures for themselves and see what it actually says. Sermons, teachings and books have replaced Bible study as our source for truth. We would rather eat a pastor’s regurgitated revelation than come to the source directly and put in the time and effort necessary to discover truth for ourselves.

I am going to use a lot of Scripture as I talk about this topic. Some verses I am just going to mention without quoting them directly. I encourage you to grab a Bible so you can look up these passages for yourself. Hopefully, through this you will gain a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject. Even if you don’t agree with my conclusions, take the time to look at these verses, or any others that may apply, so that you are forming your view from the standard of truth found in the Bible.

Old Testament

Before we get into the New Testament and the key text on this issue (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), I want to start with the Old Testament. Since the writers of the New Testament built a lot of their ideas from the foundation of the Old Testament it is important to understand the background of the OT.

God was clear with the Israelites that He did not want them to intermarry with the peoples from the surrounding nations.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
Deut 7:1-4

Here in Deuteronomy, we can see part of the reason for this. In verse 4, they are warned that foreign wives would turn their children away from following God to serve other gods. This is in direct violation of the first commandment that they should have no other gods before Him. God knew that their hearts would be led astray if they united themselves to the peoples around them. The Israelites were to be to God a holy (set apart) people. The natural result of two people getting married who worship separate gods is compromise.

Again we see, in Nehemiah, the seriousness of this offense.

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
Neh 13:23-27

Nehemiah rebukes some of the men of Judah who had married foreign women. He uses Solomon as an example of how people can be led astray. Solomon was the wisest man who had ever lived and yet, even he, ended up building altars and worshipping foreign deities because his heart was drawn away by his wives. (The account of Solomon’s compromise is found in 1 Kings 11).
One of the strongest men who ever lived was Sampson. (His story is found in Judges 13-17.) Sampson fell in love with a woman (Delilah) from a foreign nation. If you remember the story, she coerced Sampson into giving away the secret of his strength and then exploited that secret for money. She clearly did not have his best interest in mind, but he was blinded by his emotions. She gives us a clear example of the problem with mixed allegiances. Her heart was not to follow after God, and her morals were corrupt. She ended up nagging Sampson so much that he compromised the very source of his strength.

These are two negative examples of people in the OT marrying people who weren’t part of the people of God. For a positive example let’s look at Proverbs 31. At the end of the book of Proverbs is a description of an ideal wife. The description is summed up in verse 31, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”. Having a great personality or looking good is not what is important Biblically. These are superficial characteristics and potentially misleading. What is important in a wife (or husband) is her relationship to God.

New Testament

Now that we have taken a brief look at the Old Testament, let’s look at what the New Testament has to say about this issue. As we look at the New Testament we can see that the idea of dating is completely absent. Dating is a relative new concept. In Biblical times, people simply got married. The idea of short term intimate bonding with a lot of different people to find out who you are compatible with is a foreign one. If you are not even interested in getting married to the person you are dating then it doesn’t matter if you are dating a Christian or an Unbeliever. This type of “trying people on to see if they fit” mentality is completely secular and should be avoided, if nothing else at least to preserve your heart from the cycle of bonding and severing that results from becoming emotionally/physically attached to people. Also, these type of short term relationships train us to be led by our emotions and undermine the values of commitment and faithfulness. When people lose interest or things get hard they simply break up. This type of dating is basically just training for divorce. Don’t get involved with someone unless you would consider marrying them.
The question the Bible answers is if you should marry an unbeliever or not. As we saw in the OT, God did not want the Israelites marrying those who were not part of the people of God. The same is true of the New Testament. I want to look at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. This is the “unequally yoked” passage. (I have broken it down into phrases to help see the message of the text and so that you can have an example of what I do when studying a passage. I like breaking verses into smaller units to see the conjuctions and transitions more easily.)

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers;
for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness,
or what fellowship has light with darkness?
15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial,
or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
For we are the temple of the living God;
just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God,
and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Although this is fairly straightforward, I want to comment on a few things. First, I am using the New International Version (NIV) for this text. Their translation of verse 14 has the phrase “bound together”. This is a translation of the Greek – heterozugeo, which is better translated as “unequally yoked together”. You can see the two parts of the word heterozugeo, “hetero” and “zugos”. “Zugos” is the Greek word for “yoke” and “hetero” is the word for “different”. Unfortunately, this word only occurs once in the New Testament. The only other use in the Bible is found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Leviticus 19:19. Here it is used to forbid the mating of two different types of animals. A yoke is used to join two things together, and in the Corinthian passage Paul is using it to forbid the joining of two different people.

Although this is the only NT use of the word heterozugeo, there is another word made from the same word that helps shed some light on what this word means. The word “sunzugeo” has the same root word “zugos” – yoke. In this case it has the prefix “sun” which basically means “together”, so whereas heterozugeo is unequally yoked, sunzugeo is joined together. This is the word used in Mark 10:9 for joined together.

7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh. ’So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (cf. Matt. 19:6)

The context of this Mark passage is clearly about marriage, and because of the similarity of these two words, we can at least say that marriage is in the range of meaning for “heterozugeo”. The question we need to answer is what Paul was referring to by the phrase “unequally yoked”. This contrast between believers and unbelievers (in v. 15) is also found in the first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:12-16), where Paul gives instructions to Christians who are already married as to how they should relate to each other. This context shows how the terms “believer” and “unbeliever” are used by Paul in discussions about marriage. So, both the word translated unequally yoked (heterozugeo) and the idea of believers vs. unbelievers both have ties to marriage. Even if Paul has other things in mind, he at least has marriage in mind. In fact, he probably does have other unions in mind. He uses a lot of different terms to emphasize the oppositeness of the union – righteousness and lawlessness; light and darkness; Christ and Belial; believer and unbeliever; temple of God and idols. He is saying that things that are opposite do not go together. Someone who believes in God and someone who does not are opposite, and therefore should be joined together.

Verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 6 gives us a reason why. We are the temple of the living God. God has called us to be holy. He desires for us to be separate from the world around us – “come out from their midst and be separate” (v 17). Holiness is one of the main attributes of God. We cannot house God’s presence while putting our time and energy into someone who doesn’t even believe in God.

Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 7. In this discussion on marriage Paul states that, “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 Cor 7:30). Paul says, if your husband dies you are free to marry again, “only in the Lord”. Someone who does not believe in God can not fit under the category of “in the Lord”. Mark 10:9 says, “What God has joined together let no man separate”. How can someone seek God’s blessing in marriage when they are in a relationship God does not approve of?

In 1 Peter 3:1-7, Peter gives instructions for both husbands and wives on how they should live together. The instructions to the wives does not make sense if the wife is not a believer. Likewise, the instructions to husbands only makes sense in the context of two believers joined in marriage. In verse 7 he says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Not only is prayer assumed by husbands, but the husband and wife are coheirs of the gracious gift of life (i.e. salvation).
We need to understand what the purpose of Christian marriage is. It isn’t just to make us happy or meet our emotional needs. (By the way, if you are looking for another person to fill a need that only God can meet you will remain unfulfilled.) Marriage has a few purposes, one of which is to be an example of Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5 lays this out for us.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:21-32

This passage has a lot to say about marriage and the roles of husbands and wives. I would encourage you to read it and study it (including the context around it) to understand marriage the way God intended it. We misrepresent God when we enter into relationships with unbelievers.


There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. I have tried to just give a brief Biblical basis for abstaining from relationships with unbelievers. This issue comes back to what we believe about the Bible. If the Bible says that this is wrong and we do it anyway, then we have set ourselves above the authority of the Bible. Our own personal happiness is not reason enough to trump Scripture. Following Christ is worth far more than the temporary pleasures of this world. I want to leave you with one final Scripture to meditate on – 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character”.

A lot of my thoughts on this issue were informed by teachings from Voddie Baucham. Here is what he has to say about Christians dating unbelievers.




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