Marrying a Non-Believer: The Ox and Mule Syndrome

Image credit:
Image credit:

To seriously date or to consider marrying a non-Christian is outside the will of God. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Paul says, Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

The verb “bound together” literally means “unequally yoked.” Paul is recalling the Old Testament command in Deuteronomy 22:10, You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.

God forbade yoking together beasts of such diverse sizes and strengths because the excessive chafing of the yoke would injure both animals. In the same way, Paul says that a binding relationship between a Christian and a non-Christian will be mutually injurous because they are so essentially different.

Of course, some marriages eventually become centered around God when the non-believing spouse later comes to Christ. However, for every instance where an unequally yoked marriage recovers in this way, there are a dozen tragedies. When a true Christian marries a non-Christian, there is almost certainly great suffering ahead. Christians who violate God’s will in this way have based their marriage relationships around something or someone other than Christ. They have compromised their relationship with God.

We can be thankful that God will not reject us for such lapses in judgment. But He has never promised to preserve us from pain when we defy His will. Besides the pain we will likely bear from such a decision, compromising our faith suggests that Jesus Christ is not the most important Person in our life. This will hardly increase respect for our faith.

More importantly, there is no reason to believe that a non-Christian (or a “Christian” who is uninterested in the things of God) will change after marriage. The record shows that this rarely happens, and the Bible pointedly reminds us that God gives us no such assurance. Paul asks of mixed partners in 1 Corinthians 7:16, …how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? Remember, we are free to choose whom we marry, but we are also responsible for the possible lifelong consequences.

How easily we can say, “I’m ready to accept that responsibility,” until we experience the painful results of ignoring God’s will! Often an unequally yoked person returns to follow God closely years later and faces stiff opposition from a non-Christian spouse. Even worse, unequally yoked believers may permanently compromise their commitment to Christ in order to keep peace in the home. Children also invariably suffer in such marriages.

Considering the clear biblical teaching against marrying non-Christians, Christians need to be honest with themselves when they consider entering, or continuing, a romantic relationship of this sort. Embarking on such a relationship, they are really denying that God knows best how to bring fulfillment into their lives, and that he is committed to their good. (See Matthew 7:11 and Deuteronomy 10:13.) Such a denial constitutes a betrayal of what we say we believe about God: that he is our wise and loving heavenly Father who always seeks our good.

Before going ahead, ask yourself: What evidence can you find that God has ever been wrong or unloving in His dealings with you? When have you ever regretted, in any lasting way, following God’s will? Why would this issue be any different?

No matter how “right” a relationship feels, God’s will concerning seriously dating or marrying a non-Christian will not change. If you find yourself drawn toward such a situation, resolve now to obey God despite the cost. Any delay only makes the decision harder. Even though you may feel terrible pain for a while, you will look back later and realize this decision was one of the best you ever made.

We have never met a Christian who wishes he or she had gone ahead into marriage with their non-Christian dating partner. But we have met scores of miserable Christians who would do anything if they could go back and change their decision to marry a non-Christian or a disinterested Christian. Seek out an older Christian for advice and support as you trust God. You’ll be thankful sooner than you think!

The above article comes from the book, “The Myth of Romance” written by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt, published by Bethany House Publishers. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print so you may have a difficult time locating it. What is especially unfortunate about this is that they have even more information in this book that could help those who are contemplating marriages as well as those who are married. So, if you’re able to find a copy of this book somewhere we recommend that you get it.

— ALSO —

To learn more on this subject, please click onto the following web site links to read:

When Thinking About Marrying a Non-believer

What Should I Do Now That I’m Engaged to an Unbeliever?

Marrying a Non-Believer Won’t Work


Print Post

Filed under: Single Yet Preparing

Join the Discussion

Please observe the following guidelines:

  • Try to be as positive as possible when you make a comment.
  • If there is name-calling, or profane language, it will be deleted.
  • The same goes with hurtful comments targeted at belittling others; we won't post them.
  • Recommendations for people to divorce will be edited out–that's a decision between them and God, not us.
  • If you have a criticism, please make it constructive.
  • Be mindful that this is an international ministry where cultural differences need to be considered.
  • Please honor the fact this is a Christ-centered web site.

We review all comments before posting them to reduce spam and offensive content.


135 responses to “Marrying a Non-Believer: The Ox and Mule Syndrome

  1. My younger sister is dating a non-believer. She has every intention on marring him and wants me as involved with her wedding as she was with mine. Matthew 18:15-17 has been walked through with her in the form of her and I talking, her, a close friend and I talking, and than a couple that used to be our youth leaders talking to her. Should I then assume her to be a pagan and in turn be all that she needs me to be in regards to her wedding or should I talk to her and tell her I can’t be a part of her wedding because I do not agree with the marriage? I fear that removing myself will break any relationship or influence I have or the potential to show her and her future husband the love of Christ.

    1. Chelsea, this is a tough one. My younger sister put me in the same place. She wanted me to walk down the aisle with her (she had even left (divorced) her husband, and kids for this man). I prayed and told her that I just couldn’t do that. I told her that I would always be her sister and love her and would be there for her, but I couldn’t walk down the aisle with her. Sadly… horribly sadly, she turned her back on me and seldom talks to me now, though this was several years ago. She married him, was married a number of years, but then several years back her husband committed suicide, blaming her because she left him. I don’t know the whole story. What I do know is that as sad as this is, I couldn’t go along with doing that, which I knew was wrong just because of my fear of what she would do if I wasn’t there for her in the way she thinks she needs me.

      Chelsea, I can’t tell you what to do. But you aren’t your sister’s Holy Spirit. Be careful of thinking you need to be with her for God to talk to her. Also be careful of doing that, which you know is wrong out of fear –no matter what reasons you are fearful of. Pray, ask God if there are ways you CAN be there for your sister without compromising on His values –those she is now compromising on herself, thinking she is the exception to the rule.

      She has been reasoned with, and she is choosing to reject the advice others are lovingly giving. So now, you are left with tough choices, and she will sadly live out the consequences of these tough choices (if she doesn’t change directions beforehand). I pray that God gives you the wisdom you need, even if it goes in an even tougher direction. I pray for your sister. Oh how many horrible stories we hear about every day for those who defy God’s ways. I hope she comes to her senses and uses her freedom of choice wisely. But ultimately you can’t change your sister… you can only go in the way you sense God would have you.

    2. Hi Chelsea, As Cindy has said,- a “tough one!” However, my own conviction is that if you “can’t be a part of her wedding” then you may well justified in your fear “that removing (your)self will break any relationship or influence [you] have or the potential to show her and her future husband the love of Christ.”

      Why can you not be there for her anyway? She must know you do not agree with the marriage after the talks you mention. You can specifically define the part you play in her wedding- so that you are not compromising your faith, and yet you are not turning your back on your sister. You can tell her what part you would like to take in her wedding. While this may not mean walking down the aisle with her, it may well mean taking another significant part, such as reading a passage or poem, or singing a special song? You can demonstrate to her that you still love her and are there for her, even though you do not agree with her choice. Did Christ turn away from the adulterous woman brought to Him? How did He treat Judas Iscariot? Did he ignore/shun Lazarus- thief (and tax collector)? I am trying to say that we may be misinterpreting the classic Matthew 18:15-17 text (which also mentions tax collectors). If I were in your place, I would certainly at least attend the wedding and offer to perform a task which does not compromise your faith. I do not see what is wrong with that myself. See what you think.

      I am very curious to hear how this turns out! I fully agree with Cindy’s comments though… as Cindy stated, “Pray, ask God if there are ways you CAN be there for your sister without compromising on His values…” Take care Chelsea… WP (Work in Progress)

  2. Well what if you became a Christian after marriage and your husband cheated and is a gambler? What then? Does God hold back your blessing?

    1. Hi Granny b, God does not hold back your blessing because of your husband’s actions or faults. One of perhaps 7000 known promises in the Bible is Romans 8.28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.”

      As a mother, would you hold back your son’s well being if your daughter were doing wrong things? Our love for our children pales in comparison to God’s love for His children.

      You have a good day Granny b. WP (work in Progress)

  3. You take 1 Corinthians 7:16 out of context. It is actually a hopeful statement. And it has to do with people who are already married.

    Verse 12: “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you[b] to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”