Why Christians Should NOT Marry Unbelievers

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On marrying a non-Christian: "If you think you are lonely before you get married, it's nothing compared to how lonely you can be AFTER you are married!"

Over the course of our ministry, the most common pastoral issue that Tim and I have confronted is probably marriages — either actual or proposed — between Christians and non-Christians.

I have often thought how much simpler it would be if I could remove myself from the conversation and invite those already married to unbelievers do the talking to singles who are desperately trying to find a loophole that would allow them to marry someone who does not share their faith.

That way, I could skip all the Bible passages that urge singles only to “marry in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39) and not “be unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and the Old Testament proscriptions against marrying the foreigner, a worshiper of a god other than the God of Israel (see Numbers 12 where Moses marries a woman of another race, but the same faith).

You can find those passages in abundance, but when someone has already allowed his or her heart to become engaged with a person outside the faith, I find that the Bible has already been devalued as the non-negotiable rule of faith and practice.

Instead, variants of the serpent’s question to Eve — “Did God really say?” — are floated, as if somehow this case might be eligible for an exemption, considering how much they love each other, how the unbeliever supports and understands the Christian’s faith, how they are soul-mates despite the absence of a shared soul-faith.

Having grown weary and impatient, I want to snap and say, “It won’t work, not in the long run. Marriage is hard enough when you have two believers who are completely in harmony spiritually. Just spare yourself the heartache and get over it.” Yet such harshness is neither in line with the gentleness of Christ, nor convincing.

Sadder and Wiser.

If only I could pair those sadder and wiser women — and men — who have found themselves in unequal marriages (either by their own foolishness or due to one person finding Christ after the marriage had already occurred) with the blithely optimistic singles who are convinced that their passion and commitment will overcome all obstacles.

Even the obstacle of bald disobedience need not apply to them. Only 10 minutes of conversation— one minute if the person is really succinct— would be necessary. In the words of one woman who was married to a perfectly nice man who did not share her faith: “If you think you are lonely before you get married, it’s nothing compared to how lonely you can be AFTER you are married!”

Really, this might be the only effective pastoral approach: to find a man or woman who is willing to talk honestly about the difficulties of the situation and invite them into a counseling ministry with the about-to-make-a-big-mistake unequal couple.

Kathy Keller serves as assistant director of communications for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. She is co-author with her husband, Tim, of The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

More from Kathy Keller or visit Kathy at http://www.redeemer.com/

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  • Chev0611

    I’m sorry but the Bible clearly stats that we should go into the world and make disciples, this means that we should simply mix with the unbelievers, and in cases this may develop into more. I I know many couples both young and old that have both believers and none believers and are perfectly happy and in love (1 Corinthians 13 4:8).

    I think that Christians are to quick to judge the none believer as totally against God, in the majority of cases this isn’t the case.

    If we are to be effective Christians it is time for us to get out of our holy huddles and start living the faith that we all process to believe.

    • BillLion

      Build relationships with unbelievers and make disciples, yes. Enter into the most intimate, covenental love that necessitates God at the center to fulfill a biblically-centered marriage, no.

      I’m happy for those that have married unbelievers that have come to the Lord, that is very fortunate for both. However, I have ministered to many who struggle because their spouse is ambivalent or hostile to God and it creates tension and/or dissonance in their marriage. It is not a wise thing to do, and it violates clear scriptural warnings.

      • Teshy

        I will speak from personal experience. My soon to be ex-husband was a non-believer when we met. He was just a church goer, never missed the Sunday service unless there was a serious reason. From the onset of the relationship he spoke marriage, as a daughter of a pastor, grew up knowing very well never to unequally yoke myself with an unbeliever. So clearly told him this and stated that no pressure because I did not want him to get saved just because he wanted to marry me!

        He got ‘saved’, 2 years down the line we got married. In the 2yrs before the marriage, he had to work outside the country meaning we were in a long distance relationship. After the marriage went away for a honeymoon for a week, got back then the real marriage started! Now we get to spend live together, share a room etc etc This is when the real light bulb moment kicked in.

        To cut a long story short. Just to mention a few praying together, reading the bible, playing worship music in the house was a loosing battle. On other side, he wanted to bring over drinking buddies etc etc and all of these things brought strife into our home and marriage, we were just constantly fighting instead of enjoying our marriage. To my dismay I discovered this whole ‘being saved’ thing was just a sham. I must be honest before we got married there were signs there and there not as clear though. At that time I told myself we are all work in progress, God is going to work those things out of him. Helllloooo was I really naive!

        A year and half of our marriage I fell pregnant, 2 weeks after we found out, he walked out and asked for a divorce. Since he walked out of the door never turned an eye back. Though there is a baby, he has no interest at all in the baby and was never there at all during pregnancy. The unfortunate part about the divorce it is not as simple as the wedding, it drags on and on forever. Exactly a year later since he walked out, still not yet divorce. Even in settling the divorce we can not come into any amicable agreement.

        To conclude my story, even though things were not so clear when we got married, we were both unequally yoked. It is more evident now than when we got married. I was more lonely when I was married than when I was single. This whole saga, left me heartbroken, left a broken family, a son with no father etc etc

        This is just a typical story of those who are unequally yoked. I now have a history that I will never be able to press delete, it is a scar that I constantly sleep and wake up to. This is proof that unequally yoked marriages do not have happy endings!!!

        • Hessica1982

          Teshy, I pray that you read this I wasn’t the PK but I married a man that I didn’t know anything about as you said he was in church all the time and seemed to be a good Christian man with a job. But 18 months later he left after I confronted him with his bad boy behavior and I haven’t spoken to him since. I see him all the time at church we just don’t communicate. It’s been more than a year. I am truly glad he left, we married he moved in with me brought nothing when I say nothing I mean not one thing except his clothes and they were many. Paid no bills, would not keep up the lawn and on and on. So, I will pray for you and please pray for me. Talk about wolves in sheep’s clothing. And there of many wolves in the church. Pray for women who are being preyed on to get wise and then get away. Jesus loves me and no one can compete with his loving me now and forever.

    • http://twitter.com/HeyNikkie_ Nikki

      I’m sorry, but that is nonsense. The Bible clearly teaches believers are not to be yoked unequally with non-believers. Why try to get around it?

      Going into the world and making disciples means we are to preach the gospel and teach those who come to saving faith by God’s grace to love Jesus and observe & obey His commands. Not to “flirt to convert”.

      A ‘Christian’ who does such as you described is walking in disobedience. No believer should let their relationship to an unbeliever “develop into more”. I think you ought to read the article over. (Just to be clear, I am talking about those who aren’t yet married, the Bible addresses those in such marriages differently).

      If we are to be effective Christians, we are to be men and women of prayer, devotion to the gospel of repentance and faith unto salvation in Christ Jesus, being entirely reliant on the Holy Spirit. It is time for us to dive deeper in our fellowship with believers and together get on with the task of the Great Commission. If one is to marry, marry within the flock, not a different herd. That is how we ought to live the faith we profess to believe.

    • Tin-Man

      A effective Christian is a Christ-like person who always put Jesus’ preference first. If you believe the Scripture is God-breathed and the Scripture is actually Jesus in a written form (the Word becomes flesh — John 1) then you are totally off. The loving God in the Bible hates sin. He is not going to let non-believers to be in His presence forever. So face it, there is no Scripture you can base on to support your view.

  • jeff

    The passages in 1 Corin. 2 has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with idolatry At the time of the writing Paul was writing about the going back to the Roman and other pagan gods and doing the bidding of their practices, not a response to marriage. And I am not to live under the OT laws, I am saved by grace through faith. When someone asks me about marriage to an unbeliever I say while it is important to believe and keep strong in your faith, perhaps God is putting that person in your life for not only His glory to for the partners benefit.

    This sort of poor hermeneutics is what is so wrong with the church today. I enjoy reading quite a bit of Tim Kellar and am not trying to make this personal against this woman but she is clearly wrong.

    If someone marries an unbeliever, they should love God as always, make Jesus first in their lives and retain the Holy Spirit and do His will first, not the teachings of some church mother, but the truth of Jesus that will set them free.

    • BillLion

      Jeff, couldn’t disagree more. How do you explain this:

      “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39, NIV)

    • Tin-Man

      Jeff, I am sorry that you’re not the kind of believers the Bible talks about. How could a person love God and intentionally live in disobedience in the same time? How could someone put Jesus first and neglect what Jesus said? You probably disagree with Jesus in Luke 12:49-59 too.

    • http://twitter.com/KevinCrim Kevin Crim

      In marrying someone not a believer it is idolatry! You are setting that person up as above God and His Word.

  • Teshy

    I will speak from personal experience. My soon to be ex-husband was a non-believer when we met. He was just a church goer, never missed the Sunday service unless there was a serious reason. From the onset of the relationship he spoke marriage, as a daughter of a pastor, grew up knowing very well never to unequally yoke myself with an unbeliever. So clearly told him this and stated that no pressure because I did not want him to get saved just because he wanted to marry me!

    He got ‘saved’, 2 years down the line we got married. In the 2yrs before the marriage, he had to work outside the country meaning we were in a long distance relationship. After the marriage went away for a honeymoon for a week, got back then the real marriage started! Now we get to spend live together, share a room etc etc This is when the real light bulb moment kicked in.

    To cut a long story short. Just to mention a few praying together, reading the bible, playing worship music in the house was a loosing battle. On other side, he wanted to bring over drinking buddies etc etc and all of these things brought strife into our home and marriage, we were just constantly fighting instead of enjoying our marriage. To my dismay I discovered this whole ‘being saved’ thing was just a sham. I must be honest before we got married there were signs there and there not as clear though. At that time I told myself we are all work in progress, God is going to work those things out of him. Helllloooo was I really naive!

    A year and half of our marriage I fell pregnant, 2 weeks after we found out, he walked out and asked for a divorce. Since he walked out of the door never turned an eye back. Though there is a baby, he has no interest at all in the baby and was never there at all during pregnancy. The unfortunate part about the divorce it is not as simple as the wedding, it drags on and on forever. Exactly a year later since he walked out, still not yet divorce. Even in settling the divorce we can not come into any amicable agreement.

    To conclude my story, even though things were not so clear when we got married, we were both unequally yoked. It is more evident now than when we got married. I was more lonely when I was married than when I was single. This whole saga, left me heartbroken, left a broken family, a son with no father etc etc

    This is just a typical story of those who are unequally yoked. I now have a history that I will never be able to press delete, it is a scar that I constantly sleep and wake up to. This is proof that unequally yoked marriages do not have happy endings!!! We may try to justify and say this and that but it is for the reason above that why Christians should not marry unbelievers!

  • Kimberly Smith

    I’m sorry. I am one of the others. A believer who married and unbeliever. We were told to separate before marriage because we were unequally yolked. I was in love and still am. 30 years and 4 children later, we are still happily married… And my husband has come to know Christ. God has a plan for each of us. I am a part time
    pastor and I would not tell someone who is in love not to get married because the other doesn’t believe. I would tell him/her to pray daily for the salvation of their partner and hold tight to your faith.

    • miri

      Your case is an exception. Thank God for converting your partner . The general rule is “not to marry and unbeliever” becos light has nothing in common with darkness and the grace you have may not be the same with others. Others have gone in and their testimonies is worse. Therefore it suggested that one should marry a believer.

  • http://twitter.com/KevinCrim Kevin Crim

    Thank you as a Pastor and a dad for sharing the Truth of Gods Word. It doesn’t matter if “sometimes it works out” it is contrary to Gods Word to marry an unbeliever which translates to open disobedience!

  • Chev0611

    The other point to be made about light and darkness is, that the light casts out darkness!!!

    Did Jesus sit in his holy huddle and stay with them or did he go out and eat with the tax collectors have his presence seen amungst the prositutes? Now if that isn’t light going into the darkness to make a statement then I don’t know what is! Maybe if people in churches stopped pointing fingers at people and begin to examine themselves and searching for the true will of God them more people may come to him.

    Is god really going to not allow you into heaven for marrying a non believer even though you took every opportunity to share Jesus?

    • http://www.crazyrev.blogspot.com/ C.Brian Ross

      You appear to be missing the point that so many others have
      made. Of course Jesus went out and met with all sorts of people – but He didn’t
      get married to any of them!

      Regarding your final question, I don’t think that anyone has suggested that
      this is a salvation issue. However, again as others have made clear, it is an
      obedience issue. Time, and time again, the Lord makes clear that He desires
      obedience more than even burnt offerings, and if the parable of the two
      builders hasn’t to do with obedience to God’s Word, then I have misunderstood
      it for many decades!

  • Reagan Marsh

    Eph 5 says that marriage is to be a picture of the gospel, specifically of Jesus and the church. Unless you are prepared to posit that the church is unregenerate, Christian marriage necessitates two believers, growing together in grace, serving one another & layong down their lives for one another, for the glory of God, in imitation of Jesus.

    An unbeliever, no matter how nice, tolerant, or whatever, cannot sustain such a burden. S/he is at enmity with God, hostile to God & his word (Rom 8.5-8). All due respect to those who differ, if you are willing to set aside the clear teaching of the Scripture (such as our lady “pastor” below) — you are part of the problem.

    We must get the gospel right, and then we will see the hearts of men and women made right with a thrice-holy God.

  • http://batman-news.com Zelda Willis

    I do believe in “do not be unequally yoked”. Young, old, or middle aged people should not entertain even the idea of dating someone that does not know Christ. But, there are no guarantees, that if couples start out with a mate that is equally yoked with, that one can turn his or her back on God and walk away from a marriage. Or even stay in the marriage, and one mate backslide, and allow things that the other mate does not agree with, such a drinking, etc.

  • Ryan

    When I got married, I was a Baptist and my wife was Catholic. It was like I was committing a sin with a couple people at the time. But, 20 years later, so far so good. No problems but that is mostly because both me and my wife are introverts. I use to go to church all the time without fail. My wife always had a service job and only came with me once in a while and not even always when she had a Sunday off. Eventually she just fell off the wagon completely. The midnights really killed things with church. I had a former pastor get divorced. Being yoke won’t always mean grand success in marriage. Much has to do with personalities.

  • David

    I can hardly believe some of the comments about “a former pastor getting divorced” or “I’ve made it 30 years”, etc. The point is not did someone do something wrong, or someone getting it right. The point is obedience to the direct will of God versus disobedience to the revealed will of God and His counsel on how to really be alive in Him. My wife married me as an unbeliever and KNEW what she was doing was wrong. I came to Christ six months later-when I was ready for a divorce. But I am the exception not the rule. For every success story I have known 50 heartbreakers and as a pastor feel their pain. Not every one who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who DO the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Mt. 7:21. Don’t think you can walk in carefully crafted arguments and think God just winks and gives you a toothless grin.

  • denze

    when getting married and your mother-in=law wants to run the family what do we call and how can it be solved

  • @pastortomweaver

    Thank you Mrs. Keller. Love your statement at the beginning of the article when you said marriage is hard enough when two believers are in harmony spiritually…. :)