What does it mean to be “unequally yoked together?”

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This command from 2 Corinthians 6:14 is the basis of much teaching about what kind of relationships Christians can enter into with unbelievers. This passage is applied to business partnerships, close friendships and marriage. Is this verse intended to limit relationships between Christians and non-Christians?

2 Corinthians 6:14 comes in the middle of a call to the Corinthian church to live in holiness. The passage asks about what opposites have in common. What does Jesus have in common with Satan? What does light have in common with darkness? Because the righteousness of God has nothing in common with the wickedness of idolatry the Corinthians must come out of the practices of paganism. They must separate themselves from idol worship. They must not even touch the things polluted by idol worship. Instead, the Christian must be a new creature in Christ who puts away the sins of the flesh and grows in holiness.

To illustrate this point Paul brings up being yoked together. A yoke is farming equipment, a collar that connected two animals to one another so they could pull a plow or wagon together. Animals of different sizes that are yoked together cannot work. They are unequally yoked and will end up going in circles or getting in each other’s way. Just like two a full grown ox and a yearling calf cannot work together, so Christians and non-Christians cannot work together.

Does this mean then that Christians should not marry non-Christians. This passage is not a direct prohibition against inter-faith marriages or business partnerships, but such a prohibition would be a wise application of the principles in 2 Corinthians 6. How can two enter into a lifelong commitment with one another if they disagree on the most fundamental, and eternal, issues?

The application of this command extends far beyond committed relationships. The point is to correct the Christian’s life and worship. According to 2 Corinthians 6 the child of God has no business participating in the worship of the unsaved and must have no part in the wickedness of this world. A Christian must not participate in the five Muslim prayers. He has no business giving offerings at a Hindu temple or making a sacrifice at a household shrine to one’s ancestors.

The not so obvious application of this passage relates to the gods of America. Americans worship many things that they do not call gods. Americans worship without obvious temples, hymns or liturgies. Americans may not light candles or set out offerings to their gods, but this does not make their worship any less worshipful. The idols of America are “idols in their heart” (Ezekiel 14:4). They are idols of wealth, ease, entertainment, importance and power. A Christian has no more business being a part of the worship of these gods than he does participating in a feast to Odin.

Being unequally yoked together is primarily a joining together with the unsaved in sinful worship or habits. Whether it be in a temple or a backyard, in a church or a stadium, the Christian must separate from all sinful behavior and all idol worship. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” insists upon holiness in life that does not love the things of this world (1 John 2:15) and has no part in the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).