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).

What is the Apocrypha

Older copies of the Bible include a section that may be unfamiliar to many Bible readers. This section includes books with names like Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esdras, and Susanna. These just a few of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha, a collection of books written after the book of Malachi and before the birth of Jesus.

Some of these books, like Maccabees, are historical. They help fill in the gaps of what happened to Israel between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Some of these books present further stories about Biblical characters, such as Daniel and Esther. Some of them may be aids in worship, like the Prayer of Azariah. Most Protestants do not believe the Apocrypha ought to be considered part of the Bible, while Catholic doctrine teaches that it should.

The Apocrypha was included as part of the Septuagint, a very early Greek translation of the Old Testament. This has lead many to conclude the translators of the Septuagint considered the Apocrypha to be Scripture. The Council of Carthage, a church council held in 397 A.D., declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible. This led to the Catholic church viewing the Apocrypha as Scripture. During the Council of Trent in 1547 they officially declared the Apocrypha to be Scripture.

The New Testament may contain some allusions to Apocryphal books, but this is not certain. Even if the Apostles did reference the Apocrypha this does does not mean they considered the Apocryphal books to be Scripture. The Apostles quoted other books they did not consider to be Scripture. For example, Jude quotes the book of Enoch and seems to treat is as an accurate history. Though he quotes Enoch, Jude does not refer to it as Scripture. In the book of Titus Paul quoted a Greek poet and said the poet’s words were true. His use of the poet is hardly an affirmation that those words are Scripture. The New Testament never directly quotes the Apocrypha and it most certainly does not claim that any portion of the Apocrypha is Scripture.

The Apocrypha cannot be Scripture because it teaches several significant errors. Portions of 2 Maccabees seem to present the ideas of praying for the dead to be forgiven of their sins. This passage is a part of the Roman Catholic basis for their doctrine of purgatory. Another example of false doctrine in the Apocrypha is found in the book of Tobit. “Alms do deliver from death and keeps you from going into the darkness.” (Tobit 4:10) Tobit also says, “Alms … shall purge away every sin.” (Tobit 12:9) This Apocryphal book clearly teaches that salvation can be earned by giving to the poor. The Bible plainly teaches that salvation can never be accomplished by any works we do. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6) These apocryphal books cannot be considered the Word of God because they contradict the plain teaching of Scripture.

The Apocrypha is not Scripture, but it does have historical value. The histories presented help us better understand the silent years between the Old and New Testaments. However, this information must be treated like any other ancient historical work. The Apocrypha is helpful and interesting but its teachings must be verified before accepting them as true. Most importantly, no doctrine should ever be developed based upon the Apocryphal writings for they are not the words of holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)

Is Galatians about Cultural Elitism?

Some modern Bible teachers have been teaching that certain passages of the New Testament are rebukes of racism or classism. The text in question is not the instruction of James 2, which is a direct rebuke of showing favoritism to the rich. Nor are they referring to the statements in Paul’s letters like Colossians 3:11, “Where there is neither Jew, nor Gree, circumcision, uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” These words are a clear statement that racial, national and social differences are eliminated in Christ. All believers are united together a one in Jesus. These truths are clear and are powerful opponents of racism and favoritism in the church.

However, some teachers have turned to other texts to decry elitism. Some have pointed to Galatians and Paul’s rebuke of Peter as a rebuke of promoting Jewish culture to the exclusion of Gentile culture. Paul is confronting Peter’s gospel error, not Peter’s cultural errors. Paul told Peter he was not acting according to the gospel. The climax of Paul’s argument comes when he says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” Peter’s actions compromised the clarity of salvation by faith alone. Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles was not just a cultural thing, it was a gospel issue. Peter was forgetting that they Gentiles were saved by faith in Christ, just like the Jews. He was forgetting the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit, just like the Jews. Paul rebuked Peter because his actions in refusing to eat with the Gentiles indicated that the Gentiles were not full members of Christianity, that Christ was not sufficient to save them, that they had to keep the law and become Jews to really be Christians. Paul’s rebuke of Peter is a gospel rebuke. It has cultural issues as the background, but Paul is not fighting for cultural differences to be set aside. Paul is fighting for the clarity of the gospel.

In a March 2021 Christianity Today article, Michael Rhodes taught that Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church was a rebuke of elitism and classism. He said, “The way they came to the Lord’s Supper reinforced socioeconomic divisions among them.” In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul confronted misuse of the meal associated with the Lord’s Supper. Apparently, the church in Corinth shared a meal together before taking the Lord’s supper. The Bible doesn’t tell us why they had the meal, only that some were going hungry because others were eating before them. Some had too much and others did not have enough. Rhodes said that the rich were being promoted and were establishing their elite status by going first in line, but Paul says nothing about social class in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their selfishness, not their elitism. He tells the believers to eat at home if they are hungry and to let others eat before them. He speaks of of their selfishness and callousness to the needy, not their promotion of the wealthy. Paul’s words have a direct application to how the church handles social and financial status, but Paul’s focus is teaching about class warfare. He is confronting the selfish, greedy, gluttony that will fill its belly at the expense of others.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christians must reject all forms of status oriented, external driven favoritism. Classism, elitism, racism and nationalism have no place in the church. Since the Bible condemns favoritism, what is the harm in teaching a Biblical truth from a wrong passage? The danger is in thinking we can use any passage of the Bible to prove a point. Every passage of the Bible has a meaning that was intended by the original authors. Any meaning drawn out of that passage today must be in accord with the original meaning. To misuse the Bible for a good purpose is still a misuse of Scripture. We have no need to misapply Galatians or Corinthians to make a good point today. God’s Word speaks clearly against racism, let’s pay attention to those passages.

Why do preachers talk about “the Greek” so much?

You are sitting in the pew on Sunday morning listening to the pastor talk about a Bible verse and all of a sudden he says, “The Greek word is ‘didaskolos.’” Why do preachers do that? Why do preachers like to bring up Greek and Hebrew?

The prophets and apostles did not write the Bible in English. Most of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, the language of the Jews before they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Most of the New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles. A few portions of the Bible were written in Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew that was probably the native language of Jesus and his disciples.

When studying the Bible it is helpful to remember all of our English Bibles are translations of another language. Unfortunately, whenever a text is translated from one language into another something is lost in the transmission of information. A word that is very precise in one language may not be able to be translated by an equally precise word in another. Emphasis communicated by grammar or word order in one language may not be easily communicated in another.

Many of those who study the Bible recognize the value of the additional information that can be learned by looking at the Greek or Hebrew words behind the English the translation. One example of this value is the different meanings of the Greek words translated “love” in English. One word emphasizes a deep commitment to another and the other word points towards a deep fondness for another. Neither of these concepts are easily translated into English, and are not clearly communicated by the word “love.”

A preacher will refer to the Greek or Hebrew when he wants to point out the significance of a meaning that is not immediately obvious in the English translation. This is not to imply the average reader cannot understand the Word of God. Instead, it shows that Scripture is understandable to modern readers. We can know what the original authors wrote and meant.

On a related note, modern technological tools make it easy for the Bible student to see the original text and the meanings of those ancient words. The most accessible of these tools is based on the concordance of James Strong. Smartphone apps like Olive Tree and YouVersion offer Bible translations with built in links to Strong’s Concordance. By tapping a word you can see the Greek or Hebrew word, the various ways it is translated into English and, most importantly, a basic definition of the Greek or Hebrew word.

Is the Bible authoritative?

The Bible claims to be the Word of God. The Bible does not claim to be an inspirational message about how to be more spiritual. The Bible claims to be instructions directly from God that have been written down by men. The Bible is what God has said to men. The Bible includes God’s requirements of people.

The Bible speaks with authority. The authority of the Bible does not come from the wisdom of its teachings, though it is wise. The authority of the Bible is not based upon its instructions being superior to all others, though its principles are best. The authority of the Bible is not a result of the superior skill of its human authors or because of the many millions who have followed its instructions. The authority of the Bible is based entirely on the authority of God.

As the Word of God, the Bible has the same authority over the individual that God does. Wayne Grudem said, “To disbelieve or disobey any word of God is to disbelieve or disobey God.” This is why James 1 says, “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) The Bible certainly expects its words to be obeyed. For example, the commands in the books of Moses come with warnings of severe consequences if they are not obeyed. And the letter to the church in Thessalonika instructs the church to punish those who did not obey its commands. (2 Thessalonians 3:14).

The Bible’s authority covers every area of life. Though the Bible does not give specific instructions about every possible situation (Scripture does not teach a dentist how to repair a broken tooth), it does give instructions that apply to every possible situation. The Bible teaches a dentist what his behavior and attitude should be while repairing a tooth. The Bible gives many specific instructions that speak directly to daily life. The Bible teaches an employee to work with diligence for the pleasure of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:22-23) Scripture teaches children to obey their parents and parents to train their children with care and compassion. (Ephesians 6:1-34) The instructions in the Word of God cover every area of life, and are to be obeyed.

God in His grace has given us commands that are good for us. The commands of the Bible are always wisest and best. Through obedience to the Bible, the individual is made wise, joyful and understanding. The Bible’s commands are not always easy to obey but they are always right and good. The one who obeys God’s Word will be blessed of God. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

Is the Bible based on oral traditions?

The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over a span of nearly 2,000 years. The first five books are five of the six oldest books in the Bible and were written by Moses nearly 1,500 years before the birth of Jesus. In Genesis Moses wrote about creation an event that took place 3,500 years before he wrote about it. How did Moses know what happened? One possible answer to these questions is that Moses relied on oral traditions passed down from Adam through Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob until they eventually reached Moses. Oral tradition has also been suggested as the source material of other portions of the Old Testament and of the New Testament gospels. Is this what happened? Is the Bible based on stories that were passed down from one generation to another before finally being written down?

Some believe the Bible relies on oral traditions because they want to discredit the accuracy of Scripture. They argue that if Moses relied on stories passed down from generation to generation then no one can be certain those stories were not exaggerated or changed over the years. The game of telephone illustrates this problem. Get a group of people together and whisper a simple sentence into the ear of the first person who then whispers it to another person. By the time the last person hears the message it has changed completely. “I like fuzzy, red dogs” becomes “I drink large beverages.”

In the case of the four gospels the supposed use of oral tradition is offered as an explanation of how the legend of Jesus grew from a story about a famous teacher to become the story of a great miracle worker and the Son of God. In this case, the correction to that assertion is clear. The authors of the gospels did not rely on oral traditions passed down from previous generations. Matthew and John declared they were writing what they knew from their own experience with Jesus. Luke specifically states he “had a perfect understanding of all things from the first.” (Luke 1:3) Luke compiled eyewitness testimony to put together his gospel and Mark hints that he was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection. The gospels were not based on generations of oral traditions, but were eyewitness accounts of those who were there.

The Gospels are not the only eyewitness records in the Bible. Most of the historical books of the Bible are first hand records written by people who lived through the events they describe. This still leaves the problem of events like creation that the authors could not have witnessed. In cases like those, the author may have relied on some sort of tradition handed down through the generations. However, some things must be revealed by God. Adam was able to tell what happened after he was created, but only God can tell what happened on the days before He created man.

We know some portions of the Bible rely on source materials. Luke points to his use of eyewitnesses as the source material for his gospel. Places in the Kings and Chronicles indicate reliance on non-Biblical sources for their information. The use of outside sources, including oral tradition, is not a problem. Nor does it require the material to be full of error, myth or legend.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God. God was moving through human authors to write His Word. He guided any use of source material so the apostles and prophets only wrote what is completely accurate. The use of oral tradition in the Bible, does not occur frequently and it does not mean the Bible is in error. “Thy Word is true.” (Psalm 119:160)