A brother in the West inquires whether Paul’s command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-16) prohibits believers from marrying or perhaps even dating non-Christians.
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Surely it is most desirable for believers to marry others who also are committed to Jesus Christ. Now and then one hears the testimony of someone who won a mate to Christ, and both Paul and Peter acknowledge that possibility (1 Cor. 7:12-16; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But those “success” stories are greatly outnumbered, it seems to me, by tales from beleagured Christians who wake every married day to face the conflicting worldview and values naturally presented by an unbelieving spouse. And, if one has determined to marry a fellow-Christian, it only makes sense for him or her to court believers and not unbelievers.
However, I do not think Paul had in mind either dating or marriage when he wrote what we identify as 2 Corinthians 6. He was then embroiled in controversy with certain false teachers who looked down on Paul as unsuccessful and his gospel of a crucified Savior as undignified. These teachers wanted a gospel of health, wealth and prosperity, a Jesus who was always “victorious,” and a lifestyle that looked “successful.” Their menacing presence lurks in the background throughout Second Corinthians, and Paul confronts their boasts and their accusations quite directly in the last quarter of the Epistle. (Note how Paul’s attitude contrasts with theirs, for example, in 1:8-14; 2:14-17; 3:1-6; 4:2, 5-11; 5:12-13; 6:3-10, and especially in chapters 10-13.)
The “yoke” was a figure of speech in first century Judaism for the relationship between a teacher and a disciple who commits to receive his teaching and to support the teacher (Matt. 11:29-30; Acts 15:1, 10; Gal. 5:1; Phil. 4:3). That same sense fits the context of Second Corinthians 6:14. Paul’s opponents at Corinth talked about “Jesus” and a “gospel” and a “hope,” but those good words were a cover and subterfuge for a message entirely different from the one Paul preached and by which he lived. He loves these Corinthians and pours himself out for them. Now he pours out his heart as well, urging that they not link up with these fraudulent teachers and their counterfeit message.
If we listen closely to the voices around us, we can hear that human-centered and earthbound “gospel” even today. Paul’s warning in Second Corinthians 6 still resonates in our ears. And if we start with that understanding of this passage, I don’t think Paul would mind our borrowing his language here when we talk about dating and marriage — so long, that is, as we realize and acknowledge that is what we are doing and do not try to put words in the Apostle’s mouth.