The Unequal Yoke Forbidden
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what
partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light
with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a
believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of the living
God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will
make dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and
they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate
from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says
the Lord Almighty'." 2 Cor. 6:14-18, ESV
In Bible study, one of our earliest purposes should be to discover the
original meaning of a passage. To start with present day applications is often
premature and sometimes ignores context. First, find out what the passage
meant when written to the original recipients. Once the student is clear about
that, present applications can be considered.
The original meaning of the above passage is not hidden from us. It lies on
the surface. Attempts to mix righteousness and lawlessness are forbidden. We
cannot just assign any meaning we want to the unequal yoke. We must let the
text tell us what that means. It means, attempts to mix righteousness and
This is not about just having two things or two people together in general.
The statement is not a generic, catch-all prohibition the reader can throw
anything into. The forbidden behavior here is an attempt to put things
together that would involve right mixed with wrong, or compromise.
Paul makes an application of this to idolatry. Two inquires show Paul making
that application of the principle. "What accord has Christ with Belial?" and
"What agreement has the temple of God with idols?"
Thus, there is both principle and application in the passage. The principle
is, attempts to mix righteousness and lawlessness are forbidden. The
application is made to idolatry. Let me add, this is essentially the same as 1
Cor. 10:21, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You
cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."
Imagine a Christian in Corinth having a idolatrous (unbelieving) friend or
relative. This proscribes not the friendship or acquaintance itself, nor
believer with unbeliever joining together in things innocent. This forbids the
Christian from participation with the unbeliever in idolatry. The unbeliever
might issue an invitation, "Will you go with me today to the temple and help
me offer the animal to the gods? Will you worship with me? Can we eat the meat
together unto my gods?" The answer would need to be "no," to be consistent
with Paul's instruction. The key to understanding this is "fellowship" or
"participation" with the unbeliever in wrong. Not all association with
unbelievers is forbidden; only that association that would be sinful, an
attempt to participate with the unbeliever in their unbelief, in their sin.
The practice of Jesus may help us understand this. He was with sinners, even
sat at the table with them (Matt. 9:9-13). He was with unbelievers, but didn't
sin with them. He associated with them, but was never unequally yoked with
them. It is not all association with unbelievers that is forbidden in 2 Cor.
6. It is association (fellowship, partnership) that attempts to combine
righteousness and lawlessness; that seeks to put things together that do not
belong - "the temple of God with idols."
There is another example, showing that not all association or relationship
with unbelievers is automatically sinful. Paul cites a case in 1 Cor. 7.
"...if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live
with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an
unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him," (1
Cor. 7:12,13). Observe, Paul doesn't say to these "mixed marriages," Come Out!
Her says, stay in. We know Paul would not tell people to stay in a wrong
relationship, so we must conclude - the relationship itself is not wrong.
The unequal yoke in 2 Cor. 6 is not just believer associated with unbeliever.
It is believer associated with unbeliever in sin.
When we find ourselves in association with someone in sin, it should be our
urgent purpose to get out of that forbidden fellowship, that partnership with
an unbeliever in wrong conduct. Just as Paul said, "flee sexual immorality,"
in 1 Cor. 6:18, he teaches here to get out of any relationship where you are a
participant with another in sin.
The unequal yoke is not just anything we want it to be. It is only what Paul
says it is. Fellowship with an unbeliever in sin. (See also Eph. 5:11).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 14.1; January 2007