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Unequally Yoked After Marriage (Part 1)

Many limit Paul’s allowance of mixed marriages to two unbelievers uniting, and then one converting. Those connections didn’t defile believers; Paul’s legislation provided a gracious dispensation for the otherwise unthinkable. His treatment of believers espousing unbelievers differs 180 degrees. Kathy Gaca warned, “If Christians willfully pair off with unregenerate polytheists, they commit…. fornication by reverting to polytheistic religious mores, and they and their children are damned.”


Remain as You Are

Gaylon West agreed Paul’s permission only applied to marriages before conversion because “in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, a person is already married to an unbeliever when he/she obeys the gospel. ‘Let every man abide in the same calling… wherein he was called.’” However, Paul’s allowance only applied to those unions made before conversion; the unequally yoked passage forbids new mixed marriages. A saint enjoys a concession to cohabit with a heretic. Not a lawful marriage. In René Gehring’s language, the Apostle “declared mixed marriages to be no real marriages in its highest sense (i.e., Gen 2:24).… [but] ‘God has called us to peace’ (v. 15) and ‘has assigned to each… as God has called each’ (v. 17).” Therefore, Paul restrained divorce.

The Rest and Divorce

Further suggesting these weren’t valid unions, Gehring noticed in 7:10-11, Paul discussed the married. Then he addressed the rest, those in mixed marriages. That implied to her he didn’t equate these relationships with Christian matrimony. Kathy Gaca purported Paul’s more honorific title, “the married,” is for disciples, not mixed couples.

Intermixed marriages didn’t obligate the faithful. C. Hayes believed Paul letting intermingled partnerships dissolve implied he viewed them as sexual immorality. For only this misdeed provided grounds for divorce. Paul reassured partners they were not bound when an infidel departed. He used the Greek perfect tense, a current state arising from a prior act. According to Gehring, Paul “is not just referring to the time at which the separation happens… he rather points to the time before, when the mixed marriage was consummated and the entire period it existed. The time in the past, as well as the time in the present, the believer is not ‘bound’ as he would be with another Christian.”


The Surrounding Verses

Paul may have not been talking specifically to people in mixed marriages. Instead, he advocated for singleness without condoning divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, he prefers people remain single like him. The already married (7:10-16) shouldn't divorce, but people should remain as they were. (7:17-24). The unmarried should remain single (7:25-27).Paul says in 7:26-27 that those attached to women shouldn’t separate, but those unattached shouldn’t search for brides. This attachment could mean either engagement or marriage. According to Ciampa, Paul uses broad enough language to apply to both married and betrothed men; he counseled both the same.

Paul Advocates Singleness

Remaining as you are can refer to remaining single. Paul gives a general recommendation for people to stay as they were using a Greek form of the verb meno in 7:17 and 7:24; he also recommends specific people remain as they are using the verb. These people include the unmarried (7:8), divorced women (7:11), and women whose man died (7:40). In all instances, the verb was used to mean remain single. Mark Taylor noted, “Thus, this concluding paragraph [7:39-40] draws the discussion of [chapter] 7 to a close by reiterating the permanence of the marriage bond and by stating the guiding principle of the chapter one final time, ‘to remain as you are.’”

Far from remaining as you are only applying to mixed marriages, Paul actually advocates singleness. According to Ciampa, Paul advocated celibacy and “indicated that he does not want anyone to seek to change their status but, rather, wants each to remain in the situation in which they already found themselves (vv 17, 20, 24, 26).

Remain as you are didn't necessarily mean stay married if you already married. Paul regularly tells people to remain as they are in 1 Corinthians 7, and applies to remaining single. He never applies it to remaining with a spouse.

Paul said in 7:26 that because of the present distress, everyone should remain the way they are. J. AYODEJI ADEWUYA stated it “seems better to understand the present necessity that Paul refers to as the proclamation of the gospel. This interpretation better coheres with verse 26 and verses 32–35.” Bachelorhood helped one focus on the Lord.

Answers to the Rest and Divorce

Maybe Paul didn’t differentiate between groups in 7:10-12. Perhaps he wasn’t addressing people, but answering the rest of the questions. According to David Dungan, he wasn’t talking to the rest, but giving directions about them (idolatrous companions). Cornelius a Lapide believed Paul referred to those not joined in matrimony as the rest. Peter Tomson claimed it referenced informal marriages. Both believing and mixed unions were under Paul’s divorce prohibition. If an unbeliever left a formal marriage, Paul didn’t consider it ended.

The saved spouse didn’t separate; the unbeliever broke the marital tie. As long as the unbeliever stayed, the arrangement compelled the believer. Bound in the perfect tense could show the unbeliever deserted the believer in the past, freeing the believer in the present, according to Kostenberger and Jones. Or, it could mean the believer had never been enslaved. The Greek word for bound translates as enslaved. Mark Taylor mentioned Paul contrasted slavery and marriage in 7: 22-23. He said Paul may mean the believer can serve the Lord liberated and without distraction.


People often discard 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 in regards to whether a believer can marry an unbeliever. Instead, they give the unequally yoked passage, which doesn’t mention marriage, precedence. However, remain as you are doesn’t mean if you already married an unbeliever, don’t divorce. Rather, it might have been encouraging singleness to focus on the Lord. It spoke to all who already married, both Christian and mixed marriages. Paul didn’t explicitly condone exogamy only when marriage occurred first. Several additional factors must be taken into account, which I discuss in the next article in this mini-series.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 BridgettBernadett

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