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Hidden in the Open for Over 350 years: An Astonishing Theory On "Unequal Yoking"

John Milton found in the Old Testament, God banned undefiled Hebrews from marrying disbelieving, polluted Gentiles. Although few heard this theory, over 350 years later, scholars concur. C. Frevel and B. Conczorowski concluded Israelites avoided mixed marriage partly because of “cultic categories like holiness, purity, and so on.” The possibility that a pagan could lead a Jew astray was part of the ban on intermarriage. But, another reason dealt with cultic purity.

This pollution should have stopped interfaith unions because God dwelled among Israel. And, He demanded pureness. Deuteronomy 23:14 warned He would turn away if He discovered any desecrated thing in their presence.

Mr. Meredith Kline in Kingdom Prologue stated Jews in the Old Testament lived under a theocracy, a special Kingdom God claimed for His own and where He set His presence; He consecrated land and people to Himself. Therefore, other nations were nonholy and profane. The clean/unclean animal system symbolized the “distinction between the Israelites, whose sanctification was externalized in their outward separation to God in his sanctuary-kingdom, and the nations outside that holy theocratic realm.”

John Milton

John Milton


In Old Testament times, sacredness and profaneness couldn’t mix. Solomon forbade his Egyptian consort from King David’s palace because the places the ark had been were sacred. (2 Chronicles 8:11). Unions with idolaters in Malachi 2:11 profaned Yahweh's holiness.

The Jew Zimri brought the alien woman Cozbi to the tabernacle in Numbers 25. A Hebrew source, the Midrash, stated the couple planned to commit whoredom or a pagan ceremony. However, they possibly were marrying. Phineas killed them for violating the site's sacrosanctity. God rewarded him with the priesthood.

Claudia Camp remarked this incident “is easily associated with Ezra Nehemiah’s rejection of marriage to ‘foreign’ women who pollute land and temple.” Both Ezra and Nehemiah feature intermarriage and contain theological language.

Badal signifies to separate. It was the term used to command the Israelites separate the clean and unclean animals. This system represented that God set apart [badal] the Israelites.

Harrington noted, In Ezra, when people intermarried, they didn't keep themselves separate [badal] from the people. “Ezra-Nehemiah capitalizes on [this concept] to connote physical separation from impurity and applies it entirely to… people or their impurity.” Ezra uses niddah, meaning mensuration, to describe the filthiness of the foreigner’s unrighteousness. Ga’al described priestly intermarriage as defiled in Nehemiah.

Priests, in particular, had strict marriage protocols, because having a less hallowed spouse tainted the children. In Leviticus 21:14-15, God commanded that high priests choose a virgin from their own clan. God said He was the Lord who sanctified them, and Hayes remarks that the priest marrying outside their clan desacralized their seed. Ezra continues this concern when the holy seed mingled with foreigners in marriages. In Malachi, Jews divorced their wives. They then espoused pagans, preventing godly seed/offspring.

Solomon's Unclean Wives

Solomon's Unclean Wives

New Testament

Paul likely recalled this while discussing the partners’ and children’s status. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that an unbeliever had been sanctified ἐν (transliterated as EN) the believer. Hence, their children were not unclean, but holy. Some have said this EN should be rendered BY. Therefore, the believing spouse sanitized the unbelieving one and their children.

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However, this only applied when two unbelievers married and later one got saved. It didn't apply to marriages that started off as mixed unions. In Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities, unregenerated folks have filthy bodies. Meanwhile, believers are a member of Christ. If a believer knowingly married an unbeliever, they join “the holy body of Christ with the impure body of an unbeliever and so defiles the believer and Christ himself.”

Perhaps not. Maybe in 1 Cor. 7:14, Paul didn’t teach Christian purged their pagan partners. Edmund Turney pointed out that Paul doesn’t designate the spouse the believing husband or wife; It simply is the husband or the wife. If Paul wanted to emphasize the faith sanctifying, he would have probably added that description of believing. John Tombes asserted, “Surely in reason, if that the emphasis, energy, medium, or force, had been in the term [believer]… it would have been expressed, though [wife] had been left out.”

Instead of the believing spouse purifying the unbeliever, it could have been God Himself. Paul put the verb for sanctification in the passive tense. Marion Soards purported this sentence structure showed God’s activity. Mato Zovkic says in Biblical Greek this perfect passive meant “this consecration is produced by God.” According to Victor Furnish, the perfect passive means the unbelieving spouse’s holiness is “already established by God.”

Painting by El Greco

Painting by El Greco

Sanctified by or Sanctified TO?

The Greek ἐν, hence transliterated EN, connects the terms sanctified and wife. Some interpret EN as “BY.” Thus, the believer sanctified the infidel. However, Jerome Murphy O’Connor argued EN needn’t imply causality.

EN could also mean “TO”, making it sanctified TO instead of sanctified BY. Alexander Hay, David Macallan, J. Tombes (born 1603), J. Gill (born 1697), Hopkins (born 1721), J. Lathrop (born 1731), R. Howell (born 1801), H. Grattan (born 1835), and J. Tigert (born 1882) held this interpretation. Dale Fischer and Collins, both modern authors, agree EN could translate “in relation/relationship to.”

The English version may give the wrong impression. Abraham Booth (born 1734) asserts, “Dr. Doddridge and others render the particle EN [TO] and more properly in this passage than I translate it in our common version.” John Aikman, writing under the signature Philalethes, commented "The Reader might be startled, who observes the word in this verse rendered to, which in the common version is rendered by.” Freeborn Hibbard (born 1811) said this translation is “as susceptible of this turn of the sense, as of the one given in our English version.”

This translation may seem far-fetched. However, an early English Bible translation, the Geneva, rendered the verse this way. “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified to the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified to the husband, else were your children unclean: but now are they holy.” A few other places translate EN as to. Bengel’s Gnomon points out 1 Corinthians 14:11b is an example of EN meaning in respect to. The verse said, “I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to (EN) me.” Luke 2:14 uses EN to wish people peace, and Acts 4:12 says no other name is given to (EN) mankind by which we may be saved. In 2 Corinthians 4:3, the gospel is concealed to (EN) those who are perishing.

R. Longenecker explained, “Paul, together with many other NT writers, uses EN in a great variety of ways-even, at times, to signify the indirect object of a sentence’s verb and so to identify the recipient of a stated action. Likewise, the LXX frequently uses EN in this functional and directional manner, as in…Zech. 1:9 ‘The angel who talked with me said to me.’”


Translating it "TO" or "BY" makes all the difference. Instead of a believing spouse sanctifying an unbelieving one only in pre-existing mixed marriages, God cleansed the unbeliever. Samuel Franklin paraphrased 1 Cor. 7:14: “‘For the unbelieving husband has been MADE [ceremonially] HOLY [when God broke down the middle wall of partition destroying distinctions] AS TO the partner, [and he is ceremonially holy yet,]

Exactly how this cleansing may have occurred is even more beautiful, and is the subject of my article No Man Common or Unclean.

© 2020 BridgettBernadett

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