Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

LIFE > Life in the Family > Believers Marry Believers   


It is proper for God’s people to marry God’s people, and only God’s people. Marriage outside the faith is rejected and condemned in the Old and New Testaments. And the main rationale for the believer to refrain from being wed to an unbeliever is the corruption of the religious life that is introduced by the unbeliever.

Old Testament Practice

Instruction for the proper conduct is found in several books:

Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst (Ex. 34:12);

Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly (Deut. 7:3-4);

The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands . . . now therefore, do give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons (Ezra 9:11-12);

In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people. So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” (Neh. 13:23-27).

It is plain that the Hebrews were not to marry foreigners, and the problem was the pagan influence in the life of the family specifically and the larger life of the nation collectively. Of Solomon it was said: “When Solomon was old . . . his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David” (I Ki. 11:4). The foreign wives led to the turning of the heart, and the turning of the heart culminated in false worship:

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods (I Ki. 11:5-8).

When Solomon brought these wives into his household, he brought their pagan practices, and the word used repeatedly in the text to describe their false religion is “abomination”; three times the word is used. The sin of Solomon was great: he “did not fully follow the Lord.” And the initiation of false worship was the introduction of pagan wives into the family and the nation.

Unless there is a gift of grace from the Lord, it seems that evil always has a negative influence on good. Because of the presence of sin, there is gradual deterioration of the good, with evil becoming more pronounced, increasing in strength. The pernicious influence of evil slowly produces its results. It will not stop; it is constant and stubborn. This principle is demonstrated graphically in the life of Solomon, with his pagan wives leading his affection away from his God.

The experience of Solomon poignantly illustrates the rationale for God’s instruction to the nation to refrain from intermarriage with the surrounding pagan population. To do so would compromise the worship of the one true God, and set in motion a path that would lead to judgment and destruction because of the “abomination.”

In the Old Testament the groom had his bride chosen for him by his father. The modern idea of courting and falling in love was unknown; singles did not marry the person they chose and loved, they loved the person that was chosen for them (Gen. 24:67). One of the reasons the father chose the mate for the son was this fear of foreign beliefs and practices being introduced into the family and nation; the worship of the one and only God was vital and must be preserved. Maintaining continuity in the family, both socially and religiously, was of top priority. In fact, it was the command of God.

The people of God were to marry God’s people. Their choice of mates was extremely limited; they were not free to choose just anyone.

New Testament Instruction

The guiding principles are found in Paul’s first and second epistles to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? “For the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him (I Cor. 6:15-17);

A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (I Cor. 7:39);

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God (II Cor. 6:14-16).

The clarity of the Old Testament is duplicated in the New Testament: God’s people are to unite with God’s people. A believer is not to be joined to an unbeliever in any agreement. The teaching of the New Testament includes marriage, but the principle is more encompassing than just marriage. Believers and unbelievers are not to be united in any enterprise.

The admonition: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Cor. 6:14) is applicable to marriage, but there is also a broader application.  And surely the reasoning is the same as that of the Old Testament: for good to be joined to evil is to create the real potential for the adverse influence of the evil upon the good. What can justify a union that affords such a possibility?

Four words encapsulate the New Testament teaching regarding marriage for the believer: “only in the Lord” (I Cor. 7:39). In context, Paul states that a wife who looses a husband is free to marry, but “only in the Lord”; obviously, the guideline would also apply to a husband who lost a wife. But the principle would not just apply to the loss of a mate, it would be the controlling standard by which anyone, man or woman, chose someone to be a wife or husband. The point is that believers are to marry believers. The people of God are to become the mates of God’s people.

The question arises concerning two unbelievers who wed, and then one becomes a believer; or for a believer who initially marries an unbeliever. What is the believer to do? Two passages are instructive:

But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy . . . For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (I Cor. 7:12-16);

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (I Pet. 3:1).

A believer who is married to a non-Christian is to remain in the relationship, regardless of the circumstances that led to the relationship. Two reasons are offered: one is the goal of winning the spouse, and the other is the spiritual well-being of the children.

Return to: Life in the Family 

For overview of the website, see: Site Map
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.