Light for our path: Is marrying an unbeliever wrong?

Is marrying an unbeliever wrong? Or is it just foolish?

James F. Pope

Multiple choice questions regularly have more than two possibilities, so I am going to propose a third option and provide rationale for it.


There are some who say that, yes, it is wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. They often cite 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” to support their position.

The context of that passage, however, is not one of marriage. In fact, when the Bible does address Christians married to non-Christians, there is no condemnation of such marriages. The apostle Peter encouraged Christian women who were married to unbelieving men to witness to their husbands by their way of life. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1,2).


Foolish” is defined as “having or showing a lack of good sense or judgment.” That word could be used to describe a particular marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever. It could also, depending on the circumstances, be used to describe a marriage between a Christian man and a Christian woman. Describing all marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian as “foolish” goes too far.


Challenging” is a word I would use to characterize a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. Potential problems will arise, including dedicating time to worshiping the Lord in church, determining how much of one’s income to give back to the Lord, and deciding how to raise children—just to list a few. A Christian who thinks of marrying a non-Christian will need to realize that in that marriage he or she will be spiritually single. Is he or she equipped spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically to be spiritually single? Is the Christian entering that marriage with a noble goal of evangelizing the non-Christian spouse, with the hope and prayer that God will change another heart and life? Does the Christian fully realize what pressures can arise to compromise or abandon the Christian faith in order to accommodate the wishes of the non-Christian spouse?

To me, one of the greatest challenges for a Christian married to a non-Christian is knowing that unless God intervenes and changes the heart of the non-Christian, husband and wife will be spending eternity in different places. That knowledge has to inject great sadness into the Christian’s heart.

On the other hand, what blessings there can be when a man and a woman are “one” in marriage in the most important way: when they are fellow members of the family of God. Such a marriage is not exempt from problems, but that marriage has a wonderful foundation because it is built on the love of God in Christ.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). How doubly true that is when the wife is a child of God through faith in Jesus. And how wonderful it is when a Christian woman can find a Christian man for a spouse. In those instances it is possible to echo Joshua’s pledge: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

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