“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14
Biblical scholars have debated the meaning of this verse in light of its context and modern day application for over a century. Two of the most popular interpretations have been in relation to marriage and business practices.
Scholars doubt that these interpretations are what the Apostle had in mind when this was being written. Theologian, ordained Baptist minister, and former professor of New Testament at Heritage Seminary, Ontario, William J. Webb asserted in his article
“What Is the Unequal Yoke (©τεροζυγοØντεH) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?” that the context of this passage is most likely linked to pagan worship, sacrifice, and communion, however he notes that this interpretation is not directly corroborated with the immediate literary context.
Rev. J. Dana Trent, MDiv asserts that Paul was speaking from fear of the persecution taking place against the church at that time. The Church was in its early stages and needed to expand around the world. Being joined with nonbelievers was risky because they could betray the community of the believer in their midst and cause insurmountable suffering. This verse was an attempt to protect the church from unnecessary harm.
Rev. J states that the word for “yoke” means “work” and working with an unbeliever would be seen as hindering the spread of the Gospel.
What modern Christians can discern from this is that context is important when reading anything and consideration of the culture, politics, and events of the time aid significantly in our understanding of the ancient world, writers, and their world-views.
This context was written for a specific time to an endangered church community and should be treated as such. This may be a subconscious reason as to why this interpretation still holds into the modern day. Fear of irrelevance and dwindling numbers.
The modern church doesn’t have this problem universally, though it may be wise to be more cautious in nations where religious freedom and diversity is stiffened.
The Theology of Work Project states that this verse can relate to a number of things. They discuss it in terms of employment at length. A primary example is if an employer or business culture violates your beliefs. Some may have their faith shaken or altered. Others may be strong enough to be an example to those around them.
Theology of Work warns, however against an “us versus them” mentality and urges believers to not condemn or judge them, but to look inward and work towards fulfilling the teachings and examples of Christ in our lives.
The Christian Courier references scholars who have looked at verses on marriage and looked at their original Greek writing. They concluded that in 1st Corinthians 7:39 Paul instructs the Christian widow to “Marry in the Lord”. Scholars cited have concluded this verse translates to “marry a Christian”.
I believe that love and respect should be shown to all people regardless of their belief or lack thereof. In terms of employment people should continue to have faith and find avenues to express it. With regards to marriage, I believe that research, contemplation, and prayer are good practices for the individual(s) seeking guidance.
William Webb, “What Is the Unequal Yoke (©τεροζυγοØντεH) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?” Bibliotheca Sacra 149/594 (April-June 1992): 163.