Is it a Sin for a Christian to Marry an Unbeliever?

This is a hotly debated and widely misunderstood subject amongst Christians. It seems the prevailing or majority view is that it is sinful. However, I hope to convince  the reader through bible exegesis that it is not sinful, provided the Christian is not hindered from following their belief and that they do not adopt the religious practices of the the unbelieving spouse.

In order to understand how and why I have come to this conclusion I think it is necessary to consider both sides of the debate. For this purpose I have included my response below to an article by the Biblenerd on the Steemit website, which they have entitled “Marrying an Unbeliever, ruins God’s Perfect Plan for You”. I have not included the Biblenerd’s actual post as it is on website for which the post attracts a financial reward per view and I do not wish to get involved in any potential copyright issues. Nevertheless, the reader may find it via a google search if they would like to see the article in its entirety. I encourage the reader to go through my response carefully and prayerfully in Jesus’ Name.

MY RESPONSE:

This article is in response to the Biblenerd article : ‘Marrying an Unbeliever, ruins God’s Perfect Plan for You’, posted on Steemit.

To the Biblenerd,

Please go through my response very carefully. I apologise for the length, but you have made many claims which must be addressed.Your article is strongly biased. All your scripture citations are misleading, taken grossly out of context and I refute all your claims.

The OT verses you have cited in reaching your conclusion that it is sinful for Christians to marry unbelievers are in fact commands issued by God to the Jews just prior to and during their time in the Promised Land. They are referring specifically to the seven nations of the country which God expressly forbade the Jews from marrying and who He had commanded to be destroyed (Deut. 7:1-5).

Let’s go through your claims:

You cherry pick the verses Malachi 2:11-12

If we put them back into context, we see the real reason why God is angry. Let’s look at the preceding verse and those that follow:

2:10  ‘Is there not one Father of us all? Did not one God create us? Why, then, do we break faith with one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?

2:13  ‘And here is something else you do: you cover the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping and wailing, because he now refuses to consider the offering or to accept it from you.

2:14: And you ask, “Why?” Because Yahweh stands as witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have broken faith, even though she was your partner and your wife by covenant.
2:15……do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
2:16  For I hate divorce, says Yahweh, God of Israel, and people concealing their cruelty under a cloak, says Yahweh Sabaoth. Have respect for your own life then, and do not break faith.

 

So we see that God was not angry with Judah for marrying an unbeliever, the foreign woman, the ‘daughter of a strange god’, but because Judah had dealt treacherously with the wife of his youth, by committing an act of adultery against her by divorcing her and then marrying the foreign woman. The mention ‘…daughter of a strange god’ could imply that he was also led astray into idolatry, or it could just be stating a fact. The treachery was the act of adultery, and this treachery would apply whether the woman was the ‘daughter of a strange god’ or Jewish.

It is clear that what God hates is divorce (Malachi 2:16). She was probably a captive woman who Judah had taken in marriage, thus breaking his covenant with God by abandoning and cheating on his wife. Jews were permitted to marry foreign women who were taken captive (Deut 21:10-14) but only those who were not of the nations which God had prohibited the Jews from marrying (See below Deut 7, 12, Ezra 9:1, Nehemiah 13:1) and who God had ordered the Jews to destroy.

Since Malachi makes it clear that it was a sin for a Jew to abandon his wife and marry another, one might assume only single, unmarried men were permitted to marry captive women ( although since polygamy was also practised at the time I suppose it is possible that a married man may also be able to take a wife from the captives) . Malachi does not say if this woman was from one of the prohibited nations or not.

 

Putting your quotes from Ezra into context, we see that Israel was engaged in idolatry.

Ezra 9:1 KJV
9 Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.

It says ‘….Doing according to their abominations’ -Clearly, the sin is of engaging in their idolatrous practices, and in general circumstances, would not be against the institution of marriage itself. However, these were the nations God had specifically ordered the Jews to separate from, not to marry, but to destroy, as it was also to be a judgement from God (Deut 7).Instead, they were marrying and adopting their religious practices.

Deut 7:1-5

7 When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
5 But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.

Deut 12:29-31

12:29  ‘When Yahweh your God has annihilated the nations confronting you, whom you are going to dispossess, and when you have dispossessed them and made your home in their country,
12:30  beware of being entrapped into copying them, after they have been destroyed to make way for you, and do not enquire about their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I am going to do the same too.”
12:31  This is not the way to treat Yahweh your God. For in honour of their gods they have done everything detestable that Yahweh hates; yes, in honour of their gods, they even burn their own sons and daughters as sacrifices!’

 

This was a specific command and judgement against these particular nations. These people even sacrificed and burnt their sons and daughters as offerings to their idols (Deut. 12:31), and had committed the most abominations in the sight of God and therefore God commanded the Israelites to destroy them. God warned the Israelites not to enquire after their gods and follow their practices. However, it should be noted that the command to utterly wipe out enemies however did not extend to all Israel’s enemies- Deut 21:10-14 the Israelite was permitted to marry a non-Jewish (and hence unbelieving) woman captive of war, who would then receive all the rights as a Jewish wife.

You cherry pick verses Nehemiah 13:23, 25, 26, 27. Let’s put them back into context:

Nehemiah 13:1  At that time they were reading to the people from the Book of Moses, when they found this written in it, ‘No Ammonite or Moabite is to be admitted to the assembly of God, and this is for all time…

Again, here in Nehemiah 13:1 it is implied, and actually stated in Deut 7, that God has expressly prohibited marrying specifically any of the Moabites or Ammonites as they were to be destroyed for all the abominations they had committed in the country. This was a judgement specific to these nations. Once again the Israelites disobeyed this command.

On Deut 21:10-14:

You stated:
“Ruth’s deceased husband had committed sin by marrying a heathen, but this does not mean it was okay because there is no validity given to his behavior in the scriptures. He could have been chastised for backsliding, by early death. Also his brother married a heathen and suffered the same fate.”

I say this is pure conjecture. It is not implied in the text, in fact the opposite is implied in Deut.21:10-14, which you mention when you intriguingly stated:

“God wants new converts that were already married to unbelievers, to remain together, unless the unbeliever departs, according to 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. This is different from Deuteronomy 21:10-14, where the person was already a follower of God, when they chose to marry an unbeliever under the special circumstance of having captured her in warfare. It could be assumed that our loving God allowed for this exception clause, because a woman captured in warfare even in our present day, might be raped, mistreated, depraved, or possibly even killed. By marrying a man of God from the victorious enemy country, she could avoid the evils mentioned. If a Christian does marry an unbeliever, there is precedent that such marriages are valid.”

So which is it then? It was clearly not a sin for a believer to marry an unbeliever, even in OT times, provided they were not from the forbidden nations and the believer did not participate in the religious acts and idolatry of the unbeliever.

If a Jewish man may take a foreign woman captive as a wife (Deut 21:10-14), then how much more so a foreign woman who has her freedom, if both are in agreement? Your ‘exception clause’ theory does not carry any weight- it simply reinforces the fact that marriage is honourable in all. And clearly, here, God was not concerned that these foreign women, who were not from the forbidden nations, could lead the Jews astray into idolatry. Obviously, He did not consider them a threat because He permitted the Jews to marry them.

On Solomon:

You refer to Solomon, and again, it refers to the sin of marrying and following the gods of the specific nations God had expressly forbidden to the Jews:

1 Kings 11:2

11:1  King Solomon loved many foreign women: not only Pharaoh’s daughter but Moabites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites,
11:2  from those peoples of whom Yahweh had said to the Israelites, ‘You are not to go among them nor they among you, or they will be sure to sway your hearts to their own gods.

1 Kings 11:4-10
11:4  When Solomon grew old his wives swayed his heart to other gods; and his heart was not wholly with Yahweh his God as his father David’s had been.
11:5  Solomon became a follower of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and of Milcom, the Ammonite abomination.
11:6  He did what was displeasing to Yahweh, and was not a wholehearted follower of Yahweh, as his father David had been.
11:7  Then it was that Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem, and to Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites.
11:8  He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrifice to their gods.
11:9  Yahweh was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from Yahweh, God of Israel, who had twice appeared to him
11:10  and had forbidden him to follow other gods; but he did not carry out Yahweh’s order.

Solomon’s sin was twofold:
He had not only married some women from the forbidden nations, but had also started following their gods.

On David:

1 Samuel 27:8-9:

27:8  David and his men went out on raids against the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, for these are the tribes inhabiting the region which, from Telam, goes in the direction of Shur, as far as Egypt.
27:9  David laid the countryside waste and left neither man nor woman alive; he carried off the sheep and cattle, the donkeys, camels and clothing, and then came back again to Achish.

 

David’s wife Maachaah was the King’s daughter.She was taken in the battle and became his wife. She would have been an enemy of Israel and an unbeliever. However, we are told in 1 Kings 11:6 that David was a ‘wholehearted follower of Yahweh’, unlike his son Solomon. The difference is that David did not follow the gods of his enemies.

Now, you may argue that Maachaah had converted and had ceased to follow her own religion. My answer to this is that she might have freely done so later on, but certainly not when captured and at the point of a sword. Any statement of allegiance to the God of Israel on her part at that time would have been lip service.This would have been more of a political alliance, and also her way of retaining a position of royalty.

So even in the OT, it can be seen that God did not consider it a sin for an Israelite to marry a foreign woman from as long as she was not from a forbidden nation, as long as he did not follow their gods and remained true to Yahweh.

From a Christian viewpoint, this makes even more sense. What are the idols of unbelievers, but less than nothingness, compared to our God? Do you really think that a true believer in Yahweh and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ would ever be led astray by the gods of unbelievers? If so, then you have totally underestimated the power of God. If that was the case, Paul would not have commanded that the believing husband must not divorce the unbelieving wife!

Why did Paul say that the believing spouse should not divorce the unbelieving spouse if, as you claim, believers will be led astray by unbelievers? Indeed, this is the constant and dead argument of those who preach against a believer marrying an unbeliever. Why does Paul say that the believing spouse should not divorce the unbelieving spouse? Please answer this.

Instead, Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor 7:16 Basic English Translation (BBE) 1 Cor 7:16 For how may you be certain, O wife, that you will not be the cause of salvation to your husband? Or you, O husband, that you may not do the same for your wife?

This parallels 1 Peter 3:1

You said: “A Christian marriage to an unbeliever is idolatrous, spiritual fornication as demonstrated and identified in 2 Chronicles 21:11, “Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto.”

I say, here again, the sin is the idolatry. And your statement contradicts Paul again- he obviously does not view the marriage of a Christian and an unbeliever as idolatrous, spiritual fornication because he says they should remain together!

So clearly, God does not view the unbelieving spouse as a threat but is considered powerless against the Christian spouse. This is a true statement.

Just look at the world today. With the advent of Christ, the unbelieving nations are absolutely terrified of the power of the Gospel and so seek to prevent Bibles and missionaries from reaching their people by imprisonment and torture. Merely preaching Christianity is a crime in more than fifty countries!

Paul reiterates this on the subject of a Christian eating food offered to idols- he says although it has no power over the Christian, it is not expedient because others may be led astray into thinking it was right to eat food offered to idols, therefore it should not be eaten.This is what Paul is talking about in 2 Cor 6:14-17

Judges 3:5-7 NIV
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

 

Here again, we can see that God had prohibited the Israelites from marrying certain nations specifically because of their multitude of abominations and because He knew that these nations would lead the Israelites into idolatry (see also 1 Kings 11:2 above). ‘They forgot the Lord their God’.He had ordered the Israelites to destroy them and their temples. Instead, the Israelites sinned by doing exactly what He had commanded them not to do: instead of destroying them, they married them and started following their gods.

However, this was a specific judgement by God on the particular nations who were occupying the Promised Land. God executed His judgement on them through the Israelites. However, the judgement did not apply for all enemies of Israel.

Therefore one must be very careful here when trying to apply OT scripture to the question of whether a Christian may marry an unbeliever. You point out that the rest of the book of Malachi should not be dismissed if one is also following tithes Malachi 3:8, but are you not picking and mixing verses as you like when you try and make your argument? The prohibition of marriage command in Ezra, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings and Nehemiah was for the Jews against specific nations at a particular time and for a particular reason, yet you incorrectly assert that it applies to all unbelievers. What about the command? As Christians, should we utterly destroy all unbelievers and their temples as also commanded in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 above? Of course not!

 

On 2 Cor 6:14-17, 1 Cor 7:12-16, 1 Cor 7:39:

 

You say: “Paul was obviously avoiding heresy from his words, “at liberty to be married to whom she will” by limiting the scope of that liberty to Christians.”

I say, why is this obvious? If, as you claim, ‘in the Lord’ meant ‘marry only a Christian’, he would have simply said ‘marry in the Lord’ without preceding it with the false statement- the two statements do not agree and conflict with each other. He had written a letter- if he wanted to ‘avoid heresy’, as you claim, he would have simply omitted the words “at liberty to be married to whom she will”.

1 Cor 7:39 ‘…but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.’

It says, ‘to whom she will’. If “in the Lord” means only marry a Christian, then ‘to whom she will’ becomes a false statement. In fact, ‘only in the Lord’ means ‘to marry a person who is free to marry under God’s Law, i.e someone of the opposite sex who is an unmarried virgin, or a widowed person, and not some one who divorced his spouse for reasons other than sexual immorality.

See Ephesians 6:1
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

This does not mean that children should only obey their parents if they are Christian, but that they should obey them because it is a command from God, ‘honour your Father and Mother’.
If Paul meant that Christian widows should only marry Christians, he gave no such command to widows in 1 Timothy 5. Did he have one rule for them and another for those at Corinth? Those who say that he did, and qualify this because he said ‘under the current circumstances’ (1 Cor 7:26), still have to acknowledge that this is only then applicable in that particular situation.

Colossians 3:18, ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord’

It is not saying that wives should submit to husbands because they are Christian, but because it is God’s will.

1 Peter 3:1 ‘Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;’

This parallels 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

As for 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, it is not speaking about whether a believer and a non-believer can get married, it is speaking about idolatry and that one must not participate in the religious and other sinful activities of unbelievers. The issue of marriage to non-believers is already settled in 1 Cor 7:12-16 If a non- believer is married to a believer and he or she wishes to remain, there must be no divorce.

Now one might say that this only applies to a case where two non-believers married and one later became a believer. But this is nowhere mentioned in the scriptures. This would be an assumption only, one will not find any scripture that says this.
1 Cor 7:12-16 implies that marriage to an unbeliever is not a sin.

You stated: “After becoming a Christian, a person who marries an unbeliever, sins against God. Except if they were already married, before one of them became a Christian.”

It can never be sinful to enter into a lawful relationship – and Paul in 1 Cor 7:14 says it is lawful for the couple to remain together. It is not a sin. God would not ask you to continue in something He hates, i.e live in sin.

Or are you saying He does? Please answer this.

Whereas in the case of adultery, it is a sin, and the only way to repent of the sin would be to break off the relationship.
It is not a sin to marry an unbeliever. It is a sin to participate in their religious and other sinful activities. Besides, 2 Cor 7 also says, ‘be ye separate’ and ‘come out from among them’, which cannot then be referring to marriage because it directly contradicts 1 Cor 7:12-14.

You talk about spiritual fornication and quote Jeremiah 3:8, where God issues a certificate of divorce to Israel (meaning that He had been symbolically married to Israel) and you try and make this analogous to a Christian marring an unbeliever. But you fail to realise that in Jeremiah 3 God calls His people to come BACK to Him, meaning that they were BELIEVERS, who had treacherously deserted Him to follow idols. Indeed, Jeremiah 3 and 4 go on to say that even after divorcing Israel and Judah , He will accept them back if they repent!

This is analogous to Jesus’ statement on adultery and divorce which is for believing couples. Contrast this with the case of an believer and an unbeliever in a mixed marriage. The believer must not divorce the unbelieving spouse if he or she wishes to remain, but if the unbeliever wishes to leave, the believer was to let them go, they were no longer considered bound, as Paul clarified under inspiration of the Holy Spirit 1 Cor 7:12-16. It should go without saying that the believer, by virtue of the term cannot therefore be engaging in the religious practices of the unbeliever. 2 Cor 6:14-17 forbids it.

As you pointed out, the unbeliever is following false gods. But the unbeliever would still be following false gods in the mixed marriage situation Paul describes, yet he says that the believer must not divorce the unbeliever if he or she chooses to remain.

Clearly then, for a Christian, it is permissible to marry an unbeliever provided the Christian is not prevented from following their Christian faith by the unbelieving spouse and as long as the Christian does not participate in the religious activities of the unbelieving spouse. Believers are yoked to God. The unequal yoke with unbelievers arises when the believer adopts the unbeliever’s religious practices such as idolatry and treacherously deserts God. Paul has stated that the believer in a mixed marriage is still a believer.

Intriguingly, after your vehement stance against spiritually mixed marriages you state:

“If a Christian does marry an unbeliever, there is precedent that such marriages are valid”, and you refer to the case of Esther and King Xerxes.

So which is it?

You also state, under your heading ‘Losing a your Christian soulmate’:

“If you are ….immature, …..a false convert, and you marry an unbeliever, when God had someone especially planned for you………………, your soul-mate will be given to someone else. If your soulmate was obedient, they will not be jeopardized by your foolishness, God planned everything in advance, so though they are your soulmate, their soulmate is someone else. So by choosing to marry an unbeliever, you are mostly harming yourself.”

Please show me exactly where this is stated in the Bible?

As we have seen, Deut 21:10-14, it was legal for an Israelite man to marry a foreign (and therefore an unbeliever) captive of war. The sin would be if the Israelite was to adopt their religious practices and to follow their gods.

Consider this also:

1 Corinthians 5 NJB
5:9  In my letter, I wrote to you that you should have nothing to do with people living immoral lives.
5:10  I was not including everybody in this present world who is sexually immoral, or everybody who is greedy, or dishonest or worships false gods — that would mean you would have to cut yourselves off completely from the world.
5:11  In fact what I meant was that you were not to have anything to do with anyone going by the name of brother who is sexually immoral, or is greedy, or worships false gods, or is a slanderer or a drunkard or dishonest; never even have a meal with anybody of that kind.
5:12  It is no concern of mine to judge outsiders. It is for you to judge those who are inside, is it not?
5:13  But outsiders are for God to judge. You must banish this evil-doer from among you.

Don’t you think you are being judgmental?

You and those who share your view must answer all the questions raised, they cannot be ignored. You are greatly mistaken.

Remember, marriage is honourable in all.

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Author: havefaithinjesus

I am a Christian of the Body of Christ.

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