2 Corinthians 6:14

Some Adventists quote 2 Corinthians 6:14 to discourage someone marrying a person not of our faith. Does the noun “unbelievers” designate non-Christians, non-Adventists, or both?

August 8, 2002

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Some Adventists quote 2 Corinthians 6:14 to discourage someone marrying a person not of our faith. Does the noun “unbelievers” designate non-Christians, non-Adventists, or both?

 In the interpretation of a passage, its context and the terminology used are extremely important. Second Corinthians is a pastoral letter whose purpose is to reaffirm Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 Paul speaks more directly to the believers, asking them not to be mismated with unbelievers and to remain holy to the Lord. Through a number of questions he contrasts two different lords and two different lifestyles that are mutually exclusive. Paul is clearly discouraging Christians from entering into partnership with unbelievers.

1. Unbelievers: In the New Testament the Greek term apistos (unbeliever) most frequently designates a non-Christian. But occasionally it can also refer to false Christian teachers. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 it appears to designate false believers who tried to undermine Paul’s work. In Titus 1:15 the word is used to describe believers who teach falsehood in the church (verses 10, 14). The question we face is whether Paul is using apistos in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to refer to non-Christians or to his Christian opponents or to both.

The reference to idolatry in 6:15, 16 would suggest that he is referring to non-Christians. However, according to 1 Corinthians 5:11 there were Christians at Corinth who were idolaters. Paul tells the faithful believers not to associate with such individuals (verse 9) or even eat with them (verse 11). In 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 Paul could very well be reminding the Corinthians to do exactly what he had already told them to do. Besides, in 2 Corinthians Paul is not dealing with heathen but with the opposition to his ministry and message from within the church itself. In that case the “unbelievers” could be Christians who have been opposing Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

2. Mixed Marriages: The term heterozygo (to be unequally yoked, mismated) is used in the New Testament only here (2 Cor. 6:14). Its literal translation would be “pulling the yoke in a different direction than one’s fellow,” making it impossible or difficult for two to work together. The traditional and most common interpretation of the term refers to mixed marriages. In the Greek translation (Septuagent) of Leviticus 19:19 the same verb is used to prohibit the mismating of different animals. Other terms based on the same verbal root are used to refer to marriage (e.g., Matt. 19:6; Mark 10:9). The usage of the term cannot be restricted to mixed marriages alone, however. It’s better to understand the verb as designating any type of connection with unbelievers—including marriage—that may lead to compromise.

3. Contextual Considerations: In 2 Corinthians Paul dealt with his apostolic ministry. The situation between him and the Corinthians had improved since his last visit to the church (7:5-7), but there was room for more progress. The influence of false apostles and teachers had contributed to the tension between the Corinthian believers and Paul making it difficult for the Corinthians to open their hearts to the apostle. The Corinthians had paid attention to them in the past (11:1-6), making it necessary for Paul to tell them not to enter into any type of partnership with those who oppose him. Those individuals were not servants of righteousness (verse 15), but practitioners of lawlessness (cf. 12:21).

This passage is useful for those contemplating marriage. Let me offer two words of advice: Preserving a marriage relationship is difficult even when both parties share the same faith. It is therefore important to listen to the biblical counsel. For church members, if someone marries a person outside our faith, extend to them the hand of love, understanding, and acceptance. Be an instrument in revealing the grace and compassion of our Savior and Lord. Such attitudes—rather than rejection—will facilitate the work of the Spirit in bringing the unbeliever to a personal commitment to Christ, and will contribute to retaining the believing spouse in the church.