Can Christians marry non-believers?

Today’s topic is surrounded with a lot of misunderstanding by Christians of various denominations, so we will find out what is God’s will regarding this topic, based on the scriptures found within the Bible. To start off with, the word of God is not only found within the New Testament’s writings, but within the Old Testament’s as well. We already understand and believe that God’s word is not deprecated, so let’s start with the Tanach’s, or more commonly known as Old Testament’s writings, where we can see how God acts regarding this topic.

Exodus 34,10-16
„Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.”

God’s commandment is that the sons of Israel are not to choose daughters to marry from other nations! God did not just give an order, but an explanation as well:

„Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

This law is neither a racial segregation, nor a law which has no merit to it, but it is about God’s fearing love, by which He protects His children, to keep them by His side.

While we believe it’s obvious that a Christian will not marry an Islamic believer, we have to look deeper into this matter, since foreign gods aren’t the only ones which represent a completely different religion! Jesus firmly let us know:

Matthew 6,24
„No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Looking at this verse, we can understand Jesus’ next speech:

Matthew 12,30
„Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Therefore those people, who don’t believe in the one true God, are idolaters, following foreign gods. So, God said about these people not to pick a daughter to marry from their nation!

We also know that Solomon was the wisest man on Earth, yet foreign women led him to sin:

1Kings 11,1-10
„King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command.”

This is also what Nehemiah talked about to the people, who married foreign women, putting God’s law aside:

Nehemiah 13,26
„Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.”

When we read more from the story of Nehemiah, we can find out that he beat and cursed some people for committing this sin, as this was considered to be a huge sin. We also know from the story of Ezra, where he pulled out his own hair and beard because of a specific sin which was no other than the sons of Israel marrying foreign women.

Remember Israel’s 40 year journey in the wilderness, where this exact same sin appeared by the advice of Balaam. They could neither defeat the sons of Israel in battle, nor curse them, as whoever fought against Israel were opposing against God himself. Therefore, they had to turn the sons of Israel away from God, so they became vulnerable. This plan succeeded, as the sons of Israel mingled with the Moabites, and the women turned away the hearts of men from the one true God.

We can clearly see within God’s Word, that God’s people, as in the ones who walk with God cannot marry foreign women. Furthermore, we also understand the reasons for this, as well as whoever is not with Jesus worships a different god. Therefore, atheists are worshipping a different god, as they are the lords of themselves.

But what is being taught within the New Testament?

1Corinthians 7,1-17
“Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”

Paul gave detailed instructions to singles, married couples and widows as well. This piece of scripture is commonly misinterpreted, applying it to prove their point that Christians can marry non-believers. However, Paul is not talking about that! Paul is talking about existing marriages, in the present:

„If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”

Therefore, if one individual converts to God, that person must not want to break up with the existing non-believing partner, if the non-believer is fine with living with a Christian. So these verses are not about Christians being allowed to choose non-believers as partners, but about existing marriages where if one individual becomes Christian, that person is to stay with his/her partner, if said partner is ready to live with a Christian partner.

There is also a concept, where the reason it’s worthwhile for a Christian to marry to a non-believer, is so that the Christian could convert said non-believing partner to God. According to the scriptures, this is not the right approach, as Paul wrote the following:

“How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Marriage was given for the purpose of being in unity, not as a constant battle. I know about many marriages which were formed between a Christian and a non-believer, rarely turning out to be successful when the non-believing partner would convert to the Lord. On the other hand, the vast majority of cases turned out with the Christian becoming distant from God and the non-believer staying the same. But let’s think about this: what does a Christian and a non-believer has to do with one another? What similar views do they share? Since the non-believer lives for worldly things, finding enjoyment in worldly matters, while the Christian grabs the invisible, prioritizing it above the worldly matters, in which there is no joy for the Christian.

Amos 3,3
“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”

Why would a Christian woman choose someone who does not follow God? As the wife’s head is the husband! How could a Christian husband be the head of a non-believing wife!? This is not unity, there are no shared views, and the most important goal is just not there for both partners.

Regarding the widows, Paul has written a firm law which is in line of all this:

1Corinthians 7,39
„A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but she must belong to the Lord.”

This teaching is bright as the sun, whoever wants to form a marriage can only do so within the Lord. But if we look at the entire chapter 7 of 1Corinthians, we can understand that Paul is protecting singles and advises them, if possible to stay without being married, so that they can fully devote themselves to God. What do you think – how much truer is this than being married to a non-believer!?

Date: 23/08/2014
Author: Antal Farkas