Setting the scene
Imagine you are about to take a long, treacherous hike. In lieu of going alone, you decide to take a partner. Just as you reach the opening of the path, your partner informs you that there are two trails which run mostly parallel to one another, and likely end in the same location. The person you have selected to join you on this journey suggests you each take a different path. Suddenly, you see yourself making this hike alone and wonder what was the point of having brought a partner? You’re faced with a choice.
Many have compared a spiritual journey to walking a path. Perhaps even more feel that all paths lead to the same place. Regardless of whether you believe that or not, we can all agree that spirituality is a long road. For followers of Yeshua, our trail guide is the Scriptures. How do these texts instruct us as followers of Yeshua in walking this path?
Maybe you know someone who is contemplating such a relationship. Maybe you are dating and dealing with this issue firsthand. If you have children old enough to date, it might be a family concern. In any case, many will thump the well-known biblical edict “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), but we need to go further back to understand why this command, which is actually referencing Isaiah 52:11, is vital to our well-being.
When God spoke creation into existence, He pronounced one thing after another to be good. His remark, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” (italics added) pointed out our world’s first problem – loneliness. However, God had an easy solution: “I will make a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). “A helper fit for him” or ezer k’neg’do from the Hebrew word neged, may also be translated as “counterpart; an equal to him.”
When Adam saw the animals paraded before him, he could name them all but relate to none. However, when Eve was created, Adam finally found a creature he recognized. “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). In the verses that follow, the couple stand together in unity and feel no shame. They are naked with each other, not merely physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
What is marriage?
Marriage partners are meant to experience a deep and exclusive unity with each other. They should be able to share all, bare all, and help one another discern the deepest issues of life.
The relationship between a husband and wife is so unique that God chose it as a metaphor to represent His own relationship with His people. He wants us to experience the kind of trust and intimacy with Him that He intended married couples to share with one another! God desires to be close to those who walk in His ways and who love what He loves. Against that backdrop, we pose this question: Is it okay for a believer in Yeshua to marry an unbeliever?
A person considering marriage with someone who does not follow Yeshua should consider this important matter: if your life is motivated by Yeshua, how He’s changed you, and how you want to change the world for Him, and if that’s actually the great passion of your life – ask yourself how you can truly share the depths of your soul with someone who says, “Oh, you believe in Jesus? That’s great for you, but it’s just not for me.” Sure, maybe you could picture having this discussion while you’re stuck in traffic, while you’re watching Netflix, or over a text message. But try to imagine standing at the scene of Yeshua’s execution and having that same conversation. The weight of His sacrifice for us should compel us to make sacrifices in our own daily lives.
How can the most intimate human relationship be truly intimate when one partner does not share the most vital commitment in the other’s life? The unbelieving spouse cannot comfort his or her partner with the truth of God’s wonderful promises, cannot encourage him or her to be more for God, or cannot rejoice over the spiritual discoveries his or her partner makes. A spiritually mixed marriage can never become the complete and vulnerable relationship that God intended.
Your own faith is in danger
Even worse than the problem of a dysfunctional marriage with an unbeliever is one that functions at the expense of the believer’s relationship with God. He or she harmonizes more with the spouse and less with the Savior. The love for Him grows cold and the faith begins to fade. That is why anyone who dates or considers marrying a person who does not follow Yeshua needs to understand that he or she is endangering his or her own spiritual life. Even if he or she still holds faith to the end of life, the marriage will not be what it could or should have been.
Many are certain they will be able to convince their partner to have faith in Yeshua. They may even know another couple this has happened to. But let me challenge you that your testimony to that person is much stronger when you don’t enter into a committed relationship with someone who is not on your path. In this case, one is presuming on one’s own strength, not relying on the power of the Spirit and the grace of God.
If you’re married, stay married. Do not break your commitment. There are many resources available. If you’re dating someone, now is the time to consider this issue very seriously. Seek counsel and be thoughtful. It’s absolutely imperative to your own spiritual journey that you have a partner who is on that journey with you.
Our most important relationship
Imagine you’re back on that hiking trail. You agree to separate, trusting and respecting your partner’s choice to choose the other trail. The two separate paths seem to start out parallel, but soon you lose your counterpart in the maze of trees. Before long, you realize what you suspected all along: these two paths do not lead to the same destination. You have a choice, either to follow the path you know to be correct, or to join your companion on the alternate route.
Even in the metaphor, the choice seems drastic. But if we believe God and take Him at His word that He desires to have a truly intimate relationship with us, then our commitment to Him must be the governing factor in all our other relationships. May we all have the grace to wholeheartedly live this out.
This content was adapted from an earlier Jews for Jesus article by Stephen Katz.