Meaning of Equally or Unequally Yoked

Believing the same way establishes the basis for a relationship to thrive. Our religious beliefs are most important in establishing permanent relationships.

Relationships cover a broad range of human experiences. We relate to our parents, our siblings, our friends, our mate, our employers, business associates and the public in general. Among all these groups, we find we are most happy and at peace when we mostly agree with one another on big issues. Problems arise when we are not in agreement. In fact, God tells us that two people can’t even walk together unless they agree (Amos 3:3).

However, you and I would agree with one not-so-startling fact—not everyone agrees with everyone else on everything! That’s to be expected, and we bear with one another, most of the time, because we are friends and we do agree on many important things. We even use expressions that commend others for agreeing with us, such as, “we’re on the same page,” “I know I’m preaching to the choir,” “we’re in the same ballpark,” “great minds think alike …” and, jokingly, “so do weak ones.”

The bottom line is that when we believe the same way on the important spiritual things, relationships can thrive. When we don’t believe the same, relationships can suffer or, worse, can negatively influence our character.

Unequally yoked

The apostle Paul used an interesting analogy to address this issue: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

We rarely use the term yoke today. We simply spend time together or hang out together.

God is telling us that we should have important relationships that pull or yoke us together with those who believe as we do. The word yoke was everyday language when oxen were used to plow a field. Often two oxen with equal strength were “yoked” together to allow each to pull its fair share. The yoke was a wooden structure for joining the two animals together. Once the yoke connected the animals, they were together until they finished plowing.

Paul was saying we should establish relationships with those of like minds, but we should refrain from creating close friendships that adversely affect us. “Yoking” with such individuals generally creates complications and even caustic conditions.

Oxen and donkeys

The apostle Paul probably wrote the “yoked” passage above based on Deuteronomy 22:10, where the Bible prohibited yoking an ox with a donkey. Why? Because they were so different, they wouldn’t be able to work together in a way that was safe and good for both animals.

Trained oxen follow commands and can be gentle, gregarious, content, large, strong and patient. Donkeys are much different. They don’t trust their owners quickly; are stubborn, independent and faster, but also weaker; and have a different diet than oxen.

Yoking an ox with a donkey certainly isn’t a good match. But what are some lessons we can learn about relationships with those who have mostly different beliefs than ours?

  1. We should definitely not develop close relationships with immoral “friends,” since our own behavior will be damaged—“Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). There can be people whose personalities we love, but we come to realize there are virtually no socially redeeming values stemming from their questionable character.
  2. We should honor and communicate with family members. We are commanded to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12). Normally we interact with family unless their past wrong behavior (such as abuse) justifies avoiding them. Otherwise, we can have close relationships with family since blood yokes us together even though beliefs may not be the same.
  3. There are temporary periods of time when we have no choice but to spend more time with those who don’t believe as we do (such as in school or on the job). In those situations, we bear with others yet don’t fully agree with them. We will not be “yoked” with them, but we can learn from instructors, for example, by filtering out the bad and retaining the good.
  4. We must never compromise our godly values. We have to be our own person, only allowing godly men and women to influence us. Develop friendships slowly. Time is needed to know what a person is really like. “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later” (1 Timothy 5:24).
  5. We should nurture good relationships. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). No man is an island. We are commanded to fellowship with and build up others of like minds who believe the teachings of God. The apostle John tells us, “Have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

What was Paul addressing?

Paul’s reason for not yoking with unbelievers is:

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? … Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

Paul is addressing the subject of having different religious beliefs.Paul is addressing the subject of having different religious beliefs. Looking at the background can help enlighten us concerning Paul’s statement.

Paul wrote this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. The city was large, but the church was small, meeting with an ordained minister of God (Acts 14:23) in a member’s home (1 Corinthians 16:19).

The religious beliefs of the citizens of Corinth presented a problem to this small group of believers. Above the city stood “the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.” Corinth “had a reputation for commercial prosperity, but she was also a byword for evil living. The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to the Corinthians, 1975, pp. 2-3).

Corinth was an immoral city!

True Christians were called believers. Virtually the entire population of the city of Corinth consisted of unbelievers. Unbelievers were not simply those who didn’t believe God existed. Citizens in Corinth believed the doctrines of pagan gods and accepted immoral sexual practices. Their beliefs and lifestyles were diametrically opposite to those of the Christians who worshipped God not only in Spirit, but also in truth.

What kind of relationship were Christians to have with those Corinthians?

They could do business with immoral unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). But Paul commanded Christians not to yoke themselves with these unbelievers because they represented disobedience to God’s law, darkness, Belial (Satan), idolatry and uncleanness (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, 16-17).

What does all this mean spiritually to you and me?

Our responsibility

Most of us don’t live in the city of Corinth, but we live in societies, in every part of this earth, that have been influenced by pagan beliefs. Jesus warned: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Today nonbiblical teachings include holidays of pagan origin, such as Halloween and Christmas, and pagan doctrines, such as worshipping God on Sunday rather than on the special day created to be His seventh-day Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3).

History shows that in the first few centuries after Christ’s ascension to heaven, Christians began to be guilty of syncretism—combining beliefs of the only God with those of the pagan world. As a result, we have a world in which nominal Christians unwittingly celebrate pagan holidays.

If you are serious about being a disciple of Christ, you will want to prove which beliefs are true and which are false. Following the false pagan beliefs results in death. God tells us that He has set before us “life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Christians are a little flock (Luke 12:32). If you follow God’s way, the path will be difficult and narrow, entered by only a few (Matthew 7:13-14). But your lasting, close-knit relationships with the true believers of God will thrive, and you will have peace and happiness. Learn more about what God expects of us in dating and marriage.

About the Author

Greg Sargent

Greg Sargent

Greg Sargent has pastored churches throughout the United States for 50 years. A native of Montana, he graduated from Ambassador College in Bricket Wood, England, in 1966. One week after graduation, Greg married Marian Ecker, his constant companion throughout his life.

Read More

Get the Latest

InSights Blog

Get the latest blog posts from Life, Hope & Truth straight to your inbox.


Never miss a post! Sign up to receive the week's latest articles, blog posts and updates.



Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region: