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How Strict Is Separation in 2 Corinthians 6:14?

By February 1, 2001November 9th, 2022No Comments


Please help me with 2 Corinthians 6:14. I know it deals with business partnerships, but how inclusive is this verse?

The principle of separation on the part of God’s people, seen throughout Scripture, must be applied to all of the vicissitudes of life. Certain Bible scholars mistakenly try to limit this passage to a single item warranting separation. Then they proceed to rule out or discount other areas that this principle should and would legitimately cover.

Yoking was a familiar concept in both Old and New Testament times, due to the agrarian nature of society. Oxen would be yoked together to do field work. So Paul wrote in this passage, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Then he went on to explain by asking questions to illustrate the folly of Christians’ being “mismated” or “mismatched” with unbelievers. The Old Testament law system prohibited the unequal yoking of beasts of burden, providing an excellent illustration for us: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10). One might think that this command had to do with the unfairness of a powerful ox and a supposedly weaker donkey being harnessed together, but the unequal yoke had to do with the fact that an ox was a “clean” animal in the Mosaic law, whereas a donkey was an “unclean” animal. In other words, a donkey could not be offered as a sacrifice unto the Lord and could not be eaten.

As believers in Christ we have been washed, sanctified, justified, and made fit for the Master’s use (1 Corinthians 6:11). Our purified position in Christ makes it incompatible to forge any type of alliance with unbelievers. A Christian can mingle with and befriend the unsaved as Christ did (see also 1 Corinthians 10:27), but we are not to enter any kind of formal partnership with them. Let’s enumerate some situations in which the principle of avoiding unequal yokes with unbelievers needs to be applied.

Business partnerships. You mentioned this ”yoking” in your question. Without doubt, having such a link (in which the believer operates by different beliefs, standards, and principles than his unsaved partner) is wrong and could cause great compromise and loss of testimony. This prohibition does not mean that a saved person cannot work for or with unsaved people at a job.

Church. Many churches do not believe that a local church is to be composed of only believers. Therefore, a saved person who applies for membership in a church without the requirement of the new birth is linking up with unbelievers. Further, a saved person who belongs to a church that denies the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith—the inerrancy of Scripture; the deity, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and return of Christ; the creation wrought by God; and so forth—is unequally yoked together with unbelievers.

Marriage. This prohibition also includes dating, which is a first step toward marriage. However, the union is to stay intact if after marriage one spouse becomes a believer (1 Corinthians 7:12‒16).

Membership in secret societies or cults. Involvement with pagan, occultic, idolatrous people and practices. In this vein, I want to point out a serious trend in some groups, missions groups specifically: One well-known missions group has lately been adopting a policy of indicating to potential converts that they can retain their traditional beliefs and practices so as to refrain from offending others within their culture. One worker wrote in the mission’s newsletter that “they continued a life of following the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting and Koranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims to acknowledge Jesus Christ.” This strategy is dangerous, and it violates the principle we have been examining in your question.

To summarize, we are to avoid unequal yokes with unbelievers in any way, but we are to be yoked with Jesus, abandoning the world: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, . . . for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29, 30).

This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin (February 2001) by Norman A. Olson. 

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