Two animals unequally yoked - Paul is referring to Christian and non-Christian marriage partners


14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. FOR WHAT DO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LAWLESSNESS SHARE TOGETHER, or what does light have in common with darkness? 15 Or what harmony does Christ have with Belial, or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement does the temple of God have with idols?

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell among them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you. You shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. 7 1Therefore, having these promises, beloved, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES FROM ALL DEFILEMENT OF FLESH AND SPIRIT perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Cor6:14-7:1).

Righteousness unequally yoked with lawlessness

Returning to 2Cor it is interesting in the context of my recent posts that when warning Christians against being “unequally yoked” [Greek: ἑτεροζυγοῦντες] , i.e. partnered with non-believers, the first contrast Paul highlights is between righteousness and lawlessness [Greek: ἀνομίᾳ] (v14). For as recently considered regarding Luther’s Heidelberg theses, the Christian must actually fulfil the spirit of God’s Law. “The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit”(Rom8:4). And unlike many later bible translators, the early scribes who penned the Textus Receptus knew Paul to be referring to the human spirit not the Holy Spirit, hence  πνεῦμα, not Πνεύμα [Rom8:4 Greek – note#1].

Flesh versus spirit

It goes back to Romans chapter 7 where Paul contrasted the instincts of the flesh and the human spirit. For Christians, who Paul reminds us here have collectively become the temple of the living God (v16), there is also a conflict between the flesh and the Holy Spirit.

But that is not what Paul was referring to in Romans 7. For he wrote: “I find a principle that evil is in me, the one who wants to do good  I joyfully agree with God’s law in the inner person  but see a different law in my body.  It wages war against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin, the law which is in my body’s parts” (vv21-23).  Clearly, Paul cannot have been referring to the Holy Spirit but his true inner self when he wrote “I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person”.

 The problem for the non-believer with whom Paul is saying the Christian should not be partnered is that they have not been provided with the spiritual resources to overcome the instincts of their procreated intellectual vessel (1Thes4:4). That is why Paul in that same passage wrote “Who can deliver me from the body of this death? – I thank God it is through Jesus Christ”. How does Christ deliver (i.e. save) Paul and other true disciples from being “a prisoner to the law of sin that is in the body”? It is by participating in Christ’s life: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by Christ’s death, now being reconciled we shall be saved by His life”. (Rom5:10). As to what such participation with Christ is saving us from it is indeed that “body of this death” and the lawlessness that results from it.

Working out one’s own salvation

All of which brings us back to the opening verse. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness”? (v14). Rather, “having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God (concluding verse). Or as Paul says elsewhere: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil2:12).

The course that those who are to be the saints of God has been set is an arduous one. And although dependent on grace it requires personal cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit as well as self-discipline. We have to cleanse ourselves of all defilements of the flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God (closing verse).  That latter phrase makes it clear Paul is not speaking merely of an act of faith but a personal engagement in the process of sanctification.

No “easy believism” with Paul

Luther had been renowned for saying “Let your sins be strong [or sin boldly] but let your trust in Christ be stronger still”. That is about as valid a piece of advice for the Christian as his redefinition of faith: “A living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it”.

 If saving faith were merely the possession of the state of mind of being sure of God’s favour; or indeed anything along the lines of “looking to the finished work of Christ and appropriating it to myself”, or “believing in my heart that Jesus had died for me, much of Christ’s own teaching becomes irrelevant and Paul would not have gone on to write what he did. In particular, “I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1Cor9:27). Similarly, “Brothers, I do not regard myself as having attained to it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi3:13-15).

And what a prize it is for those who complete the course! (2Tim4:7). To be joint heirs with Christ, destined for honours concerning which I hardly dare speak (Rev3:21 &19:7). But then did you not know that those who run in a race all run but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win! (cf. 1Cor9:24).



Note#1 The Biblehub I use to verify the Greek text utilizes the highly regarded “Nestle 1904” version of the Textus Receptus. The Protestant Reformers generally followed this when translating the English Authorized Version of the Bible. However in the case of Paul’s epistles they often overturned the casing of Spirit/spirit (Πνεύμα/ πνεῦμα). That was in accordance with their all-of-grace theological perspective. Neither would most have accepted the biblical teaching that man consists of body, soul and spirit (1Thes5:23; Heb4:1).

The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible

The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]

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