As a minister, would you marry a believer and a nonbeliever?

The basis for your question obviously is the biblical text that says we ought not to be yoked unequally with unbelievers. The assumption, of course, is that this text has direct reference to marriage. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that. The Bible doesn’t say that a believer is not permitted to marry an unbeliever. That metaphor of unequal yoking of oxen in pulling an ox cart is the only reference we have.

Now, I will say that in the tradition of the church the vast majority of New Testament scholars have understood that passage to mean precisely that—that it is a biblical prohibition against the marrying of a Christian to a non-Christian. This follows in the Old Testament tradition, where the children of Israel were called to seek wives from their own nation—people having the same religious persuasion. The assumption is that a person’s religious commitment, if it is a genuine one, is of great importance, and if a person is united in the closest intimate relationship a human being can have with another human being and they do not share that profound passion and commitment, it can be disastrous for marriage. So the practical wisdom of the church has been, for the most part, to take a dim view of marrying believers and unbelievers because it provokes so much difficulty.

We also know that today the whole estate of marriage is under siege; we’ve already passed the 50 percent rate of divorce. People have enough problems in seeking a healthy and successful marriage without adding this extremely difficult point of tension to it.

But you ask me would I, as a minister, perform such a marriage. As a general rule, I do not. I don’t do it because I’m convinced that God does not allow me to do it. For example, in the traditional wedding ceremony, in the service we use to solemnize weddings, the standard words go something like this: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God and of these witnesses to unite this man and this woman in the holy bonds of marriage . . .” and so on. One of the phrases of the marriage ceremony reminds us that God not only instituted marriage and ordained and sanctified marriage, but God regulates marriage by his commandments. And so I am not free to perform the marriage rite for just anybody. In fact, my own church forbids me from marrying a believer to an unbeliever except on one occasion, and that is if there’s already been a physical union and a child is to be born. In those circumstances I would perform a ceremony.

© 1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.