What Should I Do About An Unbelieving Spouse?

1 Corinthian 7:12-16

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?


In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul clearly states that a believer should not marry an unbeliever.  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  However there are often times when a person becomes a believer after marriage and the spouse does not share the newfound faith.  This is the situation that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7.

A believer should continue in marriage with an unbeliever as long as the unbeliever desires to remain married.  A Christian should not initiate a divorce.  Even though there may be difficult circumstances, a Christian is still a witness to their spouse as long as they are married.

Likewise, the children of the family are sanctified by the believing parent.  This does not mean that they are saved because they have a parent who is a Christian.  Instead it means that they are exposed to Christianity and have a greater chance of becoming a Christian because of the influence of the parent.

If the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, the Christian should let them go.  This does not mean that everything possible shouldn’t be done to first save the marriage.  The reconciliation of a husband and wife is always the first goal.

After every resource has been used to save a marriage and an unbelieving spouse still wants to leave, the Christian should let them leave without the guilt of divorce upon them.  They have no control over the decision of an unbelieving spouse.  Likewise, they should not remain in the marriage because of the chance to witness to their spouse.  While this was a viable reason when the spouse wanted to stay, it is not a reason to maintain the marriage.  As Paul says, there is no way to know if a person will lead their spouse to the Lord.

As to whether a believing spouse can and should get remarried, this is a much more difficult question that will be discussed in the article, “Should I Get Remarried?

Should I Date a Non-Christian?

The answer to whether a person should date a non-Christian is closely related to the purpose of dating.  That is discussed in another article so we’ll just summarize it here.

The goal of dating should be to find someone who is suitable to marry.  If a person is not suitable to marry, then no time should be invested in dating them.

So then the question becomes if a Christian should marry an non-Christian.  This article discusses biblical reasons why a Christian should not marry an unbeliever.

Many people do not take dating seriously and therefore if they date a non-Christian isn’t a big deal to them.  Some even view dating a non-Christian as a way of evangelizing and getting a person into church.  This is known as missionary dating.

The problem with missionary dating is its low success rate and high potential for dangerous repercussions.  The pitfalls are the same whether a person is actively trying to win their boyfriend or girlfriend to Christ, or if they are just dating for fun.

There are some success stories of people who were brought to Christ through the work of the person they were dating.  But for every success story, there is a hundred or even a thousand stories of Christians who were pulled away from Christ because of who they were dating.  Sometimes it is temporary, other times it is permanent.

The truth is it is far easier to lower one’s standards than it is to raise them.  A good illustration is that of a Christian standing on a chair.  As they reach out to an unbeliever standing on the floor, they do all they can to pull them up onto the chair.  It is hard work and often fails.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take much effort at all for the non-Christian to pull the Christian off balance.  A slight tip in the wrong direction and the Christian can be sent tumbling without the non-Christian even intending to do so.

Dating is not the same as marriage but a lot of the same rules apply.  What is most influential is the amount of time people spend together.  Because of this, many of the same biblical reasons for not marrying an unbeliever apply to dating an unbeliever.  For the biblical reasons against marrying a non-Christian see the article, “Can I Marry an Unbeliever?

Can I Marry an Unbeliever?

Paul offers a blunt assessment of marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever in 2 Corinthians 6:14.

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

Paul does not go as far as to call it sin, but nevertheless this could be considered a command not to do so.  The reason is simple –  a Christian and non-Christian do not have much in common.  They may share similar interests, family backgrounds, and even philosophies on raising children, but their faith in Christ should be first and foremost.

Marriage to an unbeliever is like playing with fire and the believer will get burned.  Although Paul stops short of calling this sin, he knows that it will lead to compromises within the marriage and that will cause sin.  He has the entire history of Israel to back up his thoughts.

As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were told to rid the land of all of the foreigners because of their idolatry.  This sounds cruel and barbaric but God knew what the outcome would be if they remained.  Instead, the Israelites signed peace treaties with some of the people.  Soon the Israelites had intermarried with them and some had begun to worship their idols.

Solomon, the wisest man ever, fell victim to the allure of idols because of his foreign wives.  Even though he constructed the magnificent temple of God, he built temples to foreign gods that his wives worshipped.  They led him astray and despite his wisdom, he couldn’t tell them no.

Nehemiah reacts violently when he hears of intermarriage among the Israelites and reminds them of Solomon’s troubles.  Nehemiah 13:25-27 tells the story.

25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”

Nehemiah took what was going on very seriously. So should every Christian.  Marriage to an unbeliever is asking for trouble.  They may seem kind and there may be hope of winning them to Christ but it should be avoided.

The issue of marriage to an unbeliever comes down to love.  Will the love for God be most important in a Christian’s life, or will the love for an unbeliever be most important?