1. Question - A Reference Request

In 2 Corinthians 6:14 - What does the phrase: "Unequally Yoked" - mean?

References to Scriptural and Literary Bases Please:

  1. Are there any Scriptural or Literary bases to show that this was a common metaphor and idiomatic expression which would have been understood by Paul's audience?
  2. If not, how does the context - and other Scriptural writings - clarify this?

Specific Issues:

  1. How does the context - or other literary sources - use the metaphor "Yoke"? (Marriage? Labor?)
  2. Is this a general prohibition against believers "being yoked" with "others | ἑτερο" who are not believers?
  3. Or - Does the prohibition even extend to whether believers can "be yoked" with other believers - whose spiritual maturity and faith may not be equal to their own?

2. The Text

NKJV, 2 Corinthians 6:14 - Do not be unequally yoked | ἑτεροζυγοῦντες, (Interlinear, and Lexicon) together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

The NASB seems to avoid the metaphor altogether:

NASB, 2 Corinthians 6:14 - Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Note: This question is to understand the metaphor being used - and not if the passage is a basis for annulling existing marriages.

  • 1
    I am curious to why you interpret this passage to refer to marriage? My impression is it refers to all aspects of life, such as social friendship & could even apply to vocational employment in certain situations. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 21:56
  • 1
    @Dhammadhatu - A.) Thank you for the constructive comment; B.) I updated the question and removed the presupposition regarding, "Marriage"; C.) Although it is often taught that this prohibition pertains to "Marriage" - it definitely could be argued that this verse prohibits believers from even working, (laboring), with non-believers; D.) So, I agree - it only makes sense that an answer would tackle that issue as well. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 22:27

3 Answers 3


Allusion to the Greek Septuagint:

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers indicates the meaning is determined by the use of the cognate noun in Leviticus 19:19 (“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind”). Cattle were unequally yoked together when ox and ass were drawing the same plough (Deuteronomy 22:10).

Septuagint, Leviticus 19:19 - ... You shall not crossbreed different | ἑτεροζύγῳ kinds of animals, you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed;

Ellicott says the Greek word for 'unequally yoked together' is not found elsewhere, and was probably coined by Paul to give expression to his thoughts.

Marriage or Disassociation with Unbelievers?

Although the more common interpretation is that Paul intended the metaphor to apply to marriage, there is nothing in the context to say whether he intended it to refer to social contact more generally. J. Ayodeji Adewuya (Holiness and Community in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, pages 16-17) says that an admonition to avoid the company of unbelievers apparently contradicts two other passages. In 1 Corinthians 5:10, Paul denies telling the church to shun the world of unbelievers or, at least, concedes the impossibility of doing so. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 he urges the maintenance of existing marriages between believers and unbelievers.

Possible Origin:

The passage, 6:14-7:1, is seen as inconsistent with Paul's thoughts elsewhere, including its reference to 'flesh' and 'spirit'. Adewuya (ibid) says that for many scholars the passage is "enigmatic" and "notoriously difficult". There are several hapax legomena, words found nowhere else in the undisputed Pauline letters, that also raise doubts as to the origin or even authenticity of the passage.

Adewuya says some see the passage as Paul's reworking of part of a document found at Qumran, among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They particularly note the use of Belial for Satan, the emphasis on a holy temple and the concept of purity. He says that others look on this passage as not only inauthentic but as a later interpolation, actually written by an opponent of Paul, although this hypothesis has not gained wide support.

In any case, many scholars continue to regard the passage as authentically Pauline. Adewuya concludes(page 28) the question regarding its authenticity and integrity has come a long way, but a consensus is far from being reached.


  1. Ellicott has provided a useful explanation of the metaphor as a literary device.
  2. The authenticity of the passage is not yet settled.
  3. On the assumption that Paul wrote the passage, the intended meaning of 'unequally yoked together' is unclear, with no guidance provided by the context. That lack of clarity is exacerbated by 1 Corinthians 5:10 and 7:12-16, since these passages contradict possible meanings applied to 6:14.
  4. It is not safe to attribute the meaning that believers should not marry or remain married to unbelievers, nor the meaning that believers should avoid the company of unbelievers.
  • A.) Thank you! This is a very helpful insight. B.) I proposed an edit - providing the citation from the Greek Septuagint using that verb, and in the "mating" sense; C.) I also reorganized the answer a bit, though didn't remove anything; D.) I hope this is acceptable! Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 1:33
  • For me: (1) divorcing unbelieving spouses, particularly wives, is against the teachings & spirit of the Gospel, of which the law of marriage & divorce appears not based in a religious sectarianism but based on not harming women & natural law between the sexes ('as it was in the beginning') and (2) 1 Corinthians 5:10 appears to be merely a general principle about living in the world rather than who you conduct your salient social relationships with & thus allow to influence you morally & in terms of faith Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 2:08

1. Question Restatement:

In 2 Corinthians 6:14 - What does "Unequally Yoked" together mean?

Are there any Scriptural or Literary Greek examples where the context clarifies the meaning of the metaphor?

2. Answer - A "Yoke-Fellow", "Equal Partnership", or "Ally":

When Involving People - a "Yoke-Fellow" is a Metaphor for an "Alliance" or "Equal Partnership" :

1 Maccabees 1:15 - They had surgery performed to hide their circumcision, abandoned the holy covenant, started associating, (ἐζευγίσθησαν, LXX) with Gentiles, and did all sorts of other evil things.

Plutarch, Cimon 16:8 - And Ion actually mentions the phrase by which, more than by anything else, Cimon prevailed upon the Athenians, exhorting them “not to suffer Hellas to be crippled, nor their city to be robbed of its yoke-fellow.”

ὁ δ’ Ἴων ἀπομνημονεύει καὶ τὸν λόγον, ᾧ μάλιστα τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἐκίνησε, παρακαλῶν μήτε τὴν Ἑλλάδα χωλὴν μήτε τὴν πόλιν ἑτερόζυγα περιϊδεῖν γεγενημένην.

And, in Context: Paul is clearly addressing "Holiness", and "Separation" :

NASB, 2 Corinthians 6:17 - “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.

NASB, 2 Corinthians 7:1 - Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

3. The Context Affirms a Sense of Partnership:

In this context - the sense being conveyed are "Balanced" and "Equal" "Partnerships", in both: obligations and rewards.

To Substantiate his Instruction - Paul employs a Syllogistic Argument to prove there can be no confidence in a partnership with the World:

Paraphrase, 2 Corinthians 6:14-6 - Do not be partnered with unbelievers;

  1. for what share is there: for the just and lawless?
  2. or what intimacy is there: light towards darkness?
  3. and what agreement is there: has Christ towards Belial?
  4. or what portion is there: for a believer together with an unbeliever?
  5. and what consensus is there: for the temple of God together with idols?

2 Corinthians 6:17 - THEREFORE, [if those premises are valid], come out of their midst - and be separate.

Which is a reference to Isaiah:

NKJV, Isaiah 52:11 - Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean, You who bear the vessels of the Lord. (cf. NKJV, 2 Corinthians 6:17.)

Regarding Marriage:

Paul explicitly points out that existing marriages are an exception to Rule #4, (above) :

NASB, 1 Corinthians 7:16 - For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Note: As in Scripture, it also seems there are no examples in Literary Greek where "Yoke-Fellow" appears in the context of "Marriage".

4. Analysis of the Greek:

The Greek construction is consistently used - in Scripture and Literary Greek - and always indicates: a consistent, balanced, standard applied to all parties, whether in obligations or rewards.

This is true in contexts regarding beasts of burden, chariots with teams of horses, and partnerships between people.

Analysis of "ἑτεροζυγοῦντες", "ἑτερόζυξ" :

ἑτερο- from ἕτερος, (Logeion Lexicon) - Does not denote: "inequality" - but rather an "other", a different referent. Someone else, another animal, etc.

-ζυγοῦντες, related to ζυγέω, ζυγή, ζεύγνυμι, etc - In the most abstract sense, denotes: a standard, a consistent measure, an equal load upon participants, (whether animals or people), a merchant's scale, an equal measurement, an equal pair; when involving people - an equal partnership, an alliance.

Prohibition Against Mixing Breeds under a Yoke :

Note : This seems to be a prohibition even against selective breeding - not just mating between species.

Septuagint, Leviticus 19:19 - ... You shall not crossbreed pairs | ἑτεροζύγῳ of animals, you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed;

Joseph. AJ 4.228 - You are to plough your land with oxen, and not to oblige other animals to come under the same yoke | αὐτοῖς ὑπὸ ζεύγλην with them; but to till your land with those beasts that are of the same kind with each other.

Josephus May be Applying the Rule Among People as well:

ibid. ... - for there is reason to fear that this unnatural abuse may extend from beasts of different kinds - to men.

A "Consistent Standard", or "Rule of Law" :

Katabiblon, LXX, Zephaniah 3:9 - Because I will transform the peoples language into the same form that all may call upon the name of the Lord obeying Him under one scale, (standard) | ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ἕνα;

Teams of Animals - Necessitating Equal Performance :

Andocides, Speeches 4:26 - What would he have done, may we ask, had one of your allies arrived with a team [of horses] | ζεῦγος ἵππων?

  • 1
    Accepting this as the answer - as it provides Scriptural and Literary examples that define the expression - until it is clarified / corrected. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 20:16
  • Why would you have to restate your own question? Why didn't you just edit the original Question to match whatever you've decided the answer should be?
    – Steve can help
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 12:30
  • @SteveTaylor - I include the question - to copy/paste to an external document, to edit later - because the site's internal markdown editor is really, really, bad. And also, it occasionally happens that questions are modified without my knowledge, or approval. Again, just a way for me to backup questions/answers externally from the site. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:11

The word 'yoked' is common in the world, including in ancient India ('yoga'), where it also has an emotional connotation, namely, 'devoted to'.

While I cannot offer a Biblical reference, to me, 'yoked' means to be bound in a psychological relationship with an unbeliever to the extent that the unbeliever can adversely influence your behavior (morals) or your faith, in ways expressed in the following passages:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1.27


You adulterous (unfaithful) people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

James 4.4

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