"Unequally Yoked"


Personally, I think we have gotten into trouble as church and society by progressing too far beyond the primitive understanding on which the "unequally-yoked" metaphor is based.

"But what if men draw false conclusions?" objected the Doctor.

"One man is most liable to do so," admitted the Rector. "But the doctrine of the Church is not the conclusion of one man. It is the corporate conclusion of vast numbers of men who have studied, investigated, and verified their conclusions. These conclusions, which the thought and experience of ages have substantiated, are presented as the sound judgment of the Church as to the meaning of the facts."

"But do not doctrines change with the passing ages?"

"Of course. Let us be clear. The facts are eternal and change not. But with the passing of the centuries and with new knowledge, the doctrines change. It is so with every science, your own most of all. The doctrines of the Church represent the highest possible reach of the Church toward the ultimate realities."

—George Atwater, The Episcopal Church226
The principle of the yoked oxen is not like the scientific principle of the sun rising — apt to be updated with advances in astronomy —, but becomes fuzzier as we learn to live in cities in a mechanized age. "The facts are eternal and change not. But with the passing of the centuries and with new knowledge, the doctrines change." Paul's exhortation is the same, but now we no longer perceive it as his Corinthian church must have.

Instead of visualizing a team of yoked oxen, we draw a blank until someone says, "It's like marriage; Paul is telling Christians not to marry unbelievers." Then instead of drawing a conclusion about labor (Christian ministry) which is the only reason oxen would be yoked together, we take off from our picture of marriage to conclude that Paul was telling us not to form any comprehensive liaisons we might have trouble getting out of.

But our new understanding produces different results from the old one. Take as an example a country doctor who makes house calls to a people steeped in their faiths. Well, it shouldn't surprise us that the doctor is often joined by the minister.

"There's nothing surprising about that! Religion and medicine walk hand in hand, as often as not. I confer with the priest or the Vicar as frequently as I summon the undertaker. People grieving or in pain or frightened need comforting, and that's the role of the church when medicine has done all it can."
—Charles Todd, Watchers of Time227
It turns out to be a common linkage between the two in their occupations that they can't really get out of, so our new understanding of Paul's command tells us they are blowing it, and yet the metaphor of "religion and medicine walk[ing] hand in hand" is not the one Paul commanded against, being yoked together.

I think perhaps we are taking the "unequally yoked" metaphor too far afield and to soon. In II Corinthians 6 where we get the "be ye not unequally yoked" command, the chapter started with Paul (vs. 1) "as workers together with Him" beseeching them "to receive not the grace of God in vain," describing the ins and outs of his ministry, his labor, and telling them (vs. 13) "be ye also enlarged" in receiving Paul's tender ministry to them. Then (vs. 14) to "be ye not unequally yoked ..."

Now, if we are going to expand upon his exhortation beyond the immediate concern of Christian ministry, we would certainly do well to first look at his epistle to Philemon where Paul also ties his caring ministry to him to a request that he be enlarged towards Paul (and Onesimus "my son," "mine own bowels.") One verse (17) in particular is, "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself." Paul is certainly a partner with whom the churches should be (equally) yoked. This goes without saying.

Okay, the partnerships of Paul mentioned in this one-chapter epistle consist of "Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer" (vs. 1), "Archippus our fellowsoldier" (vs. 2), "Epaphras my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus" (vs. 23), and "Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlaborers," (vs. 24), not to mention brother Timothy. Okay, what I am saying is that before we take the "be ye not unequally yoked ..." command beyond its "fellowlabourer" context to apply it to marriage, we should first see how it applies to "fellowsoldier" or "fellowprisoner." What has too often been done is apply it to marriage straightway and from there develop other applications.

For an example let's look at John Biggins, A Sailor of Austria228:

... Introducing myself, at your service:
holder of
the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa Maria Theresa Cross the Military Service Cross with Laurels miltary service cross
the Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold Leopold Cross the Paraguayan Golden Armadillo with Sun Rays armadillo
the Order of the Iron Crown First Class iron crown the German Iron Cross First Class German Iron cross
the Ottoman Liakat Order with Crossed Sabres Ottoman Liakat order the Order of Polonia Restituta polonia restituta
the Silver Virtuti Militari virtuti militari the Gold and Silver Signum Laudis Signum Laudis
the Order of the White Lion white lion and the Distinguished Service Order with Bar distinguished service
"However, if you care to strip away the fake title of nobility and the encrustations of metalware, like layers of paint and rusted drawing-pins off the back of an old door, you may think of me as Otto Prohaska, which was my name during my years in the Austrian service. Or if you prefer it, as plain Ottokár Procházka, the square-faced old Czech peasant who looks out of the mirror each morning: a wrinkled Bohemian village elder, just like his grandfather and the preceding forty or so generations of Procházkas who goaded their plough-oxen across the fields around the village of Strchnice in the district of Kolin, about sixty kilometres east of Prague.
Here we have a soldier with some experience. He comes from a long line—forty or so generations—of peasants familiar with plough oxen. If we can apply the concept of equally yoked oxen to military service, here is one who would get it. I mean, your minister: city bred, never seen an ox let alone be able to recount his generations that plowed with them, ... and the village they were part of, — would he know more about the metaphor?
I am more than grateful enough to Queen Elizabeth and her father for having given a penniless old refugee somewhere to rest his bones these past forty years. Beyond that, why should I be any concern of hers? I was born a subject of the Emperor Franz Josef, and I have served a dozen states since without ever having sworn allegiance to any of them. No, the only oath of loyalty I ever took was as a pink-cheeked young Seefähnrich that morning in 1905 on the quarterdeck of the old Babenburg, swearing lifelong devotion to Emperor and Dynasty as I tied on for the first time that sword belt of black and yellow silk, like a nun taking the veil. Since then it has all been one to me: Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Paraguay, Poland, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; empires, People's Republics, thousand-year Reichs, all of them as insubstantial as smoke and transient as hailstones on an August afternoon, those huge Central European hailstones that smash roof-tiles and kill animals and flatten hectacres of rye, then vanish before your eyes as the sun comes out.

That was what they used to drum into us cadets at the Imperial and Royal Marine Academy in Fiume: 'Whoever puts on the tunic of a Habsburg officer puts aside his nationality.'228

Well, yes, here is a ready application: a Habsburg officer is not to become unequally yoked together with his nationality. The empire at that time encompassing multiple nations, national loyalties were for a Habsburg officer superseded by empire loyalty. Let's see how that plays out in practice.
So I was to sail with a Hungarian for a Second Officer. Among most Austrians of my generation our Hungarian partners (usually referred to in private as 'the Magyar scum') were regarded with at least a certain mistrust as being engaged in a gigantic conspiracy to run the entire Monarchy in their own interests. Now it appeared I was to have one of them as my second in command.228
Shades of the Apostle Paul here. A gigantic conspiracy: Paul seemed to think so of the world we are to come out from: (II Corinthians 6:17) "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." "Unclean thing" parallels"Magyar scum." An unequal yoking with a national interest works against the success of the empire. Here I think we should allow him to apply the unequally-yoked metaphor to soldiering. We can get away with it.

But how is his peasant mind going to apply this to marriage? Say he marries a Hungarian woman. Since she is not in the military in the first place, not a Habsburg officer, how is that going to subvert the military interests he's pursuing? Their son is not "Magyar scum," not something unclean, but a holy offspring. He has sanctified his wife with the dignity of his office and their offspring are empire children. He promotes empire interests to his wife and can easily influence her to come around. His Hungarian married crewman in the novel has his wife and child moved inland for fear of hostilities. They were not to be part of the fighting.

See, he can marry anyone he chooses, so long as it's within the bounds of loyalty to his Monarch: "only in the Lord." Let's see how he does:

Then in later years, in England, there were the feelings of my second wife Edith to be considered. She had lost an adored elder brother to the U-Boats in 1916, a Third Engineer on the liner Persian; and although she knew that I had been in the Austrian fleet and had served aboard submarines, she was a tactful woman and never enquired too closely into what I had been doing in those years.228
All that's needed to avoid marital strife over one partner's Christianity is a modicum of tact. Sure the other knows the one goes to church and follows the Lord but doesn't make unadvised inquiries in the first place.

If that's how it worked for the second wife, then that (or something similar) is probably how it worked for the first. If sanctification is how it works for a new convert with his or her unsaved spouse, then that is probably what will happen with an unsaved fiancé(e) or boyfriend/girlfriend or what have you. The peasant's mind is going to more readily apply the marriage principle to courting than he'd apply a mangled yoked-oxen metaphor to it. And these were the people and the mind Paul was addressing.

For a biblical example of fellowsoldiers take King David and Uriah the Hittite (II Samuel 11-12). I won't recount the whole story here, just to mention that Uriah out of camaraderie with his fellowsoldiers would not engage in marital relations with his wife Bathsheba while his fellow troops were camped in the field. When God through the prophet Nathan addressed Uriah's home life, the metaphor used was not of a working ox, but of a sheep: (12:3) "But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter." Uriah bought the ewe lamb, not an ox, and I would take it from the metaphor that a Christian can marry a nonbeliever without worrying that he has acquired an ox he can't work with.

Let's compare for a moment the ewe lamb with the oxen team. I shall take a couple vignettes from E.B. White:229


The lambs had nursed and the ewe was lying quiet. One lamb had settled itself on the mother's back and was a perfect miniature of the old one—they reminded me of a teapot we have, whose knob is a tiny replica of the pot itself.

My Day

On the way back to the house along the hard-packed path, I noticed that a pall of smoke, presumably from forest fires to the north of us, overhung the world; it gave the sky a queer look, a sort of diffused brilliance. All common objects appeared unusual. I was surprised to note, during the course of the day, how many people remarked that it looked "like the end of the world." ...

The plowman mentioned the smoke pall when I was talking with him in the afternoon, and I asked if he knew where the fire was.

"Canada," he replied.

"What part of Canada?" I asked.

"The whole of it," he said. "They tell me the whole of Canada is ablaze."

"That's a big fire then," I answered. "Canada is a large place, larger than the United States even."

The plowman considered this distasteful pronouncement a moment. "Well then," he said, "it is a big fire." But he added cheerfully, "Anyways, it'll have to cross a pile of water 'fore it gits to us."

I nodded in perfect agreement, for this seemed a spiritual rather than a geographical discussion, and I felt instructed and renewed.

Since the lamb is sanctified, the nursing ewe is sanctified too. You want them all to be adjoined. If they are sanctified sheep, then the purchase itself was sanctified. How could it be otherwise?

The plowman's situation is different. That big fire, he wants to be off somewhere, not adjoined to us over here. Both situations can happen on the same farm, in the same Bible, different books.

Let's look at King David's estate according to Nathan the prophet: (2 Sam. 12:2,4,7-9a) "The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: ... And there came a traveler unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. ... And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight?" Here David has a ministry; he is king. His herd represented his own wives in the Bible story, but the metaphor allows for an expanded application: "such and such things." It could just as well be applied to, say, a fellowlaborer being available in one's own church to help him out, equally yoked in Christian ministry, and if there isn't one available, then God can easily bring such and such a one. It would be evil to go against God's command and appropriate an unsaved spouse to yoke up with in Christian service. No, rather find one from your church, or else let God bring you the needed one. But to buy a ewe lamb is not against God's commandment.

let's look at the fellowsoldier metaphor in child's play—how children play war. After all, we have to receive the kingdom of God as a little child in order to enter into it.

Outside our group collected on the sidewalk. "Okay," I said. "What are the rules?" I remembered that this was an important part of the ritual. Timmy's games were so varied, it was critical everyone agreed up front on the parameters.

Timmy didn't even have to think about it. "Your front porch is base, Jeff; that's where Gail will be. We all start here and try to get to her. First one there wins. But there will be other soldiers trying to stop us along the way, plus we have to fight each other, too."

"What do you mean, 'other soldiers'?" I asked.

"You know, enemies. Don't worry, you'll be able to see them and everything."

"And they'll be fighting all of us?" I asked pointedly.

"Yes, all of us." He squinted at me. "You don't think I'd cheat, do you?"

No more than gambling casinos cheat people by setting the odds astronomically in the house's favor. "I just want this to be fair," I said. "That means no changing into animals or monsters, no flying, no teleporting. All right?"

"Like I need to do any of that."

Raising the MP-80, I said, "No surprise weapons, either. You can't like, whip out a hand grenade or knife later. What we've got right now is all we've got."

"Okay, okay. Jeez."

Mike stepped forward. "And no using other ghosts, either."

"Hey, who asked you to—"

"That's a good point," I said, imagining Mr. Kegler leaning out of a house and pointing me out to Timmy. "Keep the other ghosts out of this. Just us and the other soldiers."

"Okay, okay, okay. Let's just play."

I was sure there were more angles to cover, important angles. I thought back, tried to remember all the permutations of Army. "How many lives do we get?"

"Let's say three. Third time you get killed, you're out of the game. Anything else?"

I hesitated. "I don't think so."

Mark A. Clements, The Land of Nod230
Children are quite capable of using their imagination to square being equally yoked in their war game, but they simply do not bring Gail on home base into that aspect as home base is a separate rule from the fighting (equally yoked) rules. To enter the kingdom of heaven like children means treating the First Corinthians 7 home base sanctification of mixed marriage rule as a separate category from the not-unequally-yoked in ministry (warfare) rule of Second Corinthians 6.

To apply the yoked-oxen metaphor to our Christian church life: say a Sunday school teacher has his assistant manage Sunday School class when he has other obligations. It is obvious that they are yoked together in God's service and he would be prohibited from letting a nonchristian run the class or sub for him when, say, he has some kind of obligation to his wife he needs to tend to. That's part of marriage metaphorically called "walking hand in hand." If a Christian marries a nonchristian, he should biblically be allowed to walk hand in hand with his mate — in fact, it would be expected of him —, and it is hoped he will bring her to church and perhaps get her saved. But if he has a Sunday School class he would not be allowed to let his unsaved spouse substitute for him. Marrying a nonbeliever does not automatically violate the "not unequally yoked" command and it may lead one to salvation.

Why I believe this subject is relevant is that the church's relation to American government strikes me as the "walking hand in hand," but not "unequally yoked" à la A.A. inasmuch as our kind of government only functions when people are individually responsible, got religion/morals, but our government cannot dictate our doctrine, just as A.A. requires a belief in a higher power but doesn't develop a creed about it. I mean, aren't we supposed to see about casting out the beam from our own eye before attempting to remove the mote from our neighbor's? How do we maintain credibility when we complain that the separation-of-church-and-state doctrine denies us the walking hand in hand when all the founders wanted was that we be not yoked together, and at the same time we allow that Paul's command to be not unequally yoked denies us the right to have nonbelieving spouses to walk hand in hand with?

I've gotten into arguments where I ended up being told the Bible had to be taken as a whole to see we are forbidden to marry nonbelievers. What is so hard for people to see? For example:

"Your uncle Thadeus has the constitution of an ox," Stephenson agreed. "He may well outlive your grandfather's years. But your father's heart has given out, and his body must follow." He studied the grieving man's face, noting the deep lines of worry and sleeplessness. Hetty Baldwin, his housekeeper's daughter, was getting a good man in Martin Baker, the doctor told himself. Much like Herbert in character—God-fearing, with strong ties to family and a fierce sense of duty. It was a sound match. "Everything happens in God's own time, you know. Even this. And it's a kindness that he won't linger." He spoke the words as comfort, then nodded toward the bed. "See if you can persuade Elly to rest a little. She's hardly stirred from his side since yesterday morning. We'll call her if there's any—urgency. She will only wear herself into collapse, driving herself like this."
Any student of English knows: "A paragraph is a group of related statements that a writer regards as a unit in the development of his subject,"232and yet he can read the unified paragraph above and still keep separate three statements:
  1. That uncle Thadeus was like an ox in a particular way, a strong constitution;
  2. The qualities of a good match are in his opinion "God-fearing, with strong ties to family and a fierce sense of duty;" and
  3. "Everything happens in God's own time, you know. Even this."
But Christians reading the Bible cannot seem to keep clear in their minds three such verses that are not even in the same paragraph and not necessarily even in the same epistle. 1)The "unequally-yoked" verse relates to oxen in the particular area of labor. Second Corinthians 6 begins with, (vs. 1) "We then, as workers together with him, beseech you ...," then a parenthetical verse 2 followed by (vs. 3) a claim for a blameless ministry, then a colon and a list of what makes up a blameless ministry (vs. 4-10), then in (vs. 11-13) Paul is asking the Corinthians to be similarly enlarged in their ministry as he is in his. Then comes (vs. 14) the exhortation to not be unequally yoked, the yoke being readily understood in that agrarian society to be an instrument of labor, in this context labor in the Lord, followed by some rhetorical questions (vs. 15-18) having to do with what the Corinthians would be connected up to in their Christian labor were they to yoke themselves to unbelievers in it. This yoking as the original recipients of the epistle understood it would not have meant anything other than that referred to in (Philippians 4:3) "And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life." A Christian does not want to "labour ... in the gospel ... with other fellowlabourers, whose names are [not]in the book of life," whence the exhortation not to be unequally yoked.

2) Paul in the previous epistle, a separate book of the Bible tells what match is allowed for the widow, and what he recommends:

          (I Cor. 7:39-40)
               The wife is bound by the law as long as her
          husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is
          at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in
          the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after
          my judgment: and I think also that I have the
          Spirit of God.

He did not say she had to marry only someone who was "God-fearing, with strong ties to family and a fierce sense of duty;" no, he pretty much left it wide open, only that if she marries, she marry in the Lord. The Old Testament makes an issue that the Israelites were not to marry certain heathen because they would turn their hearts away from God. In the New Testament the widow at least (and presumably the rest of us) is still to marry only while keeping her heart right with the Lord, but there is no preliminary prohibition against a nonchristian mate. The companion thought also leaves out that part, (I Tim 5:11-12) "But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith."

As for all the marital troubles brought on by marrying someone not of one's faith, I am not denying that, and it is a facet of marriage to consider before tying the knot, but Paul seems to be not all that excited about any prospect the widow marries, be he Christian or no.

At certain junctures in their history, every couple encounters serious marital difficulties. Many of these conflicts are of long standing; they lie dormant until they are exposed by a particular stress (an illness, a death, a job loss, a move) or by a certain stage of development. Often it is time itself, and the demands that its changes place on the partners, which exposes their problems.
—Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D., The Fragile Bond233
To oversimplify the situation, say there were only three factors in mate selection to look for: "God-fearing, with strong ties to family and a fierce sense of duty." Paul says there is no perfect mate, the best you can hope for is two out of three. Well, our unhappy widow finds a man who is God-fearing, but he is more strongly tied to his work than any family he might have and as for loyalty, it goes to his cronies with whom he spends all his free time. The widow has a second suitor who although he has not yet become a Christian, he has "strong ties to family and a fierce sense of duty." She might just decide to marry him rather than the Christian suitor. I have known and heard of, and I am sure you have too, a Christian who marries a nonbeliever who fills a particular need or perhaps there just wasn't anybody else available. We accept them with grace (I hope) and the only real requirement is that the Christian not let go of the Lord in the process, but if anything bring the other to Christ.

3) In the God's-will-be-done category, Paul says, (I Cor 7:7) "For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that." If you want to argue the subject with a homosexual who would love to be accepted on the basis of diversity, you will find plenty diversity that Paul allows, "one after this manner, and another after that," in First Corinthians without including perversions. The first major division is between single and married. Singles are broken down into categories of never-married, divorced (as from a nonbeliever), and widow/widower. The virgin/never-married is further divided into those who are determined never to marry and those who are just waiting for the right time.

Then comes the married categories. You have special categories: those (widows or divorcees) who are remarrying, and those Christians who marry a nonbeliever. One also has the listing of three categories in (I Cor 9:5) "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?" Cephas is Peter who per Matthew 8:14 had a wife whom we nevertheless never see active in his ministry. Some Christians with a visible ministry in the church have spouses that tend the hearth and never get directly involved in their ministry. That is one kind of marriage. The brethren of the Lord would represent those Christian couples living out various parallels of the relationship between Christ and the church. And the most accessible "other" apostle here in this epistle, if we go beyond just the twelve, is Apollos who was at Corinth and whose tutelage from Priscilla and Aquila would make him represent the Christian married couple who is a gospel team. If you remember that while we are of the same body of Christ, we have different gifts with their own dynamics with respect to sexuality, then we can use directly the earlier lists in the book. (I Cor 1:12) "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." The ones "of Paul" would be the celibates, "of Apollos" the man-wife gospel team, "of Cephas" the minister whose wife just does the cooking, and "of Christ" those who specifically parallel the Christ-church relationship. The specific promise is, (I Cor 3:21-22) "Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours." All things are ours, whether Paul—celibacy if that's our thing, or Apollos if we want the gospel team, or Cephas if the minister wants a stay-at-home wife, or the world if one wants to marry a nonbeliever. Or things present if one is presently married to a nonbeliever when he becomes a Christian. Or things to come if a Christian marries a nonbeliever afterward.

Anyway, there are three ideas, each having its own relevancy. What I complain about is the way 1) the yoking passage gets imported illegally into 2) the widow remark, especially by the NIV™. I Corinthians gives the strongest statement that mixed marriages are sanctified. In II Corinthians 4:2 Paul tells us he is "not handling the word deceitfully." In Genesis 34:13 we see "the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor deceitfully" that they are allowed to intermarry when they are not; they wanted revenge for Dinah. Therefore Paul's II Corinthians statement not to be unequally yoked in Christian ministry cannot be applied directly to mixed marriages which were earlier undeceitfully allowed.

When the NIV™ translators moved the "unequally yoked" verse into the widow's territory, they misdirected our understanding of the ministry-labor meaning of yoke, they diverted a widow from her heart motivation to instead select an outward Christian, and they short-circuited the permission list. It's called muddying the waters. (Ezek. 34:18) "Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?" The translators read the vague Greek equivalent of "only in the Lord" (I Cor. 7:39b) and substituted their human understanding of "but he must belong to the Lord" (NIV™) which is neither better Greek nor simpler English but a corruption.

What the NIV™ misses is the import of (I Cor 7:12-14) "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." Since here Paul is speaking as a spiritual man—not by direct quotation from the Lord—about family matters, and the NIV™ doesn't get even this, it fails the test of (I Timothy 3:5) "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" If the NIV™ translators cannot translate mere family matters right, how can we trust them with God's recorded revelations? Therefore I have serious issues, that and others, with this recent translation and find myself unable to respect it.

Here is another delicate line of thought to consider. Henry David Thoreau in writing his memoirs characterizes:

The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindu, Persian and Greek, [as] a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden234
Philosophers tended to view life best from the ground of poverty and simplicity. Thoreau himself set about to understand a simple life. He did some farming. "I was obliged to hire a team and a man for the ploughing, though I held the plough myself."233He likely understood yoked oxen better than we city folk do.
I learned that if one would live simply and eat only the crop which he raised, and raise no more than he ate, and not exchange it for an insufficient quantity of more luxurious and expensive things, he would need to cultivate only a few rods of ground, and that it would be cheaper to spade up that than to use oxen to plough it ...; and thus he would not be tied to an ox ...233
He then remarks on the extra labor required to maintain the oxen if one goes that route.
I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much the freer. Men and oxen exchange work; but if we consider necessary work only, the oxen will be seen to have greatly the advantage, their farm is so much the larger. Man does some of his part of the exchange work in his six weeks of haying, and it is no boy's play. Certainly no nation that lived simply in all respects, that is, no nation of philosophers, would commit so great a blunder as to use the labour of animals. True, there never was and is not likely soon to be a nation of philosophers, nor am I certain it is desirable that there should be.233
That is related to the sentiment expressed in (Ecclesiasticus 7:22), "Hast thou cattle? have an eye to them: and if they be for thy profit, keep them with thee."

Were the Corinthians in fact this mythical nation of philosophers so set on a simple utilitarian life that Paul in discussing labor-in-the-Lord had merely to say, "Be ye not unequally yoked," for them to extend a philosophical application into the realm of marriage, say, that he wasn't even discussing? It is a philosophical leap that is beyond me. But if they were a nation of philosophers, then they wouldn't have working oxen to be used in the metaphor in the first place.


Dating Questions | God's Answers
Questions of Greek scholarship, context, sanctification, dating, God's authority, & authority of the church
Yoked Together in Christian Ministry,
an attempt to sort out the confusion.
KJV | Context | Mixed Marriage
Comparing the KJV with modern English versions; looking at mixed marriage and being unequally yoked in their own contexts; proper handling of the word of God; vulnerability of widows addressed.
Parable of the Laborers
Episcopalians & diversity. Parable of the laborers.
Unequally Yoked Metaphor
"Unequally yoked" metaphor. New translations muddy the waters regarding a widow marrying "only in the Lord."
Holy Seed
Evil report and good report. King James Bible. "Unequally yoked" examined. Holy seed means sanctified marriage. marrying "only in the Lord." Christian liberty. Corinthian epistles.
Only in the Lord
"Only in the Lord" for a widow's remarriage; application to the times; sanctification of marriage; accuracy of Bible translations.
Breaking Up Blues
Breaking up is the pits.
Missionary Dating
Missionary dating; circular arguments; "expert" disagreeing opinions; Priscilla & Aquila; parallels in the writings of Paul; spread of primitive Christianity; parable of the laborers.
Pauline Triads
Questions from Corinthian cultural framework; the expert's opinion; triads in Paul; courtship.
Expert Opinion
Eureka! An actual "expert;" the Corinthians' perspective; modern framework; Paul's thought.
Note on Paul's Triad
Note on the triad.


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403

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Copyright © 2003, Earl S. Gosnell III Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this study--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.

I have used material from many sources for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. The sources are included in notes. Such uses must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.

A half verse scripture quotation marked (NIV™) was taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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Unequally Yoked Metaphor