Should Christians Only Marry Christians?

Pastor John Piper was asked “What can I say to my Christian friend who just got engaged to a non-Christian?” and this was his answer:

The key text is in 1 Corinthians 7:39 where it says that a woman is “free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”

That little phrase “only in the Lord” is added to an otherwise innocent marriage to say, “Don’t go outside of the Lord to marry.” So make sure that she knows that that is there, so that she is dealing with truth. [...]

In general I would take her (or him, because this can apply to guys too) to the text to show her what it says, and then I would encourage her that the right understanding of it is that Christians should only marry Christians. [...]

How can you be intimately, psychologically, spiritually, physically involved with a man who does not say “Jesus is Lord,” a man who doesn’t love your Savior? [...]

What is at root here is that she is loving this man more than she is loving Jesus. Because if she really loved Jesus—and he was satisfying to her, and her best friend, and walked with her, and talked with her, and sustained her—then the fact that he doesn’t love Christ but says, “I don’t want anything to do with him. He’s not my Lord. He’s not my Savior. I think that’s mythological and foolish,” that should tear her apart emotionally.

What is she saying by delighting in him when the essence of him is anti-Jesus? That’s who he is, he’s anti-Jesus!

I used to believe this, but it sounds strange and cult-like now. Christians can only marry Christians? That sounds as absurd as saying “Atheists can only marry atheists!” or “Hispanics can only marry Hispanics!”

I think it’s crazy and stupid to tell people they can can only marry people inside their religion, race, or nationality.

How ’bout you?

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  • NoYourGod

    My father, a good catholic (church on easter and xmas, and once or twice else throughout the year) had the misfortune of falling in love with and proposing to {gasp} a protestant! She was a good catch, though, because she was willing to convert to catholicism. Even after the conversion, though, the priest at the church my father had attended for 30 years would not let my parents get married in HIS church, since my mother was not a true catholic – only a converted heathen.

    So, they changed churches within the diocese, and were married as good catholics. Each of my seven siblings and I were ultimately baptized in that church, and each of us even took first communion there (as well as the oldest six being confirmed).

    Still – not only was that old coot of a priest insisting that christian marry christian, he also insisted that the proper flavor christian marry the same proper flavor christian!

    • bob wierdsma

      My brother in law converted to Catholicism from a protestant church when he married a Catholic woman (she has since passed on.) and I don’t recall they had any problems in their relationship in regards to that issue.

  • Hilary

    I think there’s some truth to John Piper’s response. I once dated a guy who was religious, and I was not, and thats exactly the reason it didn’t work out. We were good friends, I could talk to him, we got along great, but our core beliefs were not the same, and that made it really difficult to get close on a deeper level.

    But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t work for anyone else, because maybe it can. I think it’s a real case by case thing, and you shouldn’t just generalize and say everyone should date in their belief system.
    For a lot of people thats how it works out best, but not everyone.

    • Elanor

      My mom would probably agree with you. She married and had children with my father before he converted to her faith, I believe mostly because he loved her very much not because of any real feeling of belonging to his faith or hers.

      Now, she insists I marry in the faith because she knows how difficult it will be otherwise. But I’ve always believed and thought, “What happens if I love someone who isn’t Jewish?” and that’s just how its ended up – my boyfriend of 5 years is christian, though decidedly not faithful in any great sense.

  • bigjohn756

    Who is Pastor John Piper, and why do I care what he has to say?

  • Paul in Salt Lake

    For some religions, it’s a matter of doctrine. Mormons marry in special temple ceremonies, where their marriage is sealed for eternity (so they can become gods, have little spirit babies of their own and continue the cycle of planet creation and population). If you marry a non-Mormon, you can’t get married in the temple. And you non-Mormon family members aren’t allowed to attend. I, my wife and grandparents couldn’t go to my sister’s wedding for this reason.

    When you think about it, it’s a terrific way to preserve in-group status and solidarity. If you have to go to church on Sunday, and see all the other people with their significant other sitting next to them in the pews, you’ll feel a certain exclusion, which you may misdirect toward your spouse. Alternately, when you see single people in the pews, you pity them, which is an even more powerful disincentive to marry outside the faith. It’s also very effective at forcing you to conform to social and sexual norms.

    • Elanor

      I’ve heard the planet thing before… but is that REALLY true?

      • Lana

        Yes. I grew up LDS.

        I was trading “aha” moments with a friend of mine who grew up Catholic (that first moment during childhood during a Sunday School lesson when you think, “That makes no sense . . .”), and hers was Noah and the Flood.

        Mine was the whole we-become-gods-and-get-our-own-planets teaching. Why did it make no sense to a little 8 yr old? Because my Sunday School teacher told me we had to obey the natural laws of god, which meant no unicorns, elves, wizards or dragons.

        Even at 8, I thought it was pretty freaking stupid that I could supposedly become a god, but I couldn’t have pegasus-unicorns.

        • bob wierdsma

          Sounds like mormonism where even God was once a man. I wonder who created this alleged man!

    • wmdkitty

      Basement Cat’s BALLS, that’s insane!

  • Elanor

    Two of my very close friends recently were married, but it became a much larger deal because the woman was catholic and the man was not so they had a very involved process to go through.

    On a totally unrelated note my mother is extremely worried about my faith (as a jew) because my boyfriend is not jewish. ugh.

  • Bob

    Love the way christians pick and choose which text to show the couple. Few chapters away it says to stone the wife is she is not a virgin. Are they showing that text the them as well?

  • 6uldvnt

    Let’s take a small step back. While an individual’s religion is about their own personal beliefs, religious organizations are about power. It’s not about what’s actually right or wrong. “I’m the priest, pastor, or head muckity muck and I know what gawd is thinking and you don’t. You’ll do what I say because what I say is what gawd says.” By mandating that one must cleave to another of the same faith expands the power base of a particular sect. Additionally, just as an abusive spouse or parent will isolate the object of their abuse from the world as much as they can, religious leaders will try to isolate their congregation from the secular world as much as possible. If your spouse is not of your faith, competing ideas could be introduced to you from a very intimate source. God forbid that your actually are invited to THINK!

    One more thing, I’m with bigjohn756, “Who is Pastor John Piper, and why do I care what he has to say?”

    • wmdkitty

      Having been in an abusive relationship, I can vouch for that. It’s all about the control. Abusers are all the same, whether they’re your family, your partner, or an organization *cough*RCC*cough*

  • Charity

    It depends on what kind of Christian the person is. I think if you are the kind of Christian he is describing – she really loves Jesus, walks and talks with him, blah, blah, blah – you cannot have a lasting relationship with someone who does not believe as you do. That kind of Christianity pervades every aspect of your life and informs all of your decisions. I don’t see how that could work well. But, that’s me.

  • Lana

    I agree with NoYourGod. It’s really a case-by-case basis. I married within the faith I was raised in, and over time, both my husband and I became atheists.

    I had a good friend who was Catholic, and from pretty much our first conversation, we disagreed on everything religiously. It got worse after I came to atheism (he also became a Tea Party supporter, ugh), and a few weeks ago, the friendship (one that had lasted 10 years) just imploded. It was awful. At one point (before I met my husband), I’d considered this friend potential husband material. I’m so glad I never pursued that.

  • Kodie

    I think it matters how spiritual you are or aren’t. If your faith means a great deal to you, and you don’t wish to have arguments and about child-rearing (wrt faith) and you fall in love with someone and you want to be with them in heaven, etc., or you are afraid to break some biblical law, it oughtn’t get to the point of imminent marriage. You would be fishing in your own pond anyway if that’s the case. If you have more liberal or casual beliefs and can meet someone of similar respect, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. One may have strong faith and the other weak, and depending how much it doesn’t matter one way or the other, the weaker one may act the part or convert if they are from another faith. Two people of disagreeable strong beliefs or non-beliefs should not marry, and it would probably be already on their non-datable list. I don’t think you’ll get along.

    It is also, as mentioned, possibly important to someone if their nationality is important to them to marry within their nationality or ethnicity. For some people, it is really important, but I think more people are relaxed about that now. I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t marry outside their nationality or their religion, only if that is an important aspect of their identity, it’s not advisable, and probably would never even reach that point. This can all go for any number of personal beliefs or worldviews, too. Politics, dietary beliefs, environmental attitudes, social views. A vegan should probably not marry a butcher or an exterminator, in essence. If this is low on your list of things to worry about, go for it. I think most people are put together with some strong attitudes and some less important ones, and you should try to match up on the strong ones, of which religion can be, and live and let live on the ones less relevant to either of you, and you decide which ones are top level importance to you. Many marriages fail on the money and children issues, which are not things you’d typically learn until later in the relationship, and then, fools rush in and clash, or get lucky and match/cooperate/complement one another, or step away before you waste any more months or years of your life.

    A lot of the other “get-to-know-you” stuff that tends to come up within the first few dates will make it easier to walk away if you have to, even if that person is otherwise charming. What the pastor said is correct — that person ought to be disgusting to you, but he is judging the person’s friend as not a True Christian(tm), i.e., her faith is of lower-level importance not to heed the bible, allowing her to be tolerant and inclusive. Use any other measure in place of the word “faith”, and if something doesn’t matter so much to someone, they’ll probably get along just fine with someone with different opinions or attitudes on a given thing at a similar level.

    What disturbs me about this article, though, is someone writing to a pastor for advice on what to tell his or her friend. Stick your nose in other people’s business of course, show them where in the bible it says they can’t and shouldn’t marry out of faith. For someone with a strong faith, it would have been a deal-breaker from the get-go, so if it’s gotten that far, I’d say let them make their own decisions, don’t go to their wedding if you sorely do not approve, and don’t marry a non-Christian if you don’t want to.

  • Peter Cross

    I think Christians should only marry their siblings; that way the inbreeding process would proceed more quickly.

    • wmdkitty

      *points at the Deep South*

      You were saying?

      • Custador

        LRA isn’t around is she? *shiftyeyes*

    • bob wierdsma

      I don’t think so since it may cause mental and physical impairments. I think it is legal in some states in the U.S. to marry a first cousin but I wouldn’t want to marry that close.

  • AstraNavigo


    I lost a girlfriend back in college to this line of thinking.

    I’m confident she found a ‘Christian man’, squeezed our four puppies and is as big as a house now – but I’m sure that’s just the sour-grapes talking. Even back in the ’70′s, the Christian community was thinking this way. It’s been going on a long time.

    Of course, that’s just one of the many things wrong with religion – exclusivity and pseudojustified elitism….

    • Hilary

      It’s not just Christianity, or even just really religious people, it’s every ideology isn’t it? Spending the rest of your life with someone who holds completely different or conflicting core beliefs begins to be unappealing after awhile, no matter how much you love or respect someone.

      I think a foundation of good relationships usually is similar outlooks or perspectives when it comes to religion. Because I mean, it must be really difficult to treasure and respect your spouse when you’re talking about what happens after you die and your internal response to everything they say is ‘I love them, but this is horse shit.’

    • bob wierdsma

      Maybe AstraNavigo is just jealous.

      • bob wierdsma

        Fran, I married a girl 30+ years ago from a similar background and everything has turned out just fine. (My parents will soon see 59 years, the good Lord willing!) That’s not to say everything has been perfect but to us marriage is a matter of commitment and perseverance. So far as “implanted” ideas are concerned we all have those be they Christian, agnostic, or whatever. “Bring your children up in the “fear” (awe) of the Lord and in their old age they will not depart from it.”

  • fran

    Although I believe that many faiths strangle the life out of most loving relationships, I think it would also take a fair amount of maturity, and two very open minds to marry where two people could practice their prospective faiths without some kind of turmoil. If we got rid of faith, people would be forced to look inside themselves and address personal truths regarding real compadibility before they jump on the ” your baptist? me too lets get married” band wagon. The younger people in my family( early 20s ) seem to think that their prospective girlfriend or boyfriend are perfect for them based soley on their religious ( implanted) values. Then you hear about their relationship woes and one of the first complaints they state,” I thought they were, ya know, like good christians and stuff.”..:all i can do is remind them that before they are whatever their religion is, that they are just people, they may be wearing there religion like an outfit, just like you are”
    ( hence why I’m not the favorite aunt in the family )

  • Gwenny

    The real answer is that they should not marry at all. Paul, as you may recall, only condoned marriage when a person was unable to control their sexual urges. .it is better to marry than to burn. The RC Church didn’t recognize marriage, except for royalty, for centuries, if I remember my history correctly.

  • DDM

    How can you be intimately, psychologically, spiritually, physically involved with a man who does not say “Jesus is Lord,” a man who doesn’t love your Savior?

    Personally I find it a turnoff.

  • bob wierdsma

    I would say it is simply good advice to marry somebody of your own faith since it will always be a struggle in a person’s marriage, not to mention other issues a couple may disagree on. I’ve been married for 30+ years with a woman from the same church denomination, but that’s not to say we’ve seen eye to eye on everything but at least we can agree on something. Our faith has also been helpful in our struggle with infertility.

  • James

    My ex-wife demanded that I be the spiritual and prayer leader of the home, listen to her idea of christian music (not alternative christian) and believe in the principles she believed in (4th generation Seventh-Day Adventist). She demanded I attended church every Saturday or else it was over. Well, I was shown the door. It was a very sad time but we are all happier now, at least I am.

  • Ant

    “… I think that’s mythological and foolish.” Is he assuming that “non-Christian” must be atheist? If that person was a Moslem, Jesus wouldn’t be regarded as “mythological”, surely?

  • KM

    Its a simple thing you can also find in islam.
    There men may marry any women, but women may marry only muslims.
    The reasoning for that:
    Since the male is the head of the family he will bring his kids up in the religion he has.
    So any muslim woman would “loose” her kids when married to a nonmuslim.
    On the other side muslim males can be used to “spread” islam.

  • wmdkitty

    Hey, if Christians only married other Christians, I’d be okay with that. After all, I don’t want to be partnered to a bloody idiot.

    • savahn

      By Ceiling Cat!! I love this reply.

  • Darwin

    Muslim doctrine says that women can’t marry non-Muslims. Muslim men, however, can marry non-Muslims, though it is ‘discouraged’.
    Screw that.

  • Slurms

    I think it really depends. If the significant other is a very outspoken follower it would be hard to deal with. My wife is Catholic, but also believes that faith is a very personal thing and realizes that she doesn’t have all the answers to the big questions regarding her faith. We rarely ever talk about religion or faith. She understands my views, I understand hers. There are too many other qualities we love about eachother to make something like a difference in creation beliefs keep us apart.

  • cang

    -Telling- anyone such things is not stupid or crazy because it’s common and even very practical at all levels, whether that be religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political views, and besides has no value of enforcement. If my parents told me I could only marry another atheist or another of my ethnicity, I’d laugh.

    -Forcing- people to marry within certain groups isn’t crazy or stupid either, but for different reasons. This is the natural means to maintaining power.

  • Thegoodman

    I cannot imagine marrying a christian. It is beyond me to understand a deep loving relationship between two people who are at opposite ends of the religious spectrum.

    I can understand cross religious marriages. They believe the same concepts, just different flavors with a few names mixed around.

    There is a short list of things I had to have in my wife:
    -Same social politics (abortion and gay rights in particular)
    -Same religious…ideals (or lack thereof)
    -Same sense of humor

    Everything else I can (and did) work with.

    My lovely atheist, socially liberal, hilarious doctor wife and I got married last May :)

    • Custador

      My (now) fiance was a (liberal) Christian when we met. I can’t say it ever stood in our way. Doing a degree in Human Sciences at Oxford kind of changed her mind – I always tried to avoid atheistic prosyltizing to her.

  • Ithacaman

    While I’m a longtime Atheist, several years ago I dated an ordained Methodist Minister. “Sandy” was a non-practicing Pastor though she was still really very religious. But she actually didn’t attend church very often. Sandy was willing to have frequent “marital relations” (outside of marriage) with me, but she drew the line at marrying me, a non-believer, as we couldn’t be together when we entered the gates of Heaven! Sandy is now engaged to a good Christian man who has already gotten her pregnant!
    God works in mysterious ways!

  • Friedrich

    Actually, I believe Christians should only marry Chimpanzees……… to maintain the intelligence level.

    • yahweh

      Chimpanzees are offended by this comparison.

      • bob wierdsma

        Friederich and Yahweh may be joking but evolutionists believe – seriously – that we marry an alleged distant relative of a chimpanzee called a human being.

        • Yoav

          I’m proud to count chimps among my relatives but I will deny any connection to you.

          • bob wierdsma

            Sorry Yoav…but we are (very) distant relatives if indeed Adam and Eve are the world’s first parents as I believe. Human beings are actually of the same blood.
            But then you’re being a comedian anyway…

            • Jasowah

              Same blood? What does that even mean?

            • yahweh

              “if indeed Adam and Eve are the world’s first parents”

              And that is a BIG “if”.

            • Sunny Day

              Sorry bob wierdsma…but we are (very) distant relatives if indeed Adam and Eve are NOT the world’s first parents.

            • Yoav

              I didn’t say we are not distantly related I just say I’m ashamed of it.

        • yahweh

          but creationists believe – seriously – that the earth is only 6,000 years old and was formed in 6 days, that dinosaurs co-existed with man, that all races of mankind descended from Adam and Eve (who according to every illustration I’ve seen where white) etc.
          Yeah evolutionists believe in a lot more wacky theories than creationsists do!

  • Ariel

    I find that pretty ironic, actually. The early church wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it did if they didn’t explicitly go after women married to prominent pagans, on the grounds that the women were easier to get the message to and that they’d convert their husbands and households eventually. (I don’t know whether the once-you’re-christian-you-can’t-marry-a-pagan martrydom fad with the spectacular bearded and gender-swapped saints was actually ancient or showed up in the 600s or so as retroactive history, though.)

    • WMDKitty

      Gender-swapped saints? DO tell!

    • Mogg

      That’s totally allowable according to the new testament, though. There’s even advice to people who are married to non-believers to stay married, if both parties are agreeable, in order to win the non-believing partner over. One assumes that advice was to people who converted after marriage, however.

      • Kodie

        That’s, as you say, “if both parties are agreeable.” Plenty of times it just means more to one partner than the other. I don’t know that the converting partner even then believes in his or her new faith, it’s just a compliance, an accommodation they’re willing to make, and perhaps they are more for the theory of religious beliefs than any in particular, and aren’t really bothered which of them their children (if any) will be raised in. I really don’t think someone of great faith in something will be as willing to convert for their spouse, in that they actually believe in something in particular, and asking to change their mind about it is not a casual question.

        But a lot of people marry who are oil and water from the start, and some people think they will be able to change someone’s strong habits or inclinations, such as whether or not to have children, or whether both will work or one will stay home, neat/messy, helpful/lazy, someone who loves football/someone who really thinks an autumn Sunday afternoon is a good day for picnics, etc. I don’t think you can expect someone to convert if their religion or atheism is as important to them as the religion you’d ask them to convert to is to you, nor expect them to defer when it’s time to start indoctrinating the children, which is really what this argument stands for. Two people can disagree forever on this, but you can’t raise a child between you with two sets of beliefs unless it’s not actually important to you.

  • brgulker

    There’s a difference in the meaning of the words “can” and “should.” In this case, the distinction is important. But in the post, the two words are conflated, which distorts the meaning in a small but significant way.

    My opinion on the topic is that I personally wouldn’t want to be married to someone who sees the world, existence, etc., in such a fundamentally different way than I do. I’m not sure how that would work.

    Also, Mogg points out some other important NT passages that Piper seems to ignore.