Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers Part 1: Who Are the Unbelievers (ἄπιστοι) in 2 Corinthians 6:14? -- By: William J. Webb

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 149:593 (Jan 1992)
Article: Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers Part 1: Who Are the Unbelievers (ἄπιστοι) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?
Author: William J. Webb


Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers
Part 1:
Who Are the Unbelievers (ἄπιστοι) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?

William J. Webb

Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis
London Baptist Seminary, London, Ontario, Canada

Throughout church history 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 has been the locus classicus for supporting all kinds of Christian separation.1 Aside from the thorny question of how this passage relates to its immediate context, there are two interpretive issues in these verses: Who are the “unbelievers” (ἄπιστοι) in 6:14 ? And what is the “unequal yoke” (ἑτεροζυγοῦντες) that the passage prohibits? The first issue is addressed in this article, and the other will be addressed in the second article in the series.

In recent years the traditional understanding of the ἄπιστοι as “pagan unbelievers” has been increasingly challenged by New Testament scholars, and Hughes’s development of the passage in The NIV Study Bible has widely popularized the false apostle view.2 In light of this interpretive shift on both a scholarly and popular level, a reexamination of the ἄπιστοι referent is needed. Furthermore, unless the “unbelievers” referent is clearly established, it is difficult to clarify what is meant by the “unequal yoke” prohibition.

Five referents for the ἄπιστοι have been proposed: (1) untrustworthy persons, (2) Gentile Christians who do not keep the Law, (3) immoral people within the church community, (4) false apostles, and (5) non-Christians, pagans outside the church community.

῎Απιστοι as Untrustworthy Persons

One view, held by Derrett, takes ἄπιστοι to refer to “untrustworthy” or “unfaithful” persons in general, whether believers or unbelievers.3 What Paul intended by μὴ γίνεσθε ἑτεροζυγοῦντες ἀπίστοις (“do not be bound together with unbelievers”) was not a negative prohibition, but a positive exhortation (by inference) encouraging the Corinthians to become full partners with him as πιστός (“trustworthy”). Derrett builds his case for this allusive refe...

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