Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries participated in an interfaith dialogue with Muslim scholar Dr. Yasir Qadhi in Memphis, TN in January 2017. The IFD was held in a mosque one night and the other night was held at a church building. There have been many critics since then that claim the IFD was not biblical and that it violated several Scriptural passages. Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend Radio has been one of the major critics of the IFD. Jeff Dornik is also a very vocal critic of the IFD. Some critics have claimed that Dr. White’s participation played into the hands of the ecumenical goals of Dr. Qadhi. I want to look at some of the arguments made by the critics and see if there is any merit or accurate Scriptural basis to their claims.
Introduction to Part One:
It has been argued by critics that the IFD violated 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The argument is that we should not be unequally yoked to Muslims and IFDs violate this passage. I want to examine this claim and look into the context of this passage to form my own opinion based on Scripture. Here is the passage:
14 Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said:
I will dwell
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
17 Therefore, come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord;
do not touch any unclean thing,
and I will welcome you.
18 And I will be a Father to you,
and you will be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 CSB
I can see that on the surface this passage would appear to be prohibiting partnerships between Christians and non-Christians and more specifically between Christians and Muslims. An IFD between a Christian and a Muslim would certainly seem to be a partnership and would therefore be a violation of this clear passage. If you are a discerning Bible reader you should be able to come up with questions as you are reading any portion of Scripture. Several questions came to my mind as I read this passage:
Who are the Corinthians?
What is the purpose of the book? What of 1 Corinthians?
What is the immediate context of this passage?
What is the context of this passage in 2 Corinthians?
What is the context of this passage when looking at 1 Corinthians?
What is the Greek word for partners/partnership in verse 14, what does it mean, and where else is it used?
What info can I glean from my bible commentaries and study Bibles about this passage?
As I go through these texts I aim to demonstrate the importance of discernment and the importance of biblical hermeneutics (the art and science of scriptural interpretation). We just read in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that we should not be partners with those who do not believe. However read this passage from 1 Corinthians:
“9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world.11 But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.”
This would appear to be a contradiction. In 1 Corinthians we are told that Paul did not tell the Corinthians to stop associating with the immoral people of this world. He actually tells them that they shouldn’t even eat with a person who claims to be a brother or sister yet is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. The book we know as 1 Corinthians is not actually the first letter that Paul wrote to them. His first letter is lost to us but we know that he sent one because he says in verse 9 that he “wrote to them to not associate with sexually immoral people”. The immediate context of this verse relates to the preceding passage of 1 Corinthians 5 regarding the man who is sleeping with his father’s wife. In verse 10 Paul goes on to say that he did not mean to say that the Corinthians should not associate with the unbelieving sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers, or the idolaters of this world. As biblical Christians, we would say that anyone who worships a false god is an idolater. We would also say there is only one true God, Yahweh the God of the Bible:
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
there is no God but me.
I will strengthen you,
though you do not know me,
so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
that there is no one but me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
6 You, Lord, are the only God.
You created the heavens,
the highest heavens with all their stars,
the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to all of them,
and all the stars of heaven worship you.
About eating food sacrificed to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,”and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him.
1 Corinthians 8:4
In 1 Corinthians we are told by Paul that he did not mean to say that the Corinthians should stop associating with unbelievers and then in 2 Corinthians we are told by Paul that the Corinthians should not be partners with unbelievers. Which one are we to follow? Is he changing his mind in 2 Corinthians? Muslims believe in a false god and idolaters are those who put anything else above sole worship and belief of the God of the Bible. 1 Cor would suggest that we can and should associate with Muslims but 2 Corinthians seems to suggest that we should not be partners or have a partnership with Muslims. This seems to be contradictory and very confusing on the surface. Yet we need to dig into the context and the original language and try to get a clearer and better understanding of what is going on in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
Let’s start by setting up the context of 1 and 2 Corinthians. The following quoted information is taken from the Wycliffe Bible Commentary:
“The city of Corinth. Corinth was a wealthy commercial center. …Corinth’s moral character made it a fertile field for the glorious good news of the Messiah. The old city had contained the famous Temple of Aphrodite, where one thousand sacred prostitutes were made available to its cultists. The same spirit, if not the the same temple prevailed in the new city. …Corinth was a city noted for everything depraved, dissolute, and debauched.”
1 Corinthians was written in response to a letter that Paul received from the Corinthian church. Paul addresses very specific problems that had been affecting the Corinthian Christians such as division, sexual immorality, abuse of the sacraments, and lawsuits between believers. The church sought instruction from Paul regarding marriage, divorce, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts, and other matters. Can you picture this young church at the epicenter of an incredibly wicked and depraved culture and city? False apostles are deceiving the Corinthians and are turning some of them against Paul. Picture a young church like this in Portland, Oregon or a post-Christian New England city. There truly is nothing new under the sun. It may seem that our current American culture is becoming more and more depraved but it’s really not any worse than the state of the culture of the early church. There was sexual immorality, greed, hate, violence, racism, and any other wicked sin like there is today. It may have changed dynamics but the root sins have been around since Adam’s fall and were extremely prevalent in the pagan culture surrounding the early church.
The Greeky Section:
Now let’s take a look at some of the Greek words used in our two texts. I’m not a Greek scholar and I haven’t been to Bible college or seminary but I know a little Greek and I know how to use the internet to look up the meanings of Greek words used in Scripture. All of the following Greek information comes from http://biblehub.com/greek/.
This is the word that is translated as “associate with” in 1 Corinthians 5:9:
sunanamignumi: to mix up together, hence to associate with
Original Word: συναναμίγνυμι
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (soon-an-am-ig’-noo-mee)
Short Definition: I keep company with
Definition: I mingle together with, keep company with.
4874 synanamígnymi (from 4862 /sýn, “identified with“; 303 /aná, “up, finishing a process”; and 3396 /mígnymi, “mix”) – properly, mix-closely-together to influence, “associate intimately with” (Souter).
Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that he did not mean to say in his previous letter that they should not “keep company with” or stop “mingling with” unbelievers (sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters, etc.). The word study help above says that this Greek word means mix-closely-together to influence, and “associate intimately with”. This passage very clearly does not support the claim that an IFD between a Christian and a Muslim is unbiblical. Dr. White and Dr. Qadhi clearly stated that they have different beliefs and that they were in no way compromising their beliefs. They did however say that the goal of this IFD was to open more dialogues between Christians and Muslims and to take away the fear and anger that each group has towards the other. The modern American evangelical church’s view of Muslims is that they are all Jihadists and they want to implement Sharia Law and destroy Christianity. The majority view is that Muslims hate Christians and Americans should fear Muslims. There are many groups out there that push this view of fear and anger towards Muslims. If that is what most Christians believe about Muslims then it would follow that most Muslims would believe that these are the views held by most Christians. We as Christians should love our Muslim neighbors and friends. We should give them the gospel and pray for them.
However, in this divided climate driven by fear and anger there honestly is very little open and honest dialogue between Christians and Muslims. This is where Dr. White stepped in with the IFD. This IFD sought to diffuse the tension between Christians and Muslims. The goal was to help Christians understand what Muslims actually believe. The Islamic extremist view is not the majority view held by Muslims. If we are to engage Muslims and share the gospel we need to know what they actually believe and we need to view them not as people to fear or be angry with but as lost people who need to hear the gospel. Let’s say for example that Islam became the majority religion in the United States and Sharia Law was implemented. Would God not be sovereign? Would Christianity die? Would the gospel cease to spread? No. God is sovereign over all things:
To those of every people, nation, and language, who live on the whole earth:
May your prosperity increase. 2 I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me.
3 How great are his miracles,
and how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom,
and his dominion is from generation to generation.
34 But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever:
For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
36 At that time my sanity returned to me, and my majesty and splendor returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and my nobles sought me out, I was reestablished over my kingdom, and even more greatness came to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
Daniel 4:1-3, 34-37
We as Americans have had it relatively easy and we don’t often think of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries were persecution is severe and frequent. Yet the gospel continues to spread in North Korea, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, the middle east, etc. Persecution will not stop God from accomplishing His will. We need to examine our hearts and see if we have put our American freedoms and American way of life as equal or maybe even higher than our devotion to the Living God. Christians are not guaranteed a life of ease…in fact we are told by Paul that we will face persecution and suffering.
Application of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I believe that I’ve laid out a solid, biblically sound argument that 1 Corinthians 5:9 actually says it is okay for Christians to keep company with and/or mingle with Muslims or any unbeliever. Here are some application points I want to summarize:
- Christians can have friendships with unbelievers, in fact it is unavoidable as long as we are alive. We definitely should desire to and actively share the gospel with our unbelieving friends and aquaintances. From my understanding of this text I don’t believe that we necessarily have to preach the gospel every time we get together with them. If we have preached the gospel at least once, the Holy Spirit will do His work and draw those who are chosen to the Father.
- Christians should not have friendships or even eat with someone who claims to be a brother or sister yet is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a swindler, and etc. I believe this is talking about Christians that engage in an unrepentant continuation of sinfulness. We know from 1 John that Christians will struggle with sin until we die and that if we say we don’t sin we are liars. So this passage can’t mean that we should never associate with a Christian that struggles with sin. However, we should not continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin. This is a sign that you are not truly converted. These are false converts and Paul warns us and commands to not even eat with people like this. Probably so that we do not get led astray ourselves.
- An interfaith dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim does not violate this passage. As long as it is not an ecumenical occasion but a discussion of differences and similarities, I believe it is permitted. Again, this is based on the goal of diffusing the current tension that exists between American Christianity and Muslims. This is not a compromise or an attempt to downplay the gospel. If Muslims think Christians hate them and fear them will they even listen to a Christian share the gospel with them? Definitely not if the gospel they hear is that they will go to Hell if they don’t repent and especially if that gospel is given in a fearful or angry manner. We are to speak the truth in love. American Christians need to be better at speaking in love to Muslims but at the same time not downplay the truth of God.
The Second Greeky Section:
We’ve used our hermeneutical skills and looked at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9. We can finally get into 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. We need to interpret and understand what this passage means. The CSB translation uses “partner” and “partnership” in 2 Cor 6:14 and my first thought was to find out what words were used in the originl Greek. This is the word that was translated into “partnership”:
Original Word: μετοχή, ῆς, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (met-okh-ay’)
Short Definition: sharing, partnership, fellowship
Definition: sharing, partnership, fellowship.
Cognate: 3352 metoxḗ – a close relation between partners, i.e. people sharing something held in common (used only in 2 Cor 6:14); joint-activity.See 3353 (metoxos).sharer, partner
Definition: a sharer, partner, companion.
Metoché refers to a close relation between partners. The Greek word that is translated into partner is:
metochos: sharing in
Original Word: μέτοχος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Adjective
Phonetic Spelling: (met’-okh-os)
Short Definition: a sharer, partner
Definition: a sharer, partner, associate.
3353 métoxos (from 3348 /metéxō, “share in,” derived from 3326 /metá, “with change afterward” and 2192 /éxō, “have”) – properly, change due to sharing, i.e. from being an “active partaker with.”
I think it is interesting that metochos was only used 6 times (once in Luke and 5 times in Hebrews) and that metoché was used just once, here in 2 Cor 6:14. These words seem to imply something stronger than a mere friendship or fellowship. These are active partakers or partners. After finding this out, I wondered how this related to the 1 Cor 5:9 passage. I decided to see if there are any other Greek words that could be translated to our English word “partner”. There is another word that could be translated into partner/fellowship in English:
koinónos: a sharer
Original Word: κοινωνός, οῦ, ὁ, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (koy-no-nos’)
Short Definition: a Cognate: 2844 koinōnós (a masculine noun/substantival adjective) – properly, a participant who mutually belongs and shares fellowship; a “joint-participant.” See 2842 (koinōnia).
[2842 /koinōnía (a feminine noun) stresses the relational aspect of the fellowship. 2844 /koinōnós (a masculine noun) more directly focuses on the participant himself (herself).
2844 (koinōnos) is also used as a substantival adjective, as with the classical Greek authors, see J. Thayer.]
Koinónos is used 10 times in the New Testament. As you can read above, this word refers to a relationship between a participant who mutually belongs to and shares fellowship with someone else. Are you thinking what I’m thinking right now? If Paul wanted to say that Christians should not have fellowship, relationships, or friendships with unbelievers (that includes Muslims) I think he would have used koinónos in 2 Cor 6:14. So what the heck does this verse mean? Well, I will now address what I believe is the key to understanding this passage.
The CSB translation uses “partner” in verse 14 and I wanted to find out what word was used in the original language. Here is the info on this word:
heterozugeó: to be yoked up differently, i.e. to be unequally yoked
Original Word: ἑτεροζυγέω
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (het-er-od-zoog-eh’-o)
Short Definition: I am yoked with one different from myself
Definition: I am yoked with one different from myself, unequally yoked.
2086 heterozygéō (from 2087 /héteros, “another of a different kind” and 2218 /zygós, “a yoke, joining two to a single plow”) – properly, different kindsof people joined together but unevenly matched; hence “unequally yoked” (not aptly joined).
2086 /heterozygéō (“mis-matched”) is used figuratively of Christians wrongly committed to a partner holding very different values (priorities), i.e. that run contrary to faith (the kingdom of God).
Reflection: Scripture uses symbols to teach about the importance of keeping spiritually pure.
The picture we get from this is a metaphor that Paul’s readers would certainly be familiar with. Two oxen that are yoked together are both pushing the plow. They are both working towards completing a task. Being yoked to someone implies a very intimate relationship. If you have two unequally yoked oxen pulling a plow nothing will be accomplished. Picture a big ox and a small ox yoked together pulling a plow. The bigger ox will last longer and the small ox will tire out quicker. This word heterozugeó coupled with metoché paints a picture of a person who is actively participating or working alongside a nonbeliever. This could be applied to a self-proclaimed “Christian” going to a mosque to worship God. This would refer to ecumenical initiatives like Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan. This would refer to Christians embracing or working alongside Unitarianism and postmodernism. This passage is directly referring to marrying nonbelievers and also applies to starting businesses with nonbelievers. A Christian should not marry a non-Christian. This is not talking about situations where both spouses are unsaved and one of them comes to faith while the other remains unsaved. This is talking about a single Christian that chooses to marry an unbeliever.
Here is the crux of the interpretation of this text and the concept of being unequally yoked. Picture a dead ox yoked to a live ox. We who are Christians were once dead in our sins and trespasses and we have been made alive through Christ. If we willingly marry an unbeliever or enter a business relationship with an unbeliever we are essentially yoking ourselves to someone that is still dead in their trespasses and sins. We can still push the plow but we have to put extra effort into it and we also have to carry the extra weight of the “dead” ox. Now picture two healthy live oxen pushing the plow. They were both dead but through Christ they have been redeemed. They are equally yoked. They press on together to accomplish the same task. Throughout their marriage they continually press towards the same goal: unity in Christ. Sure there are trying seasons and difficulties but they are bonded together by their shared redemption in Christ. A Christian married to an unbeliever does not have that bond. An important lesson to learn from this is that if you are single and a Christian and you desire to get married: pray about it, make sure you know what this person is really like and what their Christian faith looks like now. Don’t rush to get married…sometimes people only find out what their spouse is like after they get married and then it is too late.
In summation, I do not believe that the IFD between Dr. James White and Dr. Yasir Qashi violated 2 Corinthians 6:14. I believe that we should form friendships and relationships with Muslims or any other unbeliever. We should share the gospel with them but there is nothing wrong with having friendships with unbelievers. I would also say you need to be careful if you aren’t very mature in Christ. You could easily be led astray by your unbelieving friends. This is why I stress the importance of Biblical hermeneutics and sound doctrine.
I know far too many who were raised in the church and were taught surface level Christianity that have no interest in God today. If you have been taught that you can choose God or that you can convince someone to become a Christian by not using the Bible and instead they can be convinced by using other forms of evidence I encourage you to seriously consider the implications. If you “accepted” Christ you can still reject Christ in your lifetime. If you can reason someone into the faith apart from using God’s Word they can also be reasoned out of the faith. The church has done a good job of being loving but we have largely abandoned sound doctrine. May we test all claims against the truth of God’s Word.