Episode 10: Does the Bible Forbid Interracial Marriage? Reading: Genesis 10-11, Ezra 10, Matthew 10 and Acts 10
Today’s big Bible question comes from a biblical situation that our British friends might call a ‘sticky wicket,’ which means a difficult situation. The scribe and priest Ezra has discovered that some of the Israelite men have disobeyed God’s command and intermarried with Canaanite women, and he is very disappointed, ultimately calling on those men to send their foreign wives away. Which brings up our big question: Is interracial marriage unbiblical? Does mixed-race marriage displease God now and did it ever displease God? (By the way, if this discussion interests you, you might want to read my book The Bible and Racism, what the Bible REALLY says about racism.)
Today’s Bible reading on the podcast will seek to correct a mistake I made yesterday. If this is your first time here, then this is our plan: To promote DAILY Bible reading. We are doing that by reading through the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. His goal was to lead his congregation to read the entire Bible through in one year, and his plan allows that to happen when followed daily with the added bonus that you’ll read the Psalms and New Testament twice. I’d love for you to read the entire Bible through in a year with us, but that is not the goal of this podcast (or the Bible 2020 initiative at our church.) Again, my goal is to help lead you in DAILY Bible reading. That means that you can pick up this goal in early January, or the middle of Summer, or late October, or whenever…and be successful! If you miss a day’s reading only go back and do it if you have the time and if it won’t compromise your Bible reading for today. The goal is DAILY BIBLE READING. For the church I’m pastoring, I’d love for us all to be reading the same passage on the same day – if we miss a day…no big deal! We’ll make it up…or not – the goal is to forge ahead and develop a daily Bible reading habit.
That said, yesterday I made a mistake, and left out Genesis 10, which we were supposed to read. I’ll read it today for the sake of completeness. But first, let’s read Ezra 10….
So, Ezra the scribe discovered in chapter 9 (yesterday’s reading) that the Israelites had disobeyed God’s commands and intermarried with the Canaanites. This upset him so much that he tore his clothing and pulled out his hair AND pulled out his beard hair. As the possessor of a beard, I can tell you that pulling out your beard hair hurts like crazy. What was the problem? Well, the problem was that God had forbidden the Israelites from marrying the woman of Canaan. (Note: Not ALL foreign women) Here’s the passage:
3 You must not intermarry with them, and you must not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 because they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will swiftly destroy you.Deuteronomy 7:3-4
SO – you see the point here, I hope? The children of Israel could not marry the people of the promised land area (Identified in vs 2 as, ” Hethites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you ” because they would turn the hearts of the Yahweh following Israelites towards other Gods. This was NOT a race issue. I note here that the Israelites were NOT white and the Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, etc. black. I guess in modern parlance, they would all be brown, or whatever, but these are people all from the same part of the world, and they are all directly descended from Noah’s sons. I’ll say again: This was NOT a race issue, or a skin color issue. All of these people would almost certainly have looked the same and have been of very nearly the same race. Keep in mind that Abraham, the father of the Israelites, was himself from Ur of the Chaldeans/Tell el–Muqayyar which is in modern day IRAQ. So – the children of Israel are basically ethnic Iraqi people.
So -some rapid fire questions:
- Are Christians still forbidden from marrying people from Canaan? Answer – In the New Testament, Paul commands Christians to not be “unequally yoked.” in 2nd Corinthians 6. Based on the full context of the verse (“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14) Christians have long taken that as a prohibition on a Christian marrying an unbeliever, and I agree with that interpretation. This does NOT forbid interracial marriage, but interfaith marriage.
- Is interracial marriage wrong, according to the Bible? ABSOLUTELY NOT – NOT IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM. The Bible does NOT speak out against interracial marriage – only interfaith marriage. Moses, the most prominent leader of the Israelites, was married to an African/Cushite woman that was almost certainly black-skinned. Were you aware of this? Were you further aware that Miriam, Moses’ sister, criticized him for this marriage? Well, let’s take a look at Numbers 12:
12 Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). 2 They said, “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does he not also speak through us?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Moses was a very humble man, more so than anyone on the face of the earth.4 Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them came forward, 6 he said:“Listen to what I say:
If there is a prophet among you from the Lord, I make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my household.8 I speak with him directly,openly, and not in riddles;he sees the form of the Lord.So why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9 The Lord’s anger burned against them,and he left.10 As the cloud moved away from the tent, Miriam’s skin suddenly became diseased, resembling snow.
SO- TL;DR: Miriam criticized Moses for marrying a black woman. God came down and defended Moses and gave Miriam a skin disease until Moses interceded and prayed for her to be healed.
Further, the book of Ruth is about a Moabite woman named Ruth who marries a Jewish man named Boaz. Ruth, the Moabitess, is in the genealogy of Jesus. There are other examples of this in Scripture as well. In sum, NO! The Bible does NOT forbid interracial marriage. Here’s John Piper with more on the subject.
3. Final question: Did Ezra do the right thing in making the Israelites divorce their foreign wives in Ezra 9-10.
This is a thorny question to me, and an answer is difficult to come by. We should note here that there is no indication in the text of Ezra 9 or 10 that God COMMANDED Ezra to tell the Israelites to put away their foreign spouses. Ezra is definitely trying to please the Lord, but we don’t see any Scripture where God commands this to happen, and the book of Ezra does not include God telling Ezra for this to happen. I note that Malachi 2:16 tells us that God hates divorce. I also note that Paul addresses this issue with extreme clarity in 1st Corinthians 7:
If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce her husband. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy by the husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.1 Corinthians 7:12-14
I am honestly not sure if Ezra commanded the Israelites to do the right thing in divorcing their foreign wives in this situation. I’m not sure if that was the way to repent, or not. I am sure of this, however, Paul’s command that I just read is crystal clear. If a believer is in a marriage with an unbeliever, the Christian MUST NOT DIVORCE their spouse.