In exploring what the Bible says about interracial marriage, it is helpful to understand the chronology and context of applicable passages of scripture. In several Bible passages, intermarriage appears to be forbidden, while in others a more inclusive approach is adopted. Reconciling these differences requires a nuanced interpretation of the context and purpose of these instructions.
Israel set apart
In the Old Testament, God established a covenant with Israel where the Israelites would be “set apart” from the surrounding nations and their practices. Consider the following verses:
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7 NIV)
“I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 26:4 NIV)
By these decrees, the nation and people of Israel were holy to the Lord:
“Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest;” (Jeremiah 2:3a)
“you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6a NIV)
One of the meanings of the word holy is to be “set apart.” Because the nation of Israel was holy to the Lord, guidelines were established for its sacred management and protection, and laws regarding marriage were among them. The following Old Testament verses reveal some of the rules regarding marriage, as well as some rationale and an understanding of God’s perspective in these situations.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deuteronomy 7: 1-6 NIV; emphasis added)
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Exodus 34: 15-16 NIV; emphasis added)
“Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god.” (Malachi 2:11 NIV; emphasis added)
“The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years.” (Judges 3:5-8 NIV; emphasis added)
A clear and common denominator among these verses is the concern that Israelites would worship or serve other gods. Therefore, the rules regarding intermarriage were in essence a protective policy and a reminder of God’s first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NIV) Additionally, God desired Godly offspring. “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.” (Malachi 2:15a NIV; emphasis added) In sum, the marital concern was seemingly faith-based.
Marrying a Cushite
At this point, it’s important to note the difference between the terms race and ethnicity. VeryWellMind shares the following: “Commonalities such as race, national origin, tribal heritage, religion, language, and culture can describe someone’s ethnicity. Race is usually associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics such as hair texture and skin color.”
With that understanding, it’s interesting to explore the Old Testament story about Aaron and Miriam talking negatively about Moses because of his marriage to a Cushite woman:
“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. (Numbers 12:1)
“Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.” (Numbers 1: 5a NIV)
“The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease,” (Numbers 9-10 NIV)
Cushites were an African race, and it can be ascertained from the verses that God was not angry with Moses about his marriage to a Cushite woman. Rather, he disciplined Miriam for whatever she had to say about Moses’ Cushite wife.
A Moabite woman
The Old Testament story about Ruth, a widowed Moabite woman who chose to leave her homeland and people and stay with her widowed Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, sheds similar light on the concept of the importance of like-minded faith in relationships. “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 16c NIV) Ruth went to Judah with Naomi and embraced Naomi’s people and Jehovah as God. She ultimately remarried a Jewish man, Boaz, who is in the lineage of Christ. (See the book of Ruth.) The lineage of Christ tracing back to Ruth and Boaz connects with the new covenant revealed in the New Testament.
A New Covenant
Let’s examine some verses that explain the new covenant:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,“ when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.” (Jeremiah 31:31 NIV)
“But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” (Hebrews 8:6-7 NIV)
(Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8 for more context and information about the new covenant.)
Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior and Mediator of the new covenant, fulfilled prophecy and ushered in a new era of grace. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 NIV)
The Bride of Christ
God’s loving provision of Jesus Christ as Mediator of the new covenant offers familial belonging to all. There are several scriptural references to the body of Christ, or the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
(Revelation 19:7 NIV; emphasis added)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25; emphasis added)
In addition to understanding the marital analogy of Christ and the church, the following verses from the New Testament reveal a biblical perspective of believers’ identity and how it transcends race, ethnicity, and national origin:
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28 NIV; emphasis added)
“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5 NIV; emphasis added)
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV; emphasis added)
“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 NIV; emphasis added)
“There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncirmcumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11 ESV)
These verses cohesively connect the two testaments and the chronology of the Bible. It reveals that faith and belief in Jesus Christ is what unifies all believers as children of God.
Finally, the following verse (perhaps taken out of context at times), provides further support that the overall concept of honoring and worshiping the Lord and remaining faithful to Him is a reasonable takeaway perspective on the topic of interracial marriage: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV)
While Christ made all things new, one concept remains the same in both testaments. God desires for His people to marry those who share a like-minded faith and a reverence for Him.
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