Thursday, May 12, 2011

How should Christians view interracial marriage?

Is it biblically permissible for a person of one race to marry another?  Even if it is permissible, is it unwise?  Scripture speaks directly and forcefully to this issue, though sadly in some corners of Christianity there are those who have allowed their thoughts and attitudes to be influenced by the unbiblical world.

A Biblical View of Race: 
The view that we are divided into different races marked by skin-color was popularized by the evolutionist Charles Darwin. He maintained that the different ‘races’ existed because various human groups were on different levels of the evolutionary scale.  Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, urges Christians to reject any view that unbiblically divides humanity in this way.  He notes that “these so-called ‘racial’ characteristics that people think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation." He quotes an unbelieving scientist who was forced to admit that ‘race’ is only a man-made social construct that “has no basis in biological reality”.

This is affirmed by the Creation account, which indicates that all humans are descendants of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:20).  Acts 17:26 confirms this when it says all humanity is from "one blood" (more literally: 'are made from one').  Only human beings are created in God's image (Gen 1:26-27). Science merely confirms what Scripture has already declared: humanity is one race of beings, distinct from any other creature on Earth. 

While God divided humanity from the rest of Creation, some 'Christians' are determined to divide humanity among itself.  Of course, to do so requires taking Bible verses out of context (such as the Lev 19 command not to mate various breeds of cattle). Paul warns about such men “wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim 1:7). To further divide humanity into distinct and rigid racial categories is a blatant rejection of the teachings of Genesis 1 & 2, and is a dehumanizing assault on God’s image-bearer. Such an assault makes sense from those holding to an evolutionary view.  From one claiming to be a Christian it is a tragic abandonment of Scriptural truth.

Does God Desire those of different skin-colors to be Separate? 
John Piper told of receiving a letter saying: 
“God made races uniquely different and intended for these distinctions to remain. He never intended the human race to become a mongrel or mixed race.” 
Actually, this is a denial of the biblical record. God’s original plan was for humanity to be a unified whole, being in obedience to Him.  Division eventually occurred in Gen 11 when God judged the rebellious actions of those at the Tower of Babel.  Even here the division was by language (and by implication, culture), not by skin-color. They disobeyed God, resulting in division and divisiveness. 

But the 'tonic' or 'cure' for Genesis 11 is Galatians 3, which speaks of faith and obedience.  Believers are called to obey and have faith in Christ, resulting in a new life in Christ in which there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (v28).  Sin brings judgment and division, but Christ brings redemption and unity.  Those 'Christians' who insist that humanity must stay divided by skin-color are actively opposing the redemptive work of Christ which wipes away the effects of the Fall.
Certainly in the OT God commands His people to separate themselves from the non-believing nations. Deut 7:3 says, “You shall not intermarry with [the nations]; you shall not give your daughters to their sons…”  But the next verse explains what God means: (v4) “For they will turn away your sons from following Me to serve other Gods”.  In his book Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong, John MacArthur says:
“In the Old Testament interracial marriage is not forbidden on the basis of ethnicity, but rather idolatry…The basis of God’s prohibitions was to prevent false worship from being integrated into Jewish culture; therefore an Israelite could not marry a person who was not a true worshipper of God. This is still true for believers today (2 Cor 6:14). For God’s people marriage has always been an issue of faith, not race.”
But what about passages such as Deut 32:8 or Acts 17:26 that state God has determined the ‘borders’ of the nations?  Don’t such verses teach that it is wrong to ‘cross borders’ in marriage? Not at all. These passages are speaking about God’s sovereignty over the entire world.  The OT never taught it was wrong in and of itself to marry outside of Israel.  Ruth, a Moabitess, was free to marry Boaz because she became a believer in Yahweh.  Boaz’s mother (Rahab) was a non-Israelite and former prostitute who became a believer, eventually marrying Salmon from the Jewish tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5).  In Numbers 12 God actually rebukes and punishes Miriam for criticizing Moses’ choice to take a black Cushite as his wife.

Scripture Allows Interracial Marriage: 
As mentioned above, Miriam and Aaron rebuke Moses for taking an African bride. They even tried using their faith as a justification for their view (v.2).  Although Miriam and Aaron are harshly rebuked by God for criticizing this marriage, Moses is never rebuked for having married her.  In v.11, Aaron repents and confesses that his opposition of this marriage was ‘foolish’ and ‘sinful’.  Notice the words Aaron choose! He hears God's truth and immediately repents.  The message from God was clear: do not oppose those things, and those people, that God condones.

In the New Testament Paul explicitly gives widows permission to marry interracially (among other ways).  1 Cor 7:39 says “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Notice what is being said:
A.      She can marry anyone she wants.
B.      The only restriction is that the man must be a follower of Christ.
During Paul’s time Corinth was an important land and sea trade route, and it hosted the yearly Isthmian games. As such, it drew people from around the known world.  Within this ethnically diverse city, Paul in no way indicates the widow should stay within certain racial boundaries when seeking a husband.  Quite the opposite.  He refuses to recognize any barrier or restriction, with the sole exception of faith in Jesus Christ. 

Sin Divides; The Gospel Unites: 
In Colossians 3:9-11 Paul says, “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, and in all.”
The practices of the ‘old self’ are the ones that divided over petty, man-made criteria.  Such unredeemed practices believed things like: ‘Don’t marry the Scythian’, ‘Don’t fellowship with the barbarian’ (a NT term for anyone outside the Roman Empire), ‘Keep separate from the uncircumcised’, ‘Keep the Greek and the Jewish bloodlines unmingled’, ‘Stay away from the slave’.
By contrast, the ‘new self’ rejects such lines of thinking.  While cultural and ethnic differences obviously still exist, the point is that they are no longer barriers to believers.  We are fellow citizens of another nation (Phil 3:20), and therefore unredeemed attitudes are to no longer keep believers from experiencing complete unity and intimate fellowship.
The final image of Heaven is God having redeemed for Himself a people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). Believers, who come from all these diverse people groups, have been re-created into a single people through Christ.  1 Peter 1:9 tells us that we are to live in this reality nowas we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God's own possession."
Let non-believers divide over skin-color.  Christians, by contrast, are those who have put away all such sinful division. When looking for a marriage partner, be concerned with the level of their faith, not the pigmentation of their skin.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for this message Pastor Josh! Very clear, biblical, and well argued.

    From a long-time reader, first-time commentor