Only a few generations ago, interracial marriages were outlawed in parts of the United States. Even today, some opponents of interracial marriage cite the decrees of the Bible as justification for their views. But does this justification hold up under Biblical scrutiny?
What does the Bible Say about Interracial Marriages?
If you have read our previous article about race, then you know that humanity was created as a single race in the image of God. It wasn’t until after the flood and the dispersion from Babylon that humanity diverged into distinguishable people groups (nations).
One such nation, the Israelites, was chosen by God to fulfill a purpose in His plan—a purpose that would be fulfilled in Jesus.
Because the Israelites were set apart for God’s purposes, He instituted laws forbidding the Israelites from intermarrying with other nations:
When we read the Old Testament marriage laws fully and in their context, it is clear that God is not instructing Israel to maintain racial purity but to maintain pure worship and devotion to God.
This is a law aimed not at protecting hearts, not bloodlines.
Does the Bible Say Marry from Your Race/Tribe?
The nation of Israel was further divided into twelve tribes, each descendant from one of Jacob’s twelve sons.
When the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, each tribe was allotted a portion of land, which was further divided among the heads of the clans within each tribe, and passed on through their sons as an inheritance.
Because all inheritance passed from father to son in ancient Israel, a question arose about the disposition of a man’s property when he had daughters, but no sons.
Numbers 36 answers the question by permitting daughters to inherit land from their fathers. But those women were not permitted to marry outside of their fathers’ tribal clans:
As in our earlier example, the purpose of this decree has nothing to do with racial purity. Rather, it is meant to ensure that each tribe keeps and maintains its own allotted inheritance. As such, it is a narrowly written regulation that only applies to specific persons, and not to all of Israel.
Examples of Interracial Marriage in the Bible
Despite the laws prohibiting Israelites from intermarrying with other nations, those laws were not always heeded, and the results were varied.
Solomon was known as a wise and faithful king. For much of his life, he was exactly that. But ultimately his insatiable desire for many wives—particularly foreign wives—led him to turn from God:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter… They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” … As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been… 1 Kings 11:1-2, 4
Solomon is perhaps the best-known example of intermarrying-gone-wrong. But there were two notable occasions where Israelites married women from other nations and saw a very different outcome. Both are memorialized in Matthew’s gospel:
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David. ” Matthew 1:1, 5-6
In the bloodline that led to Jesus (in whom Israel’s purpose is fulfilled), we see two cross-national marriages. David’s great-grandfather, Boaz, married the Moabite Ruth. And Boaz’s own mother, Rahab, was a Canaanite.
How did this happen?
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.
Rahab was living in Canaan when the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. She chose to ally herself with Israel and provide them aid which was instrumental in their success. Because of this, she was spared and welcomed into the nation of Israel.
Ruth was a Moabite who had married an Israelite. When her husband dies and left her a young widow, instead of returning to her father’s house, she remained with her mother-in-law and returned with her to Israel. She chose to live as an Israelite and worship God:
While working in the fields in Israel, she met Boaz and ultimately became his wife.
From these examples, we see that the difference between a prosperous or doomed marriage is not the race of the participants, but their devotion to God.
Is Interracial Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?
The Old Testament law prohibiting interracial marriage applied only to the people of Israel, and only for a specific purpose.
Since Israel’s purpose was fulfilled in Jesus, as we enter the New Testament we find no parallel prohibition for Christians. The closest we get is this qualifier from Paul:
Here, as in Deuteronomy, the concern is one of belief and practice. As Christians, we ought to marry other Christians, but the Bible does not suggest that we may only marry a particular race.
Our identity as Christians is not found in our genes, but in Christ. And Jesus has called people of all nations, tribes, and people groups into his church:
- Therefore go and make disciples of all nations – Matthew 28:19a
- In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. – Acts 2:17
- After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. – Revelation 7:9a
So just as we worship and serve as one people made up of many ethnicities, so too are we free to marry believers of any race, ethnicity, or nation.