There was a time when many fundamentalist Christians argued against interracial marriage on presumably biblical grounds. It was believed that interracial marriage was an attempt to rebel against God’s division of the races at Babel and a foretaste of the sinful uniting of humanity against God that will characterize the rule of the antichrist.
Such arguments against interracial marriage are flawed on a number of levels, particularly because they arise from a mishandling of the Scriptures. They wrongly assume that there is more than one human race (an idea which Mark Perry effectively disproves in this month’s feature article (Reconciling Scripture and the Problem of Racism). Further, they wrongly assert that the distinctions made by God in Genesis 11:9 were physical and final, when in fact they were linguistic, geographical, and reversible. No one would argue, for example, that a European whose native language is German is forbidden on the basis of Genesis 11 from marrying one whose native language is English, or whose native land is Australia. The distinctions made at Babel were neither physical nor absolute. Finally, the union of mankind under the antichrist and against God will be sinful, political, economic, and religious, not ethnic (Revelation 13 and 17).
Does Scripture teach that there is a factor which prohibits marriage between men and women with deep-rooted differences? Absolutely. But that factor is spiritual, not physical. When addressing the permissibility of a widow remarrying, Paul provides an inspired answer that must inform our understanding of marriage even today: “she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). Paul, a Jew by birth writing to a church filled with Gentiles, placed only one prohibition on the marriage of two single people: both must be Christians. Marrying outside of the Christian faith rebels against a clear command of Scripture and has tragic results—marriages in which Christ is the source of division rather than unity and children who are torn between the irreconcilable values and worldviews of their parents. We must marry “only in the Lord.”
However, just as we would be wrong to omit this God-breathed requirement, we are also wrong to add to it. Given the perfect opportunity to forbid marriage between different ethnicities, Paul did not do so. Nor should we.
Lest it be argued that the Old Testament forbade inter-ethnic marriage, it is clear that even texts such as Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:1–5 were concerned with the faith of would-be spouses, not ethnicity. Among other examples, God’s ordaining the marriage of Boaz to Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4:10) and including her in the lineage of Christ (Matt 1:5) proves that spiritual rather than ethnic factors must be weighed in the selection of a spouse. Despite her ethnicity, Ruth was an eligible wife for Boaz because she had come to faith in Jehovah (Ruth 1:16).
Of course, our desire is not to be politically correct. We cannot merely capitulate to the opinions of our day. However, fundamentalists of all people should yearn to be biblically correct. The standard for marriage in Boaz’s day and Paul’s day was simply that a potential spouse be “in the Lord.” The same standard is sufficient in our day, as well.
“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in March 2009, accompanying Mark Perry’s feature article on racism. It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.
Filed under: Bible Exposition, Contemporary Issues, Fundamentalism, Ministry Musings, Race Issues, The Family Tagged: | Christian Marriage, Fundamentalism, Inter-Ethnic Marriage, Interracial Marriage, Mark Perry, Marriage, OBF Visitor, Racism