Sound Words: Only In the Lord (on Interracial Marriage)

Sound WordsThere 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.


10 Responses

  1. Amen!

  2. Good word, as usual. “Flawed” is too kind a word. Babel mentions nothing of race, everything about language. If that were an unbridgeable absolute, then everyone should be a monoglot. In which case the NT would be invalidated (being a different language than the OT), and none of us would be able to read the Bible.

    You call to my mind Thabiti Anyabwile’s thought-provoking talk on Race at T4G08. One of his eye-opening points was that the category “race” was invented to marginalize and rationalze the subjugation of races deemed inferior.

    Many people who aren’t ethnically racist today practice the same reasoning in re. abortion.

  3. Hey, Dan.

    Thabiti’s teaching on this topic has been very helpful to me. In addition to the T4G message (available here), I posted on an article he wrote on the topic here.

    So, actually, interracial marriage looks like this. :)

  4. […] Very good read by Chris Anderson! I strongly encourage readers to view the entire article. It is followed by another exceptional article! […]

  5. Thanks, Pastor Chris, for this article. I find it rather sad that such articles even need to be written. I was wondering how you answer people who say that while such a marriage is not prohibited by the Bible, it is still not best because it would likely limit one’s ministry in many churches and it would hurt the children. That’s a comment I’ve often heard. What do you say to it?

  6. Hi, Minda.

    I think there’s some warrant to the idea that people need to think about all of the ramifications of any marriage, really. In fact, a good friend whose parents are of different ethnicities suggested that I mention the need for couples to think about all that such a marriage entails. However, I didn’t essentially because sometimes that legitimate advice can be used as a loophole to perpetuate the old idea that condemns such unions, and may even be a cover for racism: “Well, it may not be wrong, but it’s certainly not wise.” I have no time for that, but I do think it’s true that the couple should be prepared for whatever might come. Honestly, though, it’s a generational thing. The “think of the children” angle doesn’t play anymore; most people don’t care, or even think about it.

    One more thing: I did get a note from a rather offended older man that said essentially “That’s sounds nice in theory, but what would you do if your daughters brought home a _____ man?” (His omitting the word evidently proves that he’s not racist. Nice.) I blew it off, but I was tempted to say, “I don’t understand what you mean. A short man? A chubby man?” :)

    Truth is, as much as I know my heart, if they bring home a genuinely godly man who will cherish them and lead them in their pursuit of Christ, his appearance and background won’t matter a bit.

  7. Chris, I’m on vacation, in a room where family is sleeping. Your “I don’t understand” response made me chuckle aloud. Good thing I didn’t wake anyone up.

    Here’s my response:

    Weighing possible negative repercussions is for the couple to consider.

    Our business is to make darned sure we aren’t part of any such repercussions, and to stomp any that arise like the pestilent cockroaches they are.

  8. […] Posted on July 3, 2009 by Chris My friend Minda asked a thoughtful question in response to this post. I assumed that the original post would be met with more discussion than it was. Apparently, most […]

  9. Good post and I can fully agree. It is that common person called Jesus Christ, who breaks the boundaries of division. Race is not that the issue, a personal relationship with Him is. And also, are you willing to die to yourself because the Word of God urges us too? Or are we willing to stay stubborn, not to humble ourselves causing tensions in marriage. Unfortunately, there is a lot of divorce among the people of God. And it is not interracial relationships only. It is also among white-white; black-black; brown-brown; asian-asian; American-American; people from the same country etc. If we are not willing to obey God’s Word, even if it means that we need to give up our own self, no any marriage can stay good for that long.

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