The Bible on Interracial Marriage

Sharon Social Justice, Worldview 5 Comments

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In the last couple of weeks I have encountered two different Christian arguments against interracial marriage that have left me feeling extremely unsettled. One was a random website that I happened upon by accident, but the other was a story on national radio about a black man who wasn’t allowed to date a white woman because her father, a pastor, said the Bible forbade it. It may have been a coincidence that these two encounters happened within such a short period of time, but as a Christian with a voice I cannot stand by and say nothing. This isn’t simply about racism but the character of God and the nature of His Gospel. That said, in the event that you ever come across one of these bunk arguments yourself, here is a brief look at what the Bible REALLY says about this issue.

Objection #1: God Wants to Keep the Race Pure

One of the arguments against interracial marriage is based upon verses such as Deut. 7:1-4 or Genesis 28:1–“So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman.” Throughout the history of the church, Canaanites have been commonly associated with people of African descent, thus fueling the interpretations leveled against interracial marriage. I’ll explain more about this in my next point, but for this point’s purposes it is true that throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are not only warned against marrying Canaanites, but they are cautioned against marrying anyone outside the group.

Why? Is God trying to keep the race pure?

That is what some errant interpreters would have you think, but that is not the reason. The reason God warns against marrying Canaanites, or anyone people group that does not follow God, is that it always leads to idolatry. Inter-religious marriages always led to the diluting of the faith. Marriage meant religious compromise, and this happened all the time in the Old Testament. Whenever an Israelite king married outside the faith, his reign was inevitably marked by idol worship. Where your heart is, so your lifestyle will follow, and that was the spirit behind these commands. God wasn’t worried about racial purity but spiritual purity. Nowhere is this stated more clearly than 1 Kings 11:1-2:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.  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.”

Unfortunately, Solomon did not heed this command, as we learn in the verses that follow:

Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 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. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. (v. 2-6)

What does this mean today? It means that while many today are still concerned with outward appearance, “the LORD looks at the heart,” (1 Sam. 16:7) and so should we. God’s heart has always been for the nations, not just one particular race (Isa. 51:4), and His desire is that all nations know Him and love Him. So when it comes to marriage, the color of a person’s skin makes no difference at all–it is whether they love the Lord that counts.

Objection #2: The Curse of Ham

This brings us back to what I mentioned above concerning the Canaanites. One of the chief misinterpretations driving slavery and racism throughout the history of the church has been the story of Noah’s son, Ham. In Genesis 9, Noah and his family had survived the flood and all seemed to be well and good. Unfortunately, there was a strange incident involving Noah and Ham in which Noah got drunk on wine and passed out naked in his tent. Later that day, Ham wandered into the tent, saw his father’s nakedness, and went to tell his brothers. In response, the brothers found a garment to cover Noah, and then walked in backwards so as not to see him. Once Noah came to and realized what had happened, he cursed Ham and his son, Canaan, for his dishonorable actions.

There has been a lot of debate about why Noah’s response was so severe. It is not altogether clear what is meant by the phrase “saw his father’s nakedness,” and some have speculated that it may refer to a type of unspecified sexual offense. But whatever happened that day, Ham and his descendants would forever be adversaries of God’s people, and this curse has been used to justify a great deal of evil against the supposed descendants of Ham.

What does any of this have to do with interracial marriage? There are some who cite the curse on Ham as evidence that God opposes interracial marriage. Where does this conclusion come from? As far as I’m concerned, thin air. I’ve honestly struggled to understand where on earth this interpretation comes from because it is beyond clear that the curse was related to Ham’s transgression against Noah, and had nothing to do with his race or who he married. What’s more, Noah also cursed Canaan, but  it was Ham’s son, Cush, who settled in Africa, not Canaan. And finally, neither Noah, nor his sons, were even white! They all lived in the Middle East and probably looked more like Iraqis than Americans. There is not a shred of evidence in this story that God opposed interracial marriage. It may somehow be rooted in the racist belief that white people should not marry the descendants of Ham because of the curse, but the logic would have to be so convoluted as to reveal a clear agenda at work.

In summary, there is absolutely no grounding whatsoever in the Bible to oppose interracial marriage. Those who twist the Bible to interpret it that way are simply perverting Scripture to fit their pre-existing racist beliefs. As far as God is concerned, there are only two types of people–those who love God, and those who don’t. Skin color is irrelevant, and to place such an emphasis on race is to overshadow God’s plan of salvation for the world.

Indeed, it is very difficult to hear people take Scripture and abuse it for such evil agendas, but before we look down on these people in judgment, it’s important to remember that that is why Jesus had to die. We live in a world so hopelessly broken that even Christ’s message of love, peace, and redemption can be skewed to promote hate. When we hear the Bible hijacked in the name of evil, we must certainly speak up, but let us also be reminded that that is the exact reason we all need a Savior.

Comments 5

  1. Shena

    I’m so happy you posted this.

    It’s interesting that those are the scriptures that are used to debate interracial marriage because what is really underlying that is not that interracial marriage is the problem, but marriage to Blacks is the problem.

    I’m an Afrian American female who has always had mostly White and Asian American friends. In my childhood, they would date in between themselves, but I would frequently hear that the only race that was forbidden by their parents (and even their personal preference when they were honest with me) were people of black ethnicity. As I grow older, I see a lot of the same. Whether or not it is vocal, there’s an obvious bias and preference among my non-Black friends.

    It used to be discouraging, especially as a young child who has a crush on her classmate and either cannot understand why he does not like her back or knows why and has to deal with that rejection.

    However, as an adult who has grown in her ability to love herself without having to ostracize others, arguments like this one don’t really phase me as much. I have seen society start to change and have seen many more marriages between White Men and Black Women, even among my close friendships. This is a huge change as you would mostly only seen Black Men and White Women if it was a black/white interracial relationship.

    I just pray that people who use this argument are able to see where their REAL bias lies. I doubt with the majority, it’s not with interracial marriage per se, but something deeper. I pray that, like you say, people use ” Christ’s message of love, peace, and redemption” to deal with those internal sins.

    And I thank you for speaking up. Many times, people will not say what they’re thinking when I’m in the room. It’s when people say things in those in-group conversations is when change actually starts to occur.

  2. Post
    Author
    Sharon

    Thank you for your thoughts, Shena! I agree–there is definitely a greater emphasis on whites marrying blacks, as opposed to other races. And that certainly betrays the real agenda at hand. I’m sorry we live in a world where you have to “learn” to let these kinds of beliefs roll off your back, but I pray this is a sin that the church would continue to repent of and see positive change as a result.

  3. Ashley Anne Lloyd

    Hey girl! Good stuff!

    Two quick thoughts…

    1) I am amazed how people have turned the Hamitic curse story on to Ham. I was in a recent bible study where it was brought up that Abraham was DRUNK. THAT was the sin in this story… and in his drunken stupor cursed his own son… look at the consequences of that…

    It’s interesting to invert that story and read it from that perspective and not that Ham must have done something to deserve it/is the “evil” one. It makes me look at myself and wonder what sins I have inside of me and how they could effect GENERATIONS after me… yikes…

    2) You seem to have a heavy opinion on Christians marrying Christians. Although I think this is easiest! And I pray the case for me if I ever get married! What do you make of the New Testament verses that speak about the faith of one spouce covering the unbelief of the other? I don’t have a bible with me, but I remember it saying that women shouldn’t divorce their husbands if they don’t share their beliefs because their faith will cover them… (something like that!)

    Just wondering if you’d considered those in this argument?

    Happy Anniversary BTW!!!

  4. Post
    Author
    Sharon

    Hey Ashley, great to hear from you and thanks for the thoughts! The point you made about Noah is both comical and poignant. It’s interesting how history has read so much into a curse which may have been little more than the ramblings of a drunk/hungover man. Whatever his state of sobriety, the curse was uttered by a man and not by God, which is an important distinction.

    Regarding the passage on marriage, I know exactly which one you’re talking about: 1 Cor. 7:1-14. The context of that passage is really important for interpreting it–the audience was one of first generation believers who converted AFTER marrying unbelievers, not before. That said, Paul was addressing new converts who found themselves in difficult marriages to spouses who didn’t share their beliefs, and probably wanted to get out of their marriages. In response to this temptation Paul reminds them of God’s redemptive powers and urges them to persevere, but the underlying assumption is that no Christian should knowingly put themselves in that situation. To marry someone who does not share this most fundamental belief of the Christian’s life is to choose a difficult path. And as we see from the OT examples, it is likely to also lead to spiritual compromise.

    All of that to say, I think that’s the appropriate way to read that verse within the larger context of Scripture. While God can certainly redeem any situation, that doesn’t mean we should choose such a marriage in the hopes that God will change that person.

    Hope that makes sense!

  5. Meredith

    Hi Sharon,
    Thanks so much for posting your thoughts! I’m writing a paper about counselling interracial couples for cross-cultural counselling course at a Canadian seminary, & am interested in what the Bible says about interracial marriages. I was so thankful to stumble across your website after reading far too many “one pure Aryan Christian race” articles. I’m a white woman engaged to a black man, so I’m also interested in this for personal reasons. For me, my interracial relationship gives me a taste of heaven where we will all worship together – every tribe & tongue – as the bride of Christ!

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