The Bible on Interracial Marriage

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.