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It’s one thing to be theoretically willing to embrace those from other people groups as our brothers and sisters. But what about being joined with someone from another people group in marriage?
He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female . . . For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother . . . and the two shall become one flesh.’”
It’s one thing to be theoretically willing to embrace those from other people groups as our brothers and sisters, and perhaps even as our friends. But what about being joined with someone from another people group in the covenant relationship of marriage?
What if a Chinese person were to marry a Polynesian, or an African with very dark skin were to marry a Japanese person, or a person from India were to marry a person from America with very light skin—would these marriages be in accord with biblical principles? What if one of your children came home engaged to someone from a different people group? Would you consider marrying someone of a different ethnic origin?
Marriage is a litmus test for racism, usually revealing what we really believe about those from other people groups—and there are a significant number of Christians (particularly in America) who would claim that such “interracial” marriages directly violate God’s principles in the Bible, and should not be allowed.
But does the Word of God really condemn such mixes? Is there ultimately any such thing as “interracial marriage”? Let’s look at some of the verses people often use to say that marriage between people groups is scripturally forbidden. Is there substance to their position or are these people simply proof-texting to justify a pre-programmed prejudice?
Some Christians point to the events that took place at the Tower of Babel as a basis for their arguments against so-called “interracial” marriage. They say that Genesis 11 clearly implies that God wants to keep the nations apart and that God is declaring that people from different people groups can’t marry.
A simple study of this passage, however, reveals no such message. It’s clear from the context that God scattered the people at the Tower of Babel because of their disobedience and arrogance. He speaks nothing about “the races” and nothing about marriage. Not a word. In fact, at this point in human history the different people groups didn’t even exist! They were still one large group with one language.
I have heard certain churches and even certain Christian colleges say, “The Bible says you’re not allowed to marry someone from a different race. The Israelites were told not to marry the Canaanites.” Is that true? Partially, yes. There were isolated incidents in Scripture where God forbade the Israelites to marry those from other nations. But in each of these circumstances, the problem is not the other people’s “race,” but rather their spiritual condition. In fact, the Israelites and the Canaanites were very closely related biologically. Why were the Israelites told not to marry them? Because the Canaanites were pagans, that’s why! God knew that if they took wives and husbands from these ungodly groups, that they would be tempted and led away from their devotion to the one true God. (This is indeed what happened in several situations.)
Some people erroneously claim this verse to mean that people from different nations shouldn’t marry. However, this passage has nothing to do with marriage. The context of this passage is Paul’s sermon to the Greeks of Athens on Mars Hill. He is expounding on the attributes of the one true God—the characteristics that distinguish the true God from all of the false gods that the Greeks were following:
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation.
As John Gill makes clear in his classic commentary, the context is that God is in charge of all things—where, how, and for how long any person, tribe, or nation will live, prosper, and perish. To conclude that this passage forbids marriage between people groups is absurd. It says no such thing.
When Christians legalistically impose non-biblical ideas such as no “interracial” marriage, they are helping to perpetuate prejudices that have often arisen from evolutionary influences. If we are really honest, in countries like America, the main reason some Christians forbid “interracial” marriage is not scriptural. They forbid “interracial marriage” because of preconceived prejudices. (Besides, there has been so much mixing of people groups over the years that it would be impossible for many human beings today to trace their lineage back to know for certain from which group they are descended!)
Can you marry someone you are related to? I find a lot of Christians think you can’t marry your relative. I’ve got news for you: If you don’t marry your relative, you don’t marry a human—then you’ve got a really big problem! We’re all related to each other. In fact, you’re even related to me, whether you like it or not!
Genesis 5:4 says Adam and Eve gave birth to Seth and other sons and daughters. It all started with one man and one woman; that’s it. That’s the origin of humanity. So to begin with, brothers had to marry sisters. There wasn’t anybody else around. The only choice they had was a sibling. The next generation had the choice between siblings and cousins, and then siblings and cousins and first cousins, etc. This was the accepted norm for some time. The laws that Moses laid out in Leviticus 18–20 changed this.
No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:6; NIV).
From this time on, man was forbidden to marry close relations. Why could close relations marry before Leviticus 18–20 but not after? Why did God change things at the time of Moses?
When God made Adam and Eve, they were perfect. But then Adam sinned. As a result of sin, God no longer holds everything together perfectly. Now there are genetic mutations. When genes are copied from one generation to the next, the mistakes are usually passed on as well. By the time you get to 6,000 years later, a person’s DNA is full of mistakes (called our “genetic load”). Brothers, sisters, and cousins are more likely to have many of the same mistakes. If close relations were to marry today, there would be big problems. When those same mistakes get together, there is an increased likelihood of deformities and major problems in the offspring. The further away in relationship you are to your spouse, the more likely it is that you will have different mistakes in your genes and that your mate’s healthy genes will cover for your mutant ones! Once you get out there beyond your third and fourth cousins, you have a very good chance of problem genes not being expressed in a major way.
So, while the Bible says you can marry relatives as distant as you desire from any people group, you can’t marry relatives that are too close any more!
Earlier in this book, we saw from both science and the Bible that there really is no such thing as “race,” and, therefore, there is really no such thing as “interracial marriage.” But actually, there is such a thing as interracial marriage, because in reality there’s not just one race. Now have I really confused you? Yes? Good. I’m trying to make an important point: Biologically there is only one race of human beings, but the Bible makes it clear that there are two spiritual races of Homo sapiens—and those two races are not to mix in interracial marriage:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corithians 6:14; KJV).
This verse is not talking about light and dark skin; it’s talking about spiritual light and darkness. A Christian should never knowingly marry a non-Christian. And the analogy that Paul uses with the yoke is a graphic one. A yoke is used to harness two oxen together for a common purpose. If the oxen are unequally yoked, the result is disastrous. Rather than working together, teams of unequally yoked oxen will fight against each other, try to go in different directions, and make a mess of the work at hand.
One of the primary functions of marriage is to produce godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). The family is the first and most fundamental of all human institutions that God ordained in Scripture. It’s really the educational unit of the nation, used by God to transmit the knowledge of the Lord from one generation to the next.
Christians are to train up godly offspring who marry godly offspring who in turn train up godly offspring and so on. That way the Christian worldview will permeate the culture. In all of this, God is working to redeem for Himself a people who are also one in Christ. The Bible makes clear in Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, and Romans 10:12–13 that in regard to salvation, there is no distinction between male or female or Jew or Greek. In Christ, any separation between people is broken down. As Christians, we are one in Christ and thus have a common purpose—to live for Him who made us.
In Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5, Paul and Jesus talk about a husband and a wife becoming “one.” How do you become one? You become one physically and one spiritually. This oneness in Christ is vitally important to understanding marriage.
Sadly, there are some Christian homes where the parents are more concerned about their children not marrying someone from another supposed biological “race” than whether or not they are marrying a fellow believer (of the same spiritual “race”). When Christians marry non-Christians, it negates the spiritual (not the physical) oneness in marriage, resulting in negative consequences for the couple and their children.
The examples of Rahab and Ruth help us understand how God views the issue of marriage between those who are from different people groups, but who both put trust in the true God.
Rahab was a Canaanite. These Canaanites had an ungodly culture. In the genealogy in Matthew 1, however, Rahab is listed as being in the line leading to the birth of the Christ, an Israelite! Thus Rahab, a descendant of Ham, must have married an Israelite (descended from Shem). Since this was clearly a union approved by God, it underlines the fact that the particular biological people group she came from was irrelevant—what mattered was that at a certain point in her life, she changed her spiritual race when she trusted in the true God of the Israelites.
The same can be said of Ruth who, as a Moabitess, also married an Israelite. She is listed in the genealogy in Matthew 1 that leads to Christ as well. Prior to her marriage, she had expressed faith in the true God (Ruth 1:16), and a union between her and her new husband was one that God blessed and used to bless many others of the world.
When Rahab and Ruth became children of God, there was no longer any barrier to Israelites marrying them, even though they were from different “people groups.” Once they were of the same spiritual race, they were free to marry an Israelite. That’s the whole point. That’s what it’s all about!
If one wants to use the term “interracial,” then the real “interracial” marriage that God says we should not enter into happens when a child of the Last Adam (one who is a new creation in Christ—a Christian) marries one who is an unconverted child of the First Adam (one who is dead in trespasses and sin—a non-Christian). Examples of such mixed marriages and their negative consequences can be seen in Nehemiah 9 and 10 and Numbers 25.
Now that the “race” issue has been dealt with, there are some special considerations one should keep in mind as you begin courtship and/or dating. Remember, a “people group” is defined as a cluster of people who come from significantly different cultures, languages, geographies, political countries, or religions. We’ve already addressed the religious differences. (Christians are only to marry Christians, so wisdom obviously tells us that Christians should only date other Christians.)
But what about the other factors that distinguish one people group from another? Because many people groups have been separated since the Tower of Babel, they have developed many cultural, linguistic, political, and geographic differences. If two people from different cultures marry, they can have a number of communication problems—even if both are Christians. It can mean one person being uprooted from their homeland and being transplanted into a foreign culture. Expectations regarding relationships with members of the extended family can also differ. Even people from different English-speaking countries can have communication problems because of cultural differences.
I’m not at all saying that dating someone from a different people group is a bad idea. I can point to countless relationships that are vibrant, diverse, and have proven themselves over time as true and beautiful unions built on the common relationship that each person has with Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that these relationships can face special challenges. These relationships need to be entered into with an especially large dose of sensitivity and understanding. I would even recommend meeting with a counselor who can help the couple walk through cultural issues and inevitable misunderstandings. Remember, however, that such problems have nothing to do with genetics or “race.” (And most couples will tell you that the biggest challenges they face don’t have to do with cultural differences, but gender differences as they learn to relate to each other man to woman and woman to man!)
But the bottom line is that no matter what people groups you are from, if the two of you love the Lord with all your hearts, souls, and minds (and provided there are no other biblical issues that you have to deal with), there is nothing in the Scripture that says you can’t get married.
When selecting a mate, I would again urge you to take the advice that the Lord gave to Samuel. Don’t look at the outward appearance; do your best to look at the person’s heart. Girls, you shouldn’t be thinking, “Oh he’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s a great football player. I would like to go out with him. Maybe I could marry him.” The external should have little to do with it. Do you know the most important question? It should be “Does he love the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, and all his mind?” Guys, the next time you look at a girl and think, “Oh yeah, she’s pretty, she’s attractive,” you should know that the most important thing to look for is whether she loves the Lord with all her heart, all her soul, and all her mind. It is not the outside that matters. (And remember something, guys: the outside changes with time!) If you fall in love with the outside, you can fall out of love, but if you choose to love the inside of the person, you will not fall out of love. Think about that!
Friends, these are exciting times. Around the globe, in every corner of our nation, in pockets within our cities and our churches, people are beginning to realize that humanity is truly of “one blood,” just as the Bible says. There are movements that are taking place; some of them small and unnoticed, others taking place on a grand scale. Still, there is great opposition. The results of sin and the fallen nature are still rampant in this world. Racial hatred, bigotry, and even genocide are still widespread. But the movement has begun. The most important movement, however, is not one that is taking place somewhere else. The most important changes that can take place are those that take place within your own heart and mind. By renewing your mind according to biblical fact and scientific evidence, and then allowing that information to soak into the depths of your heart, an interior change will take place in your life and begin to overflow and spread into the lives around you.
Hang on and prepare yourself for an interesting ride! God is calling you to be a part of a new and different kind of harvest. By joining together and working together as a unified body, the Church itself will be a vital tool in the spread of this movement. With our shovels and with our hoes, the roots and fruit of Darwinism are being exposed. Now God is calling the Church to weed out discrimination, till the soil anew, and then plant and care for the seeds of a different kind of garden—the garden grown in the soil of “grace relations.”
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.