|Vol. 2, No. 5||Page 13||May 2000|
We received a question recently inquiring what, if anything, the Bible teaches regarding interracial marriage. After scouring the Bible for applicable passages, it appears that this is a subject about which mankind exhibits a greater degree of interest and concern than does our Creator and God.
To be sure, interracial marriage has been and continues to be a societal taboo and a very emotionally charged topic. However, many interracial marriages that were formerly considered by some to be an affront to society are no longer considered so by most people. For instance, marriages between European settlers who occupied North America and native Americans was frowned upon for about the first 100 years, but now few people concern themselves with marriages between the ‘whiteman’ and the ‘redman.’ Following the 19th century wars that affected western nations and Asia countries (one of the last being the Viet Nam War), marriages between Caucasians and Asians are fairly commonplace and accepted.
Apparently, the greater the distinction of the pigment of the skin between races, the more reluctant societal partisans are to appreciate interracial marriages. Yet, tens of thousands men and women from various races, including black and white, contract interracial marriages anyway each year. To be sure, societal pressures on such couples from their peers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. contribute to the difficulties encountered by newlyweds that may severely test their marriages and result in divorce.
Irrespective, though, of what may be socially acceptable or pragmatic, what biblical principles affect the topic of interracial marriages? Two possible biblical references under Patriarchy contain no principles applicable to the religious age in which we live. (1) Conjecture regarding whether the “mark” placed on Cain (Genesis 4:15) pertains to race or skin color is inconclusive and not associated with either religious or social marriage laws. (2) The scattering of humanity from Babel following their refusal to disburse and populate the earth was accompanied by God’s conferring differing languages upon them. Though meting out different races or skin colors by God would seem to be a useful utility along with the confusion of their languages to help disperse humanity (and may have occurred then, too), the biblical text makes no mention of race or skin color in connection with the episode at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Yet, even so, no marriage restrictions inhere in that biblical passage, and since then, the earth has been sufficiently populated with about six billion souls.
Two biblical concepts under Judaism may be thought to concern interracial marriage. First, the Jews were required to marry within the nation of Israel to perpetuate the spiritual promises made to Abraham (i.e., the Messiah, Genesis 12:3), avoid spiritual corruption (Deuteronomy 7:1-4) and maintain the Jewish heritage (Numbers 36:5-13). Deuteronomy 7:1-4 prohibited the Jews from marrying the people in Canaan. This prohibition was based on religious reasons (i.e., that monotheism would not be corrupted with polytheism). The Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity mingled “the holy seed” with foreigners (Ezra 9:2), one reason for which they were compelled to put away those wives and children (Ezra 9-10). However, the peoples with whom they contracted forbidden marriages were different from them religiously and nationally ¾ not racially. The principle regarding the danger of spiritual corruption because of whom one marries continues, but does not affect the question of racial marriage. Further, it is no longer necessary for anyone to refrain marrying someone to preserve the lineage of Abraham until the Messiah comes, since Jesus Christ, our Messiah, has already come. Therefore, this first consideration has no bearing to the question of interracial marriage today.
Second, Moses married an Ethiopian woman while Patriarchy was effective and was subsequently chided by his brother and sister after Judaism had been implemented. “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman” (Numbers 11:1). Race and skin color were issues with Miriam and Aaron for which they challenged Moses for the leadership of the nation of Israel. The race and skin color of Moses’ Ethiopian wife differed from the race and skin color of the Jews (Jeremiah 13:23). God severely rebuked Miriam and Aaron for challenging Moses for the leadership of the nation and brought leprosy upon Miriam (Numbers 11:1-16). Implicitly, God did not share the sentiments of Miriam and Aaron regarding interracial marriage, per se, as well as strenuously objected to their challenge of Moses, irrespective of the basis on which they proposed to challenge Moses. The principle here involving racial marriage (i.e., God has no investment one way or the other regarding interracial marriage) is not countermanded by any other Old or New Testament passages and is applicable today ¾ religiously.
No New Testament passages specifically address interracial marriage. Second Corinthians 6:14-18 concerns relationships (e.g., social, business, religious, marriage, etc.) whereby an intimate association with those whose non-Christian influence overpowers one’s Christianity. The passage, though, does not address race or skin color and does not apply to the question at hand. New Testament marriage rules appear in Matthew 5:32-32; 19:1-9; Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7 and none of these passages address racial marriage.
Summarized, there are no applicable regulations in the Bible that prohibit interracial marriage today. There are, though, social considerations that may ill affect interracial marriages that ought to be weighed before entering such, to ensure that those marriages do not end in divorce. Additional to the peer pressure that doubtless buffets spouses who enter interracial marriages, the same societal pressures will affect children born to such a union and must also be considered. Still, the choice resides with the individuals who propose to marry and is not prohibited by the Word of God.
I am a member of the church at East Huntsville church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama. As I was reading James 5:14-16, I started to wonder if an elder, or anyone, could pray for the forgiveness of my sins. I also wondered, if I had sinned for a long time, even until I was hardened to my sins, would I have to get a faithful person to rejoin me with God, or could I just pray to him in private for the forgiveness of my sins. This also made me wonder why when we go "forward" the preacher ask God to forgive us. Would God not forgive us, the erring sinner, if the preacher, or a faithful person didn't intercede?
James 5:14-18 reads as follows:
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (James 5:14-18).
The type of prayer with which the context of James 5:14 forward begins is associated with miraculous healing ability that was available to the infant church of the first century. The anointing with oil in conjunction with the attendance of these miraculously endowed elders was symbolic (since olive oil would be entirely ineffective from a purely medical perspective for any number of medical maladies, then or now) and companion to the miraculous healing.
Outside of the consideration of the reference to miraculous healing, it is a New Testament teaching that Christians should pray for each other (inclusive of the elders). The text above reads “pray one for another.” By implication, the apostles of Christ in Acts 8 complied with the request of Simon (formerly the sorcerer) and prayed for him that his sins would be forgiven him.
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:22-24).
The James passage implies penitence upon the part of the recipient of prayer and the latter passage in Acts specifically mentions repentance. Prayer for forgiveness of sin, by one seeking forgiveness as well as by those who would pray with us for the forgiveness of sin, must be preceded by repentance.
Sins that are committed secretly should be the subject of private prayers. However, when our sins are public (known), and thereby reflect unfavorably upon the church (and those who comprise it ¾ other Christians), we sin against the church and the brethren, too. When repenting of public sins, penitent souls need to request forgiveness from fellow Christians also, who then should gladly forgive (2 Corinthians 2:6-7). Coming forward, at which time a preacher words a prayer, constitutes acknowledgement of repentance by the one coming forward and the extension of forgiveness by the brethren. All participate in the prayer, irrespective of whether the prayer is led by a preacher, an elder or someone else ¾ as in the case of all public prayers.
James 5:17-18, along with the preceding verses, emphasizes the efficiency of prayer to enlist the providence of God. Prayer is a frequent topic throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament. Some form of the word “prayer” appears about 563 times in the Bible, besides other terms also used for prayer. Some references to these prayers are: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer should be a chief characteristic of each child of God and we should likewise covet the prayers of our brethren, too.