Did God Really Forbid Interracial Marriage in the Old Testament?


It’s hard to believe that fifty years ago it was illegal to marry interracially in some parts of the U.S. The landmark case Loving v. State of Virginia, rightfully connected miscegeny (marriage across races) to a continued establishment of white supremacy1. All of this is important to me not only because of the ethics but also because in some states, my marriage to Kay might not have been possible.

If one does a cursory reading of the Bible a few strange things appear. On one hand, it seems as though God is committed to bless the entire world. In Exodus, Moses married a Cushite, an Ethiopian. Miriam seemed really concerned (Num.12:1) that her brother was marrying someone with “darker skin”, and for that God judged her with leprosy. Rahab, a Canaanite, is included in the “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11) and is actually included in the ancestry of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5).

Yet, on the other hand, we read Deuteronomy 7:3-4, which seemingly bans interracial marriage being used by some who desperately want to keep white culture pure.

You shall not intermarry with [the nations]; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you. (NIV)

This can be either a strong view which calls for complete separation as a way to purity or a weaker view which says, “Well, it’s better for their culture that those people stick to their own kind.” A good example of this was Bob Jones University which affirmed that the gospel is for the entire world yet in the same breath disallowed interracial dating a mere seventeen years ago!

Does the Bible prohibit marriage across racial lines? Can we affirm that in the Old Testament Yahweh warned Israel about marrying people outside of Israel’s boundaries because that would pollute racial purity? It seems very odd that in certain places the gospel seems to cross racial boundaries yet at the same time God calls for racial purity.

It’s best to see God’s warning as pertaining to religious devotion rather than racial purity. In other words, the point of the Old Testament warnings were to not to create a supreme racial/religious group but rather to protect God’s people from drifting religiously toward idols. So as John Piper wrote, “The issue is: Will there be one common allegiance to the true God in this marriage or will there be divided affections?’2” This also captures the New Testament exhortations to believers that marrying someone who is not “in Christ” (1 Cor. 7:39) and an active follower of Christ is only asking for problems (2 Cor. 6:14-15).

When Jesus brought His Kingdom all the conventional values were turned on their head. It’s the religious insiders who are really in trouble. How do you become rich? By declaring your poverty before God. How do you become strong? By embracing your weakness. How do you get a greater sense of self? By being humble. Who really gets included as those whom God loves and is committed to? Anyone who embraces Christ, regardless of their skin color, gender, and socio-economic status is welcomed into God’s family. In many ways, the visible church then is to picture this to a world that still seems to get stuck on differences.

1 I would encourage everyone to listen to NPR’s story this past week,“50 Years Later, ‘Loving’ Revisits The Landmark Supreme Court Ruling” NPR Loving v. Virginia

2 John Piper, a href=”http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/racial-harmony-and-interracial-marriage”>Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage


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