September 07, 2003

Interracial marriage: two major proof-texts

I hope to spend a few posts in the near future analyzing the Biblical proof-texts that are put forward by opponents of interracial marriage.

An objection could be raised that all I am doing is making a negative case against the psycho-fundies rather than presenting a positive case that God actually permits the races to intermarry. That much is true, and in fact I hope to have the chance to make a positive case in the future. However, in the meantime, keep in mind that the psycho-fundies maintain this proposition: It is God's will that the races not intermarry. Either that proposition is true or it is not. If a case cannot be made that it is true, I submit that it is safe to assume it is false.

Based on my experience debating this issue with these people, the two most significant proof-texts against interracial marriage are Genesis 10:5 and Acts 10:26.

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:5)

From this and similar verses in Genesis 10 (cf. vv. 20, 32), we are told that since God divided the nations, it is not man's place to reunite them again. But is this what this verse actually says?

First of all, the author here has "jumped the gun," chronologically speaking. Note that he says the descendents of Japheth were divided "everyone after his tongue." And yet in chapter 11 we are still told that "the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech" (11:1). So Genesis 10:5,20,32 are best understood as "summary statements" of what comes later.

Genesis 11 begins with the well-known story of the Tower of Babel, in which we are told all men spoke one language. They also lived together on the plain of Shinar, where they began to build a massive city, culminating in a tall tower. The purpose of this colossal building project: to unify mankind in one place and to make a name for themselves.

And it is for this reason that God proposes to separate mankind, which he does by "confound[ing] their language" so they cannot understand each other. The purpose of this separation is twofold:

  • Explicitly, it says God moved to squash their pride by destroying their ability to build their tower.
  • Implicitly, it says God forced them into fulfilling the mandate to "[b]e fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28), which they were disobeying by settling in a single location.

The result: "from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth" (11:9). Or, more specifically, the sons of Japheth, Ham, and Shem were "divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations" (10:5).

In other words, nothing in this passage says that God's purpose in scattering the peoples at Babel was to separate the races, or to keep them separate perpetually.

On to the next proof-text:

And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation . . . (Acts 17:26)

As the argument goes, this verse tells us that God has fixed the "bounds" (i.e. boundaries) of human habitation, and it is not up to us to cross those boundaries; therefore, interracial marriage is wrong.

Of course, it is not saying this at all. The thrust of this statement from Paul is not of divine law, but divine providence. The meaning is obscured somewhat in the KJV[1], but it basically says this: God is sovereign over the lives of men. He decides when they are born, and when they die. He decides when nations rise, and when they fall. And in between is that bit called life, and he determines where we spend that, too. What Paul is not saying is that because God has decreed the boundaries, therefore man may not cross those boundaries - because that, too, has already been determined in God's order of things. In short this is a statement of what is, not what ought to be.

And so the two major proof-texts against interracial marriage fail to make the case. Lord willing, in a future installment I will look at some of the other texts raised on this issue, and maybe even submit a positive rebuttal of my own.

I would be happy to hear any comments you may have on this subject; please feel free to contact me at mcclare @ ncf · ca. I reserve the right to bring any good points made in email into the blog - anonymously, of course, unless you are really being obnoxious.


[1] OK, I'll be honest. Acts 17:26 in the KJV is about as clear as mud. What the heck is "determined the times before appointed" supposed to mean, really?