Does God Approve of Interracial Marriages?

Working with intercultural couples, we ask this question in the first session of each Thriving Intercultural Marriages Workshop we facilitate. Almost every cohort, one couple has faced objections by their family against the interracial or intercultural nature of their marriage.

Yes, God approves of interracial and intercultural marriages!

First off, “race” is a sociological and cultural construct not a Biblical or biological identifiable one. There is not enough genetic variation between “races” to call it that way from a biological perspective (1). Neither does the Bible (or God for that matter) use ‘race’ as a way to distinguish between people. The Bible does speak of tribes, nations, peoples (people groups) but not of 3, 5 or more major races.

Let's follow the Biblical narrative on race, distinctive groups of people, culture and marriage. 

From Adam to Noah

Adam and Eve were the father and mother of all mankind. When Noah and his family entered the ark and God flooded the earth, the human race restarted with this family. Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, got their DNA from Noah and his wife but their wives did not. You could argue that this is where “racial differences” started, but the DNA variations (that are present today) are too minor to call it different races in the biological sense.

Genesis 11 - The tower of Babylon

After the flood, mankind disregarded God’s command to disperse and fill the earth and God confused their languages to force them to disperse. This confusion, the conflicts and the dispersion that arose out of that are the start of tribes and tribalism, groups with a common ancestor, a common language, a common culture and many times a common religion. These differences also caused a difference in levels of trust within a tribe, between tribes and with outsiders. Over time, tribes developed common physical features through generations of marriage within the tribe and the resulting inbreeding. Clusters of these tribes with similar features and a common ancestor could be considered a race but again, that’s a sociological choice, not a valid biological construct or a distinction that the Bible uses. For clarity and to connect with today’s issues, we will call any marriage recorded in the Bible “interracial” if the husband and wife descended from a different son of Noah. This choice seems to be the closest to the sociological construct of the three major races we have today.

God’s covenant with Abraham & Israel

When God set the Israelites apart, they were to be a blessing for all nations (this was God’s promise to Abraham). I believe they were also to be an example for all nations of what happens when a people faithfully walks in a covenant relationship with God.

Part of the covenant was to not defile themselves by worshipping other gods instead of or besides Yahweh. For that reason, God told the Israelites to not intermarry with the tribes and peoples from Canaan and surrounding areas (Deut 7:1-11, Ex. 34:10-17).

We must keep in mind that marriage in those days was not two people coming together to start a family, but two families/clans coming together to form a treaty and treat each other as equals (including sharing each other’s gods and religious practices).

There were two exceptions on the prohibition to marry non-Israelites, marrying a woman captured during war and marrying a proselyte (someone who joined the Jewish faith).

Israelite men were allowed to marry a woman captured in war (presumably an unmarried woman or a woman whose husband was killed) as there would be no pact/treaty between the two families and thus no expectation to partake in the other clan’s religion. She was forcibly taken from her family and, after a month of mourning, considered an Israelite woman. (Deut 21:10-14) This was still risky business as she might lead her Jewish offspring astray to the gods of her parents. In Numbers 31, Moses warns the Israelites about that danger. 

In Ex. 12:43-49, God lays down the rules for Gentiles who want to join God’s covenant with the Israelites. All the male members in the household must be circumcised and all members of the household are then under the same law of Moses. Again, there is a community perspective, the whole household must pledge allegiance to Yahweh. This was a practical and social allegiance (leaving one community and joining the other community) as well as a spiritual allegiance (accepting Yahweh as the one true God). It also opened the way for them to marry an Israelite man or woman.

Numbers 11 - God defends Moses's marriage to a black woman

The comment below is from the Africa Study Bible. (Link)

Moses married a black woman from Cush, the region that today includes southern Egypt and northern Sudan. His Cushite wife was probably not the same woman as Zipporah (Exodus 2:21), who was a Midianite and may have passed away. Many people from a variety of ethnic groups escaped Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38). Moses’ Cushite wife was probably among them. When Aaron and Miriam criticised Moses’ marriage to this woman, the Lord defended him, rebuking Aaron and Miriam for contesting Moses’ leadership.

God does not condemn marriages to people from another tribe or race. Yes, Israelites were to marry those who were committed to God and adopted into God’s nation, but they could marry those of a different colour or heritage. God’s great servant, Moses, loved a Cushite woman who was not Jewish.

Isn't it ironic that the one time God explicitly defended an interracial marriage in the Bible, it was between someone of the majority culture (Israelites) and a black woman? In America, a white person (the majority culture) marrying a black person has been condemned many times over in the past, but God actually defended it!

Jesus had interracial marriages in his bloodline

The Bible names five women in Jesus’s genealogy (Matt. 1). Three of these were non-Israelites (intercultural marriages) and two can be identified as interracial marriages. None of these are criticized in the Bible for the woman’s descent. The ones that happened after the Law of Moses was given (Rahab, and Ruth) were marriages in which the non-Israelite partner willingly joined God's covenant with his people.

Tamar & Judah – Tamar bore Perez to Judah. In Gen. 38, Tamar is mentioned as the daughter of Shua, a Canaanite, which can be considered a different race (descending from Ham, not Shem).

Rahab & Salmon – Rahab was also a Canaanite (though the Bible does not say this explicitly in Josh. 2) and racially different from the Israelites.

Ruth & Boaz – Ruth was a Moabite, the Moabites descended from Abraham's nephew, Lot. This was for sure an intercultural marriage, but not an interracial one. 

David & Bathsheba – Bathsheba was most likely Jewish, though the Bible doesn't indicate her descent.

Mary, the mother of Jesus was a Jew, a descendant from David and from the same tribe as Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. This was a monocultural marriage.

The early Church

The early church was unique in the sense that the community of believers went beyond tribal and national boundaries. The same restrictions on marriage were in place, though. One was still expected to marry a fellow believer. This way, husband and wife would be united in their passion for Jesus and pass that passion on to their kids. 

Jesus, being God, chose humans/humanity as his bride.

The gathering at Pentecost was the moment when God reunited us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and empowered us to live as one in Christ, as the bride of Christ, in all our different languages and nationalities and races. He broke down the “racial”, cultural and tribal barriers (Eph. 2), and He led by example.

Jesus himself bridged the greatest gap when He, the Creator, desired to have us humans, created beings, as his bride (Eph. 5, Rev. 19,21). If Jesus marrying a bride who is that much different from Him has God’s approval and delight, we shouldn’t object to a marriage based on racial differences.

(1) – If you Google “DNA difference and race” you will find many articles, scholarly and non-scholarly, supporting this.

Published May 13, 2021

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