Sam had for some time had his eye on Monica. She was stunningly beautiful and had the sort of personality that people gravitated toward. She just made the people around her feel good with her cheerfulness and laughter. They had worked together for some time now, and Sam had been trying for a few weeks to muster the courage to ask her out. He had longed to be with a Christian girl like Monica because the Lord Jesus was so important to Sam. Although Monica and he had talked several times, the moment just hadn’t been right to see if she was interested in going out. Plus, Sam had a nagging question in his mind that he just wasn’t sure about.
At the same time, Monica looked forward to work every day because she knew that Sam would be there. The way he smiled and conducted himself conveyed a sort of tender leadership that Monica looked for in a man. She had commented to her friends several times about how handsome he was. They would just giggle. The word was that he was a Christian, which made him even more attractive to Monica, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. She wondered if Sam was ever going to ask her out. However, despite all of that attraction, Monica had a nagging question in her mind that she just wasn’t sure about.
Little did they know, they were both wondering the same thing. You see, Sam was white, and Monica was black. Sam had been told while growing up that white people should date only white people, and Monica was raised hearing that black people should date only black people. If fact, they had even been told by their families that the Bible teaches that races shouldn’t mix. Given their strong Christian faith, their upbringing, and their growing attraction to one another, they were both left somewhat confused. Since they both wanted to please God above all, they had each been wondering: what does the Bible say about interracial dating?
While the scenario above is fictional, the sort of situation depicted is fairly common. People who are of a different “races” go to school together, work together, and often live in the same communities. Naturally, they are occasionally attracted to one another, which sometimes leads to dating, marriage, and children (hopefully in that order). However, given the history and climate of “race relations” here in America, dating and marrying someone from another “race” is often seen as taboo. While that reality is becoming more lax, there is still a certain tension in the culture that says, “Don’t do that.”
We who claim to be Christian are certainly shaped by our culture, but our culture is not to be our authority because a culture influenced by the depravity of man can be terribly misguided. Therefore, our authority is the Scripture alone, and given that the Scripture is sufficient to answer life’s questions, to Scripture we’ll turn as I try to answer this question: does the Bible prohibit interracial dating or marriage?
Let me begin answering that question by saying that the category of “race” is a poor category. That’s why I’ve put the word race in quotations thus far. As one author says, “Believing in race is like believing in unicorns because neither race nor unicorns exist in reality,” (Thabiti Anyabwile, “Bearing the Image” in Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology, p59). In that chapter, Anyabwile works to convince us that we’ve been looking at the world with a completely unbiblical set of assumptions, namely the assumption of race. In my opinion, he does a very good job of persuasion. He argues that the idea of race, as it has been commonly used, causes division because it is rooted in biology. In other words, the idea of race connotes that there’s a fundamental biological difference between those who are red and yellow, black and white. It’s as if those of different colors are almost completely different kinds of being.
The situation of “race as biology” further degenerates when it’s coupled with the prevailing evolutionary thought. One “race” is then thought to be superior others, further advanced in the evolution ladder. Indeed, Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror was seriously fueled by evolutionary biological thought and eugenics. However, long before Hitler did what he did, Americans were using essentially the same thought to rationalize slavery. Therefore, it’s a short walk from the idea of race to racism.
Those that know and love the Bible should easily understand that this idea of race—that people of different skin colors are almost completely of different kinds of being—is patently false. Every human ever conceived shares a common ancestry through Noah and his wife, and Adam and Eve. We are certainly of the exact same kind of being, no matter what our outward features look like. In the end, there is only one race, which is the human race. That’s why Paul preached that God had 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, (Acts 17:26).
In light of this biblical truth, Anyabwile posits that we should, instead of thinking in the category of “race,” think in the category of “ethnicity.” “Ethnicity,” he says, “is a fluid construct that includes language, nationality or citizenship, cultural patterns, and perhaps religion,” (p63). It’s not rooted in biology manifested in skin color, hair texture, eye shape and color, or other obvious markers. Yes, there are differences between peoples, but these differences are outward instead of inward. Every person regardless of color bears the image of God.
It’s interesting that the King James Version of the Bible never uses the word “race” except to talk about a running competition. My preferred translation, the New American Standard Bible, uses “race” five times to talk about a people: Ezra 9:2, Zechariah 9:6Acts 7:19, James 3:7, and 1 Peter 2:9. The James verse points to a single race, namely human, while the other four simply point to lineage or ancestry. Therefore, the modern notion of “race” is absent from the Bible. Therefore, it should be absent from our thinking as well.
So then, let us reframe the question: does the Bible prohibit interethnic dating or marriage?
The Old Testament Witness
At first glance, it would certainly seem that God is against interethnic marriage because God prohibited the physical nation of Israel from marrying people of other ethnicities in the Old Testament. For instance, God says the following to Israel:
- Exodus 34:10-16, Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you. Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.
- Deuteronomy 7:1-4, When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; 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 and He will quickly destroy you.
In both instances, God indeed tells Israel to not mix in marriage with the ethnicities around them. Jews were to marry Jews and have Jewish children. The question is, “Why?” Is it because God desires to keep people ethnically pure, or is it because God wants to keep people religiously pure? Clearly, the answer from those passages is that God desires to keep the people of God religiously pure. He was afraid that if the sons and daughters of Israel married interethnically, their pagan spouses would pull them away from the true faith.
As one might expect sinners to do, Israel disobeyed God and took on foreign, pagan wives, and they did indeed draw Israel away as God had warned. This sad reality is best illustrated in King Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. Eventually, it led to great trouble for Israel.
Religious purity was also the motivation behind Ezra’s commandment to the Jews as they returned from Babylonian exile. While in Babylon, some had married foreign wives and brought them back to Jerusalem. Along with these foreign wives came pagan religion. Therefore, Ezra tells the reestablishing nation the following:
- Ezra 10:10-11, Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”
It was the temptation and practice of pagan religion that had caused God to send Israel/Judah into captivity in the first place. Therefore, Ezra desired to begin afresh with religious purity. He wasn’t concerned with ethnic purity.
So in the end, God is actually prohibiting interreligious marriage.
The New Testament Witness
As we come to the New Testament, we really have more of the same teaching. Just as God prohibited the physical nation of Israel from marrying outside of the faith in the Old Testament, God prohibits the spiritual nation of Israel, which is the church, from marrying outside of the faith in the New Testament. In other words, just as Jews were to marry Jews and have Jewish children under the authority of the Old Testament, Christians are to marry Christians and have Christian children under the authority of the New Testament.
We see this truth clearly taught in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:
- Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
While God commands Christians to avoid partnerships of all sorts with non-Christians, this instruction certainly applies to marriage. What greater partnership is there on earth than marriage? Marriage is the only partnership that takes two people and makes them one in God’s eyes. Therefore, we should heed this text foremost in marriage, and hence dating as well. Some may read skin color into Paul’s reference about light and darkness, but that interpretation is grossly inaccurate. Light represents godliness while darkness represents godlessness. Christians should not marry non-Christians is what the Lord through Paul is communicating.
The same truth is taught in 1 Corinthians 7:39 as Paul taught widows concerning remarriage, A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. These widows were perfectly able to marry whomever they wanted, as long as their potential spouse was “in the Lord.” In other words, “Ladies—and gentlemen for that matter—marry anybody you want as long as they’re a Christian. It matters not whether they are red, yellow, black, or white as long as they follow Jesus.”
So once again, God does not prohibit interethnic marriage. He prohibits interreligious marriage. The summary of the Bible’s teaching on the question of whom should I date and marry might be best summarized in the graphic to the right:
Of cource, the answer is #3. God is perfectly happy for a Christian to marry a Christian regardless of ethnicity and a non-Christian to marry a non-Christian regardless of ethnicity but detests for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. Since dating is the pathway to marriage, the same truth goes for dating as well.
Wisdom Going into Interethnic Dating and Marriage
While you are perfectly able biblically to marry a person of another ethnicity, it is wise to realize that there will be ethnic differences which could be potential problems. The greater the difference between the two ethnicities, the greater the potential for problems will exist. Different cultures, and even subcultures, have different communication styles, expectations, and family dynamics. All of these differences should be considered as you make the decision to marry interethnically.
Futhermore, I sadly say this, but one has to also consider the social stigma that comes with interethnic marriage in some locales due to racism. You must prepare yourself for this reality. It could be very hurtful at times. People very well may say insensitive things to you, or even worse, to your children. Unfortunately, it’s simply one of the side effects of living in a fallen world riddled with sin. Nevertheless, God desires you to consider all of these things upfront so that your marriage is not wrecked along the way through the irreconcilable differences so many have experienced.
I long for the day when every vestige of racism is wiped off the face of the earth. Even more, I long for the day when every hint of prejudice is erased from my own heart. If what I have laid out for you is truly biblical and you have trouble accepting my teaching, may you beg God to change your heart. He’s certainly changed mine drastically in this area. Sadly, there are some Christian homes where the parents are more concerned about their children not marrying someone from another “race” than whether or not they are marrying a Christian. That’s not the way it should be!
Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. That’s my dream as well. I believe we’re moving in that direction, but I also know that it will not be a complete reality until Christ returns, and sin is eradicated in the New Heaven and New Earth. Until then, may we who are Christians carry on the faith by marrying Christians and together raising Christian children.