The Old Testament Law commanded the Israelites not to engage in interracial marriage (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). However, the reason for this was not primarily racial in nature. Rather, it was religious. The reason God commanded against interracial marriage was that people of other races were idolaters and worshippers of false gods. The Israelites would be led astray from God if they intermarried with idol worshippers, pagans, or heathens. A similar principle is laid out in the New Testament, but at a much different level: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Just as the Israelites (believers in the one true God) were commanded not to marry idolaters, so Christians (believers in the one true God) are commanded not to marry unbelievers. To answer this question specifically, no, the Bible does not say that interracial marriage is wrong.
As Martin Luther King noted, a person should be judged by his or her character, not by skin color. There is no place in the life of the Christian for favoritism based on race (James 2:1-10). When selecting a mate, a Christian should always first find out if the potential spouse is born again by faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:3-5). Faith in Christ, not skin color, is the biblical standard for choosing a spouse. Interracial marriage is not a matter of right or wrong, but of wisdom, discernment, and prayer.
The only reason interracial marriage should be considered carefully is the difficulties a mixed-race couple may experience because of others who have a hard time accepting them. Many interracial couples experience discrimination and ridicule, sometimes even from their own families. Some interracial couples experience difficulties when their children have skin tones of different shades from the parents and/or siblings. An interracial couple needs to take these things into consideration and be prepared for them, should they decide to marry. Again, though, the only biblical restriction placed on whom a Christian may marry is whether the other person is a member of the body of Christ.
Too Many Wives?
Why was it wrong for Solomon to marry “many foreign women” (1 Kin. 11:1)? Was it a problem of…
• ethnicity? Perhaps Solomon erred by marrying outside of Israel. The Law prohibited Hebrews from intermarrying with the Canaanites (Deut. 7:1–5; compare 1 Kin. 11:2).
Yet elsewhere the Law permitted Israelite men to marry women captured in warfare, so long as they were not Canaanites (1 Kin. 20:14–18). Moses himself had a wife from Ethiopia (Num. 12:1). And Ruth, who married Boaz and was the great-grandmother of David, was a Moabite.
• gender? As some would see it, the main failing in Solomon’s marriages had something to do with the inherent nature of woman. Just as Eve caused trouble for Adam (Gen. 3:6), Delilah for Samson (Judg. 16:6–21), and Bathsheba for David (2 Sam. 11:1–5), so Solomon’s many wives weakened his resolve to follow the Lord and led him into sin, according to this view. Yet woman was created equally with man and shares responsibility for the creation (Gen. 1:26–27). And Scripture presents many examples of women who showed spiritual insight, sensitivity, and obedience to the Lord: for example, Jael (Judg. 4:17–24; 5:24–27), Ruth (Ruth 1:6–18), Abigail (1 Sam. 25), and Lydia (Acts 16:14–15).
• polygamy? Perhaps the real problem for Solomon was that he practiced polygamy. After all, the Law warned the kings of Israel not to “multiply wives” (Deut. 17:17).
Yet the Hebrew patriarchs all had more than one wife, as did Moses, Gideon, and David. That does not mean that God encouraged the practice, but neither can one say that it was the primary cause of Solomon’s downfall.
Ultimately, the Lord disapproved of Solomon’s many marriages because his wives, who worshiped idols, turned his heart away from the true God (1 Kin. 11:4–10). God’s anger was not about intermarriage, but about Solomon’s idolatry. It was a spiritual issue, as the Law concerning kings reveals (Deut. 17:19–20).
This is an important point for modern readers of Scripture to grasp. God’s main concern, then as now, is with a person’s heart attitude. Is there faith and obedience? Other issues are relevant to that question to the extent that they either aid or impede one’s walk with God.
An Interracial Marriage
The marriage celebrated in the Song of Solomon appears to have been a match between two members of different ethnic groups. The groom, presumably Solomon, is described as “white and ruddy” (Song 5:10), while the bride is “dark” like the black tents of Kedar. If these descriptions indicate skin color, then Solomon was evidently marrying a woman from a different ethnic background.
Marriages across ethnic and racial lines were not uncommon in the ancient world (for example, Num. 12:1; Ruth 1:4; 1 Kin. 11:1). Today, however, they pose a problem for some. Yet it is important to note that whatever reasons people may have for opposing interracial unions, the Bible neither condemns them nor prohibits them. Israelites were forbidden to marry Canaanites, Ammonites, or Moabites (Deut. 7:1–4; 23:3), but these prohibitions were not based on mere ethnicity, but had to do with religion, morality, and geopolitical considerations.
God created a diversity of races on the earth. Differences in background and skin color may be hard for people to accept, but not for God. He Himself reaches out to all the peoples of the world, so it is not surprising that His Word may celebrate a marriage between two people from different ethnic groups.
Some segments of the modern-day church around the world, especially those in inner cities and developing countries, struggle with issues related to intermarriage between races and ethnic groups. For these believers, Ezra’s reaction to the intermarriages of many of the Jews who had returned from the exile (Ezra 9:2) might prove instructive.
As a scribe (see Ezra 7:6), Ezra knew the Law extremely well. He knew that intermarriage with the Canaanites and other peoples of Palestine (Ezra 9:1) was explicitly condemned (Ex. 34:12–16; Deut. 7:3–5). He also was familiar with the prophets’ denunciation of the practice (compare Jer. 3:1–9; Mal. 2:10–16). Thus Ezra was beside himself with remorse when he learned of the people’s sin (Ezra 9:3–4). After all, violation of the laws concerning intermarriage was one of the reasons that God had sent His people into exile in the first place (Ezra 9:10–14).
The scribe’s solution to this problem was swift and decisive: he ordered a mass assembly for the confession of sins and the immediate dissolution of all intermarriages (Ezra 10:3–5, 11–17). However, Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9:6–15), the people’s confession (Ezra 10:2–4, 12–14), and Ezra’s systematic and carefully recorded mass divorce proceedings (Ezra 10:16–44) all served to highlight a key issue that affects how we apply this Scripture today: God did not forbid interracial marriage, but rather interreligious marriage.
Interracial unions took place often in the Old Testament. For example, Moses married an Ethiopian woman (Num. 12:1), Salmon married Rahab, the harlot of Jericho (Matt. 1:5), and Boaz married the Moabite Ruth (Ruth 2:10; 4:13). Nevertheless, God generally cautioned His people against marriage to foreigners because their allegiance to idols and foreign gods would dilute the Israelite’s allegiance to the one true God. As Nehemiah pointed out twenty-five years after Ezra, that was the undoing of Solomon (Neh. 13:26).
This is a principle worth keeping in mind today as pastors and church leaders try to help believers wrestle with issues of intermarriage. The main question to consider is not that of ethnicity, but spirituality: what solution best enables Christians to follow God?
Ezra took a somewhat radical approach when he immediately dissolved the intermarriages of his people. When Nehemiah confronted a similar problem several years later, he took a slightly less strident posture by exhorting the people to prevent future intermarriages. (Read Neh. 13:23–27.)
Ezra’s model for dealing with interreligious marriages stands in contrast to Paul’s approach. This is because the Jews of Ezra’s day were turning away from God by intermarrying, whereas the Christians Paul wrote about were already married when they became believers. Paul counseled these people to remain in their marriages to still-unbelieving spouses if at all possible.