Is there a biblical precedent for prohibiting interracial marriage?

I have recently encountered an individual who thinks that the actions of Nehemiah and Ezra after the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon support the idea that interracial marriage is unbiblical. I’m having a hard time seeing the connection between these two things. In a discussion here on World Magazine's blog the gentleman gave this passage as a defense for his argument:
Nehemiah 13:23 In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:
24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.
25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.
26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.
27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

The main description of the dismissal of foreign wives and children by the returned exiles is in the book of Ezra, chapter 10.

Now, in choosing these verses there is the assumption that Ezra and Nehemiah’s actions in this instance were justified. One could argue, and rightly so, that the influence of foreign culture led to the degradation of the Israelites’ faith and culture to the point where they could no longer understand their own language. But one could also argue that this was part of God’s judgment against Israel for abandoning their faith prior to exile.

There is also the question of why this instance of marrying foreign women was met with such condemnation from Ezra and Nehemiah. There are other accounts in the Bible of Israelite men marrying foreign women without such drastic action taken against them. Most notable are the women in the genealogy of the house of David (Ruth and Rahab) and subsequently the line of Jesus Christ.

There are many instances in the Bible where the decisions recorded where not necessarily the best ones that could have been made at that particular moment. The one that first comes to my mind is when Sarah gave her handmaid to Abraham to conceive a child with. I think most Christians would agree that that was not the best decision for Sarah and Abraham to make. The same can be said for Jacob having two wives and children by their handmaids. Even though this is recorded in the Bible I don’t think any Christian could seriously argue that it is proof that polygamy is endorsed in the Bible. That particular argument over looks the seriously dysfunctional families that resulted from the various polygamous relationships in the Bible.

No less than Jesus himself issues condemnations of divorce in the New Testament
Matthew 5:31
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:7, 8
“They said to him [Jesus], 'Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?' He [Jesus] said to them, 'It was because you were so hard hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.' (NRSV)

These verses call into question the decision to force the returning exiles to divorce their foreign wives and abandon the children they had with them.

All in all I don’t really see how the actions of Ezra and Nehemiah lead to the conclusion that Christians (or other individuals) from different cultures should not marry (please note that I am NOT saying that Christians can be “unequally yoked”). The really important distinctiveness of Christian faith, namely that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died on the cross as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind and that he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, overcomes all other cultural distinctions. It was this message of Christ crucified that the apostles used to unite Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, and indeed people from all over the know world of their time.

Pick any two Christians from any two distinct cultures on this earth today and they will agree to that one unifying principal of faith. The fact that they may have other issues upon which they disagree does not mean that they should not interact with each other. It is rather a good incentive for them to do so.


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