Does the Bible Advocate For “Open Borders”?

This was from a Facebook post from a friends wall… I wanted to add this verse to a discussion I had from 2018 when Santa Clarita was discussing becoming a “sanctuary city”

This post should be read as a companion to the above, older post.

I will post the “meme” making a point about Leviticus… which the WASHINGTON TIMES (June 24, 2018) responds to well. Even their headline: Suddenly, the left loves Leviticus Funny, they reject the edicts against the gay lifestyle in Leviticus but accept what they want.

Here is the “meme”

Great article by Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, at the Washington Times:

This week in the news: All of the sudden, the mainstream media, Hollywood, the liberal church, and other members of our national intelligentsia seem to care about what the Bible says. In particular, they appear to have suddenly acquired some affection for the Old Testament — a book that, heretofore, these proud members of the “smarter-than-thou” club have excoriated as laden with “hate-filled rhetoric.”

More to the point: These newly minted defenders of biblical orthodoxy seem to have all of the sudden fallen in love with the third book of the Jewish Torah (otherwise known as the Pentateuch); a book referred to in the Bible as Leviticus.

One of the passages quoted over and over again in recent days has been that of Leviticus 19: 33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

As a Wesleyan university president and as a Christian, I am always thrilled when anyone wants to discuss scripture. But let us first be sure we are taking every measure to be historically, theologically, logically, linguistically and hermeneutically accurate in our efforts. I hope we can all agree that any exegesis to the contrary, any misusing and misapplying the Bible for political gain, is a detestable and damnable practice.

Old Testament scholar and Wheaton College Professor James Hoffmeier is a person who actually lived as an alien in the Middle East growing up. His family had to flee Egypt because of the 1967 war. For nearly two months, they lived in tents at a mountain camp in Cyprus. Not only does Mr. Hoffmeier know his Bible, he knows what it is like to be the “stranger” in a foreign land.

It is fair to say that he is not insensitive to plight of immigrants. Please read carefully what Mr. Hoffmeier has to say about the Levitical directive to care for the “stranger” in our midst:

“What I learned in my study is that there are three relevant terms used in Hebrew [for the word ‘stranger’] (ger, zar, nekhar). [Some translators] render them all as [simply] ‘foreigner.’ That is misleading and incorrect.

“Zar and nekhar, indeed, refer to foreigners or visitors passing through a foreign land. [But], Ger refer[s] to foreign residents who live in another land with the permission of a host The law is clear that ger is not to be oppressed but they were also obligated to live in accordance with the laws just like the Israelites.”

Mr. Hoffmeier goes further:

“The Law does not, however, extend to the zar and nekhar such [protections], benefits and services. From this I conclude that ger was viewed as a legal alien. The mistake of some well-meaning Christians is to apply the biblical laws for the ger to illegal aliens in America even though they do not fit the biblical legal and social definition.”

Mr. Hoffmeier concludes:

“The Old Testament Law is very clear about the practice of sanctuary The purpose of sanctuary was not to avoid the law or one’s sentence, but to get a fair trial So, when American[s] offer their cities as sanctuary from federal law, or when churches offer their facilities as a refuge for illegal immigrants who have been tried and order deported, they are neither following the letter or spirit of the Old Testament law.”

The biblical narrative is not one without borders. Just read the book of Nehemiah — it is a story about rebuilding a wall. Boundaries have existed throughout antiquity. Yes, Abraham was a sojourner who crossed borders, but he sought approval in order to do so and such permission was granted contingent upon his agreement to honor and obey the laws of the country of his desired residence.

Yes, Egypt and Israel alike allowed “strangers” to travel in their countries, but they never stopped defending their own sovereignty and territorial integrity. Bottom line: Abraham was an alien who sought permission before entering Egypt and there is no indication that, centuries later, Mary and Joseph did anything different as they crossed the same boundaries with the baby Jesus.

A quote this week from a Facebook friend named Nancy is perhaps the best response of any to those suddenly infatuated with Leviticus:

“Manipulating the definition of words is one of the hallmarks of genius propaganda. Take a sliver of truth and use misquotes or quotes out of context Ignore history and facts. Get all the people who read the first few sentences of an article all worked up and sit back and smirk at the mayhem Could [this] all be a giant power play at the expense of the children who are apparently just pawns in this game?”

Amen, Nancy. Amen.

Here are some quick takes as well:

19:33 The “foreigner” (Hb. ger) in the Bible was most often a foreign merchant, craftsman, or mercenary soldier. This term never refers to the prior inhabitants of the land. Generous actions to foreigners were motivated by the memory of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt (Ex 23:9; Dt 5:14–15).

Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 182.

Do him wrong: the verb may be translated “mistreat,” “oppress,” “exploit,” or “take unfair advantage of.” In this context there seems to be the idea of a person in a position of power taking unfair advantage of one who is weak.

René Péter-Contesse and John Ellington, A Handbook on Leviticus, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), 299.

Vers. 33, 34. Lange: “Humanity towards the stranger, who is not a Jew, who thus certainly might dwell as a private man in the future inheritance of Israel. He was to be treated exactly as an inhabitant in human intercourse. Thou shalt love him as thyself.—With this the remembrance is still preserved that the Israelites had been strangers in the land of Egypt.” The royal law of ver. 18 is here expressly extended to the stranger, and notwithstanding the national narrowness necessary to preserve the true religion in the world, the general brotherhood of mankind is hereby taught as far as was possible under the circumstances.

John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and Frederic Gardiner, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Leviticus (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 152.

Here is a good short video via GOT QUESTIONS regarding illegal immigration:

  • What does the Bible say about illegal immigration? How should Christians view illegal immigrants?

And here is a good post over at CULTURE WATCH:

….I want to focus on the Hebrew terminology used in the Leviticus passage (and in others). One expert that is worth being aware of is Old Testament professor James Hoffmeier. He has written a very important and incisive volume on these matters called The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible (Crossway, 2009).

I have quoted from him before, as in this piece: CHRISTIANS AND ASYLUM SEEKERS

In pages 48-52 of his book he has a section called “What is an alien according to the Bible?” It is a very important discussion indeed. However, for those who cannot get hold of his excellent book, he did an article-length discussion of these particular matters in 2011 called “The Use and Abuse of the Bible in the Immigration Debate”.

Since the material in the article is fairly similar to what is found in his book, let me make use of the article here. He opens his piece with these words:

Secularists and liberals, both political and religious, are typically loath to consult the Bible when it comes to matters of public policy. So it is somewhat surprising that in the current debate about the status of illegal immigrants, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is regularly cited in defense of the illegal. Debra Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister — a denomination not known for taking Scripture seriously — offered a recent critique of the Arizona illegal immigration law in the Washington Post online (May 25, 2010), saying “It’s as if the 70 percent of Arizonans who support the law have forgotten the Biblical injunction to ‘love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’” This verse and others like it are frequently quoted in the name of “justice” for the illegal immigrant. A left-wing Christian advocacy group Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which is affiliated with Sojourners, had this passage on its website: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.” (Leviticus 19:33)

But the main point is how the biblical writers use certain specific terms when they seek to make specific points – something that can get easily lost however in some English translations. So let me quote this important part of his article:

What about the “stranger” or “alien”? The Bible is not “a living breathing document” that can mean whatever you want it to say. This question must be answered contextually and based on what the key words meant when they were written before we apply what that might mean in our own times. The most significant Hebrew word for our discussion is ger, translated variously in English versions, which creates some confusion, as “stranger” (KJV, NASB, JB), “sojourner” (RSV, ESV), “alien” (NEB, NIV, NJB, NRSV), and “foreigner” (TNIV, NLT). It occurs more than 80 times as a noun and an equal number as a verb (gwr), which typically means “to sojourn” or “live as an alien.” The problem with more recent English translations (e.g. TNIV and NLT) is that they use “foreigner” for ger, which is imprecise and misleading because there are other Hebrew terms for “foreigner,” namely nekhar and zar. The distinction between these two terms and ger is that while all three are foreigners who might enter another country, the ger had obtained legal status.

There are several episodes in the Bible that illustrate how a foreigner became a ger. The individual or party had to receive permission from the appropriate authority in that particular culture. Perhaps the best-known story has to do with the Children of Israel entering Egypt. In the book of Genesis, we are told of how during a time of famine in Canaan, the sons of Jacob did the natural thing under the circumstances — go to Egypt where the Nile kept the land fertile. Even though their brother Joseph was a high-ranking official who had recommended to Pharaoh that they be allowed to settle in the northeast delta of Egypt, they felt compelled to ask Pharaoh for permission:

He looks at Genesis 47:3-6, and then discusses a few other passages. He then says this:

From the foregoing texts we can conclude that in the ancient biblical world, countries had borders that were protected and respected, and that foreigners who wanted to reside in another country had to obtain some sort of permission in order to be considered an alien with certain rights and privileges. The delineation between the “alien” or “stranger” (ger) and the foreigner (nekhar or zar) in biblical law is stark indeed. The ger in Israelite society, for instance, could receive social benefits such as the right to glean in the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22) and they could receive resources from the tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-13). In legal matters, “there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the LORD. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:15-16). In the area of employment, the ger and citizen were to be paid alike (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). In all these cases, no such provision is extended to the nekhar or zar. In a sense, the ger were not just aliens to whom social and legal protections were offered, but were also considered converts, and thus could participate in the religious life of the community, e.g. celebrate Passover (Exodus 12:13) and observe Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29-30). They were, moreover, expected to keep dietary and holiness laws (Leviticus 17:8-9 & 10-12). It is well known that within Israelite society, money was not to be lent with interest, but one could loan at interest to a foreigner (nekhar). These passages from the Law make plain that aliens or strangers received all the benefits and protection of a citizen, whereas the foreigner (nekhar) did not. It is wrong, therefore, to confuse these two categories of foreigners and then to use passages regarding the ger as if they were relevant to illegal immigrants of today. cis.org/Report/Use-and-Abuse-Bible-Immigration-Debate

I could quote from various critical commentaries on Leviticus and other OT books to further make these distinctions with the Hebrew terminology, but hopefully you get the point. Simply ripping a text out of its context – especially while ignoring important grammatical and linguistic nuances – is not how a political point should be made by believers.

As both Hoffmeier and I have often said, yes, having a compassionate response to the needy, including genuine refugees, is one thing. But misusing texts to push for radical open border policies, and to call to ‘tear down the wall’ is not how the biblical Christian should proceed.

In another excellent (and long) article at BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY, the conclusion sums up the MUST READ article well:

The basic message we get from this study is that there are two basic kinds of immigrants in Scripture: the ger who, though not natives of a nation, have all the rights and privileges of the native citizens; and the nokriy, who have a second-class status because they are unwilling to take the steps the fully privileged immigrants were.

In addition, it is clear that a great majority of the passages dealing with the ger are of a prescriptive nature, being based on explicit instructions from God. It is thus safe to view them as being of enduring pertinence for basing policy decisions on.

Regarding those termed the nokriy, it is clear that although they, like the ger, have crossed a country’s border, they are distinct and separate from the ger in terms of the rights and privileges they are granted. That they are not mentioned in many passages where the rights of the ger are clearly delineated strongly implies that, in God’s sight, they do not warrant receiving these privileges.

This study thus offers biblical support-i.e., God’s sanction-for policies which preferentially give immigrants who show a willingness to do what it takes to integrate into and fully participate in the life of a society, rights and privileges which do not accrue to those who do not. The claim that it is unjust or unloving to withhold any privileges from those unwilling to do certain things appears to be a gross misapplication of ‘social justice.’ The Apostle Paul said, ‘For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat’ (2 Thess. 3:10). This principle can easily be seen to apply to immigration issues. Privileges come to those who do what it takes to warrant them, a truism that applies to a biblical perspective on immigration as well as to so many other things in life. And it should be added that, since the Church is to obey the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-8), Christians should not be advocating people from foreign nations to break laws when they attempt to cross into another country. We who claim to be the Lord’s children have an obligation not only to follow His principles ourselves, but to encourage others to do the same. Since the loving God we serve is not wishy-washy but has definite opinions about how we should live, we should make every effort to line up our opinions and policies with His.