Book Review: The Bible Gives No Sanction to Open Borders

By John Vinson
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 22, Number 4 (Summer 2012)
Issue theme: "Free Trade - exporting jobs, importing workers and refugees"

Book review:

The Immigration Crisis
Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible
By James Hoffmeier
Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2009
$14.99, 176 pp.

For religionists sympathetic to mass immigration, legal and illegal, Old Testament Bible verses saying “welcome the stranger” and “love the stranger” are the ultimate trump cards and justification for their position. This absolute certitude is ironic when it comes, as it often does, from religious liberals who commonly regard much of the Old Testament as Hebrew mythology, with little authority to command ethical obedience in the modern world. The Old Testament’s condemnations of homosexuality, for example, carry little weight with these liberals, if indeed they notice them at all.

In contrast, their literalistic embrace of “welcome the stranger” without reference to context or scholarship is characteristic of the uninformed dogmatism they often attribute to fundamentalists and other Christian conservatives. In fairness, this characteristic sometimes is true, but the general tendency of people who take the Bible seriously is to weigh verses carefully from every standpoint of learning and insight.

One who has done so on the pro-stranger verses is biblical scholar and archeologist James K. Hoffmeier. In his book The Immigration CrisisImmigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, Hoffmeier sheds a great deal of light on these verses and the issue of immigration from a biblical perspective. Hoffmeier convincingly argues that Middle Eastern peoples in biblical times controlled their borders and regulated immigration much as countries do today. Among them was ancient Israel.

To understand how Israel’s system worked, Hoffmeier shows, one must understand the meanings of different Hebrew words which English Bibles translate as “stranger,” as well as “foreigner,” and “alien.” The passages that command hospitality, love, and protection toward people so named use the Hebrew word “ger.” The ger, says Hoffmeier, was what today we would call an alien with permanent resident status. The Bible specified that such persons were to enjoy most of the same rights as Israelites, while at the same time requiring that they obey the laws of Israel. But others called stranger, foreigner, and alien did not have these benefits or obligations. The Hebrew words from which they derive are “zar” and “nekar.”

Consequently, the modern day writers who claim that the Bible sanctions illegal immigration, by referencing the pro-stranger passages, are drawing a completely false analogy. The strangers in this context were legally admitted people who agreed to abide by the laws of the land.

One of those laws, Hoffmeier observers, was that both the Israelite and the stranger (ger) were to receive decent and appropriate wages for their work. Interestingly, the open border religionists never seem to notice this requirement, as they endorse a policy also favored by cheap labor interests whose goal is to drive wages as low as possible for everyone in our country. Claiming to stand for godliness, these religionists offer little criticism of this greed.

On the issue of legal immigration, while it is clear that Israel allowed a fair number of aliens to reside within her borders, the distinction between Israelites and the stranger (ger) evidently remained generation after generation. One such distinction was that strangers couldn’t hold legal title to land. Hoffmeier cites Ruth, a woman of Moab, as an example of an alien who was completely assimilated into Israel. This, however, didn’t seem to be a general rule, which means that Israel was not a prototype for the mass immigration Melting Pot model of America.

Going to the New Testament, Hoffmeier discusses a scripture that open border advocates often cite, Matthew 25: 31-45. In them Christ welcomes people into his heavenly kingdom because “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” When they ask when they did that, he replies, “. . . to the extent you did it to these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” This means, say the open border religionists, that one must admit and embrace every foreigner who chooses to enter one’s country.

The fallacy here is that this scripture addresses personal ethics, not national policies, as salvation is a personal issue. The Old Testament, on which Christ based his ministry, did not—as we have seen—command Israel to have open borders. The phrase “brothers of mine,” Hoffmeier notes, always refers to fellow Christians, not the world at large, so the matter is one of private benevolence among believers. Further, he points out, the word translated brothers, adelphoi, may specifically refer to disciples sent on evangelistic missions. And finally, though not mentioned by Hoffmeier, the Greek word xenos, translated as stranger, does not necessarily mean a foreigner. Another meaning is guest. Clearly the message of Matthew 25 is not related to the present day issue of immigration.

Hoffmeier makes his case quite well, but a useful addition might have been a discussion of the general topic of nationality from a biblical perspective. The underlying premise of many open border advocates, religious and nonreligious, is that nations shouldn’t regulate immigration, because — first and foremost — nations shouldn’t exist as sovereign entities, if indeed they should exist at all. These advocates maintain that all men would live in peace if merged together under a one world government.

History, however, offers little justification for this globalist vision. Professor R.J. Rummel calculates that the numbers of mass murders conducted under single governments during the twentieth century, the most bloody of all centuries, exceeded by six times the numbers killed in wars among nations. Certainly, a global government would have to be authoritarian, if not totalitarian, to hold all the diverse peoples of the earth together. Unrestrained world-wide oppression and the leveling of humanity to the lowest common level could easily follow from such a concentration of power.

A worldwide authority, in any case, goes squarely against the biblical view, from Genesis to Revelation, that the division of mankind into nations is a fundamental facet of God’s order. Indeed, Acts 17:26-27 states that God set boundaries among nations so that they would seek after him. And indeed, in this situation, tyranny is limited and checked, and the particular genius of different peoples is allowed to flourish.

Significantly, the Bible seems to predict that men in rebellion against God, toward the end of this age, will seek to create a world-wide financial and political power, described as Babylon the Great in the book of Revelation. Suggesting the rise of this godless tyranny, the Old Testament Book Isaiah (14:12) states that it is Lucifer who weakens the nations.

The ideology of globalism is a powerful force in the modern world. Already we see the merging of nations in the European Union, and in the proposed North American Union in our hemisphere. The proponents of globalism are unanimous in their advocacy of mass migration, pretty much irrespective of national laws. For those who take the Bible seriously, the globalist movement should raise profound concern.

About the author

John Vinson is president of the American Immigration Control Foundation.

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