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The Bible and the Immigration debate: Open borders or controlled entry

Written By | Sep 6, 2018

FLOWER MOUND, TX: Turn on a news channel or tune in to talk radio and you will hear the latest fire and brimstone “chitchat” on immigration. The social media rumor mill is filled with false statements and unsubstantiated claims. The subject has been discussed, debated, argued, and made into a political juggernaut. Opinions abound. Is it Biblical? Or humane? What about Constitutional? Just what does the Bible say?

Sarcastically poking fun at humorous contradictory statements as well as serious comments stirs passion.

“Just because someone is here illegally doesn’t mean they broke any of our laws.” Nancy Pelosi.
“Building a wall will violate the rights of millions of illegals” Nancy Pelosi.
“Immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future.”
George W. Bush

At the center of the debate is the alarming statistic that claims roughly one in six illegal immigrants is re-arrested on criminal charges within three years of release.

It goes without saying that the immigration issue is an emotional strain on the American psyche. News of the brutal murders of Kate Steinle, Mollie Tibbet, and other losses of “Angel Parents” bring deep personal suffering and national outrage.

Strangers, Sojourners, Aliens, and Immigrants

The Bible has a great deal to say about the treatment of “strangers,” “sojourners” or “aliens” However, there are some differences in the modern meaning of “immigrants.”

The Bible’s terms “native” or “native-born” are used when referring to Hebrews (citizens) (Lev18:26) whom God established as a theocratic nation and gave them the land of Israel.

“Strangers,” sojourners” “aliens” are not Hebrews but those that the “native-born” (Jews) permitted to live amongst them.

The modern terms “immigrants” and “aliens” refer to those permitted legally to enter the U.S while waiting to permanently assimilate into the U.S. as citizens. “Illegal” immigrants are those entering the U.S. without permission through designated filters, i.e. background checks, visa applications, etc.

The Bible says when in Rome, do as Roman’s do

The Bible states that the “alien” and “native-born” are expected to adhere to the same standards of the Law—the moral and civil laws (Leviticus 18:26, 24:16, Numbers 9:14). And the Bible is clear on the equal treatment of “strangers” and “sojourners” as a remembrance for Israelites being sojourners themselves in Egypt where they were slaves.

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34 ESV)

Aliens not seeking residency clearly had to abide by their laws.

Forming the Land of Israel

The Hebrews came out of Egypt as an ethnic people to form a new nation in the land of Israel. They were given instructions to be a distinct people group. The Israelite “Constitution,” the Law of Moses (including civil, moral, and religious laws), was given to the people to keep them separate from the Canaanites and their gods. It also revealed to them who the One True God was and what He expected from them. They had been captives for generations and were losing sight of the faith of their father, Abraham.

They were often given instructions to treat sojourners and strangers with compassion.

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

Israel’s warning about assimilating “strangers” was given to avoid the temptation for them to worship false gods—strictly prohibited in the Ten Commandments.

The United States is unlike Israel in certain respects. Its Constitution called for immigrants not to be “sojourners” or “aliens” but with the view to becoming “citizens.”

As President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly said,

“But this [immigration] is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American.”

America was established on Christian principles of conduct but was not established as a Christian nation (a theocracy), even though it was a nation “under God.” In a Christian theocracy, non-Christian immigrants would be welcomed but not given citizenship until they became Christians—but instead, the U.S. Constitution sanctions lawful assimilation regardless of religion.

Israel: A homeland for the Hebrews

The land of Israel was established to provide a homeland for Hebrews (later called Jews) so they could worship the One True God—a theocracy. If an alien wanted to assimilate (and it was rare), they had to become Jews by circumcision. Then they were required to submit to the Law of Moses including the religious laws.

Nearly everyone sees the benefits of immigration. It is economically beneficial, it provides services, keeps families together, gives sanctuary for the persecuted, and offers a better life—all honorable and legitimate.

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…” George Washington
“The United States should be an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.”
Thomas Paine
What kind of country do we want America to be?

Some oppose “open immigration” with the emotionally charged question: what kind of country will America become in the future if she allows those not holding to Christian principles to immigrate and become voting citizens? Many fear that the U.S, as we have known it, will disappear. And yet, most Christians would not want America to become a Christocracy—theirs is coming with a benevolent King. Attempts at limited theocratic rule like Jim Jones and David Koresh led to disaster.

The central debatable issue is over “open borders” or a “legal process” for immigration and/or citizenship to those who will obey the law and seek civil and religious liberty.

If America wants to maintain a country as the Founding Fathers envisioned, common sense suggests open borders are out of the question. That it warrants some sort of regulation.

Entering America by obeying her laws

The next question is: what do we do with those who enter America without following the immigration laws—commonly known as “illegals?” If the law is just, and that may be debated, then the pilgrims desiring visas, must obey the law.

Equality under biblical law stated sojourners were to be answerable to the civil and moral laws of the land but not the religious laws (observing feasts, sacrificing, etc.). “You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.” (Numbers 9:14)

Nikki Haley, Ambassador to United Nations, advises:

“We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.”

The Bible does not solve the problem of immigration. It only addresses the moral and ethical issues as they apply to the immigration situation. It is clear that equality is for everyone, equally and with respect. Because we are not an exclusively Christian society our U.S. Constitution must be the enforcing document for all, regardless of religion.

Therefore, citizens are seeking a political or Constitutional solution.

While most immigrants are seeking entry for a better life, we must carefully weigh the possibility that some immigrants may abhor our “materialistic and self-indulgent” society and seek entry to change our fundamental freedoms—that would require a Constitutional change.

While not addressing all immigration issues (illegals’ voting rights and family separations), it would seem prudent to permit only law-abiding aliens desiring citizenship to immigrate.


Lead Image by: James Nichols for Pixabay Creative Commons –

Donald Brake

Donald L Brake, PhD is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College; and is author of: They Called Him Yeshua, How 30 Missing Years Changed Human History, a novel coming in 2018 (with Shelly Beach) Jesus, A Visual History, Zondervan 2014 (with Todd Bolen) A Monarch’s Majestic Translation: The King James Bible, Christian Faith Pub, 2017 A Visual History of the English Bible, Baker Books 2008 A Visual History of the King James Bible, Baker Books 2011 (with Shelly Beach) A Royal Monument of English Literature 2011 (Leaf 1611 KJV) Wycliffe New Testament (facsimile) 1986, IBP