Interracial Relationships

By Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot


Is there anything in the Bible about interracial relations or anything of the sort? I am going through a huge crisis because my parents think that it is against God's word that I would have an intimate relationship with a black male. Could you please respond as quickly as you can? Thank you.


Though the Bible is surprisingly silent on skin color, we know blacks were present from the very beginning. Nations were sometimes identified ethnologically in terms of their color (Cush, Niger - words that mean "black"). The names of people oftentimes reflected their natures. For example, Kedar means "very black," Phinehas -- "the Negro," Ham -- "Hot, or black." (No doubt, some of these names are familiar.)

Several significant stories involve interracial intimacies. One of these includes Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, who was Sarah's handmaid and believed to be black. When Sarah was unable to conceive, she told Abraham to go into Hagar, which of course he did. After Hagar conceived, relations deteriorated between her and Sarah. At this point Hagar ran away, only to be met by God along the way. Much like the patriarchs, God made promises to her as well as demands upon her. She was the first woman to experience a theophany (seeing God manifested) and to be given a birth announcement. She was also the only one in the Bible to "name" God -- the God of seeing. She returned to Sarah and gave birth to Ishmael. Later when Sarah sent her away for good, God again spoke to her and repeated his promises to her. She found a wife for Ishmael (Egyptian) and had many descendants. (See Gen. 16, 21.)

Some scholars believe that because there are no pejorative statements regarding the color of one's skin, intermarriages were common and accepted. However, there is one instance where it seems to present a problem. That is in the case of Moses and his wife, who was identified as Cushite. Whether this was Zipporah or another wife remains open to discussion. Nonetheless, Miriam and Aaron (his siblings) "spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married." The very next line, however, suggests this was just a surface issue and the real complaint was that Moses seemed to have a unique status before God and, basically, they were jealous. When they were called into God's presence, nothing was said about Moses' marriage. Yahweh chastised them for their real complaint, and Miriam was stricken with leprosy. Her skin was "white as snow," which seems to be a punishment related to complaining about a dark-skinned person. (Aaron was probably not punished because he was destined to be the high priest and no high priest could ever be that unclean). (See Numbers 12:1ff.)

One additional notable relationship involved Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Though there is some confusion regarding the actual location of Sheba, most agree it included Egypt and Ethiopia. Josephus, a first century historian, referred to the Queen of Sheba as being queen of those countries. As the Bible records, she came to see Solomon because she had heard so many fascinating things about him. She asked him hard questions; he gave her honest answers. Solomon was just as impressed with her as she was with him. The Bible tactfully states, "And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants." Legend has it that this included a son, fathered by Solomon. (See I Kings 10:1-13.)

There is nothing in any of these stories to suggest, even remotely, that this was "against God's word" or that God was in any way upset by it. Indeed, Hagar is protected and provided for by God (as is her son). Miriam is punished for her complaints. And the Queen of Sheba got what she wanted. In later times and later texts, prophets will argue that people should not marry foreigners, but this stemmed from a theological basis, not racial. The idea was to keep the faith pure, free of pagan influences.

Admittedly, there is not a lot of information regarding racial relations in the Bible. This is a field of study that is still emerging, much like the feminist movement of decades ago. But we can accept the overall biblical message when it comes to relations with others. Along with Peter we can claim, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-5).