Open Borders and the Bible

We need to be very careful how we quote Old Testament laws that were binding to Israel as a theocratic state.

We must be careful when we quote the Bible in support of open borders.  The Old Testament laws were written in the context of a theocracy.  You can’t pick and choose the laws from theocratic Israel and ignore the theocracy itself.  Open borders are indeed biblical in a theocratic nation.  If we lived in a Christian constitutional republic, open borders would be legitimate, as long as worshiping any other God but the Triune God of the Bible was outlawed. The United States by design is not a constitutional Christian republic, so arguments from Old Testament law for open borders are irrelevant.

 

The United States is greatly divided over the issue of illegal immigration (what I call open borders).  Few Americans are opposed to legal immigration.  Arguments for open borders are rooted in such passionate qualities as equality and charity.  Also, proponents of open borders note that restricted immigration is a fairly recent development in American history.  Positions against illegal immigration range from the authority of civil law to dire economic consequences for American citizens. They are afraid that immigration will become an invasion.

Evangelical Christian denominations have been hesitant to make any official statements on open borders.  I suspect this may be because it is such a divisive issue, and because historically the church should only speak to “spiritual” matters.

What does the Bible say about all of this?  Most Christians are reluctant to quote the Old Testament on such matters except from the books of Psalms and Proverbs.  But on the issue of immigration there is little hesitancy to go to the law of God as given in books like Exodus and Deuteronomy.  All of a sudden, the Old Testament law becomes authoritative.

The most common biblical basis of the argument for open borders is that in the Old Testament foreigners were welcome in Israel.  Not only were they welcome, but they were protected by the laws of Israel as any legitimate Israelite.

Israel had open borders, and the aliens were to be treated with compassion. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you once were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21).  They were to remember that they too were once aliens in a foreign land, and thus they were to treat strangers with dignity and compassion.

However, we need to be very careful in quoting any Old Testament law that was binding in Israel.  There was another law in Israel that must be obeyed by the immigrants.  They could not erect houses of worship to false gods in Israel. They could not follow any other law-system but that revealed by the God of Israel.  Immediately preceding the verse on the necessity of compassion to strangers in the Book of Exodus (v. 21) is this verse (v. 20), “He who sacrifices to any god other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.”

In other words, Israel was a theocracy with one God and one law-system.  All other gods and law-systems were outlawed.  Immigrants might get away with worshiping their false gods in secret in their own homes, but public houses of worship of false gods were forbidden.

Immigrants were welcome inside the borders of Israel in order to benefit from the economic and civil blessings of God, but they were not allowed to worship publicly their false gods.  Hopefully, to the contrary, they would be converted to the true faith.

For those who argue from the Old Testament law for a policy of open borders, they should realize that they are also arguing for a modern theocracy where everyone in the nation worships only one God (the Triune God of the Bible), and all other religions are forbidden. Religious pluralism was outlawed.

So, we must be careful when we quote the Bible in support of open borders.  The Old Testament laws were written in the context of a theocracy.  You can’t pick and choose the laws from theocratic Israel and ignore the theocracy itself.  Open borders are indeed biblical in a theocratic nation.  If we lived in a Christian constitutional republic, open borders would be legitimate, as long as worshiping any other God but the Triune God of the Bible was outlawed.

The United States by design is not a constitutional Christian republic, so arguments from Old Testament law for open borders are irrelevant.

Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.