Can a White Woman Marry a Black Man?
We don’t want to presume any answers here on Ask Pastor John. And Tracey, who is a white woman, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, I would like to know if dating or marrying a black man is wrong. If so, could you please tell me where to look in the Bible for it? I know a lot of people frown upon this, but I want to be sure about what God says and not what man says.”
I preached on this. I’ve written on it in Bloodlines. I’ve got a whole chapter on interracial marriage, and here’s a summary of my argument.
There are two basic restrictions on marriage in the Bible. Number one, she should marry a man. Number two, he should be a Christian. I get that from 1 Corinthians 7:39, which says, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies” — I am talking about a widow — “she is free to be married to whom” — this is a masculine pronoun here — “she wishes, only in the Lord.” So Paul is very vigilant that you don’t go out and marry an unbeliever. This is just huge. We should only marry people who love Jesus. He didn’t restrict it in any other way.
People have brought up to me over the years the restrictions that God put on Israel for intermarrying with the nations, using that as an argument for being opposed to interracial marriage. And my answer to that is that those stipulations in the Old Testament were religiously motivated, not racially motivated.
In other words, Solomon’s foreign wives took his heart away from God. That was the issue, not that his ethnicity would be corrupted by them. The Old Testament simply doesn’t argue that way. It is very concerned, just like Paul is, with marrying in the faith.
A New Israel
Another issue arises when we remember that Christ came into the world and created a new Israel, a new ethnic group, as it were, made up of every other ethnic group. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
“You have received mercy and so you are a new people. You can marry across all ethnic lines.”
“Once you were not a people” (1 Peter 2:10). The “you” he is talking about is Jew and Gentile, every ethnicity, but now you are God’s people. Marry in your tribe, namely, the tribe Christian — across any ethnic or racial lines — but marry in the tribe of this new tribe that Jesus is the head of.
You have received mercy, and so you are a new people, and that’s the qualification. Here there is no Greek, no Jew, no circumcised, no uncircumcised, no barbarian, no Scythian, no slave, no free. Christ is all and in all. Go ahead; marry across all the lines inside that new humanity.
Moses and the Cushite
My last vivid argument is that Moses married a Cushite, and everybody agrees that the Cushites are black Africans. They are from down the Nile River, and we know it caused problems because Miriam, his sister, and Aaron got very angry about this. They confronted him in Numbers 12:1 “because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman,” the text says. And they got angry.
In that anger, as they opposed Moses, God showed his colors. He was really upset and gave to Miriam a leprous hand. She pulls her hand, and she is leprous. And the Bible, I think — and I could be wrong about this — maybe pushing it too far — it points out that her hand was white as snow. Numbers 12:10 says it was white as snow. Perhaps God is saying to Miriam, “Look, if you are so concerned about Moses’s wife being too dark, I will give you something really light. Here is snow called leprosy on your hand.”
I think this is a picture of God’s indignation that Moses would be confronted — not as to whether or not the Cushite was a believer — but whether she was the right color or the right ethnicity for the man.
And let me just close with a story. I love to tell this Urbana story. Noel and I were in Urbana in 1967, and a great missions leader was on a panel. Somebody asked him from the audience — they had microphones in those days — “aren’t you concerned in going to Pakistan for so long that your daughter is going to grow up there, fall in love with a Pakistani, and marry a Pakistani?” That’s what he asked from the floor.
“Every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage. Every marriage is hard. But that’s what the gospel is for.”
I have never forgotten his answer. It had a huge effect on me in those days. I was 21-years-old at the time. And he said, “Better a believing Pakistani farmer than a rich unbelieving American banker.” It sank into me that, yes, that’s exactly the right answer. Of course, it matters who she marries. She must marry a Christ-lover, a Christ-follower. And if it’s a Pakistani, praise God. But don’t marry a rich white American banker, because he’s not a believer. And that’s going to make for an impossible, unbiblical marriage.
Every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage. Every marriage is hard. Get ready for stress no matter who you marry, but that’s what the gospel is for. That’s what we’re supposed to understand.
So don’t marry a marginally Christian man. Some women want to be married enough that they are willing to settle for this man. He is just squeaking by. He says he is a Christian. I don’t think he could provide any spiritual leadership at all. I don’t even know if he is solid, but he just says the right words. I just want to encourage women to pray that God would lead them to a man whom they can trust as a deeply Christian man. And the same thing, of course, goes for men.