Archive for April, 2009

The Bible has a monopoly on truth.  This holds not just for issues of salvation, but in all areas of life, including politics.  Therefore, immigration policy,  if it is to be sound, must be based on what the Scriptures have to say on the subject.  But acknowledgin the Bible’s authority in political matters is not enough in itself.  When searcing the Scriptures for answers, we must also be careful to interpret the Bible correctly, or our arguments will miss the mark.  And missing the mark is commonplace with writers who attempt to discuss what the Bible has to say about immigration.  

One way writers fall shortl in their discussions of the Bible and immigration mmigration is that they faile to include a definition of the relevant terms.  They’ll discuss the subject of immigration at great length, but the actual meaning of key words such as ‘immigration,’ ‘immigrant,’ and ‘immigrate’ is never brought up.  The authors seem to assume that everyone knows what these words mean.  But do they?  Do the authors themselves know?  Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary gives the definition for ‘immigrant’ as, “one that immigrates; a person who comes to a country for the purpose of permanent residence.”  The same dictionary says this about the verb immigrate, “to enter and usually become established; especiallyto come into a country of which one is not a native for permenent residence.” The word ‘immigration,’ though not defined by Wester’s, is simply the abstract noun used to describe the the act performed by one who immigrates.     

By failing to define their terms, writers leave themselves open to basic and embarrassing mistakes.  One such common mistake made in discussing the Bible’s position on immigration is the sojourner argument. This argument is often advanced as the Christian, biblical position on immigration and runs something like this,

Major Premise: Sojourners are welcomed based on the Mosaic law.

Minor Premise: All immigrants are sojourners.

Therefore: All immigranta are welcomed based on the Mosaic law.

Now while this is a formally valid argument, it is not a sound argument, for the minor premise is false.  Let’s look at it.

The most common Hebrew word translated ‘sojourner’ is ger.  Ger is defined by the Gesenius  hebrew Lexicon as, “1. a temporary dweller, new-comer; 2.  dwellers in Israel with certain conceded, not inherited rights.” The Zondervan Pictorial Dictonary of the Bible gives this definition of ger, “a resident alien, a non-citizen in a country where he resides more of less permanently, enjoying certain limited civic rights” (Vol.5, p.468). 

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines sojourn (noun) in this way, “a temporary stay.” For sojourn as a verb it gives this, “to stay as a temporary resident.” A sojourner, therefore, is one who engages in the activity of sojourning.

Sojourner’ and ‘ger’ mean the same thing, making sojourner a good choice for translating ger, but neither one of these terms means the same thing as ‘immigrant.’  Ger/ sojourner mean temporary resident or resident alien; immigrant means one who comes to a country for permanent residence.  One who sojourns in a country is there on a temporary basis.  A immigrant intends to stay permanently.  These are significantly different situations.

I’ll conclude this brief word study by stating that, because ‘sojourner’ and ‘immigrant’ mean different things, it is fallacious to apply the commandments in the Mosaic law regarding sojourners to the ongoing American immigration debate.   We must look elsewhere to find a biblical answer to the immigration question.

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What is God?

During a recent Sunday school discussion on the Westminster Longer Catechism, I heard an objection raised to the wording of question 7.  This question asks, “What is God?”  Now while the wording of this question may seem strange to our ears, there is a very good theological reason why the writers of the Catechism asked this question the way they did.  But to understand why they did so requires a some understanding of the history of apologetics.

Having rejected the biblical principle of Scripture alone, medieval theologians attempted to do God’s work apart from God’s word.  One area where this tendency reared its head was apologetics.  Instead of defending Christianity by the Bible alone, medieval apologists undertook to defend the faith by attempting to prove the existence of God, and this apart from any reference to the Scriptures.  Only after establishing by means independent of the Bible that God existed, would they then proceed to discuss what the Bible had to say about him. 

There were two major problems with this method.  The first of  these was that by starting their defense of Christianity outside the Bible, the medievalists made the foundation of the Christian faith not the Bible, but instead their proofs for God’s existence.  Should these proofs prove invalid, which in fact they are, those who rely on these arguments for the defense of the faith have the philosophical rug pulled out from under them.   

The reformers wisely rejected this method, for they that saw that the starting point for apologetics, as with every other pursuit, must be the Scriptures.  Luther called this the Schriftprinzep, the Scripture principle.  The proper biblical method of apologetics is to defend the Bible using the Bible.   And this was the method of the Reformation. 

A second problem with the medieval strategy of proving the existence of God is that even if it had been successful, it would still have been futile, for all things exist: men, dogs, cats, dreams and Sasquatch.  And if all things can be said to exist, to assert that something exists tells us nothing about it.  The important question is not, “Does such and such a thing exist,” but rather, “What is it?”

By making the 66 books of the Bible the sole basis for the Christian faith, the framers of the Westminster Standards rejected the foolish wisdom of this world in favor of the true wisdom of God.  And having done this, they were able to ask and correctly answer the right questions.

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When discussing immigration, the conversation usually revolves around immigrant rights.  Rarely is the subject of immigrant responsibilites ever broached.  But what do the Scriptures say?  Do immigrants have responsibilites?  If so, what are they?  To help answer these questions, let’s consider the example of Ruth, one of the clearest examples of immigration in the Bible.

Elimelech and Naomi were a Hebrew couple, natives of Bethlehem, who had fled from Israel to escape a famine then gripping the land.  Along with their two sons, they settled in the neighboring land of Moab.  AFter their arrival Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her two sons, both of whom married Moabite women.  After about ten years, both the sons died as well, leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters-in-law.   When Naomi set out to return to Israel, she urged her daughters-in-law to return to their people.  One, Orpah, did so.  But the other, Ruth, upon being prodded to return to Moab , answered Naomi,

Entreat me not to leave you, or turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people [shall be] my people, and your God, my God.     Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.  The LORD do so to me, and more also, if [anything but death] parts you and me.    (Ruth 1:16, 17)

The sum of this passage is that Ruth declares her intention to immigrate to Israel.  She is not planning to sojourn in the land, or go there on a short visit and then return to Moab, but rather she emegrates from Moab with the expressed aim of becoming and Israelite.  Very often in discussing immigration, those who use Scripture point to the Bible’s instructions regarding sojourners and strangers in the land, but these passages do not bear directly on immigration.  But the case of Ruth clearly does.  What can we learn about immigration from this passage?

While declaring her intention to immigrate, Ruth takes a threefold oath of loyalty.  She declares her loyalty to Naomi, “wherever you go, I will go,” to the nation of Israel, “your people [shall be] my people,” and to God, “and your God, my God.”  She even invokes God as a witness to her promises, using the familiar oath, “The LORD do so to me, and more also.”  In short, Ruth was not a social revolutionary who sought to impose Moabite language and religion on the people of  Israel all in the name of cultural diversity, but rather she clearly expressed her desire to adopt the ways of the Israelites and become one of them.

From this short study, we see that while the Bible recognizes the right of people to immigrate, neither Naomi nor anyone else questioned the legality of Ruth’s immigration, it also imposes certain responsibilities on immigrants.  Those who argue that immigrants have a right to impose their ways and their costs on the people of their adopted land are not arguing as Christians, but as cultural Marxists and socialists.

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Immigration Part 1

The debate over US immigration policy has become heated in recent years and shows no sign of going away.  Part of the reason for this is the failure of those engaged in the debate, whatever their position on immigration, to understand and believe what the Bible has to say about the subject.  It may come as a surprise to some to hear that the Bible has anything to say about immigration.  Others may concede that the Scriptures do address the subject, but dismiss their teaching as irrelevant to the present debate.  But the Bible claims to have a monopoly on truth, not just religious or moral truth, but all truth, political truth included.  Let us briefly consider some of its teachings on the subject.

 The debate about immigration is fundamentally a debate about citizenship, to whom does is rightfully belong?  In Scripture there are only two ways in which a man gains citizenship:  birth, and immigration.  This point is illustrated by Paul’s conversation with the Roman commander shortly after his arrest in Jerusalem,

Then the commander came and said to him (Paul), “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.”

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born [a citizen].” (Acts 22:27, 28)

The task, then, for the Christian scholar is to determine how the Bible applies applies the law in both cases. 

The concept of citizenship by birth may seem so obvious as to need no comment.  But there are two different types of birthright citizenship: jus sanguinis (right of blood) and jus soli (right of soil).  In the former case if one’s parents are citizens of a country, their citizenship is passed on to their children because of the blood relationship that exists between parents and children.  On the other hand, Jus soli is the idea that citizenship is conveyed by place of birth.  If a child is born within the territory of a country, the child is considered a citizen on that country regardless of the citizenship status of his parents.  Our question then becomes, does the Bible approve of jus sanguinis or jus soli, or reject both in favor of some other alternative?  While these are interesting questions, ones which I propose to answer, for now I pass them over and will turn in my next essay to the question of what the Bible has to say about immigration.

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