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.