Former Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson
March 17, 2012
Open-borders advocates like to claim that the Bible supports comprehensive immigration reform (amnesty) for illegal aliens, and they frequently quote scriptures to prove it. Their favorite scripture is:
"And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Faithful Christians and Jews feel concerned when they read a passage like that. They want to do the right thing. The key question is, "Who is the stranger?" Some religious leaders will tell you that a stranger is any foreigner who emigrates, including those who broke the law. According to these pastors, we should forgive those who come to the U.S. in violation of the law. Welcome the stranger, dude. Pass comprehensive immigration reform and square them with the law. Open-borders proponents quote such Bible passages so often that "Welcome the Stranger" has now become code for amnesty, joining the lexicon of other terms, such as compassion, humane, and families, which now also imply amnesty when speaking in a political context.
Thus, the Christian Reformed Church, "following our scriptural calling to welcome the stranger, encourages churches to consider advocating for comprehensive immigration reform." [Link]
Thus, the Presbytery of Genessee Valley, (a collection of 69 Presbyterian churches in the Rochester, New York, area) states, "as Christians we are called to continually show love for the stranger .... comprehensive immigration reform is the solution." [Link]
Thus, NETWORK, a Catholic organization, "believes that comprehensive immigration reform is imperative .... [because] 'You must not oppress the stranger; you know how a stranger feels, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.'" (Exodus 23:9) [Link]
Thus, the Disciples of Christ Church tells its members that "Jesus, who had nowhere to lay his head, also calls upon us to make the welcome of strangers central to our faith" and counsels them to "urge action on federal legislation that will bring comprehensive immigration reform."
Now, it so happens that I have a Bible, too, and I'd like to know if the Bible really says that we should ignore the law and welcome people who enter our country illegally. I'd like to know if "welcome the stranger," includes welcoming illegal immigrants. So, I checked my Bible. There are indeed lots of passages that talk about the stranger. There is also a dictionary in my Bible (a King James version) that defines the word stranger as follows:
"... a man of non-Israelite birth, resident in the promised land with the permission of the Israelite authorities." [emphasis mine]
What!? Did I read that correctly? Let me look at that again:
"Stranger: a man of non-Israelite birth, resident in the promised land with the permission of the Israelite authorities."
Thus, according to my Bible dictionary, a "stranger" in Israel in Bible times was an immigrant who was in the country with permission. Interesting. That would be the equivalent of a resident alien in our time. A foreigner who is here with permission. So, anytime a stranger is mentioned in the Bible, it refers to a LEGAL alien, not an illegal alien. Welcome the legal alien. Let's try that out:
"And if a legal alien sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the legal alien that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were legal aliens in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Does anyone have a problem with that? Don't vex the legal alien... Treat him as one born among you... Love him... I didn't think so. As to whether or not the Israelites were legal aliens in the land of Egypt, well... read on.
So, on the one hand, we have dozens of preachers, pastors, and priests telling us that we are obligated to welcome illegal aliens into our country and give them amnesty, with no consequences for their illegal entry. On the other hand, we have my Bible dictionary reminding us that the call to "welcome the stranger" applies only to LEGAL aliens. Which is correct? A rather delicious question, because the proponents of amnesty are betting their pot on the answer. If a stranger, in the Biblical sense, is any foreigner who comes into a country, whether he comes legally or not, then the amnesty advocates are absolutely right. Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform and forgive all those people who broke the law, stole the social security numbers of American citizens, and put them into identity-theft-Hell for years. Congress and everyone else should just say, "Hello, stranger, glad-ta-meetcha!" We should, indeed, welcome illegal immigrants.
But, if my Bible dictionary is right, and the Biblical stranger had to have permission to enter the country, then the amnesty proponents are wrong, and their claim that welcoming the stranger implies amnesty is false. In that case, there is no Bible-based obligation to welcome illegal aliens into our country.
One of the best experts in the nation on this subject is Dr. James K. Hoffmeier, a professor of Old Testament and Near Eastern Archaeology at Trinity International University Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. For nearly 18 years, Dr. Hoffmeier has directed the North Sinai Archaeological Project, which is a study of the Egyptian frontier during early Old Testament times. Dr. Hoffmeier has been a consultant on Egypt and the Bible for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the Learning Channel, and the History Channel, and has written numerous articles. Of special interest to anyone with a sincere desire to know what the bible says about immigration is Dr. Hoffmeier's book, The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible.
Borders were important in ancient times. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, he asked permission each time he crossed a border and entered a new land. When he was denied permission to enter, he changed course and took a different route.
According to Dr. Hoffmeier, as far back as approximately 2,000 years before Christ, Egypt built and manned forts to protect their borders and control the influx of foreigners. During that time (approximately the time of Abraham), Egypt was the land of opportunity, just as the United States is today. Rich with water, fertile land, and gold, Egypt was a magnet for foreigners suffering from climate or economic difficulties. When famine struck the land of Canaan, Abraham, for example, naturally turned to Egypt for relief:
"And there was a famine in the land; and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land." (Genesis 12:10)
Egypt, however, did not appreciate invasion by hostile marauders or hordes of foreign barbarians. They stopped foreigners at their border forts and screened them before allowing them to enter the country. They even issued permits to those who received permission to enter the land. Anyone who violated the rules or offended their hosts was deported. Thus, when Abraham lied about the identity of Sarah, and told the Pharoah that she was his sister rather than his wife, Pharoah expelled Abraham from Egypt:
"Why saidst thou, she is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife; now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had." (Genesis 12:18-19)
Deported for an offense against his host country, Abraham returned to Canaan.
But wait! There was a famine in the land of Canaan! Abraham was a hardworking, good person who only wanted a better life for himself and his family. Did Abraham tell himself he was entitled to be in Egypt? That he deserved to stay? Did he try to sneak back across the Egyptian border? No. Abraham respected Egyptian law and went home. If Abraham is our model, then respect for the law is the message.
Pharoah Senusert III (1862-1843 B.C.) erected a stone slab at one of the southernmost outposts of Egypt upon which is written, "the king made his southern border at Heh ...Now my majesty has had an image made of my majesty at this border ... in order that you maintain it, in order that you fight for it." Borders mattered in ancient Biblical times.
In his book, Dr. Hoffmeier describes a famous tomb scene dating to the 19th century B.C. which shows workers entering Egyptian territory. One carries a permit in his hand. The writing on the permit is clearly visible, noting the date (1862 B.C.) and the number of foreign workers (37) who were allowed to enter to work in Egypt. Other ancient documents describe both successful and failed attempts to secure the border and restrictions that frontier border guards placed on foreigners entering Egypt. There is much archaeological evidence, according to Dr. Hoffmeier, to document that a foreigner in the ancient Middle East needed permission to travel across borders from one country to another.
In its original language, the Bible used two different words to describe a "foreigner" and an "alien." A "foreigner" was a person from another land (like a tourist or businessman) who was only in the country temporarily, but with permission. An "alien" was a person from another land who planned to take up residence, again with the permission of the host country. These distinctions were lost when the Bible was translated into English, as was the crucial understanding that both words implied permission. In our English-language Bibles, both words became stranger, but stranger still implied that the immigrant had permission to be there. The Biblical text is quite consistent with the archeological evidence. Immigration was a privilege, not a right.
When Abraham's great-grandson, Joseph, the son of Jacob, wanted to bring his father and brothers to Egypt during another great famine in their land, he had to get permission from Pharoah. Even though he held a high position in Pharoah's court, Joseph himself was not Egyptian. He was a guest in the land ... a foreigner. He could not just invite another foreigner to come and live in Egypt, even members of his family. He had to ask permission from Pharoah to bring his father and brothers into the country. Pharoah granted his request:
"Say unto thy brethren, This day; lade your beasts and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land." (Genesis 45:17-18)
When Joseph's brothers returned with their father, they appealed to Pharoah again, this time asking permission to settle on a certain section of land: "... now therefore we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen." (Genesis 47:4)
Pharoah again gave his permission: "... in the land of Goshen let them dwell." (Genesis 47:6)
Yes, the Israelites were indeed strangers in the land of Egypt, as Leviticus 19:33-34 states. They were foreigners who had received permission from the host country to immigrate. They were resident aliens, not illegal aliens. They obeyed the law.
So, the question then is, does the Bible teach that it is a Jewish or Christian duty to welcome illegal immigrants into our country? Does the Bible suggest that we should offer them amnesty for violating our immigration laws (not to mention other laws they have broken)? The answer is that there is no Biblical basis for offering amnesty to illegal aliens. But doesn't the Bible say that churches and individuals should be charitable to those in need? Of course. But charity is not amnesty. The ranchers who live along the border are notoriously compassionate and charitable to the illegals who creep across their land. These kindly ranchers offer water, food, rest, and medical help when illegal aliens collapse from dehydration and fatigue in the hot sun, despite the fact that many illegals have dumped trash on the ranchers' property, destroyed their fences, broken into their homes, killed their livestock, stolen their cars, tools, and other property, and intimidated their families. Yes, we should demonstrate basic human kindness to those who are hungry and those who suffer. Charity, however, does not require that we look the other way when someone breaks the law.
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Amnesty proponents want to wildly expand the Judeo-Christian duty to be charitable while severely contracting the obligation of aliens to obey the law. If being kind means that we ignore violations of our immigration laws, then being kind is little more than enabling lawbreakers. Enabling illegal aliens is exactly the reason that the immigration problem has mushroomed over the last several decades. Churches and charitable organizations can and should provide food, shelter, and clothing to needy people. That is the meaning of Christian charity. But law enforcement officers need to be able to enforce the law without interference from do-gooders who have no expertise in public policy or lawmaking. Misinformed ministers should spend more time acquiring an accurate understanding of their Bible and less time lobbying for amnesty.
The bottom line is that amnesty proponents are simply incorrect when they quote the Bible to support comprehensive immigration reform. The Biblical admonition to "Welcome the stranger" is not a call for welcoming illegal aliens. It's a call to welcome immigrants who follow the law. Respectable ministers, pastors, priests, and other church leaders ought to get that right if they want to use it to make a point.
© 2012 Karen Johnson - All Rights Reserved
Karen Johnson served in the Arizona legislature for 12 years, from 1997 through 2004 (AZ House of Representatives) and 2005 - 2008 (AZ Senate). Her all-time favorite committee assignment was chairing the Federal Mandates and States' Rights Committee. During her service in the legislature, she supported the Second Amendment, individual, property and of course states rights, as well as the Right to Life, and she still does. Karen and her husband, Jerry, have 11 children and 35 grandchildren. She believes strongly in the doctrine of liberty and does not desire to be tethered to ANY particular party.