Dr. James Hoffmeier appeared on Janet Parshall’s “In the Market” program yesterday to talk about what the Bible says about immigration. (Listen here.) Hoffmeier’s book, The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible, discusses the words that are so often used in the public discourse on immigration: alien, stranger, sojourner as well as the ancient Middle East culture in which they were used. With so many partisans in the immigration debate appealing to the Bible to prove their position on the issue, Hoffmeier used his knowledge of the Hebrew words and the Old Testament milieu to get beyond the proof-texting to see what the Bible actually teaches.
“We live in a secular society,” Hoffmeier said on the program. “The question is how to take the values and principles that guide the Old Testament social community and apply them in a meaningful way in our secular society.” This is difficult to do, he said, because our current translations don’t render the Old Testament Hebrew very accurately. There is a distinction between the alien and the foreigner.
In his book, Hoffmeier says the Bible had two categories of outsider: the resident alien and everyone else. The resident alien sought and gain permission to live as a sojourner in a new country. The foreigner was anyone who was neither a native or a resident alien. The foreigner could be a friendly neighbor seeking passage through another’s territory, or it could be an enemy nation.
The closest analogue to the Old Testament term for resident alien is the modern American green card holder. This was someone who lived with permission in a foreign country and was expected to adopt at least some of the customs of the host nation and abide by its laws. This is the category of person, Hoffmeier says, that the Bible says are not to be oppressed and are to be treated the same as natives. Joseph was such a person. He rose in Egyptian society because he adopted its customs, so much so that when his brothers interviewed with him (seeking permission to become temporary resident aliens) they didn’t recognize him.
The Bible doesn’t provide explicit guidance on how to treat those aliens who did not enter a country with the permission of its governing authority. Christians can, however, make public policy inferences based upon the injunction “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The next issue of Trinity Magazine will feature examples of Trinity students and alumni doing just that. It also features an excerpt of Hoffmeier’s book.