Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The foreigner within your gates

Justin Taylor posts a short e-mail interview with James Hoffmeier, an Old Testament scholar at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible. Parts of the interview:
Does the OT operate with similar distinctions that we have today between documented aliens and illegal immigrants?

What I learned in my study is that there are three relevant terms used in Hebrew (ger, zar, nekhar). Different English translations render the words differently. The TNIV and NLT render them all as “foreigner.” That is misleading and incorrect.

Zar and nekhar indeed refer to foreigners or visitors, people passing through a foreign land.

Ger or the verb gwr, which together occur more than 160 times in the OT, refer to foreign residents who live in another land with the permission of a host. ....

The law is clear that ger is not to be oppressed, but to receive equal justice, and have access to the social support system of ancient Israel. And there was a provision for religious inclusion, but they were also obligated to live in accordance with the laws just like the Israelites.

The Law does not, however, extend to the zar and nekhar such benefits and services. From this I conclude that ger was viewed as a legal alien.

The mistake of some well-meaning Christians is to apply the biblical laws for the ger to illegal aliens in American even though they do not fit the biblical legal and social definition.

It seems to me that in the public square those who are using the Bible in the immigration debate assume that the Bible endorses the idea of providing sanctuary for illegal aliens. Do you agree?

The OT Law is very clear about the practice of sanctuary or accessing the cities of refuge. The former was for those living in proximity to the Tabernacle or Temple, while the city of refuge were scattered throughout Israel for easier access.

The purpose of sanctuary was not to avoid the law or one’s sentence, but to get a fair trial in the case and only in the case of accidental death (cf. Ex. 21:12-14; Num. 35:11-15, 22-29; Josh. 20:1-9).

So when American cities offer their cities as sanctuary from federal law, or when churches offer their facilities as a refuge for illegal immigrants who have been tried and ordered deported, they are neither following the letter or spirit of the OT law. .... [more]
Between Two Worlds: What Does the Bible Teach on Immigration? An Interview with James Hoffmeier

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