The Bible and Borders

Hearing God's Word on Immigration

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M. Daniel Carroll R.
  • Ada, MI: 
    Brazos Press
    , May
     160 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


M. Daniel Carroll R. is the author of several books and numerous articles on Christian approaches to immigration. His recent book, The Bible and Borders: Hearing God’s Word on Immigration, is almost entirely an expansion of the biblical chapters from his earlier Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker, 2013). His rationale for the newer book is to further “explore the surprising amount of the Scriptures that reflect migration experiences and the Bible’s teaching on dealing with outsiders” (2). In shorthand terms, this is a Christian pro-immigrant argument.

Judging from Carroll’s focus and examples, his audience is evangelical and pentecostal Christians in the United States, both immigrants and native-born Americans. Carroll’s main goal is to reorient these Christians so they view issues of legality, identity, and resource distribution through the lens of the scriptures first. A secondary goal is to connect today’s Christian immigrants with biblical figures who were also immigrants. As he writes,

If one begins with a biblical orientation that includes the centrality of the importance of the immigrant as made in the image of God, if one can appreciate how pervasive migration experiences are to the history and faith of the people of God in both Testaments, if Old Testament law projects and ethics of compassion, if the thrust of Jesus’ ministry and the New Testament as a whole is to love the outsider and be hospitable, if the history and mission of the church has been built on migration, then the inclination should be to be charitable to the immigrant in the name of God and Christ. (109–110)

Carroll rightly begins with Genesis, noting that all people, regardless of their status, character, or activities, are made in the image of God, and must be treated as such. Unfortunately, the imago Dei (image of God) argument has rarely been effective in restraining Christians’ human tendency toward injustice, selfishness, or intolerance. One can imagine anti-immigrant Christians agreeing that everyone is made in the image of God, and then quickly moving on to issues of security, legality, and resource distribution.

Then Carroll conducts a detailed review of Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) stories of migration. These include, of course, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites, Daniel, and Naomi and Ruth. He argues that migration is not merely a happenstance, but the default experience of the people of God, and a central theme in the Old Testament. For Carroll, these stories serve a dual purpose. First, they remind migrants that their own experiences of hardship are not isolated instances, but were shared by the earliest of God’s people. Second, they teach members of the “majority culture” that migration or immigration is not some aberrant activity, but the norm of human experience: “In many ways, human history is the history of migration” (17).

Carroll also details Old Testament legal codes regarding sojourners, foreigners, exiles, hired workers, and aliens. He argues that considerations for such people were very rare in legal codes of the time; therefore, such legal considerations must reveal the Israelites’ understanding of God’s will (87–91).

In the last chapter of the book, Carroll focuses on Jesus’ acts of hospitality and the apostles’ wrestling with welcoming the “other” into the faith community. This is the strongest part of his book, for it points directly to questions of difference, inclusion and exclusion, and God’s openness to all. He also analyzes Romans 13 (Paul’s admonition to “be subject to the governing authorities”), which is often used as a trump card against any further discussion of immigration in the US. Carroll points out that Paul’s assertion needs to be viewed in the context of Romans 12, where Paul exhorts Christians not to be molded by the pattern of this world, to serve others, have compassion, and even to feed our enemies (Rom 12:19–21). 

Further, Carroll notes that civil law is not the highest authority for Christians, and that in a democracy people have the freedom and duty to help shape and reform legislation – not merely to obey existing laws. The Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s is, of course, a powerful example of that duty being fulfilled (113). While Carroll does not explicitly draw the link between enforcement of current law and reform of law, that link is his point.

There are a few opportunites for improvement. Carroll deliberately places his discussion of Romans 13 at the very end of the book, because he wants to demonstrate that legality of immigration should not be the first concern of Christians. However, I believe that it might be more effective right at the book’s beginning; many general readers might not complete the eighty pages on the Old Testament to get to the New Testament chapter.

More importantly, he glosses over the Old Testament texts that either exclude foreigners or require their conformity to the dominant culture, for instance, Leviticus 20:1–2, and 24:10–16. In Numbers 15, anyone who commits a deliberate violation of the Lord’s commandment is subject to severe punishment. Carroll notes these passages, but does not address the difficulty of using such Old Testament laws as models for a modern, non-theocratic, religiously diverse United States. Indeed, at places he seems to view the US as a Christian nation that should welcome other Christians. He omits entirely the whole array of questions surrounding diverse citizens welcoming (or not) immigrants of diverse (or no) faith commitments. While it is still true that most Hispanic immigrants self-identify as Christian, that is much less true for immigrants from other parts of the world. It seems risky to base ethical arguments on premises that hold for only a portion of the immigrant population.

With those caveats, this is a good book for initiating evangelical Christian discussion of immigration attitudes and perspectives as portrayed in the Bible. Those discussions will then be enriched by data from the social sciences—the economic and social effects of immigrants and of US immigration policies, as seen through the lens of biblical ethics.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Laura Yordy is a retired associate professor of religion and philosophy.

Date of Review: 
October 21, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is Scripture Press Ministries Professor of Biblical Studies and Pedagogy at Wheaton College Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois.



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