Motivated by recent news, I sought scripture that relate to our treatment of foreigners, refugees, and immigrants. Here are nine passages:
(1) Jesus’s warning about inviting the stranger into our homes
Jesus explained to this his disciples that, on judgment day, Jesus will say to some people:
“‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
And [I] will answer, ‘… when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment ….”
(2) Change the way you think and be ready to help and eager to practice hospitality
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to Christians in Rome. He said:
“[D]ear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. … Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. …
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. … When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.”
—Romans 12:1-2, 9, 13
(3) Show hospitality to strangers and remember the mistreated as if their pain is yours
The writer of Hebrews:
“Keep on loving each other …. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! … Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”
(4) Do not favor some over others
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes …, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?”
(5) Show love to foreigners
Moses told the people of Israel:
“[God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
(6) Rescue the oppressed
God told the rulers and people of Jerusalem:
“[L]earn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
(7) Having pride while the poor and needy suffer outside your door is a sin and dangerous
God said to the people of Jerusalem:
“As surely as I live, … Sodom and her daughters were never as wicked as you and your daughters. Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out ….”
(8) God says one of God’s requirements for letting the people of Judah live in their land is to “not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow ….”
The Prophet Jeremiah says “Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah …. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. … If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”
(9) Love your neighbors—foreigners are your neighbors, too
A man asked Jesus “what should I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? …’
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
‘Right!” Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’
The man … asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
Jesus replied with a story: ‘A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits …, and left … half dead beside the road.
[A Jewish] priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A [Jewish] Temple assistant … looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
Then a despised Samaritan [(a foreigner)] came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds …. Then he … took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
‘[W]hich of these three … was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ Jesus asked.
The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.’”
(10) Treat foreigners as native-born.
The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
(11) Do not withhold justice from foreigners.
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
Do you think that scripture suggests we should support, oppose, or say nothing about recent executive orders on refugees and immigrants, DACA / DREAMers, and similar efforts?
Do you think scripture suggests we should demand better treatment for refugees?
The quoted passages serve as a good starting point when asking whether scripture provides guidance on such issues.
(The picture at the top is a picture I took in early January 2017 of part of the wall dividing Israel and a portion of a refugee camp in the Palestinian West Bank.)
All quotes are from the New Living Translation of the Bible, New International Version, or New English Translation unless indicated otherwise below.
#1: Matthew 5:31-46
#2: Romans 12:1-2, 9, 13
#3: Hebrews 13:1-3
#4: James 2:1-4
#5: Deuteronomy 10:18-19
#6: Isaiah 1:17 (NRSV) (the New Living Translation says “help” the oppressed, but the NRSV’s “rescue” the oppressed seems more applicable and more in line with Young’s Literal Translation, which says “make happy” the oppressed)
#7: Ezekiel 16:48-49
#8: Jeremiah 7:1-7
#9: Luke 10:25-37
#10: Leviticus 19:34
#11: Deuteronomy 27:19
Sources / For Further Reading
Also see Genesis 23:4; 1 Chron 16:19-22; Job 29:15-17; Psalm 146:9; Ezekiel 47:22; Zechariah 7:9-10; Matthew 25:35, 40; Luke 10:27; Acts 10:34; Romans 13:10; Colossians 3:11; 3 John 1:5; Revelation 21:3.
Updated November 25, 2018; July 5, 2019.