The Old Testament Approach to Immigration

photo credit: melanzane1013

Lately I have been studying the Old Testament more closely than I ever have before and finding some hidden gems there. I am currently in Leviticus which I had remembered as nothing but heave offerings, wave offerings, burnt offerings, sin offerings, and instructions on where to burn “the fat that is above the caul.”

In Leviticus 19 I was surprised to find the answer to the one area of immigration policy over which my mind was not already completely settled – namely the issue of what approach we should take with regard to illegal immigrants who, aside from their immigration status, are decent members of society (which is almost certainly the majority of them). It is an issue that did not seem particularly important to me until some people began to try using immigration as a stumbling block for the LDS church by suggesting that local church leaders should be turning in members who they knew were living in the United States illegally.

Anyone reading the title of this post might have first assumed that the old testament approach to illegal immigration would be stoning – they would be wrong.

The Israelites are told directly in Leviticus 19:33-34 that “if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex (or oppress) him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.”

As I had been reading that chapter the persistent thought in my mind had been, “How is this applicable in our times?” When I read verse 33 it was easy to conclude that we should treat immigrants decently even if they were here illegally. Of course we should prosecute them for real crimes against others (as we should for all people regardless of their legal status here) but simply being here illegally does not constitute such a crime.

Some will argue that illegal immigrants inherently steal resources from legal residents but in making that argument they always admit to breaking one of two other instructions from this chapter. Sometimes the argument is that we have left no resources whereby they can subsist throught their own labor as the Lord commands in verse 9 that we should not reap the corners or glean our fields but rather leave these for the poor and the stranger.

More often the argument is that through our social safety net we have shown undue favoritism to the poor whereby they can subsist off the labor of others without relying on their own efforts in direct violation of the instruction in verse 15.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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9 Responses to The Old Testament Approach to Immigration

  1. Jeff T. says:

    Excellent post! I agree 🙂

  2. Daniel says:

    I agree whole heartedly. Now I have a scriptural basis for what I have felt was right since immigration became a hot topic. The Old Testament is really incredibly relevant to our times

    • David says:

      The more I read of the Old Testament the less inclined I am to thing that our civilization has made much progress in our sensibilities over the last 5,000 years. Technology is much improved but our tendancies toward division and strife are as strong as ever.

  3. Carborendum says:


    There is a linguistic issue here that you don’t seem to be addressing. There are three different Hebrew words for “alien”. The first may be considered an alien with a transient visa–someone just passing through. The second may be considered an illegal alien. The third is an alien with a green card–i.e. someone permanently residing there with the permission of the government.

    The passage in Leviticus that you quote only refers to the permanent resident. The same hospitality is not required for the other two types. This is not to say that other laws did not dictate some degree of hospitality towards them. But this passage is not it.

    Also notice that back then, there was no path to citizenship. However, due to the nature of societies and cultures back then, we can’t really compare the definition of citizenship today vs. back then. It really is a whole new animal. What are the rights of aliens vs. citizens today? What were their rights back then under a king?

    Then compare what individuals can do on their own vs. what the law dictated and there is even more to consider.

    Difficult to compare.

    • David says:


      You failed to cite any source for your assertion of three Hebrew words for “alien” and more specifically for which one was being used in that verse. Even if you had, referring to that one class of alien does not prove that the other classes might acceptably be oppressed.

      Regardless of the differences in society or the definition of citizenship, I really doubt you will be able to make a case that God does not mind us to treating some of his children more harshly based on their citizenship or immigration status.

  4. Carborendum says:

    OK. Let me repeat this again. You may want to look at the previous post to verify that I did indeed have this disclaimer.

    “This is not to say that other laws did not dictate some degree of hospitality towards them. But this passage is not it.”

    I NEVER said that you should mistreat anyone simply for being an alien. I really don’t know how you think sometimes. You keep jumping to conclusions with interpretations that were simply never intended.

    What I said is that there can be differing levels of treatment for aliens with a different status. For instance, you don’t allow someone merely passing through the country to vote in an election. See, it is not a matter of individual interaction. It is a question of public policy and rights of citizens vs. those who never intend to be citizens.

    It isn’t all or nothing.

    Just because I want some controls on immigration doesn’t mean I want all illegal aliens killed on sight. It means I want things done in order.

    Just because I don’t want free citizenship to anyone and every person, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a path to citizenship. I think it should be fairly easy but not automatic.

    As for the reference:

    • David says:


      You are right that we are not understanding each other, and it began with you reading something into my original post that is simply not there. Perhaps we can minimize future misunderstandings by waking through this interchange.

      I posted that according to Leviticus we should treat illegal aliens decently and not oppress them You then responded that my reference only applied to legal aliens, which implies that illegal aliens need not expect to be treated decently and that they may be oppressed to some degree. Your little disclaimer (which I did notice the first time around) failed to clarify the implications of your argument because it had no information. While you never said that we should mistreat someone simply for being an alien that us the logical implication of your response unless you have richly interpreted my original post to mean that we should allow someone who is merely passing through the country full rights of citizenship such as the right to vote (which you apparently did). I never said or implied any such thing in my initial post or any response. I simply said that it was clear that we should treat illegal aliens decently and not oppress them regardless of their immigration status and that any arguments against that assertion relied on disregarding other counsel found n that same chapter of Leviticus.

      If you were to respond to what I had written rather than some generously warped interpretation of what I wrote we would probably not have so much misunderstanding.

      P.S. I read your reference and nothing that Professor Hoffmeier said contradicts what I was saying.

  5. Carborendum says:


    “I posted that according to Leviticus we should treat illegal aliens decently and not oppress them.”

    This was your central theme.

    “Which implies that illegal aliens need not expect to be treated decently…”

    Why would anything that I posted imply that? Just because it’s not cold doesn’t mean it has to be hot. You use words like “oppressed”. Without getting into semantic arguments over what that would entail, I never said anything of the kind.

    Should we treat illegal aliens with hospitality? YES.

    Should we ensure some human rights and common respect to all who pass our borders? YES.

    The one phrase I would withold in the Leviticus reference is

    “shall be unto you as one born among you”.

    I did not disagree with you on how we as individuals should treat any aliens, legal or illegal. I believe in being nice to everybody.

    The main reason for my post was that other passages of scripture would be more appropriate to make the argument for illegal aliens. Why? Simply because of the illegal vs. legal alien issue and the Hebrew word used in this particular passage. Hence, I made the statement:

    “But this passage is not it.”

    And let me address an additional tangent:

    “such as the right to vote (which you apparently did).”

    No, I was using that as an example that I had hoped we both already agreed on. Look at the context.

    “generously warped interpretation”

    You go, girl.

    • David says:

      “Just because it’s not cold doesn’t mean it has to be hot.”

      Of course that’s true but if I say we should not oppress them and you reply that I am wrong what am I supposed to conclude about your position?

      If your intent was to say that other passages of scripture better support my argument than the one I cited then come out and say that my position is correct rather than telling me I’m wrong. If that was your central position then why, in three comments, have you made no attempt to cite any of those other scriptural passages?

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