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Ezra 9-10

09.18.2010

Here’s where we get into the sticky issue of Ezra’s ethnic (?) purity initiative.  He bemoans that the ‘holy race’ has mixed itself with the peoples of the land.  I understand that intermarriage with the locals had been explicitly prohibited in Deuteronomy 7, and I also know that a nascent culture either starting from scratch or rebuilding from scratch, as the case may be, must take what we moderns would consider drastic measures in order to create/preserve an identity.  But that still doesn’t make the concept of racial purity easy to hear.  However, most scholars read this chapter to be discussing non-believing foreigners who kept worshiping their gods and drawing their Jewish families into idolatry.  There are explicit references elsewhere in the book (6:21) to those foreigners who converted to worshiping God and were counted among the Jewish people.

Even so, there still appears to be some discrepancy between the idea of putting away idolatrous wives here and Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, where he instructs believers not to divorce their unbelieving spouses.  The situations are different, however.  Believing Jews had been marrying pagans, whereas Paul was talking to those who had converted after having been married.  Paul did not want conversion to become synonymous with home wrecking.

Also, the Hebrew words for ‘marry’ and ‘divorce’ in this specific passage in Ezra are unique.  Rather than meaning official marriage and divorce, they imply cohabitation and going separate ways.  So it appears that people are being told to dissolve extramarital relationships with idolaters.  The wives and possibly children in the passage would most likely have returned to their own people and their own families.

So, the verdict is that while Ezra is dealing with subjects that tend to make modern readers uneasy, he appears to be making distinctions of faith rather than race and doing so in a way that is likely consistent with 1 Corinthians 7.

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