The word “immigrant” now appears in a new translation of the Bible, replacing the word “stranger” or “alien.”
This is a concretizing and humanizing improvement of the biblical witness, removing the moral abstraction of “stranger” and depersonalization of “alien.”
Both the King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version use “stranger,” for example, in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, leaving readers and hearers to fill in the blank about who constitutes the stranger in their community.
Is it a homeless person? A person of color? A foreign student? A snow bird? “Stranger” is too abstract. Abstraction contributes to the evasion of moral responsibility for the immigrant.
The New American Standard Bible, on the other hand, uses “alien,” offering a proof text for UFO adherents and triggering images for church members of E.T. “Alien” is too other worldly.
The word “immigrant” makes the Bible’s witness completely relevant and the Bible’s moral imperative inescapable for the faithful.
Review how some texts now read (italics added).
God “enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt,” reads Deuteronomy 10:18-19.
Or read Leviticus 19:10: “Also do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the LORD your God.”
Genesis 15:13 reads: “Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Have no doubt that your descendants will live as immigrants in a land that isn’t their own, where they will be oppressed slaves for four hundred years.'”
Exodus 23:9 says, “Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.”
1 Peter 2:11 reads: “Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives.”
Thumbs up for the new Common English Bible.
The Common English Bible results from a collaborative effort among mainline Protestant denominations that cost some $3.5 million and involved 700 people, including 17 folk from the Baptist tradition.
Explaining the switch from stranger to immigrant, Paul Franklyn, associate publisher, wrote: “The Hebrew word ger has several meanings in the Old Testament. In some contexts it is translated as foreigner or stranger or exile. In many contexts the translations from the mid-twentieth century used the word alien. The Common English Bible will often translate this word as immigrant, which is the most up-to-date meaning of gur or ger in the English language.”
Franklyn noted that the shift in language does not eliminate society’s fear of immigrants.
“Most of us are by nature xenophobic. We have a fear of strangers, provided that we got here first,” he wrote. “This phobia is not eliminated by switching from alien to immigrant in our common language. But it does help the participants in the modern political debate to think about what the Bible has to say about the ger.”
Using the word “immigrant” in the Bible is faithful to the ancient texts, not misusing the Bible to fit an ideological agenda.
Being faithful to the Bible will shape the church’s mission and vision, which in turn ought to affect the nation’s political agenda.