Here we will take a look at another chapter from Charles A. Wiseman’s book, Is Universalism Of God? — this time addressing the actual meaning of “strangers” in the Bible — a term that universalists often cherry pick and exploit to suit their non-scriptural egalitarian agenda, all the while ignoring the original Hebrew words from which it is translated into English — along with its often-nuanced original context.
[We previously published another chapter from Wiseman’s same book on the problematic nature of the Great Commission as promoted by universalists.]
The Strangers In The Bible
There are several arguments and doctrines used by egalitarians and universalists that are based upon the term “stranger” in the Bible. They use the word to mean races other than Israel. There are actually several different Hebrew words that were translated as “stranger. ” The words are listed below by their Strong’s numbers, pronunciations and general definition:
#1616 geyr — a guest, a foreigner, alien sojourner (Gen. 23:4; Ex. 2:22 & 20:10; Lev. 17:12; Deut. 10:19).
#2114 zuwr (zoor) — to turn aside, a foreigner to the land, profane, from adultery, honor as a visitor or guest, a stranger to the family or household (Deut. 25:5; 1 Kings 3:18; Job 19:15; Prov. 6:1 & 20:16
#5235 noker (no-ker) — something strange, calamity, a strange or unhappy fate, one who has a misfortune (Gen. 17:12, 17:27; Ex. 12:43; Ob. 1:12)
#5236 nekar (nay-kawr) — foreignness, heathendom, alien, strange gods (Deut. 31:16 & 32:12; 2 Sam. 22:45; Neh. 9:2 & 13:30; Psa. 18:44; Isa. 62:8; Ezek. 44:7 & 9; Mal. 2:11)
#5237 nokriy (nok-ree) — strange, foreign, foreigner from a far land, non-relative, different, a non-Israelite people (Deut. 15:3, 17:15, 23:20, 29:22; Judges 19:12; 1 Kings 8:4 & 11:1; Ezra 10:2; Neh. 13:27)
#8453 toshab (to-shawb) — a sojourner, as distinguished from a native citizen, an emigrant (Ex. 12:45; Lev. 22:10, 25:23, 35:47; Psa. 39:12)
As it can be seen, there are several different Hebrew words which have been translated into the one English word “stranger.” The egalitarians and universalists who use certain verses involving the word “stranger” to prove their doctrine never, of course, specify which word is being used. They also diligently avoid other verses that use the term “stranger” which clearly show persons who are separate from — or unequal with — God’s people.
The assumption that the term “stranger” must mean someone of another race is in itself rather bizarre since the term never carries that meaning in the English language. When we meet someone we don’t know, we might say, “How’s it going, stranger?” The term simply means someone you do not know.
The identity and status of the “strangers” in the Bible cannot be interpreted by assumption or by a universal application of one definition. We need to determine which word is being used — and the context in which it is used — in order to determine the person’s identity and relationship to Israel. Further, we cannot have interpretations which are inconsistent with established biblical doctrines or principles or laws of God. As we will see, a “stranger” can be one from another family, city, tribe, nation, or race.
The first use of the term stranger in the Bible is in Genesis 15:13, where Abraham was told that his descendants would be strangers in the land of Egypt. The word stranger in this verse is #1616 (geyr) — and simply means that the Israelites would be foreigners of the nature of a guest — at least that is what they were in the beginning. This laid the foundation for the law:
Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land (Deut 23:7)
The word stranger is again #1616 (geyr) — implying a visitor or guest, or someone traveling through the land. A geyr in Israel had certain rights and obligations to abide by the laws in the land (Ex. 12 :19 & 20:10; Lev. 16:29, 17:8-12, 18:26, 20:2; Deut. 24:19 & 20; Ezek. l4:7). In Ezekiel 47:22, where the land is being divided among the tribes of Israel, it is said that:
The strangers (geyr) that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you; they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.
The geyr (visitor) here is like the Israelites being a geyr in Egypt — where they came among those of their own race and those they married, as with Joseph’s wife (Gen. 41:40), became members of the house of Israel. There are well-known examples of pure Adamic individuals who were not Israelites — but by marriage they or their children became members of the Covenant people; such as with Moses marrying a Midianite (Ex. 2:16-22).
It is interesting to note that the geyr stranger is often contrasted with the nokriy (#5237) stranger. In Deuteronomy 14:21, both terms are used but treated differently:
You shall not eat of any thing that dies of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger (geyr) that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to an alien (nohriy): for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God.
Those who were a stranger (geyr) or traveler were to be treated with more respect because the food had to be given to them, whereas it could be sold to the alien (nokriy).
Nokriy could mean one who is of another family, or another tribe, country or race, with a strong distinction implied. It generally denotes one who is outside a certain group. Rachel and Leah said that they were considered strangers (nokriy) by their father because “he has sold us” (Gen. 31:15). They were now outside their father’s household since they were part of Jacob’s house.
One who was very much separated or alienated from his kindred or household may be regarded as a nokriy by them (Job 19:15). As David said in a time of distress, “I have become an alien (nokriy) to my mother’s children” (Psalms 69:8). This describes a difference in mind and attitude between the parties involved — not a difference in race or national origin.
The term is also used to describe those outside the Hebrew race. Deuteronomy 17:15 states,
Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
Here the word stranger is #5237 (nokriy). The term clearly means a non-Israelite or one outside the Hebrew race. The stranger is one who is not “from among thy brethren.” He is outside the scope or body of people that could be called “thy brethren.” For Israelites he is not just one who is a foreigner, but one who is foreign to their people or race. Since the king or ruler is chosen of God, it is God who desires this racial qualification. If we apply this same principle to America, we should not have any black, Oriental, Mexican or Jews in government or political positions. The reason would be the same as it was for the Israel people — that those of other races would “introduce strange customs or usages.”(2) The Israelites were warned of how other races would lead them away from God (Ex. 34:13 &14; Deut. 7:4; I Kings 11:1-8; Isa. 2:6).
[(2) see Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. L90.]
Upon completion of the Temple, Solomon prayed to God on a variety of things including that if a foreigner (nokriy) — one not of Israel — shall come to pray at the Temple, that God should hear his prayer and do what the foreigner asks (1 Kings 8:41-43; 2 Chr. 6:32 & 33). However, God never responded to this request as He did to other aspects of Solomon’s prayer.
In fact, allowing foreigners who are not kindred to the Israel people in the land was Solomon’s undoing. “Solomon loved many strange (nokriy) women” including Moabites, Edomites, Hittites and Canaanites (1 Kg. 11:1 & 2). This angered God and it caused Solomon to sin. This same problem occurred in the days of Ezra, when some of the priests and people had taken strange (nokriy) wives (Ezra l0; Neh. 13:23-27). These marriages to non-Israelites again caused idolatry in the land. This problem was well known — and it became to ask God to keep one from the flattering (convincing) tongue of a strange (nokriy) woman (Prov. 2:16; 6:24). So generally nokriy is contrasted with Israel as a race:
We will not turn aside hither into the city of a stranger (nohriy), that is not of the children of Israel; we will pass over to Gibeah (Judges 19:12)
To the Hebrews the nokriy was regarded as a lower order being who was not to be treated equally with an Israelite. Thus every seven years an Israelite was to cancel the debts of his “neighbor, or of his brother,” but could reinstate the debt on a foreigner or nokriy (Deut. 15:1-3). Also, to “a stranger (nokriy) you may lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury.” (Deut. 23:20).
A term closely related to nokriy is nekar (#5236). It generally means “foreign.” It is used in reference to “strange (nekar) gods,” as being those gods of other nations or foreign to the Israel people (Gen. 35:2 & 4; Josh. 24:20; Judges 10:16; 2 Chr. 14:3; Psa. 81:9). That which came from the hand of a nekar could not be offered to God (Lev. 22:25). The nekar are not circumcised in heart (Ezek. 44:7) — and they are described as Canaanites and Philistines (Deut. 31:16). In Isaiah 60 to 62 — which deals with Israel’s glory after her affliction and the Good News of Salvation — the nekar are not made equal with Israel, but rather are in submission to Israel and have become their servants:
The sons of strangers (nekar) shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee (Isa. 60:10).
And the sons of the alien (nekar) shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers (Isa. 61:5).
And the sons of the stranger (nekar) shall not drink your wine, for which you have labored (Isa. 62:8)
Another word translated as “stranger” is the word zuwr (#2114), which is used in a rather general sense to mean an outsider. Thus one who is outside the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood is a stranger or zuwr (Ex. 29:33; Lev. 22:10; Num. 1:51; 3:10 & 38,16:40,18:4). Speaking on Leviticus 22:10, one commentator states the following:
There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing. The portion of he sacrifices assigned for the support of the officiating priests was restricted to the exclusive use of his own family. A temporary guest or a hired servant was not at liberty to eat of them. The interdict is repeated (v. 13) to show its stringency. All the Hebrews — even the nearest neighbors of the priest, except the members of his family — were considered strangers in this respect — that they had no right to eat of things offered at the altar.
A zuwr here is an outsider or layman, “i.e. , one not a priest, nor a member of a priest’s family, even though he be an Israelite — see Ex. 29:33.”(4) It is also recorded that if a priest’s daughter is “married unto a stranger (zuwr), she may not eat of an offering” (Lev. 22:12). So if she was married to a man from the tribe of Manassah, he would be a zuwr (stranger) — or one who is outside the Levitical tribe. Likewise, children of another household than God’s are zuwr (Hos. 5:7), and zuwr are also in antithesis to Israel (Hos. 7:9, 8:7; Isa. I:7; Ezek.7:21, 11:9).
Zuwr could be used as one who is outside a family (Deut. 25:5) — or outside those living in a house (1 Kings 3:18; Job 19:15), or of a friend (Prov. 6:1). One can even be a stranger (zuwr) to his own brethren (Psa. 69:8). The term zuwr is sometimes translated as “estranged” (Job l9:I3; Psa. 58:3, 78:30) to show a separateness or removal from something.
There is nothing in regards to the term “stranger” in the Old Testament that shows that other races are placed on an equal footing with Israel — or are brought into the covenant relationship with God. In fact, there are many passages which show that Israel is to be delivered from non-Israelites (Prov. 2:16; Joel 3:17)
(3) see Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary on the Bible, vol. I, p. 89.
(4) see J.R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 1960, p. 98