"The Bible is a Book About Migration”

New book by Wheaton professor highlights immigration in the biblical narrative.

By Ethan Bert | Staff Writer
December 14, 2021
Dr. Carroll's recently published book, found in Buswell Library. Photo by Sanya Holm.

Last year, Daniel Carroll, who has taught Bible and theology at Wheaton since 2016, published “The Bible and Borders,” a book that attempts to lay out what the scriptures say about immigration. Carroll, who grew up in Texas, has long been interested in Central America. His mother is from Guatemala and, prior to coming to Wheaton, he taught for thirteen years at El Seminario Teológico Centroamericano (SETECA), an evangelical interdenominational seminary in Guatemala City. The Record talked to Carroll about his research, the importance of beginning with the Bible to address controversial issues, the ministry of the immigrant church and his hopes for Latino-a students at Wheaton. 


In 2008, you published a book titled “Christians at the Border.” Would you explain the nuance between that book and “The Bible and Borders,” your new book?’


When I wrote “Christians at the Border,” there was almost no scholarship from a Christian point of view on immigration. It was a topic that no one had really dealt with, and that’s changed a lot. The first edition of “Christians at the Border” came out in 2008. I was working with undocumented immigrants and wondering, “What does the Bible say in that situation?”


I didn’t know. When I got into it, it was brand new. There was hardly any help around. I updated that book and a second edition came out in 2013. As the years went by, I learned more and more about the Bible and immigration.


“Christians at the Border” dealt with some of the immigration history of this country, especially in regards to Latinos and Latinas, and also immigration law. The politics and laws in this country are changing all the time, so in “The Bible and Borders,” I focused on just the Bible. That’s especially important for evangelicals. 


Your book is refreshingly grounded in a clear reading of Scripture. What would you say to students or academics who feel as if they do not need to read another book on what the Bible says and instead prefer applied ethics to contemporary issues?


What I normally find is that Christians bypass the biblical material because they’ve already made their decisions about this topic based on their political affiliation. The Bible is their second step. They’ve already made up their minds about the politics, and then they go and look for some verses that can substantiate the decision that was made on other grounds.


The problem of moving too quickly over the biblical material is if we’re not careful, those other voices, whether in politics or philosophy, will shape how we look at a topic like this. I think that’s what is so important about beginning with the Bible on a theme like this one.


You reference a lot of Old Testament law in the first two chapters of the book. What would you say to someone who says the laws of Israel are not meant to apply to the complicated international climate we live in today?


That’s a classic question. What do we do with the Old Testament? People will say it was made for ancient Israel in an ancient world. I can appreciate that. But if the law in some way reflects the heart of God, and I think it does, then there’s something deeper going on there. The law becomes an ancient example of how God would flesh it out at that time in that place.


There are some enduring principles and commitments of God to the vulnerable that worked to transcend those times. For instance, in the Old Testament law, there are four groups we’re supposed to look after: the poor, the widows, the orphans and the foreigner. Just like those other three groups pervade the Scriptures and transcend time, so do migrants.


We’re not trying to imitate the Old Testament law, but we try to find the moral compass we need for our laws today. 


One of the first things you write about is that humankind is made in the image of God. You then present an idea that was completely new to me, presenting creation as an act of migration, as the image of God finding itself in a strange new land. You later talk about the second person of the Trinity coming to earth, taking on flesh as a refugee. Can you speak to that a little?


I think we have to begin with the image of God because that is what everyone is. But the idea of migration as inherent to the image of God is not as widespread.


The history of humanity is the history of migration for any country in the world. Jesus coming into this world and taking on a different existence than what he had before, and even beginning his life as a refugee on the run, follows that pattern. Recognizing that, you begin to get a different understanding of what’s going on in the Bible.


Many people here at Wheaton have never experienced being a stranger in a land. What do you say to the minority church and students about how they can teach and witness to the majority church?


I want to show them that the Bible is a book about migration and to help them find themselves in the text, to see that biblical stories are their stories. Then, they can embrace the Bible in a new and fresh way. An immigrant knows what it means to be strange, whether it’s their accent, their skin color, what they eat, et cetera.


What happens often in the church is that this land is no longer strange to us. We’re used to it, and we really like it. I think the immigrant church, because of its experience, teaches what it means to be strange because that’s their life.


Even on campus, minorities, students and faculty from bi-cultural backgrounds or even students who grew up on the mission field sometimes feel different. They know what it means to be strange in a different kind of way. And so I think what we need to do is begin to ask those who are called strangers what it means to be strange because that’s what we are called to be as Christians.


What is your hope for this book, particularly here at Wheaton as a place with many Christians but no national borders nearby? How, in your role, do you strive toward your hope?


My hope is that somehow this book will inform evangelicals about migration from a fully biblical point of view by exposing people to the breadth of information in the Bible. 


On campus and in my classes, I also try to encourage Latino and Latina students because a lot of them are coming out of immigrant homes or at least immigrant neighborhoods. I want to encourage them that they have a voice, not only in the Scriptures but in a professor who is speaking out as a Latino. 


Part of my hope is being an example of a Latino who does Old Testament work. I’ve been invited to speak in political science classes and to teach this in Spanish to a Spanish class. These are all ways of expanding the conversation about migration as Christians.

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