Migration in Christianity. Events of Migration in the New Testament

Essay, 2016

35 Pages


Table of Contents







MIGRATION AFTER JESUS (limited glimpses to the Apostles’ time)





There was “People and faiths on the move” as the theme of the course on interfaith studies at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey in July 2016. As a participant of that course, the author of this paper was inspired by the message of the course which focused on migration, to write down this perspective on migration within Christianity with focus on the New Testament time and particularly just before and immediately after the life of Jesus Christ. In looking at the issue of how people have moved from places to places over the years in search of either a means of survival or a god, this theme anchored strongly on how we can better view some religious experiences of today. It can be seen clearly that there is surely no one faith that does not have in its structure some issues regarding migration. It is either some members of the faith or some items had been forced to leave or willingly left a certain place to another for some reasons.

In this paper, there is the need to look into Christianity as a faith that has experienced migration in its structure and by the bearers of the faith either in the past or near present. A presentation by the organizers of the interfaith course in Bossey has greatly influenced the writing of this paper. It is worth noting here that the way we will treat the issue of migration here may remain unsatisfactory to others since this paper will also dare into the spiritual dimension of migration. Migration therefore would be viewed here bearing in mind the three angles such as; internal, external and spiritual migrations. This paper does not desire to view Migration only as a movement from one country to the other but also as a movement within the same national territory and as involving both physical movement and spiritual journeys too. In this way, it would be clearer to see certain features of migration in the New Testament.

The outline of this paper set below throws more and detailed light into how the topic will be discussed and also on what aspects of the Christian text have been considered. On the other hand, this paper also tries to highlight some aspects of migration in the remaining two Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Judaism, which means that the focus will be on Christianity and allusions will be made to Islam and Judaism. Judaism and Christianity have a lot common on the issue which will be discussed already at the beginning of this paper. Islam will be examined very briefly at the end. It must be emphasized here that the various topics chosen are open to critical discussion for the purpose of enhancing a better result.


Migration for the human being[1] in general is defined as the movement from one place to the other for the purpose of living there. (Horby, A.S: 1974). It also means the regular travel from one region to another (ibid). In another look it would mean the movement of people from one place in the world to another for the purpose of taking up permanent or semi-permanent residence, usually across a political boundary [Google, Online]. According to Guerra Castillo, J.E. (2008) and in a general sense, migration means human mobility in relation to a territory which can happen inside as well as outside the country of origin. If it takes place within, it can be called displacement and if to the outside it is referred to as emigration. Once the movement occurs, there are always new problems that arise in regards to inter space struggles between the native and the resident cultures. Migration can also be sub divided in to permanent and semi-permanent migrations depending on the duration of stay. These movements are often caused by reasons ranging from economic, social, political and in this case religious problems. According to Iwuamadi, L. (2016)[2], the movement of persons across international borders or from a habitual place of residence within a state to another is migration.

There are two major forms of migration which are the internal and external migrations

a. Internal migration

This is when people migrate within the same country or region [Online, BBC reports]. This is usually common with what has been referred to as the rural-urban migration. In most countries in Africa in particular, the cities are getting congested daily because most people want to either experience live in the city or to benefit from some amenities provided only in big towns such as access to good schools, electricity and modern life.[3] In recent times in the context of Cameroon, the big cities down the south of the country are being flooded daily by people running away from the terrorist insurgency in the north of the country.

b. External migration

This refers to when people migrate from one country to another which is often influenced by many factors [Online, BBC Report]. Some people migrate in search of a better life and security. According to the IOM (Senegal office) report on the migration situation of Cameroon, most youths migrate out of the country for the purpose of fending for their lives outside.[4] It is believed that about 40 percent of the younger population in Cameroon for various reasons are out of the country.

If we consider all the definitions above we will see that there is the possibility to describe migration as:

a) Leaving one’s land for safety outside (Refugee)

b) Leaving one’s land for a mission or assignment outside (Migrants)

According to Lossky, N. et al, (2002), we must make “a differentiation between refugees and migrants. Refugee for some reasons may find it difficult to go home but migrants who are often people fending for life or on mission of some kind are those who have left their countries or lands for another. But both of them suffer from limited rights in the new territory.

Sometimes, the force that makes one to leave for safety can encourage or start up a new mission for the migrant while some other times, those having left for a mission may meet with threats on their safety such that they may become itinerant migrants struggling to settle in peace or looking for where the mission has to be fulfilled.

We wish to emphasize in this paper that migration is looked at more as being called to leave one’s land for a mission to another. Throughout the Bible, there are issues of people running away for safety no doubt and this paper takes that in to full consideration, but it prefers the part where the biblical figures left for a mission. Jesus fits very well in to this context. It is worthy to note again that we do not ignore or dismiss migration in the bible caused by the need to get safety. It is also discussed at certain points in this paper.

Many other terminologies have been used to describe the process of migration such as immigration, emigration or displacement. But in this work, it is acknowledged that migration had been an intrinsic part of the Abrahamic faith. These migrations sometime have led to intercultural and interreligious encounters. The questions in our minds at this point may be “what happens when people move?” There are certain consequences such as the leaving behind of valuable properties and the taking along of their faiths and beliefs with them as they move. It would be noticed that it is this last consequence that will help us understand Christianity in the context of migration. Again, people have been on the move from the earliest times, often over great distances and for a wide variety of reasons, including trade, epidemics, economic opportunities, asylum, war, persecution, natural disasters, even adventure. Most significantly as mentioned above, when people move, they carry their ideas, cultures, fears strength and weaknesses, beliefs, and religious practices with them” (Hanciles, J. J: 2003). As the characters in the Christian texts are shown as moving from one place to the other whether in short or long distances, they move with their cultures, religions and entirety. For us to understand migration in Christianity, then, we must try to get a glimpse of the origin of this faith itself. The above definition given to migration and the explanations they carry will be interplayed in this section in many different ways. The idea was to give a general working definition by which we can look in to the issue of migration in the Christian context.


There is no way this paper can go [5] in depth to trace the history of the development of Christianity for that is not its intention. It is only necessary to show here that Christianity as it is believed was lived and taught by Christ but established as an institution after the resurrection of the Lord (Iwaumadi, L: 2016). According to Clare Amos (2016),[6] Christianity got its origin from within Judaism, and this would mean that all the aspects of the nomadic life of the Jewish patriarchs also affect the general life of the Christian faith. They were a wondering people and human migration was a part of their daily life. Born from such roots, we can say that Christianity sprung and shot from the soil of migration. Christianity might have been born by the words of the Lord but it grew rapidly as a result of its embrace of migration whether intentionally or involuntarily. Christianity is a religion of migrating, of migration and of migrants as the migration of the early Christians was either forced or planned (Phan, C.P: 2008). We will soon see that the faith would not have been stronger had there not been the cause to move out of Jerusalem to other places either as sent out missions or as people running away from the persecution of the believers. These will be the points this paper will be centered around.


a. The wondering Arameans

According to Deuteronomy 26:5ff, “my father was a wondering Aramean and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation…” Judaism holds on to this same text when they speak of migration in the Jewish scripture. This is the text that ascertains the people of Israel as those who had experienced a great deal of movement from one place to the other. “The deepest experiences of Israel are marked by migration” (Hagan, J: 2008). The Israelite had moved to the settlement that became the birth place of Jesus after having stayed in various different places and at different times. Again, the concepts of the gēr and gērîm (strangers) just by mentioning it in the bible is an indication that they are deeply associated with migration which means being uprooted from the original settlement and being strangers somewhere else and it is also intended to show that it is God in the Bible who intentionally chose migrants such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses (Kim, S: 2006). According to Benson’s commentary, this text is referring to the remembrance of Jacob; for though born in Canaan, he was a Syrian by descent, his mother Rebecca, and his grandfather Abraham, being both of Chaldea or Mesopotamia, which in Scripture is comprehended under the name of Syria. His wives and children, by their mothers’ side, and his relations, were Syrians, and he himself had lived twenty years in Syria with Laban. He was ready to perish (wondering) through want and poverty, or through the rage of his brother Esau, and the treachery of his father-in-law Laban (Gen. 28:11). Consider the journey from Syria to Egypt 734 miles and then back to Palestine, 381 miles to have been a total of 1115 miles to cover [Google maps Online]. Here, migration is echoed throughout the whole process and Christianity bears a semblance to this movement since it considers the Old Testament as part of its scriptures. We can therefore say that this can be considered as the beginning of the story of migration for the Christian history. The Bible's first confession of faith begins with a story of pilgrimage and migration: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien” (Rivera-Pagán, L.N: 2013).

There may have been other aspects of migration such as the migration of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the movement of Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldeans and continuation to other places, the exile of the Jews to Babylon, the movement of Elimelech and Naomi to Moab and many others. But this paper seeks to have as starting point the Israelite reference to the toils of Jacob as the central point of the culminating history of the nation Israel. I think that maybe for the reason of such movements, the proposal of caring for the strangers was made as a semi law for all of Israel to observe. Hospitality became a very strong scriptural demand for the common Israelite. They must have benefited from the hospitality of the other tribes to be able to ask that in return Israel showed the same hospitality to others (Pohl, C. D: 2003). Accordingly then, and as mentioned above, it was God who chose the migrants (Kim, S: 2006) and their timing to journey. If this be the case then Israel was the chosen migrants of God and Christianity became a shoot from this choice of God. It is for this reason that in discussing the issue of Migration in Christianity, we have decided to trace it to the wondering fathers of old. Since Israel confesses its faith by making an allusion to the movement from Syria to Palestine, in the same way, Christianity joins in that confession that brought all Israel to one place before it was born out from that context. As it has been noted by Pandilla E, and Phan, P.C. (2013), the entire bible’s first confession of faith begins with a story of pilgrimage and migration.

b. The Exodus (Exodus 12: 31ff)

The term exodus means the going out or away of many people (Hornby, A.S: 1974). It does not actually refer to the movement of one person or a small family of a few. The rendering here is of a larger number of people usually on the move from one place to another maybe for various reasons. The exodus story in the Bible compliments very much the migration faith confession of the Israelite in the recitation of the “wondering Aramean”. The exodus is mentioned in the “wondering Aramean” as a result of the frustration the people of Israel got in Egypt. It is another major movement after the first major movement which was the coming of Jacob’s family into Egypt. If as we said above that God had chosen the Israelite as a migrant people then it meant that the journey’s end was only left for God to decide. Egypt then was not the destination yet and by the workings of God according to Exodus 7:3 Israel finally left Egypt when His glory had been manifested before the hardened Pharaoh. Six hundred thousand men (not counting the women and children) left Egypt in one day. But according to Hagan, J. (2008:3-34), the exodus was not a one day issue but gradual and episodic and involved the merger over time. Matthew Henry’s commentary suggest that if women and children are included, then the number may have stood at two million people leaving from Egypt to an unknown destination. Interestingly, these people are to trek after having been in a love-hate relationship with the people of Egypt (Redford D.B: 1992). A refugee people who after a sojourn in Egypt for 430 years left to follow God as their potion and led by Moses.

This migration in to the wilderness was interpreted by Egyptian monks as a symbol of detachment from attractions and distractions. Interestingly, the setting of the Passover feast within the context of this movement was surely intended for a reminder (Groody, D. 2008: 302-306) which can give birth to another modern reflection of the place of the Eucharist in the lives of a migrant people. The leadership of Moses is faith based and they are not very sure of any destination yet. But they kept moving. It will be seen later that the Christian faith would seem to take into account such a way of forging ahead. Thus, the Exodus stands as a faith stem for the development of Christianity. It is also the story of the christian faith and just as there was the total dependence on a God who asked the Israelite to just go and they went, Christianity would prove itself a faith of total dependence on a God of mission who by the works of Christ sends people out for the spreading of the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we can say that the long story of migration began even before the time of Terah (Gen. 11) who takes his clan from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan and so begins a long human story of migration that in many ways would never end (Hagan, J. 2008:20). There seem to be the farther beginning of the story of the Christian tradition which began with the migration out of the garden gan or gannah in Hebrew or the keros in Greek (Ivin, D. T. 2013: 86). Out of the “city”, Eden came Adam and Eve and though they were forced out because of disobedience, there will one day be the migration back to the “city”, New Jerusalem by the sacrificial death of Christ (ibid).


Here, we are referring to some aspects of migrations which happened just before or as soon as Christ was born. These have been attested to in the scriptures and this takes us straight to the dawn of the New Testament testimonies. Even before the coming of Christ, there had been the rooted faith in migration of a people considered to belong to God. And as Christ shows His head, there were also some activities done either intentionally or orchestrated by God Himself which if well interpreted will show that God intended to continue to show a people on the move and how their faith grew in that process of movement. It is not just about showing how the Old Testament witnessed to the patriarchs on the move, but also that even in the New Testament times, the bearers and helpers of the Christian faith were themselves on the move somehow. In this section, we will examine some movements done by some people before the birth of Christ or shortly after His birth. Here, we imagine that if these movements have not been made would Christianity has still been what it is today? Would the testimonies of the faith have been shallow without having to show these people doing what they did or going to where they went? Let us consider the following:

a. Within the family; Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39ff)

After the angel visited Mary for the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, why did Mary travel? What was the importance of her going to see Elizabeth? I think it was not just for nothing that the text mentioned this little piece of event. One hundred and sixty three kilometers journey is not just something we can throw away as having nothing to do with Migration. At the least, we can consider it within the definition of an internal migration. Meyer’s NT Commentary says; it is not merely for “ne negligeret signum,” (do not ignore the sign) purposes for Mary to have gone for Elizabeth. From Elizabeth she receives the confirmation of that which the angel had announced to her concerning Elizabeth. It is interesting to think of the Virgin as undertaking a journey which brought her not far from the very spot in which she was to give birth to the divine Child [Ellicott’s, Online]. Cambridge Bible for schools and colleges hold that as a betrothed virgin she would live without seeing her future husband. When however a few weeks sufficed to show her condition, the female friends about her would be sure to make it known to Joseph. Then would occur the enquiries and suspicions, so agonizing to a pure maiden, which are alluded to by Matthew 1:18-25. The punishment could result to immediate stoning if Joseph were to press charges. Thus, the journey had to be done in a haste after the dream of Joseph vindicated Mary who had then to seek sojourning in the seclusion of a priestly home with a fellow kinswoman.

What we can see here is that nothing happened for nothing. The journey was like a small flight for refuge for the mean time and also as a means to confirm the revelation of the angel on the situation of Elizabeth. If this be so, then we can say it was some sort of a retreat to commune closer with the God who has done such wonders on the life of the virgin. The bible is not very clear on what the woman should or should not do when in pregnancy stage or where to go and not to go or how far to travel or not. In the case of this paper’s focus, Mary took a very important decision and it is not clear whether it was with the approval of Joseph or not.


[1] This specification is as a result of the fact that animals and other living organisms do migrate too. The term in such cases may mean something different from that of the human being.

[2] Quoted here as an unpublished source lecturer at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Switzerland

[3] Douala as the economic capital of Cameroon faces this problem on a daily basis.

[4] The concept of “Bush Falling” has been looked upon as the only way to better the economic situation of a family such that parents can even sell all the have as family property to see to it their son or daughter goes to Europe or America. Whatever they are going to do there is usually not the first concern.

[5] The origin considered from Christ and not to trace the roots behind the time of the NT

[6] Dr Clare Amos is also quoted here as one of the course facilitators on the interfaith dialogue on migration in Bossey in 2016 and as the coordination of the interfaith bench of the WCC.

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Migration in Christianity. Events of Migration in the New Testament
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Migration, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Theology, Sociology of Religions, life in the New Testament time
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Rev Emmanuel Wayi (Author), 2016, Migration in Christianity. Events of Migration in the New Testament, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/341655


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