The Bible And Racism

by William J. Stewart

The form of prejudice commonly called racism has always baffled me. Bigotry based upon skin colour makes as much sense as bigotry based upon eye or hair colour. And yet, racism is likely the most common form of prejudice worldwide today, and perhaps in every generation. It is sad to see this hideous attitude in the world, but even worse to find it among our brethren.

First, I want to suggest that the word “racism” is erroneous. There are not multiple races of mankind—there is only one race. The human race has been divided

…according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations… (Genesis 10:5, 20, 31)

Nowhere in the Bible will you find the word “race” used to described the division of mankind. We may vary according to our nationality, land, language or family, but we are a single race—human.

We’re told that God “created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). He did not create a particular nation or tribe in His image, but man (Heb. Mda). This word is used to refer to “a human being; an individual, or the species, mankind” (Strong’s). All people, no matter how different they are, share Adam as their common ancestor and are in the image of God.

A plurality of cultures is not found until the tower of Babel. God commanded man to “fill the earth” (Genesis 8:17; 9:1, 7), but they did not. Instead, with “one language and one speech” they remained in the same area, and sought to build a city and a tower

…whose top is in the heavens … lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth… (Genesis 11:4).

In response to man’s disobedience, God confused their languages and scattered them throughout the earth (Genesis 11:7-9). This event at Babel resulted in the division of families, languages, lands and nations mentioned in Genesis 10. Whether the change in skin tone was immediate or not, we’re not told. It may have occurred over the course of time as man settled various regions of the earth.

The colour of one’s skin is determined by a pigment called melanin. Folks with a lighter complexion have pheomelanin, while those with darker skin have eumelanin.1 There is an obvious correlation between skin pigmentation and climate. Those who live in equatorial regions produce more eumelanin, and thus have darker skin. Folks in areas with less radiation from the sun are lighter skinned, having a higher level of pheomelanin.

In the city of Athens, as Paul spoke with a group of philosophers who came together to hear whatever new thing was being proclaimed, he made the bold declaration that God

         …made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings… (Acts 17:26).

Paul’s statement is significant. Whether a man is from Kenya, Turkey, China, France or any other place, difference which exist are matters of culture. We are one race, have come from one blood, and share the same ancestors (both Adam and Noah).

The apostle Peter needed to be taught by the Lord that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). It was a difficult lesson for him to learn, as Paul would later reveal

…when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision…  (Galatians 2:11-12).

His bigotry was infectious, as we see a verse later:

…the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:13)

Who would have thought that Barnabas, the son of encouragement, would be carried away by prejudice. And yet he was. It can be infectious!

Friend, we’re all different shades of the same race. All have been made in the image of God; all are the offspring of Noah; all have come from one blood. Racism is both a misnomer and a sin. Let it not be found in us at all!


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