Race and Racism in the Bible

Topic Definition

The term “race” has been ambiguously employed since the inception of the word. It is employed only four times (in the biological rather than competitive sense) in the ESV—each referring to God’s covenant people. Racism entails heredity-based hatred “without cause” (Matt 5:22) of image bearers of God.

Abstract

“Race and Racism in the Bible” culls the Scriptures for instruction for righteous and abundant life amid the community of ethnically diverse beings that comprise the human race. The essay first addresses notions of race and then biblical ideas about justice.

The human race, as constituted and diversely propagated, is natural. Racism, as a rebellious corruption of nature, is unnatural. The first two sections therefore address these ideas. Biblical and contemporary terminology pertaining to race and ethnicity is then surveyed followed by a brief presentation of the Bible’s voice against racism. Legitimate and illegitimate divisions of the human race are then noted.

In the second half, the biblical injunction to “do justice” is examined through the lens of both Old and New Testament terms meaning justice and the concept’s relationship to God’s law. Because racism categorically opposes biblical instruction regarding impartiality in judgment as a concept intrinsic to justice, biblical commands concerning impartiality are surveyed next. Concluding reflections are preceded by a brief reflection on notions of social justice.

Race and Racism in the Bible

The fruit of systematic theology is the application of torah—God’s instruction for abundant life—in the contemporary setting. While race and racism may not reasonably rise to the level of a systematic theological locus, the contemporary setting certainly warrants addressing these matters with wisdom from God. Prayerful, dove-like innocence coupled with serpent-contesting wisdom in discourse with such matters is to be commended. People of good will and faith disagree in this discussion, but they should do so with grace, humility, moral and intellectual integrity, and mutual dignity.

The Natural: Race

Human Origin and Propagation

The Bible’s opening chapter heralds God’s proclamation,

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26).

The race of beings designed and created to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” uniquely imaging the universe’s Creator is humanity. From this “one” human seed the sovereign Creator “made . . . every nation [ethnos] of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). From the offspring of this “Adam’s” (adam, man; Gen 1:26–27; 2:7) descendant Noah “the nations [hagowyim] spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Gen 10:32). The human family, then, is a single race of created beings descendent from a singular progenitor.[1]

This Hebrew term goy may be translated “nation” or “people,” indicating families or groups of human beings of relatively close genealogical descent and/or corporate union (cf. mishpachah, family; Gen 10:5, 32; 12:3 where the “clans of the sons of Noah” are the same as the “families [synonymous with “nations”] of the earth” that will be blessed in Abraham’s zera, offspring; Gen 22:18; 28:14; cf. Gal 3:16). Similarly, the term zera is translated “seed,” “offspring,” “descendant,” or “posterity” yet is translated “race” only once in Ezra 9:2 in reference to Yahweh’s “holy” covenant people (ESV, NASB, NIV; cf. Zech 9:6 NASB). A synonym, am, is translated “people” or “nation” in reference to a group of people related by heredity and/or locality (Deut 7:6; 14:2; Esther 10:3).

The New Testament’s comparative term, translated “nation” or “Gentile” (i.e., any non-Jewish human; cf. Hellénis, “Greek”), is ethnos (Matt 28:19; Acts 17:26; cf. Rom 1:16–17)—the adjectival form being ethnikos, from which derive the English terms “ethnic” and “ethnicity.” The term is translated “race” only twice in the New Testament (Acts 7:19; 1 Peter 2:9; and is interpolated but not in the original text of Rom 9:5). This distinction between Jew and Gentile is the only differentiation of the human race of any consequence made by the New Testament. Consistent with the whole of Scripture’s impartial redemptive message, this consequence portends a distinction of a people’s covenant relation to God rather than one of heredity.

Words Have Meaning . . . Usually

As language transitions over time, sometimes words contract a detrimental rather than an informative denotation. The word “race”—even where it is rendered in English translations of the Bible—is unhelpfully understood when employed in terms of bifurcation of the homogeneous race of God’s image bearers. While the generations of Adam (and Noah) have been compelled by their Creator to disperse his image all over the globe (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7; 11:8–9), those commonly descended beings remain a single race—beautifully diversified, as designed, into a multitudinous tapestry of mishpachowt—families (Rev 5:9; 7:9). No metamorphosis sundered human nature; no breach that warrants the hamas (“violence”; Gen 6:11, 13) humans have leveled against one another since Genesis.

Etymologically, the term “race” originates from mid-sixteenth century Middle French where it was used to refer to “people of common descent.”[2] In contemporary parlance, “race” has assumed a rather ambiguous range of meanings—so ambiguous, in fact, that the Encyclopædia Britannica concludes, “Thus, race has never in the history of its use had a precise meaning” and “an increasing number of scholars and other educated people now believe that the concept of race has outlived its usefulness.”[3]

The Unnatural: Racism

Biblically unwarranted, volitional hatred of God’s image bearers—for that is what racism is—is not unpardonable sin; but like all sin, this soul-necrotizing cancer cannot be divinely pardoned absent repentance and forsaking. Whether a person can even be simultaneously Christian and racist is certainly a debate not to be dismissed cavalierly. For as the apostle John warns, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20; cf. 3:9–11; James 2:4).[4] Whether considering genealogical kin or simply another human being, no category other than sin can be reckoned for refusing the divine edict and humanity-flourishing privilege to love one another.

No biblical, biological, or experiential warrant exists to regard as ontologically superior or inferior any particular lump of clay from among humanity’s whole. Any illusion of anthropological superiority is countered by precept after precept in Scripture.[5]

  • No human exists whose nature is not descendent from Adam (Gen 10:32; Acts 17:26; Rom 5:12–14) and subsequently Noah (Gen 10:32–11:1, 8–9; cf. Deut 32:8).
  • Subsequent to the Fall, God reckons “all flesh” indivisibly corrupt (Gen 6:12–13, 17; cf. Jer 25:29–33).
  • God has a single undifferentiated torah—“instruction for [all] mankind” (2 Sam 7:19; though the majority simply suppress that torah; John 3:16–21, 36; Matt 7:12–14; Rom 1:18ff).
  • In Christ—the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45; cf. Rom 5:15–19)—“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26–29) such that “there is no distinction” (Rom 3:22; 10:12; cf. Acts 15:9; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Joel 2:28, 32; Acts 2:17, 21).
  • All humanity is “one kind” or race of being (Gen 1:26–28; 5:3; 11:1; 1 Cor 15:39).

This cursory sampling of scriptural precept exposes racism not only for its folly but also for its ungodliness. Ever since Genesis 3, however, humanity has lived in rebellion to God’s good order for human coexistence to the degree that polarized hatred of neighbor appears to be the normal—though unnatural—predisposition of mankind. The good news is that the grace of Jesus Christ will eventually turn that world upside down (Acts 17:6–7; Rev 21:1–8).

Devolution to Racism

God created the human race ex enos pan ethnos—“from one, every ethnicity” (Acts 17:26; cf. Gen 1:26–28; 10:1–11:6). One should deduce from this revelatory truth that any notion of intra-racial superiority is fundamentally delusional.

Division of the Race. The Bible is not without making divisions among the human race. In fact, ever since the Fall (Gen 3), humanity’s Creator has made a distinction between faithful and faithless humanity (see Gen 3:15; Exod 8:23; 11:7). At God’s institution of the Abrahamic covenant, Jew and Gentile distinctions were prescribed (Gen 17:1–14; Exod 34:10; Deut 4:32–40; 7:3–14a; 12:29–32; 18:9; cf. Gal 3:16; 6:14–16; Neh 13:23–27). Again, this division of humanity is covenantal rather than ethnic, making a distinction between the holy/clean and the common/unclean, faithful humanity and faithless humanity (Lev 10:10; 11:44, 45, 47; 20:25; Ezek 22:26; 44:15–23). God’s redemptive plan never entailed ethnic discrimination (Gen 12:1–3; Ezek 16:3, 45; Acts 10:14, 28, 34–43). From the beginning, its purpose was inclusive of the chosen faithful from among all Noah’s offspring—i.e., all humanity, not merely Hebrew humanity (Gen 3:15; 18:18–19; Deut 4:5–7; 7:6–12; cf. Acts 26:23; Isa 56:3–8; cf. 14:1; Zech 8:22–23; Micah 4:1–5; John 10:16; 11:51–52; Gal 3; Eph 2:12–14; Rev 5:9; 7:9).

“International” conflict in the Old Testament rarely, if ever, appears to be the consequence of race or ethnicity—that is, simply on the basis of distinct heredity. Further, holy writ never sanctions aggression on the basis of mere heredity. Disputes and/or divisions were usually over matters such as territorial control (Exod 1:8–11; Num 20:14–21; 21:21–26; 22:1–6; Judges 11:12–28; cf. Gen 15:13–16; Deut 2:19–23; Lev 18:24–28; 20:22–26), religion or religious custom (Gen 20:11; 34:14ff; Exod 23:30–33; 34:12–16; Deut 23:2–8; Josh 23:3–13; cf. 1 Kings 18:17–40) and even vocation or livelihood (Gen 43:32; 46:33–34; Exod 8:23–26). Distinction must also be made between feudal conflict and heredity-based international conflict.[6]

In considering the biblical record of peoples oppressing other peoples, tribal sociology and “international” suzerain-vassal economies of state must not be conflated with racial discrimination (see for example Judges 3:7–8; 12–14; 4:1–3; 6:1–6; 10:6–9; 13:1; 2 Sam 8:2–6; 1 Kings 4:21, 24; 2 Kings 17:1–5; 23:31–35; Luke 20:22–25; 23:2). While much more may be said here, neither in the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, or Roman Empires was ethnic distinction ever a basis for exclusion from service even in the highest offices of government (Gen 41:12, 14, 38–44; Exod 2:5–10; Dan 1; Neh 1:10–2:8; Esther 2:19–21; 5:9, 13; 6:10; 7:3–10; 8:1–8, 15–17; 9:4; 10:2–3; Acts 22:26–29; Luke 3:1).[7]

Social Darwinism. Fast-forwarding to the second millennium, certain influential social engineers disagreed with the supposition that if all mankind derived from a singular adam, hereditary superiority or inferiority is de facto eliminated. Although it might not be said that Darwinian evolution and social Darwinism are indeed responsible for the genesis of modern racism, one may at least affirm that these theories contributed fundamentally because they propagated the notion of disparate evolutionary tracks for distinct zera or ethnos—families/ethnicities. This pseudo-science was employed not only as justification for the African slave trade, but also as foundational for the “final solution” of Nazi anti-Semitism and other eugenics.

Despite the fact that their notions of racial disparity derived significantly from Tacitus’ early ethnography Germania (ca. AD 100)—in which he characterizes the Germanic (i.e., Aryan) tribes of the Roman Empire as “noble savages”—the notion of racial disparity and consequent superiority was advanced by Darwin and other social engineers like Arthur Gobineau, whose Essay on the Inequality of the Races earned him the title “The Father of European Racism.” Gobineau surmised,

We must, of course, acknowledge that Adam is the ancestor of the white race. The scriptures are evidently meant to be so understood, for the generations deriving from him are certainly white. This being admitted, there is nothing to show that, in the view of the first compilers of the Adamite genealogies, those outside the white race were counted as part of the species at all. Not a word is said about the yellow races, and it is only an arbitrary interpretation of the text that makes us regard the patriarch Ham as black.[8]

Salubriously for the human race, both contemporary science and reasoned biblical exegesis have dismissed the ill-fated religion of such race ideologues. As the Encyclopædia Britannica again helpfully notes, “Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that ‘races’ are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European conquests beginning in the 15th century.”[9]

Do Justice.

Whatever the cultural temperature, contemporary conceptions of justice are to be assessed based on scriptural precept rather than ever shifting cultural directives, regardless of their mood-induced popularity—legitimate or not. That is not to suggest that individual or even corporate experience can be dismissed by statement of propositional truth alone, though truth is certainly indispensable, as is affection. Nor is it to suggest that the austere disposition of the offended can better advance reconciliation (James 1:20).[10] To be sure, one ought not to expect centuries of pain, abuse, and oppression—and subsequent multifaceted, multi-generational impact—to be dismissed as either fictional or insignificant; nor can universal equality of either state of being or opportunity be acknowledged as a fait accompli simply because randomly adjudicating examples can be adduced (e.g., America has elected a Black president). Alternatively, because incalculable variables exist, neither should one accept prima facie assertions of systemic obstruction absent legitimate, good faith attempts to scrutinize the impact of these multifaceted variables. If human society is to flourish—fallen though it may be—members of the race must believe that mutual understanding and civil coexistence despite diverse experience and/or assessment is achievable with the employment of mutual humility and truth in love. After all, such a view used to be called tolerance and for generations sustained societies’ peaceable coexistences.

Justice is Required.

Micah 6:8 reveals that God’s requisite for his covenant people, in particular, and the human race, in general, is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Justice is delineated here as neither individual nor social. Its precept demands accord with God’s torah, his law or instruction for mankind in every sphere. Contrary to an antiseptic parsing of Micah’s three imperatives into distinct residencies, execution of this law of justice is no more divisible from loving kindness and living humbly than the first great commandment—to love God—is divisible from the second great commandment—to love neighbor as oneself (Matt 22:36–40; cf. Deut 6:4–9; Phil 2:3–5). Justice cannot be said to be justice, in any biblical sense, absent execution of others-centered neighbor-love for the sake of God in Christ (Luke 6:27–36).

Justice in the Old Testament

Several words are employed in the Old Testament to communicate the Bible’s concept of justice. A term frequently used to refer to the concept of “rightness” or “righteousness” is tsedeq. The term is also translated “just” or “justice” and is employed in contrast with “injustice.” Unconditional impartiality and fairness in judgment and honesty and evenness in weighing measures in a balance is the idea communicated.

The synonym mishpat bears a semantic range that includes “judgment” or “justice” as well as “rule,” “standard,” or “ordinance.” The term meshar similarly connotes “fairness,” “evenness,” or “equity.” This term is often employed in reference to integrity rather than duplicity of communication.

In Deuteronomy, Moses makes clear the indivisible relationship between God’s perfect torah “law” and “righteousness/justice.” Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments and declaring to Israel the Shema—“the great and first commandment” (Matt 22:36–40)—Moses admonishes God’s newly constituted covenant people, “And it will be righteousness [tsedaqah] for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us” (Deut 6:25; emphasis added). The link between the revealed law of humanity’s Judge and the standard of righteousness it both unveils and requires is unambiguous. Of this edict, the apostle Paul unequivocally affirms, “the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Gal 3:17). That is, God’s original intent of justification by faith consummates the very righteousness Moses affirmed but “no flesh” could “do” (Gal 2:16; 3:11; Rom 3:20); for the law itself commands that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4; cf. Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). Justice in accord with torah, then, both remains extant commandment and is accomplished on behalf of “the one who has faith in Jesus,” the law’s promised Righteous One (Rom 3:26; cf. 2 Cor 5:21).

An antonym of tsedeq used only once in the OT is mutteh, meaning “perverted justice” or “injustice” (Ezek 9:9). Like Moses before him, Ezekiel notes the relationship between God’s torah and justice. Ezekiel sees in a vision the elders of Israel abominably and idolatrously disregarding God’s law such that the land is filled with “violence” (hamas; 8:17; cf. Hab 2:11; Gen 6:11, 13), “blood”—i.e., unjust death—and “injustice” (mutteh; 9:9). Ezekiel’s vision communicates that rebellion against God’s law is both the definition of injustice and leads to injustice (cf. Rom 1:18ff).

Two synonyms of mutteh are: awel, which is translated “injustice” or “unrighteousness,” and avath, which refers to something that is bent or crooked. Similarly, the verb aqal means “to bend, twist” (one OT occurrence, Hab 1:4). Justice, then, is conceived as straight and orderly while injustice represents judgment that is crooked, perverted, and discordant with torah.

Habakkuk 1:4 contrasts hasadiq “the righteous” with rasa “the wicked/evil,” asserting that hamas “violence” (Hab 2:11; cf. Gen 6:11, 13) is the state of affairs because “the law [torah] is paralyzed/powerless” and “justice [mishpat] never goes forth” because “justice [mishpat] goes forth perverted [aqal].” Importantly, Habakkuk is careful to articulate the catalyst for the discordant state of affairs: “the law is paralyzed.” Again, perversion of justice (i.e., injustice) is, by definition, rebellion against God’s torah—his instruction for every sphere of life (cf. Rom 12:2).

Justice in the New Testament

The NT’s communications about the idea of justice focus not primarily on the debt of justice humans owe to one another (though that debt is integral to the first [Matt 22:37–40; Rom 13:8–10]), but on the debt of justice the human race owes to its perfectly righteous God and the perfect standard of his torah.

One of the words translated “righteousness” or “justice” in the NT is dikaiosune; it comes from the term dikaios, which connotes correctness and rightness. Both terms derive from dike, which means “right” or “justice” in terms of accomplished judgment. The notion has the thrice-holy God as its source and faith in him as its sole means of salvific acquisition. For example, Paul’s thesis for his letter to the Romans states that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness [dikaiosune] of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous [dikaios] shall live by faith’ [Hab 2:4].” One might well say that this is Paul’s thesis statement for all his communications (1 Cor 2:2), for he reiterates this gospel truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21: God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness [dikaiosune] of God.” The apostle links the humanly unachievable OT requirement of justice (e.g., Deut 6:25; Micah 6:8) with the hope that this perfect standard can be imputed to enemies of God’s law and justice through the gospel of grace through faith (cf. Rom 5:6–11; 3:21–26). The righteousness/justice God requires, then, is first a gift rather than a human accomplishment.

The second great commandment (Matt 22:39) is not abrogated by the accomplishment of justice through the gospel as a gift from God. The term dikaiosune also entails responsibility of obedience to God’s law.[11] Again, justice in accord with God’s law both remains extant commandment and is accomplished on saving behalf of “the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). The “fruit of righteousness” (Phil 1:10) is the pursuit of every righteous one who lives the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26) in humanity’s righteous Savior. “Doing justice” is not the basis of the Christian’s salvation, however, for “by works of the law no one will be justified” (Rom 3:20, 27; Gal 2:16); rather, it is the evidencing fruit of that justification (Matt 12:33; James 2:14–26).

Impartiality in Judgment

The torah’s precept of impartiality attends both testaments of Scripture. In the second iteration of God’s law to his covenant people in the OT, the subject of justice features prominently in the instruction as it did in the first iteration. Deuteronomy 1:17 commands unintimidated impartiality in all Israel’s adjudications on the basis of the judgments’ accord with Yahweh’s torah. Moses commands, “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.” This unconditional precept is reemphasized in Deuteronomy 16:18–20 where Moses prescribes “righteous judgment.” He elaborates, “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” This kind of righteous judgment necessitates that Lady Justice be blindfolded as she weighs matters in her balance. Neither is impartiality determined subjectively by the majority but decretively by God’s perfect torah. Majority (or mob) rule does not necessarily equate to justice (Exod 23:2); in fact, quite the opposite is often the case (Prov 1:10–16; cf. Exod 32:21–34; Josh 5:13–15; James 1:20).

Because the Logos incarnate can never be said to contradict the Logos inscripturated, when Jesus taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), one may never interpret this admonition as a moral mandate for a “preferential option for the poor,” as do liberation theologies.[12] To do so would be precisely contrary to the inspired mandate, “You shall do no injustice [awel] in court [or “judgement,” mishpat]. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness [tsedeq] shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev 19:15; cf. Deut 1:17; 16:19; Exod 23:3; emphasis added).[13]

Illegitimate distinction-making in dealing with our neighbors is judged by James (and our Lord) as “evil,” “sin,” “transgression,” and “guilt” against “all of [God’s law]” (James 2:1–10). James does not appear to struggle with ambiguity on this point. He assesses this feigned love of neighbor as tantamount to willful rejection of God’s torah. Simply, such willful behavior cannot be said to be Christian. In his brief epistle on assurance of saving faith, the apostle John agrees with James’ judgment of this one who practices sin (1 John 3:6–10).

Social Justice?

Because justice is attributable only to and by individuals—i.e., only personal individuals rather than impersonal constructs are accountable for justice—the concept of “social justice” is at best derivative.[14] Absent an absolute and universal standard, it cannot exist as more than parasitical because no objective standard can exist for what one group opines is just in contrast with another group. A standard has to be coopted from a source transcendent to both (or more) groups or judgment is weighted in favor of one or the other group depending on circumstance and/or group primacy. The notion of “social justice” can exist only as an ideological chimera employed to advance a socially formative agenda. Even if opposing groups could establish equity between them, no group can appropriate unequivocally egalitarian equity to each individual identified as a member of that group. Further, individuals ought to be regarded as individuals with distinct merits and demerits and not the dehumanized offal of communitarian authority. Despite its virtue signaling, social justice is definitionally deficient at providing what it proposes and thus is applied with the ineluctable bias of the one (or group) attempting to apply it. It is therefore not justice. Justice, then, is to be preferred, lauded, sought, and enjoined.

From a Christian perspective, an objective and absolute standard of justice does exist. That standard of justice—i.e., life in obedience to our Creator’s torah—has been revealed to the human race such that all are without excuse in regard to knowing “what is good and what does the LORD require” (Micah 6:8; cf. Rom 1:18ff). Because justice may be defined simply as rendering to each one his due (Rom 13:7–10), the greatest of all injustices biblically is rebellion against the gospel of Jesus Christ, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4; cf. Matt 12:32), and the human race is commanded to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (emphasis added; 1 Chron 16:29; Ps 29:2; 96:8; cf. John 4:24; 14:6; 1 John 2:22–26; 2 John 9). In the end, full justice will be accomplished, not in social measure, but in measure to each individual member of the human race (Ezek 18:2–4, 20, 30; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10). In the absence of forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s righteous, eternally unrelenting justice will be measured to each guilty sinner. Then, too, will social justice be a meaningless phrase.

Concluding Reflections

The biblical voice on matters of the human race is reconciliation and unity rather than division and discord. The apostle John encourages Christians to test the spirits, whether they are of God. Correspondingly, Christians are encouraged by the conciliatory tone of Scripture to test the voices speaking into the discussion of race and racism. Any spirit that denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to tear down the dividing wall of separation, thereby killing the hostility (between Jew and Gentile, in particular, but between all those unified in Christ, in general; Eph 2:14–16), should be granted an audience only with the qualifier that itself portends—division rather than reconciliation.[15]

The reconciliation that is integral to the gospel of Jesus Christ does not entail assimilation as much as it does homogenization. That is, the diversity that exists within the unity of the Christian church is to be no more self-conscious than the familial awareness of an adult who was adopted into a family as an infant. He is aware of the biological distinction between his and his parents’ genealogies, but that consciousness does not act as pretext for his every interaction with his parents who loved and raised him as faithfully as any. To make repeated issue of the adoption would serve undoubtedly to platform differences and division rather than unity in the family. Simply cultivating familial affection as family surely would prove a more effective means of knitting the family together as it is intended to be.

Racism is a sin issue. Sin will not be extirpated from the groaning earth until the eschaton. Therefore, racism from sinful, self-willed, evil persons likely will persist until the end of the age when the Judge of all the earth returns to judge the living and the dead and make all things right, “justice roll[ing] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Hopeful, God-fearing image bearers will recognize until then that hatred either perpetuated or perennially reheated can never seed reconciliation. Rather, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7) and “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8; James 5:20; cf. Prov 10:12; 17:9; 19:11). If Jesus Christ so loved our damnable race, we certainly can and ought to love our neighbors as ourselves, for God’s torah is fulfilled in this one word (Luke 10:25–28; Gal 5:14; James 2:8).


[1] This view affirms a historical rather than a metaphorical or mythical understanding of the Genesis account of the origin of the first man and woman. For a robust discussion of the idea, see Ardel B. Caneday, and Matthew Barrett, eds. Four Views on the Historical AdamCounterpoints: Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

[2] Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=race, retrieved 8 May 2019. Cf. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 5th Edition, s.v. n3, “race” (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

[3] Peter Wade, Yasuko I. Takezawa, and Audrey Smedley, “Race: Human,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., retrieved 8 May 2019 from http://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human. The entry on race begins, “Race, the idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioral differences. Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that ‘races’ are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European conquests beginning in the 15th century.” Britannica continues, “At no point, from the first rudimentary attempts at classifying human populations in the 17th and 18th centuries to the present day, have scientists agreed on the number of races of humankind, the features to be used in the identification of races, or the meaning of race itself. Experts have suggested a range of different races varying from 3 to more than 60, based on what they have considered distinctive differences in physical characteristics alone (these include hair type, head shape, skin colour, height, and so on). The lack of concurrence on the meaning and identification of races continued into the 21st century, and contemporary scientists are no closer to agreement than their forebears. Thus, race has never in the history of its use had a precise meaning.”

See also, John Barnshaw, “Race,” in Richard T. Schaefer, ed. Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society, Volume 1 (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 1091, which defines race as follows: “A race is a social grouping of people who have similar physical or social characteristics that are generally considered by society as forming a distinct group. In contemporary scholarship, four main concepts characterize race. First, race is socially constructed, in that humans use symbols to create meaning from their social environment. This means that race is not an intrinsic part of a human being or the environment but, rather, an identity created using symbols to establish meaning in a culture or society. Second, race is partially characterized by physical similarities such as skin color, facial features, or hair texture. Although physical characteristics constitute a portion of the concept of race, this is a social rather than biological distinction. That is, human beings create categories of race based on physical characteristics rather than the physical characteristics having intrinsic biological meaning. Third, race is partially characterized by general social similarities such as shared history, speech patterns, or traditions. . . . Fourth and finally, race is characterized by the formation of distinct racial groupings in society that self-identify as such. Race is not an inherent biological grouping, so racial categories emerge from historical processes and often gain legitimacy in society th[r]ough political action.”

The U. S. Census Bureau also qualifies race as socially (even individually) constructed rather than biologically defined: “The concept of race as used by the Census Bureau reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. Furthermore, the race categories include both racial and national-origin groups.” U. S. Census Bureau, “Race,” https://web.archive.org/web/20080509192236/http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_68184.htm, retrieved 9 May 2019.

Additionally, the term “ethnicity”—which has come to be used in synonymous or ambiguous relation to “race” because of the latter’s negative association with racism—is wrought with similar ambiguity; see Oxford English Dictionary Second edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), s.v. “ethnic”; Anne-Marie Fortier, “Ethnicity,” in Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, vol. 17, no. 3 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: Nov. 1994), 213–223; Ronald Cohen, “Ethnicity: Problem and Focus in Anthropology,” in Annual Review Anthropology(1978) 7:379–403; Nathan Glazer, and Daniel P. Moynihan, Ethnicity—Theory and Experience (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975).

[4] Scripture circumvents any attempt to self-justify by employing a narrow interpretation of the meaning of “brother” in 1 John 4:20. In elucidating the second great commandment and directing attention to the contrary concept of ethnic discrimination, Jesus himself taught that every human being should love his neighbor impartially as himself (Luke 10:25–37; Lev 19:13–18; cf. Matt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8).

[5] While advocates of theistic evolution bear no brief for any macro-evolutionary distinctions among various groups of human beings, no biblical warrant exists for any argument of intra-human ontological superiority or inferiority. For a critique of theistic evolution, see J. P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Wayne Grudem, et al., eds. Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

[6] For example, in the book of Judges, Abimelech is relying on a feud between the houses of Jerubbaal (Gideon) and Shechem to opportune his own ascension to Israel’s throne. Abimelech goes to the leaders in Shechem to appeal to “his mother’s [Jerubbaal’s concubine; Judges 8:31] relatives” for support against his 70 half-brothers in Israel (Judges 8:30), imploring the former to “remember also that I am your bone and your flesh” (Judges 9:1–2). Leaving aside the outcome of the story—which readers may discover for themselves in Judges 9—no assertion of racism may be made here of Abimelech’s motivation for going to war against his half-family. First, they are of the same (near and distant) heredity; so, the charge of racism would prove not merely delusional but absurd. Second, Abimelech presents no notion of Israel’s ontological inferiority as motive for opposing them. Rather, he insists that Israel—as a people who did not originally inhabit the land of Shechem—should not rule over the people of Shechem, whom Abimelech claims as his own people through his maternity. Nothing in Abimelech’s power-grab indicates racial or ethnic advantage as the substance of his campaign.

[7] Biblical narratives that appear on the surface to be racially motivated may be explained in terms beyond mere hereditary supremacy. For example, John’s editorial comment in John 4:9 indicates that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Ezra 4:10; Nehemiah 13:23–27; and 2 Kings 17:5–6, 24 delineate the origin of the Jew/Samaritan conflict.

The dispute in Acts 6:1ff between the Hellenists and the Hebrews is more of a cultural-linguistic than an ethnic conflict, particularly since both groups were Jewish.

Another episode that may be misconstrued as involving racial discrimination is the confrontation between the apostles Paul and Peter in Galatians 2. The apostle Paul publicly rebukes the apostle Peter (and others) for placating a form of discriminating hypocrisy that was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:11–16). Notably, Paul’s rebuke focuses on Peter’s error in regard to the relationship between the law and grace rather than on the ethnicity of Jews and Gentiles.

[8] Arthur Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races, translated by Adrian Collins (London: William Heinemann, 1915), 118; full text available at https://archive.org/stream/inequalityofhuma00gobi#page/n5/mode/2up. See also Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (United Kingdom: John Murray, 1871); Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin), Hereditary Genius (London: Macmillan, 1869); Joseph Arthur, comte de Gobineau, Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines [Essay on the Inequality of the Races] (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot Freres, 1853), later published in English as The Inequality of Human Races, translated by Adrian Collins (London: William Heinemann, 1915; Wolcott, NY: Scholars Choice, 2015); Frederick L. Hoffman, “Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,” in Publications of the American Economic Association, vol. 11 (New York: Macmillan, 1896): 1–329. W. E. B. DuBois reviewed Hoffman’s assertions in W. E. B. DuBois, “‘Race Traits and Tendencies of American Negro’ by Frederick L. Hoffman, F.S.S. [Review],” in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 9 (January 1897): 127–133; Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race (New York: Brentano’s, 1920). Other Post-Enlightenment advocates of this disparate evolutionary view include Gobineau’s disciple Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Herbert Spencer, Charles Davenport, Alfred Ploetz, Leonard Darwin, and Karl Pearson.

[9] Peter Wade, Yasuko I. Takezawa, and Audrey Smedley, “Race: Human,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., retrieved 8 May 2019 from http://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human.

[10] Social media—because it is a forum intentionally incompetently suited for civil, thoughtful, sustained dialogue—often contributes to further division rather than resolution and reconciliation. For example, a November 9, 2015 tweet from egalitarian Traci Blackmon—“Endless dialogue is a tool of the privileged.”—is quoted by Ken Wytsma in his The Myth of Equality in the context of his assertion that “it is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.” Whether or not Blackmon is asserting that the dialogue on race in America has reached an impasse is not the point. The point is that this kind of truncated rhetoric—the standard format of social media—because it only exacerbates attitudes rather than proposing viable solutions, is not helpful in advancing toward the resolution and reconciliation that people of good will on all sides of an argument hope to achieve. See Ken Wytsma, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege ((Grand Rapids: Intervarsity, 2017).

[11] For an argument against what has been called Free Grace Theology, see Wayne Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

[12] In some liberation theologies, “Theology . . . is not an effort to give a correct understanding of God’s attributes or actions but an effort to articulate the action of faith, the shape of praxis conceived and realized in obedience. As philosophy in Marx’s famous dictum, theology has to stop explaining the world and to start transforming it. Orthopraxis, rather than orthodoxy, becomes the criterion for theology.” So argues Latin American Liberation theologian Jose Miguez Bonino. To the contrary, however, orthodoxy must be the measure of our orthopraxis, lest ever-shifting cultural relativism become our standard for adjudicating truth and error. That is, as Carl F. H. Henry asserted, “divine revelation [is] the basic epistemological axiom” by which all faith and practice is to be judged, not a given culture’s contemporary praxis. See Jose Miguez Bonino, Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1986), 81, 112; Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), 18; Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Gerhard Ludwig Muller, On the Side of the Poor: The Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2015); cf. Stanley Grenz, and Roger Olson 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age(Grand Rapids: IVP Academic, 1993), 211, 218–19; and Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1999), 218.

[13] Moreover, the meaning of Christ’s beatitude in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” is plainly illuminated by its parallel in Mark 5:3, which reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (emphasis added; cf. Ps 34:18; 51:17; 138:6; Isa 57:15; 61:1; 66:2). Preferring any group or class in judgment is, by biblical definition, partial and therefore injustice (see also Deut 24:17; Lev 19:13–15 and contexts; 2 Chron 19:7; Prov 24:23; 28:21; Mal 2:9; James 2:1, 9; cf. Job 34.17–19; Ps 94.20; Ezek 9.9; 18.7–8). Even restitution is to be meted impartially, righteously, and equitably (Exod 21:33–22:17; Lev 6:1–7; Num 5:5–8; cf. Luke 19:8).

[14] In his The Mirage of Social Justice, 1974 Nobel laureate Friedrich Augustus von Hayek inveighs, “social justice is an empty phrase with no determinable content,” and “I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed ever again to employ the term ‘social justice.’” Friedrich Augustus von Hayek, “The Mirage of Social Justice” in Law, Legislation and Liberty: A New Statement of the Liberal Principles of Justice and Political Economy (Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England: Routledge, 2012), 258.

[15] Russell Kirk similarly argued, “It is a principle of English and American jurisprudence and statecraft that we are not compelled to extend freedom to those who would subvert freedom.” Russell Kirk, Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1955), 114.