Does the Bible Talk about Race?
When the human authors of the Bible wrote their sections across hundreds of years, they did not have the same language for race, racism, and equity that exists today. They used different language, instead referring to people groups, cultural behaviors, and religion to indicate what ethnicity they were discussing.
Several large sections of the Old Testament contain genealogical records which follow certain families, some of which would go on to be the foundations of ethnic identities. This first split occurred after Cain killed his brother Abel. The Bible records what happened to Cain:
“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch” (Genesis 3:17).
A brief genealogy of several descendants of Cain follows, and then it mentions Adam and Eve’s new son, Seth; “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 3:26). Though Seth and Cain were brothers, the Bible treats their descendants differently, emphasizing how the descendants of Cain mastered livestock, instruments, as well as iron and bronze, contrasting how Seth and his people called on the Lord. They are treated as different people groups because of their emphasis on God and their culture, rather than race.
On occasions where the Bible does discuss individuals of different races, their race is less important than their relationship to God. David had men of other nationalities in his court, including the loyal soldier Uriah the Hittite who David had killed to cover up his sin with Bathsheeba. The Hittites as a people did not have God’s favor, because they sinned against Him, and the Bible says God drove them out of the land (Exodus 34:11).
Though Uriah was not an Israelite, God held David accountable for this death. Justice had to be dealt equally, regardless of ethnic identity. David’s sin against Uriah and Bathsheeba is considered the greatest blot on his character. He repented, and received forgiveness, but God expected justice.
In the New Testament, one of the first Gentiles saved was an Ethiopian eunuch, “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship...Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:27, 35-36).
The eunuch had come to worship the Lord, was studying Isaiah, and accepted Jesus as Lord. His race was not important, other than to identify him. What really mattered was his love for God.
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