“Race” is defined as “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock” or “a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics” or “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.”
We often think race has to do with the color of one’s skin, yet that idea is “not rooted in Scripture but in a sociological construct.” Trillia Newbell argues that God did not separate people by the color of their skin: We created that distinction.
Diversity exists and it is in the Lord’s glorious plan. Where did racial diversity begin and how does it demonstrate God’s glory?
Out of the Ark
The people of God spread across the Middle East, every single person sharing one feature in common: Sin so ugly that God decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. He would start again with Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
After the floodwaters receded, these men fathered the ancestors of the new nations as described in Genesis 10. “Ham’s descendants are the Cushites, who are linked geographically to Africa.” They include the people of Egypt and Canaan, where the Philistines came from. Japheth went north and east into Europe and Asia Minor.
The third brother remained closer to home. “Shem is called not the father of either of his immediate sons, but of the posterity of [Eber],” his grandson “because the Hebrews sprung from him in his line, among whom the church of God and the true religion were preserved, and from whom the Messiah was to come.” Shem’s descendants populated the area known today as Arabia.
From Babel to the World
Scripture’s account of the Tower of Babel follows swiftly on the heels of the post-flood dispersion account. In Genesis 11:2, we read that “people migrated from the east” and “found a plain in the land of Shinar,” which is north of the Persian Gulf in what would become “Babylon.” Nimrod and his people decided to settle and build a tower.
God saw that they were not spreading His great name across the world but, instead, were trying to reach heaven by their own efforts. God’s answer was to scatter them. “The Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth,” in verse 8, from which point more clans, nations, and languages developed. “The subsequent separations created the circumstances that accommodated the physical variations of the human family.”
Race or Ethnicity?
The words “race” and “ethnicity” were conflated in the 18th century. The meaning of race morphed from “‘tribe, nation, or people regarded as of common stock’ to ‘an ethnical stock, one of the great divisions of mankind having in common certain physical peculiarities’ by 1774.”
Today, “race is understood by most people as a mixture of physical, behavioral and cultural attributes.” “Ethnicity” is more specific, “recogniz[ing] differences between people mostly on the basis of language and shared culture.”
God did spread the descendants of Noah’s sons, splitting up families who founded new cities and, eventually, whole nations. This division was not carried out on the basis of pre-existing ethnic or racial differences He had created, although the capacity for adaptation existed within each person by God’s design.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.”
By faith, we accept the mysteries of God (Job 11:7-9, ESV). Each nation shared the same ancestors, but changes in climate, available food sources, and geography caused them to adapt physically. The Lord created the circumstances for dispersion to take place but did not create distinct races, “In Genesis 1 and 2, the first human is simply identified as ādām, which means ‘humankind.’ Adam and Eve are not Hebrews or Egyptians or Canaanites. Their ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’ is not identified.
All people were still genetically, racially, similar, and equal. God mixed up their languages, so those who shared a common tongue joined together to deepen their ties through art, commerce, religion, and so on. They created new nations, and subsequent generations shared physical similarities. Eventually, “the composition of ancient Israel reflected the multi-ethnic makeup of the biblical world.”
Not a Scale of Humanity
God’s plan for unity was always vibrant and exciting: We see in Revelation the “fourfold formula of tribe, language, people, and nation, [which] stresses the ethnic diversity of the people of God who will worship around the throne.” “All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, Lord” (Psalm 86:9).
The curse upon Ham in Genesis 9:25 was not an indication that the nations would break off into groups of higher or lower human forms. There is no such thing as “evolutionary ascendancy.” According to Wayne Jackson, “the Bible does not classify human beings along the ‘racial’ lines that are common to modern thought.”
In God’s eyes, there is no worth associated with the color of one’s skin. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that “the Lord does not see as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
That heart is the “I AM,” given to each person by the Lord Himself: Life, breath, existence, worth. All people across the globe share the same original “parents,” the same God (whether they honor Him or not), and our roots are equally tainted by sin but also equally beautiful. We were individually, lovingly created in person by God and all believers are also one body in Christ.
Genetic Variation Is a Gift from God
“From a biological standpoint,” we were made with “the potential for ethnic expansion” thanks to the marvelous “mechanism for variation [...] packaged within the human genetic reservoir” by our Creator.
Certain traits persist in groups where there is less intermarrying, creating “a more static set of traits” than in “an incredibly rich genetic pool.” This is not a value statement, but a genetic fact. When a gene is passed by both parents to his or her offspring, that child will inherit the physical feature or character trait represented such as color of skin, temperament, height, predisposition to a disease or condition, etc. That trait might help the individual to cope with challenges of climate or elevation but does not represent racial inferiority or superiority.
Overall, “the more we study the different ethnic groups of man the more alike they turn out to be.” In fact, every ethnic group is too similar “in their structural and functional characteristics for them to have originated from different apelike forms.”
“The devil did not create the various races,” writes one commentator, “God created them and gave them their unique identity.” He built His creative masterpiece with all of the ingredients for adaptation to various extremes of temperature; for living in high mountains and in desserts; for withstanding extreme cold and digesting mostly vegetables or primarily fish.
This is why such fascinating and glorious diversity exists from one country to the next and also, to some extent, within communities where interracial marriage has taken place. Abraham “was from Mesopotamia” and was probably “ethnically [...] an Aramean/Amorite.” He moved his family to Canaan “where two of his descendants (Judah and Simeon) married Canaanites.” Another descendent, Joseph, “married an Egyptian.”
Racial Equality Is Not from Man but from God
“Equality isn’t a man-made, modern, social justice theory.” It is built into our DNA by the Father of all nations, God Almighty. “God has given each of us dominion over the works of His hands, equally.” Whenever the topic of race comes up, the theme of racism follows close behind. Atheists and adherents to other religions sometimes say the Christian God promotes racism, but this is not true.
Numerous Christians have justified racism on the basis of misused, distorted Scripture taken out of context such as Genesis 9:25. Seeking power and superiority, “the curse has been misapplied to all of Ham’s descendants rather than just to Canaan” within a historical and political context.
“The point of Genesis 10 is that humankind is conceived as a unity, and the diversity of peoples [...] is understood as the fulfillment of God’s command to Noah and his sons to be fruitful and to multiply, and to fill the earth.” “God created man in His image” (Genesis 1:27). “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” (Galatians 3:28). No Christ-follower has any excuse for racial hatred, violence, or discrimination of any kind.
Our racial line goes all the way back to Christ, who is one with God, and in Him, we are also one with God and with each other. He has eternally purchased men and women from every ethnicity on the globe; therefore, we conclude that “God intends to have a people [...] from all ethnic groups. All shades and all shapes. [...] God designed, aimed, purposed to have a people that is very diverse.”
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.