Friday, October 12, 2007
Wall Torn Down: A Theology of Race
When understood in light of the redemption historical scheme, the diversity of data related to the issue of race gives way to a unified theme running throughout both testaments. That goal is that all of the different races would be reunited under the head of a new Adam. The diversity of the biblical witness will be presented in four strands of evidence.
Of course, the first biblical theme begins with the creation of Adam as the biological head of all humanity. This theme demonstrates that all races belong to one big human family. The second theme is the calling out of the Jews as God’s chosen people—beginning with Abraham. This theme is evidence that the Bible also presented a form of racial segregation that was obligatory for His people. The third theme is the Old Testament hint that the Gentiles would one day be included in redemption. Gentiles who, by virtue of the earlier referenced segregation theme, should not have been intermarried with, ended up in prominent places such as the genealogy of David—and ultimately Jesus. Finally, the concept of Christ as the new Adam indicates that in the New Covenant the earlier need for segregation had been fulfilled and humanity was no longer to be divided along ethnic lines.
A Biblical theology of race will by necessity draw from many other areas of doctrine. Creation, providence, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, and the relationship between the covenants et al. are all necessary doctrinal components to consider when synthesizing and articulating a Biblical theology of race. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that though diversity exists within the biblical teaching on this subject, the overarching teleological goal of God’s plan as revealed in Scripture is that all of the diverse human cultures would be united in the worship of the one creating and redeeming God. The underlining presupposition of this paper is that there is a predominant continuity between the covenants that is marked my specific areas of discontinuity which transforms the way in which Old Covenant ethical obligations are carried out within the New Covenant.
One Common Ancestor
The first theme which will be examined in this argument is the common origin that humanity has in Adam. This is one theme that all evangelicals should be in agreement about. It is clear, if one accepts the Genesis account of creation to be actually communicating something historical about the creation of humanity, that it teaches that Adam and Eve were the biological beginning of the species. It has even been argued that this is one area of biblical doctrine that can be verified by human genetic science. Anyone who accepts the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis should understand that all humans of every ethnicity are all connected as a part of this one biological family.
The Creation Account
In the first chapter of Genesis, the narrator states, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (vs. 27-28). This passage is clearly teaching that when God created human beings, he began with one man—as we see from the pronoun “him.” This one man multiplied. It is left to the reader to understand that all further human beings would be a result of that multiplication. This understanding is further supported by the narrative in chapter three: “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living” (v. 20). Of course when the text says “yx lK ~a” (mother of all the living) it would be absurd to take that as “mother of all living creatures.” The only way that it makes sense to understand this phrase is plainly that Adam was stating that Eve would be the mother, and origin, of all the human species.
Table of Nations
The next evidence within this theme is what is known as the table of nations found in Genesis 10. This text gives the genealogy of all of Noah’s sons: Japheth, Ham, and Shem. There is almost a repeated refrain at the end of the genealogy of each son which states, “These are the sons of [X], according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations” (v. 20). The wording is not exact, but the same phrases close out each son’s genealogy. Then, the section is closed with this statement: “These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood” (v. 32). The first observation one should make from this is that the phrases “family,” “language,” “land,” and “nation” are each indicators used to define ethnicity or race. The most significant observation one should make about this passage, though, is that the narrator seems to be explaining how every ethnicity of the known world all descended from a common origin.  This list of nations should not necessarily be taken as exhaustive, but should be understood to be representative of every race. Biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos says of this passage, “There names are registered to express the principle that in the fullness of time the divine interposition meant to return to them again, and to re-enclose them in the sacred circle.”
Tower of Babel
On the heels of the table of nations comes the narrative of the
A Segregation Theme in Electing
The next theme which will be examined is the fact that
The Life of Abraham
Abraham’s initial call is recorded in Genesis 12, where it records that Yahweh said to Abram,
Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (vv. 1-3).
What is significant to the issue at hand is that God chose Abram to leave all of his relatives in order to establish a separate nation. As one traces the narrative of the patriarch’s this separateness is highlighted by a prohibition of intermarriage with the surrounding peoples. In chapter 24, the narrative illustrates this separation with Abraham sending a servant to get a wife for Isaac. He says to his servant, “you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live” (v. 3). The same prohibition is given when Isaac speaks to Jacob in chapter 28. It seems clear that this prohibition was given for the purpose of preserving the elect “seed” from being washed away into being indistinguishable from the gentiles.
This theme of segregation continues from the patriarchal narratives to the giving of the law at Sinai. For one who accepts Mosaic authorship, it would seem that Moses recorded the earlier narrative prohibition from intermarriage with the Canaanites in order to prepare the congregation of
and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly (vv. 2-4).
From an examination of the reasons associated with this text it seems the purpose for this prohibition was religious. God prohibited intermarriage in order to keep his people from being turned away from him into false belief. Therefore, this prohibition is primarily more about belief than it is about ethnicity.
This prohibition within the Mosaic law is carried on throughout the Old Testament. The sin that so many of
Conclusions Arising from Segregation
This pervasive theme of the separateness of
Inclusion of Gentiles
In contrast to the segregation that was presented above, the Old Testament also expresses the concept that God’s teleological plan of redemption is intended for the entire human race. This theme will be observed in Abraham’s initial call, in exceptions to the prohibition against intermarriage, and in the prophetic anticipation of Gentile inclusion.
Despite the fact that Abraham’s call is a movement toward segregation, even within that narrative there is language which presents God’s concern for all the nations. The segregated aspects were mentioned above. Here God’s purpose for the nations will be examined. In Genesis 12, the last phrase within the Abraham’s call quoted above states, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (v. 3). Here we see that from the beginning, the purpose of Abraham’s being set apart was that he might be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Though God was calling Abraham to be the founder of a distinct race, his purpose was the blessing of all races.
Within the storyline of the Old Testament, it is apparent that some gentiles intermarried with
The next noteworthy example of this type is Ruth. She was of all things a Moabite. Not only were Israelites not to intermarry with the surrounding peoples, but particularly Moabites were not to be allowed in the assembly for worship—even to the tenth generation (Deut 23:3). Yet David was only three generations removed from his Moabite heritage (Ruth 4:21-22). There are other examples of this phenomenon in Scripture, but these two will demonstrate the point sufficiently. The only logical implication that one can draw from this apparent inconsistency is that God’s purpose was concerned more about religious loyalty to Him than about ethnic purity.
Various prophets also heralded a message of salvation which would not be exclusive to Jews, but would also include the nations. Though this theme exists in other prophets, for space considerations, only Isaiah will be considered here. Page after page, when one reads through Isaiah he finds the term “nations” time after time in reference to their being included. A paper of this brevity cannot begin to deal with every instance. Yet two examples of this language are found in chapters 2 and 66:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it (2:2).
For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory (66:18).
These two examples demonstrate that part of the prophetic expectation of the Old Testament was the bringing in of the Gentile to the worship of Yahweh. 
A New Humanity
Finally, the emphasis of the New Testament concerning race is that in the cross, Christ became the head of a new humanity, tearing down ethnic barriers and uniting all believers in one family. This is demonstrated in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles as well.
The most significant racial tension at the time was between Jews and Samaritans. In three places in the Gospels, Jesus had significant interactions with Samaritans. First in Luke 10, Jesus gives a hypothetical case of a Samaritan who cares for a man who was beaten and robbed. Here Jesus shocked his listeners by demonstrating that such ethnic barrier crossing actually pleases God. Next, in Luke 17 Jesus cleanses ten lepers. One came back to thank him, and the text points out that the one who came back was a Samaritan (v. 16). Once again, the text presents the Samaritan in a good light in contrast to the chosen Jewish people. Finally, in John 4, Jesus stops to talk at a well with a Samaritan woman. Again, this ethnic barrier crossing shocks even his disciples and demonstrates that Jesus came to break down those walls.
Another significant observation in the Gospels is that occasionally Jesus would complement the faith he sees in Gentiles. In Matthew 15:28 Jesus said that a Canaanite woman had great faith. Then in Luke 7:9 Jesus says of a centurion that he had greater faith than Jesus had seen in all of
The first evidence in Acts of this them of a new humanity is in chapter 2 with the day of Pentecost. People from all different nations were gathered together in
Another significant matter in Acts is when, in chapter 10, Peter has a vision and is told to eat something that he initially thought was unclean. Peter is corrected by a voice that says, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (v. 15). Certainly, the vision must have meant more than just that the food laws were repealed. This vision was intended to teach that Gentiles were no longer to be considered unclean, but to be united within the Church.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles also had many things to say that are relevant to the issue of race. Two texts will be examined here. First, Christ tore down the barrier separating the races. Ephesians 2:11-16 says,
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through he cross.
Here Paul demonstrates that through the cross, the barrier that divided Jew and Gentile—and by extension all races—was broken down. Jesus died to create a new humanity that was reconciled to God.
Next it will be noted that all believers share as fellow heirs equally as Abraham’s descendants. Galatians 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” Once again, it is clear that union with Christ unites all people who are His into one new humanity.
Implications for the Church
Three major implications of this doctrine now follow. First, all believers, as a part of the new humanity, are to be united as one family. This obligates believers to love their brothers and sisters of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds because we were all born again from an imperishable seed (1 Pet 1:22-23) that is more enduring than our natural biological heritage—all forms of racism are morally wrong. Second, in heaven one day, all races will stand together worshiping and it appears from Revelation 5:9 that racial distinctions will still exist. Yet they will serve the purpose of magnifying the glory of the one who purchased those men with His blood. God will be glorified in that diversity. Finally, there is a continuity that exists between the covenants on this issue. Just as in the Old Covenant, God’s people were called to be separate; in the New Covenant the Church is still called to be separate. However, this segregation is no longer based upon ethnicity, but it calls believers to clearly distinguish between believers and unbelievers. The wall between Jew and Gentile was torn down, yet a new basis was established for distinguishing this new humanity—faith in Christ.
Stott, John R. W. The Spirit the Church and the Word: the Message of Acts.
von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. vol. 1. Translated by D. M. G. Stalker.
Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments.
Warren, Charles. Original Sin Explained? Revelations from Human Genetic Science.
Charles E. Warren, Original Sin Explained? Revelations from Human Genetic Science (
All Scripture references will be from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, California: Lockman Foundation, 1995).
The idea that associates the sons of Ham with black people and understands black slavery to be fulfillment of that curse is untenable, and will not be dealt with in the main argument of this paper. It is more persuasive that “the curse was a prophecy. It’s main purpose was to predict the subjugation of the Canaanites by the children of
Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983), 59.
Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (New York, New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 163.
It may also be significant that the references are scattered throughout both halves of Isaiah. Thus, giving support for a unity of authorship.
John R. W. Stott, The Spirit the Church and the Word: the Message of Acts (Downers Grove, Illinois: 1990), 68.
John Piper, Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (
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