The word and concept of ‘race’ has been distorted over the last 150 years.
Christians have adopted a concept of race that is completely antithetical to God’s definition in Scripture.
The consequences of this redefinition have been devastating to our societies, culture and Christian witness. When those who claim to uphold biblical truths and live by them adopt foreign man-centered definitions and concepts and then import them into their theology, massive worldview implications ensue. Ideas always have consequences and bad ideas have victims.
The Bible is clear, there is only ONE race – the human race.
Race, Not Races:
The Bible is also clear that the one human race takes on a variety of beautiful physical features and expressions. The Bible speaks of tongues, tribes, peoples and nations. It speaks to the prismatic qualities of the individual and the diverse qualities of different people from different places. Like fields of flowers or oceans of fish, the world is full of the human race in all its fullness, variety, and beauty.
Nations – Ethnos:
Recovering the language and meaning of the truths rooted in scripture is extremely important. Words and meaning form and shape how we understand and interact with reality. The word ’Nations’ in the Bible comes from the Greek, “Ethnos” which is where we get the word ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnicities’. We are ONE race but many nations or ethnicities. That is the language of the Bible!
The Christian must understand that the modern concept of race does not find any foundational support in the Bible. ‘Race’ does not mean different ’nations’ or ‘ethnicities’ as modern Christians might assume. It actually is rooted in the (bad) idea that the human race is made up of many species of humans. We must ask, is that true? And what are the ramifications of a false premise or presupposition? How do meanings of words impact reality and our lives?
The language of the Bible is clear and unifying all humans are of one race. To argue otherwise is to introduce foreign secular sociological and anthropological concepts into biblical theology, sociology, and biblical anthropology. The consequence is that this importation of foreign concepts distort the meaning of the Bible and our worldview. This bad idea ends up creating moral confusion and division among people. We are witnessing this in this cultural moment.
Races – Samuel Morton, Scientific Racism and Craniometry:
“Samuel George Morton is often thought of as the originator of “American School” ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is seen by some as the origin of scientific racism.
Morton argued against the single creation story of the Bible (monogenism) and instead supported a theory of multiple racial creations (polygenism). Morton claimed the Bible supported polygenism, and within working in a biblical framework his theory held that each race had been created separately and each was given specific, irrevocable characteristics.
Morton claimed that he could define the intellectual ability of a race by the skull capacity. A large volume meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. He was reputed to hold the largest collection of skulls, on which he based his research. He claimed that each race had a separate origin, and that a descending order of intelligence could be discerned that placed Caucasians at the pinnacle and Negroes at the lowest point, with various other race groups in between.” (source)
“Morton was heavily influenced in his thinking by the 19th century practice of phrenology (the now abandoned field of study which used the shape of the skull to determine personality traits) and the theories of hereditarianism (a school of thought that saw heredity playing a major role in determining traits such as intelligence and personality) and polygenism (a school of thought that saw human races as created separately and unequal).” (source)
Morton’s theory had an influence on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution in “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Darwin bought into Morton’s presupposition that some species of humans were superior to others. The ramifications of this type of thinking continues to be seen in our current day.
In the final analysis, the modern concept of ‘race’ and ‘races’ is divisive at its root. Even when people of goodwill speak of races in a positive light, the term is divisive. Why? Because the modern concept of race was created to divide humans based on physical qualitative attributes. Everything that flows from the presupposition made by Morton and Darwin divides and destroys the unifying vision of one race established by God. Therefore, terms like racism, racist, etc. divide even when used to call out evil. Modern science has proven that there is NO scientific / genetic basis for different races (see National Geographic Article here)
Bible Words – A Better Way:
In order to clear up confusion and bring unity, we must recover the language of the Bible. Words matter. Words and language are important to God so they must be important to us. After all, God’s primary revelation is His Word (the Bible). By design, human culture and society is structured around language. When language is confused or the meaning of words are distorted, chaos ensues.
Meaning Matters – What do you mean by that?
If by ‘racism’ you mean ‘ethnic hatred’ or ‘ethnic prejudice’ then the Christian can ground a distorted concept of race in truth and bring it into the full light of God’s word. The Bible states, hatred of any kind is a sin equivalent to murder. We must understand that ‘racism’ as a modern concept is foreign to the Bible. The Christian must recover and redeem words – grounding them in the Christian worldview.
Moving Forward – Reordering Disorder
I’ve been attempting to use the language of the Bible to clarify conversations and public discourse. This is not been without difficultly because I have imbibed the language of modern culture as well. However, I have found that using biblical language like ‘ethnicity’, ‘ethnic superiority’, ‘ethnic prejudice’, ‘ethnic bias’ and ‘ethnic hatred’ help people think clearly and move dialog into a unifying direction. I stay away from using modern sociological constructs and language like ‘races’, ‘racial superiority’ and ‘racism’ because those words and concepts obscure the full meaning of what people are trying to communicate. Based on my background in anthropology, study of sociology and my analysis of culture, it is clear that many academic activists intentionally obscure meaning and redefine words. So, beware and be discerning.
The thinking Christian must understand that the fall and sin have disordered the world and culture. Then, we must reorder things back to God’s original vision (recovering and restoring)
Recovering A Biblical Anthropology and Meaning:
The Christian vision begins with a Biblical Anthropology of what it means to be human – what it means to be created in the image of God (image bearer) – what it means to be male and female – what it means to be a fallen (sinful) image bearer in a broken (sinful) world – what does it mean for every human being to have dignity and value. What would this world be like if every human looked the same – if no ethnicities existed?
By design, human beings search for meaning in life. When we attempt to create our own meaning or identity outside of God’s vision of human life, we end up creating massive problems individually and culturally. However, when we ground our identity in God’s design as His image-bearers, we see human flourishing. We experience unity in the diversity of individual image-bearers as one race – the human race.
Again, the Bible speaks to the prismatic qualities of the individual and the diverse qualities of different people from different places ALL made in His image. Though we live in a broken world, we see God’s goodness and glory through frosted glass but we see it nonetheless reflected in the multifaceted human race of image-bearers.
Race is a unifying vision of all human beings – wrought by God and born of one womb.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,” Acts 17:26
The Bible declares that all people of all ethnicities (nations) in all of history in every place on earth bear the image of God.
We are ONE race – the human race. That is the truth.