Race and Racism in the Bible
Segregation abounds in the Bible, but never by race. Discrimination in all forms is always condemned.

jgirl asks: Did Ham, Shem, and Japheth make the three different general races? Wanted to learn more. So i am also writing a paper on it.
Question about Right and Wrong in the Bible: Racism
Motivation - Student: Writing a paper
Bible view - The Word of God - [question 45, Saturday, 03-Sep-2011]

Eisegesis vs. Exegesis

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being;
- Acts 17:24ff [KJV]

There appears to be a 'Bible Theory' going around that starts with the premise of three major races of human beings:

  • The Black race - Negro
  • The White race - Caucasian
  • The Yellow race - Oriental

and these three races came from the three sons of Noah:

  • Ham
  • Japheth
  • Shem

Specifically, according to this theory:

  • Blacks came from Ham
  • Whites came from Japheth
  • Yellows came from Shem

It seems plausible. A factor that supports this theory is the numerical match between races and the sons of Noah: both are three in number. Further, since the Bible plainly says that all human life today comes from three distinct individuals -- Ham, Shem, and Japheth -- the progression into three distinct races -- Blacks, Whites, and Yellows -- makes a lot of sense. Strong proponents of this theory can also provide analyses of the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth in Genesis chapter 10 (a fascinating passage known as the Table of Nations, discussed near the end of this article) to support migration of Blacks toward Africa, Whites toward Europe, and Yellows toward Asia.

Rejection of this theory - The theory above is a good example of eisegesis, or reading a specific agenda into the biblical text, and AFTB dismisses this theory as completely false. The hidden agenda in this case is racism, probably with the intent of advancing racial supremacy, an idea completely foreign to the Bible. Racism, that is, judging people on the basis of skin color and other superficial features, is rampant in today's society but forbidden by the Bible.

The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis, or letting the Bible speak for itself. For the remainder of this response, we will attempt some exegesis on the subject of race and racism.

Biblical Segregation

The Bible groups people in many different ways. It freely speaks of groups of people that are separate and distinct from other groups. Dividing people into similar and contrasting groups is very natural and normal for human beings, and it is sanctioned by God by its appearance in scripture. Few people would argue the fact that mankind has strong tribal tendencies. However, the overarching principle in the Bible is that all men are created equal, as stated in America's Declaration of Independence, and as preached by the Apostle Paul in Acts:

And (God) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth
- Acts 17:26(a) [KJV]

Here are some examples of groups of people that appear in the Bible. Most groups have a group of exact opposites, as shown here. Which Bible groups are you in?

  • Male and female [Galatians 3:28]
  • Jew and Gentile [1 Corinthians 1:22]
  • Foolish and wise [Proverbs 10:8]
  • Masters and slaves [Colossians 3:22]
  • Saved and lost [John 10:26]
  • Countrymen and foreigners [Deuteronomy 15:3]
  • Israelites and Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:28]
  • Parents and children [Colossians 3:20]
  • Sheep and goats [Matthew 25:33]
  • Righteous and wicked [Proverbs 10:11]
  • Rich and poor [Luke 16:20]
  • Husbands and wives [Colossians 3:18]
  • Believers and unbelievers [Mark 16:16]

The Bible delineates these groups on the basis of nationality, blood lineage, everyday behavior, spiritual status before God, and other criteria, but never on the basis of race.

Skin color in the Bible - The word race is not mentioned in the Bible, although skin color is touched upon in a few passages. The boy David, who fought the giant Goliath and later become King of Israel, was a redhead, presumably with fair skin. David, like Moses, Jesus, Paul and the others, was an Israelite, that is, a descendant of a man named Israel who lived about 2000 BC. The Jews are the modern descendants of the Israelites, and they are of Caucasian race with light skin color. Getting technical for a moment, the Hebrew words in the Bible indicate white to reddish skin color for both David and Adam. In this verse:

When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. [1 Samuel 17:42, NASB]

The Philistine Goliath hated David because he was young, handsome, and had light skin. The word ruddy in the verse above translates the Hebrew word admoniy, which means reddish of hair or complexion. Admoniy comes from the Hebrew word Adam, i.e., the first man, who may have been fair as well, since Adam means to show blood (in the face), that is, flush or turn rosy. These subtle references to skin color are interesting, but some have used them to build doctrines of racial dominance which clearly violate the overarching biblical principle that all men are created equal (Acts 17:26 above).

Modern scientists are moving toward the biblical notion that there are no significant differences among races when considering human beings as a whole. This Wikipedia page quotes a scientist (Hooton) in 1926 who said race is 'a great division of mankind, characterized as a group by the sharing of a certain combination of features, which have been derived from their common descent.' But more recent thinking (Edwards, 2003, on the same Wikipedia page) says that racial differences are so small that one must look at information hidden in the correlation structure of scientific data to discover them. For non-scientists like you and me, this means racial differences are barely noticeable scientifically, and certainly non-existent for everyday intents and purposes. Races are, in fact, simple genetic variations that occur everywhere in nature. It is no wonder the Bible does not talk about race.

The following passage in Deuteronomy makes race and every other grouping of mankind of no consequence to God:

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
- Deuteronomy 10:17ff [KJV]

God regardeth not persons, that is, 'is never partial' nor taketh reward, or, 'is never to be bribed.' The Old Testament Jew, and by extension New Testament Christians and every person who would heed the Bible, is admonished to Love ye therefore the stranger, or to love those of every group outside his or her own group.

These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good. [Proverbs 24:21, NASB]

As always, the New Testament amplifies the Old Testament teachings. Apostles Peter and Paul both repeat the premise of Deuteronomy and Proverbs:

For there is no respect of persons with God. [Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34, KJV]

Jesus says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? [Matthew 7:1ff, KJV]

There is no room for racism or any type of discrimination in the Bible. The opposite of discrimination, that is, love for your neighbor, is promoted, and discrimination itself is explicitly condemned.

According to Revelation 7:9, there's no racism in heaven:

I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb
- Revelation 7:9(b) [NASB]

Nationalities and Blood Lines

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.
- Genesis 10:1 [KJV]

Genealogy is an important part of the Bible narrative, so it must be addressed when topics of race and racism arise in biblical discussions. Specifically, Genesis chapter 10, a passage usually called the Table of Nations, is most often used by interpreters who have racially oriented agendas. We refute such agendas by supplying two specific interpretations of Genesis 10 that, unlike racial interpretations, are fully supported by the entire Bible.

The Bible in Its Own Context - Of the 1189 chapters in Old and New Testaments, more than 99 percent of them present a single, central theme: the Jews. The remaining 1 percent of the chapters provide context (i.e., the background setting) for the central narrative, as follows:

  • Creation (Genesis 1-2) - the physical context
  • Fall of man (Genesis 3-5) - the spiritual context
  • Flood (Genesis 6-11) - the genealogical context

Bible central narrative and context
Passages from the Flood of Noah are sometimes used to imply that the Bible separates people by race, which it does not.

Because race is related to human genetic variations that change with location, passages from the genealogical context are sometimes used to 'prove' that the Bible separates people into several races, which it does not, as shown in the section above. The well known Table of Nations maps genealogical lines to geographic locations, so this portion of scripture is very susceptible to exploitation by people with racist agendas.

The Table of Nations Sets the Geography - The map of the Middle East below shows how the descendants of Noah were scattered by God over the region. The map comes from an analysis of the Table of Nations. As I understand it, various archaeological evidences from recent times are underscoring the reliability and accuracy of this biblical passage.

map of Middle East according to Genesis 10
The Table of Nations (Genesis 10) shows monotheistic Shem flanked by polytheistic Ham and Japheth.

The simplest interpretation of the Table of Nations is that it provides the geographic context for the Bible. The Bible is filled with wars, negotiations, alliances, struggles, sieges, and captivities between national Israel and its neighboring nations, and the Table of Nations sets the stage for these presentations. Specifically, the monotheistic (one God) descendants of Shem are flanked on both sides by polytheistic (many gods) descendants of Ham and Japheth.

Stretching of this simple geographic interpretation is necessary to make it fit racial agendas. The specific races known today, Black, White, Yellow and many more, span a far greater region than just the Middle East. They span, in fact, the entire planet. To 'prove' Bible support for racism, one must know the migration patterns of people from the Middle East outward to the rest of the globe. Scientists have studied such patterns and have come to various conclusions (an example appears on this Wikipedia page), but no such migratory patterns appear in the Bible.

Tim Osterholm has an exhaustive treatment of the subject at SoundChristian.com. This is the most thorough treatment we have seen online.

The Table of Nations Sets the Timing - A second, more subtle, explanation of the Table of Nations is the idea that it portrays national scenes both during Bible times and in the future end times. The Semitic peoples, descended from Shem, are present throughout history, while the descendants of Ham are prevalent during times of ancient Israel (about 2000 BC to 500 BC) and the descendants of Japheth are prevalent during future 'end times' of Bible prophecy. This is shown in the following graphic.

Noah's sons Ham Shem Japheth
Rather than separating races, which the Bible does not do, this portrayal of Noah's descendants is consistent with scriptural teachings from the past and into the future

Summary

Jgirl's question is no doubt innocent. But it touches on a subject crucial to today's world situation. The mere idea that the Bible somehow identifies races and possibly tolerates racism is completely inflammatory and should be muted immediately. The Bible never mentions race, it explicitly states that all people are equal biologically and before God, and the Genesis Table of Nations passage, which is sometimes interpreted to foster racial ideologies, has at least two interpretations that are, unlike the racial interpretation, completely in line with the rest of Scripture.

by Paul Richards

Wed, 30-Jul-2014 09:03:25 GMT, unknown: 261905 AB.FvHIDpTOQ6
main_action=