Racism and the Bible

The word “racism” is being thrown around a lot by the media and the Biden administration. I even overheard someone say that the Bible is “racist.” This has caused me to think about racism in the context of Scripture.

The word “racism” has been defined in various ways, some better than others. Here’s one example: Ibram X. Kendi, in How to Be an Antiracist, defines it like this:  “Racism is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.” That’s not exactly a helpful definition. In other definitions that I came across, the word that seems to be common to almost all of them is “superiority.” That is, if someone believes his race is superior to others, he is a racist. And naturally, if one believes this, it will eventually be reflected in one’s actions, some more obvious than others.

The person who I overheard saying the Bible is racist believes this because God chose the nation of Israel to be His people. Actually, and more accurately, the Lord chose Abram (later changed to “Abraham”) and promised to make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:2); the Israelites were his descendants through his son Isaac. In Deuteronomy 7: 6-8 we are told, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” In the second part of Isaiah 49:6 we are told, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So, why did the Lord choose the Israelites to be His people? Because He kept the promise He swore to their forefathers (beginning with Abram). The Israelites were then supposed to be a light for the Gentiles (non-Israelites), passing on the knowledge and blessing of the Lord. Way back again in Genesis 12:3, the Lord tells Abram, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” You might ask why the Lord chose Abram; what we know is that it was the Lord’s sovereign choice. Does this mean that Abram and his descendants were superior to other nations? Not at all. In fact, when we read the Old Testament, we find that again and again, God’s people sinned greatly and were punished. Eventually, they were taken into captivity. By the time Jesus was born, they were under the thumb of the Roman empire; then in 70 A.D., Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Israelites were scattered.

We have examples from the Old Testament of non-Israelites who were blessed by the Lord. One person who comes to mind is Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram. In 2 Kings 5, you can read the story of how the Lord healed him of leprosy through the prophet Elisha. Another person who comes to mind is the widow at Zarephath of Sidon. In I Kings 17, you can read the story of how the Lord brought her son back to life through the prophet Elijah. Yet another person who comes to mind is the queen of Sheba (in Ethiopia). In 1 Kings 10, we read about her coming to visit King Solomon, and in verse 9, we have these astonishing words from her: “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, He has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” This “foreign” woman had great understanding of the Lord!

In the New Testament, we also have examples during Jesus’ time on Earth of non-Israelites who were blessed by the Lord. The person who came immediately to my mind is the Roman centurion in Matthew 8. In verses 3-13, you can read how Jesus healed the centurion’s servant; not only that, but in verse 10 we read Jesus’ words about the centurion: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Imagine: a “foreigner” who had greater faith than any of God’s chosen people! There’s another centurion in Luke 23:47, immediately following Christ’s death: “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.'” A third person is the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28; you can read there how the Lord cast out a demon from her daughter.

There are many other examples of non-Israelites in both the Old Testament and the Gospels who are blessed by the Lord. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we have what I consider the ultimate statement of the Lord’s blessing to people of different ethnicities (as well as both genders): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, neither your ethnicity nor your male/female gender matters in regard to salvation; the Lord saves all those who put their trust in Him, regardless of ethnicity or gender. In the grand finale, the book of Revelation, Chapter 7:9 gives us this glorious view of heaven: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Notice the word “every!”

So, is the Bible “racist?” There is ample evidence that it’s not. For those who think it is, they’re on very dangerous ground because in essence, they’re saying that God is racist. After all, we don’t call the Bible “God’s Word” for nothing! Are people–even God’s people–racist? As I wrote earlier, the common denominator in various definitions I came across is superiority. If we view our race, whatever it may be, as superior to others–or even thinking it should be superior to others–and then worse, act on that view, whether in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, then yes, we are acting like racists. Let me put it this way, speaking for myself: I’m more comfortable with two races–my own and one other–than with other races. When that causes me in some way(s), even mentally, to exclude people from those other races, then yes, I am thinking and/or acting like a racist. One caveat, however: thinking and behaving like a racist in a given time and place does not define me as one, in spite of what the media may say. May the Lord continue to form us who profess His Name into Jesus’ image, including in this area.

7 thoughts on “Racism and the Bible

  1. Hi Keith, I have to fight against racist thoughts. I don’t use racial slurs but I sometimes have uncharitable thoughts about people of other races and even sometimes my own race (I am ethnic Chinese) especially if I read certain news stories or have unpleasant experiences with people of different races. In such cases I generally say a short silent prayer to God for forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anthony, I really appreciate your honesty about racist thoughts, and I especially appreciate that you ask the Lord for forgiveness when you have them; I should pray like that more often! I think every single person has these thoughts at times.

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    1. Right. Since he’s from Ethiopia, that makes perfect sense. Interestingly, the queen of Sheba, who was one of the non-Israelite examples in my post, was most likely from present-day Yemen, but possibly Ethiopia as well.

      Like

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