Christian Living,  Culture,  Ethics

What is Racism According to the Bible?

Photo symbolizing racism

Accusations of racism and racist behavior are commonplace in the news today. Many view racism as on the rise in America. Poll data from Gallup indicates that at least some Americans view race relations between whites and blacks at a current low point over a 20 year span. Because racism is a subject prevalent in the public eye, we need to discuss what racism actually is (biblically speaking), and how Christians should think about it.

First, let’s talk about how the culture defines racism. According to Merrian-Webster, racism is defined as follows:

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

2b: a political or social system founded on racism

3: racial prejudice or discrimination

In addition, the Cambridge Dictionary defines racism as, “the belief that some races are better than others, or the unfair treatment of someone because of his or her race.”

The core component of these definitions is a belief in some sort of ethnic superiority and/or a prejudice or unfair treatment of another because of his or her ethnicity.

However, today many are arguing that the definition of racism is changing. The cultural elites have been working overtime to redefine racism as not just prejudice, but prejudice plus power. In other words, you cannot be racist if you do not have power, or are in a position of power. This is the new cultural definition of racism which is being pushed.

The Bible on Race and Sin

The Bible speaks with absolute clarity that God, “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). In other words, all humanity is equal in its status as creatures before their Creator. Every nation is equal under God as fellow image bearers of God (cf. Gen 1:26).

Because all of humanity has its origin in Adam, all humanity is dead in sin (cf. Rom 5:12). Therefore, God’s plan of salvation has to be a world-wide human solution, not an ethnic solution being limited by skin color, language, or geography.

Because of the global nature of the gospel message the church is to be a beacon and symbol of the power of Christ among all humanity. In the midst of a world where ethnic and geographical conflicts are commonplace, the church is a powerful symbol of unity in Christ. Thus there is power in Germans and Jews worshipping together, blacks and whites, Chinese and Japanese. These relationships in the church demonstrate that Christ’s power overcomes and transcends all relational differences.

This is an imperative point in the New Testament, brought out explicitly in Colossians 3:8-11 where Paul describes the believer’s lifestyle, which must match with his new identity. In explaining this, Paul notes, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). In the church, our worldly identities are consumed by our identity in Christ. We are all equal in the church under the blood of Christ.

Biblically speaking, there is no foundation for racism. There is no ethnic superiority. Color of skin and geography have no bearing on one’s value since we are all made in the image of God.

Racism as the Bible Defines It

It is always best to try to define things biblically. If we break down what racism actually entails, then biblically speaking, racism is a outflow of pride and hatred, specifically hating another person because of their ethnicity. The Bible speaks strongly against pride (Prov 8:13; 11:2; 16:8; Mark 7:20-23).

The Bible also speaks strongly against hate. Biblical language of hate includes the concept of prejudice or bias (cf. Matt 6:24; Luke 14:26; Rom 9:13; Eph 5:29). Hatred that is not directed against evil is sin (cf. Prov 12:1; 26:24; 1 John 3:15; 4:20). Therefore, the reason racism is sinful is because it involves pride and hatred of one’s fellow image bearer of God due to his skin color or geographical origin.

An important point to be made here is that power has absolutely nothing to do with racism. It doesn’t matter if you are the richest man alive or you live in absolute poverty. All human beings are capable of pride and hating one another. All human beings are capable of prejudice and bias. There is such a thing as white on black racism, but also black on white racism, Japanese on Chinese racism, etc. This is because racism (i.e., pride and hatred) is a human sin problem that is irrespective of skin color, wealth, or power.

The Bible and Culture at Odds

As stated above, many in our culture are trying to change the definition of racism. I have had multiple friends tell me that when at university they were told that it was impossible for them to be racist because they were not white. This is a completely revised definition of racism which finds its foundation more in Marxist philosophy than biblical terminology. Thus, the new cultural definition of racism should be rejected.

It should also be noted that we live in a culture where if we disagree with this societal push to redefine racism, then we are labeled as racist. Racism becomes a derogatory catch-all description which can be used to decry any individual who has a differing viewpoint.  I appreciate the following observation made by Thomas Sowell.

The growing divide between the secular culture and the church is growing wider each and every day. The issue of racism is yet another stark contrast. The definition of racism is changing before our eyes, and it is a new definition that does not fit with biblical teaching.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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