". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


What the Bible Teaches about Race

February 26, 2023

As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s worth considering Scripture’s teaching about race and ethnicity. In our country, tremendous progress has been made, but more is needed — including in the body of Christ.

Followers of Jesus can model what racial reconciliation should be. So, it’s wise for us to take a close look at what Scripture teaches about race.

The Bible tells us that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, of equal value before a sovereign Creator. Here’s what Moses wrote about the first woman: “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). A few chapters later, God tells Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Jesus taught and modeled racial equality. In Matthew 15:21-28, we read of His healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman “in the region of Tyre and Sidon.” She came to Jesus for healing even though the temple of the pagan god Eshmun, a “healing” god, was only three miles north of Sidon. And He honored her faith, to which her ethnicity was immaterial.

In Jesus’s day, the Jewish people regarded Samaritans as outcasts, half-Gentiles who worshipped in their own city and not Jerusalem. This is why Jesus’s parable about the Samaritan who showed compassion to an injured man when Jewish passersby left him bleeding and also His interaction with a Samaritan woman — in public, no less! — were so striking (Luke 10:25-3, John 4:1-42). His affirmation of their value and dignity was a reproof to the racial bias of many of His fellow Jews.

As He prepared to ascend to the Father, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations” and to spread the gospel in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8). The Book of Acts is an account of how they fulfilled those commands.

We read in Acts 10:34-35 that Peter said, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). Paul told the philosophers of Athens that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). In his grand vision of heaven, John saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 17:9-10).

The early church was clearly multi-racial and multi-ethnic. Consider Simeon Niger — literally, Simeon the black man — who was a “prophet and teacher” in the church in Antioch, one of the most significant cities of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1). A man of sub-Saharan Africa was recognized as one of the leaders of one of the most prominent of the early churches and is noted as such matter-of-factly. We should all rejoice in this early model of racial harmony.

Then there were such Greeks as Lydia, a merchant of Thyatira (Acts 16) and such Romans as the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) and members of the Imperial (Praetorian) Guard (Philippians 1). The Ethiopian official (Acts 8) was sub-Saharan African. Lucius of Cyrene was from a Roman colony in what is now Libya (Acts 13).

As the theologian D.A. Horton writes, “Inside of our one race is multitude of ethnicities God created out of His genius for His glory. Ethnic diversity is God’s idea. … Since the church is the foretaste of Heaven, it is by no accident Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, commanded His followers to make disciples of every ethnicity.”

Our good God has made every person, of every skin complexion, hair color and texture, facial configuration, body type, and physical and mental ability in His image and likeness. There is no ground, theological, biological, neurological, or anything else, for racial bias in attitude or conduct. So, Christians should not allow differences to become points of conflict, arrogance, or animosity. We must be intentional and humble in learning from and serving one another.

Put simply, Christians of various racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds need to talk to each other. That sounds rather obvious, but it can be difficult. However, the only way we will surmount stereotypes and also recognize our own biases is by actively pursuing friendships with Christians who don’t share our complexion or income level or educational background.

In bringing us into the body of Christ, God did not invite us to join a club where we can spend time with those with whom we feel most comfortable. He calls us to mirror the beauty and harmony of heaven. Rejection and misunderstanding certainly are risks, but if pursued diligently and with love, reconciliation among people of different colors and ethnicities can present to the world something unique: A diverse group of people who love and accept one another because of their common identity in Jesus Christ. 

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.