Bible Verses About Race: An Exploration of What the Bible Really Teaches
If you’re looking for Bible verses about race, you’re in for a surprise: race isn’t a category we find in the Bible. Even though there are genealogies which explain where various ethnicities come from, all people trace back to the same pair of humans, created by God in his image to display his glory.
The concept of there being multiple races within humanity may be a given to many in today’s culture, but it’s foreign to the teachings of the Bible. For this reason, in some ways this article will make sense only for people living with a biblical perspective. Our culture has shown in various ways that many people aren’t ready to handle what the Bible teaches on such issues. Many people take comfort in the idea of there being multiple races of greater or lesser worth. So, a lot of people might think we’re crazy for what we believe, like we’re living in a fantasy world. But that’s okay. Amid the tribalism around us, the Bible calls us to see each other through a perspective that is true, good, and beautiful.
Races: An Unbiblical Idea
In Scripture, there’s no such thing as races or species within humanity. There’s the “human race” (see Gen. 6:5, 7; Job 28:28; Ps. 12:1; Eccl. 3:10, NIV), and some English translations will mistakenly use “race” when the original word really means “seed” (Ezra 9:2) or “kinsmen” or “relative” (Rom. 9:3). Outside the Bible, we find ancient origin stories of humanity which paint humans in inglorious terms (for example, the Mesopotamian creation myth the Enuma Elish according to which humans are created as slaves to labor for the gods). Yet the biblical origin story for humans is surprisingly exalted:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:26–27)
Bible verses about race: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
This means that all humans, whatever their ethnicity or culture, have been stamped with God’s image and are called to a grand purpose.
A person might be tempted to pushback and point out what looks like ethnic favoritism in the Bible: God chose one group, the Jews, to be his chosen people. But for what purpose did he choose an ethnic group? It was to bring from that family a Savior for the whole world. Notice the ultimate purpose for which God selected Abram (Abraham) as the father of his chosen people:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1-3)
Bible verses about race: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Races: An Unconstructive Construct
Interestingly, the more closely that researchers examine the human genome—the genetic material encased in the heart of almost every cell of the body—most of them are convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by “race” have little to no biological meaning. When it comes to the percentage of genetics which are reflected in your external appearance, the basis by which we talk about race, it seems to be in the range of .01 (one hundredth of one percent). Again, if race is a thing in any meaningful sense, it’s if it is referring to the human race.
The idea of multiple races within humanity gained a foothold in the 1500s and became popular in the 1700s among Europeans. European enthusiasm for the idea can be at least partly explained by their desire to justify their imperialist ambitions and conquests. The idea was to delineate which “races” were inferior and which were superior and needed to be ruled by others. The idea of multiple races has given rise to prejudice, division, favoritism, racism, as well as other isms. However, genetically, there’s no such thing as a “white race,” a “black race,” a “yellow race,” a “red race,” etc. The idea has been culturally influential but is scientifically and biblically unjustifiable.
“The idea has been culturally influential but is scientifically and biblically unjustifiable.”
For disciples of Jesus, the Bible teaches us to see everyone as image bearers of God.
Our Fundamental Identity
Although all people are made in God’s image, his glory in us has been tarnished through sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). For this reason, Jesus came to restore God’s image in humanity. This is what becoming a disciple of Jesus is all about: we follow him as he restores us to God’s original intended purpose for humanity. This community of disciples Jesus has built invites people regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or biological sex:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26–28)
Bible verses about race: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The apostle Paul explained in his letter to the church in Colossae that putting to death our sinful nature includes setting aside categorizations through which we commonly look down on others:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col. 3:5–11)
Bible verses about race: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Where is the “here” Paul mentioned in the final verse there (“Here there is no…”)? “Here” refers to the kingdom of God. Under King Jesus, these cultural and ethnic labels and identities no longer define us in our core. Whereas the Old Testament focused on two main kinds of people—Jew and Gentile—ever since Jesus came, it’s been a matter of whether you’ve placed your trust and allegiance in King Jesus or in something else.
Pursuing the Heavenly Vision Now
At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that our ethnic and cultural distinctions don’t disappear inside God’s kingdom, even as they lose their footing as our primary identity. If they did disappear altogether, we would miss out on experiencing beauty and creativity in the ways God’s image is displayed in different cultures and ethnicities. Even the apostle John’s vision of heaven included visible cultural and ethnic distinguishing features, and that is part of the beauty 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 before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev. 7:9)
Bible verses about race: “…great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne…”
So, in a tribalistic world, how can we make sure that we don’t allow tribalism, racial or otherwise, to define and separate us in God’s kingdom? How do we make sure that “Christ is all, and is in all” among us? How do we make sure that the racial hostility that characterizes so much of the world is defeated by love and unity in our churches?
If we want to begin displaying Revelation 7:9 now, we must take our cues from Jesus. Jesus didn’t try to align with the majority or the home team or the rich. He identified with minorities, foreigners, and the needy. If we follow him in this, racial hostility will find no home in our churches.
1. Jesus Was a Minority.
It can be tempting for Christians to hang with “their own” people, especially when they perceive their group as superior. When the church was still primarily Jewish, there are at least a couple examples we have where church leaders drifted into ignoring and neglecting the Gentile Christians in their midst.
First, in Jerusalem, the Hellenistic (Greek) widows were being overlooked in the food distribution, with the Hebrew widows getting prioritized. This didn’t seem to be an intentional oversight, but the problem definitely took intentionality to fix (Acts 6:1–6). Second, when the apostle Peter began drawing back from eating with Gentile Christians and only eating with Jewish Christians, the apostle Paul had to publicly confront him (Gal. 2:11–14):
“For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” (Gal. 2:12)
Bible verses about race: “I opposed him to his face….He began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid.”
This tendency is why we need to stop trying to only identify with “our own” people and identify with Christians who are different from us, especially the minorities in our midst.
When God put on flesh, he put on the flesh of an oppressed minority, and he really, truly dwelt with us: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). It was at a time when the Jews were oppressed by the Romans. God set that up. Yes, there had been times when the Jews were on top, such as when David’s kingdom was expanding the borders of Israel. But Jesus didn’t come at that time. And even within the Jewish nation, Jesus was ostracized for his faith and beliefs; he was a minority within a minority.
True disciples of Jesus are always in the minority. This is the case even when they find themselves historically as part of “Christian” empires and nations, where true faith is too often lost in a fuzzy religious-national identity. People who truly follow Jesus and his ways are always going to be outnumbered. We’re underdogs. When we rightly see ourselves this way, this helps us stay close to God and to each other. When there’s no strength in being the majority, we find strength in God and in each other. There was never meant to be an internal hierarchy within the church based on tribal identities outside it, racial or otherwise; rather, “Christ is all, and is in all.” We need camaraderie, not competition.
2. Jesus Was a Foreigner.
Jesus identified as a foreigner:
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
Bible verses about race: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus’ main concern was to do what God had sent him from heaven to do (John 12:49). He came to bring people into his new community, inviting them to be citizens of God’s kingdom. As Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” 1 Peter 1:17 says for us to “live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Hebrews 11:13–16 explains,
“All these people were still living by faith when they died…admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
As citizens of God’s kingdom first and foremost, we need to relate to the nation and culture we live in as a missionary might live in a foreign country. As such, you love the country you’re trying to reach—but it’s not your primary citizenship. You work for its good, but, in many ways, you don’t claim ownership. Why not? It’s because it’s not really your country.
“You love the country you’re trying to reach—but it’s not your primary citizenship.”
Finding your primary identity in being a citizen of God’s kingdom leads you to identify more easily with people of other ethnicities and cultures. We should use every opportunity to reach locals for the gospel and invite them to become citizens of our heavenly kingdom.
3. Jesus Was a Needy Person.
On the face of it, this seems like a crazy statement. Christians believe that Jesus is God in human flesh. As such, could he really be a needy person? The Gospels indicate, however, that Jesus grew up materially poor (Lev. 12:8 and Luke 2:24), even being apparently homeless at times (Matt. 8:20).
But what I’m mainly referring to here is how Jesus wanted his followers to see needy people and think of him. In the “parable of the sheep and the goats,” Jesus explains how, at the end of time, he will thank and reward those who saw him as hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, etc. and went on to meet his needs. They will be confused and ask when it was that they helped him in these ways. He will respond that, whatever they did for “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:31–46).
Whatever you did for “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Serving needy people is how we serve Jesus! When we cultivate a kingdom-first identity, we are able to gladly help people in need, no matter the shade or complexion or culture. If we see Jesus in needy people, it will go far in helping us replace ethnic and cultural hostility with solidarity.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, then you’re part of a worldwide community made of “every nation, tribe, people and language.” As such, mere diversity is too low of a bar. Jesus prayed for our unity. Unity is not automatic or easy, but it’s important enough that it was on Jesus’ mind and in his prayer the night before he was crucified:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20–32)
Bible verses about race: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.”
In a world characterized by political tribalism and racial hostility, we in the kingdom of God are called to unity under the reign of King Jesus. This unity is how people will know that Jesus is the answer to life’s deepest questions. As brothers and sisters from every nation, tribe, people, and language, we’re called to be one.