We live in a race-obsessed culture. “Regular” people not so much, but among the elites for sure. Do a search of how many headlines have had the word “race” in them over the last few years. Just looking at big media, social media & entertainment, you would think that race is the central & most significant issue for everyone.

It’s not. Race is largely a construction of our making. You read that right. It is not a biblical nor biological category of significance. We’ve wasted thousands of words and hours on what amounts to nearly nothing at all. All of the outrage, all of the hostility, all of the foolishness – all for something that is highly dubious at best.

What is “Race”?

Even overused words can be misunderstood. Here’s what race is not: Race is not culture, style, habit, custom, history, geography, origin, language or religion. Race refers to physical features, to visible characteristics. It is, you might say, only skin deep. 

People from different parts of the world clearly have varied physical features. Everyone knows this and always has. All of the tribes native to North America had, you might say, the same “look.” Same with the tribes of Northern Europe, or of Sub-saharan Africa, or of the Indian subcontinent. Whichever group you are descended from contributed to your own distinct features.

Race is Not a Biblical Category

Christians should reject our society’s race-obsession. The Bible cares very little about race as a category. When the writers of Scripture talk about all of the differing peoples of the world, they use words like “every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). None of these words refers to race. 

A big part of the reason for this is that, despite development of all sorts of languages and cultures across the world, people are all ultimately related. As Paul told the Athenian intellectuals, “He (God) made from one blood every nation of mankind …” (Acts 17:26). 

But wait. Wasn’t Israel a “chosen race” that was’t supposed to intermarry with the other races of people? The answer is NO to both. Israel was a chosen people, but their race had nothing to do with it. They were not blessed on account of their DNA. Paul once again clarifies this when he chides fellow Jews who think along those lines. He makes the distinction between being a Jew “outwardly” and being one “inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-9). It is a matter of the heart not the genes. 

The blessing and benefit of the Jewish heritage, the apostle tells them, is in their relation to God. They were given the Law, the temple, the priesthood, the prophets, the writings, and so on. Race has nothing at all to do with it. Those blessings are for all who believe. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” he tells them, and it is the “children according to the promise” not “according to the flesh” who are the true descendants (Rom. 9: 4-8).

So, what about intermarriage? Again, it has nothing to do with race-mixing or race purity. The people of Israel are told not to intermarry with the tribes of Canaan for a clear and specific reason: ““Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.  For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deut. 7: 3-4).

Anybody who seeks to use the Bible in opposition to interracial marriage is either biblically illiterate or is willfully misusing the text because of sinful motives of their own. 

Race is Not a Biological Category

The Bible aside, surely “race” is a scientifically meaningful category, right? 

Not so much. In 2003 a documentary series associated with Univ. of California, Berkeley, aired on PBS entitled Race:The Power of an Illusion. One of the contributors was Biological Anthropologist Alan Goodman, who wrote in one of the project’s essays, 

Scientists have actually been saying for quite a while that race, as biology, doesn’t exist – that there’s no biological basis for race. …

That’s quite shocking to a lot of individuals. When you look and you think you see race, to be told that no, you don’t see race, you just think you see race, you know, it’s based on your cultural lens – that’s extremely challenging.

Another anthropologist, Robert Sussman, wrote in his book The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistance of an Unscientific Idea (2014):

In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth. This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists.

Sussman went on to cite similar conclusions by other major prestigious bodies of academics in the relevant fields. To this day, he asserts, the shared consensus about the nonexistence of biological race is on par with the belief that the earth revolves around the sun.

A Better Way

The point of this is to snap out of our neurosis concerning race. We need to see people as people, with all kinds of cultural diversity, languages, dialects, customs, and yes, physical features, but still basically the same. Showing bigotry or partiality on account of any of these differences is straightforwardly wrong. 

When our society stops cowing to foolish race-hustlers and instead gets back to an understanding of people that is both biblical and biological, we will be vastly better for it.

Clint Roberts
Clint Roberts

Clint Roberts has taught Philosophy, Religion, Ethics, Critical Thinking, Apologetics, and a few less interesting subjects over the last decade plus. He long ago attended a fine theological institution. Later his doctorate focused on famous arguments by Clive Staples Lewis. He and Wanda lived in Texas, Idaho, & Utah before coming to Oklahoma. They have six kids & several species of animal.  He teach, he preach, he roast the coffee, he grow the hot chili pepper, he milk the goat. And he ascendeth weekly unto the Free Methodist pulpit while continuing to teach at local universities.

    5 replies to "Race is Neither a Biblical nor Biological Category"

    • Sam

      That, of course, is nonsense.

      It’s like saying there’s no such thing as breeds of dogs, horses, or cows. A breed is just a group within a species that has the same set of genetic characteristics that are passed on from generation to generatlion.

      Plants also. What do you think the science of hybridization is all about?

      Only people don’t like to be compared to plants or animals. Hence race instead of breeds or varieties.

      • Clint Roberts

        As the article says, Sam, it would be ridiculous to pretend that the people groups of the human population do not have diverse physical characteristics. People have always recognized that, generally, there’s a shared group of physical traits found among tribes of old Europe, and shared traits among those in E. Asia, and in N. American tribes, and across the numerous tribes in the African subcontinent, and so on. Nobody is silly enough to deny that. But the analogy to breeds is problematic according to biologists. The main point is that our society has made it central obsession that which neither the Bible nor the biologists believe is of much distinction beyond superficial appearances.

      • Alex

        Ethnicity would be the word you’re looking for, which is different from both “breed” or “race.”

    • Todd Mccauley

      Excellent article. How do we get the rest of the world to read it?

    • Todd

      Excellent article. Now how do we get the rest of the planet to read it?

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