Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stump the Priest: Where do the Races Come From?

Question: "Where did all the other races come from?  If God created heaven and earth, did he also create the different languages and different colors of skin?  If so, what was the reason he created all of us different?"

The concept of race actually does not appear in the Bible. In Scripture, people are categorized as belonging to groups according to their family, tribe, people, nation, and tongue.

There are three broad racial categories that we recognize today: Negroid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid -- and so some suggest a connection between these and Noah's three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japeth, but there is no way to prove or disprove that.

National and linguistic divisions, according to Scripture, began with the Tower of Babel, where God divided the nations by creating differences in language (Genesis 11), and so by dividing the nations God set limits on the ability of evil to spread among from one nation  to another.

It should be pointed out that contrary to the beliefs of people prior to the discovery of blood types, all races have all the same blood types. Those features that we consider racial are truly superficial, and the Church does not consider them to be worthy of note.

In Numbers 12 we have an incident that we would think of as racial today, but which was more a question of ethnicity and culture, in which Moses' brother and sister complained about his Ethiopian wife, and it should be noted that God made it clear that it was not Moses who had erred in marrying the Ethiopian, but his siblings in speaking against him on account of it. See "Moses' Black Wife" for more on that incident.

The Jews, of course made a sharp distinction between themselves and the gentiles (nations), but this was not ultimately racial, because it was possible for a gentile to convert to Judaism. But the New Testament repeatedly makes the point that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek," but rather we "are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). St. Peter, after witnessing the Holy Spirit coming upon Cornelius, said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35).

The Church Fathers and the Services of the Church, speak of  only two races: the race of man (Adam), and the Christian race, and the only mixed marriages we speak of are when an Orthodox Christian marries a heterodox Christian.

In the Kontakion of Pentecost, we are told that at Pentecost, the division of the nations at Babel was undone at Pentecost:

"Once, when He descended and confounded the tongues, the Most High divided the nations; and when He divided the tongues of fire, He called all men into unity; and with one accord we glorify the All-Holy Spirit."

And so while we belong to a particular family, tribe, and nation, and speak different languages, and while we have our racial, and cultural differences -- as Christians we are all one family, and one nation. We are Orthodox Christians first and foremost, and any other difference we may have is only superficial.

Why did he make us with different colors of skin, hair, and eyes? Probably for the same reason that Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors... such variety makes for more beauty. This is a gift from God to humanity.