Is the Bible Sexist and Racist? Part 5 – Racism


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This is the last in a series of five blog articles on the question: whether the Bible is sexist and racist? The subject is introduced in Part 1. We tackled sexism by looking at the overarching theme of the Bible on men and women in Part 2 and by looking at how Jesus treated women in Part 4. We tackled racism in Part 3 by looking at the overarching theme of the Bible on diversity. Finally, we view racism and diversity through the life of Jesus and His followers in this part 5.

Jesus doesn’t tackle the issue of racism or diversity directly, but He lived in a complicated time. He was Jewish, living in a tight knit Jewish community, which was governed and ruled by foreigners, the Romans. The Jews had a history of living alongside foreigners and were at various times throughout that history governed by them against their will.

Many of the foreigners were actually very closely related, like the Samaritans, who were of Jewish descent, and the Canaanites before them.

The Jews believed there were only two types of people: Jews and everyone else (Gentiles). They seemed to have forgotten that the very first words God spoke to Abraham, when He chose Abraham and his progeny, was that God chose them to be a blessing to all the nations. (Genesis 12:1-3) God didn’t choose them to bless only them, but to bless all nations through them.

Jesus was that blessing. Jesus is traced back to Abraham. He is from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the root of Jesse’s seed, father of David. Jesus is the Promised One. So, how Jesus viewed others is the key to understanding what the Bible says about racism and diversity.

Perhaps the first evidence of the view of Jesus about race is his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.[1] Jesus engaged her, much to her surprise, prompting her to ask: “’How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:8) Her question, revealing the tension between “her people” and “his people”, paints a picture of the attitude of the times – not much different than the attitudes people have today.

After some additional interchange, the woman comes back to their differences: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:19-20) Instead of engaging her in debate (or dismissing her for her differences), Jesus dismisses the differences, saying:

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

And, when the woman perceptively alludes to the Messiah, who is to come, Jesus announces, “I am he!” (John 4:26) This is the first and, perhaps, the clearest statement from the mouth of Jesus regarding who he is, and it is significant that he reveals it to a woman who is Samaritan. Not only is she a Samaritan, but she is woman and a sinner (having had five husbands). Yet, Jesus ignores all those differences, engages her in heartfelt conversation and reveals Himself to her.

All of this is consistent with the idea that God revealed Himself to Abraham and promised to bless Abraham and his descendants, not for himself or his descendants alone, but for the blessing of all the nations. Through Jesus, God invites the entire world to worship Him, not on a particular mountain, or in Jerusalem, or in any other particular place or among any particular people group, but in spirit and truth. Indeed, this is a glimpse of heaven that John describes in Revelation 7:9-10:

“After this I looked, and behold, 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, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Jesus used the tension between Jews and Samaritans to teach who our neighbors are in the parable of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) The context of the parable was the summary of how to inherit eternal life – “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” To which statement, a lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

In the parable, Jesus has a Samaritan man, not priest and not a Levite, help the man who was robbed and left for dead on the road. The choice of a Samaritan man was of great significance, teaching that our neighbors are not just “our own kind”, and that God blesses those who embrace Him and His word, regardless of social, economic, cultural, religious or ethnic origin.

During the time that Jesus walked among people, preached and interacted, he demonstrated his acceptance and invitation to all people by engaging, dignifying healing and forgiving women, Samaritans and others. For instance, he engaged a Canaanite woman and healed her daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28) The Canaanites were the people that God instructed Moses and Joshua to drive out of the Promised Land because of their wickedness.[2] Jesus also healed a Roman centurion’s (soldier’s) servant. (Luke 7:1-10)

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He told His followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7) This is the progression we see in the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament.

Initially, the followers stayed in Jerusalem, and many were added to their numbers.[3] Even while there, the disciples preached to people from all over on the Day of Pentecost, including “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians”. (Acts 2:9-9) Significantly, they preached to Cretans and Arabs, and not just to Jews and proselytes.

As persecution began to well up against the first followers of Jesus, the followers were scattered “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1) We read of Philip encountering and sharing the Gospel with an Ethiopian man. (Acts 8:26-40) As the persecution of Jesus followers grew, they extended further to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch. (Acts 11:19-20)

We read that Peter had a vision from God, and God sent Peter to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to confirm to Peter that He desired to be preached among all people. As a result of the vision, Peter understands that God wants him to ignore the religious, ethnic, cultural and other differences:

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean…. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:28, 34)

So, Peter prayed for the Roman centurion and his entire household, and “the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles”. (Acts 10:45) God demonstrated His acceptance, by giving them all the Holy Spirit so that they spoke in tongues just as the disciples had done on the Day of Pentecost, to which Peter added: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

A major theme of the New Testament is Paul (who was once a zealous racist, fiercely protecting Judaism against the startup followers of Jesus who threatened to taint the purity of the Jewish religion) being specifically commissioned by Jesus to carry His name to the Gentiles. (Acts 9:15) Paul ends up being the great ambassador to the Gentiles.[4] And, it was Paul who spoke these words that stand as the ultimate answer to the question, whether the Bible is sexist and racist:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This progression of the spread of the Gospel of Jesus from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth was commissioned by Jesus and carried out by those who followed him. Jesus was the ultimate blessing that came from and through Abraham to all the nations of the earth. In Jesus, we are all one; there is no distinction. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13 )

The God of the Bible is a God of diversity, a God of all people. The God of the Bible is neither sexist, nor racist. In Christ, all these distinctions dissolve into unity, yet a beautiful diversity is preserved, even in Heaven, where all the nations, tribes and peoples of the earth will worship God in our their own, unique languages.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] This encounter is not only significant on the basis of race, but of gender, culture and religion. First, men didn’t simply engage women in these discussions in the open market place in the 1st Century. Second, she was an adulteress, having had five husbands, not a social outcast not worthy of spiritual discussion in the view of polite men. She was also a Samaritan, of the same descent of the Jews, but not considered Jewish because of historical, cultural and theological differences.

[2] See Got Questions.org; and The Abominations of the Canaanites by David Padfield published in 2009

[3] Three thousand (3000) on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and five thousand (5000) at a later date. (Acts 4:4)

[4] Paul called himself an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20) and a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of [the] Gentiles”. (Ephesians 3:1)

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