Let us start our study of the Bible by asking a simple question -- who invented racism and discrimination?
If your answer is "the devil" or "Satan" or "man after the Fall," you are wrong. The Bible is clear -- God did! Not only did He divide mankind into different families at the Tower of Babel, but He chose one man, Abram, to be the father of a holy nation with a special purpose in the history of mankind. The Bible is a book about race, it is saturated with the topic. Its central subject is Race, paralleling the drama of Redemption. Hundreds of years of history, and hundreds of verses of Scripture, are devoted to the topic of race relations. There are racial teachings or events in nearly every book. And many of these exemplify practices of racial genocide, segregation and racial superiority. This causes a great problem for the modern reader: if you sit down and seriously read the Old Testament, how could anyone ever think it advocated tolerance, equality, mandated diversity and universal suffrage?
The "embarrassing" parts of the Old Testament have caused some people to dismiss the Old Testament entirely, in favor of an idealized New Testament which supposedly bears witness to a God of universal and unconditional love. "Yes," this attitude admits, "the Old Testament God is a God of blood and fire, but thank goodness that's all obsolete. In the New Covenant, God presents His true face to humankind, and it is a beneficent and accepting one." I guess it is possible to believe this if one omits all of Jesus' teachings about hell and judgment, and the entire book of Revelation. We shall cover the New Testament later, but first we must uphold the lasting validity of the Old Testament.
The entire foundation of the message of Salvation, and of race relations, is laid in the Old Testament. To nullify or disqualify this foundation is like trying to understand a two-act play after entering the theater at the start of Act Two. In the drama, as in theology, the resulting perspective is distorted. Not every teaching in the Old Testament carries forward unchallenged in the New. But there is a unity of purpose in God's revelation, and in His historical actions, that underlies both Testaments. Therefore we must begin with a thorough study of what the Old Testament REALLY says about race.
As we will see, this is a complex subject and we must not over-simplify with a moronic conclusion such as: "the Old Testament's message about race is...." In fact, there is no single summary teaching about race in the Bible. For the purposes of this course, we have divided the Old Testament into 8 separate segments, each with several racial themes co-existing.
May we caution you, at this point, to do one thing before turning to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Please, set aside your own racial background, your nationality, your skin color and native language. We are about to enter a world that is different from anything in our own immediate experience. This is the most crucial preparation for anyone who desires to understand the Bible's teaching on race. Failure to do so guarantees that we judge and interpret Scripture through the distorted window of our own upbringing, our own prejudices. We have to make a serious effort to step outside of our own limitations, and engage the universal purposes of God. This effort is not congenial to our sense of identity and our self-esteem.
The failure to do so, the inability and unwillingness to renounce racial conditioning in interpreting Scripture, has led to many of the most scandalous episodes of racial injustice in world history:
-- the slaughter of native South Americans by Spanish conquistadores
-- centuries of persecution of the Jews in Europe by both Protestants and Catholics
-- the enslavement of Africans by Bible-quoting Europeans and Americans
-- the subjugation and humiliation of the peoples of Africa and India by "Christian" colonial powers
The misapplication of Scripture to advance a national or racial agenda, as in these examples, is nothing short of blasphemy. It is to pervert a divine message of salvation and freedom into a program of servitude to a master race. There are many examples in history of this perversion of the racial teachings of the Bible. These serve to remind us that the primary obstacle to understanding the Bible is not a matter of intellect, but of our own human pride.