Q&A: Bible and Racial Issues

Bible and Racial Issues

Question

I read somewhere that Noah's son Ham was a darker skin son. My friend insists that everybody was black and that there were no white people. Also, if they were all one color, why were they separate? And if Moses' wife was black, what color was he?

Answer

Everyone who is now living is descended from Noah and his wife, through Noah's three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 10:32). But there is no indication anywhere in the Bible that Ham was any darker or lighter than his brothers or parents, and we have no description of any of their wives. The Bible simply was not interested in telling us how dark any of their skins were.

In the past, there have been some very unscholarly and illegitimate things written about Ham's skin color, particularly with regard to his son Canaan who was cursed by Noah. These writings have typically been used to argue that black people are inferior and/or to argue that it is appropriate to enslave black people (Canaan was cursed to be his brother's servant) -- all of these arguments are totally false and unbiblical.

Some evolutionists have recently argued that the DNA for the entire human race can conceivably be traced back to a single black woman, and others suggest that human life began in Africa. I am not aware of other arguments suggesting that we are all descended from black ancestors, but I'm sure others exist. The fact is, the Bible does not present an evolutionary viewpoint, nor does it tell us what color our ancestors were. While it does seem to indicate that life in the Garden of Eden began in Mesopotamia, it also tells us that everyone on earth, except Noah and his family, died in the flood. Thus, whatever color Adam and Eve were, nothing from their gene pool survived except what was represented by Noah, his wife, and his daughters-in-law. Since the current races (actually, I prefer the term "ethnicities," believing that there is only one human race) all descend from Noah and his wife, it seems more reasonable to me to conclude (on the basis of our modern knowledge of genetics) that Noah and his children were a blend of all modern ethnicities, having a much broader gene pool than anyone living today.

When the nations separated from each other, they did not do so over the color of their skin. In fact, the Bible teaches that all the people in the world lived together as one nation until God scattered them across the earth by confusing their languages (Gen. 11). Language, not skin color, was the basis of their division, and their division was not only sanctioned by God, but caused by God. Later, God also called Israel to be a separate nation from the rest of the nations in the world. But again, he did not set them apart on the basis of their ethnicity (they were only one familiy at the time, and part of a larger ethnic group [Gen. 12]). Rather, he set them apart because he wanted to create for himself a people that would worship him rightly, a people to be separated from the idolators of the world -- but a people through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 18:17-19; 22:18). The Bible does not tell us the skin color of either the Gentile nations, or of the family of Abraham and the nation of Israel. We get only glimpses of the appearances of a few people.

Moses did marry a Cushite woman (Num. 12:1), who may have been black (we have no way to be certain of this). This appears to have been inappropriate in the eyes of Aaron and Miriam, but there is no indication that they frowned upon it for reasons of skin color or ethnicity. Moreover, God himself defended the marriage. We don't know what color Moses' skin was.

Solomon seems most certainly to have had at least one black wife (Sol. 1:5; though this may only refer to a dark tan), but then again he had 700 wives and 300 concubines from all nations (1 Kgs. 11:1-3), so he probably had one of every color imaginable. Solomon's great sin in this was not marrying foreign women, but allowing his heart to be turned toward idolatry by his wives. Solomon himself seems not to have been dark-skinned (Sol. 1:6), but ruddy/red (Sol. 5:10) like his father David (1 Sam. 16:12; 17:42) -- although it is hard for us to know precisely what color they thought "red" was.

With few exceptions, the Bible simply does not make an issue over skin color or ethnicity, except insofar as the Old Testament called Israel to be separate from the nations to keep their religion pure. But even in this case foreigners were welcomed into the nation of Israel if they would worship Israel's God. The problem with the foreign nations was their idolatry, not their ethnicity. When skin color is mentioned, it is not presented as valid cause for division or as a form of inferiority/superiority.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.