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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ETHNICITY?

"All democratic minded peopIe...has [sic] rejected [ethnicity].... They know that ethnicity does not solve differences; it...entrenches them. Ethnicity... emphasise[s]...tribalism, white and black, and fosters narrow, ethnic nationalism.... Ethnicity is inseparable from racism..." Allan Boesak (1)

The Christian debate about Ethnicity: Three Basic Options
Option One
- All division (apart-ness, inequality, separation, distinction) is evil. Therefore, the ethnic divisions of humanity are evil and sinful. This implies that the division of humankind at Babel was a curse (Gen. 11). Perfected humanity should be a holistic non-divided world unity of equals. Because Christ came to destroy evil and the curse, Christ's death as applied to His people at Pentecost destroyed ethnic [as well as social class and gender] divisions in humanity.

Option Two - Absolute unity is evil. God created ethnic diversity, thus divisions and separations are good. Therefore different human groups should be kept absolutely separate.

Option Three - Mankind is created in the image of a Triune God (Gen. 1:26, 5:1-2). As in the Godhead, then, neither the principle of unity nor the principle of diversity of man is morally better or logically more important than the other. Both exist and are good, just as both unity and distinction exist in eternal harmony In the Trinity. mankind also exists in a state of true-diversity-in-real-unity in both his fallen state and his redeemed state. Man-in-Adam is united in rebellion to God while simultaneously existing with diverse God-created, ethnic and other group distinctions. Mankind-in-Christ is unified by allegiance to the one Lord but still exists in ethnic [gender, and social class] diversity. Sin is man's spirit of rebellion to God and His Law (1 Jn. 3:4; Rom. 8:7). It is not the principle of division, nor of unity, which is sin/evil.

Only Option Three is Biblical. The assumption that all division/separations are evil is not Biblical. It comes from pagan [neo-]pIatonist/holistic philosophy.

Ethnicity According to Revolutionary and Secular Humanism
Those who repudiate the principle of ethnic self-determination and opt for a unitary South Africa [or world] have turned away from Biblical theology. Instead, they accept the world's idolatrous, Trinity-denying Civil Religion — Humanism, the worship of unified humanity as saviour, god, lawmaker, and final judge (cf. Is. 33:22).The Humanist Manifesto 2 (1973) demonstrates this beyond a doubt. "We deplore the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. [The world must]... transcend the limits of national sovereignty and...move toward the building of a world community...." (principle 12). "We deplore racial, religious, ethnic or class antagonisms.... We reject separations which...set groups against each other; we envision an integrated community [with]…maximum opportunity for free and voluntary association" (principle 11). "We urge the recognition of the common humanity of all people.... At the present..., commitment to all of humankind [must be] our highest commitment.... What more daring a goal...than for each person to become...a citizen of a world community...." (closing principle.) (4)

Ethnicity and Race Discrimination
"From one man [unity], He made every people of mankind [diversity], that they should inhabit the whole earth..., [and]...seek Him"
(Acts 17:26-27).

Black skin colour is only mentioned once in Scripture in an Old Testament parable about the Ethiopian's skin (Jer. 13:23). Note that Jeremiah says nothing there about the Ethiopian's heart or humanity. The Bible teaches that all men of any colour are descendants of the first couple: Adam and Eve. Therefore all are created in the image of God, share the same essential dignity, all have participated in the Fall, and all are invited to participate in the Restoration in Christ (Cicn.i-5; Ps. 8; Rom. 3-5). However, at the same time Mankind is a diversity of peoples/cultures. A "people" [Gk = ethnos{ne}, Heb = goy{im}] is a group of intermarrying (endogamous) families with the same language and law/culture, covenanted to the same god, and sharing the same geographical location (5). Therefore, language/culture/faith and not colour/race is the essence of ethnicity. However, because ethnic groups practise endogamy, genetic similarity (e.g. hair and skin colour) results over time. Remember also that Israel lived as aliens in Egypt and Canaan for generations (Gen. 15:13; Ex. 6:4). Thus, birth in a country does not automatically bring citizenship. Biblical Law allows for assimilation from one people to another yet makes a legal distinction between ethnic citizens and ethnic aliens (cf. Lev. 17:8- 15). All men are equally responsible before the one Law and impartial Court of God (Rom. 2:60, therefore there should be one Law - God's Law - and one impartial Court system judging both citizens and ethnic aliens when both live in one land (Lev. 24:16, 21-22). Full citizenship was normally granted only when there was at least three generations of immigrant-residence (i.e. implying full assimilation into the new faith/language/culture) (Dt. 23:1-8; cf. Ruth 1:15f). All this along with the command to "love the alien" (Ex. 22:21, 23:9,12) destroys petty discrimination laws: "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. "(7)

God and the Peoples
"All the peoples [goyim] You have made will...worship...You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your Name.... Who should not fear You, O King of the nations? This is Your due."
(Ps. 86:9) (8)

The Bible explicitly states that God created the languages (Gen. 11:1f) and the various peoples on the earth (Ps. 86:9; Acts 17:26). Not only is Yahweh the Creator of the peoples, but He is also the only God (Jer. 32:19-20, 27); Saviour, King, Ruler. Chastiser, Controller, Guide, and Judge of the peoples of the earth (Ps. 2, 7:7-8). God created and delights in diversity including ethno-linguistic diversity. Every people on the earth, their times, and geographical location is determined by the Creator so that mankind "would seek Him and perhaps...find Him...." (Acts 17:26-27).

Therefore, God deals with men not only as individuals but also as groups. God blesses and curses peoples/tribes as covenant wholes for their collective deeds. "If at any time I announce that a people [goy]...is to be...destroyed [cf. Jonah 1:1f], and if that people I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict...the disaster I planned. And if at another time I announce that a people...is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in My sight and does not obey Me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it."(10)

God commands peoples as a whole to worship and obey the King of Heaven:

"Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples—the glory due His Name.... Worship...[and] tremble before Him, all the earth"..."proclaim His salvation...[and] declare His glory among the nations.... Say among the nations, 'The LORD reigns.'" (Ps. 96:2-5).

Christ repeated this command in the Great Commission (Mt.28:17f; Lk. 24:47f: "disciple the peoples/ethnic groups" [Gk = ta ethne]. One day, all peoples will bow to King Jesus and then all ethnic Israel will be saved before His Return (Rom. 11) (11).

Therefore, while the complete Bible definitely calls for personal and individual salvation, at the same time, God also calls upon peoples and tribes to repent as covenant wholes. This Biblical teaching is not unique to so-called "Apartheid Theology." Ironically, in the USA the pendulum is swinging away from stripping people of "group identity" by enforced "equality." Instead of integrationism, Americans are moving towards a respect for ethnicity and pluralism. Three very well respected schools of thought there teach ethnicity and pluralism using a similar understanding of the Dominion Covenant (Gen. 1:26ff) and the Tower of Babel (Gen. 10-11) as the much maligned Afrikaner theologians of the past used. This Biblical exegesis of these two passages infuriates the "Unity" theologians who make all kinds of exegetical handsprings to explain away the explicit teaching of several key passages as well as scores of other verses (12) (Gen 10-11; Ac 17:24f, Rev15:3-4 (KJV); Ps 2:8, 7:7; 22:27, 86:9, Is. 10:12-14 [cf Hab 2:8-17, Dt 2:5, 9, 19,4:37-38]; Is 19:23f, 42:1-7, 49:6, 60:1-12, 66:18ff; Amos 9:7; Zeph 2:11; etc)

"When...[God] gave the peoples their inheritance [land], ...He divided up the sons of Adam [lit], [and] set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel" (Dt 32:8).

Is Ethnicity a Heresy?
Unity theologians insist that the language divisions of Babel were a curse upon mankind and that the Age of the Spirit begun at Pentecost reverses the curse of Babel. Beyond the fact that this reads holism/Platonism into the verses (13), it also twists the passages' clear teaching. Holistic unity theologians have to assume that all the listeners were able to understand one language. The Bible, however, specifically says that the disciples "began to speak in other tongues...native languages of [every nation under Heaven]" (Acts 2:4-12). Pentecost is the beginning of the fulfilment "in the last days" (Acts 2:17; Is. 2:2) of the Older Testament prophecies and promises that "in Abraham's seed all the families of the peoples will be blessed" and that "the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains...and all the nations will stream to it."(14) Far from being the destroyer of ethnic distinction and national self-determination, Pentecost establishes it. The Spirit given at Pentecost gives a people and their leaders the will and power to "kiss the Son" and "fulfil the righteousness of the Law."(15) Without comprehensive obedience to the whole of God's moral and civil Law, He will destroy a people: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace [and ultimate destruction] of any people" (Pr 14:34; cf. Dt. 28; Lev. 26; Is. 13-23)(16).

Contrary to Holistic theologians, ethno-linguistic diversity was definitely implicit in the Dominion Covenant God gave to Adam/Eve and Noah's family. God commanded them to "multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28; 9:7). If man had been obedient, he would have scattered over the earth. Geographical or social isolation/separation over time always creates ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity.

The Babel story clearly portrays a unitary Mankind attempting to thwart this command. In their rebellion, they wanted to build for themselves a unitary city- state/religion all for their own idolatrous self-glory (17). They did this explicitly to prevent being "scattered over the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11:4c) as God had ordered (Gen. 1:28). God's response to this pride-filled rebellion was to step in with grace and discipline to speed up His Dominion Covenant programme of cultural/linguistic pluralism. The tower of Babel was a symbol of man's defiance to God because they desired to remain as a unitary state with a single ethno-linguistic identity. Therefore, the curse of Babel was not ethnic diversity but God's humbling of man's pride and destroying his oppressive unitary state. The division of languages was God's method of forcing rebellious man to obey His command to scatter, decentralise and diversify. He has this right as Creator-Master Potter.

The Often Neglected Context of the Babel Story
Interestingly, Moses displayed special interest in the "scattering theme" of the post- flood period (cf. Gen. 9:9-18; 10:18; 10:32). He indicates there that ethnic diversity is the result of divine blessing given in the Dominion Mandate and renewed in the new creation after the Flood. Furthermore, the story of the post-flood scattering (Gen. 10) leads beyond the Babel story toward the call of Abraham. He is the paradigm of a renewed mankind and a picture of the Second Adam because in his seed, Jesus the Messiah (Gal. 3:16), "all the families of the [now scattered] peoples will be blessed."(18) Obviously, the peoples are not blessed by the "surrendering of their ethnic identities." Ethnic identity is not evil! Their blessing comes "by being embraced within the saving purpose of the God who rejoices in the diversity of His creation."(19) Thus, the Babel story read in its literary context gives no basis for the negative view that pluralism is God's judgment and curse. Calvin himself in his comments on Gen. 11:8 stressed that this scattering was not "a punishment" but "rather flowed from the benediction and grace of God...."(20)

God stated clearly His motive for destroying mankind's building efforts. He knew that in man's evil genius, he would do absolute evil: "nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" (Gen. 11:6). Man is God-rebellious. Thus, whenever man centralizes power in a self-deified state, he always resorts to oppression, theft and evil (1 Sam 8; Is 10:1f; Ps 82:2f, 94:20f; Hab 2:6-9, et al). This is why the Law of God and the Reformers stress a decentralized state, local control, and national self-determination. Without this diversification of mankind, God would have had to destroy the whole of mankind again as He had previously done in the universal Flood (i.e. 6-9). God separated mankind into distinct ethno-linguistic groups so that if one group was rebellious, He would be obligated to destroy only that group, not everyone (cf. Gen. 8:21f). Blessing comes upon each group that obeys (Dt 28).

Conclusion
The prophets envisaged the fruit of God's re-creative process in Messiah, not as a homogenous, individualistic humanity stripped of group identity, but as a redeemed mankind in beautiful diversity (cf Is 2, 61-66; Rev 20-21). When all the peoples in these last days come into the Heavenly Zion, "they will come as nations [peoples/language groups] with their respective ethnic identities." (21)

MRK, January 1989

(1). A Boesak, Black and Reformed 125; cf JA Loubser, The Apartheid Bible; B Lategan, J Kinghom, et al, The Option for Inclusive Democracy; De Gruchy and Villa-Vicencio, Apartheid is a Heresy.
(2). Cf paper #10: What does the Bible say about Church Unity?
(3). RJ Rushdoony. The One and the Many: Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy
(4). The Humanist Manifesto 2 (1973)
(5). Dt 2:5, 9, 19; Zeph 2:11; Lev 20:22-23, 26; Is 10:10; Mic 4:5; Mal 2:11; Ex 23:32; cf Ruth 1:15-17.
(6). Ex 20:8; Lev 18:24-26, 20:2
(7). Lev 19:33-34.
(8). Jer 10:7, 10:10.
(9.) Ps 9:5, 7-8, 19-20, 10:16, 33:8-10, 47:7-8, 66: 7, 67: 4, 93:1-5, 94:2, 10, 96:10-13, 97:1-2, 98:9, 99:1-2; Is 45:21f; Mal 1:14; Rev 15:3-4; et al.
(10). Jer 18, 7-10; cf Ezk 14:12-23.
(11). I Murray, The Puritan Hope.
(12). These schools are the Christian Reconstructionists (RJ Rushdoony, G North, et al). Church Growth Missiology (D McGavran. CP Wagner, et al) and the ecumenical-Roman Catholic "Theology of Pluralism" (A Greenley, M Novak, et al). Anti-ethnic theology (cf J DeGruchy and C Villa-Vicencio. eds Apartheid is a Heresy: J Kinghorn, ed, Die NG Kerk en Apartheid
(13). CP Wagner, Our Kind of People, p. 111.
(14). Gen 12:3; Is 2:2f; Mic 4:1f; cf Rom 4:9-17, 15:8-12; Acts 3:25-26; Gal 3:6-14.
(15). Phil 2:12f; Ps 2:11-12; Rom 8:4, 13:8f; Gal 5:4-15.
(16). Pr 14:34; cf Dt 28; Lev 26.
(17). G North, The Dominion Covenant, p 150f.
(18). Gen 12:3, 17:5. 18:18. et al; cf the prophesied fulfilment: Ps 22:27.
(19). Bernhard Anderson, "The Babel Story: Paradigm of Human Unity and Diversity," ed AM Greenley and Gregory Baum, Ethnicity (New York: Seabury Press. 1977, pp 68-69).
(20). ibid, 69.
(21). ibid, 63-64.

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