The Challenge of the Term ‘Race’ and How its Confusion Affects Our Anthropology

A study of theological anthropology requires a discussion of race. This paper will give an overview of the history surrounding the concept of race as well as the inaccuracies that have developed. Grievous misunderstandings about the concept of race have not only culminated in distrust among different people groups of the world, they have also led to entrenched large-scale persecution of fellow human beings made in the image of God.

Additionally, the author will offer a more accurate terminology in place of the word race, a term which may be albeit bemused, yet one which better approximates to the Scripture’s understanding of the word. Finally, the author will conclude with some remarks as to why the term race has few that are now willing to challenge its definitional authority in a culture that seemingly tends to revel in the term’s mendaciousness.

The modern concept of “race” is missing from the minds of the ancients. American historian George M. Frederickson stated that “no concept truly equivalent to that of race can be detected in the thought of Greeks, Romans, and early Christians” (Racism: A Short History). Other authors agree with this synopsis, yet clarify by stating, “This is not to say that xenophobia, prejudice, slavery, and oppression did not exist in the ancient world. But racism as we understand it today was not a category within ancient thinking. Race was, rather, a somewhat fluid concept in Greco-Roman civilizations and in early Christianity. The word could be defined by such features as religious and other cultural practices and was not entirely determined by ethnicity” (Joshua D. Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior, Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues).

The term race became more confusing due to the rise of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with its resulting desire to classify the natural world (including humans), into laws according to reason. Sadly, this classification was accomplished without the Scriptures as a guide and was therefore faulty from the very beginning. There was also an impetus to devise scientific reasons to justify extant racist ideas about those peoples who looked different than their European counterparts. Further exacerbations arose with the rise of nineteenth century acceptance of Darwinian evolution. In the twenty-first century, it is time for theological anthropology to correct the errors of the past few centuries and seek a biblical understanding of race.

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