Jesus, Race, and Ethnicity

As a person of color, black history month represents several things to me. First, it represents the decision America has made to acknowledge the struggle of people of color, the risks the leaders of this country took to make changes, and the progress that we continue to make as a country despite our many failures.


And while many admirable demonstrations accompany black history month, many moral deficiencies present themselves during this month of recognition. Time would escape me if I gave a comprehensive list of these moral deficiencies, but I believe it is vital to address what I consider the chief fallacy that presents itself at this time of the year, the Race of Jesus.


One of the easiest mandates within scripture to understand is that God expressly forbids idolatry, and idolatry is the worship of anything physical, emotional, or spiritual in place of God. Sure, one could say that they are worshiping God to rationalize their decision to worship statues, pictures, and different art forms of Jesus. But God makes it very clear "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20: 4 ESV) Anything that is a physical image is an idol.


For years the popular idol of Jesus has been a white male with long brown or blonde hair. In response to this, people of color remade the idol of Jesus into a black male with dark hair and, in some cases, a short afro. The case that those who justify this action make is that they want to worship someone who looks like them, but the sad reality is that the case they make is weak primarily because we aren't supposed to worship any images.


From a scriptural perspective, the action of worshipping a black or white Jesus is expressly forbidden. However, from a theological perspective, the belief that Jesus was black or white is illogical and inconsistent.


If we want to examine Jesus on an ethnic level, it is crucial to recognize that he was a Semite. A Semite represents two groups; many people may know that the first group is found within the Middle East and some parts of North Africa (like Egypt). The second group is people who broadly descend from Shem. Abraham, the Bible's most prominent Shemite (or Semite), was identified to be a Chaldean (Nehemiah 9: 7 ESV). Chaldea was located in what is currently known as Iraq. Men and women from Iraq do not look like men and women from Nigeria or Rome. They look middle eastern, which is why it is entirely illogical to associate the race of Jesus with an African or European man. He neither came from those places, nor does he look like those people.


Now it is true that Jesus's race does not matter, and his ethnic identity carries little weight. But what does matter is the false doctrines that present themselves by droves, which espouses an ethnic Gospel. Statements like "If you belong to this ethnic group, you are God's elect" "The true Jews were this color, and this is who God is returning for." People are swayed by this kind of false teaching every year which is why Christians need to engage in this conversation both confidently and scripturally.


The primary significance for Jesus's flesh was to bleed and die for us, which is why the emphasis on his skin color is a horrendous issue. Imagine while you're at work a fire breaks out, and the person responsible for calling the fire department doesn't do it because "they don't have the same skin color as me, only a real firefighter looks like this, and if they're not coming to help me I don't want help." The idolatry surrounding the flesh of man has in many ways distracted us from the suffering the Savior went through for us. Jesus came to save us; why reject that reality because he might have a different ethnic background than we do? Sure, Jesus was a man, but his humanity had a purpose, and that purpose was not to venerate the ethnic or racial identity of a specific group of people. Biblically, theologically, logically, and spiritually, the race of Jesus cannot help us. The quicker we internalize this as Christians, the faster we will cast off the spiritual chains that shackle our minds.


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