What does the Bible say about racism?
You’d think we’d have figured out how to treat each other by now.
The civil rights movement happened 50 years ago, yet in the past year—when trending conversations included #BlackLivesMatter, police brutality, and changing public perception of race relations—tensions remain high. We’re talking about racism, but it doesn’t seem to be helping—only revealing more frustration and more pain.
Let’s first define our term. Racism is about making quick judgments on the characteristics of a race to rate them as inferior or superior—demonstrating partiality or bias.
Racism is a problem we can’t ignore or run away from. It’s an issue today, and it was an issue throughout history, including when the Bible was written.
An Ancient Story of Racism
Paul, one of the early church’s leaders, wrote about divisions caused by racism.
In first century AD, it was common to assign different values to different races and ethnicities. Foreigners, women, and children were generally regarded as property owned by the male heads of households and local rulers. Foreigners would often be employed in bonded labor (enslavement to pay off debts, like Jesus mentioned in Matthew 18:21-35), making it difficult or impossible to live freely.
At that time, one of the primary divisions in the church was between Jews and Gentiles. Some Jews who had joined the movement of Christianity were trying to force non-Jewish (Gentile) believers to perform the Jewish rituals. They argued that to be a good Christian, they had to do all the right Jewish religious activities, too.
Rather than telling Christians to ignore the discrimination against Gentiles, Paul addressed it head on: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).
We see this echoed later when Philip, also a leader of the church, helps an Ethiopian eunuch understand part of the Bible and begin following Jesus (Acts 8:26-40).
Other people don't determine our value; God does.
God brings peace where there was once strife, and kindness where there was once animosity.
What the Bible Says About Race and Favoritism
God cares how we treat each other because we’re all created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He makes no distinction between the inherent value of one race or ethnicity over another.
- God cares about people regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, and social status (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
- "God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right" (Acts 10:34-35).
- "We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
- "If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9).
- About the age to come, we see a heavenly picture: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10).
- Jesus removes hostility and introduces harmony (Ephesians 2:14-18).
God isn’t about separation, but inclusion and unity. Jesus made it possible for anyone to be included in the people and promises of God (Galatians 3:28).
Why Reconciliation Is Critical
That good news—the Gospel—doesn’t just mean that we’re brought near to God. It also means we’re brought near to the people we once considered so different from ourselves (Ephesians 2:13). God restores our relationships with people and groups we’ve mistreated. That’s called reconciliation: the removal of prejudice and the restoration of a relationship to healthy understanding and appreciation for each other.
God is a reconciling God. The Gospel is, at its core, a message of reconciliation.
God brings peace where there was once strife, and kindness where there was once animosity. He’s done it with us and He can do it between us and our neighbors—whether black, white, Latino, or otherwise.
If we belong to Jesus, we are part of His movement to bring more reconciliation between people and God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). As His representatives, we have the opportunity to share how the life-changing message of the Gospel creates a healthy relationship with God and healthy relationships between people, no matter who they are.
Your job and my job, as we learn to follow Jesus step by step, includes reconciliation because the message of Jesus is that we all belong with God, together—no separation, no difference in status or worth.