Ken Ham: Does Scripture Deny the Existence of Race?

Posted by T on December 28, 2014
Ethics

Ken Ham says “there is really only one race — the human race. Scripture distinguishes people by tribal or national groupings, not by skin color or physical appearances…. We prefer to call these ‘people groups’ rather than ‘races’.” (p. 57, see ref at end).

But this is to commit the word-concept confusion.

In the OT, a nation is a grouping of descendants of a common patriarchal ancestor. Indeed, usually the name of the nation is the name of the patriarch: Moabites, Ammonites, Israelites.

The Law ratified many differences honoring the in- versus out- of nation status. For example, Deut 15:12, Hebrew slave to be released in sixth year (but non-Hebrews could be enslaved for life). Every facet of personal and national life was governed by this distinction. Indeed, a casual reader of the OT — one whose sensibilities had not already been shaped by Christian typology — might well conclude that the OT were the most “racist” collection of writings extant in the world.

Of course, our reading should be shaped by proper typology. The nation of Israel was unique in redemptive history, and typological for the international church. But this is not the whole of the matter.  Moreover, Ham confuses even the valid insight, apparently thinking that the whole of the story of Israel had to do with “preserving godly marriage.”

He assumes, without explanation, that the nation of Israel is naught but a metonymy for believer. “It is true that the Israelites were told by God not to marry people from surrounding nations (Lev. 19), but this was because these were pagan peoples, and marriages with them would destroy God’s purpose for this sacred institution” (93-94). Note that the explanatory part of that statement is an assertion offered without proof.  Again, and anachronistically, he says “today, just like the Israelites, many Christian young people date and marry non-Christians, thus destroying the meaning of the family” (96). (I earlier showed that even the family-thesis is badly stated, as marriages between non-believers do not utterly vitiate the meaning of family. But we must move on.) On the face of it, Ham’s speculation is implausible, since there were regenerate people that never attached to Israel, and many Israelites were obviously not of faith. Moreover, why would God act with such a complicated subterfuge, utterly missing the logical nub of the matter, when the simple precept “marry only an individual that worships me” would be simple and understandable even to an ancient, primitive people?

Moreover, there is more of a tribal principle at work in the story of Israel than what can be resolved as typology. To see this, recall first that the boundaries between tribes and nations are fuzzy in that they cannot always be sharply marked a priori. What we have is essentially a graduated division of the world:

family
extended family
clan
tribe
nation
ethnic nation-group
race
all humanity

One’s loyalty decreases slowly as one goes down the list, while one’s sense of corporate solidarity with all humanity increases.

This or that people-group might recognize a subset of those divisions, and savages probably give up around clan or so. The boundaries are not rigid. But the hierarchy is indisputable.

The typological nation of Israel is one thing, but on Ham’s view, what explanation could be given for the fact that each of the twelve tribes was also seen as very important? “The land” has great typological significance in OT, but why was it divided up by tribe? The petition of Zelophehad, and the counter-petition of his kinsmen that the daughters should not be able to take the deeds to their land by marriage into another tribe should be pondered (Num 36). Here we have a case where “keeping the land for Israel” would be sustained in any case. So if “Israel” alone is the type, it should not have mattered at all which way the plea of Zelophehad was adjudicated. But it did matter. Tribal integrity — and not just the conglomerate Israel/church —- was important.

Did it stop with the division of Israel/nation into the 12 tribes? No it did not. The story of the Achan incident, Josh 7, should be studied in this connection. The ordeal to discover the culprit was conducted in such a manner as to reinforce the concentric rings of solidarity, viz.,

family [of Achan]
clan [Zabdi]
tribe [Judah]
nation [Israel]

Note the clan and tribe stages in the ordeal do not have a simple typological analogue of church/world.

With this understanding, and using the principle of the particular illustrating the general, we can see that, still in the NT, turning one’s back on his tribe is to reject the Word of God, I Tim 5:8:

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Likewise, the Apostle said he would himself prefer be condemned for the sake of his kinsmen according to the flesh, Rom 9:3.

In short, what we see in the Bible is humanity divided into concentric groupings, the largest of which short of “all humanity” can be called “race” — but so could other high-level divisions that I have marked differently. The fuzziness of the boundaries is not important. Everyone, except apparently theologians and communists, recognizes this instinctively. When one sees a person on the street and the sex of the person is unclear, it is very disturbing. The recognition of man or woman (or boy or girl) is ordinarily instantaneous, and when the identification cannot be made, it is disturbing. Yet it would be an interesting study to investigate whether the identification of race is first or second in order to sex. It is not clear to me which is more immediate and instantaneous. In any case, both qualities are primal and run very deep. When I look around at the people sitting in one of my classes, I can instantly identify which are my fellow tribesmen, and which are Orientals, Negroes, Arabs, or Mexicans. And it would be very surprising if those of other tribes could not do the same.

To use the authors’ own analogy, it is as if they move from the two premises, (a) all dogs descend from a single ancient pair, and (b) any two dogs can interbreed, to conclude, “therefore there are no cocker spaniels and no Labrador retrievers.”

The authors’ confusion is due to using the word “race” in two different senses. If they had striven to avoid confusion by using two different words,  say “kace” and “blace”, the confusion would have been avoided. They could have said, though humanity is manifestly divided into many kaces, there is only one blace. Then the question could have been reflected on, is inter-kacial marriage ok, without all the gas about the “one blace” providing such a distraction.

Our authors depart very far from the model of society portrayed by Scripture.

(This is a continuation of the review of a book by Ken Ham.)

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