- Since we’re all really just one race, why did God tell Jews not to marry Gentiles? Does this mean there are actually two races: Jew and Gentile?
- Were non-Jews condemned to hell in the Old Testament?
- What is the curse of Ham in Genesis 9?
- Scripture tells us not to delight in those who do evil. Is it wrong to watch and enjoy a movie that displays sorcery like Harry Potter?
- Is it idolatrous to speak of Mother Nature?
Since we’re all really just one race, why did God tell Jews not to marry Gentiles? Does this mean there are actually two races: Jew and Gentile?
The Bible does indeed teach that we are all one race in the sense that we all came from one man (Acts 17:26). However, the Bible also acknowledges different races in the sense of different peoples or ethnicities. John spoke of witnessing “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). “Peoples” comes from the Greek term laos, referring to one’s own populace or nation or tribe or people group, “all those who are of the same stock and language.”“Tribes” comes from the Greek term phyle, defined depending on the context as a “race or clan,” “kindred, tribe.” “Nations” comes from the Greek term ethnos, the term from which we get our word ethnicity. It is defined by Strong as “a race” or “a tribe,” and is also the same word used in both the Old and the New Testament to refer to Gentiles or non-Jews. Luke writes of Jews living in a variety of Gentile nations (Acts 2:7-11), showing that while all Gentiles by definition are not Jews, Gentiles themselves are divided up into a multitude of different nations, tribes, and ethnicities.
Thus, we conclude that the Bible teaches that we are all one race, i.e., the human race, in that we have all descended from Adam and are all created by God with the same basic human spirit and biology. The Bible also points out that since Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), this one human race is divided up into a variety of different groups based on similarities in language, stock, tribe, and kindred. The biblical teaching that we are all one in spite of these racial or ethnic differences (Gal. 3:28) and should love our neighbor as ourselves (Lk. 10:25-37) condemns racist attitudes and actions such as demeaning, thinking less of, or treating badly any of our fellow human beings simply because they are ethnically different in some way than us.
So why did God command the Jews of the Old Testament to not marry Gentiles? God had set Israel apart from the other nations basically because he had determined that the Savior of the world would come from Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. Gal. 3:8, 16). The decree that they should not marry Gentiles was designed to keep them separate from the other nations and thus holy (Deut. 7:1-4, 6). That is also why they were given a special law and a special, ritualistic system of worship which was designed to separate them from the other nations (Ex. 19:5-6; cf. Eph. 2:14; Gal. 3:24-25; Heb. 9:1-10).
Were non-Jews condemned to hell in the Old Testament?
Yes, but not because they were Gentiles. Both Jew and Gentile who find themselves condemned to eternal hell in both Old and New Testament will suffer that fate because of unrepentant sin (Rom. 2:3-11). God does not wish this for anyone because he loves all (John 3:16). That is why, for example, he sent the prophet Jonah to preach to non-Jews: in the hopes that they would repent and find forgiveness from him (Jonah 3:1-10; 4:1-2, 11).
What is the curse of Ham in Genesis 9?
The curse is actually upon Ham’s youngest son, Canaan. After the flood, Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard, harvested the grapes, made wine, and got drunk from it to the point where he took off his clothes (Gen. 9:20-21). Ham found Noah in his drunken state and told his brothers, who in turn did the right thing by covering up their father in such a way that they would not see his nakedness (vs. 22-23). When Noah sobered up and found out that Ham had not covered him up but simply had seen him naked and then told others about it, he cursed Canaan, Ham’s youngest son. Why Noah cursed Canaan rather than Ham is not specifically stated. Some believe Noah cursed Ham’s youngest son because Ham was Noah’s youngest son. The Talmud proposes that Canaan was somehow involved in what Ham did to his father. No specific reason is given in the Bible, however, so all we can do is speculate.
The curse would be that Canaan – by extension Canaan’s descendants – would be “a servant of servants” to the descendants of Shem and Japheth (vs. 25-27). Shem’s descendants included Abraham and thus the Israelites, who centuries later would go on to conquer the land of Canaan from Canaan’s descendants, the Canaanites. So it could be that Noah’s curse upon Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, was designed to be prophetic in nature. Japheth’s descendants would eventually include the Gentile nations which primarily made up the Roman Empire of Jesus’s day. Since Rome enslaved numerous tribes from Africa and Asia (places from where Canaan’s descendants would come), a case could be made that Noah’s prophetic curse had fulfillment during that period of history as well, if not before. Some also believe that Noah’s statement of Japheth “dwelling in the tents of Shem” has a spiritual application to the joining together of Jews and Gentiles within the church of the New Testament (Eph. 2:13-14).
There’s a well-known, inherently racist and mistaken, viewpoint that God through Noah was pronouncing that Ham and Canaan’s descendants, who would go on to live in Africa and Asia, were destined henceforth to always be the slaves of the descendants of Shem (the Jews) and Japheth (the Europeans, and by extension, the Americans). This view was used in the early days of America to try to justify slavery. Yet it ignores that Ham and Canaan’s descendants also included the Egyptians (Gen. 10:6), who would go on to enslave Shem’s descendants, the Israelites, for 400 years. Indeed, history shows that the descendants of all three sons of Noah would enslave each other repeatedly up to and including today. During Jesus’ day, the descendants of Japheth (the Romans) had conquered and were ruling over Shem’s descendants, the Jews. So there is no justification to view Noah’s curse of Canaan as a divine declaration that Ham’s descendants in Africa are inherently designated to be inferior or even enslaved to the rest of mankind.
Scripture tells us not to delight in those who do evil. Is it wrong to watch and enjoy a movie that displays sorcery like Harry Potter?
The sorcery condemned as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) comes from the Greek term pharmakeia, from whence we get our term “pharmacy.” In biblical times it primarily was defined as the use or the administering of drugs and poisons. It was also used in connection to sorcery that was connected to pagan idolatry (cf. Is. 47:9; Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:18; Rev. 18:23). Historically, the worship of pagan idols included drugging and poisoning people in order to either sacrifice them or induce hallucinations which would then be attributed to the magical powers of the pagan gods.
Not having read or watched the Harry Potter books or films, but having seen the trailers and read the reviews of them, I gather that the Harry Potter books and films have fictional characters within them who use magic for good or evil purposes. I’ve also observed from viewing similar films like Lord of the Rings that the magic done within them is quite different from the pagan idolatrous use of drugs which was the definition of sorcery in biblical times. The sin of sorcery in the Bible had nothing to do with waving magic wands or magic walking sticks in order to truly and literally cause doors to open out of thin air and people to levitate, as is done in modern fiction like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and various comic book movies. I likewise do not see these films as promoting pagan idolatry as something positive and worthy of participation, as sorcery did in biblical times. Thus, I see no biblical reason to indict watching and enjoying these films and books as inherently sinful.
Is it idolatrous to speak of Mother Nature?
When the Israelites made their golden calf, they purposefully worshiped it and purposefully attributed to it the title and power of deity (Ex. 32:1-4). Historically, the pagan worship of various attributes of nature such as the sun or the moon was purposefully done by the ones committing the idolatry. Idolatry isn’t inherently committed simply by speaking of something that has the potential to be idolatrously worshiped. Paul spoke of false gods without committing idolatry, as did Elijah and other prophets (Acts 17; 1 Cor. 8; 1 Kings 18).
With that in mind, most people who use the term “Mother Nature” do so intending to speak of “nature” in general in a non-idolatrous fashion. The concept of “Mother Nature” being an actual deity in whom they believe and whom they serve instead of Jehovah does not enter their minds at all. It’s similar to how all of us say the days of the week. “Thursday,” centuries ago, was literally “Thor’s Day,” the day set aside to honor the Viking god Thor. By saying “Thursday,” are we inherently practicing idolatry? Of course not. Thus, using the term “Mother Nature” does not inherently mean that we think of nature as a deity worthy of our worship and service.