August 1, 1997 Issue
by Ronny F. Wade

Question: Who were the first people in the Bible of color? Were Adam and Eve white? Was the Ethiopian Eunuch black?

Answer: In Acts 17:26 Paul says "And he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation." J. W. McGarvey remarks "The statement in verse 26 is an incidental assertion of the unity of the human race; and it accords with the Mosaic history. To deny it because we find some difficulty in reconciling it with the present diversities in the types of men, is to deny an assertion of the Scriptures, not because of what we know, but because of what we do not know; for if we knew the whole history of our race, we should doubtless know the causes of these varieties, and the times in which they came into existence." (New Commentary on Acts) McGarvey makes three very important points (1) all men are descended from a single ancestor, (2) there is great diversity existing among men, and (3) our inability to fully understand the causes of this diversity does not in anyway negate the truth that we are all of "one nation," "one blood," "one family." We must remember that the Scripture says "Eve was the mother of all living," Gen 3:20. Hence, we all can trace our ancestry back to Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve white? I don’t know. The Bible does not say. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out that various conjectures have been put forth as to the root meaning of the Hebrew word, from which Adam is translated, including "ruddy-one, earthborn, and creature." A similar Hebrew word "adhamah" is closely connected with the name Edom, meaning "red." It is unclear whether this refers to the redness of the soil or the ruddiness of the man. Some have speculated that Adam may have had a red or ruddy complexion. But that is mere speculation. Apparently it was not important to God that we know the skin color of our first parents. After the great flood of Genesis 7 Noah and his family left the ark. In chapter 9 we have the account of Ham seeing his father’s nakedness and his two brothers Shem and Japhet covering their father with their faces backward that they saw not their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine he said "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." In Chapter 10 we have listed the generations of Noah’s three sons. From these three men have descended the human race as we know it today. How do we account for the diversity existing among the peoples of the world? It would seem that the answer lies in the genetic predisposition possessed by these three individuals coupled with heredity, climate, environment, etc. Anthropologists say there are two outstanding points about race: "(1) Very few human beings belong to a pure stock. Most men are mongrels, racially speaking. (2) Most human characteristics ascribed to race are undoubtedly due to cultural diversity and should be regarded as ethnic, not racial." (The Nature of Prejudice by Gordon W. Allport, p. 107) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states on p.1324 "As Shem means "dusky," or the like, and Japhet "fair," it has been supposed that Ham meant, as is not improbable, "black." This is supported by the evidence of Heb. and Arab., in which the word hamam means "to be hot" and "to be black," the latter being derived from the former....Of the nationalities regarded as descending from Ham, none can be described as really black. First on the list, as being the darkest, is Cush or Ethiopia…" From this it would appear that of the descendents of Noah’s sons those most likely to be dark skinned were the descendants of Ham. Some have mistakenly concluded that the curse placed on Canaan teaches the perpetual servitude of the Negro or black man. Such an idea led to the justification of slavery in the minds of many a little over 100 years ago in this country. This conclusion, however, is wrong and unwarranted. The sin was committed by Ham, but the curse was placed upon Canaan, his son. It was not placed on Ham’s other sons: Cush (Ethiopia), Mizaim (Egypt), nor Phut (Put). It was fulfilled in the days of Joshua and later Solomon, when Canaan’s descendants, the Canaanites, were partly exterminated and partly reduced to slavery (Josh 9:23; Judg 1:28; Kings 9:20-21). "It is generally agreed that the Canaanites were not black. In the main, they moved into Asia Minor and at least as far east as the Tigris and Euphrates valley....Other descendants of Ham went south into Africa. but not the Canaanites...since the terms of the curse were fulfilled with regard to the descendants of Canaan only, the Negro is not included within the compass of the curse, and the curse has no relation to the color of the Negro’s skin." (The Bible and Race, by T. B. Matson p. 1 12-1 14) 

Was the Ethiopian Eunuch black? We do not know. McGarvey leans to the notion that he was a Jew, born in a foreign country, rather than a Jewish proselyte. If this is the case he may have been light skinned. If he was native Ehthiopian by birth, he may have been dark skinned. The beauty of this narrative, however, is that the writer says nothing about the color of this man’s skin. It was not important to the incident, not important to God, and should not be important to us. When an individual obeys the gospel and becomes a Christian, he is my brother in Christ regardless of the color of his skin. He has equal access to the forgiveness of sins, the throne of grace, and every blessing of heaven whether he is white, black, brown, red or whatever. He has every right to worship in any church building in this or any other land, without discrimination of any kind, and any brother or group of brethren who seek to take that right away from him are every bit as wrong as the man in James who had respect of persons based on riches. (James 2:2-9) The signs in front of our buildings read "Everyone Welcome." If black people, poor people, Asian people, or Latin American people are not welcome, then we need to change the way the sign reads. I have no doubt that there will be some in heaven who were black skinned on earth. They won’t be black in heaven nor will others be white. Color will not matter then; it should not matter now. We all need to search our hearts and divest them of every vestige of prejudice that would, in any way, cause us to discriminate against one for whom Christ died. Remember we are all descended from the same parents.

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