EDITOR’S NOTE: This was the column that would have originally ran on Saturday, July 4, but due to deadline constraints, it’s running today.
As the United States celebrates both the 244th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence and rights such as the free exercise of religion, we see growing threats to that right. For example, Biblical teaching is increasingly called “hate speech”, and activists are demanding the removal of statues and other images of Jesus as lighter-colored.
Three decades ago, a former TV-news coworker sent me a Christmas card of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as darker-colored. The card certainly heightened my sensitivity to depictions of the Holy Family’s skin. If we take seriously the Bible’s narratives and demonstrable insights from genetics, we must admit both that the members of the Holy Family were not lighter-colored and that much less were Adam and Eve lighter-colored.
While some religious traditions wrongly forbid any representation of Jesus as a “graven image” (based on their misreading passages such as Exodus 20:4 KJV, for example), artists in other religious traditions have often depicted Biblical figures with not historical but cultural and contemporary features and dress. Ultimately, we do not know exactly what Jesus looked like, at least in part because the Bible does not say much about His appearance beyond His being a typical Jew of His day and so probably moderately-colored.
I am intrigued by secular arguments that “race” is largely a social construct and not something attributable to DNA or supportable by genetic analysis. For example, all people are said to be fundamentally similar genetically, and someone may be more genetically-similar to people of other “races” than to people of their own “race”.
The idea not of multiple “races” but of common descent is consistent with the Bible’s literal accounts of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:25), the flood (Genesis 6:9-9:29), the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), and others. Likewise, in the passages where the English Standard Version, for example, translates “race”, Hebrew and Greek words are used that arguably could have been translated instead as “offspring” (for example, Deuteronomy 10:15 and 1 Peter 2:9).
Far more important than Jesus’s skin coloration is that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on the human flesh common to all people and redeemed that human nature by His death on the cross (Philippians 2:7-8).
When we repent and believe in Him, we are saved, and, no matter His or our skin coloration, we will join the diverse multitude of heaven (for example, Revelation 7:9, where “race” is not even mentioned).
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. He can be reached through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.