Does the word “race” appear in the Bible with the same meaning as we see it used today?
I think not.
Now, in different translations the word ‘race’ does appear, but it seems to usually mean the human race, which is translated from “Man”, which usually in the OT means “mankind” or all people as a whole. Other places it means foot race (or something like it).
We must acknowledge the fact that ALL human beings have a soul, that part made in the Image of God. There is no difference in that aspect of being human. I believe this is what Abraham Lincoln was meaning when he said “all men are created equal” — in the sight of the Creator. To think that God sees the color of our skin is really pretty ludicrous, and also limiting God.
Today’s meaning and use of ‘race” has come from man’s understanding, not God’s intention or His doing. In the account of the Tower of Babel, when all the people were planning to build a tower to heaven, God made them to speak different languages. He scattered them throughout the earth. (Gen. 11:7-9)
Now we can get into the environmental effects and the idea of “evolving” to the environment, physical characteristics changing over generations, etc., etc., and frankly I don’t know enough about those things to speak to them very well. But I know this: God knew what was going to happen.
How do we know those people weren’t already different “colors”? Sounds a little silly, but back in Genesis 10 in the lineage of Ham, and Shem, and Japheth, it says “…after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.”
Verse 1 chapter 11: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”
When we travel to (or hear someone from) other parts of the country, it’s pretty obvious they’re “from the South” or “from the East” or even “not from around here.” And so it may have been at Babel.
God’s desire was for Man to inhabit the earth, not hole up in one spot and build a monstrous tower that they believed would put them on a level with God. They didn’t want to be scattered; they wanted to become known – together – as the greatest nation on earth. (11:4)
So God confounded their language, i.e. He gave bunches of them a different language! The carpenters couldn’t understand the stonemasons, the stonemasons couldn’t understand the architects, the laborers couldn’t understand each other. What a mess!
So they gave up their idea of becoming the center of the world, and what they left was called Babel. ( I see “babel” sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion:” bāḇel – pronounced baw-bel’)
So man thought up the idea of “race.” The English got it from the French, and the French got it from the Italian word “razza” which means, yep, “race.” One article says European colonists in America used the word to depict groups of people (mainly by color and place in society) in the mid-1660s. And of course it came into use in botany and biology in the 18th century in identifying plants. From that system, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus conceived the homo sapien species, and divided it into 4 “sub-races”: H. americanus, H. africanus. H. europaeus, and H. asiaticus.
Interestingly enough, Linnaeus suggested in 1737’s Critica botanica, he wasn’t thinking in those terms [of creating “race” as we know it]:
“[God] created one man only, dictates Scripture to us, yet if the slightest trait [difference] was enough, there would easily stick out thousands of different species of man: they display, namely, white, red, black and grey hair; white, rosy, tawny and black faces; straight, stubby, crooked, flattened, and aquiline noses; among them we find giants and pygmies, fat and skinny people, erect, humpy, brittle, and lame people etc. etc. But who with a sane mind would be so frivolous as to call these distinct species?”
In other words, there is only one race of people, and that’s the human race. But the evidence of “sane minds” is fading, and the prevalent concept of race and the harm it’s doing today is tragic, and most certainly not what God wants for His children.