Apologetics Index

Racism Justified by Scripture?

Editorial By David Kowalski

In one of the communities I have lived in, it grieved me to discover some extreme, fundamentalist groups there using Genesis 9:18-27 as a justification for their racist views.  They viewed non-whites as inferior, considered inter-racial marriage a sin, and would not extend membership in their church to non-whites. The passage reads as follows:

Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were [c]turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers.”
He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.
“May God enlarge Japheth,
And let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:18-27 NASB)

The derivation of racist ideology from this passage has a long and dark history, and it is based on a misinterpretation. Noah does speak of a curse on Ham and Canaan but the Hebrew in this passage indicates that Noah most likely uttered his saying as a wish rather than a proclamation. He did not have the power to pronounce a curse.

Additionally, we should note that Noah never spoke regarding all of Ham’s descendants — his focus narrows on the descendants of Canaan. Ham may be the progenitor of the peoples of the African continent but dark-skinned people are not specified in Noah’s mention of a more lasting (not eternal) curse.

Ham had three other sons: Cush, Mizraim, and Put (Gen 10:6). Cush and Put may have been the ancestors of the Ethiopians (and other black peoples of Africa) but no curse was wished for or announced upon them.

The descendants of Canaan did fall into slavery to the Israelites as a result of the conquest. These Canaanites bear little resemblance to the races white supremacist and extreme fundamentalist groups use the passage against.

Furthermore, there is no mention of inherent, racial inferiority even in these Canaanites. Nor are we told that a the wish (or possibly proclamation) regarding these Canaanites had no geographical or temporal boundaries — that it was meant for all generations wherever they would go. Even if the passage had referred to an actual curse on dark-skinned Africans (which it does not), there is no reason to believe it would apply to our time and place.

It also seems clear from the New Testament that God shows no racial favoritism. If He does not, neither should we.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NASB)

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35 NASB)

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Article details

Category: Column: David Kowalski, Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics
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First published (or major update) on Thursday, January 24, 2013.
Last updated on August 30, 2014.

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