Racial equality, especially in the United States, has been an explosive topic recently. Understandably, many religious leaders have weighed in on this discussion and offered what they understand to be the view of Scripture.
A common viewpoint repeatedly stated by Christian leaders speaking to the church is that “God does not see color. He does not see black, white, or any other racial distinction. When God looks at His people, He only sees Jesus.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. And when that statement is made, it is typically coming from someone with the positive intention to provide a biblical perspective on a controversial issue. But can that statement be substantiated by Scripture?
In his recent book, The New Testament in Its World, N.T. Wright said, “What matters is grace, not race.”  Wright made this statement in the context of a broader interpretation about Paul’s rule in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17-20) and the irrelevance of circumcision for Jewish disciples of Jesus. By digging deeper into N.T. Wright’s framework, it becomes clear that he does not affirm substantial distinctions between Jews and Gentiles within the church. Thus, there is a general harmony with Wright’s statement about grace and race and the idea that God does not see color or racial distinctions.
Another text that suggests that God does not see distinctions is Galatians 3:28. There, Paul famously says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Commenting on this text, New Testament scholar James Dunn says, “‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ means a oneness of Jew and Gentile in faith, without the law’s interposing between them to mark them off as distinct from each other.”  Dunn’s statement also affirms a lack of distinction within the body of Christ and provides support for the idea that God does not see color when he looks at his people.
Many interpreters of these texts share the above interpretations by N.T. Wright and James Dunn. Thus, it is understandable that many Bible teachers conclude that God does not see color when he looks at his people. However, this understanding is problematic, and it ultimately undermines the very diversity it seeks to promote.
The texts referenced above (1 Corinthians 7:17-20 and Galatians 3:28) do not promote an annulment of prior social identities. Rather, these texts serve to emphasize that God does not discriminate between Jews and Gentiles regarding the mercy extended through Yeshua the Messiah. Regardless of our differences, all have equal access to the atoning power of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. However, the fact that God does not discriminate does not mean he does not value differences among his people.
By emphasizing the collapse of ongoing distinctions within the church in the name of oneness in Christ, the result is that the beauty of diversity and distinction is not protected. If being in Christ eliminates the importance of social distinctions within the church, a void is left. A dominant group with the most influence can colonize all others to conform to their patterns of worship and practice. Put differently, when we say that God does not see color or race, we enable the person or group who is “controlling the microphone” to define what the imaginary “neutral in Christ culture” looks like.
Paul’s rule in 1 Corinthians 7 is designed to protect the rich diversity of God’s kingdom so that each person will “remain in their calling,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:20. For Jews, this means keeping the fullness of Torah under the headship of Yeshua. For Gentiles, this means keeping those parts of the Torah that apply to Gentiles, also under the headship of Yeshua. For Gentiles, such faithfulness will manifest through a multitude of cultural expressions. Of all people, the disciples of Jesus should protect and celebrate diverse racial and cultural expressions of faith and practice within the kingdom of God. Disciples of Jesus should never imagine that their unique expression should define how others think and live within the ecclesia.
Oneness is not sameness, and unity is not uniformity. Therefore, difference is not discrimination. True shalom is not getting others to conform to a dominant pattern. Rather, true shalom is when different groups respect each other and affirm their differences out of a deep conviction that God rules not over one people or land. The one true God is the God of both Israel and the nations, and he has brought us together in peace through the atoning work of the Messiah Yeshua. Indeed, when God looks at his people, he sees many wonderful colors and expressions that comprise his diverse, global kingdom.
- N. T. Wright, The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 380.
- James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993), 205.