VIDEO: United in the Image of God

February 26, 2014

Trillia Newbell, author of United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity, illustrates why Christians should actively engage race relations. 

“Race can be such a difficult thing to talk about, but it shouldn't be,” Newbell said. “We should work to approach race relations–especially as Christians–because there shouldn't be a divide between us.” 

The following excerpt was adapted from Newbell's book:

There possibly isn’t a more complex yet important topic as race as it relates to the Word of God and the church. To understand our differences and why they are good, we must first understand our origin. Because of the sin of partiality and pride, it is problematic for some to truly believe the idea of racial equality. But this equality isn’t a man-made, modern, social justice theory. We aren’t arguing for something unjust. Rather, the equality of people originated from God.

J. Daniel Hays wrote a compelling book, From Every People and Nation, addressing the biblical theology of race. In it he explores the origins of race and ethnicity, looking at current-day definitions, stereotypes, and poor biblical interpretation, reevaluating the concepts, and expounding Scripture. For him, and for us, understanding race begins with understanding Adam, the first man. He writes:

The Bible does not begin with the creation of a special race of people. When the first human is introduced into the story he is simply called `ādām, which means ‘humankind.’ . . . Their “race” is not identifiable; they are neither Negroid nor Caucasian, nor even Semitic. They become the mother and father of all peoples. The division of humankind into peoples and races is not even mentioned until Genesis 10. i

Racially generic Adam represents all of humankind made in the imago Dei (image of God). We are all made in God’s image, but what does that mean? Scholars have debated just what it means to be made in the image of God. According to Hays, it has been widely accepted to mean that humans share God’s mental and spiritual faculties though certainly to a far lesser degree. We are unique in God’s creation, able to rule over animals and the earth; we have souls; and we are able to commune with God. We are made for fellowship, reflecting the triune God.

Psalm 8:1-5 proclaims: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. . . . What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” God has given each of us dominion over the works of his hands, equally. God is mindful of each person He creates, equally. Understanding our equality before the Lord and the origins of creation should be enough to break the barriers of racial strife. But perhaps part of our confusion is derived from a misinterpretation of Genesis 9:1–27 and the so-called curse of Ham.

Hays describes this misinterpretation as one of the “most damaging misinterpretations of Scripture on the subject of race,”ii and understandably so. It’s this interpretation that slave owners and segregationist used to justify slavery.

So what happened? Genesis states that the people of the whole earth were dispersed from Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah. Ham was the father of Canaan; that’s important to state upfront. One night Noah became drunk and lay naked uncovered in his tent. The youngest of the brothers, Ham, saw his father and then grabbed his brothers Japheth and Shem to see. When the other brothers came, they covered Noah. Upon awakening, Noah, humiliated by the series of events, cursed Canaan the son of Ham, stating that Canaan would be “a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (v. 25). The curse fell on Canaan alone and not on all of Ham’s sons. Unfortunately, the curse has been misapplied to all of Ham’s descendants rather than just to Canaan.

The significance of the events comes in Genesis 10 when we learn that Ham’s descendants are the Cushites, who are linked geographically to Africa. Throughout history, Christians have justified slavery by citing the so-called curse of Ham as proof that black Africans were destined and designated for such a station in life. This misinterpretation infiltrated the American South and after the Civil War was used heavily within the church. Hays again writes:

After the Civil War, the “curse of Ham” was used by white clergymen to fight the notion of racial equality and the rights that would accompany such equality (voting, education, etc.). Richard River, for example, editor of the Louisville Central Methodist, argued in an 1889 editorial for the popular view that, so long as the two races must live together on American soil, the black man “must occupy the position of inferiority,” and that “Ham must be subservient to Japheth.”iii

Japheth’s descendants were coastland people, and they settled in Europe and Asia Minor and are thus interpreted as being racially white. The misinterpretation of Genesis, though not widely accepted now, continues to be reprinted in commentaries even today. Again, the curse has been misapplied to all of Ham’s descendants rather than just to Canaan. What is also interesting—and further undermines the modern “curse of Ham” application—is that the Canaanites are ethnically most similar to the Israelites.iv

Does Race Even Exist?

It’s worth noting that for some, the concept of race not only doesn’t appear in the Bible but is actually fabricated. In other words, the origins of race are not rooted in Scripture but in a sociological construct. Author and Senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman Thabiti Anyabwile has taken up the cause to rid the world of the term race and argues that the word race was developed for four reasons: society, the fall of man, psychology, and interaction with people (he would say blacks helped define “whiteness” for whites, and whites helped define “blackness” for blacks).Anyabwile’s basic premise is that because of our origin (all created in the image of God with Adam as our representative), we are one mankind with varying tongues, nations, tribes, families, and skin color, but there is little to nothing genetically or biologically that makes us different races (or species). We are all the same race (i.e., species). In his view it would be more accurate for us to identify one another by our ethnicities, which is in the Bible.

In a recent interview I conducted with Pastor Anyabwile (available in its entirety in the appendix of United), he elaborates on this point:

When we read the Bible, one useful question to ask ourselves is: What story is the Bible telling me about the origin of humanity and its diversity? When we ask that question, we see several things. First, Eve is “the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). Second, several generations later, the human line is narrowed again to one family, that of Noah and his sons (Genesis 6–9). All the families of the earth are descended from Noah’s three sons and their wives (Genesis 10). “From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood” (v. 32 NIV). These “nations” are not national city-states, but “clans and languages, in their territories.” In other words, these are large kinship and language groups. The story the Bible tells is one of continuity, not discontinuity, which “race” at least implies. So you get the pronouncement of Acts 17:26—“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth. . . .” (NIV).

This is the way the Bible speaks of our common ancestry and of the ethnic diversity we seek. It’s a diversity within the same species, if you will. In fact, genetic science has proven that there is no subspecies in mankind. There’s not enough genetic variance to meet the tests of science.

Think of the grief and despair that would have been avoided had we always operated under these convictions. Nonetheless, this is not widely accepted or understood at the moment, and part of that (if not all) is due to the fall of man. As God’s image bearers we are all equal. We are equal in dignity and worth. We are created equally in His image. We are also fallen equally (Romans 3:23). Genesis 1:26 explains that God created man in His image. Of all God’s creation, we are the only ones created in His very image; we have dominion over the rest (Genesis 1:28). It is a profound mystery (God is spirit, so we do not bear his physical image, John 4:24) and yet a great privilege. Understanding our equality as image bearers changes everything we think about our human relationships.

i J. Daniel Hays, From Every Tribe and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 48. J. Daniel Hays references three books (pp. 52-54) still in print and available at popular sites such as Amazon and Christian Book Distributors (CBD): Arthur W. Pink, Gleaning in Genesis (1922; repr. Chicago: Moody, 1950); C.F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986); The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary, 31 vols. (1892; repr. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980)

ii Hays, From Every People and Nation, 48-49

iii Ibid., 53

iv Ibid., 55

v Thabiti Anyabwile, “Where Does Blackness and Whiteness Come From?” January, 26, 2012, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/01/26/where-does-blackness-and-whiteness-come-from/

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24