Dear Theophilus: Ethnic and Cultural Diversity

Joshua M. Greever

Multicultural group around small table holds hands in prayer


Dear Faculty,

Is there a biblical reason to value ethnic and cultural diversity?- Theophilus


Dear Theophilus,

This is a great question, and one that many are asking today. Currently the term “diversity” is trendy, though it often means different things to different people. Indeed, while many today claim to value ethnic and cultural diversity, the reasons for doing so are themselves quite diverse. What follows is the answer according to the Christian worldview and is based on the storyline of the Bible itself. This biblical storyline, which unfolds along the lines of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, will provide a window through which the Bible can answer your question.

The first act in the biblical storyline is the act of creation. According to Genesis 1 and 2, God created the universe and all that is in it. Regarding humanity, God created Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity has descended. God made Adam and Eve in his image, which is still true of every human being despite the reality of sin and death in the world (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). God’s creation of Adam and Eve in His image means that every human being, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, has been created by God and has intrinsic and abiding value. Also, given our common ancestry, we share a fundamental unity with other humans, which is not diminished by our ethnic and cultural differences.

The second act in the biblical storyline is the fall wherein Adam and Eve—and all humanity with them—sinned against God, and as a result brokenness and death entered the world. The global effect of the fall meant that there was no ethnicity or culture that was idyllic and free from perversion. Even in Genesis 4, in which we see the rise of industrial diversity (agriculture, music and metallurgy), we hear of the first murder in which Cain killed his brother Abel. What this means for cultural diversity is that not every cultural norm or expression is worthy of celebration, for not everything in any given culture honors God or is morally permissible.

For instance, in the Old Testament the ancient Canaanites practiced child sacrifice, which is an abomination to God. The Middle Assyrian laws were extraordinarily unjust compared to the law of Moses. In the New Testament, the Greco-Roman culture was remarkably idolatrous, promiscuous, and harsh, and becoming a Christian meant redemption from those cultural norms and expressions. Hence, the biblical story of the fall and its effects in the world means that God does not condone all expressions of cultural diversity. Rather, the kind of cultural diversity pleasing in his sight is that which is morally permissible and in no way contravenes His righteous character and standard.

The third act in the biblical storyline is redemption in which God sent His son, Jesus the Christ, to redeem us from sin and death (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus accomplished this redemption through his death and resurrection, for he died for our sins and was raised for our righteousness (Romans 4:25). The scope of redemption included the nations, as God had promised Abraham (Genesis 12:3), and therefore Jesus commissioned his apostles to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Accordingly, the apostles and other early Christians shared the gospel all over the Mediterranean world, and we are given many illustrations of the truth that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21), regardless of one’s ethnic or cultural background.

The final act of the biblical storyline is new creation in which God finishes making all things new. Sin and death will be totally eradicated (Revelation 20:14), and God will be with His people in the new heaven and the new earth forevermore (Revelation 22:1-22:5). His people are comprised of various ethnicities and language groups, for they appear as such worshiping God around His throne (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). That ethnic diversity and morally permissible forms of cultural diversity appear in the new creation suggests its significance in the biblical storyline, and it highlights God as the only Creator and Redeemer. There is no other god who created and redeemed them, and thus it is fitting for them to worship Him alone. If God were worshiped by only one ethnicity and culture, it might suggest that He is only one of many gods who create and redeem. But since in the new creation He will be worshiped by a global multiethnic and multicultural people, it shows that He alone is God of the whole earth and is worthy of all worship (Romans 3:28-30; Zechariah 14:9; Psalm 67).

The fourfold biblical storyline therefore provides the answer for how the Bible values ethnic and cultural diversity. Because God is the Creator and has given humans dignity, irrespective of their ethnic and cultural background, failure to treat humans with dignity and respect fails to do justice to the creation narrative. Due to the fall, the Bible does not blindly celebrate all forms of cultural diversity, and neither should we. Failure to testify to sin and righteousness in any given culture fails to do justice to the reality of sin and death.

Finally, because of God’s act to redeem and renew creation, failure to share the gospel with all kinds of people and to value morally permissible aspects of culture fails to do justice to the scope of redemption and robs God of the worship due to His name. Therefore, God is the reason the Bible values ethnic and cultural diversity; everyone without exception exists from Him and for Him. As a result, all peoples everywhere should thank and honor Him as God, and they should treat one another with dignity and respect as befits His creation.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.