Steve Halbrook of Theonomy Resources released God Is Just, his new book defending the principles of theonomy, in early July. (The book can be downloaded for free here.) The book’s subtitle reveals the purpose and content of the book: “A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws: Biblical Theocracy, Justice, and Slavery versus Humanistic Theocracy, ‘Justice,’ and Slavery.” His intention is noble, to defend the dignity of biblical legislation. One part of this is to defend the slavery laws included in Scripture from the antagonism of anti-slavery humanism; and, as any modern debate on slavery will eventually degenerate into, he discusses the question of racism with respect to slavery. In this context, he addresses broader claims than the mere accusation of racism implicit in Scriptural slavery laws, and it is these broader claims which I intend to refute as dangerously false and heretical. However, some of his claims, while not necessarily dangerously false, are nonetheless mistakenly utilized in order to fortify his anti-racism. It is to these claims that we will now turn. Note, I will sometimes speak positively of racism not to justify those genuine sins which can be under the umbrella heading of “racism” (e.g. murdering someone just because he is of another race), but because Halbrook lumps godly acknowledgment of racial distinctions in with these sins. To make the contrast clear: Halbrook is a cultural Marxist racial egalitarian, or “anti-racist”; I am defending godly racial distinctions, or “racism.”
Alleged Anti-Racism in God’s Law
As is to be expected in any purportedly biblical defense of anti-racism, Moses and his Cushite wife of Numbers 12 are invoked (p. 298).1 Most modern commentators think it to be abundantly clear that Numbers 12 includes Miriam’s and Aaron’s immoral condemnation of Moses’s interracial marriage, confirmed by God’s striking Miriam with leprosy to become “white as snow” (v. 10). John Piper agrees with this,2 as does Daniel Hays in his book on race, From Every People and Nation, cited by both Piper and Halbrook. The passage has become more commonly cited and professedly obvious as miscegenation has become increasingly more mainstream and socially difficult to denounce. But is the passage that obvious?
If the passage is read for the express purpose of seeing its practical implications on miscegenation, then it might seem to condemn anti-racism at first glance, but it deserves a second look. To begin with, it is exceedingly difficult to find a historic commentator who agrees that this passage has anything to do with race-based scorn, much less that it is a promotion of miscegenation. Earlier authors may note that part of Miriam’s and Aaron’s reproach is due to Moses’s wife’s status as a foreigner, but they do not suppose that she is a negro. For instance, John Calvin believed the wife in Numbers 12 to be Zipporah, Moses’s first wife:
[B]ecause they were unable to allege any grounds, upon which Moses in himself was not far their superior, they seek to bring disgrace upon him on account of his wife; as if in half of himself he was inferior to them, because he had married a woman who was not of their own race, but a foreigner. They, therefore, cast ignominious aspersions upon him in the person of his wife, as if it were not at all becoming that he should be accounted the prince and head of the people, since his wife, and the companion of his bed, was a Gentile woman. I do not by any means agree with those who think that she was any other than Zipporah, since we hear nothing of the death of Zipporah, nay, she had been brought back by Jethro, her father, only a little while before the delivery of the Law; whilst it is too absurd to charge the holy Prophet with the reproach of polygamy. Besides, as an octogenarian, he would have been but little suited for a second marriage. Again, how would such a marriage have been practicable in the desert? It is, therefore, sufficiently clear that they refer to Zipporah, who is called an Ethiopian woman, because the Scripture comprehends the Midianites under this name: although I have no doubt but that they maliciously selected this name, for the purpose of awakening greater odium against Moses.3
To give a modern-day example of what is occurring in this passage, imagine that a Swede marries an Italian, and that the Swede’s brother and sister mock the foreigner and her “black” skin. Moses and Zipporah were from two related tribes of the same race, both tribes being descended from Abraham, in which case there is no interracial marriage. In addition to Calvin’s commentary, Matthew Henry notes that the wife could have been a Cushite or Arabian and not Zipporah, but he does not dwell on the fact or see any implications on miscegenation.4 John Gill sees the wife to be Zipporah herself.5 More significantly, none of these commentators see an anti-white supremacist character to Miriam’s leprosy in v. 10, or even anything racially related to the punishment at all; but nonetheless, leave it to Piper to understand the Lord as effectively telling Miriam, “You like being light-skinned Miriam? I’ll make you light-skinned.”6 Such a conclusion just cannot be exegeted from the text.
Though all these men might be arrogantly written off as men blinded by their times, or exonerated as ones who just were not exposed to other races in general, it is much more reasonable to suppose that race and miscegenation are not the point of this passage. The first verse of the passage is the only verse which mentions Moses’s wife; the rest of the passage deals with Moses’s claims to authority and Aaron’s and Miriam’s rebelliousness. It might be argued that verse 1 is still sufficient to explain that Moses’s choice of wife was a motive n Aaron’s and Miriam’s sin, since their speaking against Moses is “because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married,” but again, such a phrase does not explain what factor of the marriage is salient in their motivation. Is it because of her race? The text does not say. Gill believes their aspersion to be motivated by the suspicion that Zipporah influenced Moses in his selection of the seventy elders,7 which is at least relevant to the context of the remainder of the passage. But the anti-racist interpretation is based solely on vv. 1 and 10, and has no historical or exegetical backing.
Beside Numbers 12, Halbrook also mentions other portions of God’s law as “completely colorblind,” judging people blindly irrespective of race (p. 299). Presumably, Halbrook has in mind verses such as Leviticus 24:22: “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God” (cf. Ex. 12:49). Passages such as this teach the importance of an identical ethical standard for all, regardless of race. This is because morality is universal and therefore applies to all races. Yet, it is a misapplication to take this to mean that racial considerations are themselves legally illegitimate. Ethics transcends race in the sense that the same ethical principles apply to all races, yet ethical rules may still take race into account.
This should be obvious when gender roles are considered. Everyone understands that morality transcends gender: ethical rules apply to both males and females. Yet, anyone not seeking to obliterate divinely ordained gender distinctions will concede that ethical rules can still take gender into account. This is why St. Paul addresses men and women with different duties in passages such as 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and Ephesians 5:22-33. Cultural Marxists might object to this as sexist, but it is simply an ordinary matter of distinction in Paul’s eyes. The need to not unduly favor distinct categories (gender, race, class) in matters of justice does not entail the absence or irrelevance of the categories themselves.
In a similar way, then, God’s law can be considered “colorblind” in the broad and indisputable sense that ethical and legal rules are not suspended for different races, yet the law is definitively not colorblind in the sense that it entirely lacks racial considerations. Specifically, race needs to be taken into account as an application of the fifth commandment. We are commanded to honor our father and our mother, and this honor cannot but continue outward unto respect for our ancestors and for the extended, extended family—race—in which we are placed. All people are to honor God-ordained borders (Acts 17:26), irrespective of race, and yet these commands require racial distinction, or, in more inflammatory parlance, racial discrimination. Racism, therefore, is not condemned by these passages Halbrook cites. On the contrary, it can be demonstrably disproven that God’s law is “colorblind” in the sense of not distinguishing between the native-born and the stranger. Israel’s legislation contains such discriminatory distinctions (e.g., Deut. 15:3; 17:15; 23:1-8, 20); it is with these distinctions already being established that commandments like Lev. 24:22 are intelligible in the first place.
Halbrook’s primary error is in attempting to draw far too much from the text. Passages like Lev. 24:22 simply do not address the topic he thinks they do, just as Galatians 3:28 does not address what many anti-kinists think it does. The passages are underdeterminative: what Halbrook needs is a good dose of common sense and deeper consideration of natural revelation.
Adamic Descent and Racial Equality
One of Halbrook’s first points is based on the doctrine of monogenism, or our common descent in Adam: “physically speaking, there is only one race, as all men descended from Adam. (However, there are two spiritual races).” He then defines the term “racist” to be “someone who hates, or has a sense of superiority to, those of different skin colors” (p. 297).
The first grating and egalitarian aspect of this is his implicit definition of race as mere skin color. (And besides this particular passage, he later criticizes the idea of racial distinctions being “more than skin deep,” p. 302.) It would be equivalent to a feminist who would object to discrimination on the basis of genitalia. A prominent factor distinguishing races one from another is skin color, to be sure, but that is only because it is a visually recognizable component of race, not because it is the entirety of race. To put it another way, race is identified by skin color, not with skin color. (Michael Jackson was not a white man.) To say otherwise would be tantamount to saying that being female is merely possessing the distinctive female sex organs. It truncates a God-created category to physical externals, demeaning the significance of that which the Lord created as special. This contempt of divinely ordained distinctions is the hallmark of satanic monism and of egalitarianism, which seek to rape Galatians 3:28 and abolish God’s creation. This should be obvious from a historical and cultural standpoint: the same unbelievers who vigorously oppose racism as evil are the ones who seek to implement the equality of Christianity of idolatry, of male and female, of sexual normalcy and faggotry, and others. Halbrook is here aiding the zeitgeist.
Part of his disregard for racial differences comes from his misunderstanding of the doctrine of Adamic descent. He believes the common ancestry all humans have in Adam entails the lack of physical subdivisions within his posterity: “physically speaking, there is only one race.” Given certain innocuous interpretations, this can be affirmed. For example, if he means that there is an overarching physical unity to mankind, then that would not be denied; the different races are indeed related. Likewise, if he includes in his definition of “race” the broad capacity to interbreed within but not without, then again, the fact that there is one race of Adam must be conceded. But it is doubtful that he means either of these, or at least, that he means merely either of these. The way he employs his rhetoric in context, he intends to say that those who attempt to make any significant physical distinctions within the race of Adam are wrong and racist. The term “racism,” he says, implies that several non-related races exist, when in fact there is only one race; and this race happens to include “people groups with unique skin colors” (p. 297). His point is clearly to minimize the physical differences between races, restricting them to degrees of melanin production, and to prove this lack of physical distinction by an appeal to common descent.
In other words, Halbrook’s argument is a blatant straw man. He essentially redefines the term “race” to mean “species,” even though the common and modern usage of “race” refers to subdivisions within the human species. Imagine if he tried to make a similar argument with dogs, arguing that any canines’ common ancestry entails the nonexistence of breeds within their species. “There is only one breed—the dog breed!” Such an argument is nonsense and repugnant to common sense, but Halbrook attempts such sophistry to disprove the reality of human races within Adam’s posterity. He must disintegrate the God-created category of race into meaninglessness.
This idea is both silly and heretical. Monogenism does not imply racial non-differentiation. It is not the case that the physical unity of the races in Adam negates the propriety of significant physical distinctions within the race. This is brutally obvious from the fact that different families can affirm their simultaneous unity in Adam and physical distinction from each other. If families can exist with all their distinctive physical and behavioral characteristics, and yet not compromise the physical unity of Adam’s race, then why cannot races do the same? If it is not “familist” to assert the plurality of families within the unity of humanity, then how is it “racist” to do so with larger groups—with very, very extended families? Halbrook’s careless argument from monogenism, in principle, would forbid the family itself. It is exceedingly dangerous.
This principle of variety-within-unity is perspicuously set forth by St. Paul in Acts 17:26a, yet Halbrook cites this passage to prove the exact opposite point. Paul says, “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men.” Halbrook does not notice the object which is made from one blood: a multiplicity of nations. Nations is in the plural, and the term refers not to an arbitrary collection of people within a geo-political boundary, but to a physically related people-group. Paul here teaches expressly that monogenism does not entail racial egalitarianism, but this is ignored by Halbrook.
It is actually quite ironic that Halbrook treats the physical differentiation of Adam-kind as so inconsequential, reducing the God-created category of race as being nothing deeper than skin color. The reason this is ironic is because he closes his chapter on racism with a quote from Joseph Morecraft presupposing a realist view of race:
The solution most preferred by apostate white humanists today is total racial, religious, ethical integration and assimilation into a common culture known as “the American way of life.” . . . In this process all Christians are required to give up their distinctively Biblical Christian worldview, and the black man and woman are required to give up their identity and integrity as black people, to destroy all ties of loyalty to one’s family, history, and locality. . . . [God] gave the human race its vast array of colors because He thinks they are all beautiful colors. . . . To be color-blind is to deprive a man of his color, thereby making him white in your own eyes. That is racism (qtd. on p. 314).
Morecraft here treats race as something deeper than skin color, as involving part of one’s own “identity and integrity” and being tied with “loyalty to one’s family, history, and locality.” He understands that being colorblind involves ignoring a constituent part of man, which is anti-God and wicked. I would disagree with him in using the term “racist” to describe race-deniers—for the same reason Christians should not try to use the terminology of false sins, like homophobia and sexism, against their cultural Marxist inventors—but his point nonetheless stands. Race is deeper than skin color, because God created it. To level all of the divinely created races, or attempt to amalgamate or destroy them, is contrary to His purposes and incredibly evil. Halbrook’s piece on racism reveals deep-seated error.
Though I quote from the end of his chapter on racism, I do not intend this post to be the last word addressing Halbrook’s heresy. Lord willing, the second part will be posted later this week.
- I am citing the page numbers of the book, not the exact numbers of the PDF document for the free book download. The PDF numbers are 40 more than the book’s page numbers. ↩
- http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID314526_CHID598014_CIID2359816,00.html ↩
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom06.ii.vi.html. Emphasis added. ↩
- http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc1.Num.xiii.html ↩
- http://www.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=nu&chapter=012&verse=001. For whatever reason, the website continues the main text of Gill’s commentary directly into a footnote. ↩
- http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID314526_CHID598014_CIID2359816,00.html ↩
- http://www.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=nu&chapter=012&verse=001 ↩