The Bible and Cultural Challenges – Part 3: The role of ethnic divisions and prejudice

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson 0

From time immemorial, humans have held prejudices against others based on their ethnicity, the colour of their skin or factors such as where they’re from and how they speak. We are all guilty of it, it is best to recognise it so that we can do something about it, it impacts how we read the Bible.


An example of this is Numbers 12 v1, “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite”. A Cushite was a Black African. I have read some comments on this where prejudice against Black Africans is recognised. However, this is probably us bringing our experience of prejudice to the Scripture, whilst Westerners may have once considered Africans a slave race, in the Nile River valley of ancient Egypt, the Hebrews were the slave race. It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. 


Paul describes divisions in the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1 v10 – 12. As we tend to fall out along doctrinal lines or because we are drawn to one pastor over another, we can assume this is what was happening in Corinth. It is more likely, though, that the divisions among the churches in Corinth were not theological. We may be failing to note ethnic markers that Paul sprinkled all over the text. Apollos was noted as an Alexandrian (Egyptian) Jew (Acts 18: 24). They had their own reputation. Paul notes that Peter is called by his Aramaic name, Cephas, suggesting the group that followed him spoke Aramaic and were thus Palestinian Jews. Paul’s church had Diaspora Jews but also many ethnic Corinthians, who were quite proud of their status as residents of a Roman colony and who enjoyed using Latin. This may explain why Paul doesn’t address any theological differences. There weren’t any. The problem was ethnic division: Aramaic- speaking Jews, Greek- speaking Jews, Romans and Alexandrians.


Written by Tony Thompson

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