Intro – The following exhibit relates more to the question of the segregation of blacks and whites in the church than with interracial marriages (although I still have more biblical material to examine on that issue). This may be the most significant exhibit, however, since it is the only exhibit in which the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is examined in light of our topic.
Jesus’ Ministry in Light of Jewish Prejudice Against Samaritans – There existed in biblical times a similar prejudice among the Jewish people that existed in America at the height of the racial tensions pre-civil rights movement. The Jews were prejudice against the Samaritans, and the Samaritans were segregated from the Jews. The Samaritans were called “half-breed’s” by the Jews because they were the Jews who were left behind during the exile and intermarried with Gentiles. Jews simply despised and would have nothing to do with Samaritans. When the Jews said to Jesus, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” the latter seemed to follow from the former (Jn 8:48). That is, the Jews thought of Samaritans as evil, so merely identifying someone as a Samaritan was understood as an extreme insult among the Jews. This is why the woman at the well thought it was a shocking thing that Jesus even spoke to her, saying, “‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (Jn 4:9). The segregation was so strong, not even their faith in the One True God could unify them. The Samaritans had their own mount of worship called Mount Gerizim which was separate from the mount of Jews (Jn 4:19-21).
While Jews would travel the long way around Samaria to avoid going through because of the racial prejudice, Jesus went conspicuously through Samaria and made a point to minister to the Samarian people (Jn 4:4-42). Jesus also made it a point to announce that among the ten lepers who were healed, the one who came back and thanked him was a Samaritan (Lk 17:11-19). In light of the racial tensions, Jesus’ command to his disciples to preach in Samaria (the place they literally go out of their way to avoid) takes on an even deeper counter-cultural significance (Acts 1:8).
Jesus did not neglect to address the racial issues of his day, but rather went out of his way to aggressively counter the racial bigotry so deeply entrenched within his own culture. He rebuked his own disciples for being of a prejudice spirit (Lk 9:51-56).1 In fact, the story of the good Samaritan was meant to scorn the Jews for their partial treatment of the Samaritans and teach them to love all people regardless of their geographic, ethnic, or cultural identity (Lk 10:30-37).
Jesus’ Ministry in Light of the Jews Prejudice Against other Races – Jesus didn’t just teach against the prejudice of his day because prejudice is wrong (though it certainly is), but also it was his intention to teach that the gospel was not to be just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles also (that is, non-Jews). Jesus was not only interested in teaching against the Jewish bigotry against the Samaritans. Jesus spoke against the racial prejudices that the Jews had against any other races among the Gentile people. As Jesus taught the gospel in the temple (and the Jews, for the most part rejected him) he made it a point to tell stories about God’s blessing foreigners (Lk 4:14-30). He reminded them that although there were many people whom God could have chosen to bless during the time of famine in the days of Elijah, God sent Elijah only to a foreign widow in Sidon. Then he mentioned how God could’ve blessed and healed many people from leprosy in the days of Elisha the prophet, but only chose to heal a foreign man from Syria. Jesus’ point is unmistakable.2 In response to their rejection of him as the Messiah, he was telling stories about non-Jews being blessed by God in the past. The Jews did not interpret Jesus as telling random stories about God blessing people in general, for they were “filled with rage as they heard” what Jesus said, and they tried to murder him (Jn 4:28-29). Racial tensions in first century Palestine were so intense concerning Jew/Gentile that Jews were ready to kill this self proclaimed prophet and Messiah because he was teaching from the scriptures against religious ethnocentrism. Jesus did more than step on the toes of those who were ethnocentric, he aggressively rebuked the racial sentiments of his time.
Marks gospel indicates that Jesus’ motives in his aggressive cleansing of the temple were rooted in the Isaianic multinational vision of the temple. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 which reads, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” [italics added, the Hebrew literally reads “all the peoples”3]. Again, Jesus was upset because the temple was to be a house of worship for people of all different nations and peoples. The theme of universal inclusion of the peoples into the covenant of YAHWEH on the basis of the faith in Jesus Christ is clearly developed throughout the New Testament gospels, Acts, and the apostolic letters.
Conclusion: Jesus considered it necessary to address the racial prejudice in his day with scorn and rebuke, to teach against racial discrimination from the scriptures and with parables. He not only made it a point to minister to and fellowship with people who were racially discriminated against, he even risked his own life by aggressive confrontation of the prejudice beliefs held by his contemporaries.
1 In Luke’s gospel, Jesus rebukes the disciples for wanting to take revenge on the Samaritans because they did not receive them since they were Jews. Even though it was wrong for the Samaritans to treat them this way, when the disciples sought to take revenge, Jesus told them “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of.”
2 Or, if you didn’t get it—The Jews had rejected Jesus as being the Christ. It was the plan of God to take the gospel to the Gentiles once it had been thoroughly rejected in all the Jewish cities. Thus the narratives Jesus chose to call attention to foreshadow the blessing which was to come to the Gentile world. No longer could the Jews claim they are more blessed than the Gentiles, since the blessing of promise was for those who accepted Jesus and the Christ. Christ was the dividing line between the blessed and the cursed—not the Jewish race.
3 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 203.