Christ, His Gospel, and Ethnicity – James 2:1, 8-13

But it has been mentioned that Paul had a specific heart inclination toward those of his own ethnicity (Rom. 9:1-5), and that there will be a great multitude “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” in the eternal kingdom (Rev. 7:9; NKJV). By making mention of these passages, what is being justified is a certain sense of virtue in showing partiality toward one’s own ethnicity over another in kingdom work.

Yet we are told very clearly in James’ letter that partiality is most certainly a sin (Jas. 2:1, 8-13). Clearly, Paul could not have meant in Romans 9 that he loved the ethnic Israelites more than Gentile Christians. How then could he rightly refer to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13)? Likewise Peter, though called an apostle to the circumcised (Gal. 2:8), was rebuked by Paul for showing favor to the exclusivistic Jews (Judaizers) in corporate fellowship (Gal. 2:11-12). There is no special dispensation granted any one ethnicity or another for ethnic partiality within the body of Christ. It is to be rejected wherever it is found.

So it is improper to point to Paul’s love for and desire to see the Israelites saved as an instance of acceptable ethnic favoritism within the body of Christ. Nor could the ethnic groups mentioned in John’s vision in Revelation 7 have been engaging in any such partiality in the very presence of God. Such partiality would is a clear violation of the law of God. The overtly clear passage of James must be used as a governing factor in our interpretation of these passages. Whatever they mean, they cannot be meant to contradict the clear teaching of James. Partiality in the body of Christ is always a sin.

Instead, Romans 9, it is clear that Paul means to demonstrate that his consolation is found in understanding that ethnicity is not his primary identification. Rather, as Gentiles come to faith in Christ, a great multitude of those outside of ethnic Israel is added to true Israel, which is cause for rejoicing (Rom. 9:6ff), because that means the expansion of true Israel and the eternal family of Paul. In the same way, it is more appropriate to see as primary the unifying nature of the throne and the Lamb in bringing together people out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues over against the notion that these are disparate people standing in separate ranks still divided from one another and showing ethnic partiality to one another in the presence of a holy God for all of eternity. The very notion is borderline blasphemous.

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