What’s the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity?

We talk a lot about racial reconciliation. (Correction: I talk a lot about race and racial reconciliation (here and here and here, for starters. You may or may not.)

But we can do better than talking about race. We can be more thorough, and more Biblical, if we use the term ethnicity.

Grouping people into “races” began only a couple of hundred years ago, and has a limited number of categories (anywhere from 4-10, depending on who you ask). But ethnicity or people groups (ethnos, in the Bible) has many more categories.

For example, black Haitians and black Bahamians together live on some islands in the Caribbean. Most of us would look at them and label them as “black.” However, their ethnic cultures are very different and divided. Division between Haitians and Bahamians (or Israelis and Palestinians) is much bigger than that between middle class “whites” and middle class “blacks” in Greenville, SC.

Similarly, there is a very different ethnic culture for a white middle class family in the south compared to a white family who lives in deep Appalachia. Lumping them together into one group dramatically minimizes the cultural differences.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of ethnic groups in the world. And when you think of that diversity, it makes the gospel and heaven more beautiful. Because now we are not talking about 5 or 10 “races” of people all worshiping God. We are talking about a thousand groups of people who all worship the same God.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”  (Revelation 5:9-10)

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  (Revelation 7:9)

Using the terms “races” and “racial reconciliation” minimizes what God is doing and will do, in bringing us to unity.

Or am I making a big deal out of nothing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the use of the terms “race” and “ethnicity.”

**image courtesy of Dave Meier via Picography


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