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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Are Christians a "Third Race"? No

The early church began to speak of Christians not as Jews or Gentiles but as something new — a "third race" alongside Jews and Gentiles.

I understand the logic behind this and there is perhaps a sense in which it has some truth. However, on the whole I find the notion unfortunate and unhelpful.

I will not develop the case for this here but will simply assert my understanding of the issues. If that is of any merit to anyone then great. If not, fair enough.

It seems to me that speaking in terms of biblical theology there is not a third race. There are Jews and there are Gentiles. There is no third category.

Christ-believers that are Gentiles when they are united to the Messiah do not cease to be Gentiles;
Christ-believers that are Jews when they are united to the Messiah do not cease to be Jews.
What they are is Gentiles in Christ and Jews in Christ.
What they are is Gentiles and Jews eschatologically transformed in Christ.
What they are is Gentiles and Jews united as one body in the Messiah.
BUT they remain Gentiles and Jews.

Of course, we all know that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal 3:28) but this should not be understood to indicate that all distinctions between Jew and Gentile are removed in Christ. If they were they there would be no differences between men and women (on the basis of the same text) and that would really mess up things!!! Yes, salvation and receiving the Spirit do not depend on whether one is a Jew or a Gentile — in Christ, there is no difference. But that is a different proposition from the eradication of all distinctions between Jew and Gentile identities.

So I think that we should avoid talking of Christ-followers as "a third race" — much better to conceive of the ekklesia as a body of eschatologically renewed Jews and Gentiles united to the Messiah by his Spirit. Our Jewish and Gentile distinctives remain (as do all the wide variety of distinctives between different Gentile ethne).

The unity of the body of Christ is not uniformity but a unity that holds together great variety.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree, we should not say Christians are a "3rd Race" However we should live like one. even though we are all Jews and Gentiles in the faith. we don not live like "Christians" (Christ-like)therefore the few Christians who actually take their walk with Christ seriously and live above sin should be considered as the "3rd race" truly living as Christians.

Anonymous said...

But they were called a third race! Maybe not now, but then! And it was their detractors that used the term - but like most disparing terms the Christians found it useful.

There were several reasons but one is that they straddled divisions. Society was then 'in' or 'out', but these early Christians lived outside those definitions.

It was a sign that, if society wanted two divisions and be exclusive, then the Christians would be a third option, a third race, and be inclusive (jewish born could worship with gentile born, could worship with rich, could worship with poor etc. It had never been done before, and it fitted with Galatians 3:28).

Regards
Jonathan
jonathanrsgardner@googlemail.com

Robin Parry said...

Jonathan

they were indeed called "a third race" and for the reasons you say. However, for the reasons I set out I do not think that this is a helpful way of thinking of the church. The ekklesia did indeed straddle society in ways that challenged the way in which most people divided up the world. But that insight can be incorporated within the model I set out above without the dangers that attend the "third race" model.

So the model I offer has all the benefits you see in the third race model without its dangers.