Science in Christian Perspective




The Sons of Ham
Allan A. MacRae, Ph.D., President and Professor of Old Testament 
Faith Theological Seminary, Elkins Park, Philadelphia, Pa.

From JASA 10 (March 1958): 20-21.

In considering the relation of archeology (or any other science) to the Bible, it is extremely vital that we make sure what the Bible actually says. Sometimes men have spent a great deal of time trying to prove that some scientific theory or statement agreed or disagreed with the Bible, without first making an accurate determination of the real meaning of the relevant Biblical passages..

It is vital to recognize the fact that there are many matters with which the Bible does not deal. For example, it tells in detail of the relations of Ahab with the prophets and with the religion of Israel, but does not fully present those important political and international actions of his, which we learn from archaeology to have been of great significance. It is not the purpose of the Bible to give us a full presentation of any science, or even of history, but to present those facts which are vital to our understanding of the relation of God to the universe. Since God is the real author of the Bible, we can be sure that no statement or reasonable inference will be contrary to the actual facts of the material universe that He created. It is very easy to misinterpret the Bible and to read our scientific ideas or theories into it. Consideration of any phase of the relation of science with the Bible should always be based upon a very careful study of the actual teaching of the Bible in the original.

Yet it is strange how frequently we find interpretations advanced which can easily be shown to be utterly false, simply on the basis of the English Bible.

One of the most glaring instances of this is the widespread idea that the Bible teaches that the world was created in 4004 B.C. Actually the Bible does not give us data f or an exact chronology, and when we get further back there are long periods regarding which we have no data at all. There is absolutely no way, as far as the Bible data are concerned, to tell whether man was created at 4000 B.C. or at 400,000 B.C. As far as creation of the material universe is concerned, the suggestion that it may have occurred billions of years prior to the creation of man is not contradicted by anything in the Scripture.

A most interesting chapter in the Book of Genesis is Genesis 10 with its table of the nations, showing the descent of various peoples from the three sons of Noah. It has often been assumed that this list is complete. Nothing could be further from the fact. The list here is not intended to give us an understanding of the background of all the people of the earth, but only to show the development of those nations which came into important contact with the history of Israel in ancient times.

Thus there is nothing in the chapter to give the slightest indication as to which of the three sons was the ancestor of the English, the Scotch. the Germans, or the French. As far as Biblical evidence is concerned, they may equally well have been descended from Shem, from Ham, or from Japheth.

It is often assumed that Ham is the ancestor of the Negroes. but there is not a word in the chapter to suggest that this is the case. The Negroes are as completely unmentioned in the chapter as are the English and the Scotch.

The only descendants of Ham who are mentioned in the chapter are the Ethiopians, the Egyptians, the Libyans, and the Canaanites. Some of these have rather dusky skins but all are recognized as belonging to the white or Caucasian race. The descendants of Cush are stated to include the founders of the great Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians are far more different from the Negroes than they are from the English.

During the years immediately after the flood it stands to reason that the children of the three sons of Noah intermarried extensively. Probably the blood of all three sons runs in all the people of the earth. The table of nations simply gives a descent along the male line to the leaders of various nations, thus showing the general political arrangement in Old Testament times. In fact there is strong reason to suspect that in some cases the genealogical table here indicates political relationship rather than heredity at all.

It is strange how widespread is the idea that Genesis 9:24-27 expresses a curse upon the Negroes, condemning them to slavery. There is no mention of the Negroes in either of these two chapters, any more than there is of the Chinese, the Russians, the English, or the Americans. The curse that came from the lips of Noah was a curse upon Canaan. Canaan was one of the four sons of Ham. There is no curse stated against Ham whatever. The Canaanites were white people of the land of Palestine, who were conquered by the Israelites. By that time they had degenerated morally to such an extent that it was God's command that they he completely wiped off from the face of the earth. This command was only partially observed, and those who were left were reduced to skewers of wood and drawers of water." Thus the curse from the lips of Noah is fulfilled in the Canaanites and has nothing whatever to do with other descendants of Ham, nor is there the slightest evidence that the Negroes are descendants of Ham. They might equally well be descendants of either Japheth or Shem.

Great changes have occurred in the physical constitution of mankind since the days of Noah. The Chinese, the Japanese, the American Indians, the Negroes, and other groups illustrate the great variety of appearance that has arisen. What the appearance of Noah was, nobody knows. It may be easier scientifically, to think of a background of the yellow race being altered in natural development into both the white and the black, than to think of the yellow as having come from either of these. There is no evidence to tell in what direction the development went. All that we can  say from a Biblical viewpoint is that all the human  beings upon the earth are descendants of Noah. We have no way of telling from which son any of us  came, except those who are specifically mentioned in this table - and this includes only those in the general region in which the Israelites lived in the Old Testament times. The others are simply not discussed in this chapter.

It would be of no value to note the nature of Noah's curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:24-27). Noah did not bring a calamity upon some of his descendants. There was no way in which he would have power to do this. He simply was allowed to make a prediction about something that, in God's providence, was going to occur. His prediction referred to the Israelite conquest of the Canaanites many centuries later.

It is interesting to compare Genesis 49:7, where Jacob speaks of the bloody deed that had been done by two of his sons, Simeon and Levi, and predicts that they would be scattered abroad among the tribes of Israel. This was literally fulfilled in the case of Simeon, which tribe disintegrated and the people were scattered among the other tribes. In the case of Levi the prophesy was fulfilled in an entirely different way. The Levites went as God's representatives through all the tribes, scattered through the land of Israel, but living there under God's blessing as God's representatives as a reward for their loyalty to God during the wilderness journey (Exodus 32:26-29). Thus no one can say that he is under a curse and there fore can look forward to nothing but misery. If one sincerely looks to God for help, God can turn any curse into a blessing.

It is unfortunate that such completely unbiblical ideas should have become widely disseminated in this country as that Noah's statement about Canaan meant that the Negroes were doomed to servitude. It is par ticularly difficult to understand why such statements should be used as evidence against allowing Negro children to participate in the benefits of the same schools as are available to white children. If the curse upon Canaan referred to the Negroes (which it could not possibly do), it would mean that perpetual slavery should be their fate and this I suppose that no one in the United States is advocating. It certainly would have nothing to do, in any event, with the matter of where they took their schooling.

If we examine the Scripture carefully to see ex actly what it says, we find that the facts of archaeology, or of any other science, fit together with it perfectly. If we jump to conclusions about the meaning of the Scripture we will naturally find that many  discoveries of science will contradict our ideas. On  the other hand it is also very easy to jump to conclusions about the teaching of science and this is done by every generation. People constantly try to twist the Bible to fit the scientific theories of their day on points on which the Bible does not speak. Then, if the next generation finds that the scientific ideas of  the previous generation on this particular point were false, they think that the Bible has been proven wrong.  We should carefully avoid reading into the Bible ideas - that it does not contain.