I want to preface what I say with a statement saying this is not in any way related to any kind of Prejudice! I only want to ask how we got from the family of Noah to having so many so called races.

According to my Bible; which is the King James version, this is how the world was populated.

Genesis 11:1 and 2

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

Everyone seems to have been one happy family, but then pride crept in and:

Genesis 11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

God didn't like that:

Genesis 11:6 through 9

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Now as far as I have been able to determine God only mixed up their languages so they could no longer understand each other, but I find nothing that says he turned them into different races to be able to visually tell the difference between them.

So where did people become different races?

  • 1
    Where the concept of separate races came from is not really on-topic here. – curiousdannii Jun 2 '17 at 22:53

Historically, the answer to the race issue has been the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.

From Nigel Tomes:

The tradition that Ham was a black man developed much later. It is a Rabbinical elaboration,7 not explicitly formulated until the Babylonian Talmud of 500 AD. Hence this concept belongs in the category of Jewish “myths and unending genealogies” (1 Tim.1:4). In the Middle Ages, European scholars of the Bible picked up on the Jewish Talmud idea that the “sons of Ham” were “blackened” by their sins.8 These arguments became increasingly common during the slave trade of the 18th and 19th Centuries. A historian, Edith Sanders, concludes that the identification of Ham’s descendents as Black Africans,9 “gained currency in the sixteenth century.” Thereafter, it “persisted throughout the eighteenth century, [and] served as a rationale for slavery, using Biblical interpretations in support of its tenets. The image of the Negro deteriorated in direct proportion to the growth of the importance of slavery.” Benjamin Braude, Professor of history at Boston College, writes10 “in 18th and 19th century Euro-America, Genesis 9:18-27 became the curse of Ham, a foundation myth for collective degradation, conventionally trotted out as God’s reason for condemning generations of dark-skinned peoples from Africa to slavery.” Sadly this notion has been perpetuated through its uncritical repetition by Bible teachers and writers. However, today evangelical scholars reject this view as an out-dated remnant of folklore, masquerading as Scriptural truth. - Nigel Tomes

The text itself, as you point out only says:

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. ... By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

Of Noah's descendents:

  • Japheth moved east and became the father of the Asian peoples

    The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. ...

  • Shem moved west and became the father of the White European peoples

    Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram. ...

  • Ham moved South and became the father of the African peoples.

    And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. ... And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan.

Whether or not this theory has any merit, it was historically understood to be the case.

The curses in Genesis 9 were thus seen to have been fulfilled:

20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.

25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

  • 3
    And for the record, the theory itself is balderdash. It's just that it was balderdash that had a lot of currency when white people needed to know why they were better than black people. – Affable Geek Feb 19 '14 at 22:54
  • 3
    It should also be understood that in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek." The Bible itself really doesn't do race as a category. – Affable Geek Feb 19 '14 at 23:01
  • I thought the usual interpretation was that Japheth went west and was the father of the Europeans, Shem basically stayed in the Middle East, and Ham's descendants went in every direction. Makes much more sense that way. – curiousdannii Jun 20 '14 at 5:38

I think your observation that God divided people by language is very important in reference to the tower of Babel. They were divided by language, not skin color. This corresponds to how we today understand group identify and family units. Language is central in creating identity and over rides given ethnicity. (Go to a local high school and observe speech patterns among teens).

Clearly the Bible talks about Families, Generations, Descendants, and Tribes. BUT it is important to note that it does not talk about RACE.

The word “RACE” does not appear in scripture. Technically speaking, there is only one race, and it is called HUMAN. The diversity of the human race is due to the capacity of human DNA / Genetics.
I have not researched it out – but the idea of race does not come from scripture. I suspect it is a medieval creation to support forms of injustice and then backward justified by using scripture.


In a word "genetics".

At the time of Babel there wouldn't have been different "races". The "races" we see to day would have developed as particular genetic traits already present in a particular language group would have become enhanced as intermarriage happened among that group. Not unlike how different animal breeds are developed today.

Creation.com has an interesting article discussing race where they say:

Once separate languages were imposed, there would have been instantaneous barriers. Not only would people tend not to marry someone they couldn’t understand, but entire groups which spoke the same language would have difficulty relating to and trusting those which did not. They would tend to move away or be forced away from each other, into different environments.

In the end though, as they point out in the linked article, there is still only one race, where everyone is equal before God and in need of salvation.

  • +1, but minor quibble, please correct the spelling of "Bable" to "Babel". Otherwise exactly my thoughts, BTW...ok so some mutations may have been also due to environmental factors but the features that we tie with a particular "race" mainly had its origin in that separation of the people at Babel. The languages were probably split along family lines in some sense and the amount of languages may thus correspond to the families listed in Genesis ch.10. – user100487 Jun 4 '17 at 5:20

Racial differences

The existence of racial differences is best explained by scientists, who say that the first humans lived in Africa over 200,000 years ago. These people were black-skinned, simply because black skin helps protect against sun damage and consequent skin cancer, under the harsh African sun. Wikipedia states:

Mitochondrial DNA analyses place the early European population as sister group to the Asian groups, dating the divergence to some 50,000 years ago. The very light skin tone found in modern Northern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon,and may have only appeared in the European line as recently as 6 to 12 thousand years ago indicating Cro-Magnons [early Europeans] had light brown to tanned skin. Sequencing of finds of the late post-ice-age hunter-gatherer populations in Europe indicate the Cro-Magnons likely had blue eyes and dark hair, and an "olive" complexion. A small ivory bust of a man found at Dolní Věstonice and dated to 26,000 years indicates the Cro-Magnons had straight hair, though the somewhat later Venus of Brassempouy may show wavy or curly hair, possibly braided.

Concept of race

Benjamin Isaac says, in 'Collective Degradation:Slavery and the Construction of Race' that there appears to be a consensus that racism as such originates in modern times, and that the prejudices that existed in ancient societies were ethnic or cultural, not racial. He agrees that in classical antiquity racism did not exist in the modern form of a biological determinism, and there was no systematic persecution of any ethnic group by another. However, he argues that it is justified to speak of early forms of racism, 'proto-racism', as a widespread phenomenon in antiquity. What Isaac refers to as proto-racism is based on national stereotyping, rather than what we now consider racism. Isaac does not cover early Israelite attitudes, but we could probably include the Israelite attitudes to the Canaanites and Philistines under this heading.

The authors of Genesis were aware of differences among people of the ancient Near Eastern world and sought to explain these in two ways: first by assigning each of the sons of Noah to a different national group (Genesis chapter 10); second by explaining that God dispersed the people after they built to Tower of Babel in a vain and futile attempt to reach heaven (Genesis 11:6-9). These passages were clearly meant to explain national and language differences, not biological ones, although racial meaning was read into the stories centuries later.

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