Question: Where did the different “races” come from, since the Flood wiped out all humanity except Noah’s family?
This is a particularly important question, because the concept of “race” is so prevalent in society, even with all the cultural attempts to downplay it. Surprisingly, the answer is found within the question, as we shall see shortly.
When we speak of “race” we automatically think in terms of “red and yellow, black and white,” and associate the human color spectrum with the various ethnic groups (Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, etc.). The Bible does recognize the obvious ethnic, national and language distinctions within the human family, but the term “race” is a uniquely cultural idea, not a biblical one. “Race” suggests subdivisions of ‘human being’ as a creature, which the Bible nowhere teaches or supports.
What the Bible does teach, however, is that all humanity ultimately descends from Adam and Eve, and from Noah and his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth.
Gen. 10:32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.
Acts 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
Noah’s three sons, and especially their descendants, gradually moved away from the slopes of Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey, where the ark had settled after the Flood (Gen. 10-11).
As they and their extended families moved away from each other geographically and established communities, intermarriage between cousins was both common and necessary for survival. The genetic DNA pool would be limited, which would encourage particular traits to become dominant from generation to generation, such as darker or lighter skin and other physical characteristics. We see the very same effect when animals are closely interbred. As a result, there are now many more “breeds” of dogs than the canine ancestors which first entered the ark. Notice that these breeds are not considered different “races” of dog.
Basic people groupings can be traced back to Noah’s three sons and their descendants, but even here physical characteristics such as skin tone cross over between ethnic branches. There are dark and light skinned Hispanics, for example. So our modern distinction between Caucasian, Black, Hispanic and Asian is a completely arbitrary one that tends to divide more than it does unite us as people created in the image of God.
Generally speaking, Ham and his wife can be identified as the ancestors of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, Canaanites, African tribes, and perhaps the Native American and South Pacific Island people groups. Shem is the ancestor of the Semitic and Arab peoples, and from Japheth descended the Europeans, such as the Greeks and Romans1.
So the answer to this Bible Gems question is found within the question itself: There are no “races” in the human family. There is only the human race, descended from Noah, who was descended from Adam and Eve, and created in the image of God.
1. Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1976, pg. 240-243.