Here we take a chapter from Charles A. Wiseman’s booklet Not Of One Blood where he demonstrates that one of the favorite, go-to verses for universalist, egalitarian Christians — Acts 17:26 — does not — and cannot — be used to support their “anti-racist” reading of the Bible.
Chapter 5: Acts 17:26
It does not take much intelligence for anyone who reads the Bible to see that it is actually about one people — the descendants of Abraham called Israelites. From Genesis to Revelations, they are the theme and object of the Bible. Yet some claim there are verses which not only place all races on a complete equal standing with Israel, but on equal basis with them genetically. One such verse is Acts 17:26 —
And [God] has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.
This verse was used as a topic and theme for a book written by several Christian authors to prove the fatherhood of God and “brotherhood of man” concept. One of their comments on the subject is this statement:
The Bible does not even use the word ‘race’ in reference to people, but does describe all human beings as being of ‘one blood’ (Acts 17:26). This, of course, emphasizes that we are all related.
Is this then what Paul meant when he spoke these words to the men of Athens? Was he trying to tell them that Chinese, Pygmies, Eskimos, Tasmanians, Negroes, Israelites and Greeks well all blood relatives? That would seem to be a rather bizarre statement for Paul to make. What then does this verse mean?
With a book by the title of One Blood, which uses Acts 17:26 as its theme, subject matter, and proof text, one would expect there to be some analysis of that verse; however, the verse is referred to only a few times in the book. There is no study, evaluation or biblical exegesis of this verse. There is only a presumption that it means what the authors say it does. Since the meaning of the main topic is only a presumption, that makes it a poorly written book.
Let us then examine Acts 17:26 to see what it says — and what it does not say. Most authorities make note that the world “blood” is not in the ancient manuscripts. But we will ignore that issue for now, and ask what is meant by “one blood.” Does it mean that all blood is the same genetically?
It is common knowledge that blood is grouped into four types: A, B, AB, and O. Each type is also classified by an Rh factor — either positive (+) or negative (-), which makes eight different blood types. Each type is produced by a specific gene. The blood types are so different that if one type of blood is transfused into a person with a different type, it can result in death.
It is also known that blood contains different alleles — or alternate genes at certain locations on the chromosomes which contain specific inheritable characteristics. Here are some facts about the genetic difference in blood among the races:
The percentage of the population of the several races having certain blood groups vary enough so that the race of a population, if not of a particular individual, can often be identified based on blood analysis. Further a person’s blood can often eliminate him as a member of a particular race.
The Diego (Di) blood antigen is absent in Aryans and Negroes but high in Turanians (Orientals). The Cell (K) antigen is common in Aryans, but is rare in Negroes and Turanians. The Sutter (Js) antigen occurs only in Negroes….Blood group A1,2 is found in Negroes, but is seldom found in Aryans or Turanians. Contrary to popular myths, the races do not share a common blood. [Thomas C. Allen, Species Of Men, TC Allen Co., 1999, p. 24-36]
The Lewis (Le) allele is found in most races but is absent from the blood of Australian aborigines. The FY-O allele is found in most Negroes, but is not in Asians or Australians. The r blood allele is common in Europeans, but does not exist in Australians, Polynesians, or American Indians. Almost 90% of Bushman have the cDe allele but is near zero in other races. The Duffy null allele, which confers resistance to malaria, is found in 100% of African Negroes and 0% in other races. This source also states that the ALDH2*2 allele is frequent in Asians, but 0% in Africans and Europeans. The blood gene for sickle cell anemia is found mainly in Negroes.
A study of an enzyme haplotype in the blood showed “Africans have predominately a different haplotype not found in other populations. On a genetic and biological level, blood varies considerably, and is a distinctive characteristic which can set the races apart:
A person’s blood group is one of his physical characteristics, just as dark skin may be, or blue eyes or a hooked nose. Like other physical characteristics, blood groups can be used to divide mankind into races. [William C. Boyd & Issac Asimov, “Races and People,” Abelard-Schuman, New York, 1955, p. 145]
All blood is clearly not the same, whether viewed within a race or among races. So the term “one blood” could not possibly mean that all blood is the same biologically or genetically. This is especially true since the field of genetics was not even known during biblical times. When we use the term “blood” today, we often use it to denote race, heritage, lineage, or relationship. We might say someone is of royal blood, or has Indian blood, or is mixed blood, etc., but the term “blood” was never used in the Bible that way.
Here is what some Bible authorities have to say as to the meaning of “blood”:
The blood contains the vital principal or the essence of animal and human life (Genesis 9:4 – “But flesh with life thereof which is the blood thereof, you shall not eat.” Because of the sacredness of life, the Israelites were enjoined from eating the blood. [“The Zondervan Pictoral Bible Dictionary”]
Blood is used as the substantial basis of individual life in John 1:13; Acts 17:26. The expression corresponds to the idea contained in Leviticus 17:11 — ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood.’ [“The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament”]
It was anciently believed that the blood is the seat of the life. [“Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon”]
The term “blood” in the Bible was used to refer to the essence of life. The only other way it was used was in reference to sacrifice or atonement. It was not used to indicate the biological relationship of people. It thus is a blatant error to say that “one blood” in Acts 17:26 means all people are related. Remember, this was only a presumption of the authors of the book One Blood — and obviously that presumption is wrong.
The use of the word “blood” to indicate relationship is not even accurate. That usage has its origin in medieval times. [John R. Baker, Race, Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 14]. At that time, they had no understanding of DNA and genetics, so they employed the word “blood” to best convey relationship and lineage. It has been used to up modern times in that way.
Those who use Acts 17:26 to claim that everyone is related — or have the same genetic lineage — have made a very big error in Bible interpretation. The error is applying modern concepts and definitions to words spoken 2 or 3,000 years ago. The meaning and usage of words change. Even when the King James Bible was translated in 1611, words they used then have different meanings today.
The world “blood” was never used in the Bible to convey the idea of one who is a relative or biologically related. Instead it used the words “bone and flesh” to convey the idea of biological relations as in the following verses:
Gen. 2:23 — “And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Gen. 29:14 — “And Laban said to him [Jacob], Surely thou art my bone and my flesh.”
Judges 9:2 — “…remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”
2 Sam. 5:1; 1 Chron. 11:1 — “Then came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron, and spoke, saying, Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh.”
2 Sam. 19:12 — “Ye are my brethren, ye are my bones and my flesh.”
Ephesians 5:30 — “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”
Now in modern day language those speaking in these verses might have said, “You are of my blood.” But that meaning did not exist in biblical times, so they used the words “bone and flesh.” If Paul had said in Acts 17 that “God has made all men of one bone and flesh,” then the egalitarians might have an argument, but as it is with the word “blood”, they have no argument.
Since we are not talking about genetics in Acts 17:26, we could say that all people do have the same or one blood. That is, once we understand that biblically, blood means the essence of life. We all have this essence of life — not only man but animals. Blood does the same thing in man as it does in animals — it carries oxygen, nourishment, vitamins, antibodies, and electrolytes to cells and tissues and takes away waste and carbon dioxide. We all have that in common — all races and all mammals. The Bible reveals that we all have other things in common as well. In Ecclesiastes, it says:
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Eccl. 3:18-20)
Here the Bible says that man and animal both have “one breath,” and that they both are made out of one and the same “dust.” Does that mean we are related to animals? If you apply the interpretation (presumption) of the egalitarian Christians, you would have to say we are. These verses have nothing to do with being related or having the same lineage. Neither does the fact that all people have “one blood” or the same nature of life make them related.
So if Paul used the word “blood” in Acts 17, it would be saying no more than that everyone has the same vital principle of life — blood — which came from God. Blood could only have referred to the life-giving principle in man and animals — not their biological relationship.
Now, what did Paul mean in this verse? To get a better understanding of what he meant, biblical exegesis requires that we look at the context to determine the meaning. Let’s start by reading the surrounding verses:
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
Paul was speaking to the men of Athens. These people had a lot of pride and ego regarding their culture and nation. They considered their culture to be the best — that they had the best religion and idols, the best academics, etc. Paul thus addresses these problems of conceit, as one bible commentator says,
The Apostle rebukes the narrow pride of the Greeks, who divided mankind into Greeks and barbarians, the latter being of no account [J.R. Dummelow, “A Commentary on the Holy Bible,” p. 842].
According to a Greek, you were either a Greek or a no count barbarian. Thus the two main issues of contention Paul has with the men of Athens are their idolatry and their conceited view of their nation. Paul was telling them that there is one God who made all things, including all nations. The word “nations” is a key word here. Everyone reads Acts 17:26 as though it says, “God had made of one blood all men.” The book One Blood quotes it as, “God had made all men of one blood,” but that is not what it says.
It says God has made of one blood all nations of men. The issue is nations which consist of men. God made or established all nations, including Greece. This fact would tenf to deflate the conceited view of the Greeks. So the issue is nations, not individual men. Most have failed to see this because they have been conditioned by the erroneous interpretation of this verse and develop a mental block and unable to read it correctly.
Once we understand that the issue is nations, we can see that the word “blood” does not fit in the verse very well. The better reading is this — “God made from one every nation of men.” Also the word “from” is more appropriate here than is the word “of.” So it actually reads “from one.”
But what is the “one” in this verse? Looking again at the context and Bible as a whole, many authorities have said that the “one” in this verse could be Adam:
Bullinger’s Companion Bible — “One Blood” — The texts omit ‘blood.’ The ‘one’ here means either Adam, or the dust of which he was formed.
The Interpreter’s Commentary — “…from one (some manuscripts add ‘blood’), I.e., from Adam.
Peak’s Commentary on the Bible — ‘From one.’ The Western text adds ‘blood,’ probably failing to realize that the reference is to Adam.
The Oxford Annotated Bible — ‘From one, i.e., one man (Adam).
It would seem that the “One” in Acts 17:26 is a reference to Adam, or to the dust of the ground. But remember, it would not read, “God has made of Adam all men.” Rather it would be saying, “God has made from Adam all nations.” Paul thesis is stating biblical history. This verse is cross-referenced to Deuteronomy 32:8 which reads,
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
We can see the similarity of Acts 17:26 with this verse — both talk about God dividing the nations within their own boundaries. Moffat translates Acts 17:26 as follows: “All nations has he created from a common origin.” The message is that God establishes nations and boundaries, but He used the sons of Adam to do so.
Adam and his descendants would be the common source of all nations. Before Adam there were no nations. His descendants spread out over the earth forming various nations, and often had those nations named after them. Genesis 10 lists some of these nations formed by Noah’s descendants.
It is possible that the “one” Paul mentions could be the earth or dust of the ground — since Adam was formed from the ground? God made all men and thus all nations from the dust of the ground. But he also made animals the same way.
There is strong evidence that the word “blood” in Acts 17:26 was an interpolation in the Masoretic text. If it was, then it would not be the first error with that text or the King James Bible. There are certain differences between the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic text. While God’s word is true and infallible, men have made some errors in copying and translating it. I think that only a Pharisaical-minded individual would have a problem with this.
Even if one insists that the word “blood” is to be in Acts 17:26, that word was never used in a genetic sense, so we can dismiss the common interpretation of that verse. Further, that interpretation does not concur with biological facts.