How Black Is the Bible?
Over 25 years ago, I began my freshman year at Wayne State University, in Detroit, Michigan. As a Christian college student, I wanted to make a difference for Christ on the campus, particularly with my fellow African-American students. So, I began sharing my faith. As I did this, “Afrocentrism” (also known as “Africentrism”) was in vogue on the college campuses. Many of my peers were getting into the serious study of our history and culture, as persons of African descent. Within this context, some of them began to see Christianity as a European invention, and therefore, something that was not culturally relevant. As I would attempt to witness to them about Jesus, they would often dismiss my message, saying, “Christianity is the White Man’s Religion,” or, “The Bible is the White Man’s Book.”
This sent me on a tailspin, and I began to question the relevance of my personal faith and my ability to effectively give an “apologetic” (or a defense) for Christianity. When the dust settled, I began to research the Black or African presence in the Bible, as well as other aspects of “Black Apologetics.” I read several books on this topic that motivated me to hold on more tightly to the faith that was passed on to me by my parents, Carl and Mary Bowman. What I found radically changed my view of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” as it related to the cultural context in which I found myself. My research also gave me a new-found confidence as I interacted with people from various backgrounds.
Starting with the Book of Genesis, I set out to discover if there were any Black people in the Bible, and, to my surprise, I found that White people (Europeans) did not come into prominence until the New Testament. The first 39 books of the Bible, and beyond, were filled with people of color; people who looked like me. I began to see how “Black” the Bible really was. As I think back on this time, it was then that I came to fully appreciate that all human beings, regardless of color or class, have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our great Creator. I also came to embrace the fact that the Christian faith and the Bible are for everyone; not just “the White man” or a select few. Herein, I would like to share a sliver of what I found.
Imagine that we are members of a local church having a cookout, and the honored guests are Black characters from the Bible. I’d dare say that many of us would be surprised by who shows up, much like the parents in the movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, when Dr. John Prentice showed up. This would especially be true if we were operating from our modern social constructs of “race” or “Blackness.” Keep in mind that “race” or our concept of what it means to be “Black” did not exist in the Bible days. This was socially constructed much later, for the purpose of dividing us. With this in mind, here are some people who might RSVP, and show up for the cookout . . .
Adam, where are you?
Many reputable archeologists, both atheists and people of faith, believe that the continent of Africa is “the cradle of civilization.” Assuming this is true, and I believe it is, the
Garden of Eden was in Africa. So, one could argue that, based on our definition of Blackness, Adam was Black. However, not only is there an argument for this based on Archeology, but Biology, as well. If you’re like me, you believe that the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God. In it, Adam is held up as the one in whom all humans find their origin. That being the case, Adam would have had the genetic makeup required to produce every “race” of people. Consequently, one could deduce that Adam was a person of color.
“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”
Zipporah was the wife of Moses, the man through whom God delivered the Israelites and gave the Law. In , it is recorded that Zipporah circumcised their son, Gershom, touched Moses’ feet, and referred to him as “a bridegroom of blood.” One gets the idea that “momma” wasn’t happy. Someone has said (not me) that “a mad Black woman will cut you.” Lest I digress, a study of Zipporah’s ethnicity reveals that she was from the land of Cush; that is Northeastern Africa; in the area we would refer to as Ethiopia (see ).
Paul and His Boys
Come with me to an historic ordination service, as men of God were being commissioned as missionary preachers. tells us that, in the Church at Antioch, “prophets and teachers” laid hands on Barnabas and Saul (now known as Paul), setting them apart for the ministry. Clearly, 2 of the men on the “ordination council’ were Black: Simeon, whose nickname was Niger (which means “Black”), and Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene (which was in Northern Africa/present-day Libya) was the same place where Simon, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, was from (see ; ; ). In , we find that Paul, a Jew, was mistaken for an Egyptian. News flash: Egypt is in Africa, not Europe or Asia, as some would like us to think. Egyptians do not look like the characters in Cecile B. DeMille’s famous movie, “The Ten Commandments.” Egyptians were, and still are, people of color. For Paul to have been mistaken for an Egyptian, he had to have had a relatively dark complexion, not merely “a good tan,” as some say.
Jesus, is that you?!
Let’s go back to our metaphorical church cookout. You mean Jesus, our Lord, Himself, could show up, as our honored guest?! Yep! Now, let’s not get it twisted! Jesus was a Jew. It is important to acknowledge this, in light of biblical prophecy. However, many of the ancient Hebrews were dark-skinned people. Consider, the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia, who still exist today. One thing we do know about Jesus is that he wasn’t what we would call “White.” After all, it was to Egypt that Joseph took the Christ Child and Mary to escape King Herod’s reach (see ). Furthermore, 4 out of the 5 women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, in Matthew, , were of African ancestry. They were Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is also interesting to note that Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian and contemporary of Jesus, is said to have described Him as having “dark skin.” The bottom line is this: regardless of Jesus’ color or ours, we have a Savior who died, not just for “the White Man,” but for everyone. That’s why Paul said, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. (ESV)
12:1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2 And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4 And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5 And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6 And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.
10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. (ESV)
13:1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (ESV)
32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. (ESV)
26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. (ESV)
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (ESV)
37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” (ESV)
14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (ESV)
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (ESV)