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 Exodus 4:24-27, 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 Numbers 12).
Paul and His Boys
Come with me to an historic ordination service, as men of God were being commissioned as missionary preachers. Acts 13:1-3 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 Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26; Mark 15:21). In Acts 21:37-39, 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 Matthew 2:14). Furthermore, 4 out of the 5 women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, in Matthew, Chapter 1, 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.”