Black African peoples in the Bible

This commentary on the unfair exclusion of Black African peoples in the Bible is an honest attempt to set the record straight. – David Ramgeet

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2:15

The truth many times conflicts with tradition. Not everyone in the world wants truth. The sooner that sincere Christians wake up to this idea, the sooner we can get on with the unadulterated teaching of scripture to those who are truly hungry to know the one true God. The Word of God is truth. It is perfect and precise. It is not full of error and contradiction. Those who truly hunger and thirst for answers will have their longing souls satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

All men are alleged to have descended from Adam and Eve and it has been implied that all races descended from Noah and his three sons. Through intermarriage, there are an abundance of different shades of people on earth, from the palest white to the darkest black and if we are to believe in the correctness of the bible, then the sayings, “There is nothing new under the sun” and “So it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end” should speak volumes about who the biblical peoples really were.

The proliferation of white European images used to depict biblical characters in various books, including some prints of the Bible, is an error that has gone uncorrected for a very long time. One great fallacy that these images have fostered in the minds of many white and non white peoples is to imply that all godly people are white thereby making them (whites) somehow superior and closer to God than other races.

This notion is not true and therefore could not be from God (must be from that other guy). To set this record straight is not a matter of “Political Correctness”. It is a matter of Truth and Biblical accuracy. Shouldn’t Christians, being followers of the one and true God, seek to be as true about the inclusion (or the lack of it) of Black African peoples and their role in the bible? No Preacher, Priest, Pastor or Prophetic teacher should claim to be representing Christ and His Gospel while denying or ignoring the black presence and contribution to scripture, in both Old and New Testaments. Why should this important issue be swept under the rug just to avoid offending some overly sensitive race or group if they are really about the truth?

While white church leadership may not be saying from the pulpit that Jesus or other people from the bible are white, it is being done in other more subliminal ways. Almost all pictorial representations of Jesus, biblical characters and angels used by the church have Caucasian features. These images are embraced and promoted by White and in many cases Black Christian fellowships. It is only recently that people of color have begun to embrace black images that represent biblical peoples. Although it is unsure what Jesus looked like 2000 years ago, the black dreadlocked image of Christ that has found its way into black culture is really closer to what He may have looked like than the blue eyed, blond haired images that we have been used to. It is quiet possible that Jesus could have followed the ways of the Nazarites who never cut their hair while being dedicated to God. (Numbers 6v1-5)

Jesus was from the African continent not Europe. To be precise, Jesus was born in North Africa, but Africa nonetheless. Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus, is located on the northeastern tip of the continent of Africa. He was born in an area where the people were either African or Asiatic ( Semitic). Both of these groups were some shade of black. This is not to say Jesus was only for people of color. He is for everybody, however, the point is being made to show that Jesus was not the white person so often portrayed by European and American artists. His blood line, recorded in Matthew chapter one, included people descended from Ham whose very name means “Black,” or burnt face.”

Shortly after He was born, wise men from the “east” came to visit Jesus, and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gifts worthy of a royal king. According to some scholars, the word, “east,” does not mean east as we know it but, “from a far distance,” Since the gifts brought were gifts more commonly found in Iraq and in Sheba( southern Arabia), it evident that the wise men were really from Africa.

After the wise men left, Joseph was instructed by an angel to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus from the reach of King Herod who was determined to kill Him after learning that a new king had been born and would be a threat to his own kingship. Mary and Joseph immediately went to Egypt. Some scholars have observed that only if Jesus was a person of color could He hide among dark-skinned Egyptians. When King Herod died, Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Galilee where they lived until Jesus began His ministry at the approximate age of 30.

There are many people of color that God used in the Bible. Another people of color mentioned in the Bible are the people of Cyrene. The people of Cyrene were African people who lived in what is now Libya. Situated on the Mediterranean coast of northern Africa, Cyrene was the chief city of the region known then as Cyrenaica, the nation that bordered Egypt on the west. Cyrene itself lay about 450 miles (720 km) west of Alexandria, Egypt. Even though northern Africa is often considered Arab today, there were no Arab peoples anywhere in northern Africa in Biblical times (Old or New Testament), only Africans. Arab peoples did not move into Africa until the 7th-11th centuries A.D., about 600 – 1,000 years after the Bible was finished.

Cyrene is the African country where Simon of Cyrene came from, that blessed brother who helped the Lord Jesus bear His cross up to Mount Calvary (Mt 27:32). Simon and his people were descendants of Put (Phut), the third son of Ham, the ancestral father of Africans. Ham was Noah’s youngest son (see Gen. 9:19, 10:1-20).

Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, was also a man of Cyrene, a North African Jew like Simon of Cyrene. Mark was a disciple of Peter, one of Jesus’ three closest apostles, the apostle who made the blessed confession “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16), to whom the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19). His gospel, the Gospel of Mark, is believed by Bible scholars to have been the first gospel written (it was written about 50 A.D.).

The Acts of Mark, a book written by an early Christian around the fourth or fifth century (about 200-300 years after Mark died) says St. Mark was a Cyrenian Jew, and that Mark first preached the Gospel in Cyrene, to his own people in northern Africa, around Libya.

This is a very important area, where our Bible teachers, our Bible schools, and our Bible seminaries have been imbalanced and therefore not telling the whole truth. They openly teach and preach that Luke was a Greek, but they never mention that Mark was an African. God expects and requires that all of His people be recognized and openly acknowledged, as Rom 2:11 says “For there is no respect of persons with God.” No bias for or against anyone. But God knows, the early church knew, and now we know more about this apostle whom God used first to preach to Cyrenians, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

To the east of Cyrene, the Coptic Church in northern Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia) traces its very origin back to this same St. Mark, who brought the gospel into that area, too. As the Coptic liturgy says, ‘Be glad and rejoice, O Egypt, and her sons and all her borders, for there hath come to thee the Lord of Man….’

This is interesting history, certainly, but that is not all that it is. Mark’s establishing the Coptic Church in Egypt and Ethiopia also fulfils Old Testament prophecies: Isaiah 19:21-25 “And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform [it.] And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal [it:] and they shall return [even] to the LORD, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, [even] a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed [be] Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”

PS 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”

So Mark, an African Jew, became a disciple of Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle apostles (Peter, John, James). This same Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a gospel of the Bible, then sent by God into the mission field, back to Egypt, the same part of Africa where the Lord Jesus Himself lived when He fled as a baby with His family from the wicked King Herod (Mt. 2:13-15). Right back to Egypt, establishing that church’s headquarters in Alexandria, right on the Nile River. So, Egypt, the African country God chose to take care of Jesus when He was a baby, received the blessed gift of the Gospel from the mouth of one who learned it from Peter himself, who received the keys to the kingdom of heaven from Jesus Christ Himself. And as an added blessing, God even used the Coptic Church to fulfill the prophecies He gave in the Old Testament about bringing Egypt to Himself and making this African nation one of His people.

But there’s more. In the early church, three churches were the most influential and the most highly regarded. There was Jerusalem, God’s chosen city, where James, half-brother of Jesus Christ (Jesus had no human father, being the Son of God – Luke 1:35), author of the epistle of James, had been bishop. There was Rome, founded by both Peter and Paul. And there was Alexandria, chief city of the Coptic Church which Mark founded.

The Coptic Church survived tremendous persecution many times through the centuries, many attempts to erase the name of Jesus Christ from Africa and the rest of the known world at that time. Just by surviving through all of that, the Coptic Church won over its adversaries. In fact, it prospered and grew and overcame, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy, “Upon this rock will I build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” How absolutely true Jesus is, how reliable His Bible is – the Coptic Church has lasted in northern Africa for 2,000 years! The church survived persecutions of Roman emperors, the Muslim conquests and many other attacks.

Black and non-Black scholars alike confirm the significant presence and role of Africans in the Bible. While we readily affirm these Africans in the biblical record, it is not an attempt to elevate Africans above other people. Rather, the purpose of affirming Africans in the biblical record is to help correct the distortions that have occurred in recent history.

During biblical times, color of skin was irrelevant—a non-issue. People revered those of African descent—not because of their color—but for their abilities. Only during the last three or four centuries have concerted attempts been made to eliminate these people of color from the biblical record. The result of that distortion has been to leave all people of African descent without their rightful history, their culture, their values, and their sense of significance.

Any people deprived of their history and sense of importance can be more easily dehumanized and demonized. In this way, subjugating and controlling them seems arguably justified. Examples are not hard to find. By dehumanizing and demonizing Jews, Hitler sought to justify their elimination. By dehumanizing and demonizing the indigenous Native Americans and the Black African peoples, white pioneers in the Americas justified eliminating the one and enslaving the other. By demonizing other young people, some gang members try to justify killing their counterparts. Politicians demonize each other. It appears that mankind has a knack for demonizing each other for some advantage or other!

The distortion of African history evolved in a number of ways: Through deliberate omissions and twisting of history; through the pictorial portrayal of biblical people as ethnically different from what they really were — (African and African-Asiatic) and through the failure of scholars and writers to acknowledge these distortions when confronted with the facts. The great tragedy: Those whose role it is to pass along the results of research to the general population have done a poor job in doing so.

Of course, not all distortions have been deliberate. Some have simply been the ignorant perpetuation of what has been received from others. Other distortions have stemmed from non-African/Asiatic peoples attempt to closely identify with the biblical peoples. Whatever the motivation or method, we have ultimately been given an inaccurate representation of biblical history and should be addressed by all those who claim to teach the true Word of God.

There are many more people of color that God is using today. If we really look at it, we’re all people of some color. Let’s make sure it is the right color. However we may look on the outside, we ought to be sure our souls are all red on the inside, covered by the blood of Jesus, through faith in Him and with our sins forgiven. Whatever color we are right here and right now, in eternity it will be far better to be red, washed in the precious blood of Jesus, than to be anything else.

Note: Research for and compilation of this article includes the writings of Dr. Melvin Banks Sr., Rev. Robert Ash and Jack Northart.