I prefer to look to the Bible for an understanding of who I am as an African American. The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God; it is the only place we can go to receive a totally accurate and objective understanding of race. Whites and blacks alike have used and misused race for their own advantages. Both races have allowed popular opinion, sociopolitical structures, cultural traditions, and personal preferences to “color” their views about themselves and others.
During the era of slavery whites viewed themselves more highly than others in an attempt to persuade blacks to view ourselves more lowly than others. On the other hand, during the sixties revolution black pride was sometimes taken to violent extremes. The Bible does not suffer from such human lopsidedness because its author is God, and God gives the truth on who we are, whose we are, and how we ought to think of ourselves (Rom. 12:3).
Rooting racial history and culture in the Bible allows us to contradict blacks who write off the Bible as a white man’s book and Christianity as a white man’s religion. When a person understands the glorious presence of African people in God’s drama of redemptive history, Scripture is clearly the primary source for legitimate black pride. Those who reject the Bible stand on shaky racial ground. The Scripture allows blacks to take pride in who we are and what God has made us, without feeling we have to become something other than what God created us to be.
Race has played a major role in the social development and the functioning of American society. It benefits us to discover God’s perspective of racial prejudice. Moses faced racial prejudice when his sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron, challenged his God-given leadership because he was married to an African woman, a Cushite (Num. 12:1). What apparently bothered them was not simply that Moses’ new bride was dark-complexioned, because it has been proven that other Israelites were also dark-skinned. Rather, it was that she was black and foreign. Her African ethnic origin was unacceptable. It is important to note here that God punished Miriam with the disease of leprosy for her rebellion against Moses “because of the Cushite woman whom he had married.” God turned Miriam’s skin white, causing her to be “leprous, as white as snow” (Num. 12:10).
The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God; it is the only place we can go to receive a totally accurate and objective understanding of race.
Racism, whether based on skin color or ethnicity, has always been a terrible sin in the eyes of God and worthy of His severest judgment. However, such judgment can be reversed when repentance takes place (vv. 11–15). Both white and black people who allow race to determine social and political structures in America need to remember that.
It is clear from Scripture that black people are objects of God’s love and grace. The very lineage of Jesus included blacks, and Africans were among the leaders of the first-century church. Thus, African Americans and white Americans can see that black people are an integral part of God’s redemptive agenda and have played a decisive role in disseminating that kingdom agenda to the rest of the world. All Christians need to understand the eternal dimensions of black history.
The Bible is our common ground. It is the guidebook that links black and white Christians to God’s eternal truth. Therefore we should look to it for an understanding of race relations, just as we read it to know how to make our everyday decisions.
The Bible is the primary source for legitimate racial pride, self-authentication, self-analysis, intracultural and cross-cultural analysis, and determining God’s view of a group’s national purpose. The Bible alone fulfills this function with honesty and integrity and should be the starting point for any group to find out its true identity. A biblical perspective is crucial if black people are going to relate properly to their roots and if white people are going to better understand and see us for who we are.
Most black churches celebrate Black History Month, but the focus is usually on black American history because there is very little awareness or appreciation for black biblical history. However, part of the process of discipleship within the black church as well as the white church needs to be to equip our congregations by providing biblical, historically accurate, and logical answers to the relevance and value of the ancestral presence of blacks in Scripture. Without it, African Americans are asked to define ourselves with an inaccurate view of our place in history. Anytime people have an incomplete view of themselves, it affects their actions, thus perpetuating many preconceived notions of perception and identification.
Because all humanity has its origin in Adam and the three sons of Noah (Gen. 9:18–19; Acts 17:26), this is an appropriate starting point for gaining a proper biblical basis for racial identity. And because we all stem from the same root, it is absurd for any group to claim superiority over another. It was God’s intention to reestablish the human race through the three sons of Noah; therefore, God legitimized all races over which each son stands as head and over which Noah presides as father. This is especially true since the Scripture says that God blessed Noah and his sons, and the command to repopulate the earth was comprehensive and equally applied to each of them (Gen. 9:1).
Racism, whether based on skin color or ethnicity, has always been a terrible sin in the eyes of God and worthy of His severest judgment.
Each son is associated with nations of peoples, as is recorded in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. Black people, then, as all other races, can take pride in the fact that it was God’s intention that we exist, survive, and function as nations of peoples.
One particularly informative verse is 1 Chronicles 4:40, which indicates that Hamitic people living in Canaan positively contributed to community life, productivity, and social well-being: “They found rich and good pasture, and the land was broad and quiet and peaceful; for those who lived there formerly were Hamites.” Here, we have a biblical foundation for appropriately placed black pride.
When one examines the biblical data, it becomes distinctively clear that black people have an awesome heritage.
Hamitic peoples were crucial to the program of God throughout Old Testament biblical history. Joseph’s wife, an Egyptian woman (Gen. 41:45, 50–52), was the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim, who later became leaders of Jewish tribes. In fact, the tribe of Ephraim produced one of the greatest leaders Israel ever had—Moses’ successor, Joshua (Num. 13:8; 1 Chron. 7:22–27). This Jewish-African link is very strong in Scripture. The prophet Amos said, “‘Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?’ declares the Lord” (Amos 9:7).
Caleb was the son of Jephunneh the Kennizzite; the Kennizzites were a part of the Canaanite tribes (Gen. 15:19) and descendants of Ham. Caleb also came from the tribe of Judah (Josh. 14:6, 14). Judah, the progenitor of the tribe, fathered twin sons by Tamar, a Hamitic woman (Gen. 38). Caleb joined with Joshua as one of the two spies who went to explore Canaan and brought back a positive report to enter the land and take possession of it, as God had declared (Num. 13–14).
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, from whom Moses received the greatest single piece of advice regarding national leadership, ministry organization, political strategy, and personal planning ever recorded (Ex. 18:13–27), was a Kenite (Judg. 1:16), part of the Canaanite tribes who descended from Ham (Gen. 15:19). At that time, the Kenites had settled in the land of Midian.
Another interesting observation regarding Jethro is that he is identified as “the priest of Midian” (Ex. 3:1). Since he was a priest, yet he was not a Levite and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established, the question is: What kind of priesthood could this have been? The only other priesthood within the framework of Scripture to which Jethro could have belonged was the priesthood of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). This is significant because Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17). This means that the priest Jethro, who was of African descent, may have been indicative of pre-Aaronic priesthoods, such as that of Melchizedek, which foreshadowed the priestly role of both Christ and the church.
This, then, is another basis for recognizing the strategic role Africans played in the biblical saga that continues today, because all Christians are related to Jethro and his priesthood as part of the royal priesthood.
Zipporah was the daughter of Jethro, the African wife of Moses. She bore him two sons and rescued his life from divine judgment when she circumcised her son—a task that belonged to Moses (Ex. 2:21–22; 4:24–26; 18:2–3). If she is the same black wife of Moses spoken of in Numbers, then God intervened on her behalf against the racism regarding their interracial marriage by Moses’ brother and sister (Num. 12:1–15).
Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, was of African descent. This we know because Cyrene is a country in North Africa (Matt. 27:32). He was compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Christ to His crucifixion site. This means that the first person to follow behind Jesus, bear His cross, and have Christ’s blood run off on him was a black man. This is the spiritual posture of discipleship God calls all believers to have as we identify with Christ and His suffering (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).
King David is known not only as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) but as one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. David’s great-grandmother was a Canaanite woman, Rahab, who is also listed in the Hall of Faith (Heb. 11:31). David’s grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite, from a people who were Canaanites as well. David, one of the heroes of the faith, hailed from mixed Jewish and Hamitic ancestry and stands as a leader of whom blacks can be proud to call our own.
Solomon was David’s son with Bathsheba, a Hamitic woman. Bathsheba literally means the daughter of Sheba. The Table of Nations identifies Sheba in the line of Ham, making Sheba a descendant from an African nation (Gen. 10:7). The Song of Solomon describes Solomon’s features as “tanned and handsome, better than ten thousand others! His head is purest gold, and he has wavy, raven hair” (Song 5:10–11 TLB). Solomon was not only the wisest man to rule a nation, but he also brought about the greatest extension of Israel’s reach as a kingdom (1 Kings 3:3–14). Solomon’s great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother, and mother gave him roots within the black race, and place him as an example of black achievement.
Underscoring the fact that black people are an integral part of God’s revelatory process in both the proclamation and recording of divine revelation is the prophet Zephaniah.
The Old Testament states that Zephaniah was of Hamitic origin. He was from the lineage of Cush (Zeph. 1:1), and he prophesied God’s judgment on Judah and her enemies for their rebellion against God and their gross idolatry; yet, he proclaimed, the grace of God would save a remnant and restore blessing to the people.
People of African descent can take pride in God’s prophet Zephaniah, one of the biblical authors, as their forefather.
The church at Antioch had two black men as leaders. Their names were Simeon, who was called Niger or black (as I mentioned earlier), and Lucius, who was from Cyrene. These two black men assisted in the ordination and commissioning of the apostle Paul (Acts 13:1–3). This verifies that black people were not only leaders in the culture of the New Testament era, but also leaders in the church itself.
The Ethiopian eunuch is most likely responsible for the establishment or expansion of the Coptic church in a large part of Africa. While, according to tradition, Mark the Evangelist was one of the first to bring the gospel to Alexandria in Egypt where the Coptic branch of Christianity began to develop and spread, the Ethiopian eunuch carried the seed of Christianity into East Africa.
This talented man revealed the high degree of organizational and administrative responsibility that existed within the upper echelons of Ethiopian culture. The Bible describes him as a eunuch of great authority under “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:27). According to the standard Greek lexical studies, the word Ethiopian is of Greek origin. It literally means “burnt face.” The term eunuch does not necessarily denote emasculation; it can refer to high military and political officials.
People of African descent can take pride in God’s prophet Zephaniah, one of the biblical authors, as their forefather.
The scriptural account of the Ethiopian official is significant for two reasons. First, it acknowledges the existence of a kingdom of dark-skinned peoples at the time of first-century Christianity. Second, it records the continuation of Christianity in Africa after having been initiated through the first African-Jewish proselytes who were converts at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). This account of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official verifies God’s promise in Zephaniah 3:9–10: “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, My dispersed ones, will bring My offerings.”
These verses show God’s desire: He wishes to call to Himself peoples from the African continent, not into servitude and disdain as some incorrectly surmise, but into brotherhood with all men to serve Him “shoulder to shoulder.”
As we see in history, the Ethiopian eunuch’s influence has reached generations and transformed an entire culture for Christ. According to tradition, current Ethiopia was once the powerful kingdom of Axum. Its king, Ezaha, became one of the first world rulers to make Christianity the official religion of his kingdom, which became a major center for the faith. When Marco Polo visited Ethiopia, he referred to it as a magnificent Christian land. In 1173, Ethiopians were hosted by a gathering of church leaders in Constantinople. Between 1200–1500 the Zagwe dynasty ruled the land and led an expansion of the church. One of them, Zara Yaqob, worked to purge Ethiopia of traditional African religion. By the 1480s, the Church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini was built in Rome specifically for the use of Ethiopian visitors and settlers. Since the Ethiopian church wasn’t the product of European influences, it developed its own distinct religious customs and a slightly different canon of Scripture. To this day, the Ethiopian church carries forward these distinctives.
Deserving of our greatest attention is the lineage of Christ. Over and over again, the prophets prophesied that the Messiah would come from the seed of David. As we have already seen, the Davidic line finds a number of black people within it. Of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy (Matt. 1:1–16), four are of Hamitic descent—Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth.
The point here is not that Jesus was black. To assert such, as some black theologians and religious leaders do, is to fall into the exclusionist perspective of many whites who would make Jesus an AngloEuropean, blue-eyed blond who had very little relevance to people of color. It would also fail to respect the distinct Jewish heritage of Christ. Rather, Jesus was mestizo—a person of mixed ancestry.
It blesses me to know that Jesus had black in His blood, because this destroys any perception of black inferiority once and for all. In Christ we find perfect man and sinless Savior. In Christ, we all have our heritage.
Black people, as all other people, can find a place of historical, cultural, and racial identity in Him. As Savior of all mankind, He can relate to all people, in every situation. In Him, any person from any background can find comfort, understanding, direction, and affinity, as long as He is revered as the Son of God, a designation that transcends every culture and race and one to which all nations of people must pay homage.
It should be evident from even a limited understanding of the Bible that many people of African descent have had a major role in the development and dissemination of the Christian faith. Far from being an uninformed people who were afterthoughts in the mind and plan of God, blacks were a well-informed, progressive, productive, and influential people—so much so that we were at the very center of every aspect of God’s activity in history. It is only because people have failed to present an accurate reflection of historical truth that this reality is ignored.
I invite Anglos to see African Americans through the lens of Scripture rather than that of culture. In so doing, there can be a basis of equality in relationship building. If we who are black will see ourselves through the same lens of Scripture, we will discover an appropriate basis for racial pride in the God of the Bible. It also means we can give other races the same significance and respect as part of God’s creation that we desire to receive from them.
by Tony Evans
If the Bible is allowed to be the standard by which blacks and whites determine truth, then freedom from this moral and racial malaise will be...
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