The Bible is and has been revered for centuries by many around the world. Though seldom recognized, it is fascinating to consider the diversity of the biblical text, whether one thinks in terms of geography, culture, characters, authors, editors, or theology.
In February, African-American History Month, it’s a good time to recall both the diversity of the biblical text as well as African contributions to it and to the Christian faith.
Geographical and Cultural Diversity: In their book, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us, Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine explain that the geography of the Bible covers “areas around the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile Rivers.”
In other words, the geographical roots of the Bible lie in Africa and Asia. Israel, then and now, is located on the trade route between the two continents. Power struggles that alternately put Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia was a southwestern Asian country. The Persian empire was a series of empires that occupied what is currently Afghanistan and Iran from 600 B.C.E. forward. Rulers of the Persian empire mentioned in the Bible are Cyrus and Darius., Greece, and Rome in control over the area meant that neither the biblical text nor Christianity developed in a vacuum. Rather, cultural influences were varied and ever changing. Cultural influences include Africa, Asia, and Europe, the three continents that surround the Mediterranean Sea. Communal cultures, such as those found in many parts of Africa, more closely mirror ancient biblical culture than do Western individualistic cultures.
Characters, Authors, Editors: The characters (whether historical or fictional) whose stories Grace is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. the Biblical narrative as well as the authors and editors (whether named or unnamed) who contributed to the biblical text form a diverse group. For example, while Isaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. was connected to the elites of his day, Prophet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel's oppression of the poor, calling for justice to "roll down like waters." was a sheep herder who cared for sycamore trees. The disciple who denied Jesus during his trial but later became a leader in proclaiming Jesus was considered unlearned, but A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church, highly educated, was a theological genius. His writings enabled the life of Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity to become the cornerstone of the Christian religion.
Texts such as How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Africa and the Bible, as well as The Africans Who Wrote the Bible, remind us of Africa’s connection to Christianity and the biblical text. While the early church understood these African connections, knowledge of these connections were lost, often suppressed, in the annals of time.
Theology: While the overall message of the Bible is God’s love for humanity, depending on the times and circumstances for which they wrote, the writers/editors of the Bible did not share the same viewpoint on every matter. For example, Paul writes that since there is only One God, one did not have to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols. The writer of Revelation felt that such meat should be avoided.
Today many of the basics of the Christian faith are considered “givens” (Trinity, humanity and divinity of Christ, and so on). However, in the early days of Christianity, many people were involved in developing the Church’s understanding of Jesus, his relationship to God, and what it means to be a Christian.
The theology that forms the Christian faith was developed in the period of the Church Fathers, 100-451 C.E. This was a period of tremendous cultural and theological diversity. Many of these Church Fathers hailed from or lived in Africa, including:
- Lactantius of North Africa, who was deeply concerned with justice. A man ahead of his time, Lactantius believed that being created in the According to the book of Genesis, humans were created in the likeness, or the image, of God. The phrase is generally taken to refer to the uprightness and dignity of human nature. Because of disobedience the image of God has been corrupted or, some say,... creates a common identity and dignity. This common bond manifests itself in both human rights and responsibilities for all. He was convinced that knowledge of self is intricately connected and rooted in God.
- Tertullian of Carthage, who argued for the unity of the Old and New Testaments. He maintained that scripture alone is sufficient for the formation of faith.
- Origen of Alexandria, who recognized the divinity of the Son (though he thought of the Son as being second to the Father).
- Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who was committed to the unity of the church.
- Augustine of Hippo, who gave us an understanding of grace and the Holy is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine Trinity. Augustine believed that grace, and grace alone, is humanity’s connection to God, not philosophy.
- Clement of Alexandria, who recognized that one can be Christian and intellectual. He deemed Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and... as the foundation for redemption. He understood that marriage and celibacy are simply life choices and that marriage is not inferior to celibacy. He considered life as a teetotaler or vegetarian to be matters of conscience, not faith. He thought that material gifts and possessions are not evil, but are given by the Creator and should be used with moderation for the good of all.
- Athanasius of Alexandria, who thought of Jesus Christ, the Son, as eternal, human and divine. Athanasius provided the first listing of the 27 books of the New Testament.
- St. Anthony of Egypt, who founded the monastic movement that attracted men and women to dedicate themselves to lives of faith, prayer, study, and service.
As the world is becoming more and more diverse, it’s worth acknowledging the diversity that has been integral to the fabric of the biblical text and of the Christian faith.