A little over a year ago, I had the joy of reviewing one of the books in the forthcoming Africa Study Bible, which numerous companies and organizations such as Oasis International partnered to produce. I’m happy to say the publisher, Tyndale House, has now kindly sent me a review copy of the full text of the NLT (New Living Translation) with footnotes and articles presenting “God’s Word Through African Eyes.”
This amazing study edition received the input of 350 contributors from 50 countries, who provided Touch Points that “reveal uniquely African perspectives” and Proverbs and Stories that “relate Scripture with wisdom from Africa.” Articles applying biblical counsel to our lives and copious notes on Christian values have been included, too, along with a timeline that “highlights God’s work in Africa.”
Does that matter to anyone other than African-American Christians? Most definitely! The places, perspectives, and cultures highlighted in this highly recommended study Bible help our understanding of scriptures that might otherwise perplex readers who only have a typical Eureopean-American view.
Equally important is our recognition and embrace of the heritage we share in such early Christian leaders and theologians as St. Augustine, Athanasius, Cyril, and Origen – each of whom came from Africa.
But, did you know that Joseph, Moses, and Solomon married African women, and the famed Queen of Sheba probably came from the region now known as Ethiopia? Jesus spent His early childhood in Africa, which, at the time, was under Roman rule.
As Jesus stumbled on the way to crucifixion, Simon of Cyrene, an area now known as Libya, lifted the heavy load of the cross. After Jesus’ resurrection from death and ascension into heaven, Acts 2:9 tells us that the Holy Spirit poured onto the crowds of people gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, including disciples from Egypt and areas of Libya. Later, the Apostle Philip led to Christ an official of the royal court in what’s most likely the Sudan. According to Acts 11, believers from Libya preached the gospel to Gentiles, then leaders from the area commissioned Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries. By the second century A.D., at least 3 Bishops of Rome (Popes) came from North Africa, and shortly thereafter (before the invention of English!) the Bible was translated into an African language.
The list goes on and on, as does Christianity in Africa, but I want to get back to the unique and highly relevant perspective of the articles and footnotes in this edition. For example, the article “Land, Labour, and Inheritance” points out that, in Israel, “Land was not to be sold permanently to ensure that the rich would not use it to take advantage of the poor.”
The article also reports that “Today there is tension over land between local people and foreigners. Non-African multinational companies are buying huge pieces of land to meet their business needs.”
Unfortunately, land “becomes practically useless if people do not work the land to provide for themselves, their families, and the poor in the community.” Also, “In Africa, land is the basic asset for human flourishing. Ideally, it should be owned by families and passed on from generation to generation, much like land ownership in biblical Israel.”
Bible people passed along important histories and stories too, and, even today, “Storytelling is common in Africa. Elders use stories to pass on lessons and values to their community…. Many Christians tell their stories in testimonies that show how gracious God has been to them. Such testimonies help others to learn about God…. We must be careful, however, not to dwell on stories of wrongs done to us. Such stories have been used to fuel conflict among ethnic groups. By telling stories of God’s care for us, we preserve our cultural heritage and also spread the news about the goodness of God. Telling the stories of God’s work and blessings in our lives is certainly a part of what Jesus meant when he said, ‘And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere’ (Acts 1:8).”
God’s Word brings salvation to all people everywhere. In the Name of Jesus, we become one family in Christ through communion – our common union. This vital part of our spiritual health and spiritual empowerment brings us together as one in the Body of Christ.
“Most African cultures and ethnic groups also emphasize the importance of community: A Zulu proverb says, ‘Umuntu ngumubntu mgamuntu,’ which means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’ This expresses the concept of Ubuntu, a principle of caring for each other’s well-being.”
May God uses this excellent study Bible to draw us into a close, caring relationship with one another and God’s Word in the family of Christ.
by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer reviewer
Africa Study Bible, hardcover