Reportedly, over 80% of the peoples in the U.S. say they’re Christians, whereas in Africa, one in four has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Almost 500 million Christians live in Africa, yet few have Bibles with footnotes or study aids relevant to their lives and cultures.
What’s ironic is that many key events in the Bible took place on that beautifully diverse continent. Also, its past and present peoples, places, and cultures can help us to understand more about our biblical roots and our ancestry as God’s people.
Such thoughts urged me to request a copy of the Africa Study Bible (ASB) from Oasis International, who kindly sent me their attractively published Book of Genesis to review. Its well-chosen text from the New Living Translation (NLT) was completed a few years ago, of course, by the Tyndale House Foundation, but Oasis International has not yet finalized the ASB study notes being prepared by over 300 individuals from 50 nations.
The first book, however, clearly shows how the ASB aims to bring us “God’s Word through African Eyes.” For example, “Proverbs and Stories,” applications of the text, and sidebars of “African Touch Points” give us fresh insight into Genesis, such as the note regarding “The Fall” in chapter 3:
“Most parents would punish their disobedient children. The Bangolan people in Cameroon say a parent should punish a rebellious child with a rebuking left hand and draw him or her closer with a loving right hand. That is exactly what God did to humans in and after the Fall.”
Below the text for the Cain and Abel story in chapter 4, “Proverbs and Stories” urge us to “Build Up, Not Tear Down” with this word:
“A Sierra Leonean proverb says, ‘If a person is tallker than you, do not chop off his legs so that you will be equal. Rather, grow up’.”
Next to the biblical text for Genesis 10, an “African Touch Point” discusses the infamous “Sons of Ham” with this important clarification:
“Because Ham was the father of the African people, some Christians, Jews, and Muslims have misued this passage to justify enslaving Africans. But the passage only says that Canaan is cursed. Even though the rest of Ham’s sons settled in Africa, Canaan did not. Much later, God told Israel (descendants of Noah’s son Shem) to conquer the land of Canaan, and Canaan’s descendants became servants, just as Noah had said.”
That sidebar goes on to explain:
“As Africans, we are not descendants of Canaan, but of Ham’s other sons – Cush (Egypt and Sudan), Mizraim (Egypt) and Put (Libya or Somalia).”
In an “Application” for Genesis 44-50, footnotes briefly discuss Joseph's enslavement because of the harsh treatment of his jealous brothers, and yet he remained faithful to God, eventually rising to power at a crucial moment in the life of his people. By the time he saw his brothers again, he had come to recognize God's hand on his life. As the footnotes say:
“Many people have assumed positions of power over those who have wronged them greatly. Some people desire to take revenge and continue the cycle of violence. Others, like Joseph forgive and say, ‘It was God who sent me here, not you’.
“Forgiveness brings peace. Let us be like Joseph with people who have rejected us and caused us harm. We must not continue the cycle of violence by seeking revenge. We must see our lives as controlled by God. Only then can we be at peace.”
Yes! And may all of God's people say, "Amen."
Bible review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2016
Africa Study Bible, Book of John