Does the Bible say anything about Africa or the peoples of Africa? Did the apostles reach Africa? Have there been Sabbath-keepers in Africa throughout history? What is prophesied to happen with Africa?
This article will attempt to answer those questions.
Africans and The Old Testament
The Bible discusses the births of many people and many nations in Genesis chapter 10. Actually, many people refer to this chapter as the origin of nations.
6 The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan (Genesis 10:6-7, NKJV throughout unless otherwise noted).
This information is essentially repeated with a few more details later in the Old Testament:
8 The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 9 The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama, and Sabtecha. The sons of Raama were Sheba and Dedan. 10 Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 11 Mizraim begot Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 12 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines and the Caphtorim). 13 Canaan begot Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth; 14 the Jebusite, the Amorite, and the Girgashite; 15 the Hivite, the Arkite, and the Sinite; 16 the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite (1 Chronicles 1:8-16).
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary provides some insight into identities:
Ham was to be the father of the other branch of Gentiles, including Egyptians, Ethiopians, Abyssinians, and kindred groups. His son, Canaan, became the father of the groups called Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, later dispossessed by the Hebrews…Mizraim. The correct Hebrew word for Egypt, comprising the lower and the upper divisions of that land. The two capitals of Egypt were Memphis and Thebes (from The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1962 by Moody Press)
Thus it appears that the children of Ham mainly settled in the lands of Africa and the Middle East. It is of interest to note the Mizraim refers to the Egyptians–and since the Bible refers to the Egyptians fairly often, I will not mention all the verses that involve them (but will mention a few in the prophecy section of this page).
Ethiopians (which is a term that does not necessarily meant peoples in the modern nation of Ethiopia, but refers to certain African ethnic groups in the Hebrew) are mentioned throughout the Old Testament. The NKJV apparently incorrectly, shows:
43 He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels (Daniel 11:43).
The problem with the above translation is that the word “Ethiopians” is not in the Hebrew in the Old Testament. The word translated as “Ethiopians” is the plural of the word Kuwshiy, which according to Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary means descendants of Cush. Or in other words, people of dark skin color–and it is commonly translated as Cush or Cushite in many Old Testament passages. It is not necessarily those from Ethiopia.
There is one famous person that the Old Testament translated into English refers to as from Ethiopia, the famous Queen of Sheba. Yet, even term Sheba’ does not usually refer to Ethiopia in the Bible, as it most of the time refers to specific, non-Ethiopian, people.
Thus most of the time the peoples of Cush or Ethiopia are mentioned in the Old Testament, they are referring to darker skinned people who often inhabited parts of Africa (and many of whom still do). Moses was married to a Cushite himself (Numbers 12:1, NIV),
Getting back to the Queen of Sheba, the Bible shows that she was wealthy, generous, and wanted to learn from Solomon:
1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. 2 She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart. 3 So Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her. 4 And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their apparel, his cupbearers, and his entryway by which he went up to the house of the LORD, there was no more spirit in her. 6 Then she said to the king: “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. 7 However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard. 8 Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great quantity, and precious stones. There never again came such abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-10).
Jesus even indicated that Queen of Sheba may have been converted (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31) (more information on where she may have came from is in the article Is There a Future King of the South?).
The Old Testament also records that Egypt was a wealthy area (cf. Exodus 12:34-35) and that the children of Israel had many dealings with it.
Later in the Old Testament, the Bible records that it was an African, and not even an Israelite that saved the prophet Jeremiah’s life and that this pleased God:
7 But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melech went out of the palace and said to him, 9 “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”
10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Cushite, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”
11 So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melech the Cushite said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern (Jeremiah 38:7-13, NIV).
16 “Go and tell Ebed-Melech the Cushite, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am about to fulfill my words against this city through disaster, not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes. 17 But I will rescue you on that day, declares the LORD; you will not be handed over to those you fear. 18 I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 39:16-18, NIV).
So, it was an African, and not an ethnic Israelite that stood up first for God’s prophet Jeremiah. He was wise and discerning. Africans are sometimes willing to stand up for what is right when others do not.
However, it should be mentioned that because of prophecies involving Cushites “Ethiopians” in the Old Testament, it appears that some will be involved in supporting the final King of the South of Daniel 11. An alliance that will not end well for most of its participants (Daniel 11:40-43; Ezekiel 30:2-8).
Africans and the New Testament
The New Testament discusses in some detail the conversion of at least one influential African and shows that God intended him to receive the message:
6 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”Loading...
34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39).
According to in Fox’s Book of Martyrs, at least one of the twelve apostles preached into Africa:
Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74. (Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Edited by William Byron Forbush. Copyright 1926/1967. Zondervan, Publishing, Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 3-5).
Another source agrees that the apostles got to Africa (Ruffin C.B. The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary. Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington (IN), 1997, pp. 17-171).
True and False Christians in Northern Africa
Early church history shows that there were both true as well as false Christians in northern Africa (as well as other places).
In the third century, once there were some few real Christians in northern Africa, Origen noted that there were two groups that he considered to be “Ebionites”, one who believed in the virgin birth (and that would be those who this paper suggests were also known as the Nazarenes) and those who did not:
Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law,—and these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings…(Origen. Contra Celsus, Book V, Chapter 61).
The true Christians in Africa were not those associated with Origen (please see what happened in Alexandria), nor those that denied the virgin birth. The true Christians were those professed Jesus and had practices similar to those of the Jews.
Origen of Alexandria, however, was not a true Christian. Origen even appeared to recognize several non-canonically writings as scripture and had been influenced by some Gnostic teachings. Sadly, Origen referred to The Epistle of Barnabas like he does actual parts of the Bible (Origen. Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter 63), seems to also do so with the falsely titledGospel of Peter (Origen. Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Verse 17. ANF), and even calls what I consider to be the “demonically-influenced” Shepherd of Hermas as “divinely inspired” (Cited in Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance).
Antioch (which is now in present day Syria) probably resisted much of this Gnostic influence until some time into the early third century. And while Origen and some others recognized the falsely titled “Gospel of Peter” it was specifically condemned by Serapion, Bishop of Antioch. Serapion went to see a group that he thought was Christian in the seaside port of Rhossus, which is located southwest of Alexandria. When he got there he was disappointed to learn that they were reading this “Gospel of Peter” (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book VI, Chapter XII, verse 1, p. 125 ) and thus he realized that they were not all part of the “true faith”:
For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely inscribed with them, knowing that such were not handed down to. When I visited you I supposed that all of you held the true faith…(Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book VI, Chapter XII, verses 3-4, p. 125-126).
Thus while there were some true Christians in northern Africa in the early part of the third century, Serapion ran into false ones. And like the rest of the world, sadly the majority of people in Africa (and elsewhere) who profess the religion of Christ, are not practicing the religion of the Christ of the Bible as the true church was only expected to be a “little flock” (for more information, please see the article The History of Early Christianity).
It probably should also be mentioned that around the time of Serapion, at least one African leader stood up to allegorists like Origen. The Catholic Encyclopedia reported:
An Egyptian bishop, Nepos, taught the Chiliastic error that there would be a reign of Christ upon earth for a thousand years, a period of corporal delights; he founded this doctrine upon the Apocalypse in a book entitled “Refutation of the Allegorizers” (Chapman, John. “Dionysius of Alexandria.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 14 Aug. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05011a.htm>.).
A nineteenth century anti-millennial scholar named Giovanni Battista Pagani went as far as to write the following about Nepos and those who supported the millennium:
…all those who teach a millennium framed according to Jewish ideas, saying that during the millennium, Mosaic law will be restored…These are called Judaical Millenarians, not as being Jews, but as having invented and upheld a millennium according to Jewish taste. The principal authors of this error were Nepos, an African Bishop, against whom St. Dionysius wrote his two books on Promises; and Apollinaris, whom St. Epiphanius confound in his work against heresies (Pagani, Giovanni Battista. Published by Charles Dolman, 1855. Original from Oxford University. Digitized Aug 15, 2006, pp. 252-253).
It should be of interest to note that neither Nepos nor Apollinaris were Jews, but were condemned for having a religion that had “Jewish” beliefs. And since Apollinaris is a Catholic saint (see article Apollinaris of Hierapolis), it should be clear that the respected and non-Jewish Christian leaders in the early third century clearly did hold to ideas that were condemned by the allegorists.
The following from Dionysius clearly shows that Nepos was still respected after he died (Nepos died prior to Dionysius’ mid-third century writing of the following) and really did not refute him from a biblical perspective:
But as they produce a certain composition by Nepos, on which they insist very strongly, as if it demonstrated incontestably that there will be a (temporal) reign of Christ upon the earth, I have to say, that in many other respects I accept the opinion of Nepos, and love him at once for his faith, and his laboriousness, and his patient study in the Scriptures, as also for his great efforts in psalmody, by which even now many of the brethren are delighted. I hold the man, too, in deep respect still more, inasmuch as he has gone to his rest before us. Nevertheless the truth is to be prized and reverenced above all things else. And while it is indeed proper to praise and approve ungrudgingly anything that is said aright, it is no less proper to examine and correct anything which may appear to have been written unsoundly. If he had been present then himself, and had been stating his opinions orally, it would have been sufficient to discuss the question together without the use of writing, and to endeavour to convince the opponents, and carry them along by interrogation and reply. But the work is published, and is, as it seems to some, of a very persuasive character; and there are unquestionably some teachers, who hold that the law and the prophets are of no importance, and who decline to follow the Gospels, and who depreciate the epistles of the apostles, and who have also made large promises regarding the doctrine of this composition, as though it were some great and hidden mystery, and who, at the same time, do not allow that our simpler brethren have any sublime and elevated conceptions either of our Lord’s appearing in His glory and His true divinity, or of our own resurrection from the dead, and of our being gathered together to Him, and assimilated to Him, but, on the contrary, endeavour to lead them to hope for things which are trivial and corruptible, and only such as what we find at present in the kingdom of God. And since this is the case, it becomes necessary for us to discuss this subject with our brother Nepos just as if he were present (Dionysius of Alexandria. From the Two Books on the Promises. Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight. Viewed 8/14/08).
In other words, Nepos knew his Bible, but did not hold to the same position that allegorists like Dionysius of Alexandria held. But those who held to Judaeo-Christian beliefs, while slightly chastised, simply were almost never condemned by the early allegorists. Mainly, because the early allegorists knew that the original Christians held to beliefs and practices that the allegorists considered to be Jewish–and at this stage, the allegorists simply did not have the ability to condemn the literalists because most who professed Christ at the time knew that the literalists had ties to the original apostolic church. (More information on faithful Christians in northern African locations can be found in the article Arabic Nazarenes May Have Kept Original Christian Practices.)
Thiel B. Africa: Its Biblical Past and Prophesied Future. www.cogwriter.com/africa.htm 2008/2009/2010/2011 /2012/2013/2014/2015 0825