Black History: The Ethiopian Eunuch

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place.  And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship  and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:26-39

In the earliest days of the Christian faith, the Gospel was making its way through the Middle East and to Europe. But it is often left out that it also made its way to Africa. On the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, Egyptians heard the good news proclaimed to them in their own language. In fact a good number of the early Christian theologians were African including Tertullian and Augustine of Hippo. However, deeper in the African continent, God was working on perhaps the first true Christian African nation.

We read in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, that there was a high ranking eunuch of “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Candace was really a title, not a name of queens that reigned in the region from about 150 years before Christ). Him being a eunuch (probably not born so, but made so for service to the queen) would have meant that he would have been barred from certain parts of the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1). Yet, he didn’t let this obstacle prevent him from learning about God. As he read the book of Isaiah, God created a yearning in his heart to get to know Him better. And of course, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The Holy Spirit led one of the 12 Apostles, by the name of Philip to the eunuch, who then told him about Jesus and baptized him immediately afterwards.

It is unknown if the unnamed eunuch went back to Ethiopia and started spreading his new faith to his friends and family. However, I do believe that this one man might have planted seeds that will 300 years later become the official state religion of Ethiopia.

This not only has significance when it comes to church history, but with apologetics as well. It often claimed that Christianity is the “White man’s religion” and that Blacks only became Christians after it was first beat into them by their white slave owners. However, this shows a lack of knowledge of history. Christianity was the official faith in Ethiopia for 1300+ years before the first slave landed in America. But some will argue that Ethiopia is on the eastern part of the African continent, the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought Africans from the WESTERN part. Well, there is further evidence that Christianity existed in Mali around 1300 AD (Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, 2011).

The Gospel arrived in Africa and has flourished in various parts for millennia. God has never left His elect without a way to know Him. In fact God has revealed Himself to all of the world in some way (Romans 1:19-20), whether it be general or natural revelation letting us know there is a God. He also reveals Himself and His redemptive plan for mankind through progressive and special revelation. The Ethiopian Eunuch’s desire to know scripture led to his special revelation and, in time sowed a seed for a thriving African church. Reader, God is revealing Him to you also, how will you respond?

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Yes, The Bible Supports Slavery …And Perhaps You Do Too.

Does the Bible support slavery? Many have said it does as a moral argument against the Bible. They say, “The Bible says thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not steal. But, nowhere does it say thou shalt not own slaves.” And they are right. Nowhere in scripture is slavery flat out condemned. On the contrary, there are rules regulating it.

So what makes it okay? Why would I, as a Black man, be okay defending this book that doesn’t condemn slavery? What kind of respect am I showing my ancestors who were forced from their homelands and packed into boats in inhumane conditions and treated even more inhumanely as slaves in the Americas? Why?

If you were to do any sort of Google search asking if the Bible supports slavery, I don’t think you would find any articles that give a flat out “no” answer. You see, what we do is look at slavery through the eyes of those who lived after the slave trade implemented in the 17th century. When Africans were stolen from their homes and forced to serve in different countries by Europeans. That’s our modern context of slavery. And in modern years we see the rise of sex trafficking, our newest slave plague.

So, how can we defend the Bible here? There’s a few things we must consider when speaking about slavery in the Bible.

1. Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free.” Slaves in the Bible were required to be freed after six years of servitude. This is not true of the slaves in America. They were born slaves and were forced to die as slaves no matter how old they were or how long they endured it. This is one reason the African slave trade was unbiblical.

2. Exodus 21:16 “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Also Deuteronomy 24:7). This means everyone who forced Africans on boats was deserving of death. That means everyone who owned these Africans as slaves was deserving of death. The Bible did not mince words. The African slave trade of the past several hundred years was indeed wrong and is NOT supported by the Bible.

3. Slavery was often voluntary. Slaves could even remain slaves if they wanted to for a lifetime. But it wasn’t to be forced. Exodus 21:5-6But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.”

4. Slavery was also permitted to work off debts. But as the slave was freed the seventh year, debts were wiped clean after seven years. In chapter 15 of Deuteronomy we read in verse 1, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.” But when they were set free they were not to just be freed empty-handed.“If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Verses 12-15)

And it makes no difference if a person was Hebrew or not. Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” In other words, there was to be equality amongst the races and nationalities. Many slaves were also prisoners of war. (Deuteronomy 20:10-11).

So, we see that the slavery we are familiar with in the West is NOT the slavery that we see in the Bible. When reading the Bible we have to be careful not to insert our modern preconceived notions into scripture (eisegesis). That’s not proper interpretation. What is proper is to read what scripture says and understand what it meant when it was written and then apply it to our lives now.

What then did I mean in the title when I said you probably support slavery too? Maybe you don’t condone any type of slavery for any amount of time for any reason. Well let’s consider Proverbs 22:7b.

“…the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

We see that slavery was permitted to work off debts. But how many off us reading this has become modern slaves because of our debts.

Are you a financial slave because of voluntary debt? Matthew Henry said, “Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.” Some of are working mainly to pay off debts we’ve incurred simply because we wanted to be like other people. As some have said “keeping up with the Joneses”.

Some have even said that any debt we incur make our lenders our masters by default. Meaning if for every debt you have, you have at least one master. Do you pay a mortgage, car note, and credit card bill? Then you have at least three masters. So if you’ve voluntarily agreed to any debt and to pay it back, then you have supported a level of your own liberty being sold. Credit card companies know this. Why do you think your unpaid debt usually stops showing after seven years?

While none of this feels good to say, I believe it’s true. And I’m not throwing stones. I have a mortgage and a couple loans. Some churches go in to debt when building and repairing their buildings. And like the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, it doesn’t condemn debt. Some have used Romans 13:8 to say that we shouldn’t borrow but Jesus permitted borrowing in Matthew 5:42. Yet, we should always seek to pay what we owe and be free from all debts. 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.”

So, yes the Bible supports slavery. There. I said it. Just not the kind we usually think of. Not the kind that my ancestors were emancipated from in 1863 and not the kind the Hebrews were liberated from in the book of Exodus.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org