More thoughts on the Africa Bible Commentary...

Responding to the post directly below, Africa Bible Commentary; a preliminary review..., a brother writes asking for recommendations of good commentaries "written by African-Americans or Africans."

The question isn't easy, partly because of the definition of "African." Do you define "African" as someone who is black, who was born on the sub-Saharan part of the continent, and who continues to live there? Or is it someone who is black and was born on the sub-Saharan part of the continent, but it doesn't matter where he lives now? Or does skin color trump all, and someone who is black qualifies as an African no matter where he was born or presently lives?

At first it appears the editors view skin color as absolute since one contributor is listed with his country designated "African-American." But then, in the text of this preview document, John Stott claims these modern Bible interpreters are a "resurgence in the continent that gave us such interpreters as Augustine and Athanasius." Under this view, the continent trumps all.

So then, what do we do with those born and raised in Africa--even sub-Saharan Africa--who aren't black? Say, for instance, a white South African--is he African or is he a man without a continent?

A shipping supply station was set up by the Dutch on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and Dutch settlements grew from it over the next two centuries. If a man is a descendant of those Dutch settlers, is he African or European? And what if his great great grandfather married a Christian black African? Are their descendants African?

Now about this time some readers are thinking this is a rather delicate subject that no true gentleman would raise. I must demur.

If race relations are ever to be healed...

the healing won't start until we speak truth all around, black to white and white to black. If whites who immigrated to the US in the late nineteenth century are Americans, and Hispanics who immigrated to the United States in 1963 are Americans, then by the same logic, whites who immigrated to Africa in the seventeenth century are Africans and should be included in the Africa Bible Commentary.

So why is there not one South African--black or white--who made the cut for contributing to the Africa Bible Commentary? About this time, I'm thinking the editors made a slight mistake in naming the volume. It ought not to have been called Africa Bible Commentary but African Bible Commentary; or maybe even better, Black Sub-Saharan African Bible Commentary with Exceptions Granted for Blacks Who Live in the US.

This whole ABC venture strikes me as somewhat misguided. What is needed by our brothers and sisters in African is a Bible commentary that addresses the African context through African eyes, white or black. And it must address that context with boldness and courage, starting with the courage to recognize that an African is an African is an African, no matter the skin color. Then we could speak of Augustine, Athanasius, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, O. Palmer Robertson, Joe Simfukwe, Joe Kapolyo, and Samuel Ngewa in the same breath, all for one and one for all.



Dear Tim:

My good friend and colleague, John Evans, reminded me that Samuel Ngewa has written a commentary on the gospel of John. Ngewa is a Kenyan with a Westminster Ph.D.

Several of my white friends in Zambia do feel like a people without a country. I remember one of them describing himself in a Bible study as a southern African. I believe he was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in Zambia and his family has lived in Africa for a long time, I'm not sure how many generations.

Many people, including most black Africans and white western missionaries, treat my white "southern African" friends as if they were not truly African. They are regarded as outsiders, as Europeans, or maybe Europeans who have chosen to take a really long vacation in Africa.

Thanks for that, Rev. Bayly. To clarify my question, what would you consider to be the five best Biblical commentaries written by black people?

Dear Bill,

I'm no expert on commentaries. Sorry.

Tim Bayly

You write: "If whites who immigrated to the US in the late nineteenth century are Americans, and Hispanics who immigrated to the United States in 1963 are Americans, then by the same logic, whites who immigrated to Africa in the seventeenth century are Africans and should be included in the Africa Bible Commentary."

I beg to differ. You are half right. As you say "..who immigrated to the United States..". You don't say North America. One is a politcal unit (America) the other is a geographical one (the North American continent). Americans they became, North Americans they did not - in any other than a "where are you located geographically?" sense. Those who emigrated to Canada became Canadians not Americans, even though they too were then "North Americans".

Hence "..whites who immigrated to Africa in the seventeenth century are Africans.." True, in the geographic sense. If, for example, they went to Ghana and stayed, they became Ghanaians politically and by naturalization. They became 'Africans' only geographically, OR, furthermore, depending on two other interrelated virtual observations - (1) depending on whether or not they intermarried with native Ghanaians or only with other Europeans, together with - (2) depending on whether or not more and more of their European relatives kept coming, and whether or not the newer arrivals intermarried or stayed separate - THEN we should be able to say whether they have become African i.e. by mingling blood, by longevity on the continent (a tourist does not become an American after 2 weeks), by becoming a new tribe, by replacement ethnic cleansing (America), some combination of these, or something else. In the case of Africa it is not so clear-cut.

Both Jews and South Africa are instructive in this regard. In general and only in general, no matter where jews go they remain jews independent of and ahead of nationality. They have an ethnocentric racism expressed in part by formally forbidding and empirically discouraging intermarriage with non-jews (gentiles) regardless of nationality, and they add an additional restriction with respect to jews who are brown (e.g. 'Arab') or mid and dark brown ('black') in color, or come from 'African' populations such as Ethiopia, no matter how light such people(s) are, and many of them are.

In comparison, those whites who had children with native South African tribes called their children "Coloured" and distinguished (and distinguish them still) from immigrant Indians who have become 'South Africans', also from themselves, and from the native tribe whose blood was now a part of those children. Are white South Africans "African" simply by virtue of longevity, numbers, owning natural resources and loud voices? They are certainly "South African" by nationality. It's the same question as Are the Japanese in America now "Americans" or really just "Japanese-Americans" name-hybrids like ALL Americans except 'Native American Indians'? Outside of citizenship, what is an American or North American? Outside of citizenship what is a "South African" or African?

I don't offer a neat answer, but I do think the first problem with the whole subject are the unconscious observer and perspective of observer rules written into ALL of our definitions - and hence into the western definition of what is an African? (African definitions are different again).

An American is so by being a member of the nation state America which happens to presently sprawl across mainland North America but also includes places like Hawaii - demonstrably not part of North America. In contrast continental Africa is composed of 54 nation states, some, like Hawaii is of America, offshore of the continent itself. And in that sense one can be an "African" only in the sense of geography, not as a nationality. There are only Americans and Canadians (political units) making North Americans either Americans or Canadians. Africans can be one of 54 or more nationalities, not to mention also being a member of one of the more than 5,000 tribes - black, brown, tan, red, olive, and various shades of 'white' in Africa.

Nor, once one has visited and/or studied Africans genetics, bloodlines, and features, does that help in raising a clear idea of who an African is. In terms of neat PC in biology, it complicates it vastly and stirs up problems with underlying classifications "folks in charge" do not want stirred up. The emerging facts of the od categories of "race" being literally skin-deep, and of the incidence of significsnt numbers of genes from European populations occurring in Africans, and vice-versa, is distrubing the placid notions of identity Europeans AND Africans have held of themselves and others. "Out Of Africa" is taking on a measurable presence in population genetics. The challenge isn;t helped by the fact that there are hundreds of genetically distinct peoples in Africa; thousands in terms of bloodlines; and thousands more in terms of cultural and linguistic forms. And NO ONE has done anything like a close accounting or relating of this.

So, we fall back on the human trait of generalization and popularization of a few limited but now well-known points of view - mixed in headily with various degrees of ignorance, lack of experience of a place, and serious prejudice. For us our "educated" view is that an "African" is dark, black, dumb, big-lipped, wooly haired, and wide-nosed - which, in reality, is much like taking the caricature of old, of the Jews, as greedy, energy-sucking, big nosed, hairy, etc. - and then generalizing and popularizing that as the White Norm. Really accurate picture. Not.

Hi there,
I have read parts and used the said commentary recently. It strikes me as a good commentary by and large-concise, pithy, pointed and conservative. Unless I come across something funny along the way but I think it is high time we begun produce volumes from the heart of Africa which are 100% home grown but keeping fidelity to Biblical truth. The external funding perhaps explains why a number of the recommenders including John Stott come from without the continent. Is it a marketing ploy? I would like to see the native Africans taking the centre stage because I think Christianity could presently be in in its healthiest state presently there on the entire planet (My subjective opinion).

I note that an earlier commenter to this discussion wondered why there was no African from the Southern part of the continent. Well, I think we have at least two fine expositors in the name of Joe Simfukwe (TCCA principle) and Joe Kapolyo. Further more, I personally believe it is not the school one attends per se that makes one a great expositor or let alone a prolific writer, although training is desirable to better sharpen one.

Let us have more of those works and volumes documented on paper rather than spend our entire time on oral traditions and complaining/whining as is the custom of many Africans (black or white) on the continent or abroad. Lets be proactive and leave a leagacy as our friends have attempted to do.

What think ye?


Billy Sichone

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