Unfortunately, there is a very false and dangerous misconception that many black people believe, and that is that Christianity is “the white man’s religion” or “the religion of the oppressor”. This is simply not true at all. There were quite a few Africans that were involved in Christianity from the beginning. This page proves that there were African Christians long before slavery in America.
African Christians In The New Testament
In my opinion, the reason people believe that African people are missing from the Bible or did not believe in Christ prior to slavery, is because the references are often overlooked and under studied.
1) Simeon – The Dark Skinned Prophet and Teacher
In the book of Acts we are told that Simeon was called “Niger”, which literally means “dark skin”. He is also called a prophet and a teacher, and he was one of the early Christians that helped spread the gospel.
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” – Acts 13:1
2) Lucius of Cyrene – The African Prophet and Teacher
This prophet and teacher is listed along with Simeon, and according to Acts he was from Cyrene. In order for that to mean anything, we have to look at a map. Cyrene is located in Libya, which is in Africa.
3) The Ethiopian Eunuch – Baptized In Christ
This particular baptism is interesting because when The Ethiopian Eunuch is introduced, he is a very important and wealthy man, already familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, and hoping to have his questions about the Messiah answered. In fact, he had come to Jerusalem to worship.
“And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,” – Acts 8:27
If you are unfamiliar with Ethiopia’s link to Judaism, many of the stories trace it back to The Queen of Sheba’s visit with Solomon. The fact that this eunuch came to Jerusalem to worship means that there was already a belief in Judaism in Africa, and a belief in the coming Messiah.
“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” – Acts 8:36-38
4) Simon – He Bore The Cross of Christ
When Christ is forced to carry his cross to the place where he would be crucified, he was helped by Simon when he could no longer carry it himself. Simon was from Cyrene, Libya (Africa).
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” – Matthew 27:32
Unfortunately, we are never told if Simon was a believer or not, but we do know that he had to be “compelled” to carry the cross, which means he probably wasn’t a believer at the time, or at least not openly.
Bonus #1: Paul Mistaken For An Egyptian
While it is not often talked about, Paul was indeed mistaken for an Egyptian. The lighter Egyptians that we see in the modern day are what they look like after thousands of years of mixing with other races, but Egyptians were a lot darker in the past.
“Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.” – Acts 21:38-39
Paul wasn’t dressed like an Egyptian, which means the mistaken identity had to be based on something else, such as skin tone or facial features. A very similar case of mistaken identity happens to Moses after he saves a group of Midianite girls (Exodus 2:19).
Bonus #2: The Gospel Preached In African Languages
In Acts 2:10, we find that when the men were preaching, they preached in multiple languages, and some of those were African languages.
African Early Church Fathers
Not only are Africans mentioned in the New Testament, but there are several Africans that were considered to be “Church Fathers”, which means they were instrumental in the development of the early Christian church.
1) Tertullian of Carthage (155 AD – 240 AD)
Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.” He is perhaps most famous for being the oldest extant Latin writer to use the term Trinity (source).
2) Origen of Alexandria, Egypt (184 AD – 254 AD)
He was considered by many to be a Christian theologian, but had many beliefs that contradicted both scripture and the early church.
3) Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt (296 AD – 373 AD)
He was also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the twentieth bishop of Alexandria (as Athanasius I). His episcopate lasted 45 years (c. 8 June 328 – 2 May 373), of which over 17 were spent in five exiles ordered by four different Roman emperors. Athanasius is a renowned Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century (source).
Early Christian Churches In Africa
Another nail in the coffin of the misconception that Christianity is the “white man’s religion”, is due to the fact that most Christians in general are not aware that Christian churches were established in Africa almost immediately following Pentecost.
1) Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (42 AD)
According to legend, this church was founded by Mark (the gospel writer) in 42 A.D. It is currently the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East. It is estimated that 10% of Egypt’s population belongs to this one church.