Another people of color mentioned in the Bible are the people of Cyrene. The people of Cyrene were African people who lived in what is now Libya. Situated on the Mediterranean coast of northern Africa, Cyrene was the chief city of the region known then as Cyrenaica, the nation that bordered Egypt on the west. Cyrene itself lay about 450 miles (720 km) west of Alexandria, Egypt. As we learned in Part 1 (Egypt), even though northern Africa is often considered Arab today, there were no Arab peoples anywhere in northern Africa in Bible times (Old Testament or New Testament), only Africans. Arab peoples did not move into Africa until the 7th-11th centuries A.D., about 600 - 1,000 years after the Bible was finished.
Cyrene is the African country where Simon
of Cyrene came from, that blessed brother who helped the Lord Jesus bear
His cross up to Mount Calvary (Mt 27:32). Simon and his people were descendants
of Put (Phut), the third son of Ham, the ancestral father of Africans.
Ham was Noah's youngest son (see Gen. 9:19, 10:1-20).
Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, was also a man of Cyrene, a north African Jew like Simon of Cyrene. Mark was a disciple of Peter, one of Jesus' three closest apostles, the apostle who made the blessed confession "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16:16), to whom the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:19). His gospel, the Gospel of Mark, is believed by Bible scholars to have been the first gospel written (it was written about 50 A.D.).
The Acts Of Mark, a book written by a churchman around the fourth or fifth century (about 200-300 years after Mark died) says St. Mark was a Cyrenian Jew, and that Mark first preached the Gospel in Cyrene, to his own people in northern Africa around Libya.
This is a very important area where our Bible teachers, our Bible schools, and our Bible seminaries are being imbalanced and therefore not telling the whole truth. They openly teach and preach that Luke was a Greek, but they never mention that Mark was an African. God expects and requires that all of His people be recognized and openly acknowledged, as RO 2:11 says "For there is no respect of persons with God." No bias for or against anyone. But God knows, the early church knew, and now we know more about this apostle whom God used first to preach to Cyrenians the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
To the east of Cyrene, the Coptic Church in northern Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia) traces its very origin back to this same St. Mark, who brought the gospel into that area, too. As the Coptic liturgy says, 'Be glad and rejoice, O Egypt, and her sons and all her borders, for there hath come to thee the Lord of Man....'
This is interesting history, certainly, but that is not all that it is. Mark's establishing the Coptic church in Egypt and Ethiopia also fulfils Old Testament prophecies:
ISA 19:21-25 "And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform [it.] And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal [it:] and they shall return [even] to the LORD, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, [even] a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed [be] Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance."
PS 68:31 "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."
So Mark, an African Jew, became a disciple of Peter, one of Jesus' inner circle apostles (Peter, John, James). This same Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a gospel of the Bible, then sent by God into the mission field, back to Egypt, the same part of Africa where the Lord Jesus Himself lived when He fled as a baby with His family from the wicked King Herod (Mt. 2:13-15). Right back to Egypt, establishing that church's headquarters in Alexandria, right on the Nile River. So, Egypt, the African country God chose to take care of Jesus when He was a baby, received the blessed gift of the Gospel from the mouth of one who learned it from Peter himself, who received the keys to the kingdom of heaven from Jesus Christ Himself. And as an added blessing, God even used the Coptic Church to fulfill the prophecies He gave in the Old Testament about bringing Egypt to Himself and making this African nation one of His people. As Job 9:10 says, "[the Lord] doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number."
But there's more. In the early church, three churches were the most influential and the most highly regarded. There was Jerusalem, God's chosen city, where James, half-brother of Jesus Christ (Jesus had no human father, being the Son of God - Luke 1:35), author of the epistle of James, had been bishop. There was Rome, founded by both Peter and Paul. And there was Alexandria, chief city of the Coptic church which Mark founded.
The Coptic Church survived tremendous persecution many times through the centuries, many attempts to erase the name of Jesus Christ from Africa and the rest of the known world at that time. Just by surviving through all of that, the Coptic Church won over its adversaries. In fact, it prospered and grew and overcame, fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, "Upon this rock will I build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." How absolutely true Jesus is, how reliable His Bible is - the Coptic Church has lasted in northern Africa for 2,000 years! The church survived persecutions of Roman emperors, the Muslim conquests and many other attacks.
So the question God has for us right now is, are you a person of color today? If so, which color? Are you black, are you white, are you brown or another color? More important, are you red? Are you covered with the precious blood of Jesus? Am I? Have we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing that He loved us so very, very much that He died for us, and His rising physically from the dead is the only hope for forgiveness, the only salvation from eternal condemnation in hell in the coming judgement? If we've accepted Him, are we giving Him our all? Are we doing our best for Him? Are we telling others about Him? On Judgment Day, when we stand before Him to give an account for our lives, will He smile and say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" or "Get away from Me, I never knew you?"
There were many people of color that God used in the Bible. There are many people of color that God is using today. If we really look at it, we're all people of some color. Let's make sure it's the right color. However we look on the outside, on the inside let's be sure our souls are red, covered by the blood of Jesus through faith in Him with our sins forgiven. Because whatever we are right here right now, in eternity it's far better to be a person of color, to be red, washed in the precious blood of Jesus, than to be anything else.
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (University of California Press, 1995)
Peter Connolly, Living in The Time Of Jesus (Steimatzky Ltd., Israel, 1988-1999)
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1963)
Comments: This book is very useful because the Eastern and African churches are where most people of color were in the early church. Western Christians hear little about Eastern and African church history partly because of church splits. The Eastern (Orthodox) church split from the Western (Catholic) church from the 8th-12th century A.D. (for theological reasons, not racial reasons), and African churches split from both over time as well.
Rev. Robert Ash is co-pastor
and youth minister of Euphrates Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland,
California. He has 18 years of preaching, teaching, evangelism and apologetics
experience in church, prison, college campus, and street ministry. He
holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley
and a master's degree from Stanford University.
The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is used by permission.
Copyright (c) 1999-2001