Jesus was not white.
I remember the moment I realized that. I was watching a documentary many years ago about archeological evidence supporting the Bible. They were taking the Shroud of Turin and, from it, reconstructing what the Son of God might have looked at. Now, I realize that the details of his appearance are up for much speculation. We won’t know those things until we see Him face to face (hallelujah!) and even then he will not be in his weak, battered, earthly body. He is in his glorified body, yet with scars intact. (That’s a whole other discussion, I know)
The model they created looked like an ordinary, Middle Eastern man. Dark skin, ruddy from years in the sun, and curly black hair.
It was a revelation to me.
I believe that was the beginning of my journey to read the Word of God correctly; through the eyes of a Middle Eastern person, an Israeli or North African believer. It was my journey to realizing that the Bible was not written “to me” but “for me.”
There is a huge difference in interpretation when I keep that fact in the forefront of my mind.
I believed so many things wrongly in the early years of my Christian walk. I believed the Church was a building (which it is not) and I believed every command applied to me (which they do not). I didn’t understand the importance of context and recognizing who God was addressing as he inspired the writers to document His heart and plan for the world. I have battled legalism my entire life and am just now, at 47, understanding (though I have yet to master it) what it means to be obedient to God from a state of rest. We are not called to strive, we are called to obey and let His strength flow through us to enable us to do what He asks.
Easier said than done, I know.
So back to my point. I had a false filter for many years. I filtered the Word of God through western eyes, through white American Evangelical experience. I read the Bible as if it was addressing me directly and failed to put myself in the shoes of the culture to which it was written. Is it applicable to me? You bet it is. Every word has application to our lives today, in America. But the application is found when the stories are read through the correct filter. The sights, sounds and smells change. The words gain their full richness and meaning.
One of my favorite resources, which I purchased back in the Fall, is the African Bible Commentary (available here). Much of what is explained in that book is similar to how I have always understood the Bible, but there is even more that adds to my understanding. Tribal references, the perspective of third world countries (because the Bible was written to a third-world culture) and admonitions that I have not seen in other resources add a layer of meaning that I had missed for years. I can then take what I learn there and find the parallels in my culture. I can also gain understanding of the thought processes and practices of cultures different from my own.
If you have other resources that lend a Middle Eastern/North African perspective to the Scriptures, would you share them here? You can also share them on the A Life of Simple Joys Facebook page or A life of Simple Joys on Instagram. I would love to build an online resource list for my readers to reference.
My goal as a writer and a Christian is to encourage my sisters to READ the Bible. Read it for yourself, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the holy words contained in that book. I also want to steer you toward right understanding and resources that will help you wade through the difficult parts, coming out on the other side with a clear picture of our God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
In this new year and new decade I cannot encourage you enough to dive in, become a student of the Bible and be very intentional about reading through the filter of truth…recognizing who the Bible was written to. It makes all the difference in the world and I can guarantee you will fall even more deeply in love with our merciful, loving, and grace-full Savior.
Be blessed, my friends, and don’t forget to share your resources!