Anyone who carefully reads the book of Genesis can quickly tell that the first eleven chapters are markedly different from the rest. Indeed, readers have noticed this feature for millennia. Genesis 12 describes the call of Abraham and the rest of the book chronicles events in the lives of Abraham’s posterity. Genesis 1-11, however, is quite different. The scope of these parts of Genesis is cosmic and global. Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of the cosmos, earth, and humans. William Craig argues that when read in light of the whole of Genesis, the Pentateuch—of which Genesis is only one part—and the ancient Near East (ANE) contexts, Genesis 1 to 11 is best understood as a myth with a keen interest in history. Genesis 1-11 functions to situate the nation of Israel within the cosmos. As Craig writes, it “is a sacred preamble to the history of Israel” (54).
If the Copernican revolution defended by Galileo Galilei displaced humans from the center of the universe, the Darwinian revolution completed what was left by stripping humans of any sense of unique worth. Whereas people had embraced the idea of being created by some supreme being as the science of human origin, Darwinism offered a radically different narrative in which a human is no more special than a SARS-CoV-2 particle. Indeed, the former owes its existence to viruses which are her genetic ancestors. While not challenging the Gospel of Jesus, the Darwinian idea seemingly invalidates the message of the first few pages of the Bible. For the theologically minded persons, those were very trying times. Theologians and skeptical scientists levied critiques against Darwinism—a not unusual development; new scientific ideas always benefit from reviews. These critiques helped refine the Darwinian thesis. Today, Darwin-inspired evolutionary science is the scientific consensus—even if substantive debates continue about various aspects of the dogma. All in all, theology yielded grounds to the unstoppable mighty Darwinian force in all of this.
An Everlasting Myth
Every schoolchild knows something about Galileo Galilei. She may not know that the 16th-century Italian scientist studied at the University of Pisa or designed telescopes that he later used to observe mountains on the earth’s moon. But she knows that Galileo was a bold scientist who stood up against the Pope and the Catholic Church with his scientific findings and got severely punished for so doing. Indeed, even today, people continue to formulate Galileo’s friction with the Church as an archetype of science versus religion or reason versus faith. In many people’s minds, religion is just the sort of thing that hinders scientific progress, as the story of Galileo showed. This story is a myth, an untruth, as I shall show below.
The Big Human Factor
It is no news that science and religion often make claims concerning the same things. Sometimes they concur in their proclamations; other times, they do not. For instance, for some 2000 years while science, under the influence of Aristotelianism, maintained that the universe was eternal even though the first page of the Bible vehemently disagrees, proclaiming that the universe had a finite past. Similarly, Galileo, a Christian and scientist, knew about the church’s teaching that the earth was the center of the universe when he proposed heliocentrism. These observations need not be surprising. Whatever else one may think about religion and science, this is true: humans play considerable roles in both endeavors and do so with their messy humanness.
Eurocentricity infects every pillar of society in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes, the presence of eurocentrism is subtle and hence difficult to detect. Such is the relationship between African Pentecostal Christians and science, as this blog series will elucidate. But, first, let us sketch the history of how eurocentricity infested African Pentecostalism.
Africans embraced Christianity along with the foremost Apostles of Jesus from the very beginning. When Europeans introduced the faith to sub-Saharan Africa, however, they mixed it with European politics. The earliest missionary attempts in sub-Sahara Africa focused on commerce and slaves than they cared to preach Jesus. By the 19th century, European missionary works in Africa were a competition between Catholicism and Protestantism. The indigenes who inherited this fragmented faith often also embodied the interdenominational rivalries which existed among their European counterparts. Reverend Anthony Erhueh writes (84):
A yet pervasive racism-aiding thinking error among Africans is the assumption that because colonizing white people no longer live in sub-Sahara African States, racism does not – some people even say cannot – exist in these spaces. It is a reasoning colonizer would like very much since it excuses them from the harmful consequences of their destructive escapades on the continent. This illogic sees racism as essentially a matter of how a white person treats non-white persons. Racism, for them, is relational. When construed in this way, racism cannot exist where white people are not present in large numbers and with colonization intent. Relational racism is, however, only a tiny slice—and a comparatively less significant slice at that—of racism. In places where white and black people share spaces, most black people would care less about relational racism as they would institutional racism. In post-colonial Africa, however, the problem takes different forms.
Having addressed the cultural background of Jesus’ time and the ubiquitous physiognomic awareness recorded in the Hebrew Bible (See Part 1), we are now ready to look into relevant New Testament data. Our minds may have been so thoroughly clogged by the image of a White Jesus that we may be shocked to learn that the Bible says nothing that may help anyone visualize what the historical Jesus might have looked like. Though New Testament writers often portray Jesus as a type of Moses, not a single writer mentions Jesus’ physical trait like Exodus does with Moses. Consider the Gospel of John, for instance. Although John explicitly links Moses and Jesus when he says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17), he says nothing about the physical form of Jesus. Instead, we get this verse: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). As Joan Taylor remarks, “this does not immediately conjure up an image of a specific person who could be described in terms of height, facial features, handsomeness, beardedness, clothing, or whatever” (2).
Thanks to European imperialism manifested through colonization and slavery, one of these images is unmistakable. Indeed, the European Jesus is such a well-developed form that one could endlessly change the face of the image without affecting its recognizability. The White Jesus typically has long, straight hair with a long face as opposed to a rounded one. He is, of course, always white and often has blue eyes. The White Jesus never wears shorts or anything but a robe and a mantle. As Joan Taylor observes, the image or form of the White Jesus is so distinct that “he can be recognized as miraculously appearing in clouds, on pancakes, or pieces of toast” (1). The rather interesting irony is that the juxtaposed, brown-skinned image above is closer to what the historical Jesus looked like than the universally marketed White Jesus. In first-century Palestine, Jesus would have most likely kept shorter hair as it was customary. If he had long hair, it would be due to neglect and would look nothing like White Jesus’ coiffure.
Women and Polygyny
There is no questioning the fact that women often are victims of polygyny. Sometimes, a woman may even effectuate the victimization of another woman. The case of biblical Sarah and Hagar is a good example. Under a belief that the birthing of a child under her roof would help her condition, barren Sarah offered her Egyptian servant to Abraham to impregnate. The Bible does not record any conversations seeking Hagar’s consent or interest in the matter. Sarah merely needed Hagar’s womb. Hagar would likely have been a teenager, and Abraham was about 85 years old. By today’s standards, this would likely be (statutory) rape. Nevertheless, men by patriarchy often used polygyny against women.
Generations of African Pentecostals (and their Western Evangelical counterparts) have been taught to look to the pre-Fall portions of Genesis and post-glorification texts of Revelation whenever they want to establish what is ideal. In fairness, the principle works sometimes. For instance, I think one can legitimately teach that the original human diet was plant-based. God says in Genesis 1:29, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Although many Christians dislike this biblical dietary idea because they like their steaks and burgers a little too much as I do, it was really after the Fall that humans ate animals, according to Genesis. Also, it is very unlikely that glorified humans, after the restoration of Eden (Revelations 22), will eat animals for food.