Discrimination in the Congregation?

Some say “Christian” America’s Bible Belt lassoed Trayvon Martin and hung him high. Easter is fast approaching, and Christendom’s elated. But many lament that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America! Will this be true of Easter Sunday as well?

Jesus Not a Racist: Even Jesus’ enemies acknowledged to him that “it doesn’t matter at all to you what the surface skin color of a man’s face is.” (Matthew 22:16, Carr’s Christian Translation) The disciple James chastised certain Christians for “showing [a] reception of faces,” for the apostle Peter assured that God is not a “taker of faces.”–James 2:1, 9; Acts 10:34, 35, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation.

Apostles Address Bias: In its very infancy the Christian Congregation experienced a disturbing case of discrimination. An anxious and disillusioned group of Greek-speaking widows were made to needlessly suffer hunger pangs. Opportunely, the task force of mature Christian men that had been assigned by the inspired apostles rectified the matter with a happy outcome.–Acts 6:1-7.

Prejudiced Peter?: Peter had racist tendencies, but Paul checked him when Peter visited the Antioch Congregation. (Galatians 2:11-14) “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called ‘the black man’), [and] Lucius (from Cyrene).” (Acts 13:1-3, New Living Translation) “Cyrene” (Libya) is in Africa, hence Lucius was African too. These same two Black elders of the Antioch Congregation were present when the disciples were officially named “Christians.” (Acts 11:26, Young’s Literal Translation) Racism was not tolerated.

Bible Scholarship?: Scholar R. T. France observes that among ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew inscriptions (including personal names) was “an ‘Alexander, Son of Simon,’ found in a tomb near Jerusalem probably belonging to a Cyrenian Jewish Family.” (Emphasis supplied.) He then asks, “could this be the man mentioned in Mark 15:21?”–Evidence for the Historical Jesus, 2011.

Other scholars-authors chime: “Archaeologists were able to determine this was a tomb for a family of Jews [emphasis supplied] from Cyrene, in present-day Libya. It is dated to the 1st century CE. One of the eleven ossuaries [boxes of bones] had two names inscribed: Alexandros as well as Simon with ‘the Cyrenian’ included.” (The Jesus Discovery, 2012) But was Simon an ethnic Jew?

Three Gospel writers document that Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to carry Jesus’ torture stake. (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) But physician-historian Luke reveals through his use of the word “native” that Simon was indeed an African by race, and Jew by religion.

At Acts 4:36-37 Luke identifies the disciple Joseph Barnabas as “a Levite, a native of Cyprus.” (New World Translation) “Being, as he was, from the tribe of Levi, Barnabas inescapably belonged to the Jewish race. The place he was from, however, was Cyprus,” says the book Modern Matthew: Good News for Today–College Edition (2012). At Acts 18:2 Luke records that the apostle Paul “found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus.” (NWT) “While he identified Aquila ethnically as ‘a certain Jew,’ he also separately identified him as ‘a native of Pontus.’ This implies that one can be ‘a native of Pontus,’ and at the same time not be a Jew.”–Modern Matthew.

Luke also “speaks of ‘a certain Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria,’ at Acts 18:24 (NWT)…And yet again, Luke juxtaposes the subject’s race (‘a certain Jew named Apollos’) with his hometown (‘a native of Alexandria’). In each instance “Luke carefully and methodically separates the race from the place,” concludes Modern Matthew. (For a more thorough commentary see the footnote for Matthew 27:32 in Modern Matthew.)

‘Proof of Jesus’ Series: When a Christian discusses Jesus Christ the presumption is often made that the listener at least believes Jesus existed, even if that one may not follow him as Lord. Lately, though, a growing number in the Black community–where belief in Jesus has been a solid tradition–is raising its voice in dissent. They, as well as others, are questioning the very existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

To address the issues of a historical Jesus I will present an ongoing series of articles called the “Proof of Jesus Series.” Article 1 (“Was Jesus Christ a Real Person”) appeared last week. Article 2 (“Did Real Rulers Rouse a Real Jesus?) will appear next. Subsequent articles are scheduled to appear intermittently over the next year or so.

The evidence of a historical Jesus is compelling. But was he really real? The answer carries the potential of being life-altering. Stay tuned!