Who is the first black man in the Bible?

Last updated on November 25, 2021

Black men

It is not clear who the first black man in the Bible is. The Bible is not interested in the color of our skin, but in the salvation of our souls. It never talks about the skin color of people as a subject that we should be interested in. However, if out of curiosity we would like to know, we can still find some indications in the Bible about skin color.

Majority of people were tanned

Because Bible history mainly happened in the Middle-East, it is very likely that the large majority of people mentioned in the Bible were tanned (brown). To become the ancestors of both black and white people, Adam and Eve must have had the genes both for black and white skin. This would have resulted in them being darkish brown. A likely candidate for the first person that the Bible seems to indicate that he was black-skinned is Cush. He was the son of Ham, the son of Noah. His descendants, the Cushites, are the inhabitants of Africa south of Egypt. Often this is equated with Ethiopia, but Nubia (north-Sudan) probably is more correct.

Cushites

Later in the Bible, the Cushites are mentioned often. In Jeremiah 13:23 we find the rhetorical question ‘can the Ethiopian [the actual word used here is ‘Cushite’] change his skin?’, in an obvious referral to the dark or black skin of that people. Cushites that we read about in the Bible include:
• Moses’ wife (Numbers 12:1). There is discussion about the circumstances of this marriage and about the meaning of ‘Cushite’ in this verse, but most Bible scholars believe Moses married a black woman.
• A messenger in David’s army (2 Samuel 18:13). This might indicate that long before Ethiopians won gold medals at the Olympics in long distance running, they were known for being fast runners. The same is hinted at in Isaiah 18:2, where we read about the Cushites ‘Go, you swift messengers’.
• Ebed-Melech, an official at the palace of Jerusalem. He helps Jeremiah when nobody else does (Jeremiah 38:7-13).

New Testament

In the New Testament, we read about two important people who in all likelihood were black. The first one is the Ethiopian court official (Acts 8:27) who gets baptized. He might very well be the beginning of the ancient Ethiopian church. The second one is Simon Niger (Niger means ‘black’), one of the church leaders in Antioch.

There might be quite a few more black people in the Bible. For example when Israel went out of Egypt, a ‘mixed multitude’ went with them (Exodus 12:37-38), which likely included black people as well. But as skin color is not an important issue to God, it is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible whether someone is black, brown, or white.

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