A close-up photograph of an ancient, weathered wall displaying faded inscriptions in Hebrew, capturing the mystery and intrigue surrounding the question of who was black in the Bible.

Who Was Black In The Bible?

The Bible contains references to many different people from various ethnic backgrounds. However, determining the exact race or skin color of biblical figures can be complex. This article will examine evidence about black or dark-skinned individuals mentioned in the Bible.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: There are a few individuals described as Ethiopian or Cushite in the Bible who likely had dark skin, including Moses’ wife Zipporah, the Queen of Sheba, and the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip in the New Testament.

Additionally, given the geographic setting, many other biblical figures likely had olive or darker skin tones.

Old Testament Figures of African Descent

Moses’ Wife Zipporah

Moses’ wife Zipporah was a Cushite, likely from modern-day Sudan or Ethiopia. Cush was the son of Ham and grandson of Noah in the Old Testament, and his descendants settled in Northeast Africa. As Moses’ wife, Zipporah played an important role in the Exodus story, circumcising their son and helping spare Moses from God’s wrath (Exodus 4:24-26).

Her African ancestry shows that prominent biblical figures like Moses were comfortable marrying and associating with Africans.

Cushites and Ethiopians

The Old Testament frequently mentions Cushites and Ethiopians, terms used to refer to dark-skinned Africans. Cushites were descendants of Noah’s grandson Cush and inhabited lands south of Egypt. Ethiopians lived just south of Egypt and sometimes allied with them militarily.

Important Cushite figures include Ebed-melech, who helped rescue the prophet Jeremiah from a cistern (Jeremiah 38:7-13). The Ethiopian eunuch converted to Christianity after Philip explained Scripture to him (Acts 8:26-40).

God clearly worked through and accepted Cushites and Ethiopians as His people.

The Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba famously visited King Solomon and was impressed by his wisdom and riches (1 Kings 10:1-13). Though Scripture does not give her exact kingdom, most scholars believe Sheba corresponded to modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen.

The Queen gave Solomon lavish gifts of spices and gold, and he reciprocated with gifts of his own. Their meeting demonstrates that prominent biblical figures like Solomon maintained diplomatic ties and mutual respect with African kingdoms.

Jesus even mentioned the Queen of Sheba positively as an example of those seeking wisdom (Matthew 12:42).

Skin Color and Nationality in the Bible

Limitations of Racial Classifications

Modern concepts of race did not exist in biblical times. Skin color varied in the ancient Near East just as it does today. However, skin tone was not always linked to nationality or ethnicity as it often is today.

The Bible focuses more on a person’s country or culture of origin than skin color when describing individuals or groups.

Scholars caution against imposing modern racial categories on biblical figures. These classifications often rely more on appearance than ancestry or culture. Few details about skin tone are included in biblical accounts.

Applying racial labels can lead to anachronistic assumptions about identity and ethnicity in the ancient world.

Variety of Skin Tones in the Ancient Near East

People in Bible times likely exhibited a range of skin tones, just as those from the Middle East do today. Southern Egyptians, Nubians, and Ethiopians tended to have dark brown skin, while northern Egyptians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians had lighter olive skin.

But skin tone varied even within these groups.

Intermarriage between different peoples was common, so many Israelites probably had a mix of physical features. The nation also incorporated foreigners of various ethnicities. Biblical figures cannot be neatly categorized by skin color or modern concepts of race.

At times, the Bible distinguishes groups based on skin tone or physical appearance. But these descriptions are not necessarily indicative of ethnicity or nationality. They reflect unique attributes of an individual or group, not comprehensive labels.

Ultimately, while questions about race and skin tone in the Bible can be explored, the text itself focuses more on spiritual realities than physical attributes. Faithfulness to God stands above such transient distinctions.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

The Ethiopian eunuch is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible. Though his appearance is brief, lasting only a few verses in Acts 8, he left an indelible mark as the first recorded African convert to Christianity.

Here are some key things to know about this important biblical figure:

He Occupied a High Position

The Ethiopian eunuch was an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:27). As a eunuch, he would have been a trusted adviser who had sacrificed his ability to have a family in order to serve the queen.

This demonstrates that Africans occupied high and trusted positions in ancient governments. It challenges racist notions that Africans only advanced after encountering European civilization.

He Was a Religious Seeker

The eunuch had made the long journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship, evidencing his devotion to God (Acts 8:27). He would have made this trek of over 1,000 miles multiple times, as the Law required Jewish men to attend three pilgrimage festivals each year.

In his chariot on the way home, he was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah when Philip joined him. The Scripture he was pondering shows him to be spiritually curious and open to learning more about God.

He Responded Readily to the Gospel

When Philip explained the passage in Isaiah that foretold Jesus’ death, the eunuch immediately asked to be baptized. There was no hesitation or debate; he knew he wanted to give his life to Christ (Acts 8:36-38).

This account displays an African responding eagerly to the gospel. It repudiates racist teaching that Africans’ religious worldviews made them less receptive to Christianity.

Event Significance
Occupied influential position Shows Africans had advanced political roles
Traveled far to worship Demonstrates spiritual dedication
Asked to be baptized immediately Rebuts notions Africans resisted Christianity

The account of the Ethiopian eunuch has profound implications. It puts the lie to racist ideas about Africans while lifting up this African as an example of faith. No wonder it was included in the sacred text!

Jesus and Skin Color in the Bible

Jesus’ Physical Appearance

The Bible does not explicitly state the skin color or physical appearance of Jesus. However, some inferences can be made based on the historical and cultural context of first century Judea and the descriptive passages in the New Testament.

Jesus was a Jew who lived in ancient Israel during the Roman Empire. Most scholars believe he likely had an olive complexion, dark hair, and Middle Eastern facial features, typical of that time and place. However, the New Testament emphasizes Jesus’ spiritual attributes over his physical appearance.

In Revelation 1:14-15, Jesus is described as having hair “white like wool” and “feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.” This passage uses figurative language to describe Jesus’ heavenly glory, rather than his actual physical features at that time.

Other passages reference Jesus’ ordinary appearance by stating his looks were not strikingly handsome or noble that people would be naturally drawn to him (Isaiah 53:2). Overall, the Bible focuses on Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and redemptive work rather than his skin color or physical looks.

Universal Message of Salvation

While Jesus’ ethnicity can be inferred from his cultural context, the New Testament presents him as the Savior of all mankind, regardless of race, ethnicity, or skin color. Several biblical passages emphasize that salvation through Christ is offered universally to all who believe (John 3:16, Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 3:28).

Jesus broke cultural barriers to minister to Samaritans and Gentiles as well as Jews. The Book of Revelation depicts people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” worshiping the Lamb in heaven (Revelation 5:9).

Most biblical scholars believe skin color alone is not a factor in salvation or a person’s standing before God. They point to passages stating God does not show favoritism or partiality based on external appearance but rather the condition of the heart and faith in Christ (1 Samuel 16:7, Romans 2:11).

While historians can make educated guesses about Jesus’ physical attributes based on his ethnicity and culture, the Bible places the greatest emphasis on his redemptive work and the inclusive, universal message of salvation.


While the Bible does not provide definitive information about the skin color of most figures, there are a few individuals clearly identified with African nations who likely had dark skin. More broadly, the region of the ancient Near East contained a diversity of ethnic groups and skin tones.

Overall, the Bible places emphasis on spiritual truths that apply universally to all people, regardless of external appearance.

Similar Posts