By Bishop Dave Chikosi
In May 1932 a young man called Shoniwa “Sixpence” Masedza was working as a shoemaker (he charged a flat fee of six pence) near Salisbury, Rhodesia when he fell ill from severe headaches, lost his speech and couldn’t walk for months.
This spiritual attack drove him into a season of “continuous” study of the Bible, during which he dreamt he had died. In that dream his name was changed to Johane Masowe, meaning “John of the Wilderness.” He woke up convinced that he going to be the John the Baptist of Africa.
Johane Masowe later founded the Gospel of God Church, which is part of what is theologically called AIC (African Initiated Churches).
Personally I have always secretly admired the AIC movement for what it represents politically. It is an unparalleled bold affirmation of African agency in the transmission of the Gospel right in the face of a colonial narrative that sought to perpetuate, with equal boldness, the lack of initiative among African people.
The AIC movement turns that narrative on its head. But that is a topic for another day.
Johane Masowe and his use of the Bible
Johane is often misrepresented as having been anti-Bible. This is nothing but a distortion. How could that be true when we know, for instance, that his favorite verse was Revelation 4:5: “And before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”?
This is the same man who once instructed assistants to “Take four bibles of different languages, put one on my head, one at my feet, the other at my right hand, and the last at my left hand.” Afterwards he is said to have gone into a three hour trance. When he came around he cheerfully announced: “Today my eyes have been opened for although I was illiterate, now I can read.” He then proceeded to read each of the four Bibles in turn with face lit by great joy.
No, Johane was not anti-Bible. What he rejected was not the Bible per se, but the manner in which European missionaries used the Bible. His objections were political and theological. Politically he felt that the Europeans used the Bible as an instrument of racial oppression. This is the first part of what scholar Matthew Eric Engelke characterized as Johane’s “terror of the text.”
Theologically Johane was against the missionary’s selective reading of scripture that discounted the possibility of miracles, even though the Bible was replete with them. That religion was too bookish for him. It had little relevance to the harsh existential realities that Africans faced in the daily grind. Johane a Gospel that addressed the African concrete existential needs.
Later groups’ rejection of the Bible
Johane founded the Gospel of God church. Out of this church came a group called Johane Masowe yeChishanu (JMC). The JMC church established itself as a distinct entity in 1942 and made the claim that they do not need the Bible as their leaders received the Word of God “live and direct.”
This is the argument that one of their own, Madzibaba Tawona (MT), made last week in this newspaper. MT says that his group finds the Bible to be “not the true Word of God.” Yes, the very same Bible that their original founder studied continuously in 1932 until he was healed of his sicknesses.
Shoniwa Masesedza a.k.a. Johane Masowe must be turning in his grave.
But not only would Johane be disappointed at this anti-scripture position. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself must surely be saddened in heart to hear religious people say this about scriptures that He Himself often cited as authoritative.
Jesus’ use of scripture is endorsement thereof
It is no secret that Jesus had total confidence in the Old Testament and quoted extensively from it. In His wilderness temptation He repeatedly shut down the devil’s temptations with “It is written” (Matt 4). What do Madzibaba shut down temptations with since they do not have “It is written”?
And straight out of this wilderness temptation, Jesus goes into the synagogue. In His first ever sermon (Luke 4) He opens the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61. Would He use the prophet Isaiah to establish the authenticity of His ministry if Isaiah the book was itself not authentic?
In teaching about marriage and divorce, Jesus harkened back to the Book of Genesis (Matt 19). This is the same Book that MT casts aspersion on by implying a contradiction between Genesis 1:5 and 1:14? He also thinks it’s silly for Moses to claim that God rested since God needs no rest. Madoda!
(Btw, God is Light. Why is it impossible for Him to create a stream of light before creating the sun? Also, MT needs to know that the word translated “rest” is shabath which is better rendered “ceased.”)
We don’t have the space to give all the references here, but every student of the Bible knows that Jesus quoted (thereby endorsed) books like Deuteronomy, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Hosea, Micah, Malachi, Jeremiah, Psalms, Daniel, Zechariah. The Son of God Himself did that. Now if Jesus Christ so endorsed these books of the Bible, why does Johane Masowe yeChishanu church reject them?
MT admits that Jesus is the Son of God and tells us that “Madzibaba pray both to Jesus and directly to God more often on a daily basis.” So why are Madzibaba not following Jesus’s example and using, at the very least, the Old Testament? Are they a higher spiritual authority than Jesus? Do they know better than He does?
This is nothing but hubris (human pride) on steroids. Why do you dismiss what Jesus endorsed? Don’t you know that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18)?
Origins of the use of the word “bible”
Let me conclude by responding to some of the other issues raised by MT. He writes:
Unsurprisingly, the name BIBLE is not mentioned anywhere in the entirety of the book . . . Does anybody know who named the bible?
I am not surprised that MT doesn’t know that the word “bible” is actually mentioned in both Old and New Testaments. Why would I be surprised? He refuses to read the Bible!
Please note that the first use of the word biblia to denote the books of the Bible is in the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament (OT). This Hebrew to Greek translation took place in 300-200BC. In the Septuagint the books of the prophets are referred to as ta biblia (Daniel 9:2).
Over in the New Testament Paul instructed Timothy to “bring my books, and especially my papers” (2 Tim 4:13). The Greek word translated books is also biblia.
Origins of the use of the word “Christian”
MT writes: Just as with the name of the Christian book the bible, the name Christians is neither mentioned nor defined anywhere in God’s revealed book- the bible. God never named believers in the bible Christians, neither did Jesus!
Again for someone who doesn’t read the Bible I’m not surprised at the lack of knowledge. We know that the “disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). We also know that King Agrippa told St Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). This is what non-believers called the followers of Jesus.
Did the followers reject this term? No, they gladly accepted and adopted it. St Peter told his audience that if any of them suffered “as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (1 Pet 4:16).
It was precisely this endorsement by Peter that led to Christianoi becoming the standard term by which Jesus’ followers were called. The early church fathers from Peter, Ignatius and Polycarp onwards used this term without any problems. Why shouldn’t we?
The languages that Jesus spoke
MT avers: We know from all known accounts that Jesus was born in present day Palestine and his native language was Aramaic . . . But surprisingly, there is NO original version of Jesus’s teachings in Aramaic anywhere the world over, what exists today.
But MT needs to know that prior to the 4 B.C., Aramaic was the dominant language of the Mediterranean world. But after the sweeping conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek increasingly became the dominant language of the ancient world.
And even after the Greeks were later overthrown by the Romans, the Roman Empire adapted the higher culture of Greece. The result was that even though Latin became the language of empire, Greek remained the language of literature and philosophy.
This is why the Israel of Jesus’ day was not only multicultural, but also multilingual. Jesus would have spoken all three languages – Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. This is evident in the Gospels themselves.
And so it made sense that Greek, being the lingua franca, would be the medium through which the New Testament books would be written. Interestingly two of Jesus’ disciples (Andrew and Philip) bore Greek names.
The books of the Bible are totally reliable
Although we do not have the original documents, we do have around 5,000 copies of the Greek manuscripts that were made very close to the time of the originals. Bruce Metzger, a NT scholar, counts 76 papyri, 250 uncials, 2,646 minuscules, and 1,997 lectionary manuscripts. This would total 4,969. No other book from antiquity possesses anything like this abundance in manuscripts.
These various manuscripts, agree with each other to almost 100 percent accuracy. Statistically, the New Testament is 99.5% textually pure. The scribes who copied these documents were considered professionals in antiquity. This type of work was undertaken only by devout Jews who believed they were dealing with the very Word of God.
And then we know, of course, that such work could not have gone on without the superintending Presence of the Holy Spirit. Don’t let the devil deceive you. What we have in the Bioble is the very Word of God that I have personally seen God confirm in the lives of many with signs and wonders following.
The Gospels are authentic
When it comes to specifically the Gospels, people sometimes forget that ancient Jewish schools taught proficiency in rote learning of oral teaching. It seems incredible to us in this day, but the amount that a Jewish boy memorized during his education likely exceeded by far the material recorded in Matthew’s Gospel!
It is therefore more likely that Matthew first memorized Jesus’ sayings and then wrote them down later – not in Hebrew, but in the lingua franca of the day. Again, the Holy Spirit inspired and supervised all the writing done by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.