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Blog / The Africa Study Bible: An Interview with Matthew Elliott

The Africa Study Bible: An Interview with Matthew Elliott

Matthew ElliottMillions of English-speaking Africans know and love Christ, but for many, God’s Word is hard to grasp. With nearly every full evangelical study Bible written from the viewpoint of the United States and United Kingdom, Africans have lacked a resource that connects with their unique experience, hindering discipleship. But that’s about to change as major Christian organizations, led by Oasis International, are joining together to launch the Africa Study Bible (Tyndale House, 2016) (@africastudybibl), a six-year, cross-continental effort that’s produced the first study Bible developed by Africans for Africans.

Bible Gateway interviewed Matthew Elliott (@MatthewAElliott), president of Oasis International, Ltd., (@OasisIntLtd) and project director for the Africa Study Bible.

[Also see the Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars Updated Edition (Zondervan, 2010) in the Bible Gateway Store.]

Africa Study Bible website

What’s the need that prompted the idea to create the Africa Study Bible?

Matthew Elliott: I’ve been working for Africa since 1995, when I was working on my PhD in New Testament in the UK. After 10 years, we really understood the need for Bibles and Bible study materials that Africans authentically connect with. We have many study Bibles, but these don’t meet the full needs of Africans to understand God’s Word. The notes are 95% written by North Americans and Europeans. They don’t apply the Bible’s truth in a way that fits Africa’s needs and culture. To build deeper faith, we realized Africans needed a study Bible built for their specific needs; that applies Scripture in their own context.

Describe the content of the Africa Study Bible.

Matthew Elliott: The best way to say this in one word is “discipleship.” The ASB’s content was built around a framework designed by African leaders in 2011. They spoke with a pastor’s heart, deciding the ASB would be about becoming a disciple of Jesus in the African context. The meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word is the same around the world, but the application to everyday life can be very different. That’s why the 2,200 features have been written by more than 300 Africans. These include 1,500 African proverbs and culturally-relevant application notes. There are also over 50 articles on Christian living, 70 learn notes on important Christian theology, and touch points—where African culture helps a reader understand the culture of the Bible. Connecting the truth of Scripture to life in Africa is what the project is all about. The Africa Study Bible is God’s Word through African eyes!

Who is Dr. John Jusu and why was he named the supervising editor of the Africa Study Bible?

Matthew Elliott: I first met John in 2011 at our planning meetings for the ASB in Accra, Ghana. I had heard of his skills in education and I remember a lunch we shared where I felt almost prompted by the Holy Spirit to think, “This may be our head editor.” The more I got to know him, the more this was confirmed. I remember sitting at one of the first official editorial meetings with John, and someone asked, “Why are you the right editor for the ASB?” Without hesitation he said, “I am Africa. My country has been through a brutal civil war. I am a second generation Christian. My father was a polygamist. I have moved from the village to the city. My wife and I take care of many war orphans. I live among a tribe and people that are not my own. I am Africa.” All our jaws dropped.

His education is in both theology and education, and that’s exactly what we needed—someone who knew how to help God’s truth speak to the common person in Africa. After six years working together we’ve become close friends and we greatly respect one other. He’s God’s man for the job, I have no doubt.

Click to read the Gospel of John as a sample of the Africa Study Bible (pdf)

Why is it important that the study notes, commentary, and reference material are written by African scholars?

Matthew Elliott: I have a good friend who served time in prison. He now has an amazing ministry preaching in prisons—he’s one of the most vibrant Christians I know. I could never have the impact he does with these prisoners. He knows the realities first-hand. He’s done the time. The same is true with writers for this project. Africans know Africans and can speak directly to the root of the matter.

What issues that are unique to Africa will be addressed in the Bible notes?

Matthew Elliott: Just about every feature has a unique African element built in, and many features revolve around uniquely African concepts. Here’s one good example: nations in Africa were divided up by Europeans, not necessarily along traditional ethnic and tribal lines. As a result, different ethnic interests within a nation have caused war, poverty, and great hardship. Now take the book of Joshua and think about living as 12 tribes within one nation. This is the reality the nations of Africa are living in today. Africans can help teach the church what Joshua means to nations made of tribes that each hold traditional tribal lands.

What are some of the countries and denominations represented by the contributing writers?

Matthew Elliott: Fifty countries are represented through our writers and about the same number of denominations. Baptist, Assemblies of God, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Redeemed Christian Church of God–the list goes on.

How have you been able to logistically coordinate the work generated by 350 writers, editors, and project members from various locations? To what extent were you helped or hindered by technology in producing the Africa Study Bible??

Matthew Elliott: The project would not have been possible without the Internet. Totally impossible, in fact. We communicate with writers, share documents, and even pay the contributors through the Internet. One example would be that our review process is Internet based. We have about 10 reviewers spread out in different cities and countries, and they all needed access to the same document at the same time, or the time lag between reviewers would have made the process almost impossible. Sometimes our Wednesday morning editorial meetings are conducted across three continents, from Kenya to California.

With all the languages and dialects spoken in Africa, how will this English Bible make an impact?

Matthew Elliott: While Africans across the continent speak in over 1,500 languages, a very high percentage of the literate Christians in Africa read in one of three languages that are crucial in education. Conservatively, 60% of literate Christians in Africa can read in English, French, or Portuguese. It may be closer to 80%, but the research is hard to verify. Looking at numbers, this means perhaps over 400 million African readers can be impacted by the ASB being published in these three languages.

When will the Bible be in these languages?

Matthew Elliott: It should be in French by 2019 and we hope Portuguese by 2020. Talks are already underway about other major language groups like Swahili, Zulu, and Amharic.

What major Christian organizations are you working with to help launch the Africa Study Bible?

Matthew Elliott: To support the effort, we’re partnering with Tyndale House Publishers to create the study Bible. Other participants include Campus Crusade for Christ International, Willow Creek and Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), Scripture Union, Africa Leadership, TransWorld Radio, Moody Broadcasting, Center for Early African Christianity, PJA (Publications pour la Jeunesse Africane), MMD Global, The Livingstone Corporation, InSight Books, Urban Ministries Inc., and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, with additional participants being added on a regular basis.

Why is the Bible using the New Living Translation as its text?

Matthew Elliott: We owe a great debt to Tyndale House and the Tyndale House Foundation, who literally birthed this project with us. We believe part of the power of the ASB will be due to people understanding the Bible in a fresh way. They’ll read in the clear and contemporary English used by the NLT. This is especially important for people who read English as a second language. The reading level of the NLT is at sixth-grade, and we’re making sure that our other editorial elements are also very readable.

Do you anticipate selling the Africa Study Bible in the USA or is it solely for distribution in Africa?

Matthew Elliott: Tyndale will release it into the US in February 2017 during Black History Month. Exciting!

Will it be available only in print or is there a digital format too, especially since mobile devices are prevalent throughout Africa?

Matthew Elliott: Tecarta will release the Africa Study Bible App this November for the complete Bible. It’ll be in both iOS and Android. If anyone would like a preview right now, the sample Gospel of John is already available for free! Search for “Africa Study Bible” in either the App Store or the Play Store.

What do you hope will be the result of people reading the Africa Study Bible?

Matthew Elliott: Growing disciples of Jesus in Africa who really understand how to better apply the Bible to their daily lives.

Describe the Kickstarter campaign.

Matthew Elliott: Everyone can really help us launch the Bible for Africa and receive a copy of the Bible this year, months before it’s launched in the US and Europe. With a goal of raising one million dollars to print the first 100,000 copies, we’re seeking private donors as well as launching a Kickstarter campaign, which runs through June 16. Contributors to the Kickstarter campaign have the opportunity to receive incentives ranging from artwork prints to limited Italian leather editions of the ASB as well as all-expense paid trips to the launch of the ASB in the United States and in Africa. We want to have the first run of the ASB available in Africa by the end of 2016. Go to Kickstarter right now for “Launching the Africa Study Bible.” What are you waiting for?

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Matthew Elliott: Actually, Bible Gateway is my go-to online Bible for my review and editorial work for the ASB. Sure, I have a high-tech Bible software program appropriate for my work as a New Testament scholar, but I’m able to use Bible Gateway so easily without any interruption to my editorial work flow. I use it in working on the ASB, often multiple times a day.

Bio: Dr. Matthew Elliott serves as president of Oasis International and project director for the Africa Study Bible. Oasis International serves areas of the English-speaking world where people lack access to affordable Christian literature and the Bibles needed to mature in their faith. In these countries, the measure of annual incomes is often in hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. The great needs of Africa, in particular, drive Oasis to concentrate on this continent, where the Church is experiencing significant growth yet printed resources are scarce.

Matthew earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in New Testament at Wheaton College, as well as a Masters of Theology and a Doctorate of Philosophy in New Testament Studies from University of Aberdeen (Scotland). He was ordained at College Church in Wheaton, Ill., under Dr. Kent Hughes. He’s the author of Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (InterVarsity UK/Kregel, 2006) and Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart (Tyndale House, 2008). Matthew, his wife, Laura, and three children reside in the Chicago area.

Filed under Bibles, Editions, Translations