The Genesis of Liberation

Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved

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Emerson B. Powery, Rodney S. Sadler Jr.
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , April
     272 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Emerson Powery and Rodney Sadler have produced a gift for the study of sociology through the lens of Christian scripture. More specifically, Powery and Sadler have given voice to the legitimacy of biblical interpretation through the experiences of the oppressed. This review study of how the seeds of “white-sponsored” biblical lessons advanced faulty and dangerous societal norms is a helpful read for those who seek to better understand foundational concerns with the oppressor’s practice of biblical interpretation.

Powery and Sadler set out to determine how the Bible could be accepted by the enslaved or the oppressed when the very words it contained were used to justify slavery and non-personhood. By interrogating historical societal norms and interacting with the experiences of the oppressed, Powery and Sadler have given their readers an opportunity to discover how the Bible has been, and continues to be, legitimated by those subjected to power beyond themselves.

In The Genesis of Liberation, Powery and Sadler move the conversation beyond the oppressor’s univocal biblical interpretation in which only the oppressor’s imagination matters. Such a view of scripture does not legitimate the experience with and interpretation of sacred text through the lens of the oppressed. For Powery and Sadler, a Biblical interpretation which is void of the imagination of the oppressed is incomplete. By introducing the reader to the Bible’s place in the language of freedom, the authors demonstrate how the oppressed help to broaden one’s perspective of the Divine. That is, God is not the means by which one usurps and abuses power. For the oppressed, God remained the agency of liberation to which the oppressed could appeal and find hope.

Given the social, racial, and political tensions which have seized the conscience of America, in chapter 4, Powery offers an important reflection on the foundation of much of the current conversation. In this chapter, “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black Biblical Imagination,” Powery brings into view the path toward healthy conversations about how history’s narrator wields the power to define humanness. Simultaneously, and in opposition to the narrator’s power, those who embrace an opposing view have imagined themselves in a much different light.

The Genesis of Liberation is a good refresher for those seeking to address questions related to the place and role of biblical interpretation. Powery and Sadler have helped their readers to approach biblical texts with an eye toward inclusivity and seeking to better understand how to address social ills of this day. There is also a need to determine the affect these matters have on one’s view of the God of the Bible. This work encourages an acknowledgement of social ills while holding to a belief that the God of the Bible has not abandoned those who suffer.

The Genesis of Liberation has the potential to be a helpful resource for ministry practitioners, particularly those who serve in contexts where “oppressed” and “oppressor” have little meaning. As systematized oppression forces conversations about why and how social inequities can exist, this work will help to answer the questions and guide the conversations. It will provide the background to knowledgeably address questions and presuppositions from those ministers serve, creating deeper discipleship experiences.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Reverend Larrin Robertson is Minister of Children and Youth at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland.

Date of Review: 
August 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Emerson B. Powery is Professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College. He is the coeditor of True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary and the author of Jesus Reads Scripture: The Function of Jesus' Use of Scripture in the Synoptic Gospels and Mark in the Immersion Bible Studies series. Powery also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature and the Common English Bible.

Rodney S. Sadler Jr. is Associate Professor of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary. He is the author of Can a Cushite Change His Skin? An Examination of Race, Ethnicity, and Othering in the Hebrew Bible and coeditor of The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora. He also served as the managing editor of the African American Devotional Bible.


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