By Aaron Brown, iBelieve.com
There’s a question that lingers in the minds of some people, a question often stirred up during times of racial tension, political debate, or historical accuracy. What color was Jesus?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. And the answer to this question matters more to some people than to others. All in all, we seem to walk away with the same answer each time. Jesus looks like me.
But does Jesus look like you or does Jesus look like me? Surely, not both.
With no specific verses to cite, there is no way to get the perfect picture of Jesus. Instead, we have to turn our attention to the historical context given in the New Testament. He was a Jew born in Bethlehem, which is in the modern-day Middle East. That insight into society will give us some insight into Jesus.
What Color Was Jesus?
Let’s start with what we know. As the New Testament concludes in the Book of Revelations, there is one detail that gives some physical description of Jesus, if not Jesus in the past, how Jesus will appear in the future. He is described as follows:
“The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters.” (Revelations 1:14-15)
His hair is white, which we associate with old age. His feet are brownish like bronze, but bronze comes in different shades and only his feet are this color. His eyes are seemingly red or yellow and his voice booms. Based on these details, this physical description appears more symbolic than literal. There’s just not enough information to surmise a physical description. What else do we know?
Father Abraham and Sarah originated in Mesopotamia. This God-ordained couple was the beginning of the lineage that would produce Jesus. Therefore, He likely carried some resemblance to these people, though there were a number of people between them and Jesus.
We also know that none of the disciples wrote about his physicality in any of their books. For some reason, those details were deemed unimportant for future generations. There is no indication of hair color, height, and physical attractiveness.
However, there are other historical texts we can reference. Ancient texts including Sumerian myth (from southern Mesopotamia?), detail the origin of humanity as “black-headed” people. Skin color is not regarded as black, but hair. This idea is furthered in A Vision of the Nether World, from the Akkadian culture (present-day Iraq).
Regarding historical paintings that came later, Jesus took on a different appearance. Some of the oldest works replace Jesus’ potentially black hair with a brown and sometimes blonde hue. His skin alternated between peach or yellow in color with features that were meek, and masculine, though not overexaggerated in a superhero-esque kind of way. Though Jesus was often painted with a halo around His head to signify His divinity.
The transition from text to painting, and Christianity when Jesus ministered to today, shows a man represented not by His real physicality, but by culture. Over time, He resembled someone less from ancient Bethlehem and more from Europe. That’s no surprise considering the artists depicting Jesus were European: Greek, Roman, Italian, Spanish, and more. History shows that because Scripture did not reveal Jesus’ appearance, people filled in the gaps for themselves, making Jesus into someone who resembled themselves.
If we had to guess then, if placed on a color scale with snow white and pitch black on opposite ends, Jesus’ skin was somewhere in-between, which is where most of us are already.
That leaves us modern-day believers with a question. What was Jesus’ race?
The Race and Ethnicity of Jesus
Was Jesus white or black? That seems to be the question brought about in present America. Thankfully, the answer is simple - neither.
The concept of race has become such a cultural norm that for better or worse, we teach our children to see and label people by skin color. When we as adults see people, we regard them as white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and more. Sadly, not enough of us ask the most obvious question - what is race?
If we did, we would understand that race is not something we can attribute to Jesus because race is not real. There were no people in Jesus’ day regarded as “black people” or “white people”. The idea of race is itself a very modern term, invented by Europeans during a time when people needed to justify slavery. After all, how else do we explain colors like white and black being used in tandem with Hispanic (Spanish-speaking) and a geographical word, Asian?
There’s no doubt that people around the world look different. Some are darker, lighter, taller, shorter, but this is true within countries. This is true within families. People look different based on their genes, food, diet, climate, and geographics. However, we are all one race - humans, with varying degrees of melanin which produce different physical features.
We don’t know how much melanin Jesus had in His skin or how that influenced His hair color, texture, etc., but we know He was human.
Jews today cover a wide range of colors. As some don’t realize, Jews are not a race. A Jew is someone who practices Judaism. Anyone is allowed to convert into this theology. Jews may have been associated with specific places in the past, but a Jew can be born anywhere, just like a Christian.
If Jesus has no race, then does He have an ethnicity?
Jesus does have an ethnicity, as we all do, but race and ethnicity are not the same. Race can be summed up as skin color and culture, while ethnicity is someone’s location of origin. Their nation. Biblical examples include Samaritans from Samaria or Galileans from Galilea. Present-day examples would be Indians, Japanese, and Americans. People are referred to by where they are from.
Sadly, the church has embraced the ideology of race. The church has held onto this idea since its invention in American society. Everyone sees and speaks about race, including believers, but few of us discuss where the idea of race even originated or where it’s taking us. If we could stop seeing Jesus and ourselves through a lens of race, we could find ourselves more unified and set an example for unbelievers.
A Colorblind Church
Should color matter? Some Christians believe in intentionally advocating for diverse congregations, unnaturally pulling people from different communities into their church body. God has undoubtedly designed for us to look different; otherwise, we wouldn’t, but putting emphasis on our bad idea of race means that we make skin color more important than God did in Scripture.
The colorblind approach to life is the best choice. We all come in different pigmentations, but color doesn’t matter to people who don’t believe in race.
No matter the color of Jesus’ skin, we are all made in His image (Genesis 9:6).
If knowing Jesus’ physical appearance was important, wouldn’t He have left behind those details? With that same logic, we don’t need to add any importance to our own skin. Do we go around assigning people to specific hair groups or height groups? We notice those details, but we don’t care. We should do the same with race and end the meaningless debate.
What color was Jesus? Doesn’t matter.
Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”