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Was Jesus White or Black? And, Does His Skin Color Matter In Christianity?

Updated on August 8, 2018
Jesus
Jesus

I grew up believing Jesus was white, thanks to the artistically drawn portraits of Jesus and movies that depict him as a white individual with long black hair and blue/green eyes. Someone might point out the most important factor to consider is not how Jesus is represented but if the representation is retelling his life history as recounted in the Bible. That person is right. Nonetheless, people tend to believe what they see or associate themselves with a famous figure whom they've seen rather than whom they've never seen. Hence, many people believe Jesus was white because the images they've seen of him on drawn portraits and films depict him as such.

Furthermore, people care how Biblical or ancient figures are depicted on screens. Their physical appearance matters to a large extent than what they said. This has resulted in a particular race undermining other races because they believe the Biblical figures they’ve come to associate with originated from their race, when the facts don't align with their beliefs. They believe their race is better off than other races by the evidence of the great feats the Biblical figures performed.

In reality, everywhere, people believe Jesus is a white person because that's what the mass media has conditioned them to believe as the truth. Whereas the Bible has provided no hint as to the skin color of Jesus; unknowingly, many people believe Jesus was white because of the never ending artistically drawn portraits depicting him as white, and the numerous Jesus' films that have never altered from a white Jesus to another 'race' Jesus.

Jesus
Jesus | Source

In countries dominated by white people, it matters to many white Christians how Jesus is portrayed. They will warm up to the idea Jesus was a white person than a black one. They won't serve a black Jesus. It can never happen. In countries or regions dominated by black people, Jesus is portrayed as a black person. In China, the Chinese Christians believe Jesus is Chinese. Practically, every nation, ethnic group or race claims Jesus originated from that specific race, ethnic group or country. In China, many Chinese Christians believe God is Chinese as is the case with many North American Christians who believe God is white. Even green aliens might as well claim Jesus originated from their race because we don't want to accept Jesus is a universal figure, not restricted to a certain race or ethnic group.

We live in a world that has never grown tired of discriminating for a variety of reasons, chief among the skin color of an individual. We do this to assert ourselves as better off than other races or ethnic groups by the evidence of a certain celebrity or famous person, who did something remarkable, originated from our race or ethnic group thus making us more special than others. We want to prove, and rightly believe so, that people from other races or ethnic groups are no better than us; they are primitive.

What many Christians forget is Jesus didn't come to earth to identify with a specific ethnic group, race or nationality. He came to deliver a message from God and to prove to the world what he preached or uttered was in fact the truth by the evidence of rising up from death. None of the Gospel writers have described Jesus' physical appearance because they knew his appearance doesn't matter. What matters is the message Jesus came to deliver from God.If the Gospel writers found it suffice not to describe Jesus' appearance, why does it bother many Christians whether Jesus was white or black? Is his skin color important than his message?

Source

Armstrong Williams, the author of the book Reawakening Virtues, states, "By "proving" Jesus is one skin color or another, many people believe it discredits the history of another race while empowering their own. If Jesus were white, then God is white and favours Caucasians. On the other hand, proving he was black serves to affirm black aesthetics, culture and history. Furthermore, "authenticating" Jesus's heritage can insinuate that one group is oppressing the truth in order to subvert history and a race of peoples." He further says, "Every insistence that Jesus is actually such and such ethnicity only serves to demean Christianity, obfuscate Jesus's message, and create hate and bitterness."

Edward J. Blum, Professor of History at San Diego State University, in an article titled The Whiteman Jesus, notes that Americans care deeply the manner in which Biblical personalities are portrayed in the flesh. "Whether discussing the darkness (and Obama-ness) of Satan or the 'sexy whiteness' of Jesus, the ethnic 'look' of the characters has been just as important (if not more so) than what they have said or done on screen."

The Origin of White Jesus

So, how did the 'white' Jesus come to being? Joan E. Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Jerusalem at Kings College, in an article that appeared in Irish Times titled, What did Jesus really look like, as a Jew in 1st Century Judaea? notes that the white Jesus every person has come to recognize as portrayed in art, film and literature is the result of cultural history. He states, "The early depictions of Jesus that set the template for the way he continues to be depicted today were based on the image of an enthroned emperor and influenced by presentations of pagan gods. The long hair and beard are imported specifically from the iconography of the Graeco-Roman world. Some of the oldest surviving depictions of Jesus portray him as essentially a younger version of Jupiter, Neptune or Serapis. As time went on the halo from the sun god Apollo was added to Jesus’s head to show his heavenly nature. In early Christian art, he often had the big, curly hair of Dionysus." This, he notes, "was never to show Jesus as a man, but to make theological points about who Jesus was as Christ (King, Judge) and divine Son. They have evolved over time to the standard "Jesus" we recognize."

Jesus Transcends Color

The Ethnicity or Race of Jesus

A number of scholarly works have concluded Jesus' skin color was olive-brown. His appearance during his existence on earth closely resembles the current Middle Eastern Jews. He was neither white nor black, that is, neither leaning too much on the white side nor on the black side. This should offer comfort and settle the case as to Jesus' skin color, especially among the whites and blacks who form the large bulk of people contending Jesus was white or black.

Taylor, the author of What did Jesus Look Like? states, "As for Jesus's body I've consulted experts on ancient Skeletons in Israel. What I have learned is that Judaceans of this time were closest biologically to Iraqi Jews of the contemporary world. In terms of a color patter then, think dark-brown to black hair, deep brown eyes, olive-brown skin. Jesus would have been a man of Middle Eastern appearance. In terms of height, an average man of this time stood 166cm (5ft 5in) tall."

For a Christian to state Jesus is white or black and in effect affirming God is white or black is not biblical. The Bible is silent on Jesus' skin color therefore we should respect that omission. It is for our benefit to affirm the universality of Jesus as the Savior of the world, not of a specific race or nationality. In God's kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, master or slave, circumcised or uncircumcised, Jew or Gentile, black or white. Additionally, God is Spirit and spirits don’t have bodies. How is it possible to state a spirit is white or blue in color when it doesn’t exist in physical form?

Does it mean people of a different race are cursed because God is white? Do we serve a biased or racist God. Does it mean Jesus is biased towards a certain race or ethnic group? Does it mean a certain race is special to God than another one?

Your Take: Is Jesus White or Black?

What is your view: Does It Matter If Jesus is Black or White

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Does It Matter Jesus Was Black or White?

Why do Christians want to associate Jesus as having originated from their race instead of accepting Jesus is a universal figure not restricted to a particular ethnic group, race or nationality? Is Jesus' skin color more important than the message he came to deliver? In the heavenly realms, Jesus doesn't exist as a white or black person. There is nowhere in the Bible that states Jesus is black or white. Anyone who claims Jesus is of a certain race is twisting God's word, in effect signifying that person is literally twisting God's hand.

Jesus can be any color any person would like to color him. He might as well be yellow or orange. If Christians accept the messenger for the message he came to deliver and not what he looked like, then we would be living as God intended us to through what Jesus had to undergo to deliver us from the bondage of sin and its result, death. The Bible doesn’t say God loves a certain ethnic group or people of a particular race, for instance, John 3:16 clearly shows God loves the world; not a particular race or ethnic group.

To this end, "To get caught up in futile discussions of an unknowable and trivial tangent only serves to belittle ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The only race which Jesus belonged to that matter is the human race."

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    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      4 months ago from Kenya

      Thank you Mel Carriere. There shouldn't be debate about this because it's obvious.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      4 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      I agree with Mel Carriere, but add: the Jews and today's Arabs were interbred since the time Abraham move from UR to Canaan. There is no race of Jews, it is all Mideastern. When Joshua entered the land of Canaan and began killing men, women and children, he was killing his distant relatives. What would Jesus say about killing women and children?

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      I don't think there is any debate, and it baffles me why debate even occurs. Jesus was born to a Jewish mother and he would have looked like any Jew in first century Judea did, an olive skinned Semite, much like any Arab in the region looks like today. Congratulations on your well written hub.

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      10 months ago from Kenya

      It's true Jay, God's ways are better than man's. I have a high opinion of God and I salute Him with the highest salute I can ever afford to any man. He is majestic, wondrous, might, supreme in everything, majestic and glorious.

      Jesus said if you reject me before men, I will reject you before my Father. Doesn't that go contrary to a God who loves people and can never punish them or offer such kind of an attitude?

      Did you know God is humorous? And what does it mean we humans are made in the image of God? I understand who God is and I have come to understand Him better through reading the Scripture. We have to accept the reality of who God is because He has chosen to show us the real Him.

      It's a fact those who reject God will end up in hell. Their punishment will be eternal damnation. It's in the N.T. No one can deny that.

      I understand you Jay as to the attributes you've afforded Good which are true. But also God has made it clear He doesn't tolerate sin and will punish those who continue to sin knowing what they're doing isn't right. God hates sin and the Bible is clear He will deal with false teachers and prophets who lead people astray by twisting His words.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      God is at Peace, Not hateful, jealous, or wrathful. To assign negative human emotions to the Spirit which is God is Blaspheme. Form a higher opinion of God. Gods' ways are better than Mans' ways.

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      10 months ago from Kenya

      Jack Wellman in an article titled, 'Top 7 Bible Verses About God's Wrath,' that appears in Patheos.com, states: "Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

      In our pluralistic society today we have created a God in our own image, after our own likeness and put forth the doctrine that God is love and only love and would thus never punish sin but the truth is that God will judge all who have never repented and trusted in Christ. The wrath of God still abides on all who have not yet believed on Christ (John 3:36b) and to believe means to be obeying and doing what Jesus commanded and that is to abstain from all sexual immorality. Regardless of what the Supreme Court has ruled God overrules.

      Proverbs 11:4 “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      10 months ago from Kenya

      You don't have to apologize, AF Mind. Even if the comments are not in line with the topic of the article; it doesn't hurt to provide a Biblical perspective on Biblical issues that some, if not many, Christians don't want to admit. Sometimes, comments are a good place to answer questions that otherwise would not be possible or not well explained in articles even if they're not relevant to the article's title.

      With this in mind, some of us have ended up turning God into a grandpa or Santa Claus of which it's not applicable. Yes, God is good, kind, generous, caring, loving etc. Nonetheless, we forget God is Holy which means God despises or loathes sin. He hates sin and His face is turned against those who do evil. God's anger against sin and sinners is the major recurrent theme from the Old Testament to the New Testament. It's a fact at times God can be angry and jealous.

    • AF Mind profile image

      AF Mind 

      10 months ago

      Within the context, it was, because these people were a nation of evil pagans who worshiped a god who believed in far worse things, such as burning your children alive. The judgment may be harsh, but it was still judgment. The nation as a whole was evil, not just a few. I would rather quit this discussion now because I have taken away the point of the article, and to the author, I apologize if there was an inconvenience but I must defend the scripture.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      AF Mind, so it was OK for Joshua to kill the women and children of Canaan?

    • AF Mind profile image

      AF Mind 

      10 months ago

      Both are one and the same God who did not change. He was always loving, merciful, vengeful, and a righteous judge. Nothing contradicts the other. There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3)

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      AF Mind, think about it. Was God a violent killer in the Old Testament and Loving and Forgiving in the New Testament? God, the Spirit, does Not change. There are No covenants that authorize violence. This idea absolves God of all the atrocities described in the OT without changing a word.

    • AF Mind profile image

      AF Mind 

      10 months ago

      Jay C O'Brien,

      Where is your evidence?

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      Ya'll, God does Not punish, People Condemn and punish. Punishment, Condemnation, Wrath, etc. are all Human emotions. It is Blaspheme to apply it to God.

      Idea: God, a Spiritual Being was not described in the Old Testament. The Lord in the OT was a "Lord of the Manor House," Royalty, but Human. This esteemed person was called Lord and followed. Abraham, Moses and Joshua, etc. were the lieutenants of this "Lord of the Manor." They did what they were told to do. If they did not, The "Lord" got mad at them as a human would. That completely explains the OT without changing a word of it.

      I believe Jesus was speaking of "The Lord," as we conceive of God, a Spiritual Being. So they are different.

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      10 months ago from Kenya

      I agree with you AF Mind. And , as you had indicated, I concur that many of us Christians don't want to accept God of Old Testament is the same God of New Testament.

      I understand what Jay is trying to say. God is good, I believe it with my heart. But, we forget we are made in the image of God, therefore God experiences the emotions like us humans. He feels jealous, He feels anger and other emotions. Even in the N.T. there is that evidence. Negative emotions become negative when we cross to the extreme side of such emotions.

      Finally, I wouldn't mind if Jesus was black, white or other color. What matters is we have hope for the future because he came to deliver that hope. In fact the O.T contains numerous prophecies about Jesus' birth, Ministry, death and resurrection. Even the Book of Enoch which wasn't included in the Bible does contain prophecies about Jesus. He never came to condemn the Jews but to set things right and offer hope for humanity. As long as Christians we're not divided on Jesus' skin color knowing before the presence of God there is neither Greek nor Hew, circumcised or uncircumcised. We are all made in the image of God, and that to me, matters a lot. I am in the likeness of God just as every other person is. So, those people who feel the need to confirm Jesus to their own liking, it's good to know it doesn't matter; God loves us. That matters, and matters a lot.

    • AF Mind profile image

      AF Mind 

      10 months ago

      I'll message you about this later, but you saying the Bible has contradictions and then saying you believe in Jesus is in itself a contradiction, because you can't just take some things about him you like and ignore the rest.

      What is bad about jealousy, vengeance, and wrath? These things are neutral. How they are applied proves whether it is good or bad. God is jealous because he wants people to worship him in truth, not bow to false idols. And he is vengeful and wrathful because he cannot let the guilty go unpunished.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      AF Mind: Yes, there is a contradiction in the Bible itself. All depictions of God as Jealous, Vengeful or Wrathful are Not Scripture, but Blasphemy. Why? Because God/Jesus is Good and Not Evil. Raise your understanding of what God is like.

      The fact that someone raises an issue of skin color shows a materialistic view of God. Raise your thinking.

    • AF Mind profile image

      AF Mind 

      10 months ago

      It only matters within the context of scriptural accuracy. God does not love based on skin color.

      Jay,

      "The commission of Jesus was to refute the Jewish ideas that God choose one nation and gave them authority to kill for. God/Jesus did not kill women and children as described in the Bible."

      Doesn't that contradict the Bible? Jesus is a character in the Bible and worshiped the same God who allowed those things to happen, and there is nothing wrong with him choosing a particular nation. I do not think this would be the appropriate place to talk about this since it takes away the meaning of the article so if you would like to talk about it in private please feel free to message me.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      Jesus and all of us are souls in a human body. The commission of Jesus was to refute the Jewish ideas that God choose one nation and gave them authority to kill for land (See the Book of Joshua). God is Good, All Good, and always has been. God/Jesus did not kill women and children as described in the Bible. Jesus is Peaceful, Merciful and Kind. He is for everyone.

      The linage of Jesus is unknown as his earthly father is unknown. Joseph was Not his father, so His linage is untraceable. Linage was through the fathers' line, not the mother. David has nothing to do with it.

      As to the color of his skin, I have read the Vatican has an account that He was white with reddish hair. Skin color does Not say anything about a persons character or soul.

    • Nyamweya profile image

      Silas Nyamweya 

      10 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      interesting discussion

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 

      10 months ago from Kenya

      True, RTalloni that "God clearly, though, wants us to understand the miracle of His lineage and mercy of His suffering, sacrifice, and victory over sin and death. Understanding the redemption offered through the Lord Jesus Christ is our need no matter our race." This is what matters a lot.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      10 months ago from the short journey

      An interesting discussion that may yield interesting replies! That Jesus Himself did not discuss the topic tells us much. :- ) God clearly, though, wants us to understand the miracle of His lineage and mercy of His suffering, sacrifice, and victory over sin and death. Understanding the redemption offered through the Lord Jesus Christ is our need no matter our race.

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