Was Jesus black?
I have had, numerous times, conversations with individuals who insist that Jesus was black/African. While I find the idea extremely unlikely, I honestly do not care how much melanin was present in Jesus’ skin. What bothers me is the adamant and often hostile insistence of those who hold this view.
The Bible does not say anything about the color of Jesus’ skin. Jesus was a Jew/Israelite/Hebrew. He was of Semitic descent. His skin color was likely somewhere in between light olive and medium-dark brown. Jesus very likely looked like a typical Middle Easterner, with dark hair and dark eyes. People from Israel, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq are likely the best current examples of what Jesus would have looked like.
Those who believe Jesus was black typically have two main arguments. The first is based on the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:14-16, particularly the reference to His feet being “burnished bronze.” However, bronze is a medium-dark brown color. It is not the same color as the skin of black people. More importantly, though, Revelation 1:14-16 is clearly symbolic. It is a description of Jesus appearing in a glorious form in a vision. It is not a description of Jesus’ human appearance.
Are we to believe that Jesus literally had eyes of fire (Revelation 1:14), a voice of raging waters (verse 15), seven stars in His right hand (verse 16), a sword in His mouth (verse 16), and a face as bright as the sun (verse 16)? Of course not. Neither are we to believe that Jesus’ feet were literally the color of burnished bronze.
The second argument is that since Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt to hide Him from Herod in Matthew 2:13-14, they must have looked similar to Egyptians. And, since Egypt is in Africa, that means Egyptians are black. Therefore, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were black. There are numerous errors in this line of reasoning.
Joseph and Mary did not need to be able to “blend in” in Egypt. They simply needed to be outside of the territory Herod controlled. Herod would have no authority to order the slaughter of children in Egypt even if he somehow discovered that Jesus was in Egypt. Yes, Egypt is in Africa, and so Egyptians are Africans. But, Egyptians are not black. Ethnically, Egyptians were, and still are, Middle Eastern, with similar skin tones to the people of Israel.
While these two are the most frequent, I have heard a few other “Jesus was black” arguments. All of them are weak, at best. Simply put, the Bible does not teach that Jesus was black. Biblically, historically, and anthropologically speaking, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was black/African in ethnicity.
But, lack of biblical evidence does not dissuade those who are convinced that Jesus was black. This argument is a primary feature of the Black Hebrew/Black Israelite movement, but it is not limited to that movement. The question arises: Why is it so important to many people of black/African descent that Jesus was black? The answer, in my opinion, is the same reason that Europeans/Caucasians have for millennia portrayed Jesus as having light skin: we all want Jesus to look like us. Picturing Jesus looking like our own ethnicity seems to help us to connect with Him.
While Jesus is rarely portrayed as blond-haired and blue-eyed anymore, that was, for a time, the predominant portrait, at least in the USA. While most American Christians understand that Jesus was very likely Middle Eastern in appearance, they don’t truly picture Him that way in their minds. The idea that Jesus likely looked much more like the members of ISIS we see in the news than the Caucasian actors who typically portray Him in American movies is, well, difficult to accept for many.
I think I understand why some black people desperately want Jesus to be black. For many, it is an overreaction to the completely inaccurate portrayals of a white Jesus. But, whatever the case, the precise hue of Jesus’ skin is completely irrelevant. That is likely why the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus, other than essentially saying He was ordinary (Isaiah 53:2).
God became flesh (John 1:1, 14) so He could bear our sins in His body (1 Peter 2:24), thereby saving for Himself a multitude of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Jesus was not white. Jesus was not black. Jesus was, very likely, in the middle in terms of skin color. But, ultimately, it does not matter. Jesus is the Savior for all of humanity (1 John 2:2). Jesus died for blacks and whites and everything in between. God’s sacrificial love is for the entire world (John 3:16). Divisive arguments over the color of His skin are antithetical to what He accomplished.
S. Michael Houdmann
Was Jesus black?