Was Jesus white?

There is not a physical description of Jesus in the Bible, but in a lot of Western art, we see Him portrayed as white. Why is this? Well, put simply, artists throughout various regions of the world have created paintings and artistic depictions of a Jesus whose looks match that of their own culture.

In the Western world, there is more exposure to art of European origin which tends to portray Jesus as white. However, art originating in other continents like Africa and Asia portrays Jesus as looking more similar to the respective culture in which the art was created. Having artistic interpretations of Jesus in a way that looks similar to the beholder can be a powerful way for people to be able to conceptualize Jesus as one who came to earth and walked among us as a normal, average-looking person.

Based on the region where Jesus was born—in the Mediterranean/Middle East—it is likely that He was not white, but rather had a more olive or tan complexion with dark hair and eyes. Isaiah 53:2 says of the Messiah: "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." What does this tell us? Jesus looked like a normal person. There was nothing about His appearance to indicate He was the Son of God.

Is it a problem to have paintings depicting Jesus as white if He most likely was not white? No, it is not a problem unless someone turns the image into an idol. This is true of any artistic interpretation of Jesus. People automatically tend to imagine that Jesus looks like they do, but the main thing worth noting is that Jesus' physical appearance does not pertain in any way to the redemption and salvation He brought to the world. Jesus is the Savior of the whole world—people of all ethnicities, nationalities, races, and skin colors are able to be reconciled to God and have their sins forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8, 26–29).

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