What Color was Jesus?

I’m not sure where to begin here. I guess I’ll start by saying that, growing up, I never considered the color of Jesus to ever be an issue. I would see pictures of Jesus on paintings and in illustrated Bibles. I was given some Bible study books when I was a child and would see perhaps most of the depictions of Bible characters looking “European”, except for a few Old Testament characters and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. But then I would see elsewhere, depictions of Black Jesus mainly in Black churches. I was never confused by either image. I guess I just figured for someone who lived 2000 years ago (before life-like paintings and photos), everyone was just guessing what He looked like. No harm, no foul. His color isn’t the most important thing about him anyway. Right? To me a Jew from the ancient Middle East probably looked, well like a modern Middle Eastern man. I was 8 or 9 when Operation Desert Storm happened and I remember thinking that most Bible people, Jesus included, probably looked like the people of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

Then as I got older I realized that the color of Jesus is a real stumbling block to a LOT of people. Some believe He is White. Some believe He is Black. Some even go to the lengths of giving God the Father one of the two skin tones. I don’t know if this is mainly an American problem. I’ve seen pictures of Asian Jesus as well but I have a feeling its not that much of a divisive issue in Asian countries as it is here in the U.S. I don’t know. It seems that different cultures like to represent Jesus as being like them in appearance. Maybe it makes Him more relatable. Maybe it was done in ignorance.

Some of us feel as though “White Jesus” was forced on to my ancestors in order to see “Master” as being closer to God. Or closer to the image of God. And because of the evil in men’s hearts, I can’t say that some slave owners didn’t do that exact thing. However, physical depictions of Jesus aren’t inspired and infallible. You can’t go to the ancient Greek or Hebrew texts and find a drawing of any person. There are some limited descriptions of certain people. Like David who was handsome and “ruddy” (the same red complexion given to Esau) 1 Samuel 16:12, Genesis 25:25. In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron were upset Moses’ wife was an Ethiopian (what I always assumed was the first fight over an interracial marriage). The point is that no one is really described in great detail how they look.

But, then there are those people who say that we can know Jesus was Black because of the description in Revelation 1:15 “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” I’ve heard the explanation, “Who else has feet the color of burned brass? Definitely not them White Jews!” However, just one verse before that it says “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” So, is this saying Jesus is white? Well, it said His head and hairs are white, but His feet were like brass. What color is Jesus?

First, I would like to point out that the Book of the Revelation is full of imagery. Symbolic imagery. Four chapters later Jesus is described as a “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes.” Ok, well that’s obviously symbolic right? Well, I believe His depiction in chapter 1 is obviously symbolic or metaphoric also. Especially given how it describes His eyes and voice. And in verse 16 of chapter 1, He has a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. It’s all imagery.

What does the Bible say about white hair? In Proverbs 16, it says wisdom and old age. Again, I’ve heard the objection, “But it says His hair was like wool. Who has hair like that?” It’s talking about the color, not texture.

In the Torah, bronze was used in the tabernacle for the laver (for cleansing) and the alter (for sacrifice). The Greek words here can be used to describe how bright and shining they are like if the metal is still in the furnace or if it is highly polished.
His eyes are as fire, shining light in the darkness. His face which the scripture says was like sun, as though the intensity is too much to bear. The sword that came out of His mouth pierces and cuts. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

There is also a description of who we believe to be the Son of God in the prophetic Book of Daniel. Chapter 10:5-6, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, His face like the appearance of lightning, His eyes like torches of fire, His arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Here we see similar descriptions. A face too bright to look at, eyes like fire, a voice so loud, arms and feet like burnished bronze. The “burnished” in the Hebrew means brightened or polished. Now, a simple Google search will show what burnished bronze looks like. And when compared to human skin it is very much non-white. So here, you may have an argument that the man Daniel was describing was a “Black” man. Or a sun kissed Middle Easterner. People didn’t spend a whole lot of time inside.

But what does it mean that His body was like beryl? Beryl can come in many different color variations: red, pink, aquamarine, emerald green, golden. But, it’s always translucent. The book of Daniel is full of imagery like the Book of Revelation, like his vision of the four beasts in chapter 7 and the king’s vision of the statue that represented four kingdoms in chapter 2. Remember that biblical visions and dreams usually are symbolic in nature.

It’s also important to note that even those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry didn’t recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:14-15; Luke 24:16).

The point is I don’t believe either depiction of Jesus describes His color. And if it does, I don’t believe that we should get so hung up on it that it distracts and divides us. No matter what, any physical depiction you’ve seen that is supposed to be Jesus is inaccurate. No one really knows what He looked like. At this point I’m almost willing to side with my Reformed brothers and say that all depictions of Jesus are violations of the 2nd Commandment. So much emphasis is being placed on what He looked like instead of what He did, it’s becoming idolatry.

I don’t need Jesus to look like me. The goal is to look like Him.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Paul and the Virgin Birth

Paul the Apostle in Prison

“If the virgin birth is so important to Christians then why did the Apostle Paul not mention it any of his epistles?”

The New Testament is comprised of 27 books. Of those books the Apostle Paul wrote at least 13. In those books, he mentioned many of the important doctrines of the Christian faith. In his letter to the Corinthians, he says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

Here we see: 1)Christ dying for our sins, 2)that He was buried, 3)that He raised from the dead. In other books Paul writes about the deity of Jesus (Colossians 2:9, Romans 1:2-5, Philippians 2:6). But he never once mentions the virgin birth. Why?

Some argue that since what may be arguably the greatest evangelist and apologist of the Christian faith didn’t write about the virgin birth of Jesus that either he did not believe it or that he did not know about it. And that he was so knowledgeable it’s highly improbable that the latter is true. So, did Paul just not believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Him as a virgin?

One thing we must remember is that just because he didn’t mention it doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe it. That’s like the common argument that since Scripture doesnt speak of Jesus preaching against x, then He must not have considered x a sin. But the Bible says that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So just because we don’t know something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Likewise, just because Paul didn’t mention something doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe or that it’s not true.

It’s, in fact, more possible that Paul did know and believe in the virgin birth. The physician, known as Luke, was a companion of Paul during Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles, speaks of being there with Paul when meeting with the Jerusalem church in Acts 21. And while Paul wrote 13 books of the New Testament (14 according to some scholars), Luke’s two books contain more volume than Paul’s.

The reason I mention Luke is because he wrote about the virgin birth. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26-34 reads, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Here we see that Luke clearly was aware of the virgin birth. Since we know that Luke and Paul were companions for quite a while, I believe it is safe to conclude that Paul also knew of the virgin birth. Also, Paul was no stranger to airing out his disagreements as he did in Galatians 2 about Peter. Luke also writes of Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas in Acts chapter 15. Therefore, I think it would be safe to assume that Paul or Luke would have written about a disagreement on the virgin conception of Jesus.

I also believe that Paul, in a roundabout way did mention the virgin birth. In the epistle to the Romans, Paul says, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures…” Paul, an educated man, knew the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. Paul calls himself a Pharisee in Acts 23:6 and Philippians 3:4-5. It was required of Pharisees to know the Hebrew Scriptures inside and out. Therefore, he knew the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah in which the virgin birth was first prophesied. Paul quoted Isaiah dozens of times in his writings so it wouldn’t be unwise to conclude that Paul also believed in that Jesus was conceived without an earthly father.

Therefore, by Paul being a friend of Luke and knowing the prophetic book of Isaiah, I would argue that Paul indeed believed in the virgin birth of Jesus. We need to be careful about not using the logical fallacy of arguing from absence (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

For more on the virgin birth, you can read my blog here.

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

No homoi.

Arius of Lybia

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” John 1:1

During the early church, there was a dispute about the ontology of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus the same essence as God or is he of a similar essence? These two schools of thought divided those who wished to be faithful to what was revealed in scripture about the Redeemer. They used the Greek words ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) and ὁμοιοούσιος (homoiusios) to describe thier respective views.

Homo-ousios – that the Father and the Son are of the same essence. “Homo” meaning same. “Usia” meaning essence, or being.

Homoi-usious – that the Father and the Son are of similar essense. “Homoi” meaning similar.

Now at first glance it may seem that the difference in the two is nonessential banter. Why would there be division about such a seemingly trivial concept? Well, those that accepted the homoousian christology believed that the other camp was downplaying or outright denying the divinity of Christ. That the Theos and Logos described in John 1 are of the same essence and to describe them as anything else would be to describe someone else other than the Christ of Scripture.

Arius, a third century Lybian theologian believed in similar-substance-christology. Arius did not believe, however, that his view went against the teachings of scripture. Nor did his christology start with him. He learned from Lucian of Antioch. In a letter to another theologian known as Alexander, he called Jesus “a creature of God.” Making God the Father the creator of everything else including the Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, according to those of the homoousion christology, God does not save but one of His creations does. Making Arianism seem to be too close to donetism, that Jesus is only a man.

Now this seems to coinside with John 3:16 that says Jesus is the “only begotten son.” The Greek here is μονογενής (monogenēs) meaning basically the single of its kind. This is important because if Jesus was of similar essence then He would not be of the same kind as His Father.

Arius, in his letter to Eusibius of Nicomedia, says of Jesus, “…the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect as God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not. For he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning but that God is without beginning.

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten but not made…” Now I am not placing any creed above Scripture. However, those in the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) thought it vital to settle this debate. That Scripture made it plain that Jesus and God are one (John 10:30).

Tradition has it that one member that attended the council was even so impassioned that he slaps an Arian, perhpas even Arius himself. This attendee was none other than Saint Nicholas of Myra, the same St. Nicholas we see around Christmas time.

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Now, I’ve heard the argument, “what about Colossians 1:15 that states that Jesus is the first born of all creation? How can He be of the same essence as the Father?” I believe that instead of using the word “of” here, “over” would have been better as used in the New King James Version, NIV, and the CSB.

Colossians 1:15-18 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
” (NASB). We see here that He has made EVERYTHING. All that was created has been created by Jesus Christ. As John 1:3 says, “…apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Making Jesus outside of creation and not a thing created.

While I can’t say that the New Living Translation is the best or even my favorite translation, I think it excellently words Colossians 1:5 this way, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words it’s Christ’s preeminence over creation that this verse is talking about.

In conclusion, I believe homoousia better describes our Lord as revealed in the Bible. Not homoi-.

Further reading: John 5:18, John 8:24, John 8:58, John 10:30-33, John 20:28, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:8

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org