The race of Jesus Christ is a topic that has been debated for centuries. While the Bible does not explicitly state Jesus’ race, there are some clues that can help us understand the racial and ethnic background of Jesus.
It’s important to note that our modern conceptions of race did not exist in biblical times. Ancient peoples were more focused on ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities than the color of one’s skin. So when examining Jesus’ race or ethnicity, we have to avoid imposing modern racial categories on a 1st-century Jewish context.
Jesus was Jewish
The clearest indication of Jesus’ ethnicity is that He was Jewish. All four Gospels present Jesus as a Jew living in the land of Israel under Roman occupation. Both His parents, Mary and Joseph, were Jewish (Luke 1:27, 2:4-5). Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day according to Jewish custom (Luke 2:21), and He was presented at the Jewish Temple for consecration (Luke 2:22-24). As an adult, Jesus observed Jewish laws and customs like going to the synagogue (Luke 4:16), observing Passover (Matthew 26:17-19), and quoting Jewish Scripture, what we call the Old Testament.
In John 4:9, the Samaritan woman at the well calls Jesus a “Jew” as a way of expressing the social divide between Jews and Samaritans. In John 4:22 Jesus affirms His Jewish identity by saying that “salvation is from the Jews.” Throughout His ministry, Jesus interacted almost exclusively with fellow Jews and focused His message on the Jewish people (Matthew 10:5-6, 15:24). So there is abundant evidence that Jesus was ethnically Jewish.
Jesus likely had Semitic features common among Jews
Since Jesus was a Jew living in ancient Israel, it’s likely He would have had physical features similar to other Jews of that time and place. Based on archeological findings, historians believe that ancient Jews of the 1st century typically had olive or brown skin tones, dark brown or black hair, and brown eyes. They would have resembled modern populations living in the Middle East, like Jews, Arabs, Syrians, and Lebanese.
Some specific Semitic or Jewish features that Jesus likely displayed include:
- Olive or tan skin color
- Dark brown or black hair and beard
- Brown eyes
- Prominent nose
These features represent what we could call the average 1st-century Jew living in Israel. While we can’t know exactly what Jesus looked like, He would have blended in with the crowd and not looked significantly different from the Jewish people around Him.
Jesus was not a light-skinned European
Despite some depictions in art and media, Jesus was not a light-skinned European with blue eyes. These representations arose later in Europe to portray Jesus as similar to the European population. But these are ahistorical stereotypes imposed centuries later.
Based on His place of birth, Jewish heritage, and physical location, Jesus looked like a 1st-century Middle Eastern Jew, not like a Medieval or Renaissance European painting. He had the features of His earthly ancestral line through people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and His human parents Mary and Joseph. The Bible gives no indication that Jesus looked drastically different from others living in that ancient Semitic context.
Jesus was racially Jewish but open to all nations
While Jesus was ethnically and racially Jewish, the Gospel message is that He came to save people of all races and nationalities. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
While on earth, Jesus ministered predominately to the Jewish people as their Messiah. But His message of grace, modeled through the parable of the Good Samaritan, displayed love and compassion across ethnic boundaries. After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His followers to take the Gospel to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), not just the Jews.
The book of Revelation paints a beautiful vision of believers from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) worshiping Jesus equally as Lord and Savior. So while Jesus was biologically and culturally a 1st-century Jew, His redemptive work encompasses people of every race.
Jesus identified with the marginalized
Not only did Jesus cross ethnic boundaries, but He also showed special compassion to those marginalized and oppressed because of their race, ethnicity, or health condition. Jesus reached out to Samaritans (John 4), Gentiles (Matthew 8:5-13), and lepers (Matthew 8:2-3) in a culture that often excluded them.
Jesus emphasized inner righteousness over outward appearances. When confronted about why He associated with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). Jesus was willing to identify with and minister to those deemed lesser by society.
As the apostle Paul later wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Though Jesus was ethnically Jewish, His message and actions displayed complete inclusion of all people.
Jesus triumphed over every worldly division
While race, ethnicity, and skin color are surface-level divisions, Jesus came to deal with our deepest division between sinful humanity and our perfect Creator. As Paul proclaimed, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Through His sacrificial death for sin, Jesus tore down every dividing wall between God and humans, and between different groups of people (Ephesians 2:14). The power of the Gospel can triumph over any racial tension or inequality. Paul wrote that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The apostle John added, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar” (1 John 4:20). Loving our neighbor requires eliminating any vestige of racism or ethnic superiority.
Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God which will one day bring people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) together to worship Him in unity. Though Jesus walked the earth as a 1st-century Jewish man, His redeeming work extends to people of every race and skin color equally.
Jesus welcomes people of all races into His family
The New Testament writers envision a multi-ethnic family of God made up of people from every tribe and nation. As Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Through Christ, people of every physical appearance become spiritually united as God’s people.
Paul explains that those who put their faith in Christ are “all one in Christ Jesus” and considered “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Followers of Jesus become part of the diverse spiritual family God promised to Abraham from the beginning (Genesis 12:1-3).
The book of Revelation paints a beautiful culmination with people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) worshiping God together. Through Jesus, God created “one new humanity out of the two” (Ephesians 2:15) to be His redeemed people. So Jesus graciously welcomes people of all races, ethnicities, and skin colors into His eternal, multi-ethnic family.
Jesus focused on spiritual transformation, not outward appearances
When selecting His disciples, Jesus did not look at physical qualifications like strength, stature, or skin color. He focused on the inward disposition and “looked at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus called imperfect, uneducated fishermen to follow Him based on their faith, not external merits (Matthew 4:18-22).
When the religious leaders criticized Jesus for associating with sinners, Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). Following Jesus requires humble repentance, not surface-level righteousness or racial purity.
Jesus confronted the woman at the well regarding her relational brokenness, not her Samaritan ethnicity (John 4:16-18). He restored sight to the blind (Matthew 9:27-31), valuing spiritual vision over physical conditions.
Because Jesus came to redeem humanity from sin, not to promote one race, He focused on people’s spiritual needs rather than outward appearance. As God told Samuel, “The Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesus commands us to love without partiality
One of Jesus’ core ethical commands was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). He illustrated this through the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan——an enemy——stopped to help a wounded Jewish man (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus emphasized loving others across racial and social prejudices.
The apostle James confronts favoritism saying, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4). As Jesus’ followers, we must not show racial partiality either through our words or actions.
Jesus commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Racial reconciliation begins by choosing to sacrificially love and serve those different from ourselves, leaving judgment to God alone. The Bible calls for unity among believers, not divisions based on race or skin color.
Jesus alone is worthy of our worship
The magi who visited Jesus show that He is worthy of worship by all nations. Though the magi were Gentiles, God drew them to His Son through the star. Matthew says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11). Jesus received worship from the first Gentiles who recognized Him as King.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, He healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28). Though Jesus first emphasized His mission to the Jews, the woman’s faith led even Jesus to expand His vision to bless all nations through her daughter’s healing.
At Jesus’ crucifixion, the centurion in charge of the crucifixion proclaimed, “Surely this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). This Roman officer stationed in Judea confessed Jesus as Lord along with the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). Jesus redeems people from every culture and occupation.
Because Jesus alone made atonement for sin, He alone is worthy of our worship, honor, and allegiance. As Paul proclaimed, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus deserves worship from people of every race and nation.
Jesus brings peace between ethnic groups
The reconciling effect of the Gospel leads to unity between ethnicities and races. Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Trusting in Christ removes animosity and brings harmony.
Paul also taught, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Salvation in Christ erases any superficial racial distinctions and unites believers in love.
In Christ, we receive a new spiritual identity that supersedes any racial identity. Paul wrote, “You are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Followers of Jesus all become part of the same spiritual family.
At the end of history, John describes people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” worshiping together before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9). Jesus’ redemptive work inaugurates the kingdom of God that will one day bring complete unity, with people of every ethnicity worshiping the Lamb in harmony for eternity.
Jesus models ethnic inclusiveness through His genealogy
Though Jesus was biologically Jewish, His genealogy includes Gentiles to demonstrate God’s heart for all nations. His ancestor Ruth was a Moabite gentile (Matthew 1:5), and Rahab was a Canaanite (Matthew 1:5). Jesus also descended from the lineage of a Canaanite woman named Tamar (Matthew 1:3). In addition, Bathsheba who married King David was most likely not Jewish but was probably the daughter of Ammiel, one of David’s Canaanite military elite (2 Samuel 23:34; 1 Chronicles 3:5).
By including 4 Gentile women in Jesus’ ancestral line, God showed that the Messiah came to redeem people from every nation beginning from His birth. The angel told Mary to name her son Jesus because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), not just the Jews. His genealogy set the trajectory for Jesus’ later ministry to all nations.
Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations
Before ascending to heaven, the resurrected Jesus commanded His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Though Jesus ministered as the Jewish Messiah while on earth, His death and resurrection opened salvation to the world. Jesus sends His church to share the Gospel across every cultural and ethnic boundary until He returns.
The book of Acts shows the spread of the early church beyond Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Beginning with the multi-ethnic crowd at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the church to take the Gospel to diverse cultures and races.
As Paul proclaimed to the Athenian philosophers, God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). We share both physical descent from Adam and the offer of spiritual rebirth in Christ. Jesus commands His diverse church to preach redemption to every kindred and tongue before He returns.
Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations
God’s plan to redeem humanity from every tribe and race began with His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The Messiah would come as a blessing to all the peoples of the world, not just the Hebrews.
The prophet Isaiah foretold that the nations would turn to the root of Jesse and find hope in the Messiah to come (Isaiah 11:10). The prophet Zechariah spoke of many nations joining themselves to the Lord and becoming His people through the Messiah (Zechariah 2:11).
As the true descendant of Abraham, Jesus fulfilled these prophecies by making salvation available to the whole world. Christ’s death tore down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14), making redemption accessible to all by faith rather than racial pedigree.
Jesus commanded His followers to take this good news to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Though rejected by many of His own Jewish people, Jesus graciously allowed Gentiles like the Romans and Greeks to become children of Abraham and citizens in God’s kingdom by trusting in Christ.
In summary, while Jesus walked the earth as a first-century Jewish man, His incarnation and redemptive work extend to people of every race and ethnicity. Though Jesus likely had olive skin and dark hair being a Galilean Jew, His message dismantled human divisions to make salvation available to both Jews and Gentiles equally. People of every physical appearance can now become part of God’s multiethnic spiritual family by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The power of the Gospel transcends any racial tension or divide. As followers of Jesus, we too must tear down walls of hostility and show Christ’s love across manmade ethnic or racial barriers as we await the day when people from all nations will worship together around God’s throne.