The answer, of course, is that we don’t know.

We do know that Jesus was probably in his early 30s when he began his ministry and would not have had long hair.

It’s fair to assume that Jesus had a beard, in light of first-century Jewish culture and tradition—though Scripture doesn’t say this explicitly. (Isaiah 50:6 says the suffering servant, ultimately exemplified in Jesus, has his beard plucked out, but the NT doesn’t cite this).

Isaiah’s messianic prophecy suggests that there was nothing unusually attractive about him (“he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him,” Isa. 53:2)—though it’s taking it too far to say that he was thereby unattractive or homely.

He was a Galilean Jew who spent a lot of time outdoors, so his skin tone would likely be a darker olive color, as is typical of those in Mediterranean countries.

In December 2002 Popular Mechanics did a cover story called “The Real Face of Jesus.” The positioning of the piece was obviously sensationalistic. But it was nevertheless quite interesting. Using “forensic anthropology” scientists and archaeologists combined to investigate what a first-century Galilean Semite might have looked like, with medical artist Richard Neave commissioned to do the rendering. The article describes the process:

The first step for Neave and his research team was to acquire skulls from near Jerusalem, the region where Jesus lived and preached. Semite skulls of this type had previously been found by Israeli archeology experts, who shared them with Neave.With three well-preserved specimens from the time of Jesus in hand, Neave used computerized tomography to create X-ray “slices” of the skulls, thus revealing minute details about each one’s structure. Special computer programs then evaluated reams of information about known measurements of the thickness of soft tissue at key areas on human faces. This made it possible to re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull.

The entire process was accomplished using software that verified the results with anthropological data. From this data, the researchers built a digital 3D reconstruction of the face. Next, they created a cast of the skull. Layers of clay matching the thickness of facial tissues specified by the computer program were then applied, along with simulated skin. The nose, lips and eyelids were then modeled to follow the shape determined by the underlying muscles.

How tall would a first-century Jew be? “From an analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds.” I admit that it feels a bit strange to think of being over a foot taller than Jesus! But it’s good to have our cultural preconceptions—even prejudices—challenged.

Of course no depiction can tell us what Jesus looked like for sure. But the following rendering is undoubtedly closer to reality than the typical rendering by artists and film-makers:

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Comments:


44 thoughts on “What Did Jesus Look Like?”

  1. janice says:

    Put a kaffiyeh on this man and we’ll be closer to peace with the middle east.

  2. Dave your link to whatever you had for early 30’s is broken :)

    That said this was pretty cool to see. I have thought about several times over the years what Jesus make have looked like … far cry from what he is usually depicted as.

  3. Dale says:

    So Jesus looked like someone from a near East Mediterranean country? Absolutely shocking….

    It always feels strange to me to use the past tense when discussing Jesus, as if He’s not living and breathing right now….because He is!

  4. Dave Stone says:

    In fact, Scripture gives us a description of the resurrected Jesus! Revelation 1:12-16 offers a description of how Jesus appeared to John. It is telling that this is the only physical description of Jesus in Scripture (and I think it has something to do with the second commandment).

    Granted it is a “visionary” description, but I tend to interpret it literally (white hair, fiery eyes, tanned feet, bright face/countenance, I don’t believe his tongue is an actual sword). Too bad we have many more pre-resurrection “depictions” of Jesus because that is not who He is today.

    Today, He is the triumphant King of kings and Lord of lords who has conquered sin and death. And He is coming back to rule in perfect righteousness and justice. That’s my King!

  5. Luke says:

    It’s interesting you’ve posted on this Justin, my Dad was commissioned recently to paint two contrasting portraits of Jesus, the traditional wavy haired fellow and a darker more intense looking fellow. I wonder what if any are the differences between his resurrection face and pre-resurrection face?

  6. Cindy says:

    Wasn’t Jesus a Nazarene? I thought they did not cut their hair. Or was it that he was from Nazareth? I may be confused.

    1. That’s a Nazarite.

      1. Ah, sorry. Others have responded below. And I made a typo anyway. Nazirite, not Nazarite.

  7. Dean P says:

    “I don’t believe his tongue is an actual sword”

    Oh really why not? Based on the previous statement before this (Granted it is a “visionary” description, but I tend to interpret it literally (white hair, fiery eyes, tanned feet, bright face/countenance…….) you should.

    1. Robert Wille says:

      His tongue is not an actual sword because the one mediator between God and men is the MAN Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

    1. ruben says:

      I don’t think he was about 5 feet tall. If Zachaeus was a midget then Jesus was almost one as well?

  8. Jeff says:

    Fair question, Cindy. “Nazarene” refers to his hometown, Nazareth. The other word, “Nazirite”, is unrelated and refers to a person who has taken specific vows to set himself apart for the Lord… one of which was to not cut his hair. Both Samson and Samuel are examples of Nazirites.

    For what it’s worth, I grew up singing “I stand amazed in the presence / Of Jesus the Nazarene”, and wondered if He really did look like a small orange.

    — Jeff

  9. Dean P says:

    Cindy, Jesus was a Nazarene, which means he came “from Nazareth”. What you were confused about in your question were the Nazirites. A Nazirite was one who took the ascetic vow described in Numbers 6:1-21. The term “nazirite” comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. This vow required the man or woman to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and according to some alcohol and vinegar from alcohol. They were also to refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head and to avoid corpses and graves, even those of family members, and any structure which contains such. In scripture we know that Samson was a Nazirite, but Jesus was not.

  10. Ray Ortlund says:

    But I doubt he had such a bewildered look on his face.

    1. SJB says:

      I agree.

    2. jorge alvarado says:

      Well, He looks like He just walked into the temple and is looking at the people who have turned the house of God into a den of thieves. Now wait for his “angry” face.

  11. DJG says:

    I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion on the validity of this question itself. For a distinctly Reformed perspective, I strongly recommend this article by Dr. David VanDrunen:

    http://www.oceansideurc.org/storage/Van%20Drunen%20Iconoclasm.pdf

  12. Glenn says:

    If we needed to know what Jesus looked like (please note past tense) then we would have been told; we weren’t, so we don’t. So simple.

    As such, any attempt to make a picture of the Christ is in breach of the the 2nd Commandment

    1. barb pettry says:

      i wish i’d said that. Amen.

    2. jorge alvarado says:

      True, but, we have depictions of Pontious Pilate, Caesar the dictator, and others of that era. I just find it curious that no artist was able to depict Jesus. Maybe the Holy Spirit kept them from doing it (??).

  13. Glenn says:

    Just to clarify; my reference to ‘past tense’ was to what Jesus would have looked like when He was here on the earth.
    He is of course alive and interceding with the Father

  14. barb pettry says:

    “i think” this should have been left where you found it. verrrrrry unnecessary.

    1. jorge alvarado says:

      Well, I don’t know if Popular Mechanics is a christian publication. But I assume a lot of unbelievers saw the picture. It would just bring out issues like: “well, this is nothing like the christians depict Jesus. So if they can’t even come into agreement about this, why would anyone listen to them?”.
      This just to say that we should not forget the eyes of the world are on us and not to let something like this divide us.
      Any depiction of Jesus through the ages has been just the imagination of men at work.

  15. Justin Taylor says:

    I respect the arguments that suggest the second commandment forbids depicting Jesus but I have not thus far found them to be exegetically compelling. Also, I mentioned that Popular Mechanics was being sensationalistic. This is not “what Jesus looked like” per se, but rather what a first-century Galilean Jew (probably) would have looked like, and Jesus was in that category.

    1. Glenn says:

      I agree with you Justin, as far as what you say goes. My comments were not in reference to the picture you shared, sorry I should have made that clear. You are right to to anything to shatter the popular misconception that Jesus could have been pale skinned etc

      As you are aware though many people, sadly, count pictures of ‘Jesus’, as drawn by many artists over the years/centuries, in their minds as almost valid (think Icons etc).

      If, when those people think of Jesus, their favourite depiction comes to mind and as they worship that same picture fills their mind, they are in effect worshipping that picture that they connect with Jesus.

      1. I should say for the record that using an image during public worship and saying “this is your God” or “this is Jesus” would be idolatry, but I can’t see how it’s necessarily idolatry unless there’s such an explicit identity statement, as there is in the cases of Aaron and Jeroboam.

        1. Matt says:

          Read Exodus 32’s account of the golden calf closely. Verse 4 says, “And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, a ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”

          And they were wrong.

        2. Matt says:

          Wait. Dang. Completely misread your comment. Apologies.

    2. Wow, what a crazy argument. That you happen to think of a certain image when worshiping someone does not amount to worshiping the image, anymore than thinking about certain words to describe Jesus doesn’t amount to worshiping those words. This argument is like those who say inerrantists are bibliolaters.

  16. JMH says:

    Yeah, the 2nd Commandment definitely means you shouldn’t have this picture at the front of the church, but I don’t think it forbids images of Jesus per se. He really was human; he had a physical appearance. It wouldn’t have been a sin for the disciples to remember what he looked like, or (for example) for Peter to sketch a picture of him or something.

    Also, the 2nd Commandment is referring to images in the context of worship– note that it’s (paraphrasing) “you shall not make a graven image… to bow down and serve them.” Otherwise all physical art would be a violation of the commandment.

    1. CR says:

      The argument by those who are against any images of Jesus is: while it is true that Jesus is also man, He was and is never without His divinity, thus the 2nd commandment is applicable to Jesus.

  17. DJG says:

    I’m not trying to troll or be otherwise annoyingly repetitive… but for Justin and others who haven’t found 2nd commandment arguments convincing I would suggest that there is more at stake than simply the bare commandment and I would again recommend VanDrunen’s article (http://www.oceansideurc.org/storage/Van%20Drunen%20Iconoclasm.pdf).

    JMH – I think the article does a good job addressing the issue you raised – of worshiping images (an argument to which I was previously sympathetic).

    I won’t recommend the article again… I was just worried that my previous endorsement was aimed at a more limited audience than I had intended. Also, it is hard to find the article without paying loads of money for the journal, so I guess I offer it for bibliographic value as well. Cheers, all!

  18. CR says:

    Interesting article.

    1. Mark says:

      I get tired of seeing the false images of Jesus being a fair skinned white male with crystal blue eyes. His hair and complexion perfect. Each group/race makes Jesus who they want him to be. In my upbringing, Jesus was always a white male. If he were depicted as dark skinned male, this would be considered an abomination and sacreligeous. Which to me is BS. I tend to believe, like in Isaih, that Jesus was not a very attractive being. I believe this because in our world most people are attracted and follow people of good looks and appearances. I believe God wanted for us to see the inner side of Jesus- to follow Him because of His love, character, compassion, etc. I tend to believe Jesus looked like the picture above or maybe have the look of someone like Osama Bin Laden (only speaking of looks).

  19. looselycult says:

    Justin Sometimes I feel like you just like stirring up the TR hornets nest just for the fun of seeing good ol fashion predictability do its work.

  20. Victor says:

    what about the shroud of turin?

    1. Glenn says:

      What about it? It’s a fake, but even if it weren’t the adoration it receives is idolatrous. Many people actually worship it, a piece of cloth, it is so sad.

  21. Craig Hurst says:

    For those who think making any kind of depiction of Jesus is a breach of the 2nd Commandment I commend you to read John Frame’s discussion of the 2nd Commandment in his book “The Doctrine of Christina Life.” He is obviously Reformed and cites the WLC but has a more tame, and I think, accurate understanding.

  22. Rev. Doyle Peyton says:

    Looks more like a young Arafat

  23. Andrew Moody says:

    For most Christians, the Reformed view of the second commandment seems weird at best. It definitely made for an interest conversation when I went with a church member to have their tattoo of Jesus covered up after his journey brought him from Calvary Chapel to the OPC. I do heartily also recommend Dr. Van Drunen’s article on Iconoclasm. Meditate for a bit on Acts 17 where Paul speaks at the Areopagus. He says to these men in v.29, “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” If God has not ordained to leave us an image of Christ (apart from the wonderful image we have in the Word and sacraments), then we must come up with one using our “art and imagination.” An artist used his artistic ability and imagination to create the above representation of Jesus. The arguments that are normally used to explain away the 2nd commandment simply do not fly with Acts 17.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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