What did Jesus Really Look Like? (and why does it matter?)



All my life I have known that I wanted to be an artist. I have had many jobs in the art industry using my talents, but I always felt that I was not truly living up to my potential. It wasn't until I began painting pictures of Jesus Christ that I could see my talents really making a difference in the world, one life at a time. I realize that seeing a picture will not usually cause some great life changing miracle, but it can help one feel the spirit. Art can bring you peace and remind you of our Savior. A mere picture of Jesus Christ can remind you of His life and everything that He has done for us. Although we do not worship the image, it can still help us to visualize the real man. It can help us to better see Him as a real person, who really lived on this earth, and who still exists as our Savior today. If my artwork can help somebody understand that Jesus Christ is real and is waiting for us to follow His teachings, then I am blessed to be able to share my talents with others. 

I believe that using social media is a great way to share my artwork and hopefully by doing so, can help spread the Gospel also. Because I am able to reach a greater audience this way, my artwork is sometimes seen by people of many different cultures and religious beliefs. I often receive feedback from fans and critics alike. Some share with me words of thanks and encouragement, and some criticize. I often get sincere questions, "Why did you paint Jesus to look like that?" or "Could you tell me about your inspiration to paint this picture?" At other times I read matter-of-fact statements. "Jesus wasn't European." "Jesus had olive colored skin and dark hair, like other Jews of His time." "That's not Jesus". Reading these statements has caused me to ponder more about what He really did look like, and why that matters.

"Head of Christ" by Warner Sallman
was displayed in my own home as a child.


I have my own ideas of what Christ really looks like, as I'm sure we all probably do. There has been thousands of different interpretations of Christ through the ages, most of them influenced one way or another by the artist's own culture. I do recognize this. I have been raised with pictures of Christ in my own home, each one looking a little bit different, but each showing basically the same Man. I am amazed at the quality of work of several contemporary artists who chose to paint portraits of Jesus Christ and I have been influenced by many.

I believe that Jesus Christ was and is a real man. He really did walk the shores of Galilee preaching His Gospel to all that would hear Him. Because of this fact, He really does have a physical body. This means He has a hair style, skin color, and eye color. As an artist I try to portray those facts the best that I know how.  I have done quite a bit of research to help me do that more accurately .

There are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Bible. The closest thing that can be found is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 53. 
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” 
I have heard some to say that this means that He is ugly. I do not agree with that interpretation of this scripture. That just doesn't make sense to me, it does't "feel" right. I believe that Isaiah was simply saying that He would look like an ordinary man; that He would not “appear” as a God. 

Although there are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament, and the only physical descriptions that I have been able to find from modern prophets focus only on His countenance (brightness and glory), there are surprisingly many descriptions of Jesus by his contemporaries. Many historians and political leaders from His day have made notes about the way He looked. I do understand that these descriptions are not “gospel”, in fact they may not be credible at all, but I do find it interesting the many similarities that stand out in these ancient documents. For example, all seem to mention that His hair was lighter in color, one says “chestnut”, another “auburn”, and one describes him as looking like His mother, except His hair is more “Golden” and his face not as round and soft. (The only description that I have read of Mary is that she was a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.) His hair has been described as “after the manner of the Nazarenes” being parted in the middle, straight to his ears then curls and waves to his shoulders. I’ve read His eyes being described as both “bright blue” and “grey and clear”. The one thing in common between all of these ancient descriptions, is that they all describe Him looking as a foreigner. This makes sense to me, considering the fact that Joseph wasn't His real father. 

I have also spoken with many people who have claimed to have seen Him themselves, either in visions or dreams. Although these accounts are very personal, so I choose not to share them here, I find it interesting that so many people who have had these experiences will approach me to ask about my inspiration for His appearance. Although I don't really have much to share with them... they share with me, and often times I can feel the Spirit strongly when they recount their experiences.

All of the research that I have done has influenced my own perceptions somewhat, but not entirely. I personally don't put too much stock in some of the "ancient documents".  It would be cool if these documents were in fact real, and they just may be, I don't know. Although I may not think we can count on them as verified truth, I do tend to picture Him with the physical traits mentioned therein, and the modern stories that I hear tend to back them up. Most of my own paintings do show Him with somewhat lighter colored hair (not black), grey blue eyes, and just a touch of a forked beard. I am open to the fact however, that He may look different than I imagine Him. He may have shorter hair, He may have different color eyes, It really doesn't matter. The way our culture and ourselves imagine Him to look is really just a symbol of the true Man. It really doesn't matter what He looks like.  If it was really important to us what Jesus looked like, then I’m sure that His disciples would have given an accurate description, but the fact is they didn’t, and we can’t count on the descriptions that we do have as absolutely true. What IS important is how our personal vision of His appearance influences what we believe about His divine nature.

I am often told, sometimes with much hostility, “Jesus didn’t look like that! He was a Jew, He should have black hair, brown eyes and dark skin." My response is always the same:
“Are you telling me that Joseph was His real father? Are you telling me that He is really just a mere mortal, the offspring of two jewish parents 2000 years ago, that He is not really the Only Begotten of the Father?”
If you are telling me that Jesus should have black hair and dark skin, because he was a Jew, and he inherited his physical characteristics from both an earthly, mortal mother AND an earthly, mortal father, then I must declare that you are wrong. Jesus Christ was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.  I believe that God is His Father, and because of that fact it stands to reason that He might not look like other Jews of His time and region. Now if you believe that God the Father really does have black hair and dark skin, then I have no problem in your belief, and we simply have a difference in opinion, one that is really not essential for our salvation. If my depiction of our Savior offends you, then I'm sorry.  I'm not pushing any agenda other than the fact that HE IS REAL! We can disagree with how he looks and that is OK. I've never tried to paint Him non-jewish looking, I just tried to paint Him, and this is how He turned out. And you know what? I like it.
"Light of the World" by Brent Borup
I try to paint pictures that will inspire and uplift. I am sure that my version of Christ does not look just like Him, after all, I use a model for my paintings, he is a good guy that lives down the street from me.  I have not seen Jesus Christ in person or in visions or dreams. What I do know is that He was and is a real person. He is calm and serene and full of peace. This is what I try to paint. Yes, I try to paint Him to look how I believe he really looked, but more importantly, I try to paint with inspiration, I try to paint through the Spirit, and I hope that through my paintings, the Spirit of Christ can be felt and shared with others.


To learn further what I believe to be the true nature of Jesus Christ, please click HERE

To see more paintings of Jesus Christ by Brent Borup, visit his website.

Comments

  1. Wonderful! And well stated, too! My favorite is the last one! It gives me peace to look into those eyes. Thank you!

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  2. Thank you Brent for your artwork of our Savior Jesus Christ. I love all of them but I think my favorite is "Great Redeemer" because it reminds me of the 23rd Psalm The Lord is my Shepard which is so personal and dear to me. You have depicted him just how I know him and feel him. Mighty to save and risen with healing in his wings. Thank You

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  3. Beautiful painting. Thankyou for sharing your gift with the world, just as our Father shared His gift with the world - His Son Jesus Christ.

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  4. Mr. Brent, I love this picture of Christ. His eyes and smile encompass love unconditional. I would buy this in a beautiful frame to hang on my wall. How can it be purchased?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Genevieve. You can find my art at www.brentborupstudio.com

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  5. Outstanding work. And I agree with a lot of what you say. The only difference I have is that Jesus probably didn't have long hair. It was not en vogue for Jews of the time to have long hair (1 Cor 11:14). Also he was a builder (commonly translated as carpenter) and long hair would be difficult to manage, especially in the climate of the Middle East.

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