I watched George Floyd’s funeral this summer, sad about the death of a man who didn’t deserve death for giving a cashier a counterfeit $20 bill (if he really did give one; no one has clarified whether this happened or not). No matter how counterfeit the money, George Floyd didn’t deserve death for it. That was what we know as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Thankfully, the police officers have been charged for his death, though I want to say here that not all policemen are bad people. Not all civilians are bad people (nor are they all good, either).
The issue is not the police force. The issue is not law enforcement, though law enforcement protects its own (and those protections allow bad officials to get away with crimes). The issue, rather, is the hearts of man. Some men will to do good, some will to do evil. God has given every man choice, and what each person does with his or her free will is up to that individual. And, but for the grace of God, those of us who promise we’d never do anything evil or terrible like George Floyd’s killer just might have done what he did.
But as Floyd’s funeral drew to a close, and his casket was escorted out of the gathering, a prayer was given that referred to Jesus as “an unarmed black man.” The statement offended me then, but I shrugged it off as just bad theology and left it at that. Well, it was just a few weeks ago when I saw the statement again on a t-shirt on social media. A few days after that, a social media post with a statement about how all lands belonged to Africa got under my skin. I tried not to write this post because I realize that the post itself will upset some individuals. But the truth needs to be spoken.
So, to cut to the chase rather than lead us around in a circle going nowhere, I’ll go ahead and say it: Jesus was not an unarmed black man. He wasn’t African or black; rather, He was Jewish.
A difference between Jewish and african
There’s a difference between being Jewish and being African. To assert that Jesus is a black man means that we’re asserting that He was of African descent. And that is simply not true. The Scriptures state in very clear and precise terms that Jesus was Jewish. And a Jew and an African are not the same. To be sure, there are Ethiopian Jews in the world, Jews who also have African ancestry, but not every Jew is of African descent. And for Jesus to be a Jew of African descent, He would have to have been born in African territory and raised by African parents. Neither of these are true, according to the biblical record.
Scriptural support for Jesus’ Jewishness
Matthew 1: The Genealogy of Jesus
The Scriptures support Jesus’ Jewishness and refute the idea that He was ever of African descent. For example, Matthew 1 is a clear chapter in Scripture that shows us Jesus’ genealogy and heritage date from Abraham. Abraham is listed in Scripture as the one God enters into covenant with regarding His people. These people would become the Jews. Matthew 1:1 tells us that the chapter pertains to “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Jesus is a “son” or descendant of Abraham. Abraham was once “Abram,” but when God enters into covenant with him, He changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to “Sarah.” The new names match the new covenant, and, while “Abram” referred to “exalted prince,” Abraham would mean “father of many nations.” This, then, refers to Jesus’ origins, His “family tree,” if you will, where He came from. It shows us that Jesus was born Jewish.
To be sure, Jesus does have Gentiles who are in His family, and they are listed in Matthew 1 (such as Bathsheba, Rahab, and Ruth). And yet, these women who married into the family don’t change the patriarchal designation. Since Jewish life was determined by the patriarchs, and all the men were declared Jewish, then Jesus Himself was Jewish. For what it’s worth, both of Jesus’ earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, are Jewish. They can be found in Matthew 1:16.
Jesus was born in Israel, jewish territory
Jesus was not only born to Jewish parents, Joseph and Mary, but He was born in Jewish territory, in the nation of Israel. In Matthew 2, we read that Old Testament prophecy foretold Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:5-6). And when Jesus is born, He is born in Bethlehem of Judea, as the Old Testament foretold. Judea, as we read in the Old Testament, was the Southern portion of the nation of Israel (Judah).
Jesus comes from a jewish tribe
Jesus was born to Jewish parents (His biological mother, Mary, was Jewish), with a Jewish heritage and genealogy, in Jewish territory (Bethlehem of Judah). Additionally, He also came from a Jewish tribe. Scripture refers to Jesus as the Lion of Judah, since He was born in Judah (Revelation 5:5). So Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah. Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name was later changed to “Israel”, see Genesis 49:1-28). All 12 sons’ names were given to the 12 tribes from which the nation of Israel comes. The 12 sons, then, were the heads of the 12 tribes that bear their names.
Jesus was circumcised the eighth day, as all jewish males are
Another interesting fact is that, alongside coming from a Jewish tribe in a Jewish city and country from a Jewish mother who gave Jesus her Jewish genealogy, He was also circumcised the eighth day, as all Jewish males are:
“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21, NKJV).
So Jesus was circumcised eight days after His birth, as was the apostle Paul, who used his circumcision to claim he was as much a Jew as anyone else (Philippians 3:5).
something to think about
I’ve offered all these reasons why Jesus is considered Jewish from the Scriptures. But there’s one more.
Some say that, since the Jews were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years, then the Jews were essentially black people. And yet, while Egypt is in northern Africa today, the Jews didn’t lose their customs in Egypt. Essentially, they were led out of Egypt by Moses under God’s order so that they could keep their customs and worship before God. They didn’t lose their identity bc they lived in a foreign land for over 4 centuries.
And we see this clearly in an issue of racism with Moses’ sister, Miriam, and Aaron. If, as some say, Jews are blacks (some are, though not all), why is it that Miriam had an issue with the ethnicity of Moses’ second wife, after Zipporah died? According to Numbers 12:1, Miriam and Aaron “spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” Miriam’s issue with Moses’ new wife was that she was black, Ethiopian, an African. If the Jews are black, they would not have had an issue with her black skin tone and ethnicity because Moses would’ve been marrying his own people. Moses married Zipporah and Zipporah was a Midianite, a cousin of the Israelites (Midianites were cousins to the Israelites). The fact that Miriam and Aaron took issue with the new wife’s race and ethnicity shows that, contrary to what some say today, Jews and blacks/Africans aren’t the same.
I think it’s safe to say from the biblical evidence presented above that Jesus was not a black man. He was Jewish, of the Jewish tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem, “the City of David,” a Jewish city, from Jewish parents (Mary bore Jesus without help from Joseph), with Jewish genealogy and ancestry. Jesus was even circumcised the eighth day after His birth, as all Jewish males were required to be in His day. How much more Jewish could Jesus be than this?
Whatever Jewishness we see in Jesus tells us, it indicates that He was anything but African or black. Where does this attempt to make Jesus black come from? I think it has a lot to do with using Jesus (and the Bible, unfortunately) as another political pawn in the never-ending race war. Some Caucasians preach Jesus as Caucasian; some African-Americans preach Jesus is African (black). And yet, Jesus was neither: He was Jewish. He observed Jewish customs, even observed the Passover the night He was betrayed and observed it at 12 years old as a boy (Luke 2:41-42; Luke 22:7-22).
The land of Jesus’ birth, His genealogy and ancestry, His circumcision, and His observance of Passover indicate that Jesus was Jewish, undoubtedly Jewish. I think that we all want to look in Scripture and see that Jesus identifies with our condition. And yet, He doesn’t need to be “Africanized” or “Europeanized” to be relevant: He’s relevant, simply because of the Incarnation, that blessed event, where, as the Apostle John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). If the Incarnation doesn’t show how He identifies with us, our human race, and our sin-sick soul condition, nothing ever will.