In some circles today, that represents the trifecta of much/most of what is wrong with the world. For some in those circles, this animus is passed on to Jesus because He is viewed by them as belonging to these categories.
Was Jesus a white, male, patriarch?
While we don’t exactly what color Jesus’ skin was, I think it’s safe to assume it was the color of Middle Eastern people today—somewhere in the olive-tan-brown range. He definitely wasn’t white as He is portrayed in most pictures. I think it’s fair to raise this issue with those who graphically portray Jesus as white because it is historically inaccurate and as such, doesn’t do anyone any favors.
But I don’t think that’s where the issue ends.
Did Jesus have long hair as commonly portrayed? What color was it? How tall was He? Was he of slim, medium, or stocky build? While all of these might be important, compelling issues to us, the gospel writers don’t exhibit any interest in them. The two things they want us to know about Jesus physically is that He was Jewish and fully human. The first matters not because of any political/social agenda we might want to attach to it, but because He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless the world through his offspring (Genesis 12:3, 22:18; Matthew 1:1). The second matters because Jesus relates to all of us not as a male or female, black or white person—but as a human.
The only race the gospel writers want us to see is that He was of the human race. The sooner we start thinking like that, the better off we will be. Martin Luther King said, “The color of Jesus’ skin is of little or no consequence. The whiteness or blackness of one’s skin is a biological quality which has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the personality. The significance of Jesus lay not in His color, but in His unique God-consciousness and His willingness to surrender His will to God’s will.”
Jesus was definitely a male. Furthermore, He taught that God created man as male and female (Matthew 19:4-5). There is absolutely nothing to indicate that He believed in or endorsed the thinking that sex or gender was anything other than binary.
That brings us to the patriarch question. How we answer the question about Jesus being a patriarch depends a great deal on the meaning we decide to attach to the word. If you start with a worldview that doesn’t include or marginalizes God and His word, then humans become an accident of time and chance. The fact that they exist as male and female is not due to any kind of thoughtful design or purpose—it’s arbitrary, the blind mechanics of evolution. Therefore marriage, sexuality, and gender have no spiritual or even natural laws governing them. They are instead, whatever we want them to be. This is more or less, the mental map of many today in regard to anything having to do with sexuality, marriage, or gender issues.
When Adam ends up keeping all of his ribs, chaos ensues in regard to gender understanding. Gone is the basis for understanding and rejoicing in God’s special creation of woman. Vanished is any rationale for appreciating her complementary (as opposed to competitive) relationship with man. It is replaced by a brutish secularism that is driven to do anything it can to grind down the God-given differences between the genders until they are treated identically.
The problem is, they are not identical—they are not even close.
Both Peter and Paul embraced and taught the headship of the male (I Peter 3:1, 5-6; Ephesians 5:21-33). This servant-leader headship is intimately connected with Jesus for it calls men to love their wives “just as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). They understood gender roles to be more than a cultural construct of the ancient near east—they were something given by God to function as a profound witness of creation and redemption truths (Matthew 19:4-5; 1 Timothy 2:11-14). Where did they learn these things? From Jesus—either directly or later through the Spirit (see John 16:12-14).
No one denies that this model has been tragically abused by some. We should bow our heads and weep over this. We should work to rescue any and all trapped in abusive relationships. But the abuse of something doesn’t negate its validity. Sadly, we also know of abusive parents, teachers, coaches, etc. The fact that some are abusive in their roles doesn’t make the roles themselves illegitimate. Thankfully, we also know of far more who honored these roles by carrying them out in a loving, serving manner. And we are better and richer because of that! Why is it that seemingly no one speaks of all of the beautiful unions of husbands and wives down through the centuries who followed the headship model and made themselves, their families and the world better by doing it?
The silence is deafening.
So our final answer to our question looks something like this: No, Jesus wasn’t white. Yes, He was (and is) a male. And while He wasn’t a patriarch in the sense that He ruled over a family or clan, He definitely didn’t have a problem the structure (though certainly He wouldn’t tolerate the abuse of it).
Got all that?
I suppose this is a tough question because it is laced with so many emotional subtexts that tend to distort the possibility of any real discussion. It can easily generate more heat than light. Yet if we’re willing to give Jesus a brave hearing, or like countless men and women, a courageous following, we might find ourselves surprised and we will definitely find ourselves blessed.