There are many fascinating questions we might ponder about Jesus. What was he like as a child? Yes, we have a few stories that offer insights, but for the most part, Jesus’s youth is shrouded in mystery.
Another is, what did Jesus do between his crucifixion and resurrection? Peter writes about this, though his description raises even more questions than it answers regarding this supernatural event.
But the funniest question I have come across is: How tall was Jesus? According to the benign violation theory, “we find something funny when…it violates the way we think the world should work, and it does so in a way that’s not threatening.” I think this question about Jesus’s height elicits a chuckle because it is a violation of our sensibilities—we know it asks for the least important information about the most important person in the world.
We know the Lord’s perspective on this attribute of man because it is addressed directly in Scripture regarding who would be the replacement of the disappointing, yet tall, King Saul: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” 1 Samuel 16:7.
But, the fact that many ask this question, How tall was Jesus?, suggests that, contrary to what the benign violation theory of humor claims, this topic is threatening to many men.
There is a cultural assumption about height, as prevalent now as it apparently was 3,000 years ago: taller men look like leaders; they are more appealing to women; they will be more successful.
Does it help to be tall?
According to some research, yes. It doesn’t seem fair, but greater height, for men and women, correlates with greater wealth and success based on several measures. (While we’re experiencing an emotional and completely reasonable reaction against this injustice, let’s throw in another research findingto really maximize our discomfort: Those among us judged as “attractive” also earn more money on average!)
Well, what do we do with this apparent fact, especially if we are not on the taller side? Grow?
We could spend time looking at the plethora of diminutive world-shakers. (The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. changed how Americans view race and each other, clocking in at 5’7”. At 5’3”, Ludwig van Beethoven composed music so profound that it rivals the fine-tuning of the universe as the most compelling evidence for the existence of God. And Tom Cruise regularly saves the world [at least on the silver screen]—and looks cool doing it—at well under six feet tall.)
But it would probably be more helpful to look at our values.
If our values come from the world, then we have a few options: we can surrender—we can’t really get taller, after all; we can direct all of our effort toward proving the statistics wrong by being extremely successful according to the world’s metrics regardless of our height; or we can put tall stature on the top of our list of required traits in a spouse—if we can’t be tall and reap the benefits ourselves, at least our progeny can!
But Jesus walked among us, in part, to expose the flaws of our manmade values. Of course worldly values reward superficial attributes like tallness and physical beauty. The sinful nature is like an idol magnet. When we push God aside, we look for created things to idolize, which in this case are traits that we have determined to be the embodiment of the “ultimate human.”
Yet, when God became the ultimate human, He apparently took on none of these traits.
It seems glaring that the New Testament writers do not really describe what Jesus looks like, apart from a Book of Revelation version of Christ, who seems to be adorned in apocalyptic symbolism, complete with eyes of blazing fire and a double-edged sword for a tongue.
It’s almost like Scripture is trying to tell us something in its conspicuous lack of physical description of the Lord during his youth and earthly ministry. Hmm . . .
The closest we have in such a description actually comes from the prophet Isaiah, describing a Messiah several hundred years into the future:
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
“No form or majesty that we should look at him”?
“No beauty that we should desire him”?
Jesus “looked” so unlike our superficial vision of a tall and beautiful leader, so unlike a Savior—both in physical attributes as well as in His expression of divine power and love—that humanity took Him to the cross to torture and discard his body.
Thankfully for us, God has different values than the world—justice, mercy, love—and He invites us to be unified with Him and to share in His values. And in His ineffably deep level of existence, being tall, even if it brings with it an unfair advantage during our fleeting time on the Earth, simply does not matter in His divine calculus.
So, how tall was Jesus?
Biblical and historical scholars have actually tried to answer this question. They assume Jesus was not unusually tall or short, based on Isaiah’s description and the fact that the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane needed Judas to point out a physically unremarkable Jesus in the midst of his disciples. Considering the average height of Jewish men in Israel around 2,000 years ago, scholars suggest that Jesus was likely between 5’1” and 5’4”.
It is worth noting that after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she thought He was a gardener. This implies He looked and acted like a gardener, i.e., one who cares for living things and treats them in a way that will lead them to thrive and bear fruit. Tall, short, or average height, perhaps this is how we should aim to appear to our fellow man.
Sean Coons is the author of Body: or, How Hope Confronts Her Shadow and Calls the Flutter Girl to Flight, a Christian fiction comedy exploring body image and intuitive eating. Sean’s latest novel, Firefly: Let There Be Light, is a middle-grade adventure slated for publication by Black Rose Writing in October 2021. Twitter: @seancoons. Facebook: @seancoonswriter. Instagram: @seanmcoons. SeanCoons.com.