Did Jesus have body odor? A comic, perhaps, irreverent question for some. If it is a hard question to ask, it may be even harder to answer. The Bible doesn’t give any real ink to the subject of Jesus’ B.O. Yet this kind of question may be useful because it forces us to question our assumptions and beliefs about Jesus. What kind of man was He? If Jesus ever had a smelly day, that means He must have been very human, very ordinary. That means He must have worked hard and worked up a sweat. But coming to a realization like this may be a little shocking, like the first time you saw a school teacher at the grocery store and realized that they were “normal too.”
If we could rewind history and do a blindfolded smell test with Jesus and five other Palestinian men, several things would be immediately obvious. First, you wouldn’t choose this as a career. As Americans, we are pretty intolerant of funk. And second, you probably would not have been able to tell Jesus apart from any of the others by smell, or even by normal appearance. In fact, when Judas was carrying out the great betrayal, he led a small army of soldiers into a garden outside the city where Jesus and His disciples used to spend the evening. If the real Jesus were anything like the Jesus of medieval art, Judas would have said: “arrest the guy with the halo and the glow.” But Jesus could not be easily recognized from others, especially in the low light of the evening. So Judas gave a signal, “I will go up to Jesus and greet Him with a kiss. That is the one, arrest Him.” (Mark 14:44)
The Bible portrays Jesus as an extraordinary man, but also as a very ordinary man. Both of these concepts are important. More on this in a moment. In what ways was Jesus a normal guy? He grew up in a big family and He had a normal, working-class job in the family business as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). If He had pants, He would have put them on one leg at a time. He was so tired after a day’s work that He fell asleep in a storm-tossed boat. He walked almost everywhere He went. This produced the normal human experience: He was tired and thirsty and hungry (Mark 11:12). He attended weddings and feasts, and sometimes was criticized for it (Luke 15:1-2). He was betrayed by friends, criticized by the elite ruling class of His day. Often misunderstood, misquoted, and slandered. People used Him, and seldom thanked Him for His kindness. He was often tempted (normal!), but never gave in (definitely abnormal! Hebrews 4:15). The night before His betrayal and death He was lonely, and His closest friends stood Him up. He cried and prayed in His loneliness. He died a very human death full of pain, tears, bleeding, and loud cries. Then He was buried. After all this His friends cried and mourned. Scripture tells us how ordinary He was: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren…” (Hebrews 2:17)
However, this is only one side of the life of Jesus. If we only see His humanity, we will be just like the people who misunderstood Him. The facts of history record for us amazing things about Jesus. Those who heard Him said, “no one ever spoke like this man.” (John 7:46) He also performed miracles impossible in nature, because He had power above nature. He turned lots of water into lots of good wine (John 2:1ff). He loved His friends and His enemies. He said that He had the divine prerogative to forgive sins (Luke 5:17-24).
From his prison cell, John the Baptist sent someone to Jesus with a doubt-filled question: “are you the promised savior of the Old Testament?” Jesus replied, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”(Luke 7:22) His own disciples were dumbfounded when Jesus calmed a storm on the sea of Galilea. Their response: “So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:27) So, from this perspective Jesus was definitely not ordinary.
So What? What’s the big deal with Jesus as ordinary yet extraordinary? Read the rest of Hebrews 2:17, which was quoted above: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17) Jesus had to be a real human being in order to suffer as a substitute.
This is the unpopular truth about Jesus. He wasn’t just a great rabbi who believed in humanity. He came to be the savior of humanity. All of us humans (yep- me and you) have universally made a mess of things. By selfishness and lawlessness we have worked hard to destroy our own lives and the lives of others. Jesus came to repair this. But even the good teaching of Jesus was not enough to fix things. Good examples are not enough. Committed leaders are not enough. The whole thrust of scripture is that we have incurred a debt to God by our bad conduct. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Jesus died to pay this debt. Here is a useful illustration: In terms of international finance, a debt must be paid in the same currency as the loan. Borrow dollars, pay dollars. Borrow yen, pay yen. Jesus had to be human to pay for the sins of humanity. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). His death could pay that debt and bring us to God because He was very ordinary and very extraordinary. Hebrews 2:14 says the same, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death.”
Here’s the rub: Jesus took on flesh and blood that he might change flesh and blood forever. If Jesus had B.O. it was because you and I needed a Savior.