Do you ever wonder what Jesus Christ’s personality was like? Have you felt curious at times about what he was like as a son, neighbor, friend, student, teacher? What kind of experience do you suppose it was to interact with him?
As the holidays approach, many of us find our minds and hearts turning toward Jesus even more than they might normally. After all, for Christians like myself, he’s the reason for the season! The four Gospels in the New Testament show us how he acted and reacted in a number of different situations. But what was he really like, to those who knew him best and those encountering him for the first time? What were his type preferences?
Of course, we can’t know for sure since we can’t ask him how he was energized (E or I), how he took in information (S or N) and used it to make decisions (T or F), or how he oriented himself to the outer world (J or P). We can get some ideas by reading about him in the Bible, but as with each of us, Jesus himself would have to be the final judge of what his personality preferences were.
Nonetheless it is interesting and informative to search the Gospels to see how he handled a variety of situations and for clues as to what his personality preferences might have been. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and most concise, with a mere 26 pages in my Bible compared to 32 for John, 41 for Matthew and 45 for Luke. So Mark is the one I looked at the most to gather evidence about Jesus’ type preferences. If you have a Bible handy, perhaps you’d like to follow along as I share what I discovered!
Imagine that Jesus had the chance to take a modern personality inventory. What would the results look like? The first letter in his type code, the four letters which denote one’s personality type, would have been either E for Extraversion or I for Introversion. A preference for Extraversion means one is energized by the outer world and is active, outgoing, and focused on people and things. People with this preference process outwardly, thinking as they speak, and their motto could be “Live it, then understand it.”
On the other hand, a preference for Introversion means one is energized in his or her inner world and is reflective, focused on thoughts and concepts. These people process inwardly, thinking before they speak, and their motto could be “Understand it, before living it.” 1
Which of these descriptions sounds most like Jesus? Certainly he can be seen as outgoing, sociable and focused on people, all characteristics of a preference for Extraversion. But what stands out to me like bright stars against a black sky are verses like Mark 1:35 where we are told that “...in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.” This was after a busy day which had involved teaching and preaching in the synagogues and healing people. And Mark 6:46 says “And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
I believe that Jesus needed this time alone, not only to communicate with God but also to energize himself, either to prepare for what was to come, as in 1:35, or to immediately recharge himself after time with others, as in 6:46. I also believe he understood life before living it and had his thoughts fully formed before he spoke. These are all hallmarks of Introversion.
The second letter in Jesus’ type code was either S for Sensing or N for Intuition, two ways of taking in information. Sensing types, who make up as much as 70% of the U.S. population (and I assume of the rest of the world as well) focus on the realities of the present, such as specifics and factual, concrete information. They tend to see the trees rather than the forest. In sharp contrast, Intuitives focus on future possibilities, seeing patterns, associations and connections between facts. They tend to see the forest rather than the trees.
I have no trouble seeing Jesus focusing on the importance of each person and taking care of each situation as it arose. He was undeniably great with details. For example, Mark 5:43, which is about raising a girl from the dead, concludes by saying that Jesus “...told them to give her something to eat.”
But what stands out more to me is his interest in the big picture and the future. In Mark 1:17, for instance, we are told that “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ “ He saw not only who his disciples were, but who they could and would become.
His teaching style also appears to be indicative of Intuition. Those with a preference for Sensing would probably be more straightforward and easy to understand. They are more down-to-earth and literal in their speech than Intuitives. Though Jesus spoke about ordinary parts of life for his audiences, I’m sure the leap between his earthly examples and their spiritual parallels left most of his followers with rapidly spinning heads. For example, in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3) Jesus taught about farming, which was a regular and prominent aspect of people’s lives. But would they naturally make the connection between a farmer sowing seeds and God sowing his word into people’s hearts? Mark 4:10 indicates that this parable wasn’t well understood. This fits with the presumption that most of his hearers had a preference for Sensing.
Once we take in information, we use it to make decisions. The next letter in Jesus’ type code would reflect the way he made decisions: T for Thinking or F for Feeling. Those with a preference for Thinking make decisions on the basis of objective and impersonal criteria. They seek rational order by using logic and they value justice and fairness. Feeling types, on the other hand, make decisions using subjective criteria as they weigh human values and motives. They value kindness and harmony.
In John 8:3-11 Jesus had an encounter with a woman caught in adultery who, according to the Law of Moses, deserved to be stoned. Several later manuscripts suggest he wrote on the ground a list of all the sins of the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman to him. Then he said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7).” After the scribes and Pharisees all walked away, he told the woman that he did not condemn her either.
To me this is a clear indication of a preference for Feeling. Justice, valued by Thinking types, would have most likely leaned toward her being stoned. Thus John 8:5-6 states that the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus what he had to say about the woman, who the law commanded should be stoned, “... to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.” But kindness, valued by Feeling types, liberated her for a fresh start in a life free from the sin that had ensnared her.
On the other hand, though, Jesus often fought against tradition and the status quo, as in Mark 11:15-18 when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and Mark 12:38 when he warned people to beware of the scribes. Perhaps his tendency to turn tradition on its head indicates a preference for Thinking rather than Feeling. Isabel Myers’s brilliant book, Gifts Differing, which I highly recommend, says that Thinking types “Contribute to the welfare of society by the intellectual criticism of its habits, customs, and beliefs, by the exposure of wrongs, solution of problems…” That does sound a lot like Jesus. Perhaps he was more of a Thinker when dealing with the sinfulness of a hard-hearted society, and showed his Feeling side when dealing with individual sinners who knew they were in need of mercy.
The final letter in Jesus’ type code might be the most debatable of all: J for Judging or P for Perceiving, two ways of orienting oneself toward the outer world. Judging types are interested in controlling their lives, which they like to have settled and planned. They like setting goals, organizing, scheduling and deciding. In contrast, flexible and spontaneous Perceiving types prefer to let life happen, are undaunted by surprises, and tend to react to life by inquiring about and absorbing it. They prefer adapting to whatever it brings their way and changing as necessary.
Jesus shows the characteristics of a Judging type in that he seemed to have a clear plan for his life, to know who he was and what his purpose was, from the beginning of his ministry, if not from the very beginning of his life. Yet, like a Perceiving type, he also seemed to be flexible and able to shift gears quickly, not minding terribly when his plans were interrupted. In Mark 6:31 he invited the apostles to join him in escaping to a lonely place for some rest. But a crowd of people met them there and, having compassion on them, Jesus taught them instead of resting.
It might almost be anyone’s guess what the fourth letter in Jesus’ type code was. Perhaps he did not have a clear preference. But I once read that Judgers focus on responsibility while Perceivers focus on discovery, two very different life purposes. When looked at this way, I believe his preference, though perhaps only slight or moderate, was most likely for Judging.
If the conclusions I’ve drawn are correct, Jesus had preferences for INFJ or perhaps INTJ, INFP or INTP. This might explain why he stood out so much from the crowd, aside from the fact that, for those who believe in him, he was the son of God. INFJ is the rarest of the 16 personality types, at least in the U. S., making up only 2% - 3% of our population. INTJ, INFP and INTP are not far behind at 3% - 4%, 4% - 5%, and 5% - 6% of our population, respectively. Among males INFJs are even rarer, making up only 1% - 2% of men in the U. S.2
Regardless of who we think Jesus is, he did live as a man with human personality preferences. As such, he makes an interesting study for those of us who are fascinated by personality type. When I look at him I see clear preferences for Introversion and Intuition, but can see the logic in arguments for preferences on both sides of the other two dichotomies.
Perhaps this is because Jesus’ preferences in these dichotomies may have been only slight. Perhaps his preferences were clear but don’t always seem so because he transcended them, always manifesting the appropriate preferences for each situation, to model perfect type development for us.
We all flex between Introversion and Extraversion, Sensing and Intuition, etc., as appropriate to our situation. We do this more accurately and skillfully the more advanced our type development becomes. Most of us take a lifetime to become comfortable in the use of all our type preferences, but I am not surprised that Jesus had such perfect command of his preferences, even at such a relatively young age.
After all, if we believe that Jesus created the many-hued fabric of human personality with its eight preferences, should we not also believe that he is the ultimate authority on how to use them?
What do you think Jesus’ type preferences were, and why? If you follow someone other than Jesus, feel free to tell us his or her personality preferences, if known, or what you think they are and why.
1 Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers, Gifts Differing (Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing, 1995), pp. 56, 68.
2 “Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population,” Center for Applications of Psychological Type, 1996.