Tefillin1 are boxes containing Torah verses, worn by Jews on the head and the upper arm, in accordance with instructions in Exodus 13:9, 13:16, and Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18. There is a great deal of commentary in the Talmud and elsewhere about exactly how this should be done.

Jesus says that the Pharisees were ostentatious in their wearing of tefillin - Matthew 23:5 (NIV) reads:

Everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries1 wide and the tassels on their garments long.

It seems from Mt 9:20, 14:36, Mk 6:56 that Jesus may have worn the same kind of fringes or tassels (tzitziyot), similarly commanded in the Law, albeit presumably his were not as long as those of the Pharisees.

Would Jesus also have worn tefillin, and why/why not? If he did (and his disciples too?) then when did Christians stop? If he didn't, then was this unusual or scandalous?

1 Tefillin (תפילין), or totafot (טוטפת), or phylacteries (φυλακτήρια)

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    This isn't an answer, but given that it was a Jewish practice, the Jewish Christians did it but did not require (as was generally the case) the Gentile Christians to do so. To get the Gentiles to do so would be have been regarded as Judaizing. – user304 Jun 20 '12 at 17:55
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    I'd be interested in finding out when these verses were first interpreted physically. Maybe a question for the Judaism site... – curiousdannii Jul 5 '14 at 22:23
  • @curiousdannii there is some discussion here toldotyisrael.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/… – barlop Nov 7 '16 at 12:07

In the first council of Jerusalem (In the Acts of the Apostles), we see an outline of the practices which the Jews did that they thought were reasonable to ask of the Gentiles. The wearing of Tefillin is not among them.

In all likelihood after the destruction of Jerusalem and certainly after the Muslim incursions into the middle east, the number of culturally Jewish Christians was probably close to zero, and thus the practice of wearing Tefillin too would have disappeared.

Jesus may have worn Tefillin, we don't have a solid answer for that question. It is reasonable to assume that he didn't given his criticism of the practice. There are no records of him having worn them. It also would have been redundant.

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    To be more precise, Jesus was criticizing not the practice itself, but being showy about it. Perhaps akin to someone carrying a 3-foot wide Bible today? Additionally, depending on how common it was for other teachers to wear these, Jesus' not having one could be seen as a statement in itself. – Clockwork-Muse Jun 20 '12 at 18:49
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    It could still be considered a criticism of the practice, as for instance he criticized their practice of fasting and praying as well. It may be more proper to say that he is not criticizing the idea of Tefillin, but rather the actual practice. Whether the Pharisees were 'doing it right' and that was exactly what was wrong or if they really were doing Tefillin wrong - that I can't answer. – user304 Jun 20 '12 at 20:53

It's also worth considering that tefillin is not necessarily a biblical commandment for Jews anwyay. There is argument about this in Judaism even today and some sects (Karaites) assert that the tefillin commandment is actually meant to be taken metaphorically. They compare it to the "circumcision of the heart" which is obviously not literal. It is possible that tefillin actually emerged in the time of Jesus and that he did not see it as a fulfillment of any real Biblical law. There is no evidence of tefillin being worn previous to the Second Temple period.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer here. It would be a better answer for this site if you could provide some references to support some of your statements. See: What makes a good supported answer? – Lee Woofenden Nov 6 '16 at 19:33

We don't know, but I think it would be safe to presume that if Jesus in Mt 23.5 criticized teachers of the law and the Pharisees for wearing longer Tzitzit but still wore some (Mt 9:20, 14:36, Mk 6:56), we can presume he also wore Tefillin while criticizing teachers of the law and Pharisees for using wider ones.

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    Welcome to the site! I hope you'll stick around. Check out our help center and tour to learn more about how this site works. Your answer could be made better by citing additional sources, though I appreciate your references to Scripture. – Alex Strasser Dec 5 '18 at 17:34

Apparently, the straps of the Tefillin can be identified as wrapped around the Jesus's arm in the Shroud of Turin. A small box above his head has been identified as well. If this is true, this means his body was placed in the tomb with Tefillin. Now if he was buried with Tefillin, this leaves us little room to doubt he would have worn them while living. A lot of the evidence suggests that Jesus lived as an essene, just like John the Baptist. Recently, there was a find in Qumran that revealed the essene's wore Tefillin. All of this seems to converge on the conclusion that Jesus did indeed wear Tefillin. Probably not because he thought it was literally required (the Karites argue the command for the Shema on the head and heart is symbolic) but because the Tefillin is an external sign/sentiment of having a commitment to God's Torah...And what's wrong with that?

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  • Except that the Shroud of Turin isn't really from Jesus. Not even the Catholic Church endorses it. – curiousdannii Apr 3 '18 at 5:36
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. About your answer, even as a speculative one it would be much improved by providing some references and links to support your statements. Please see: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. – Lee Woofenden Apr 3 '18 at 7:22
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    Please provide support for this answer. – KorvinStarmast Apr 3 '18 at 13:51

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