Jesus's Childhood: The Missing Years?

Alfred Edersheim

The gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell us little about the childhood of Jesus. We know only a handful of events: the family's escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:14) and return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39); His increasing wisdom (Luke 2:40-52); and His visit to the Temple in Jerusalem at age 12 and obedience to His parents (Luke 2:41-51).

It should be noted that further accounts of Christ's childhood were included in the so-called apocryphal gospels, written much later by those seeking to fill in the "gaps." However, these "gospels" present a child who is sullen and uses miracles for entertainment rather than doing the will of God. Neither of these attributes fits with the character of Christ.

While the authentic details of Jesus's childhood are sparse, we can learn a great deal from the country and area of His youth: Israel and Galilee. While Jerusalem emphasized the intricate and convoluted study of the Old Testament and teachings of the rabbis, Galilee's distance from the city afforded a somewhat milder approach that had little respect for legalism. For this reason and because of dialect differences, the Galileans were often seen as unlearned. "Galilean—Fool!" became a common expression.

We can expect that Jesus grew up in an atmosphere permeated with the teachings and words of the Old Testament. He also likely attended a Jewish school by age six, since these were common even in remote areas.

Beyond this, the content of His parables and teachings may suggest the everyday sights of His youth: shepherds with their sheep, marriage parties in celebration, foxes in their lairs, tax collectors at the door, widows at work looking for lost coins, bakers in the middle of kneading bread, and the poor in the street.

The one aspect we can be sure of is that Jesus's youth served to fulfill an important part of His ministry. That is, though fully God, He grew up as any human does.

Adapted from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim (Book II, Chapters IX and X).

Originally published April 12, 2010.

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