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The records which we possess up to this point are, as we have seen, comparatively full. But with the settlement at Nazareth, after the return from Egypt, our information comes to a sudden stop, and over the rest of the life of Jesus, till His public ministry begins, a thick covering is drawn, which is only lifted once. We should have wished the narrative to continue with the same fulness through the years of His boyhood and youth. In modern biographies, there are few parts more interesting than the anecdotes which they furnish of the childhood of their subjects, for in these we can often see in miniature and in charming simplicity the character and the plan of the future life. What would we not give to know the habits, the friendships, the thoughts, the words, and the actions of Jesus during so many years? Only one flower of anecdote has been thrown over the wall of the hidden garden, and it is so exquisite as to fill us with an intense longing to see the garden itself. But it has pleased God, whose silence is no less wonderful than His words, to keep it shut.
It was natural that, where God was silent and curiosity was strong, the fancy of man should attempt to fill up the blank. Accordingly, in the early Church there appeared Apocryphal Gospels, pretending to give full details where the inspired Gospels were silent. They are particularly full of the sayings and doings of the childhood of Jesus. But they only show how unequal the human imagination was to such a theme and bring out by the contrast of glitter and caricature the solidity and truthfulness of the Scripture narrative. They make him a worker of frivolous and useless marvels, who molded birds of clay and made them fly, changed his playmates into kids, and so forth. In short, they are compilations of worthless and often blasphemous fables.
These grotesque failures warn us not to intrude with the suggestions of fancy into the hallowed enclosure. It is enough to know that He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. He was a real child and youth and passed through all the stages of a natural development. Body and mind grew together, the one expanding to manly vigor, and the other acquiring more and more knowledge and power. His opening character exhibited a grace that made everyone who saw it wonder and love its goodness and purity.
But though we are forbidden to let the fancy loose here, we are not prohibited, but, on the contrary, it is our duty, to make use of such authentic materials as are supplied by the manners and customs of the time, or by incidents of His later life which refer back to His earlier years, in order to connect the infancy with the period when the narrative of the Gospels again takes up the thread of biography. It is possible in this way to gain, at least in some degree, a true conception of what He was as a boy and a young man, and what were the influences amidst which His development proceeded through so many silent years.
We know amidst what kind of home influences He was brought up. His home was one of those which were the glory of His country, as they are of our own—the abodes of the godly and intelligent working class. Joseph, its head, was a man saintly and wise; but the fact that he is not mentioned in Christ’s afterlife has generally been believed to indicate that he died during the youth of Jesus, perhaps leaving the care of the household on His shoulders. His mother probably exercised the most decisive of all external influences on His development. What she was may be inferred from the fact that she was chosen from all the women of the world to be crowned with the supreme honor of womanhood. The song which she poured forth on the subject of her own great destiny shows her to have been a woman religious, fervently poetical, and patriotic; a student of scripture, and especially of its great women, for it, is saturated with Old Testament ideas, and molded on Hannah’s song; a spirit exquisitely humble, yet capable of thoroughly appreciating the honor conferred upon her. She was no miraculous queen of heaven, as superstition has caricatured her, but a woman exquisitely pure, saintly, loving, and high-souled. This is aureole enough. Jesus grew up in her love and passionately returned it.
There were other inmates of the household. He had brothers and sisters. From two of them, James and Jude, we have epistles in Holy Scripture, in which we may read what their character was. Perhaps it is not irreverent to infer from the severe tone of their epistles, that, in their unbelieving state, they must have been somewhat harsh and unsympathetic men. At all events, they never believed in Him during His lifetime, and it is not likely that they were close companions to Him in Nazareth. He was probably much alone; and the pathos of His saying, that a prophet is not without honor save in his own country and in his own house, probably reached back into the years before His ministry began.
He received His education at home, or from a scribe attached to the village synagogue. It was only, however, a poor man’s education. As the scribes contemptuously said, He had never learned, or, as we should say, He was not college-bred. No; but the love of knowledge was early awake within Him. He daily knew the joy of deep and happy thought; He had the best of all keys to knowledge—the open mind and the loving heart; and the three great books lay ever open before Him—the Bible, Man, and Nature.
It is easy to understand with what fervent enthusiasm He would devote Himself to the Old Testament; and His sayings, which are full of quotations from it, afford abundant proof of how constantly it formed the food of His mind and the comfort of His soul. His youthful study of it was the secret of the marvelous facility with which He made use of it afterward in order to enrich His preaching and enforce His doctrine, to repel the assaults of opponents and overcome the temptations of the Evil One. His quotations also show that He read it in the original Hebrew, and not in the Greek translation, which was then in general use. The Hebrew was a dead language even in Palestine, just as Latin now is in Italy; but He would naturally long to read it in the very words in which it was written. Those who have not enjoyed a liberal education, but amidst many difficulties have mastered Greek in order to read their New Testament in the original, will perhaps best understand how, in a country village, He made Himself master of the ancient tongue, and with what delight He was wont, in the rolls of the synagogue, or in such manuscripts as He may have Himself possessed, to pore over the sacred page. The language in which He thought and spoke familiarly was Aramaic, a branch of the same stem to which the Hebrew belongs. We have fragments of it in some recorded sayings of His, such as “Talitha, cumi,” and “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” He would have the same chance of learning Greek as a boy born in the Scottish Highlands has of learning English, “Galilee of the Gentiles” being then full of Greek-speaking inhabitants. Thus He was probably master of three languages—one of them the grand religious language of the world, in whose literature He was deeply versed; another, the most perfect means of expressing secular thought which has ever existed, although there is no evidence that He had any acquaintance with the masterpieces of Greek literature; and the third, the language of the common people, to whom His preaching was to be specially addressed.
There are few places where human nature can be better studied than in a country village; for there one sees the whole of each individual life and knows all one’s neighbors thoroughly. In a city far more people are seen, but far fewer known; it is only the outside of life that is visible. In a village the view outwards is circumscribed, but the view downwards is deep, and the view upwards unimpeded. Nazareth was a notoriously wicked town, as we learn from the proverbial question, can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Jesus had no acquaintance with sin in His own soul, but in the town, He had a full exhibition of the awful problem with which it was to be His lifework to deal. He was still further brought into contact with human nature by His trade. That He worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s shop there can be no doubt. Who could know better than His own townsmen, who asked, in their astonishment at His preaching, Is not this the carpenter? It would be difficult to exhaust the significance of the fact that God chose for His Son, when He dwelt among men, out of all the possible positions in which He might have placed Him, the lot of a working man. It stamped men’s common toils with everlasting honor. It acquainted Jesus with the feelings of the multitude and helped Him to know what was in man. It was afterward said that He knew this so well that He needed not that any man should teach Him.
Travelers tell us that the spot where He grew up is one of the most beautiful on the face of the earth. Nazareth is situated in a secluded, cup-like valley amid the mountains of Zebulon, just where they dip down into the plain of Esdraelon, with which it is connected by a steep and rocky path. Its white houses, with vines clinging to their walls, are embowered amidst gardens and groves of olive, fig, orange, and pomegranate trees. The fields are divided by hedges of cactus and enameled with innumerable flowers of every hue. Behind the village rises a hill five hundred feet in height, from whose summit there is seen one of the most wonderful views in the world—the mountains of Galilee, with snowy Hermon towering above them, to the north; the ridge of Carmel, the coast of Tyre, and the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, to the west; a few miles to the east, the wooded, cone-like bulk of Tabor; and to the south, the plain of Esdraelon, with the mountains of Ephraim beyond. The preaching of Jesus shows how deeply He had drunk into the essence of natural beauty and reveled in the changing aspects of the seasons. It was when wandering as a lad in these fields that He gathered the images of beauty that he poured out in His parables and addresses. It was on that hill that He acquired the habit of His afterlife of retreating to the mountain-tops to spend the night in solitary prayer. The doctrines of His preaching were not thought out on the spur of the moment. They were poured out in a living stream when the occasion came, but the water had been gathered into the hidden well for many years before. In the fields and on the mountainside, he had thought them out during the years of happy and undisturbed meditation and prayer.
There is still one important educational influence to be mentioned. Every year, after He was twelve years old, He went with His parents to the Passover at Jerusalem. Fortunately, we have preserved to us an account of the first of these visits. It is the only occasion on which the veil is lifted during thirty years. Everyone who can remember his own first journey from a village home to the capital of his country will understand the joy and excitement with which Jesus set out. He traveled over eighty miles of a country where nearly every mile teemed with historical and inspiring memories. He mingled with the constantly growing caravan of pilgrims, who were filled with the religious enthusiasm of the great ecclesiastical event of the year. His destination was a city that was loved by every Jewish heart with a strength of affection that has never been given to any other capital—a city full of objects and memories fitted to touch the deepest springs of interest and emotion in his breast. It was swarming at the Passover-time with strangers from half-a-hundred countries, speaking as many languages and wearing as many different costumes. He went to take part for the first time in an ancient solemnity suggestive of countless patriotic and sacred memories. It was no wonder that, when the day came to return home, He was so excited with the new objects of interest, that He failed to join His party at the appointed place and time. One spot above all fascinated His interest. It was the temple, and especially the school there in which the masters of wisdom taught. His mind was teeming with questions that these doctors might be asked to answer. His thirst for knowledge had an opportunity for the first time to drink its fill. So it was there His anxious parents, who, missing Him after a day’s journey northward, returned in anxiety to seek Him, found Him, listening with excited looks to the oracles of the wisdom of the day. His answer to the reproachful question of His mother lays bare His childhood’s mind, and for a moment affords a wide glance over the thoughts which used to engross Him in the fields of Nazareth. It shows that already, though so young, He had risen above the great mass of men, who drift on through life without once inquiring what may be its meaning and its end. He was aware that He had a God-appointed lifework to do, which it was the one business of His existence to accomplish. It was the passionate thought of all His afterlife. It ought to be the first and last thought of every life. It recurred again and again in His later sayings and pealed itself finally forth in the word with which He closed His career,—It is finished!
It has often been asked whether Jesus knew all along that He was the Messiah, and, if not, when and how the knowledge dawned upon Him; whether it was suggested by hearing from His mother the story of His birth, or announced to Him from within. Did it dawn upon Him all at once, or gradually? When did the plan of His career, which He carried out so unhesitatingly from the beginning of His ministry, shape itself in His mind? Was it the slow result of years of reflection, or did it come to Him at once? These questions have occupied the greatest Christian minds and received very various answers. I will not venture to answer them, and especially with His reply to His mother before me, I cannot trust myself even to think of a time when He did not know what His work in this world was to be.
His subsequent visits to Jerusalem must have greatly influenced the development of His mind. If He often went back to hear and question the rabbis in the temple schools, He must soon have discovered how shallow was their far-famed learning. It was probably on these annual visits that He discovered the utter corruption of the religion of the day and the need of a radical reform of both doctrine and practice, and marked the practices and the persons that He was by and by to assail with the vehemence of His holy indignation.
Such was the external conditions amidst which the manhood of Jesus waxed towards maturity. It would be easy to exaggerate the influence which they may be supposed to have exerted on his development. The greater and more original a character is, the less dependent is it on the peculiarities of its environment. It is fed from deep well-springs within itself, and in its germ, there is a type enclosed which expands in obedience to its own laws and bids defiance to circumstances. In any other circumstances, Jesus would have grown to be in every important respect the very same person as He became in Nazareth.
by James Stalker
Jesus’ Childhood Visits to Jerusalem
Only one event from Jesus’ childhood is given to us, and it is found in the Gospel of Luke. We have addressed it earlier, so what lies below can serve as a refresher. It certainly adds heavy circumstantial evidence to the fact that Jesus could read and was literate.
Luke 2:41-47 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the feast. 43 And after the days were completed, while they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. And his parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey; and they began looking for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. 46 Then, it occurred, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them. 47 And all those listening to him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
This was no 12-year-old boy’s questions of curiosity. The Greek word erotao is the Greek word for “ask,” “question,” and is a synonym of eperotao. The latter of the two was used by Luke and is much more demanding, as it means, “to ask a question, to question, interrogate someone, to questioning as used in judicial examination” and therefore could include counter questioning. Therefore, Jesus, at the age of twelve did not ask childlike questions, looking for answers, but was likely challenging the thinking of these Jewish religious leaders.
This incident is far more magnificent than one might first realize. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament helps the reader to appreciate that the Greek word eperotao (to ask, to question, to demand of), for “questioning” was far more than the Greek word erotao (to ask, to request, to entreat), for a boy’s inquisitiveness. Eperotao can refer to questioning, which one might hear in a judicial hearing, such as a scrutiny, inquiry, counter questioning, even the “probing and cunning questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” for instance those we find at Mark 10:2 and 12:18-23.
The same dictionary continues: “In [the] face of this usage it may be asked whether . . . [Luke] 2:46 denotes, not so much the questioning curiosity of the boy, but rather His successful disputing. [Verse] 47 would fit in well with the latter view.” Rotherham’s translation of verse 47 presents it as a dramatic confrontation: “Now all who heard him were beside themselves, because of his understanding and his answers.” Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament says that their constant amazement means, “they stood out of themselves as if their eyes were bulging out.”
After returning to Jerusalem, and three days of searching, Joseph and Mary found young Jesus in the temple, questioning the Jewish religious leaders, to which “they were astounded.” (Luke 2:48) Robertson said of this, “second aorist passive indicative of an old Greek word [ekplesso]), to strike out, drive out by a blow. Joseph and Mary ‘were struck out’ by what they saw and heard. Even they had not fully realized the power in this wonderful boy.” Thus, at twelve years old, Jesus, but a boy, is already evidencing that he is a great teacher and defender of truth. BDAG says, “to cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed, amaze, astound, overwhelm (literally, Strike out of one’s senses).
The Jewish culture, and especially Jesus’ Jewish family, displayed an effective ability to listen. The Jewish religious leaders, on the other hand, seemed eager to speak, not listen. Jesus was not in the temple to win conversations with the greatest teachers of Jewish Law, but rather to listen. It says in verse 46 that the twelve-year-old Jesus was “listening to them.” Once he listened to them, he then knew what they meant, their motives for what they said, and it was at that time, he proceeded in “questioning them.” Good listening leads to good questions.
Verse 47 says, “All who heard him were amazed at his insight and his answers,” which means that Jesus’ questions were intensely insightful, and even penetrating. If one finds himself in a conversation with a Bible critic in a public setting, where others are listening, we must listen. If one discerns that the Bible critic does not have a receptive heart, and nothing we say will open his eyes to the truth of God’s Word, we must consider others who may be listening. Because of that larger audience, one will then do as Jesus did, use effective questions to put the Bible critic on defense, so that those around know we do have answers for the criticisms, giving them faith in the message they heard.
Some 18 years later, Jesus again, hit the Jewish Pharisees with these types of interrogative questions, so much so that not “anyone [of them] dare from that day on to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:41-46) The Sadducees fared no better when Jesus quieted them when the resurrection was brought up, “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Luke 20:27-40) The Scribes were silenced just the same after they got into an exchange with Jesus, “And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28-34) Clearly, this insight into Jesus’ life and ministry provide us with evidence that he had the ability to read very well and likely write. There is the fact that Jesus was also divine. However, he was also fully human, and he grew, progressing in wisdom, because of his studies in the Scriptures.
Luke 2:40, 51-52 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
40 And the child continued growing and became strong, being filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Jesus was often called ‘Rabbi,’ which was used in a real or genuine sense as “teacher.” (Mark 9:5; 11:21; 14:45; John 1:38, 49 etc.), ‘Rabbo(u)ni’ (Mark 10:51; John 20:16) as well as its Greek equivalents, ‘schoolmaster’ or ‘instructor’ (epistata; Luke 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13) or ‘teacher’ (didaskalos; Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mark 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Luke 19:39; John 1:38; 3:2). Jesus uses these same terms for himself, as well as his disciples, even his adversaries, and those with no affiliation.
Another inference that Jesus was literate comes from his constant reference to reading Scripture, when confronted by the Jewish religious leaders: law student, Pharisees, Scribes and the Sadducees. Jesus said, “said to them [Pharisees],“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him … Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? (Matt. 12:3, 5; Reference to 1 Sam 21:6 and Num 28:9) Again, Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” (Matt. 19:3; paraphrase of Gen 1:27) Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matt. 21:16; Quoting Psa. 8:2) Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matt. 21:42; Reference to Isaiah 28:16) Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Lu. 10:26) Many of these references or Scripture quotations are asked in such a way to his opponents; there is little doubt Jesus himself has read them. When Jesus asks in an interrogative way, “have you not read,” it was taken for granted that he had read them. Jesus referred to or quoted over 120 Scriptures in the dialogue that we have in the Gospels.
The data that have been surveyed are more easily explained in reference to a literate Jesus, a Jesus who could read the Hebrew Scriptures, could paraphrase and interpret them in Aramaic and could do so in a manner that indicated his familiarity with current interpretive tendencies in both popular circles (as in the synagogues) and in professional, even elite circles (as seen in debates with scribes, ruling priests and elders). Of course, to conclude that Jesus was literate is not necessarily to conclude that Jesus had received formal scribal training. The data do not suggest this. Jesus’ innovative, experiential approach to Scripture and to Jewish faith seems to suggest the contrary. – (Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence 2012)
How did Jesus gain such wisdom? Jesus, although divine was not born with this exceptional wisdom that he demonstrated at the age of twelve and kept increasing. It was acquired. (Deut. 17:18-19) This extraordinary wisdom was no exception to the norm, not even for the Son of God himself. (Luke 2:52) Jesus’ knowledge was acquired by his studying the Hebrew Old Testament, enabling him to challenge the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders with his questions at the age of twelve. Therefore, Jesus had to be very familiar with the Hebrew Old Testament, as well the skill of reasoning from the Scriptures.
END OF EXCURSION
When did Jesus know that He was the Son of God?
It has often been asked whether Jesus knew all along that He was the Messiah, and, if not, when and how the knowledge dawned upon Him; whether it was suggested by hearing from His mother the story of His birth, or announced to Him from within. Did it dawn upon Him all at once, or gradually? When did the plan of His career, which He carried out so unhesitatingly from the beginning of His ministry, shape itself in His mind? Was it the slow result of years of reflection, or did it come to Him at once? In addition, when did Jesus know that he was the Son of God? These questions have occupied the greatest Christian minds and received very various answers. While Stalker says, “I will not venture to answer them, and especially with His reply to His mother before me, I can not trust myself even to think of a time when He did not know what His work in this world was to be.”
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Lk 2:48.
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 308.
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