Why the silence about Jesus' childhood?

December 18, 2018

by Barry Fike

    After the birth of Jesus we read that his parents took him to Egypt until the time that Herod died and then they came back.  From that period of time until he was 12 and in the Temple nothing is said.  Then after that event until the age of 30 nothing is said about him in the Biblical text.  What was going on had more to do with his training and education than anything.   Over the past few weeks we'll look at the Jewish society in which Jesus lived and see what it tells us about what a young man would be doing.  Let's begin with a common. but mistaken, understanding about Jesus' knowledge.    

    There seems to be a general consensus among many today that Jesus’ knowledge was divinely given by the Holy Spirit and that he was unschooled and unlearned. While there is no question that he was the Son of God the purpose of this lecture is to see whether the premise that he didn’t have to study or go to school is true. It is said that because of his lack of formal training in the theology of his day people were amazed at his knowledge. Scriptural evidence to back up such claims are cited in John 1:46 : “can anything good come from Nazareth”; Acts 2:7: “re not all these Galileans?” ; Acts 4:13: “Uneducated and untrained men…” “These statements may reflect a Judean bias against Galileans. Some Judeans may have seen themselves as cultured and cosmopolitan. To them, the Galileans were provincials whose accent seemed coarse and unrefined. (Jerusalem Perspective, Nov. ’88) No doubt this disdain toward Galileans prompted that assumption, in John 7:15, that Jesus had not education.” (Jerusalem Perspective, Nov. ’88)
    The idea is given that Galilee was the “boondocks” and that the people who lived there were basically backwoods, ignorant people that didn’t have a formal education.  Because of recent research being done in Jerusalem we know today that this premise is not true. The level of learning and education in Galilee exceeded that of Judea in Jesus’ day. Galilee surpassed Judea in its schools of learning, and most of the famous rabbis of Jesus’ day went from Galilee. According to Prof. Schmuel Safrai, Heb. University Professor of Jewish History of the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, says, “not only did the number of first century Galilean Rabbis known from Rabbinic literature exceed the number of Judean Rabbis, but even the moral and ethical quality of their teaching excelled that of their Judean counterparts.” (Article in Yavo Digest, Sept. 1986, p. 4).
    This philosophy, of the backwoods Galilean, is also pointed out when Paul is heralded as one of the great minds in theological circles of his day, Christian-wise, because of being, at one time, a Pharisee of the Pharisees and having studied at the feet of the great Jewish Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
To show you the truth of that statement, let me ask you one question. How many of us have spent most of our study lives in the epistles as opposed to the Gospels? Do you know why? Most of it is unconscious! We do it because when we read the epistles, written to poor, dumb Gentiles that didn’t know anything about spiritual matters, we think that we understand.  Because of this most of our theology is constructed on the epistles that Paul wrote to these primarily Gentile congregations. 

    But when we read the gospels and come across statements like Luke 23:31: “If you do these things in the green Tree, what will happen in the dry?” Matthew 11:12; Luke 12:49 we get confused for we don’t really know what he is talking about or alluding back to. It really gets dangerous with these and many other passages, when we think that we understand them and we don’t. But there are so many different words and phrases that we don’t understand and we’ve never stopped and asked, “Why don’t we understand this?” One reason is that they were not originally written down in English and another is that his education and training allows him to think and deal with people of an eastern mindset.
It may seem obvious, but we must realize that Jesus was a Jew. But he wasn’t just an ordinary Jew. He was a Rabbi, a teacher, one learned in the scripture and religious literature of his day which was considerable. We can know a lot about him once we know Jewish history, culture, and the literature of his day.
    Much of the material that I’m going to give to you for the next few weeks is a result of the most current contemporary researches that are going on in the field of synoptic and New Testament studies in the world today emanating from Jerusalem.
    In the N.T. a great deal of space is given to the birth of Jesus. But from the time of the Magi visiting him until his appearance in the Temple at age 12 nothing! And from that appearance until the beginning of his public ministry at the age of 30 again nothing! What was he doing? Where was he? We’ll see to answer these questions.
    “One should view Jesus against his Jewish background, the world of the Sages, to recognize and appreciate his great influence on those around him. Only thus shall we be able to understand how Christianity was formed. Jesus was part and parcel of the world of the Jewish Sages. He was no ignorant peasant, and his acquaintance with the Written and the Oral Law as considerable.” Flusser, David, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity. New York: Adama Books, 1987) 18, 19.

    But what was he doing during the period that's silent from age 12 to age 30?  We know exactly what he was doing and invite you to keep reading and studying as these blogs continue to dig deeply into what was going on in the first century Jewish culture of which Jesus was part and parcel of.