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Jesus' Childhood

Do we know anything about Jesus' childhood? What about the years from age 12 to 30? Did he really go to India? Did he work miracles before his ministry?

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There is no certain information Jesus prior to beginning his ministry at age 30.

There is a lot of guesswork and wishful thinking. There is also an "Infancy Gospel of Thomas" which is not to be confused with Gospel of Thomas, which is surrounded by plenty of its own questions. The "Infancy Gospel of Thomas" is nonsense that has Jesus cursing people to death, and raising others with surly comments as though he's one of the hot-tempered Norse gods. It's a useless book, but if you want to be entertained, the cheapest way to get it is as part of Lost Books of the Bible.

The Most Likely Scenario

The one account in the Gospels of Jesus' childhood is that Jesus' parents took him to Jerusalem for a feast when he was 12. Since we also know he attended the feasts later in life, it seems most likely that he was going to Jerusalem throughout his life.

It's been suggested that he went to India and learned from Hindu mystics between age 12 and 30, but there is nothing about that story that seems true. What indication do we have that Jesus taught Hindu mysticism at any time as part of his ministry? The answer is no indication at all.

Instead, everything about Jesus' ministry indicates that he behaved like a typical Galilean rabbi, except that there was nothing typical about him personally. Ray Vander Laan has a captivating and scholarly series called In the Dust of the Rabbi that describes the typical life of a Galilean rabbi, and there's no missing the parallels to Jesus' life as described in the Gospels.

An excerpt of that incredible video series is on YouTube. You can also watch Rob Bell's entire "Covered in the Dust of the Rabbi" sermon, which is an exaggerated, less reliable, but more entertaining version of Vander Laan's terrific scholarship. On the other hand, you can watch Bell's sermon for free, whereas you have to pay for Vander Laan's work. It's well worth it. (I get a small commission if you buy Vander Laan's DVD through my link above.)

Based on the one glimpse that the Gospels give us into Jesus' childhood, it seem likely to me that Jesus lived a typical Galilean life, including being a student in Beth Midrash (see the DVDs linked above for a description). Listening and asking questions, as Luke 2:46 says Jesus was doing, was typical of rabbinical discussion in first-century Israel, only it was normally the teacher who asked the questions!

Carpenter or Rabbi?

It's interesting to note that after Jesus' childhood, he left his home town. His ministry started with his baptism, and his baptism took place south of the Sea of Galilee, at the Jordan river, where John was baptizing.

From there, we read in Matthew 4:12-13, he returned to Galilee, but it was not Nazareth. He went to Capernaum, the bedrock of rabbinical discipleship. From that area, he chose his disciples, the people of Nazareth being apparently unaware of the new rabbinical ministry of their local carpenter.

Only after choosing his disciples from the area around Capernaum, do we read that he "came to his own home town, and his disciples followed him" (Mark 6:1). Then, when the Sabbath came, he taught in the synagogue like a rabbi would, and everyone who had known him growing up was astonished!

They said, "Where did this man learn these things? ... Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us, too?" (Mark 6:3).

Obviously, the people of Nazareth did not know him as a rabbi. They knew him as a carpenter.

Note that they also did not know him as a kid that left when he was twelve to go study eastern mysticism in India.

I would suggest that in Jesus' childhood, he studied and paid attention as a child at Beth Midrash and other schools he could attend. How much he knew by the fact that he was the living Word of God we'll never know. How much can the Word of God forget even when he's born on earth as a baby?

But he did not become a rabbi. He became a carpenter, a trade he practiced until he was 30, when he went south, was baptized by John, and began to preach the kingdom of God. By the time he made it back to Nazareth, he had disciples, was known as a rabbi, and was ready to display his incredible wisdom, which was summarily rejected by those who had seen his normal life growing up.

Carpenter or rabbi? Carpenter at home; rabbi after he began his travels.

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