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The Blue Letter Bible
Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Do We Know of Jesus' Earlier Years?

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What Do We Know of Jesus’ Earlier Years?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 11

The New Testament gives the only firsthand account of the life of Jesus Christ which has come down to us. We are told of the events surrounding His birth, and of His ministry to the world. But apart from one incident at age twelve, there is nothing told about His childhood, or anything that happened to Him until about age thirty. Several observations can be made about this silence on the part of Scripture.

1. There Was the Desire to Know More

While the church viewed the gospels as the authoritative source for the life and ministry of Jesus, others felt the need to fill in the blanks of the things the Gospels do not speak of. This includes the childhood of Jesus, His physical appearance, and other sayings not recorded in the New Testament.

2. Fanciful Stories Arose about Jesus’ Early Years

Throughout history, fanciful accounts of Jesus’ youth have been written but all of these have proven unreliable. The only firsthand source we have about the life of Jesus is the New Testament and it remains silent about Jesus’ youth. Apocryphal sources attempt to fill in the gaps but they are not trustworthy.

An Example of a Fanciful Story about Jesus: The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy

In the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy there is the romantic story of these silent years. We are told that when Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt with the baby Jesus robbers met them. The robbers found nothing to steal from this couple that did not have any money. The robbers had compassion on the young couple with their child and gave them provisions and sent them on their way to Egypt.

One of these helpful robbers appeared in the life of Christ many years later. He was the repentant robber on the cross next to Jesus! Though this charming story has no basis whatsoever in fact it illustrates the desire to fill in some of the missing elements in the story of Jesus.

3. There Were No Miracles before His Public Ministry Began

We do know that Jesus did not perform any miraculous deeds before He began His public ministry. The Gospel of John testifies that the miracle of turning the water into wine was Jesus first miracle. The Bible says the following:

This was Jesus’ first miracle, and he did it in the village of Cana in Galilee. There Jesus showed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. (John 2:11 CEV)

Therefore, any account of a miracle by Jesus before this time would be inaccurate. His first miracle occurred in Cana of Galilee.

Why Do We Have Silence about Jesus’ Earlier Years?

This brings up the question of the silence of the Gospels on the early years of Jesus. Why the silence? Why doesn’t the Scripture give us more details on the childhood and youth of Jesus? Although the Bible does not give us any specific information on Jesus’ early years, we can surmise why it has remained virtually silent on the matter.

1. The Four Gospels Emphasized the Public Ministry of Jesus

The four Gospels basically record the life and ministry of Jesus to the world. They were not written as biographies in the modern sense of the term, but as documents meaning to convey God’s truth that Jesus was the Savior sent from heaven. They emphasize those events that prove that He was the Promised Messiah who came to earth. Elements of His life which do not deal with His public ministry are not recorded for us.

2. Jesus Did Not Begin His Public Ministry until the Age of Thirty

The Gospels record that Jesus did not begin His public ministry until He was about thirty years of age. Luke records the following:

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli... (Luke 3:23 NRSV)

Whatever happened to Him before that time was spent in preparation for this public ministry He was about to undertake. Consequently, the events of those years are not revealed in Scripture.

3. These Silent Years Were Not Unimportant

But let us not think that these years of silence were unimportant years. Without a doubt Jesus was performing whatever duty that was set before Him with the same dedication He would later have in His ministry. His faithfulness is acknowledged at His baptism when God the Father’s voice was heard:

Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:17 CEV)

There had been no miracles, no great teachings, nothing as yet on a grand scale. Yet we know that the Father was pleased with His Son. Whatever things Jesus did during those silent years He did them very well. This means that His life was pleasing to His heavenly Father.

This is a great lesson for all of us. Indeed, not only does the Lord watch everything which we do it is important that we be found faithful in everything.

Paul would later write to the Corinthians about this important truth. He put it this way:

In this regard, it is expected of managers that each one be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2 HCSB)

Like Jesus, we should desire to be found faithful in all things.

In sum, though we may wish to know more about the early years of Jesus Christ, we can be satisfied with the knowledge that the youth of Jesus was spent being faithful to His calling.

We, as believers in Jesus, are also called to be faithful. John would later write,

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6 NIV)

Therefore, we should pattern our lives after His; a life of obedience to God the Father.

Summary – Question 11
What Do We Know of Jesus’ Earlier Years?

The Bible tells us very little about the life of Jesus before He began His public ministry. In fact, apart from the narratives around His birth the only account we have of Him before entering the ministry was at age twelve in the temple. Apart from that, the Scriptures are silent. Indeed, we know absolutely nothing about those years.

While the Scriptures are silent others have attempted to fill in the gaps in these silent years. Yet their attempts really cannot be taken seriously. Indeed, the only reliable information we have about the life of Jesus Christ is found in the New Testament. In fact, we know that He did not perform any miracles before turning the water into wine at Cana of Galilee. Scripture is explicit that this was His first miracle. Consequently any account that has Him performing miracles as a child must be rejected.

This brings us to another important point. Although the years were silent as far as ministry was concerned they were still important years—they were preparing Jesus for the great things He was about to do. Therefore, while these may have been silent years they certainly were not wasted years.

In addition, we know that whatever Jesus did during that time it was well-pleasing to God the Father. Indeed, when Jesus was baptized the voice of God the Father stated that He was pleased with His beloved Son. Yet Jesus had not even begun His public ministry. Before there were any miracles, any great teachings, the Father was well-pleased with the Son.

Among other things this indicates that our every day actions are noticed by the Lord. Thus, like Jesus, it is important that we are faithful in the “little things.” Consequently, the entire earthly life of Jesus provides a pattern for our behavior. We are to follow His example.

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