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Child Jesus: Bully, Whiz-Kid, Or Normal? — Lk. 2.52

The Bible says very little about the childhood of Jesus. But that has not dissuaded others from engaging in speculation.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas) was likely written in the second century A.D. (see Cullmann) by a sect of Gnosticism known as the Marcosians (Hutcheson, 199).

The document portrays Jesus as a five-year-old quick-tempered brute,

“wielding the power of the Godhead with a child’s waywardness and petulance” (ibid.).

For example, when a kid bumped into his shoulder, the child Jesus supposedly killed the lad with a verbal curse (The Infancy Gospel of Thomas 4.1). According to the bogus biographical account, Jesus’ parents were frequently vexed by the young lad’s exploits, for the neighborhood became afraid of him and his other-worldly powers. Instructors did not teach him the Greek alphabet; rather, the five-year old, already possessing full omniscience, waxed philosophical about the hidden meanings of each letter (6.1-4); and so forth.

These conjectures are quickly dismissed by a single, dispassionate, matter-of-fact remark in Luke’s narrative, stressing the humanity of our Lord:

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2.52).

The term, increased, literally denotes a cutting a way forward (as with a machete through a jungle); to advance or grow. Even though the context indicates that Jesus had already developed a remarkable intelligence by the age of twelve (Lk. 2.41-51), still, the child Jesus was neither all-powerful nor all-knowing. Rather, he had to learn from others, growing in wisdom (sophia—moral and mental insight or skill) little by little, as every child does.

Nor was he a peevish lad, who irritated others by his lack of balance. Rather, he was generally likable.

Two takeaways are noteworthy: first, while Christians will surely develop enemies for teaching the truth (as Jesus himself did eventually — cf. Jn. 7.7; 15.18; 17.14; 2 Tim. 3.12), still we must make every effort to gain favor with our neighbors (cf. Acts 2.47; 5.13). Some seem to measure their fidelity only by how irritating they can be to others, or by how many enemies they have made by their harsh approach. Jesus’ example demonstrates that truth must be balanced by friendliness and favor (cf. Eph. 4.15).

Second, Christians are expected to keep growing. If we are truly following the footsteps of Christ (1 Pt. 2.21), then we will keep learning. We must continue to develop critical thinking skills, moral insight, and spiritual maturity (Acts 20.32; 1 Pt. 2.1-2). Our progress, both in understanding and in temperament, must become evident to all (1 Tim. 4.11-16).

Cullmann, O. “Infancy Gospels,” in Hennecke and Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, 1:419.

Hutcheson, J. “Apocryphal Gospels” in I.S.B.E., edited by James Orr, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.


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