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For several years now, and especially with the renewed vigor of the Jesus Seminar 1, the question asking about the so-called "Lost Years of Jesus" keeps coming up. The reason being that some have concluded that the Bible is unreliable due to its absence of commentary, or at least brief discussion, on the early years of Jesus' life. Also, since the late 1800s with the publication of a book by a Russian journalist by the name of Nicholas Notovich, who postulated that he received information while exploring India that Jesus actually visited there, then rather than taking the Gospels at face value, they are to be called into question, and replaced by the speculations and myths of highly questionable sources.
So, just what happened during the early years of Jesus' life if he didn't go India (or Japan, as another myth tells the story)? 2 Why doesn't the Bible tell us more about Jesus as a youth? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he ever get in trouble by the principal at school? Why is such a gap in time missing, and why isn't it possible that he could have gone off to India, Japan, or Timbuktu?
First of all it needs to be understood that the Gospels, much less the whole New Testament, are not an exhaustive biography of Jesus' life, nor were they intended to be. What we find in the Gospels about Jesus' life are there for a specific purpose, and that which has been left out was accordingly done so for a specific purpose as well. Those purposes were for salvific identification of God incarnate and the portrayal of a person who because of his divine nature was capable of living a perfectly human life unto to the redemption of humanity. Details that God determined to be beyond the purpose of helping the reader to understand those purpose were simply abbreviated. As Doug Groothuis succinctly puts it, "No years are 'lost'; rather, some years are summarized." 3
What we know of Jesus' childhood is found in Luke's Gospel. He tells us, after noting his parents fleeing to Galilee to escape the treachery of the Roman ruler Archelaus, "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (2:52). These brief details come shortly after Luke has told us that at the age of 12 that he spent time in the temple, "sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them question" (v. 46). In other words, Jesus was a biblical intellect and loved to mix it up with the local Jewish officials over matters of religious faith, law, and practice. 4 It isn't the only thing he liked to do, for we know from Matthew that when Jesus finally came of age and began to speak authoritatively on those same matters, the question was raised about his familial association. "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matt. 13:55). Therefore, Jesus most likely honed his skills as a carpenter when he was young in order to support himself and contribute to the family, while spending a good portion of his time discussing and debating Jewish life in the temple.
As far as Jesus' teenage social life the Scriptures are silent. There is nothing mentioned about him dating a cute little Jewish girl, even though some have speculated that Jesus could not have been a rabbi without being married, as has been most recently brought up by the highly controversial book and film The Da Vinci Code. 5 If Jesus did court anyone, which is highly unlikely, then it would not have been in the manner that Westerners have become accustomed. There would have been no sin involved. In fact, given Jesus divine nature coupled with his perfect human nature, the girl would have had to have been sinless herself. No one could have lived up to Jesus' standard of perfection; hence Jesus could not have courted, much less married, anyone.
In all likelihood, Jesus early years were lived out in the same manner as all young Jewish boys, with the exception that he never sinned. He laughed, he played, he matured in body and intellect, just like all the youth and young adults did. Then, when the time came for the world to discover who this carpenter's son truly was, that is when we discover that Jesus was much, much more than a mere human being. He was God's Son. Because of his obedience which he demonstrated throughout his life, he was now prepared to give up his life for the redemption of mankind. "In short, from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us." 6 That time began as a virgin born babe and extended throughout his childhood and adolescent years into adulthood, and culminated with his death on the cross. The latter of which is the focus of the Gospels and given in vivid detail, despite the paucity of commentary leading up to it.
1 The Jesus Seminar, headed up by Robert Funk, is a quasi-group of "scholars" who have taken it upon themselves to determine not only who the person of the "historical Jesus," but what he said, particularly through the eccentric means of voting for various statements traditionally attributed to Jesus by the casting of different colored beads. The Seminar is about as far left-leaning as one can get when it comes to scholarship and has no credibility outside its own select group, as well as those who are biblically illiterate.
3 Douglas Groothuis, Searching for the Real Jesus In An Age of Controversy" (Minneapolis: Harvest House, 1996), 120.
4 According to Pentecost, "It is evident that Jesus Christ knew the Old Testament. He no doubt had memorized it as a boy in the synagogue and in His home. He was schooled in the Scriptures by godly parents from His earliest years. Our natural curiosity would like to know more of His development. Scripture is silent. It simply tells us that He went through the normal stages of growth and development." J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 75.
5 Dan Brown not only asserts that Jesus was married, but attempts to use some fallacious logic by having one of his characters (Professor Langdon) argue, "If Jesus were not, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood." The Da Vinci Code (New York: Anchor, 2003), 265. Well, since the Bible never said anything about the Loch Ness monster, little green men on the moon, or the abominable snowman, then all three must exist. Otherwise, the Bible would have said something about them, and offered an explanation why they continue to be hid away from our everyday view. So much for the argument from silence.
6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John T. McNeill, ed., 2 vols. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 188.8.131.52.