Jesus’ “Lost Years” Found In the New Testament

Herod’s Temple Model

 In my post last Sunday morning, I blogged about Lee Strobel’s book defending “the Real Jesus.” With this topic fresh in my mind, as well as the Sunday School lesson which I’d prepared for that morning, when class began, during our conversation with the children before the lesson, one of them asked out of the blue where Jesus was between the time he was a kid and the time he began his public ministry. I could tell immediately where he was going. Naturally, he followed up by saying his dad had been watching the History Channel and heard that people say Jesus went to India for some time between the ages of 12 and thirty. In the providence of God, my lesson for the day was from Luke 2:39-52, the account of “The Boy Jesus in the Temple,” as the heading over this passage in the English Standard Version describes it.

I’m not terribly familiar with the claims regarding Jesus’ reputed trip to India, spread by those outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. However, having perused the search engine and scanned a few sites (like this one, for example) and Wikipedia articles (like the one on the gnostic Acts of Thomas and the theosophical  Aquarian Gospel), I’ve hit upon the apparent basis for the theory that Jesus went to India as a boy. I’d probably already be more clued in about it if I didn’t avoid History Channel programs of this nature and other popular sources of info on the secularized revisionist research on the “historical Jesus.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My immediate response to my student was that there are a lot of people who like Jesus, but who don’t believe the Bible. Often, they are people or groups from other religions that associate Jesus with their beliefs in an attempt to lend credibility to them, or for some other reason. In the middle of giving this summary of where stories like that come from, a verse from my lesson came to mind. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41). After I glanced at the passage for a minute, it became clear to me that even though the verse doesn’t say, “Now Jesus and his parents went . . . ” the context indicates that when his parents went to Jerusalem every year, so did Jesus.

It seems I’ve found a piece of New Testament evidence that would indicate that Jesus of Nazareth did not, in fact, ever go to India, or on any fanciful “magical mystery tour” of eastern religions between the ages of 12 and 30, as suggested by the Aquarian Gospel, but was with his parents every year when they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover.

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16 responses

  1. As much as I agree that Jesus never went to India, the passage you quote (Luke 2:41) would only be speaking of Jesus up to age 12. While he may have continued to travel with mom and step-pop each year into his adulthood, the passage does not imply that. It limits itself to the custom of his childhood. While my mom and dad would have loved my to continue vacationing with them when I reached college age, it just didn’t happen. What he did, and where he went, between the ages of 12 and 30 is still just as unknown as ever.

  2. hmmmm,

    but John, after the first visit to India, He was outfitted with one of those mock flying carpets so travel for Him was quick and easy! Don’t you know that it was there that they fitted Him with shoes so He could walk on water later in His public Ministry to save us from our wretchd imaginations?

    Notwithstanding, how about this verse to support you?:

    ESV Luk 2:51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

    I like this one too:

    ISV Luk 2:51 Then he went down with them and returned to Nazareth; and he remained in submission to them. His mother continued to treasure all these things in her heart.

    Not one to go beyond what’s Written, I suppose I am going to join you in your teaching and only hope a wise one in my Sunday School would ask the same so I could refer them to Luke 2:41 then onto Luke 2:51.

  3. jgelatt,

    You may be right that the verse does not technically imply their custom after the episode at age 12. I know it’s important to exegete the text in its original context before building any further interpretation on it, but as generalized as the sentence is, to which the following narrative is added, certainly seems to leave room for the idea that it was not only the custom before this episode, but also afterward as well.

    I also recognize this is not the kind of airtight case that will necessarily stand as an indefensible apologetic, but I thought it would at least encourage some believers who are sometimes disturbed by such skeptical scholarship as the ongoing “search for the historical Jesus.”

    Thanks for commenting, hope to “hear” from you again soon!

  4. Michael,

    Hope it helps!

  5. Cap’n,
    I thought of a phrase while reading your post..”There was a time when he was not..” But that won’t work…too arian…so I thought of “there was a time where we know not” and that was too confusing. So how about- the main things are the plain things, and there is nothing plain between the ages of 12 and 30?

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  6. Gage,

    I’ll concede my use of Luke 2:41 in the service of locating Jesus between the ages of 12 and 30 does not involve a necessary inference from the text, but I still consider it a valid inference. It may not be clear enough to convert a skeptic, but I think it can encourage the faith of a believer.

  7. John,

    I’m going to have to side with Gage on this one. We simply cannot say where Jesus was, or exactly what he did prior the to beginning of his earthly ministry.

  8. Cap’n,
    There are two kinds of inferences…necessary and un-necessary?

    By the way you heard about Jeff’s health?

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  9. Gage,

    When was the last time you listened to Sproul? He distinguishes all the time between valid inferences, where it could be a possible inference, but the text doesn’t demand that particular inference, and necessary inferences, where the text does demand that very inference. That is what I meant.

    Yes, I have heard about Jeff. It is very sad. I’ll email you later about that.

  10. David,

    This is why, if you squint really hard, and look at the category titles under this post, you’ll see this post is categorized as “Misadventures in Exposition.”

    I wanted the feedback to validate or invalidate my thinking on the fly, in my Sunday School class, in the face of a question such as my student gave me.

    Like I said, I know it’s not specifically addressing where he was and what he did after the age of twelve, but I wanted to see if there was some nuance in the text that indirectly left room for a reading such as I gave it.

    Thanks for casting your vote about the validity of my inference. Years of fundamentalist proof texting die hard, you know?

  11. Cap’n,
    When was the last time I listened to Sproul? Yesterday- I listen to him daily. He also makes a distinction between necessary and possible and necessary and unnecessary. Sometimes an “inference” is merely an arument from silence. That’s my only point.

    Renewing my mind daily(;

    Gage

  12. . . . and that’s my only basis for reading into the text his staying in Israel, “silently” accompanying his parents yearly to Jerusalem, before and after the age of 12.

    Like I’ve said, I know it’s not the point of the passage, it just seems there’s room for it to possibly be inferred. This seems especially so when, in verse 42, it gives Jesus’ age, but then says “they went up according to custom.” Here again, it doesn’t specifically say Jesus went with them, as it didn’t in the previous verse, but the following narrative focuses on his activity in Jerusalem. Which leads me to simply conclude that in both 41 and 42 the text intends you to assume if mom and Joseph go, Jesus goes, too (along with his little siblings, even though they’re completely absent–were the Jews big on baby sitters in those days? Probably not. I think the text assumes the whole household went).

    Again, to repeat myself, I know it won’t devastate the extra-biblical “historical” Jesus, but it gives me a glimmer of a reason to doubt he went to India or England, or anywhere else (except Egypt, of course).

  13. Thanks Cap’n,
    I agree with your conclusion, that he didn’t go to India, simply because the text doesn’t say he did, and he did not start his public ministry unil 30.

    – email about Jeff…you have news?
    – email me your phone # too.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  14. The following quote is from Alfred Edersheim, in The Temple, Its Ministry and Services” (updated), chapter 11, page 168:

    In such festive ‘company’ the parents of Jesus went to, and returned from this feast ‘every year,’ taking their ‘holy child’ with them, after He had attained the age of twelve–strictly in accordance with Rabbinical law (Yoma, 82a)–when He remained behind, ‘sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions’ (Luke 2:41-49). We know that the Lord Himself afterwards attended the Paschal feast, and that on the last occasion He was hospitably entertained in Jerusalem, apparently by a disciple (Matt. 26:18; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13), although He seems to have intended spending the night outside the city walls (Matt. 26:30, 36; Mark 14:26, 32; Luke 22:39; John 18:1).

    So, according to Edersheim, neither Jesus, nor any of the other children, went to Jerusalem until Jesus (and, presumbly, his brothers, too) was twelve, after which he and his brothers would have certainly gone every year with his parents. Edersheim’s claim being based on Yoma 82a, a Rabbinical law source.

    How ’bout ‘dem apples?

  15. Nothing like using “rabbinic law” to prove your extra-biblical point…

    Sorry- I’m LOL…(;

    Good digging that out…good stuff…

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  16. Yoma, 82a (from http://www.dafyomi.co.il/yoma/insites/yo-dt-082.htm), if I’m reading it correctly, question and answer a, explains about the reference to Jesus as Joseph and Mary’s “holy child,” but does not expressly deal with when a child is to accompany his parents to the Temple:

    (a) Why did Rebbi apply the verse, “… before you left the womb I sanctified you,” to this child? In what way did the unborn child demonstrate “Kedushah,” sanctity, and in what way did Rebbi Yochanan stand out as being especially holy after he was born?

    ANSWERS:
    (a) With regard to the righteous child, the TOSFOS YOM HA’KIPURIM explains that the Gemara in Ta’anis (10a) says that “one who fasts is called Kadosh” (because he separates himself from worldly pleasures). Rebbi saw that the unborn child was Kadosh because he abandoned his craving for food. During his lifetime, Rebbi Yochanan was known for his attribute of Kedushah. The Gemara relates that he was able to sit by the Mikvah and instruct women how to immerse themselves, without fear that his Yetzer ha’Ra would be aroused (Berachos 20a). The Gemara in Yevamos (20b) teaches that one who is not attracted to sensual lusts is considered Kadosh.

    The TOSFOS YOM HA’KIPURIM and the VILNA GA’ON point out that the verse which Rebbi Chanina quoted with regard to the second child continues, “He does not listen to the voice of the whisperers” (Tehilim 58:6). These words allude to an unborn child who does not listen when someone whispers to him that today is Yom Kippur and he continues to crave for food. The unborn child in this incident did not listen to the whisperers and insisted on fulfilling his lustful desires. When he grew up, Shabsai was unable to curb his lust for money, and he oppressed the poor by hoarding the produce and raising the prices.

    More later.

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