What was Jesus like in his youth?
This is a great question that doesn’t have much of an answer. It is only because of two Gospels (Matthew and Luke) that we even know much about his birth. So here is what the Bible says about Jesus as a youth:
- After he was born, Jesus’ parents took him to Egypt for a time to keep him safe from King Herod who wanted to kill him as a rival king (Matthew 2:13-15).
- We don’t know exactly how much later but Jesus’ family returned to the area and settled in Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23).
- Jesus grew in wisdom and became physically strong. He lived in the favor of God (Luke 2:40).
- He visited the Temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover when he was 12 years old. His parents left without him and came back to find him asking poignant questions and giving answers that impressed everyone (Luke 2:41-51).
- After he was 12 years old, the only thing we know about his youth is that he continued to grow in wisdom and God’s favor (Luke 2:52).
These are the only things the Gospels tell us about the youth of Jesus. The next time we meet him he is about 30 years old right before he begins his public ministry.
Now, there are other books written a long time after the New Testament was written. We call them the Gnostic Gospels because they were written by people who believed in secret, special knowledge to know Jesus.
You may have heard of some of them, like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, and so on. Several of these Gnostic Gospels tell fantastic stories about Jesus when he was young.
We can’t put any trust in any of these books because they are not part of the Bible. Beyond that, all of the writers of the Gnostic Gospels are lying about their own authorship. They take on the names of familiar New Testament characters who have long since died before they wrote these books.
However, I will share two stories from these writings. The first states that Jesus and one of his boyhood friends were playing on the roof when the friend fell off. Jesus proceeded to raise him from the dead (Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
Another writing tells the story that Jesus was working with his father, Joseph. Joseph brought boards for a project that were too short. So Jesus told him to get on one end and Jesus got on the other and they lengthened the boards so that they would fit (Gospel of Thomas).
These much later writings can be extremely disturbing. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas presents a Jesus who seems nothing like the one in the Gospels of the New Testament. And the Gospel of Thomas presents sayings that are inconsistent with the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels.
These stories in these later writings may have appeared because people had a craving to know more about Jesus than the Gospels and the New Testament present. It’s interesting to wonder what Jesus was like as a child and teenager. But it’s better to know what he did during his ministry and its importance to us today.