04.06 The Boyhood Years Of Jesus

04.06 The Boyhood Years Of Jesus

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.06 The Boyhood Years Of Jesus

Unit 04

The Early Years Of Jesus


Chapter 06

The Boyhood Years Of Jesus


04.06.00.A. JESUS AND TEMPLE LEADERS. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2)

04.06.00.A. JESUS AND TEMPLE LEADERS. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876.  At the age of 12, Jesus challenges the religious leaders in the temple with stimulating questions. Among the doctors of the law, there may have been Rabbi Hillel and his rival Rabbi Shammai, two of the most famous rabbis of the Second Temple Period (516 B.C.-A.D. 70). The octagon-shaped architectural style of the building depicted is attractive, but incorrect.

04.06.01 Introduction

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04.06.01 Introduction

Little is known of the early years of Jesus from the age of twelve until the beginning of His ministry. But what is known is that He was obedient to his parents (Lk 2:51), He “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” (Lk 2:52), and He did not have any formal rabbinic training either in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Oral Law (Mk 6:2; Jn. 7:15).

There is, however, general information of what life was like for a young boy.  Synagogues in the Province of Galilee were used as schools, where the rabbi taught all children the five books of Moses, unlike in Jerusalem where only boys were taught.[1]  During the sunny, dry days they often had classes outside under a fig tree.  Since this tree produces fruit for nearly ten months of the year, it became symbolic of the Word of God from which men were taught to “eat” constantly.  It was in these schools that children were taught an elementary level of reading skills. Writing was less popular.  There was little need for writing skills in this primitive culture, with the occasional exception of legal documents which were written by professional scribes.

The common languages were Greek, Hebrew, and its sister language, Aramaic.[2]  Greek was introduced by Alexander the Great some three centuries earlier. Aramaic was the language Jewish people spoke during their exile in Babylon.  However, Hebrew remained the religious language for religious events among the Jews in Israel while it passed from use in other communities such as in Egypt. It is generally accepted that Jesus read from a Hebrew scroll, spoke to the crowds in Aramaic, and conversed with the Roman authorities in Aramaic or Greek.

Jesus, who was taught to recite the Hallel (Ps. 114-118), which means praise. He was also the personification of it.  Note the identifying connections,

(114:1)             He is the One who came out of Egypt;

(114:8)             He was the Rock from which flowed water;

(115:2)             He was the answer to the question, “Where is their God.”

(116:3)             He was the anguish of the grave;

(116:4)             He called upon the name of the Lord;

(116:14, 18)     He completed His vows to the Lord;

(116:48)           He delivered the captives from captivity;

(117)                The love covenant of God

(118)                His ultimate triumph over rejection

(118:22)           He was the stone that the builders rejected.

(118:25-26)     Messianic Parousia (Second Coming)


As a child Jesus attended the community synagogue in Nazareth where His teacher was the local rabbi. But according to Isaiah, every morning God awakened Jesus and instructed Him (Isa. 50:4-5).  Therefore, by the age of twelve He had become a profound scholar and demonstrated incredible wisdom by asking questions of the brightest priestly scholars of the Second Temple Period.

The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are instructed to know how to sustain the weary with a word. He awakens Me each morning; He awakens My ear to listen like those being instructed.

Isaiah 50:4


[1]. For more information in the educational system, see 02.03.04.


[2]. For more information the languages, see 02.03.08.

04.06.02 Jerusalem: JESUS VISITS THE TEMPLE

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04.06.02 Lk. 2:41-50 Jerusalem



41 Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When He was 12 years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival. 43 After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. 44 Assuming He was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends.       45 When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him. 46 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.

48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.”

49 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked them. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what He said to them.


“Every year his parents traveled to Jerusalem.” This refers to the annual celebration of Passover (Heb. Pesach) in the Holy City. Those who lived great distances away, such as Nazareth, were not required to make the long journey.  However, Mary and Joseph, being righteous Jews, chose to observe all seven of our Lord’s feasts which were condensed into three festival periods.[1] Local residents observed them three times a year, those of a moderate distance observed only Passover in the month of Nisan, and those who lived in distant countries might only observe the Passover in Jerusalem once in a lifetime.  Originally, attendance was required of all men (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16).  Women were free of the obligation, but frequently attended with their husbands.[2] The fact that Mary chose to go reflects upon her dedication to worship her Lord at this sacred festival.

Traveling was dangerous, as Zealots and bandits were in the countryside waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers.[3] For this reason, pilgrims going to and from Jerusalem for religious observances traveled in festival caravans.[4] The village was, in effect, an extended family and closely-knit community.  Children would play together as they traveled the long journey which skirted around the District of Samaria.  It was common for parents not to know where one or more of their children were, as it was assumed that they were in the good hands and care of someone else from the village. So when Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing, the news was a major concern for everyone.  Child abduction was virtually unknown, so they returned to Jerusalem and searched for Him. That meant they had to travel alone, without group protection, along the roads where there had been many robberies and wild animals roamed freely. They also had to cross the Jordan River known to have crocodiles.[5] So when they eventually found Him in the temple, they were understandably quite upset.

On a related issue, if all the villagers went to the temple in festival caravans that meant that their homes were unprotected and vulnerable to the bandits.  Then the bandits would not need to rob the travelers, they just had to wait until everyone left and they could help themselves. Therefore, not everyone went to the temple. And for that reason, designated families offered sacrifices for friends who stayed home to protect the village. The families that went to the temple were considered to be the honored, the most observant families of the village.  That makes the family of Mary and Joseph rather stunning – they went to the temple every year, not only for themselves, but probably to give sacrifices for other families as well.[6]

“When he was 12 years old.” During a child’s twelfth year he or she was examined by rabbis to determine if the basics of Judaism and the responsibilities of adulthood were understood. Reciting the Shema was how a pre-teen acknowledged that he was under the rule of God and, in fact, had taken upon himself the “Kingdom of God.”[7]  In essence, the child examined his or her own heart for the need of God in their life. Then, on the day after the thirteenth birthday, he or she became responsible for his or her own spiritual welfare and a son/daughter of the commandments.  On the New Testament side, anyone at any age can come to God when they recognize their need for God. In both Judaism and Christianity the adult, not the child, makes the decision to accept or reject God, rather than a choice being made by parents for an infant. Younger children, however, are still dedicated to God in both Judaism and Christianity.

As such, the young adult entered a new phase of life with new responsibilities and privileges.  For boys these included the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, its interpretation, and reciting the Shema with its benediction.[8]  While this usually occurred in the village synagogue, it appears that Jesus, of His own accord, had a similar discussion with the priests on the temple steps.  The Mishnah gives evidence of the customary examination:

A boy twelve years old and one day – his vows must be examined; if he is thirteen years old and one day, his vows are valid, but they must be examined throughout his thirteenth year.

Mishnah, Niddah 5.6[9]


According to a second century (B.C.) rabbi, Eleazar ben Simeon, a young man became responsible for his own actions from the age of thirteen and one day, although still under the guiding hand of his father for another year. At age 13 and 1 day he became a ben hat-torah, or Son of the Law. As such he began to wear the tephillin (Heb.), or phylacteries (Greek), and was presented in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He became responsible for fulfilling all the commandments[10] and legal actions, with the exception of the purchase of real estate, payment of taxes, and military duty, which began at the age of twenty.[11] Prior to this rite of passage he was known as a katon, meaning little, but afterwards he was known as a gadol, meaning grown-up.

The discussion Jesus had with the priests would have been mainly about the Torah. Matthew said that Jesus met with the temple priests, who found Him to be mature far beyond His years in the understanding of the Torah and other Old Testament books. What an unusual sight to have seen Jesus sitting on the temple steps with the best teachers of the Law. Normally, children were gathered around their teachers who taught them, but on this day, Jesus was on the temple steps and the teachers were gathered around Him.  What could these teachers have been thinking?  There is little question that they would watch him carefully in the years to come.

Here lies an example of Old Testament law and New Testament grace.  It is the similarity of becoming a son of the Commandment for a Jewish boy and becoming a believer for a Christian.


04.06.02.A. MODERN BAR MITZVAH CELEBRATION IN JERUSALEM.  A thirteen-year old boy carries a Torah Scroll as the men of his family celebrate his Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for girls) at the Western Wall. The women are nearby and look on. It is a time of celebration when a son or daughter becomes responsible for their spiritual destiny. This rite of passage has become more celebratory today than it was in the days of Jesus. Photograph by the author.


Finally, some Christian teachers have incorrectly said that at this time, the Jewish rite of passage known as the bar-mitzvah occurred at the age of 12, but that was changed to 13 in the Middle Ages.  That is an inaccurate understanding.  During the 12th year the pre-teen was examined and after the 13th birthday, there was a small bar-mitzvah celebration for boys and a bat-mitzvah for girls. Only in the Middle Ages did this rite of passage become a significant family and congregational event.[12]

“Sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” It is rather astounding that a twelve-year old boy would have a dialog with the doctors of theology and Jewish law (both Written and Oral), especially since He only attended the local synagogue school and had no further training.  This leads to a very interesting question:


04.06.02.Q1 How did Jesus attain the incredible knowledge that He displayed at the temple when He was merely twelve years old (Lk. 2:41-50)?

Scholars have long debated the “messianic consciousness” of Jesus.[13] In other words, when did He realize that He was the Messiah? Since Jesus had both the human nature and divine nature, He would have access to His Father in heaven that was unknown to mortals. Another question then is, “At the temple, did He ask questions to discover answers or did He ask questions to have the scholars reflect upon Isaiah?  According to Isaiah, every morning God awakened Jesus and instructed Him (Isa. 50:4-5). That instruction included knowledge of the events that would eventually inflict horrific pain (Isa. 50:6-9). Furthermore, Philippians 2:5-11 and Acts 1:6-7 state that the incarnate God was willing to be separated from His full use of divine knowledge, thereby making human development and maturity a necessity.

4 The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are instructed to know how to sustain the weary with a word. He awakens Me each morning; He awakens My ear to listen like those being instructed.

5 The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn back.

6 I gave My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who tore out My beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting.

7 The Lord God will help Me; therefore I have not been humiliated; therefore I have set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

8 The One who vindicates Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!

9 In truth, the Lord God will help Me; who will condemn Me? Indeed, all of them will wear out like a garment; a moth will devour them.

Isaiah 50:4-9


Therefore, when Jesus met the religious scholars in the temple, He not only offered thought-provoking answers, but questions that challenged the best scholars of the entire second temple period (515 B.C. – A.D. 70). Little did they know that the Boy who was before them was divinely taught every morning.


04.05.06a (2)


The dynamics of the temple dialog were heightened in light of the fact that the two greatest theological schools of the entire Second Temple Period existed at this time.  These schools were the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai.  Their founding rabbis are believed to have been still alive and were probably in the temple when Jesus came.  It was in Solomon’s Portico where the greatest of teachers taught, as if trying to capture some of the proverbial “Solomon’s wisdom.” Anyone who seriously desired to learn would have studied in one of these schools (a/k/a “houses”).

It was considered a point of academic excellence to have graduated from one of these two schools, as exampled by the Apostle Paul who had studied under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel.[14] There can be little question that the twelve-year-old Jesus challenged the most important and influential rabbis when other twelve-year old boys were challenged by their local rabbis.

 04.06.02b (2)


“His understanding.” The phrase means not only facts, but also the relationships of those with whom He was speaking.[15] He had the gift of discernment to understand those with whom He was speaking.

“Son, why have you treated us like this?” The question reflects a tone of contention in the family.  One can understand why parents would be upset if a child was missing for three days. On the other hand, maybe Mary and Joseph should have been aware that since the 12th year was a special year in a child’s life, something unusual should have been expected.  However, His parents were not only upset that they spent three days looking for their Son, but they had to return to Jerusalem and then Nazareth by themselves.  In doing so, they risked themselves to the dangers of robbers who knew that festival pilgrims always had offerings and sacrificial money. But Jesus was already focused on His divine calling while His parents were still expecting a somewhat normal child in spite of His unusual birth and calling. His family did not completely understand Him until after the resurrection.

No wonder Mary would later ponder these things in her heart.  She did find Jesus at the temple, yet in another sense she may never have found him; she may never have felt that this young Man was really hers.  They may have wondered if He was to be another Onias ha-M’agel, a/k/a Honi who performed miracles and was killed.[16]

When Jesus said that “I had to be in my Father’s house,” He implicated more than a physical presence; He had to be involved in the work of Him who awakened and instructed Him every morning. At the age of 12, or possibly 17,[17]  every boy became an apprentice – he worked with a craftsman or tradesman from whom he learned his future occupation.  So when Jesus said that He had to be about His “Father’s business,” or His “Father’s house,” He clearly understood His purpose and divine calling at an early age and was eager to prepare for it.


[1]. See Appendix 5 “Levitical and Non-Levitical Feasts.”


[2]. Mishnah, Hagigah 1.1; 1 Sam. 1:7; 2:19; see Appendix 5, the Jewish Sacred Calendar.


[3]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.1(118); Wars 2.15.6 (232).


[4]. Tosephta, Megillah 4.15; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59, 75, 249; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:278; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 364.


[5]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:220-21; Farrar, The Life of Christ 59-60.


[6]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 2.


[7]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 228.    


[8]. Mishnah, Megillah 4.6.

[9]. See also Babylonian Talmud, Seder Moed. Yoma 82a; Babylonian Talmud, Seder Tohoroth 45b.

[10]. Mishnah, Avot 5:1; cf. Yoma 82a; Kaplan “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia.

[11]. A thirteen-year old, even in ancient times, was not considered knowledgeable about buying and selling real estate.  See Maim. Yad., Edut, 9:8; Kaplan. “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia.

[12]. Wice.  “Bar Mitzvah.” 2:73; Kaplan “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah.” CD-ROM Judaica Multimedia; The earliest writing of a bar mitzvah is known today is from the work of Mordecai ben Hillel, a German Halachist of the 13th century.

[13]. See “Christology” and “Messianic Consciousness” in Appendix 26.


[14]. Hillel had a son Simeon who served in the temple when Jesus was dedicated. Simeon had a son named Gamaliel, who had a son also named Simeon.  See Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:31.


[15]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:278.


[16]. Honi was a miracle worker of the first century B.C. and is noted for making it rain one time.  See comments on Jn. 19:25-27, and 03.05.10.

[17]. See “Education” in 02.03.04.

04.06.03 Nazareth GROWING UP IN NAZARETH

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04.06.03 Lk. 2:51-52 Nazareth




51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.

“Jesus increased in wisdom and stature.” Jesus grew up like any other boy, but remained sinless; He left part of His deity in heaven.  The fact that Luke stated that Jesus “grew” in wisdom discredits some apocryphal accounts, in which Jesus was described to have had unusual mystical powers in His childhood.  Likewise, there is no truth to the account that Jesus lacked formal education. In fact, average Jewish peasants were better educated than their peers in neighboring cultures. Formal education began as early as the beginning of the Second Temple Period (ca. 515 B.C.), when Levites were given the responsibility of teaching the people (2 Ch. 17:8-9).  Eighty years before Jesus, Rabbi Shimeon ben Shetah decreed that all children and youth under the age of seventeen be instructed in formal education[1] and the Mishnah preserved the various stages of this instruction from childhood to priesthood.[2] While it is unknown if this decree was universally applied in Galilee, it is known that both boys and girls were educated until the age of thirteen.

During those years children learned the Torah beginning at the age of five and the Oral Law beginning at eight.  In the local synagogue He would have learned how to read and write with the use of a wax board and stylus.  The primary teaching method was question and answer, which naturally led to an adult pastime of theological debates. When He became a son of the Commandment at age thirteen and one day, then it was time to learn his father’s trade.  He would remain there approximately eighteen years until the age of thirty, the age when men normally entered the priesthood (or ministry). Matthew summarized those years quite well when he said, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”  As righteous orthodox Jews, His parents raised Him according to all the laws of Judaism, which included the following:

Rabben Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch said: “Excellent is study of the Law together with worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind.  But all study of the Law without (worldly) labor comes to naught at the last and brings sin in its train.”

Mishnah, Aboth 2.2


Early in His life, He was taught the stories of Israel’s heroes by His mother. Some of whom fought on the great battlefields of Esdraelon which is plainly visible from the hills around Nazareth. To the south is the plateau of Gilboa where King Saul fought his last battle.  Not far from Nazareth was the Via Maris, the international highway that went from Egypt to Damascus and connected to the road to Babylon.[3] Ancient kings traveled on this road with their invading armies. Jesus grew up in a quiet village, but not far away there was rich Jewish history that He could reach out and touch.


04.06.03.A. SHEPHERD BOYS IN AUTHENTIC FIRST CENTURY COSTUME. These two children holding a sheep at the reconstructed Nazareth Village are dressed in clothes much as Jesus would have worn. Photograph by the author.


In favor with God and with people.” A similar theme is found in Luke 2:40. Jesus became the popular son of Nazareth, being well appreciated and liked by everybody.  What a stark contrast to His later return to do miracles and preach the Kingdom of God, when these same friendly people would threaten to kill him.  He was a responsible Son, similar to the description of 1 Samuel 2:26 and Proverbs 3:4.

Most events in the life of Jesus were never recorded.  What is known is that the central focus of any young man was the study of the Torah as the “source and grantor of salvation.”[4]  Even if he did not pursue higher education that was that provided by the local synagogue, he dedicated himself to memorizing numerous pages of the biblical scrolls.  Men often gathered to discuss the meaning and life application of the sacred Scriptures.  One can safely assume Jesus functioned well in this capacity, as He did with the temple priests when He was twelve years old.


Unit 04

The Early Years Of Jesus


Chapter 07

Village Life In Nazareth


04.07.00.A. JESUS GROWING UP IN NAZARETH. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2)

04.07.00.A. JESUS GROWING UP IN NAZARETH. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. Jesus is shown with His mother carrying water from the only water fountain in Nazareth. This was a daily event except on the Sabbath. Some scholars believe the village was founded in the first or second century B.C., and was little more than a small agricultural village of three dozen Jewish homes.


[1]. Babylonian Talmud, Ketubbot 50b.


[2]. Mishnah, Avot 5:21; See 02.03.04.


[3]. Also known as “the way of the land of the Philistines” (Ex. 13:17; Num. 20:17).


[4]. Neuser, Rabbinic Judaism. 56.

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