Friday, March 27, 2009

Jesus: The Wonder Years

Just like the parable Jesus reportedly used, when you are building anything that you want to last; a house, a palace, a belief, a lie; you should begin with a rock-solid foundation. Otherwise, with floods, winds, discovery, and scrutiny, that which was built will not endure.

However, errant beliefs and lies will endure indefinitely until challenged within each mind where they exist. The fact that the Christian faith as a whole has endured as long as it has is not a valid testimony to its veracity, because at no time has there ever been a simultaneous, all-inclusive, thorough, Christian self-scrutiny. Like houses sheltered from the storm by mountains and located upstream of flooded rivers, the faith has been thereby preserved regardless of its foundation.

In previous studies of the Gospels, we've explored the lineage of Jesus, the Annunciation, and the Massacre of the Innocents. These studies revealed, if nothing else, some odd quirks, but most probably revealed that the stories are somewhat questionable in their veracity. There is a little more shaky ground to cover in Jesus' early years before we move on His adulthood.

Jesus: The Wonder Years
Let's continue to study the foundation of the Jesus story; His time from just after His birth to just before His record of adulthood. Unfortunately, there is not much recorded about these wonder years, just what little is logged by Matthew and Luke. The author of Matthew may have been an Apostle, but that is debated. The author of Luke was definitely not an Apostle. But either way, neither one knew about Jesus' early years as eye witnesses. So the most accurate information would need to be obtained from Joseph and Mary; Jesus' earthly parents.

Luke 2:22-40 records the story of Jesus' first visit to the Temple. Luke 2:22 records how after “the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed” (which would have been 33 days), Jesus' parents took Him to the Temple. Already, we find a typo in the text. According to Leviticus 12, the chapter of God's Law which governs purification after childbirth, only the woman requires purification, not the man. So the use of “their” is about as appropriate as when some proud father-to-be proclaims to the world “we're pregnant”.

Also in keeping with the Law, Jesus' parents were there to make the required sacrifices. Luke 2:24 records this as “a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."” According to Leviticus 12, the desired sacrifice was “a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.” It was only if the mother could not afford a lamb that an extra dove or pigeon could be substituted for the lamb. The author of Luke seems to be oblivious to the preferred lamb sacrifice option, quoting only the bit about the birds. Some interpret this as a sign of the low level of wealth of Jesus' parents. However, if that were the case, it seems to me strange that Luke doesn't just say that two doves were sacrificed, or say that two pigeons were sacrificed, in accordance with the Law. Instead, we see a partial and imperfect quote of an addendum to a regulation in the Law. It's as if Luke isn't really familiar with what he's talking about, despite the fact that he “carefully investigated everything” (Luke 1:3).

During the Temple visit, Luke records how a righteous man, Simeon, had thanked God because he had lived to see the Christ as God had promised him would happen. Simeon reveals some prophecies about Jesus that God had given him. A prophetess, Anna, saw Jesus and began to talk about Jesus “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

The next event that Luke records (Luke 2:41-52) begins “Every year [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When He was twelve years old...” However, in Matthew's account, the visit of the three Magi and the infamous Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:1-21) would have occurred between the first Temple and Jesus at age 12. Not only is this event a stunning omission from Luke in and of itself, but Jesus' family probably would not have made an annual pilgrimage during the time that they had fled to Egypt to avoid having Jesus killed, thereby making the Luke's words “Every year” inaccurate.

There is evidence of another conflict between Matthew's and Luke's early accounts. Luke 1:26 and Luke 2:4 record that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth prior to Jesus' birth, and Luke 2:39 records that they returned to Nazareth after “their” purification. Matthew's account doesn't directly claim where Mary and Joseph lived prior to Jesus' birth, or that they traveled to Bethlehem for a census, just that Jesus was born there. However, Matthew 2:13-15 states that the Holy Family went directly from Bethlehem to Egypt in contrast to Luke 2:39. Also, upon their return from Egypt, we see from Matthew 2:19-23 that Joseph's first inclination was to go to Judea, presumably to Bethlehem, but decided to settle in Nazareth from fear of the ruler of Judea, Archelaus. Matthew's record seems to suggest that Joseph's home was in Judea, probably in Bethlehem, as opposed to Luke's record that states Joseph lived in Nazareth since before Jesus.

Getting back to Luke 2:41-52, we see how after the Passover Feast Jesus stays behind in the Temple at the tender age of twelve, without letting His parents know. When Joseph and Mary return and find Jesus, He is talking to the teachers there. When questioned, Jesus replied to his parents “"Why were you searching for Me?" He asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in My Father's house?"” For someone that is supposedly part of God, sharing in all of God's knowledge, that's a fairly poor reply. It suggests that Jesus is so out of touch with the reality of a parent-child relationship that He didn't think that it was necessary to inform His parents that He needed to stay behind. Or perhaps it means that Jesus just didn't have enough respect for His parents to let them know. Either way, it's a pretty sad statement about God, conflicts with the (popular) fifth commandment about honoring your parents, and draws into question just how fatherly the Heavenly Father is.

(Note: There may be a typo in this tale too, for in Luke 2:47-48 we see how Jesus was the one asking the questions, but that the teachers that were amazed at His answers. However, Jesus often answered His own questions in the Gospels, so this may not be a typo.)

That's about all we know of Jesus' wonder years. It's sparse information, contaminated with discordance. If Matthew or Luke had sought out the best resource for this information, Jesus' parents, then there should have been agreement and alignment between the two records. This is not the case. And the only information we have about Jesus as a boy leaves us wondering what's really in store for us at the hands of a Heavenly Father. God, have mercy.


  1. I feel like I need to read your post with a narration by Daniel Stern (the narrator from the show). Hah.

    I found the point you made about the sacrifice most interesting. Its VERY important that Jesus be understood to be sinless. So, to add a possible confusion like this is truly negligence on the part of the author. Great point.

  2. I had trouble with the interpretation of the sin offering, so hesitated to comment deeper to that effect.

    All Leviticus 12 tells you is that it is a sin offering. It doesn't tell you whose sin it is or why it is a sin. It could be that simply having a child is a sin, which is rather odd. It could be that having sex is a sin, which again doesn't seem to add up.

    The most favorable interpretation that I could come up with was that this offering covered any sin that the woman committed during her period of uncleanliness, during which she was forbidden from taking part in Temple atonement. Because that seemed semi-viable, I left the sin factor largely untouched.

    However, anyway you slice it, the Catholic belief that Mary was sinless is seriously challenged by this.

  3. I think you're research is top notch on this, in all seriousness.It makes my brain itch!But seems to me like ,"The law offices of Father ,Son, and Holy ghost" strike again.Speaking in riddles, knowing the loopholes,fabricating alibi's,contaminating evidence,bending the law,lots of political pull,win at all costs,don't call me i'll call you. Yup, accident and disability lawyers. Thats why everyone was scared of them.[it would explain the crucifixion too.]

  4. Thanks false profit. To some extent, I find it depressing how badly everything fits together. It's a bit sad and scary thinking about just what kind of a god that God is depicted to be, particularly in the Old Testament. There was a hope before I started studying that the New Testament would actually live up to the picture of a perfect, loving God fulfilling prophesy and redeeming people. Unfortunately, it's all falling apart in the wash.

    If you liked this one, definitely check back towards the end of the month when I'll