What Do We Know about Jesus’ Childhood?

With Christmas just behind us, it’s the time of year some believers may move forward from the accounts of Jesus’ birth and wonder about His childhood. Perhaps to the disappointment of the curious, Luke is the only Gospel writer who addresses Jesus’ childhood, and his material on the topic is minimal (i.e., Luke 2:40-52). Yet what Luke conveys is both theologically significant and encouraging for children seeking to follow the Lord.

After an account of 12-year-old Jesus’ remaining in Jerusalem alone for three days to Mary and Joseph’s chagrin, we are told: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). A key word in this verse is the Greek verb prokopto (“increased”), which references moving “forward into an improved state” or progressing,[i] as when Paul said he had been “advancing (a form of prokopto) in Judaism” before he experienced salvation (Galatians 1:14), and when he said certain false teachers would “not get very far (prokopto)” in their attempts to lead believers astray (2 Timothy 3:9). So how did the boy Jesus progress?

In wisdom. At times, Scripture references wisdom as a divine attribute indicating one of God’s awesome, unchanging perfections. In other passages, wisdom references the ability to understand something and apply that understanding to daily functioning. The latter seems to be Luke’s meaning here. The boy Jesus, for instance, dialoged in the Temple with teachers of the Old Testament and amazed them with his wisdom in discussing the Old Testament (Luke 2:46-47). Presumably, he did not exhibit such skill in theological dialog as an infant, but progressed in it over time. In that and other areas, Jesus’ childhood involved moving forward in life skills.

In stature. The Greek word translated “stature” in Luke 2:52 ESV (elikia) also can mean “age.” In fact, the New Revised Standard Version renders it as “age,” as do the translations of William Tyndale and John Wycliffe among others. Either way, this is another area in which Jesus progressed during childhood: the years of His earthly existence increased as did His physical size. Perhaps Luke used an ambiguous word to indicate both realities.

In favor with God and man. “Favor” is the well-known Greek word karis, which means grace, care, or help. Here, it seems to indicate that as Jesus’ age increased, so did the number of instances in which God and fellow humans helped, blessed, and cared for Him.

Obviously, these three areas of growth or progress refer to Jesus’ human nature and not His divine nature. After all, God does not increase in wisdom; He does not get bigger or older; and He does not receive increasing favor from Himself. At the same time, Jesus is not two persons—one human and one divine—trapped in a single individual such that only a fraction of Him grew and developed. He is one unified person with two natures. Therefore, the one Lord Jesus got older and bigger, progressed in His skill at functioning in the world, and experienced more and more instances of favor from God and men.

Among other applications, this mind-boggling reality can encourage children and those who care for them. The high priest who “sympathize[s] with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) exercises that ministry for children who follow Him as much as adults. The One who sits enthroned on high is the same person who navigated the challenges of being a toddler, child, and teen—and he remembers those challenges.

[i] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), s.v. “prokopto.” All other definitions of Greek terms in this article also are taken from this work.

About David Roach

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee, and a contributor to both BibleMesh and Kairos Journal. He holds a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in academic journals and various Southern Baptist denominational publications.

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