What does the bible tell us?
December 3rd, 2001
Received by H.
Hello, my dear H___.
What we have been dealing with in many messages to date are the so-called lost years of Jesus. Lost, of course, because the gospels, being the closest to Jesus’ life, really don’t tell anything about this period of time. Let us take a look at the gospels in order to determine how they describe the childhood and the early years of the Master.
If we are to follow the order in which the gospels appear in the present Bible, we have to start with Matthew. First we read a description, in a long list, of Jesus' genealogy. Nothing is mentioned of Joseph and Mary’s life in Nazareth. To his great surprise, Joseph is informed that his betrothed was pregnant. The word betrothed is sometimes interpreted as meaning that both were only engaged and not married. But soon after, Joseph is called Mary’s husband. The angel’s story follows, how he appears to Joseph to convince him not to abandon Mary. Finally the gospel explains that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
It continues with the appearance of the wise men from the orient, their interview with Herod, and finally with the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the Babies in Bethlehem.
In Egypt, after Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and orders him to return to Palestine. Joseph is scared because Herod’s son, Archelaus, was a monster, worse than his father. Nevertheless Joseph obeys and takes his family back, not to Judea, but to Galilee, to Nazareth. This story leaves the impression that Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned home soon after Herod’s death, that is to say, in the year 4 B.C. The story skips the following years and resumes with John the Baptist’s appearance. Jesus, then, was no longer a baby, but already a mature man, fully prepared for his public ministry.
Now, what does Mark tell us? Well, here things are very different. Mark doesn’t know anything about Jesus’ birth, nothing of the virgin Mary, as if the miraculous fact of the virgin birth wouldn’t interest him. Mark begins his story with John the Baptist’s appearance, that is to say, at a time when Jesus was about to begin his public ministry. More than thirty years of his life are in darkness.
Luke is the most meticulous in his information. After a short introduction he tells about Elizabeth’s, the mother of John the Baptist, miraculous pregnancy. He continues with the angel’s announcement to Mary, in the town of Nazareth, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, a series of miraculous and wonderful events, and finally the census under Cyrenius, the governor of Syria. This is the occasion for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem.
Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the angels inform the shepherds of the Messiah’s birth, Jesus’ presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem, the blessings and prophecies of Simeon and Anna, the prophetess, and then, having fulfilled all the requirements of the Law, Joseph, Mary and the baby returned to Nazareth in Galilee.
It is interesting that Luke also tells of an episode in Jesus’ youth when he stays in the Temple, expounding the Law to the doctors, who are amazed at the boy’s wisdom, while Joseph and Mary are already on their way back home to Nazareth. They have to return and look for Jesus, who chides them severely, because they didn’t know that he had to dedicate himself to his Father’s business. But they didn’t understand him.
Finally, there follows the story of John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ genealogy.
And what does John tell us? He starts with the famous verse “in the beginning was the Word,” with a Gnostic discourse, and then gives the story of John the Baptist. Nothing on the virgin birth, nothing on Jesus’ childhood or youth, nothing on the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem, nothing on the wise men from the east, etc.
In short, there is not much the Bible tells us. And the little it tells is quite contradictory. In general, school children, in their religious education, learn an artificial synthesis of the events as described in the gospels. The contradictions are skipped. When one asks for the reasons why the authors differ so much in their stories, the answer usually is that the gospel writers didn’t want to present a complete story of Jesus’ life, but that the gospels are rather mutually complementary. This is certainly not true, because the diverse gospels circulated in the first decades or in the first centuries, went to different communities, and therefore they were not complementary. One community had hardly any access to another community’s gospel. Also it doesn't explain the dramatic differences in Jesus’ genealogy between one gospel and another, it doesn’t explain how in one gospel his family escapes to Egypt, and in another one they return peacefully to Galilee, etc.
The true reason is that these aforementioned passages didn’t form part of the original gospels, but rather that they were added in much later times. Men in antiquity were not so much interested in people’s biographies, they were more interested in their teachings, and so it happened also in the case of Jesus’ story. There was never the intention among the original authors of presenting an historical account. What they narrated were anecdotes and sayings of Jesus. Later on, using the multiple oral legends that circulated, the gospels were “completed,” always in accordance with the predominant doctrine.
In several messages it has already been explained that Luke’s anecdote about Jesus in the Temple, when he was twelve years old, doesn’t have any historical foundation. That means that the boy Jesus’ extreme wisdom was never expressed in such an ostensible way. Jesus’ process of maturation was a gradual and secret process, which caused certain frictions amongst his family, especially with his father. But as to the rest of the community, it passed unnoticed.
It is the true that Jesus was in the Temple when he was twelve years old, because every year he accompanied his father to the Holy City, to comply with their religious obligations. But this demonstration of divine illumination never happened.
Jesus himself has already described his ripening process, especially in the Old Testament Sermons through Dr. Samuels. It is not necessary to repeat this here.
But there were indeed some events during Jesus’ youth that impressed him a lot and which later influenced his way of being. We have already mentioned the rebellion of Judas the Galilean. Another important event that almost always goes unnoticed we will discuss in our following message.
To make this message well-rounded, I will just mention that Jesus, on the occasion of his journeys to Jerusalem, formed an intimate friendship with two people: with John, the later Baptist, as we have already described, and with Elazar or Eleazar from Bethany, the son of one of Joseph’s wealthy friends. This last friend’s name still appears in its Galilean form in the gospel, Lazar, since the Galileans used to drop initial vowels. Yes, that is correct, it is Lazarus, the one who Jesus “resurrected from the dead.” It is a proof that the original text goes back to the time of the apostles, who even left the mark of their northern dialect in the writings.
Joseph and Jesus spent many days each year with Lazarus and his father, even after Joseph had bought his own home in Jerusalem, becoming a citizen of Jerusalem.
Well, my brother, it is time to stop now. I hope we will see each other tomorrow. Until then, I send you my blessings and I wish you a happy day.
Your friend and brother,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013