The Bible has few references to Jesus’ childhood. What does the Bible tell us about Jesus as a child? What about the story of the boy Jesus at the temple?
John 21:25 tells us that there were so many remarkable incidents in the life of Jesus Christ, that if they were all written down, the number of volumes would be beyond measure. What He accomplished in the 3½ years of His ministry is astounding.
Thankfully, we have four Gospel writers who record a great deal of what took place, including specific details surrounding His birth. These glimpses are provided that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing [we] may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The Gospel accounts provide rich details regarding the ministry of Jesus Christ. However, many have questions about the life of Jesus before His ministry.
- Where did Jesus grow up?
- What was Jesus like as a young child and as a boy growing toward adulthood?
- Did Jesus have siblings and friends?
- Was Jesus a carpenter?
While answers to many of these questions remain shrouded, the biblical narrative provides some clues about these missing years.
Jesus as a child
The environment in which Jesus grew up was complicated by religious and political forces at work in Judea and the surrounding territories. Many acknowledge Jesus’ birthplace was Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7), a city long associated with the family of David.
Jesus would not stay long in His ancestral city. Shortly after His birth, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-38). Within months, the family would journey by night to Egypt to escape the murderous rampage of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-18). In Egypt, the family found safe haven until Herod’s death, when the family returned home.
But Jesus did not grow up in the area of Bethlehem or Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus’ childhood home was in Nazareth, a city of Galilee (Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39).
Luke 2:40 gives a summary statement describing Jesus’ development from infancy to age 12: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
Jesus’ family life
Jesus grew up in a bustling, growing family. Matthew makes clear that Joseph and Mary did not have children before Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:24-25). However, the Bible tells us Jesus had several younger half-siblings, children of Joseph and Mary.
Matthew names four brothers—James, Joses, Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55). There were also at least two sisters (verse 56). Thus, Jesus was the oldest of at least seven children.
His stepfather, Joseph, was a carpenter (verse 55). This occupation is generally understood to be someone who works with wood. However, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains this word “can mean ‘carpenter’—one who works with wood—or perhaps even ‘builder,’ in a time and place when most homes were made of mud brick” (Revised Edition, 2010, Vol. 9, p. 384).
This occupation would require skill, patience and hard work—all traits Jesus would have observed during His childhood.
Was Jesus a carpenter?
Mark records that Jesus Himself was referred to as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3). During His life, it was customary for boys to be apprenticed in the occupation of their father. Thus, as the oldest son in the household, it seems probable that Jesus would have been trained and employed as a carpenter.
While the biblical narrative does not expound on this point, it is perhaps likely that Jesus used His carpentry skills to support Himself until beginning His ministry.
Jesus was raised in a religious home
In addition to telling us of Jesus’ numerous siblings and Joseph’s occupation, the Bible also shows that Jesus was reared in a devoutly religious home. His family faithfully followed God’s instructions concerning the annual religious festivals.
Interestingly, social scientists today have confirmed the benefits for children growing up in a religious environment. Dr. Pat Fagan is the director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion and senior fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
After compiling the findings of over 100 independent social scientists over the last two decades on the effect that church attendance has on the lives of kids, he said, “When policymakers consider America’s grave social problems, including violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency, they should heed the findings in the professional literature of the social sciences on the positive consequences that flow” from faithful church attendance (Rob Kerby, “Church Kids Less Likely to Divorce or Live in Poverty,” beliefnet.com).
Learning at an early age that there is a God and that each person is made in His image provides a healthy atmosphere for well-adjusted children. Joseph and Mary furnished a home centered on God’s love, His commandments and His way of life, which is undoubtedly one reason God selected them to provide His Son’s early childhood development.
Jesus was an exceptional Child
Jesus experienced a natural maturing process similar to any growing boy, but He was especially endowed with God’s Spirit and favor from birth so that He was far advanced beyond other young men when it came to grasping the Word of God and spiritual principles.
Interestingly, Luke’s account of Jesus’ life tells of something that took place when Jesus was 12 years of age. There is much we can learn from this fascinating story, which is only found in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 2:43-44 begins to give some interesting insight into the dynamics of Jesus’ special family. After the festivals, as the family caravan was a day’s journey from Jerusalem on their way toward home, it was discovered that Jesus was not with the group. How could they have gone so far without realizing this?
First of all, Jesus must have been a boy who had earned His parents’ confidence and trust. Joseph and Mary were obviously relying on Jesus to act in a responsible manner during the trip home from Jerusalem.
They had learned by this time that their oldest child was a very reliable, capable and dependable youth. Had He been unpredictable or immature, then they would have felt the need to oversee His whereabouts more closely. But apparently they had no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary.
They were startled to find that He was not with the caravan. Filled with concern, they spent the next day traveling back to Jerusalem with great consternation, hoping to find Him safe.Joseph and Mary assumed He was traveling with another family or relatives and didn’t inquire as to His whereabouts until later that day. This was understandable behavior on their part since there was no way they could have envisioned anything other than reliable conduct from their Son and a normal trip home to Nazareth after the Passover festival.
They were startled to find that He was not with the caravan. Filled with concern, they spent the next day traveling back to Jerusalem with great consternation, hoping to find Him safe.
The boy Jesus at the temple
It appears it was on the third day after the festival that they found Him in the temple area. He was not playing with other boys, lost or even scared to be on His own. He was instead involved in serious discussions with some of the learned teachers of the law in Jerusalem, “both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
Rather than being annoyed by one so youthful, these intelligent men were astounded by Jesus’ questions and responses and, most importantly, by His grasp of deep theological topics. Luke’s account says, “All who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (verse 47). Truly they were in the presence of a very divinely gifted young man.
Once He was located, Joseph and Mary were relieved to find Jesus safe. Yet at the same time they were bewildered by their Son’s surprising behavior and seeming lack of appreciation for the anxiousness He had caused.
Mary took the lead in asking what it all meant. It seems Joseph remained quiet for the moment and allowed her to speak for them both. Perhaps it was because Jesus was conceived in her womb or because, being a concerned mother, she was the one more emotionally distraught after the days of searching, but Mary now sought an answer from her Son.
Jesus’ mother showed wisdom and self-control in that she first inquired about her Son’s intent. She asked in verse 48, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
Many parents would automatically allow their frustration or anger to dictate their action and might lash out at their child for causing such distress, but she apparently knew her Son had never been irresponsible or rebellious and so she sought an honest understanding of what He was doing.
“I must be about My Father’s business”
Jesus responded to His mother’s inquiry by saying, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (verse 49).
Jesus did not give prior warning that He intended to remain in Jerusalem. Perhaps He hoped that Joseph and Mary would conclude that He had important work to accomplish and that they would not worry when He turned up missing.
Jesus must have had some very profound conversations with His parents growing up. His mother would have related the story of His birth and what Gabriel said when he appeared to her nine months prior to His birth.
Jesus also had His Father’s Spirit without measure (John 3:34). He had a strong grasp of His own purpose for being on the earth. The zeal to please His Heavenly Father and do the work of God would have burned strongly in Him even at this time in His young life.
So, perhaps Jesus felt His parents, on this occasion, would consider all this and that it would allay any anxiety concerning His whereabouts. Of course, parental concern for their 12-year-old was so strong that they were not fully able to understand what He said to them (Luke 2:50).
Now that His parents had returned for Him, Jesus knew He would later launch into His life’s work and undertake His Father’s business. But for now Jesus determined to return to Nazareth and continue to be subject to Joseph and Mary (verse 51).
Jesus’ Heavenly Father did not intend His Son to begin His great public ministry for another 18 years. By then He would be ready to face the greatest challenge any man could ever face.
Why did Luke record the story of Jesus as a boy in the temple?
There is a reason God inspired Luke to record this amazing account in Jesus’ childhood. We see from this circumstance that this extraordinary family went through life experiences as any normal family does, with real feelings, emotions, cares and sometimes confusion felt by family members, including Jesus’ brothers and sisters (see John 7:3-4).
All three of the key players in this account showed godly responses to the circumstances they faced and ended up maturing as individuals. Joseph and Mary had much to ponder concerning their Son and His special gifts, and Jesus grew in understanding of His role as a son and emerged with a greater grasp of God’s will for Him. Yet, through it all, no one sinned and the parent-child relationship was strengthened not damaged.
What guided these three individuals are the principles found in God’s Word, the Bible. They were also helped by the Holy Spirit that came from our Heavenly Father.
If you would like to learn more about God’s purpose for your life and how that Spirit and truth can guide your life, we hope you’ll download and read more in the booklet God’s Purpose for You.