Jesus Learned

Jesus Learned September 7, 2012

I have been talking a lot lately about how Biblical inerrantists are forced to twist the Bible in order to defend their doctrine about the Bible.

People with a certain way of viewing Jesus do the same to Luke's Gospel.

There is a famous story in Luke 2 about Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem when his family had gone up for a festival. In most of the artistic depictions of that story (see the one on the right as an example), in film renderings and other retellings, many Christians rewrite the story so that Jesus is teaching his elders in the temple at the age of twelve.

But what the story in Luke actually says is that Jesus was impressing them by listening and asking wise questions, as well as giving impressive answers when he was asked questions (Luke 2:46-47). In other words, he was learning.

Luke emphasizes the point again at the end of the story. Jesus returns home and is obedient to his parents, and, as Luke 2:52 says, he grew in wisdom as well as stature, and in favor with God as well as with human beings.

For many Christians, their view of Jesus has gone so far down the path of the heresy known as Apollinarianism – treating Jesus as though he were a divine being dressed up as a human being and pretending to be human – that they fail to realize the extent that in order to defend their doctrine about Jesus they have to rewrite the Bible, whether conciously or subconsciously.

I mention this not only because of the problematic approach to Scripture it entails. It is the view of Jesus as one who knew all things, had no need of human learning, that often leads those who claim to follow Jesus, and yet who view him in this unbiblical way, to become arrogant and resist learning. As followers of one who had no need to learn, according to them, they can follow him and have no need to learn anything either.

The Gospel of Luke depicts a different state of affairs. It depicts Jesus as learning.

If you claim to be Jesus's follower and to take what the Bible says seriously, then presumably you will want to learn too, and will not think that you can jump straight to offering impressive answers without first listening and asking wise questions.



Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • One of the things Jesus learned was to have a high view of Scripture.

    • And apparently to conclude that at least one thing in it reflected a concession to the people of Moses’ time rather than an expression of God’s perfect will. If that is a “high” view of Scripture, then I have no disagreement with what you said. But for many people, that isn’t what the term denotes.

    • Gary

      High view of scripture? The scripture that existed at the time of Jesus, yes, maybe. I take a dim view of people establishing what is official scripture after the fact, and what heresy actually is. One man’s heresy is another man’s gospel. As I remember, the Gospel of John, at the very beginning, establishes the “Word” (Jesus knows everything from the beginning). Which is a different view than Matthew, Mark and Luke. So Irenaeus came along 200 years after Jesus, and politic’d for the Gospel of John as part of the 4 gospels, and determined his interpretation was official “Catholic”, and other gospels like “gnostic” were heresy, and needed to be burned. I’m not saying which is right. Just saying Irenaeus determining what is heresy, and what is not, is similar to the present day fundamentalists determining that their interpretations are correct (which is OK with me), but saying that others that disagree constitute heresy (which is not OK). So Irenaeus, and creeds established by a consortium of bishops 300 years after Jesus, determine how we should believe. Interesting concept. I kind of do not like Irenaeus and Athanasius, since they seemed to be into burning books, instead of teaching. Got to respect the Jewish rabbis, since their tradition is more discuss, argue, but don’t burn the books you’re discussing.

      • I don’t think much of church councils either. However, Tatian’s Diatessaron preceded Irenaeus’ declarations.

        When it came to discerning Scripture, church councils tended to follow rather than lead. That is, their decisions were based on consensus of opinion among the churches. Since the geographically-dispersed churches represent the venue where the NT documents originally appeared, this stands to reason.

        The single criterion for inclusion in the NT, when all was said and done, was apostolicity. As for the OT canon, it’s clear to see what the NT documents quote, We also have rabbinic sources and the LXX.

        Only on the periphery of the canon is there any dispute. The core books are supported by a consensus so broad it can only be considered staggering.

        • Gary

          Just one thing…”The core books are supported by a consensus”. I find the interpretation of the core books, are the opposite of consensus. Inerrancy is one thing (which I do not hold to). But also interesting is “infallibility”. Infallibility is usually used to mean “trustworthy”. I guess I can accept “trustworthy” in the overall scheme of things, but with many (too many, maybe) caveats. In my simple mind, if the bible was “trustworthy”, there wouldn’t be a thousand denominations, each with their own interpretations. I think Jesus might say, “I give up…let’s go with another flood”. “This time, no opposable thumb, so they can’t screw it up”. I still think a foundation of gospels selected, with others burned to eliminate all traces and opposing thoughts, is a shaky foundation.

          • The multitude of denominations is testimony that the organized church is not the kingdom of God. The Scriptures themselves testify that the church would fall away from the truth even before the first century was out. The kingdom of God is not something you can see.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            The multitude of denominations is testimony that the organized church is not the kingdom of God.

            i would conclude then that the “disorganized church” is the kingdom of God in your theology. confirmed by your blog’s motto: “The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ to those who want to hear about Him without having to join a church – or anyone else – but Him.”

            there are several more options for explaining why there are so many denominations, the best of which is that people don’t listen very well to God when He speaks, often confusing the voices in their heads with His. another is that each denomination is part of but far from the whole kingdom. yet another is that the kingdom cuts across denominational lines like a venn diagram, there are some in almost any denomination that are in the kingdom, many who are not.

          • Your “several more options” are not mutually exclusive with the first reason given. More importantly, the fact that people may not agree about what God has said does not mean that He has not said something, or that what He has said cannot be understood.

        • rmwilliamsjr

          The single criterion for inclusion in the NT, when all was said and done, was apostolicity.

          i’m not so sure. Clement is in the Ethiopian canon, gospel of thomas is not in RC canon neither is Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans. it really appears that general acceptance is ratified by various councils which is why multiple canons exists.

          • The first church council to rule on books to be included in the canon came in the wake of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. Apostolicity had been settled long before that.

            As for “multiple canons,” I can’t imagine what you’re talking about. A New Testament without the same 27 books would be rarer than a two-dollar bill.

          • rmwilliamsjr

   new testament section, lists 7, last time i looked at the issue i found 12 canons.

          • You’re missing the forest for the trees. Go back to those 7 sections and note that they have “Yes” regarding the same 27 books, and they all have “No” regarding any other books (the only exception being where the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition maintains a “broader” canon in addition to the core). The conformity of view about the New Testament canon is, as I said above, stunning.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            my point is not the variation(or lack thereof) between the canons but the fact that various canons exist because the church determines the canon, thus different traditions choose the books justifying their inclusion/exclusion with different reasoning.

            if the text was self-justifying there would be a single canon, with the interpretation forking after that point. but what we see is the creation of various canons which are the result of different traditions already in the greater church, the formation of their canon then a “hardening” of each into the formation of a tradition we see today.

            the various canons represent traditions before canonization, then various councils create a specific canonical text, from that point each tradition creates an acceptable interpretation from that text.

            the big point is that the various churches create the canons not the canon creating the different churches.

          • All the more reason to ignore canonicity and focus on apostolicity.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            so rather than recognizing the historical & cultural conditioning of the canon(the church determines the canon), you imagine a criteria that doesn’t even fit. Paul is not an apostle, 1/2 of the letters attributed to him are pseudoepigrapha from his disciples, luke is not nor even claims to be an apostle, revelation is not written by an apostle. so what do you really have left that can even hope to claim apostolicity or any other connection to one of the 12?

          • The rational for canonizing the 27 documents was their apostolicity. That some scholars today dispute the apostolicity of some of the documents does not change the fact that they were originally deemed to be apostolic and for that reason were preserved and handed down to us.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            i would be glad to read your evidence from the various church councils and how they used “apostolicity” as the canonical rule.

          • Mine is not a radical view. And you won’t have to look hard to find scholarly literature covering the subject. For example, in “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” by F.F. Bruce, page 22, he writes:

            “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect.”

            Other authors on this subject include Arthur G. Patzia and Michael J. Kruger (the latter having a blog titled “Canon Fodder”). Even the Wikipedia article to which you referred me earlier contains this: “The basic factor for recognizing a book’s canonicity for the New Testament was divine inspiration, and the chief test for this was apostolicity.”

          • F. F. Bruce can be relied on for a balanced perspective, as usual. But I think that while his language works well for most of the canon, at its edges there are texts which only gained acceptance through struggle by those who used them to persuade those who did not to accept them. The Book of Revelation scarcely had at long last gained decisive acceptance in the Eastern Orthodox churches, and then along came Martin Luther and called its status into question again. The canon consists of a core that most everyone in those churches that were in fellowship with one another agreed upon, and a periphery that was in flux for quite a long time. That is why we see lists that largely mirror the current canon but with a few omissions or additions here or there in the early centuries – a core of consensus and a periphery of disagreement.

          • I can be comfortable with that characterization.

          • Dr. david Tee

            Dr. Bruce’s comments are supported by the late Dr. Bruce Metzger. In an interview he gave the following information:
            “You have to understand that the canon was not the result of a series of contests involving church politics. The canon is rather the seperation that came about because of the intuitive insight of Christian believers…When the pronouncement was made about the canon, it merely ratified what the general sensitivity of the church had already determined. You see, the canonis a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. The documents didn’t derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together. The early church merely listened…(The Case For Christ pg. 69)

          • Gary

            “The early church merely listened…”I don’t think so. More politics than you have today. Multiple exiles for people like Athanasius, orders to burn gospels popular with people and independent monks in monasteries, but unpopular with clergy. Occasionally a bishop being killed for good measure. I guess the general conclusion should be, whoever had the biggest stick, and lasted the longest in power, ended up determining the authoritative canons. But then again, I have a bad attitude, and do not like authority.

    • But at what point did Christians come to the conclusion that the books collected in the NT are “scripture” in the same sense as the Torah and prophets Jesus would have studied as a boy.

      Even if you conclude that the early church capably distilled the best gospels and letters into the NT, those that had historical merit or apostolic association; then, how, out what point, and with what authority did the early church decide that these books were inerrant and inspired by God?

      I can half-way buy the idea that the early church could better discern which letters and gospels were the most historically sound; but that’s a far cry from asserting that those same letters and gospels were inspired and inerrant. Scriptures themselves don’t grant that authority.

      • One does not have to believe that the New Testament documents are inspired and inerrant in order to benefit from their central message. All one has to believe is that they are historically reliable.

        Their central message is that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the promises of the Scriptures (aka the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible) regarding a Messiah and an eternal kingdom.

        Once you acknowledge the central message, it becomes relatively easy to recognize that the apostles are writing in the same way as did the prophets before them. That is, the same spirit animates both testaments.

  • I smell the distinct burning of straw… sniff… sniff.

  • Aceofspades25

    Hi James.. One of the best tools to refute inerrancy is the bible itself. Perhaps read over a few of these ( when looking for something to write on next.

  • Assuming an orthodox Christology… all one has to say is that Christ did not utilize his divine nature in this situation, and he may have only used it a specific times. So according to his human nature Christ learned, but his divine nature he did not. I am not sure how this leads to a misreading. I can read this passage and affirm that Jesus learned. You may not like Chalcedonian Christology, but that doesn’t give you an excuse for interpreting it uncharitably. Your accusation that orthodox Christians are heretics is laughable… considering your Christology seems ( I know you could probably twist terms to make your position to appear orthodox) to be less than orthodox. I hear a pot calling the kettle black.

    • Hi Blake. I am not sure whom you were addressing. I for one was quite explicit that I was not addressing Chalcedonian orthodoxy but Apollinarianism. Unfortunately many people think they are orthodox when they aren’t, and that was really what I was getting at.

      Whether Jesus could have been fully human and yet have chosen at will to utilize it or not utilize it is a different but I think interesting question.

      And as for whether my Christology is orthodox, I am quite happy to say that it is not. I am not sure that the four famous “withouts” of Chalcedon even delineate a space within which a coherent Christology can be formulated. But that too is a different question. My point here was that there are Christians who consider themselves defenders of the historic Christian faith, when in fact they have no real room for the genuine humanity of Jesus, something that the Chalcedonian statement emphatically affirms.

  • Huh, I never heard of Apollinarianism before – going to have to do some more research. Thanks for the article.

    • Dr. david Tee

      According to Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez Apollinarianism believes that jesus was human in body only. That is what Dr. McGrath likes to accuse believers of being when they disagree with his lack of divinity idea for Jesus. He distorts what other people believe and accept to avoid the truth of the Bible.
      Yje problem for Dr. McGrtah is that the Bible doesn’t tell us what questions Jesus asked so he fills in the gapo with his own ideas. He wants Jesus to be asking the same questions as himself. As I pointed out, the passage that Dr. McGrath used in his point omited one very big detail–Jesus said ‘why did you look for me, didn’t you know I woul dbe in my Father’s house?”
      This tells us that Jesus was not only human but divine as well and knew full well who He was, where He came from and that He was present at creation. Other passages of scripture also point to this fact but Dr. McGrath in his haste to change Jesus into what he wants Him to be fails to address the whole picture and fails to present it. He only presents what he wants and that is wrong.

  • Dr. David Tee

    You read so much into what people write and claim they believe or said something they did not. You also put into Jesus’ actions your own ideas.The Bible does NOT say He was ‘learning’ and there are different types of questions one can ask. Your assumptions undo your point of view.
    I noticed you ignored one particular scripture verse which states: Why were you searching for me? he asked, Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’
    He was well aware of who he was and wasn’t pretending anything. You continue to falsely accuse people of things they ar enot guilty and the only reason that can be is for you to justify your pursuit of heresy, to teach heresy, and to avoid the truth at all costs.
    You ignore so much of what the Bible says about Jesus as later in His life Jesus said ‘Before Abraham was I am. You do not understand the Bible because you do not want what it teaches. The Bible is inerrant and that is not raising the Bible up it is stating a fact.

  • Curious. Is not our good professor himself twisting the scriptures to make it support his own view of what he wants Christianity to be? Luke does not say, contrary to the claim in the above post, that anyone was impressed by Jesus “listening”.

    They were not simply “impressed” by Jesus — to suggest that this is all they felt is another twisting of the scriptures — but were “amazed” ( at his “understanding” and “answers”. Let’s not twist the scriptures and pretend they say something else.

    The reader sees the same scene reiterated at the end of the gospel, with Jesus again in the Temple asking questions and giving answers that caused them to “marvel” — Luke 20.

    Both scenes in the temple, Jesus as a boy and later as an adult, convey the image of one filled with astonishing wisdom. If some Christians like to take this as licence to pretend they have the same wisdom, they will not be stopped by liberal theologians twisting the scriptures to serve their own ideological agendas.