I love my Sunday school class. Not only did they enthusiastically opt for a study of women in the Gospels in conjunction with me working to put the finishing touches on my book, What Jesus Learned From Women, and not only have some of them volunteered to read a draft of the manuscript and provide feedback, but they continue to help me learn as well.
We began by tackling the preliminary topic of Jesus learning, regardless of whether it was from women, men, or even on his own. For some people that idea is a non-starter because of their commitment to the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. How could God learn?!
I drew attention to the fact that Luke 2:46-47 depicts Jesus in the Temple at age 12 listening to teachers and asking questions, as well as answering them when they asked him things. Yet in most cinematic depictions of the scene, Jesus has switched from the role of exceptional student which Luke depicts, to the role of teacher. Here are two examples, one classic and one recent.
The reason for the shift, as I indicated, are theological commitments. In my Sunday school class I noted that the church defined orthodoxy in paradoxical terms, affirming that Jesus was fully human and at the same time fully divine. Not all of us, being Baptists, will necessarily feel obliged to even try to affirm the classic creeds. But even among those who do, there is a tendency to affirm both in theory, but in practice to sacrifice anything that makes one human if it seems to be in tension with divinity.
As we dug deeper into the history of the church’s varied thinking on this topic, I mentioned the apocryphal Gospels which have Jesus speak as a newborn or put his earliest teachers to shame by showing up their ignorance compared to his knowledge and wisdom. Most Christians today wouldn’t go so far as to have him speak as a newborn, and I thought that worth reflecting on further. Most would acknowledge that a newborn’s vocal cords are simply not developed to the point at which speech would be possible, and for that reason alone it would be wrong to imagine Jesus speaking. Why, I asked, are we willing to accept the development of Jesus’ vocal cords, his increase in size, and other aspects of biological development, but not the development of his brain?
Luke goes on to say in 2:52 that Jesus grew in wisdom. That seems to me the clincher verse with respect to this broad topic. Growth in wisdom implies learning. We noted that it doesn’t highlight knowledge as the area of growth, but wisdom, and as I looked into the nuances of meaning for them, I noticed something about the word that sits alongside it in the same verse. The Greek word ἡλικίᾳ used in Luke 2:52 is most often translated “stature.” That’s definitely its connotation in the other occurrence in Luke 19:3 where it explains why Zacchaeus climbed a tree in the hope of seeing Jesus. It is also sometimes translated in a way that makes it refer to Jesus increasing in years. Those two possibilities are why different translations have rendered Jesus’ saying about worrying not being able to add a cubit to their lifespan/height in those starkly different ways. But the Logos Bible app kindly drew another possible meaning to my attention, one that I’ve never heard proposed in discussions of Luke 2:52. The word can also denote maturity. In the context that seems like it ought to be the first of the various shades of meaning that comes to mind. Which sounds most natural – to mention growing in “wisdom and height,” “wisdom and years,” or “wisdom and maturity”? Isn’t it obviously the latter? The only reason this rendering isn’t used or even discussed is surely an unwillingness to wrestle with the implications of an immature Jesus.
See more about the meaning of the word ἡλικίᾳ in the Liddell and Scott Lexicon. I look forward to exploring this topic further in my Sunday school class. Next week we’ll begin looking at the woman who is also the focus of the first chapter in my book: Mary, Jesus’ mother, the person from whom no one can seriously deny that Jesus must have learned without also denying in the process that Jesus was a human being in any meaningful sense.
On an almost completely unrelated topic, as a result of looking for movie clips and images to accompany this post, I discovered that there is a band called Young Jesus: