The Religion Guy is taking time off to celebrate Christmas so with slight changes posts this "Q & A" from December, 2013. MARY (appropriate name for this item) ASKS: Did the infant Jesus cry?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
Good one. A beloved Christmas carol says “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” which would have been a tiny miracle. But newborn reality — and Christian doctrine — are better expressed by Jesus’ “tears” in “Once in Royal David’s City.” This charming children’s carol always begins the majestic “Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols” in King’s College Chapel at Britain’s Cambridge University, sung by a choir of men and boys. As always, this service will be heard live at 10 a.m. (Eastern) Christmas Eve over U.S. public radio stations and internationally on the BBC. Cecil Alexander’s words:
For He is our childhood’s pattern; / Day by day, like us, He grew. / He was little, weak, and helpless; / Tears and smiles, like us, he knew. / And he feeleth for our sadness, / And He shareth in our gladness. . .
The New Testament Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, which provide the earliest accounts of Jesus’ birth, tell us nothing about what his infancy or childhood were like, except for the incident of teaching in the Jerusalem Temple at age 12. But if pondered in terms of what Christianity has always believed, there’s every reason to assume the Babe of Bethlehem cried just like all other infants, and for the same physiological and emotional reasons.
That’s a solid inference from the faith’s central and mysterious belief that Jesus was God incarnate and at the same time fully a human being (“yet without sin”). The New Testament reports that just like everyone else the adult Jesus could be tired, hungry and perturbed, and experienced pain, grief and death.
In other words, truly and fully human, not inhuman.
The 1st Century New Testament began the process of defining Jesus’ two natures, divine and human. For instance: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). And “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The ancient church’s Nicene Creed, recited by modern multitudes each Sunday, states that Jesus was “true God of true God” who “for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Many favorite Christmas carols profess this.
One gets the impression that early Christianity had more trouble convincing people that Jesus was fully human than that he was fully divine. This is evident in the “pseudepigrapha” that some liberal scholars emphasize instead of focusing just on the four New Testament Gospels that the early church judged to be authentic and worthy of scriptural status. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John originated much earlier than such non-biblical writings.
One major heresy that developed in the 2nd Century was “Docetism,” whose varied versions essentially denied the reality of Christ’s incarnation, making him into a divinity who only appeared to be human. Many Docetists and “Gnostics” felt the world and the flesh were too corrupt to be fit vessels for divinity, and abhorred the thought that the Son of God would suffer and die.
Another attitude is found in the late and fraudulent “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (not to be confused with the “Gospel of Thomas,” which experts think might contain some authentic verses). Its imaginary Jesus is more or less human but exercises superhuman powers at a remarkably early age.
The text claims that as a mere tot (not age 12) he taught his elders, miraculously removed pollution from pools of water, performed healings, and raised the dead. He’s also a creep who’s said to petulantly curse a boy who then “withered up,” ordered death for another lad who accidently bumped into him, and afflicts neighbors with blindness for no good reason! Not the stuff of Christmas carols.
On the less grotesque side, the young Jesus of the “Infancy Gospel” magically turns clay into living birds. Islam’s Quran, which rejects Jesus’ divinity, repeated this story centuries later (verse 3:49). The Quran also states that Jesus “shall speak to people from the cradle” (3:46).
The “Infancy Gospel” is known from the oldest surviving manuscript that survived. It dates from the 6th Century A.D., though its existence was noted by a church historian from around A.D. 185.