“Ask a Priest: Why Is the Bible Silent on Jesus’ Early Manhood?”

Q: Why were the accounts of Jesus after age 12 not recorded or revealed to the public? Someone told me that it’s not important and was uneventful. I know Christ gave us everything we needed when he began preaching and performing miracles. Even so, Jesus is one in being with God, so wouldn’t even the smallest, most uneventful thing still be somewhat important — or at least give us a better understanding of Our Lord? He was, after all, astonishing the doctors in the Temple with his knowledge at the age of 12. It would seem we could have learned much from Jesus during those missing 18 years before his public ministry. What are your thoughts? – F.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Thanks for your note. At first glance it does seem unusual that there is that biblical “gap” in the account of the life of Christ.

You touched on part of the answer, however. God gave us what we needed to have included in Scripture, no more, no less. We, of course, don’t rely solely on Scripture for our faith. We also rely on Sacred Tradition, the oral teaching of Jesus that was passed down through the apostles. Without Tradition we wouldn’t have had Scripture. But back to your question. 

Perhaps the “gap” was to emphasize how hidden a life Jesus led. The Catechism dedicates a few numbers to this very topic. Permit me to quote them in full:

The mysteries of Jesus’ hidden life

531 During the greater part of his life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the law of God, a life in the community. From this whole period it is revealed to us that Jesus was “obedient” to his parents and that he “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”

532 Jesus’ obedience to his mother and legal father fulfills the fourth commandment perfectly and was the temporal image of his filial obedience to his Father in heaven. The everyday obedience of Jesus to Joseph and Mary both announced and anticipated the obedience of Holy Thursday: “Not my will…” The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of his hidden life was already inaugurating his work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.

533 The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life: The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus — the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us … A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character… A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the “Carpenter’s Son”, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work… To conclude, I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern their brother who is God.

534 The finding of Jesus in the temple is the only event that breaks the silence of the Gospels about the hidden years of Jesus. Here Jesus lets us catch a glimpse of the mystery of his total consecration to a mission that flows from his divine sonship: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s work?” Mary and Joseph did not understand these words, but they accepted them in faith. Mary “kept all these things in her heart” during the years Jesus remained hidden in the silence of an ordinary life. [end quoted material]

So there you have it. In its own way, the silence of Scripture on Jesus’ hidden life is meant to speak volumes.

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