One of the (many) things that I love doing as a pastor is fielding some of the various theological questions I get. As someone who cares a lot about helping build and reinforce foundations of the Christian faith, and helping form people theologically, these sorts of interactions provide a fun - and important - opportunity.
Last week, a question about one part of the recent Young Messiah movie came through my inbox. I've not seen the movie myself and so I don't first-hand experience with the scene that was described (there's my disclaimer!). Nevertheless, let me paraphrase/summarize the question that came my way, and then include the way I responded.
Here's the question I got: I understand that the Young Messiah is fictional, and that there's no scriptural support for much of Jesus' life before His public ministry. Nevertheless, I have a question about one of the scenes. The movie portrays Jesus as unaware (or at least unsure) of his divinity when he's young - about age 7. In fact, the climactic moment of the movie portrays Mary telling Jesus the story of his conception and birth after having withheld the information for his own protection up to that point. A few questions came to mind after watching that scene. How could Jesus have ever been unaware of his deity if he was "wholly God?" On the other hand, how could he have possessed such sophisticated self-awareness from birth if he was "wholly human?" One movie is not a big deal but I am curious as to whether there is a reliable answer to this question?
Here's my response (in a very-slightly-edited form):
Good question! You're right - the New Testament is fairly silent on Jesus' growing-up years. There's some stuff we just won't (and can't) know, because God has chosen not to reveal it in Scripture.
However, a few lines of reasoning cause me to (seriously) doubt a scenario where Jesus is portrayed as being unaware/unsure of his divinity until Mary reveals it to him. I'll mention two of these lines of reasoning here:
First, and most significantly to me, we read something about Jesus' boyhood in Luke 2:41-52. This clear biblical evidence should always be the place we start.
Here's a summary of the story we read about in Luke 2:41-52. (Though I encourage you to pause before moving on and read the story here - it's not long.) Jesus' family is in Jerusalem, and when Jesus' family returns home Jesus stays back in the temple interacting with some of the teachers there. Mary and Joseph finally realize He's missing and go back and find Him. When they find Him, Mary seems to gently scold him (v. 48), to which Jesus responds: "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (v. 49). And then - very significantly - v. 50 says "But they [presumably including both Joseph and Mary, along with whoever else] did not understand what he was saying to them."
Admittedly, this story happens when Jesus is 12 (v. 42) - after the supposed "revealing" at age 7, suggested in the Young Messiah movie. Nevertheless, if Mary was so aware of Jesus' divinity, why was she confused at Jesus' statement that he had to be in his Father's [i.e., his Heavenly Father's] home? The picture we get here is that Mary is confused about Jesus' identity and He's aware of it. (At a couple other places in the gospels, we see a similar confusion in Mary on exactly what Jesus' divinity [and His mission] all entails - cf, for e.g., Mark 3:31-35; John 2:1-4.) I have a tough time seeing how this would be the case if - earlier in Jesus' life - Mary had been the one to disclose Jesus' divine identity to Him.
Second, I'm not sure if the Young Messiah scene depicts the mystery of "two natures in one person" accurately. This is one of those places we can rely on careful thinking in the early church to help us.
In the 5th century at the Council of Chalcedon, the church formalized an orthodox understanding of how Jesus could be 100% human and 100% God - both at the same time in one person. The language the Chalcedonian Definition uses is this (this is an excerpt from a larger statement):
The person of Christ is to "be be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.. (bold emphasis added).
This won't answer every question about how Jesus is fully man and fully God, both at the same time. The thing to draw out of this statement, however, is that an orthodox understanding of Christ's person maintains the "property of each nature (divine and human) is preserved" and that these natures come together in the person of Christ "inconfusedly" and "unchangeably." How this translates into what boy Jesus knew I don't fully know - I'm content to cordon some of that to the area of mystery - but I think we have to admit that somehow, even as Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) He somehow maintained His full identity as deity - even if aspects of this deity could have been consciously restrained by Jesus. In other words, I don't think an understanding of Jesus' deity as "dormant" (or understanding that suggests He was unaware of His deity) jives with how the Chalcedonian Definition reads.
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