Aside from Jesus’ birth accounts and his trip to Jerusalem at age twelve, these are the only records we have of his early childhood and youth. Why? Why didn’t the apostles record anything for us about how he grew up? Wouldn’t this also be of use to us, if we are supposed to follow his example? Well, actually, the accounts of the early years of Jesus are in perfect harmony with similar accounts of people of the Old Testament like Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David. Aside from a few snapshots of their lives as babes or their youth, we have nothing concerning them either!
The 2nd and 3rd century AD Gnostic accounts of Jesus’ youth, on the other hand, stand in contrast to the sketchy highlights we have in the Scriptures. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, for example, records several fantastic and imaginative stories about Jesus’ early life. On one occasion Jesus is seen to have carved twelve birds out of clay, but when he was accused of doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath, he clapped his hands, saying “Be gone!” Immediately, the birds changed to flesh and flew off! On another occasion Jesus became irritated with a boy who bumped his shoulder as he ran. Jesus retorted, “You shall go no further on your way.” Immediately, the boy fell down dead. What can we make of such stories? Certainly they are quite different from anything found in our Bible—Old or New Testaments. There are also many contradictions between Gnostic accounts of Jesus’ life and our Scriptures—of both recorded events and the purpose of Jesus’ coming.
There is a subtle uniqueness of Jesus, the Son of God, found in the Scriptures, but in the Gnostic accounts the desire to express Jesus as God is greatly overplayed. There is very little evidence of any connection with Jewish culture in these accounts. On the other hand the narrative of Jesus at age 12 is almost certainly a Greek translation of a Jewish account of Jesus’ life, and the source would most likely be Mary, Jesus’ mother.
The Qur’an (Koran), written centuries after the New Testament accounts, also speaks of Jesus, acknowledging his virgin birth by the Holy Spirit, but denying his deity. It tells us that the babe didn’t require any teaching but had access to all knowledge in contrast with Luke 2:52. Indeed it also refers Jesus molding a bird of clay (Sura 3:49), possibly retrieving it from the similar account in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Yet, Islam rejects the teaching that God became man!
As we consider these stories of Jesus’ early life we are reminded of the high premium Luke placed upon eyewitness confirmation (Luke 1:1-4). Our Gospel narratives are far more reserved in their testimony of Jesus’ early life when compared with the Qur’an and the Gnostic legends, neither of which seem to be interested in eyewitness testimony. So, why don’t we have more accounts of Jesus’ youth? It seems what was truly important is that which pertains to his public life. What we have that breaks the silence between his birth and public life is better than all the stories found elsewhere, for who knows where those contradictory legends come from?