January 21, 2021

What Did Jesus Know? (And How Does It Matter?)

soccerOnce again, Jesus is getting me in trouble. This time it’s over at the Boar’s Head, where a “discussion” on Jesus’ knowledge of medical conditions turned into real concerns that I am promoting a less than orthodox view of Jesus.

When I was in my Master’s program at seminary, I remember a full-on debate between one of our theology professors and a visiting big-dog regarding what scripture meant when it says “He emptied himself.” No one solved the question, but it left me with the clear impression that both sides had a strong case.

A bit of theological reading- even on the internets- will fully validate that observation. God became a man and in his human nature, Jesus was like us in every way, but without sin. But after that….it’s a free for all in regard to a whole basket of questions.

What kind of questions?

1. How did Jesus’ brain develop? Did the development of his brain impact his understanding of himself and his world?

2. Jesus lived in the social thought-world of the ancient near east. Did he transcend that thought world or did his incarnation place him completely in the boundaries of that thought world?

3. Did Jesus miss any questions on the test? Did he have to study?

4. Did Jesus use tools to measure in his carpentry work? Or did he just know what to do?

5. Did Jesus, in his incarnation, know things about biology, astronomy and cosmology that were completely ahead of his time? For instance, did Jesus know that the sun did not orbit the earth?

6. Did Jesus understand diseases and conditions from within the understanding of a first century man or did he know the actual medical/biological nature of diseases and conditions that were commonly blamed on demons or God’s punishment?

7. Did Jesus know about viruses and contagious disease? Did he know the nature of mental illnesses like schizophrenia? Did he understand brain tumors, etc? If so, did he explain these things or did he respond to them within a first century understanding?

8. Were Jesus questions real questions? Or were they all rhetorical?

9. If Jesus did not have exhaustive divine knowledge as a human being, does this impact our view of him as God incarnate?

10. If the Father reveals to Jesus some things that other men did not know, does this mean that Jesus had, available at any time, exhaustive knowledge of the future, science, geography, etc?


  1. Looking at the gospels, particularly John’s gospel, it seems to me that Jesus was living moment by moment on information and direction provided by the Father through the Holy Spirit — doing only what the Father told Him to do and saying only what the Father told Him to say. Completely human yet sinless, Jesus relied utterly on this line of communication and power from the Father. So, I think the answer to most of the questions you pose here, Michael, depend on whether or not the Father was bestowing absolute omniscience on Jesus while He was bound in mortal flesh. Just from scriptural evidence, I don’t think this was the case. I don’t think the Father burdened Jesus’s human brain with the movements and relative positions of every single particle in the universe or with every event, both big and small, that would occur throughout the course of human history. I think the Father gave Jesus all the information He needed to fullfill His mission and to pass on the information that He wanted to pass on to us. I believe Jesus was fully God during His earthly ministry in the sense that He fully reflected the nature and character of the Father. However, I don’t think that He was having to contemplate and monitor the movements of everything in the physical universe while He was taking an afternoon nap or conversing with His disciples. I suspect He was more than happy to leave all that up to His Father.

  2. Jenny, personally, I don’t think a toddler is capable of sinning. I know someone would want to pin me down on this and say, “What age, then?” I leave that to God to decide when someone is of an age to sin, except I will say, “Not toddlers.”

    • From my observations, toddlers sometimes commit acts which unambiguously qualify as sins. They premeditate the act and they cover it up afterwards, thus acknowledging that they understand the wrongness of the act.

      For instance, my daughter of 2 will sneak into the pantry, take a stack of graham crackers, hide behind the closet door and quietly eat them. All the marks of a sin! Theft, deceit, obstruction of justice, contempt for authority.

      Not much different than Eve’s apple, if you ask me.

  3. Great post, Michael. Worthy of a Facebook link to drive people to your website and generate controvers—er, conversation. 😉

    I do think this question about how human Jesus was should also be asked in regard to the Bible. I think we both agree that the Scriptures are God-breathed, but there may be a difference as to how we view the Bible as inspired and to what extent. (I’m a newcomer and thus unfamiliar with where you stand on most issues, although you’ve already made an impact on me with your definition of “post-evangelical.”)

    While I believe that the Bible is a reliable testimony to the work of God in the lives of men, I don’t desire to ascribe to the Scriptures what it was never intended to be, i.e., a textbook of infallible science and antediluvian history. The more I’ve dug into what the Bible meant to its original hearers and/or readers, the more I’ve drifted away from mechanical inspiration and “total inerrancy.” I’ve also begun to see the Bible as “incarnational,” that is, Christ-like: fully divine yet fully human. (Yes, I’ve read Peter Enns’ work.)

    While Christ possessed a fallible physical body (subject to the passage of time, hunger, pain, death, etc.) and limited intellect (there are a number of instances of this related in the Gospels that people have mentioned above), He also possessed a Spirit-filled will as a result of His divine nature and origin. I’m even inclined to recognize that Jesus (and Paul) as well possessed mistaken concepts of the cosmos and science, influenced heavily by his (their) Jewish heritage and Platonic philosophy. But that’s nothing to worry about. Indeed, it’s a natural expectation.

    Like Christ, the Bible possesses purely human qualities (ancient scientific concepts and etiological history), yet the Spirit also speaks through the fallible vessel it is to impart divine theological truths, which are infallible. Cannot Truth (with a capital “T”) be imparted through fallible vessels? Was Paul or Peter equally inspired in everything they said and did? The book of Acts and Paul’s letters (e.g., 1 Corinthians’ discussion of marriage) would declare otherwise. So why should the Bible be any different?

    We go through life every day, taking in information from non-divine sources that we deem reliable (or unreliable) to various degrees. We trust things in which, theologically speaking, we should have no business placing our trust, but we do; to do otherwise would be to cease living. (That is to say, we routinely trust and rely on demonstrably errant and fallible things and people.) As mature Christians, you and I have learned to adopt a continuously prayerful attitude, always listening to the whisper of the Spirit, and taking comfort that He is ultimately in charge. But is that whisper always the Spirit’s? Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” There is something to be recognized here: Sometimes, we misinterpret our own guidance for that of the Spirit’s. Therefore, are we not fallible vessels through whom the infallible Spirit speaks, both to others and ourselves, and which, at times, can be desperately wrong?

    So, where does that leave me? With a fallible book imparting infallible theological truths. My faith is all the more deeper and richer for recognizing this, and my faith is also more flexible, able to bend like a reed amidst life’s intellectual challenges. If anything, I could say that I have more faith than most. I don’t trust in the Bible because the Bible tells me to. I trust the Bible as a reliable source of moral guidance (2 Tim 3:16-17) because I’ve had an encounter with the living Christ. His Spirit led me from the brink of eternal death into eternal life, and to dismiss the Bible as theologically unreliable would be to quench the message which the Spirit continues to speak thousands of years after they were first written. Just because the Bible contains, from a modern scientific and historical perspective, inaccuracies, it does not mean that truth cannot be imparted through it, and infallible truth at that! The Bible IS alive, even within my paradigm.

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