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. The clearest indication that Jesus’ knowledge was limited are the references to him being “amazed”

    Luke 7:9

    When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

    How do you amaze an “all-knowing” being?

    • Patrick Lynch says

      Amazement is a sentiment, a feeling. We believe Jesus had feelings, and humans express feelings with expressions, so why should we be see a contradiction in that his feelings matched his expressions on earth?

      God gets angry, has pity, gets amazed, is bereaved, etc. All that in the stories preceded a God who walked around with us in the Gospels.

      No contradiction I can see.

      • Amazement is a feeling we have when something unexpected….something unforeseen….something outside of our frame of reference happens.

        If Jesus was amazed…..it could only be that he didn’t anticipate or expect the strength of this man’s faith.

        How is that different from saying that his human knowledge was limited….that his omniscience was not in operation in the incarnation?

        • Well if you want to be picky about it, using the word “amazed” there was an editor’s choice. The Greek word used in Luke 7:9 also is translated as “marvel,” “admire,” and “wonder” so it doesn’t necessarily have the implications you might think it does if you looked only at the NIV.

      • How can you communicate with human beings if you do not speak in ways they will understand? What’s more effective for what Christ is trying to say here, “I’m amazed” or “you’re to the right side of the bell curve.” They understand these sentiments and feelings and what they, really, mean. Let’s face it, you may be amazed at something you saw, but what are you really saying when you say you’re amazed, I mean, to the other person. You’re saying “this is exceptional,” and what you see is either beautiful or, in some rare cases, terrifying. In China, when someone thanks you for a gift or compliment, they say “I’m embarassed.” Not because they are actually embarassed necessarily but because they want to tell you how gracious you’ve been. Same with Christ, and being the Son of Man.

        • So what’s your point exactly?

          Are you contending that Jesus was unable to be surprised?

          That if you were playing hide and seek with him you wouldn’t be able to jump out and scare him before he saw you? Or that he already knew where you were anyway, but just let you think he couldn’t find you.

          What a boring childhood that would be! 😉

          Seriously though, I don’t see what the big deal is in saying he was “amazed”. It doesn’t take away from him.

  2. Heh, nothing like starting us off with the easy questions, hey, Michael?

    What did He know and how did He know it – that’s a tough one. If we’re talking about the miraculous healings (which in this context, I suspect we are), then I would say that in His human nature, He knew what the knowledge of His time was (e.g. the dead don’t come back, and as my confirmation patron told Him, “My brother has been three days in the grave so he’s going to stink like rotten meat, you know that, right?”)

    In His divine nature, He knew that blindness is not the result of your parents’ sins. I think He tempered it to what we could accept. Now, if we’re going to argue that ‘were all the alleged possessed actually possessed by demons or were they all epileptics, schizoid, etc.’? then we have to say we don’t know.

    We. Don’t. Know. Just as the previous generations were honestly mistaken in attributing all disease both physical and mental to sin and demons, so we can be honestly mistaken in attributing all recorded instances to “simply” being mental illness and the prejudice of the times.

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

    Is this a trick to see if you can get us to argue about *anything*? :=)

    • This reminds me of the complete shock and horror when the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais exhibited his picture entitled “Christ in the House of His Parents”.

      The realism of the setting and the treatment of the characters was totally unfamiliar and garnered some extremely severe reviews, from Charles Dickens amongst others – he really went to town on the picture:

      “You behold the interior of a carpenter’s shop. In the foreground of that carpenter’s shop is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand, from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness, that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest ginshop in England. Two almost naked carpenters, master and journeyman, worthy companions of this agreeable female, are working at their trade; a boy, with some small flavor of humanity in him, is entering with a vessel of water; and nobody is paying any attention to a snuffy old woman who seems to have mistaken that shop for the tobacconist’s next door, and to be hopelessly waiting at the counter to be served with half an ounce of her favourite mixture. Wherever it is possible to express ugliness of feature, limb, or attitude, you have it expressed. Such men as the carpenters might be undressed in any hospital where dirty drunkards, in a high state of varicose veins, are received. Their very toes have walked out of Saint Giles’s.

      This, in the nineteenth century, and in the eighty-second year of the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Art, is the Pre-Raphael representation to us, Ladies and Gentlemen, of the most solemn passage which our minds can ever approach. This, in the nineteenth century, and in the eighty-second year of the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Art, is what Pre-Raphael Art can do to render reverence and homage to the faith in which we live and die! Consider this picture well. Consider the pleasure we should have in a similar Pre-Raphael rendering of a favourite horse, or dog, or cat; and, coming fresh from a pretty considerable turmoil about “desecration” in connexion with the National Post Office, let us extol this great achievement, and commend the National Academy!”

      If you want to see this horrible travesty of the sacred story for yourself, here’s a link:


      • My goodness, Martha! I don’t think that painting is anywhere near the horrible thing Dickens thinks is. I kind of like it.

      • I find it strange that Jesus is depicted at that age with the stigmata. I find it easier (even as an Evangelical) to believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary than that Jesus displayed the stigmata before the crucifixion.

        Everything else that distinguishes this painting from a photograph is either (a) cultural (the way they painted back then) or (b) reflective of the fact that few painters ever managed to paint truly realistic looking human bodies.

        This is also, btw, a rather modern looking carpenter’s workbench — reasonably sure they didn’t have these in first century Galilee.

        • No, it’s not the stigmata per se; it’s a wound in His hand (maybe from injuring Himself with Joseph’s tools, or a grazed palm from a fall, or the normal childhood rough and tumble) that foreshadows the later piercing of His hands by the nails.

          It’s symbolic, like the icons that show the angels bearing the instruments of the Passion appearing to the infant Jesus who turns to His mother (I forget the name, but it’s the one where the sandal is falling off His foot – my Orthodox brethren will identify it immediately!) or the paintings of the Madonna and Child where the body of the sleeping infant Christ is correlated with how His dead body will lie in His mother’s arms.

      • Thanks for bringing that painting to our attention. I’d never seen it before. I would be proud to hang something like that in my house. Jesus was God in the flesh. And both being God and being in (human) flesh are parts of the equation. How that worked? I don’t know. I think that is part of the mystery – but it’s fun to contemplate!

        • *grins*

          I’m glad my little Pre-Raphaelite obsession is of some benefit to people. I imagine everyone knows the painting by William Holman Hunt, another of the PRB, entitled “The Light of the World”:


          This was so incredibly popular that he painted three versions of it and they went on tour around the world:

          “When the painting went on exhibition in 1853 it was harshly criticized initially as having suspiciously Catholic leanings, and once again Ruskin came to his rescue via The Times with a letter explaining its symbolism. Curiosity about the painting reached such a pitch that it went on a national tour. The Light of the World became so popular that Hunt was asked to paint a larger copy, which he did with an assistant’s help (1900-04); this then toured the colonies until it finally came back to England, when it was presented to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London”.

    • Ever read one of the Infancy Gospels, in which Joseph made a couch wrong, so Jesus miraculously stretched a board until it fit? That’s the sort of magic-not-miracles sort of thinking a lot of folks have about how Jesus did what He does.

  4. Haven’t read them myself, but they’ve gotten good reviews that I’ve seen, so anyone could try the “Christ the Lord” books (Out of Egypt, dealing with the infancy and childhood of Our Lord and The Road to Cana, dealing with up to the beginning of the public ministry). This is not by any means intended asa recommendation for theology, but as an imaginative attempt to deal with the question.

    Warning for the Truly Righteously Reformed and Biblical: she’s come back to the Catholic faith, so she accepts the perpetual virginity of Mary amongst other things and uses the Golden Legend and other pious mythographia like the apocrypha for background.

    Huh – having written vampire homoeroticism and BDSM novels, she kinda would have to be Catholic, wouldn’t she? 😉

    • Argh. Forgot to mention the author of the above – yes, I am too smrt!

      Anne Rice.

      Yes, the vampire novel Anne Rice. U haz bin warneded ! 🙂

    • And if you read her biography (Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession) of how/why she came (back) to the faith, and specifically the Catholic Faith, it seems to be largely emotionalism and kind of sappy stuff – in contrast to the afterword/epilogue to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, which seemed to present her conversion, or at least the impetus for writing her Christ books, as due to the reading and study of Biblical scholars (she mentions/lists a lot of names and books). Called Out of Darkness was a disappointment and only for those who like “chick flicks” and romance novels. 🙂

      • I’ve always had the impression that she is a very emotional person, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if her ‘spiritual autobiography’ is full of romanticism 🙂

        There’s room for both – the emotion and the scholarship. Lord knows, we see the rampant fluffy bunniness in much popular devotion (I’m thinking primarily statues of Our Lady, which can be the most saccharine thing you’ve ever seen outside of a Valentine’s Day card) that crested at a peak of florid 19th century over-the-topness and has since crashed exhausted on the barren sands of post-Vatican II liturgising.

        But hey – Catholic kitsch. We’ve had it around since forever 🙂

    • I’m reading Christ the Lord (Out of Egypt) right now–Interesting novel. I am not Roman Catholic, and I realize that it was written out of the Catholic tradition, but I think it is an honest attempt to reconcile the Son of Man with the Son of God. I also think it is unwise to build theology out of a work of fiction, be it The Shack or the works of C.S. Lewis.
      But then again, perhaps some of our most cherished theology probably includes some pretty creative fiction.

      • Patrick Lynch says

        Job is a book of fiction and a theological work

      • Yeah, there are huge opportunities for the language of myth to speak theology and Truth better than any other medium.

        “There are truths that are beyond us, transcendent truths, about beauty, truth [itself], honor, etc. There are truths that man knows exist, but they cannot be seen – they are immaterial, but no less real, to us. It is only through the language of myth that we can speak of these truths.”
        – J.R.R. Tolkien

  5. If we’re paying attention to the evidence of Jesus’ life – that should inform our ideas about incarnation shouldn’t it? Rather than being thoroughly modern creating an ontic definition that has no basis other than just our imaginations. Is being true to the Jesus of history important? It does kind of point to a larger question.

    • If by an “ontic definition” you mean a definition of the essence or nature of a thing then I can’t imagine anything less modern than that.

      Our understanding of the Incarnation begins here: “The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus is a divine person who suffered, etc.

  6. Larry Geiger says

    “In His divine nature, He knew that blindness is not the result of your parents’ sins.”
    Ah, no, that’s not true. Blindness can be a result of your parent’s sin. In the case cited, I believe it just meant that it was not the particular reason in this man’s case.

    Of course, it seems as if all blindness is the result of our parents (grandparents, great grandparents…Adam and Eve’s sins). Sin is so prevalent in our world, and God does not always tell us exactly which particular sin caused which consequence. We wouldn’t understand the explaination anyway.

    • Larry, if you mean the reason why newborn babies have their eyes washed with silver nitrate (or rather, did have, since I think more modern methods are used now), sure. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a discovery of the 19th century and all the babies who were infected with the bacteria that cause gonorrhea when passing through the birth canal because their mothers had been infected by fathers who consorted with prostitutes. It was discovered that eyedrops of a silver nitrate solution in the eyes of newborns prevented the infection which led to serious eye disease and even blindness, and countries reacted to this by making it law that all babies should be so treated.

      I’m kind of surprised I know this, but then again, I read a *lot* of 19th century fiction and background on it 🙂

      But in the wider sense of “Well, you went blind when you were two, so this is obviously a sign of God’s displeasure, and since a two year old can’t do that much to tick God off it must be your parents’ fault”, then no.

      • Larry Geiger says

        Yes Martha.
        The particular statement seemed all emcompassing, and I just wanted to note that it was possible to be blind as a consequence of a parent’s sin (consorting, etc).

  7. Wow, I gotta finish work and have a beer before I dive into this one.

  8. “Blindness can be a result of your parent’s sin.”

    Please explain……are you saying that it can be a result of parent’s sin….such as a consequence of driving drunk and wrecking the car with your child inside, blinding him.

    Or……are you saying God will strike children blind whose parents commit adultery, or lie, or steal, or gossip incessantly? If so…I think that idea needs to be rejected.

    • I’m not the person you initially replied to but this passage came to mind when I saw your comment.

      Exodus 20: 5-6 5 “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

      • Ezekiel 18:19 seems to cancel this out:

        19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

        And Jesus’ reply that the blind man was not blind as a result of sin, combined with his comment that people who were crushed by the Tower of Siloam were somehow more sinful and deserving of death than others, seems to show that that’s not the case.

      • “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

        I’ve always taken that to mean that our follies can echo down the generations, e.g. families where an abusive (physically, mentally, what have you) parent warps their children’s development who in turn have difficulties when raising their own children and so the problems go down the generations and you see the harm wreaked by selfishness and sin.

        The grandchild isn’t the one who drank the rent money, but yet he is paying for it.

  9. No. 4 is a trick question. Nothing in the bible about Jesus being a carpenter.

  10. I think Jesus’ brain developed the way any human brain develops and he learned more as it developed. I believe he would have used tools in his carpentry! He did have to study for tests. I’m not sure what he would have known about illnesses and the cosmos. I think he understood things about illnesses and the cosmos in a “big picture” kind of way. Like he understood from looking at people or being with people how they were suffering and he knew that the power of God’s love could “flow” from him to put everything in perfect order and health if the person desiring the healing was open to his doing that. I don’t think all of his questions were rhetorical. Jesus said he didn’t know everything because he didn’t know when the end of time would occur. Also, when he prayed to ask the Father to spare him the pain he was about to experience on the cross, he asked the Father IF it were possible, to take that “cup” away. So, he didn’t know if it was possible or not.

    So, Jesus was perfect in his love. He was limited in his knowledge of all things. I think the Father did things that way as a gift to Jesus. If Jesus was able to know all things the Father knew within his human brain, that information could have impeded his progress as a human being and it could have caused Jesus to experience even more pain than he was going to experience anyway. How many of us would really want to know all that is going to happen to us and everyone else in the world for all of time? We do not need that information to live lives of compassion and it is God’s gift to us that we are limited in our knowledge.

    For what it’s worth, that’s my very humble opinion.

    • I agree for the most part, but I think the Gethsemene experience was less about knowledge and more about willpower. Jesus knew he had to die. He’d already predicted his death several times and he was able to explain from the scriptures that the Son of Man must suffer and die.

      In the garden his human nature struggled against his divine destiny. He felt the way any human would feel about death on a cross and he didn’t want to do it. So he came to his Father and asked if there might be another way.

      In the end, since he was the Son of God his divine nature one out and he obeyed. It’s also cool because even the one who was perfectly obedient still struggled and still had to ask questions. To my mind it validates our human struggles. Even in perfect obedience we can still struggle and still ask questions.

    • Patrick Lynch says

      “He did have to study for tests. ”

      I bet Jesus was pretty smart – one of those people who don’t have to study very much to make connections. Certainly, nobody who met the guy thought he was stupid.

      • Yes, Patrick, I think Jesus was brilliant. People talk about his parables being so uniquely Jesus. I love his parables and find more and more in them as I get older. A good story is like that. It appeals on one level to people who are on that level and it has a different appeal to people as they mature in various ways.

  11. Well, there’s no doubt that Jesus wasn’t walking around with omniscience. (“As to dates, no one knows, not even the Son, only the Father.”) So then it’s a question of whether (i) there is some kind of reason for Jesus to only lay down this particular knowledge of dates of his return as an exception to what is otherwise something akin to omniscience, or whether (ii) Jesus had to walk by faith, not by sight as a general rule, who learned and who also heard various revelations from the Spirit as needed, like we do, only without ever blowing God off or missing his voice whenever it came. I tend toward the latter. Having experienced myself various instances of knowing facts about people by the Holy Spirit (like with the woman at the well), and having others do the same regarding me, or getting other divine leadings which so many in the Church can also attest, the stories of Jesus doing such things aren’t evidence in and of themselves to me of omniscience, only that (at least) the Spirit was giving him specific insights at specific times. Again, we see this not only in Jesus, but in prophetic gifts before and after him in the scriptures, and in many respected Christians today.

    But the core of it for me is that I believe that Jesus had to walk by faith to be truly human. On the flip side of that coin, I believe that God made sure that Jesus knew enough (even if he had to learn some of it as he lived in the flesh) to do what needed done and be completely worthy of our trust in all things he spoke about, including demons, money, human beings, etc.

  12. The Pentecostal point of view is that God emptied Himself in order to become human, and that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power. (Acts 10:38) The reason why we can do what He can do and more (John 14:12) is because His miracles weren’t performed through His divine nature; His divine nature has to do with His heritage and personality, not His physical abilities. His miracles were performed as a result of His absolute trust in and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

    You can’t pack omniscience into a kilo of brain. Jesus’s supernatural knowledge of one thing or another came from what the Spirit felt relevant to tell Him. Did Jesus know about the future? Not all of it. Did He need to? No. Did He trust the Father to keep the future well in hand, whether He knew what it consisted of or not? Absolutely. We sinners don’t trust the Father so much, which is why we find it hard to conceive that Jesus would so willingly give up power.

    • “The reason why we can do what He can do and more (John 14:12) …”

      But we can’t do what he could do, we can’t do anything close to what he did. No one has! I know Jesus said that we would do greater things that he, but this has never happened. I don’t like to call Jesus wrong, but it seems pretty obvious to me that his prophecy didn’t come true.

      • I agree with you, Tim. I read the words that Jesus said we will be able to do even greater things than he did and I wonder, “Where? When? Who?” Surely if it took great faith to do greater things, some of the people with great faith through the ages would have done greater things. I think the apostle Peter raised someone who had died and maybe Paul and the apostles also healed people according to Acts. And I think some healings go on to this day. But it still seems that no one has done greater things than Jesus. I don’t know what that would look like. I know some folks say that it means things like when people help to bring peace to a warring nation. Or people see a change in someone who seemed incorrigible.

    • I think your idea of “greater things” is bigger than Jesus was thinking when He said that. That prophecy was fulfilled within the pages of the bible.

      Peter got 3,000 converts at once; Jesus barely held on to 11. Peter was healing people with his shadow, and Paul was healing people with handkerchiefs. Paul preached the gospel to kings and the emperor, whereas Jesus never left the Middle East till He ascended.

      As to whether that stuff happens nowadays, of course it does. I can’t help it if you haven’t heard the testimonies. I understand being skeptical of some of them, ’cause sometimes charismatics can be naive and gullible. But not all of them are, and not every miracle story is an urban legend.

  13. It’s very important in my mind that Jesus didn’t “cheat”. He “played by our rules,” which is a rough paraphrase of “he was tempted in every way just as we are.” I think that he learned to speak, to walk, to be a builder, in the ordinary human way, not cheating, not faking.

    The reason I think it’s important is that if Jesus is the second Adam, the one who reveals the truth about what it means to be truly human, then he couldn’t make use of his divine “advantages”. I think it’s concordant with the way he is depicted (as has been mentioned) as amazed, surprised, asking genuine (not fake/rhetorical) questions.

    A further reason is in reaction to Christians who say, “I can’t be like Jesus. Sure, he forgave his enemies, but it was easy for him: he was God.” The implication is that Jesus had it easy, which lets us off the hook of any expectation of exhibiting a life like his.

    I think that (apart from his unique work of atonement and inaugurating the Kingdom) everything that Christ did (knowing things supernaturally, miracles, healing) is theoretically doable by any Christian (empowered by the Spirit). That helps me make sense of Jesus’ statement that his disciples would do greater things than he did.

  14. Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

  15. “For instance, did Jesus know that the sun did not orbit the earth?” Well Aristarchus was around ~300 years before Jesus. So that idea wouldn’t have been completely ahead of his time.

  16. Jesus of Nazareth: How He Understood His Life, by Raymund Schwager is a good fictional attempt to describe how Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding, and how He came to realize that He was The Son of Man. You’ll see Scriptures in a new light.

  17. The only thing that makes me think he did have more access to knowledge is the way the rabbis in the temple responded to him in Luke 2:39-52. The were “amazed” at his questions and responses. The thing that gets me is that he would likely have had very little “rabbinical” training and yet the rabbis were amazed at his understanding. I mean maybe Joseph and Mary had trained him deeply in the Scriptures but I would find this unlikely since he followed in his fathers footsteps as a carpenter.

    • I personally believe that Jesus spent a lot of time by himself studying the scriptures. I’m thinking of Isaiah here where it says that from the time when he’s old enough for baby food (curds and honey) he will know to forsake evil and choose good. I think he knew that it was good for him to study God’s word and obey it.

      I think in matters of ethics and understanding scripture, Jesus’ divine nature gave him the biggest advantage. Plus, I think most of us have a hard time understanding scripture because we don’t live it out. Jesus had the advantage of not sinning, so he understood the scriptures better than anyone (even without any special divine help he may have gotten).

      Also, in those days I suspect pious Jews (like Joseph and Mary probably were) probably memorized a lot of scripture. Literacy was rare and books were expensive. In oral transmission cultures people memorized a lot more. Even without formal training I think Jesus could have learned a lot of scripture.

      • ” I think he knew that it was good for him to study God’s word and obey it.”

        I agree, Jimmy. I believe the Father allowed Jesus’ mind to be enlightened to the point that when he read the scriptures, he fully understood them and fully understood his part in accomplishing all that God willed. He could have chosen NOT to do the will of the Father,but he chose to continue on the path that he knew would involve great pain before the great glory.

  18. Well, shoot… if we’re gonna recommend fictional accounts of Jesus’ life that try to deal with some of this, I’m gonna throw Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore (along with the usual caveats regarding the theology) into the mix.

  19. For those of you who think that this is a rediculous question, this lead of one of my classes in seminary this semester.

    I don’t think we can ever really know the answer to this either. However, I think that he probably understood, at some point in his life, that he was both messiah and divine. However, others would certainly disagree with me (e. g. NT Wright). So, to ask another question – “When did Jesus know he was divine?”

    But the real issue is, as Jonathon said, if Jesus was fully human and not omniscient, then the work he did was of the Spirit, and should be available to all Christians who live in the Spirit. Those are some big responsibilities to take!

  20. “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?”
    I think that the more important question is “was Jesus wrong in adopting the first century understanding of these things, and are we right in our modern understanding?” I think it is a fallacy today to believe that the material causal of an event, if present, trumps any other cause, and makes a belief in such a cause a definite mistake. This seems like a strong materialist bias that doesn’t allow room for any subtlety in the way that the spiritual realm interacts with the material. It might be true to say that a demon was the cause of a mental illness, and that the mental illness was caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry. Events always have multiple causes.

  21. Michael, have you read any of Dr Clark Pinnock’s work on Open Theism? Not to agree with everything he says, but could it relate to Christ’s divinity and the questions being asked here?

  22. I’d tend to agree that he was fully human in this respect. I think part of the meaning of incarnation is that Christ incarnate takes on some of the limitations of being one of us, thus the line telling us he was tempted in every way, just as we are, etc. However, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m comfortable with the mystery and the older I get the less things like this make me want to debate and the more they make me want to fall on my face in awe and wonder and worship before Him.

  23. Scott Miller says

    Great topic!
    Wow, these are the questions that I would expect most people to say are not allowed to be asked!
    iMonk, just when I think that you can’t possibly be more controversial, you blow my mind.

    Seriously though, the real question is #9. And it strikes to the heart of the all-God, all-man balance. Did Jesus know everything or only what his Father told him at the moment (like John above said about having the limitations of “being one of us”)? The Gospels seem divided. In John it says that “Jesus, knowing their hearts…”, but Mark and the rest seem to indicate that Jesus needed prayer to know that from God and it was more “being led” than knowing everything.
    But at the same time Jesus seems to remember Satan being cast down, etc, which would lend to a cosmic understanding.
    I would also expect Jesus to be puzzled by our questioning like this. Like “so what?” Does it really change anything? Does it change how he handled the demoniac or the sick? The only issue is if we try to diagnose the people in the Bible, especially the demoniac people, as having mental illness or Grand Mal epilepsy. Mainly because of OUR discomfort of attributing modern day mental illness to anything other than a biological cause. Then we reason that Jesus didn’t call out a demon, he just healed the guy’s mental illness. This makes Jesus more like a Christian Scientist.

  24. I think some related questions might be: If Jesus’ knowledge was limited to his particular time and environment, does that render his teachings questionable? In other words, could he have been wrong on the beautitudes and diagnosing illness as demonic possession? And just how pervasive would his errors be in the teachings of the disciples and the early traditions of the church?

    I almost want to paraphrase John Lennon, “We’re smarter than Jesus.”

  25. It doesn’t really honor Jesus’ humanity to imagine him as even more magical than Dumbledore.

    And at what point does denying Jesus the limitations of a real human being become Docetism, or at least a pseudo-Docetism where Jesus is human in some formal sense but not in a way that resembles the way humans actually live and know and feel?

  26. Dolan McKnight says

    I would suggest you read “Jesus’ Self Understanding.” It is on the web on the N. T. Wright page.

  27. In the Summa, P3, Q9, A4, St. Thomas answers the question “Whether Christ had any acquired knowledge?” by saying basically that Christ did learn things but he did so by discovery, not by being taught.

    • I like to think His awareness of Who He Was increased. There is record that He knew who He was at least from the time of getting lost and being found among the rabbis in the Temple. We do not have record in Scripture of His awareness prior to that time.

  28. What I like in these questions is that they point out that Jesus was incarnated, not God in disguise.

  29. Jesus was fully God and fully man, yet without sin. It’s all a mystery. Let’s leave it at that.

  30. The Bible clearly states that Jesus experienced everything that is common to man. Speaking as a craftsman and artist; yes that definitely means he had to measure things, learn his father’s trade, and do physical labor just like everyone else. Many people consider the idea that Jesus knew definitively that he’d be resurrected a form of cheating. That would certainly be cheap, but for my money having magic powers which got him out of the frustration of failed projects, missed measurements, and irritating customers is almost worse.

    And as to the Charles Dickens rant. It seems Mr. Dickens missed the verses where it is stated that Jesus looked nothing like what people would consider physically appealing. Can’t remember the specifics but I’m quite sure they’re in there.

    • As far as the resurrection goes I would say that Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him but I wouldn’t call it cheating, the fact that He was sinless means that the separation between God and man that sin brings did not exist for Him.

      Luke 9:28-31
      About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

  31. Do you think that not having a sin nature would have any effect on mental capacity? I have always thought that being a sinner clouds the mind and hinders the body in more ways than seem readily apparent. Not sure if that is a biblical line of reason though?

    • Absolutely. I remember a Baltimore Catechism question about how the mind was darkened and the will weakened by Original Sin. In more grown-up Catholic theological terms (I’m Catholic), at the Fall humans lost both the supernatural gift of grace (divine indwelling) and the preternatural gifts of angel-like intelligence, impassibility, immortality, and lack of concupiscence. I think that Genesis 3 describes how our first parents saw things in a new (although, not better) way after the Fall. From what I can tell, Catholic theologians argue about whether Jesus (and Mary, for that matter) enjoyed the preternatural gifts or not, but I don’t know of any official Catholic teaching on the subject.

  32. Oddly enough, question #4 is virtually the same as the one asked in Church Discipline’s blog on the same issue. Uncanny!

  33. Okay, since I haven’t yet quoted the Catechism, and what kind of fanatical, blindly obedient, zealous devotee of the Pope in Rome am I if I don’t spout the official line at all times? 😉

    “Christ’s soul and his human knowledge

    471 Apollinarius of Laodicaea asserted that in Christ the divine Word had replaced the soul or spirit. Against this error the Church confessed that the eternal Son also assumed a rational, human soul.

    472 This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man”, and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience. This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking “the form of a slave”.

    473 But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person. “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.” Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father. The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.

    474 By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.”

  34. Question:
    Why does one of the links/adds on your “Endorsements & Friends” section advertise Rosary?

    Kind Regards,


    • Patrick Lynch says

      Read the FAQ. Particularly, number 12.


      And if you want to talk about it, first read through the 200+ comments on Alan Creech from 6 months ago?

      Just helping out.

    • Shh, Matthew, you’re not supposed to draw attention to the infiltration of this soundly Protestant site by the insidious forces of the Scarlet Woman!

      Sheesh, next thing, they’ll be noticing the thumbscrews and racks, and then where will our plans for world domination be?

      • Thumbscrews and racks? I’ve said on here before that I’m descended from Quakers, so I’m still scared of the Puritans with nooses :).

        I’m sure Michael has some Anabaptist readers, so they’d better watch out too. The Martyrs Mirror doesn’t need any new pages.

        • Dave138, from the historical experience of my town, Puritans respond favorably to beer 😉

          When Oliver Cromwell entered Dungarvan in 1649, according to local history and folklore:

          “A woman named Mrs. Nagle, a native, came forward, and with amazing courage approached the conqueror, holding in her hand a flagon of beer. ” Here,” she said, ” is a health to the conqueror,” and, drinking to Cromwell, she proffered him a cup of the beverage. He was thirsty. He took it with avidity. He drank, and the liquor so pleased him, coupled with the gallant conduct of the woman, that he revoked the order for the massacre of the people. He also gave directions that the town should not be pillaged, and thus the brave act of this Dungarvan lady saved the old town and its people from destruction.

          That evening was a merry one in Dungarvan. Barrels of beer were brought forward, the soldiers drank lustily, and instead of carnage there was gaiety, for a feeling of relief had come to the people. We are not told of any subsequent serious happenings on the occasion. The Castle surrendered, and Cromwell took possession. He and his soldiers quartered there, and two days later a General in Cromwell’s army died in Church Street. The house where the death took place was kept by the daughter of the Rector. This lady, Mrs. Chaplain, circulated the story that the General, whose name was Jones, had been poisoned by Cromwell, as it seems there had been ill-feeling existing between them. The body of General Jones was brought across to Youghal for interment, and Cromwell, as if to avoid suspicion, wrote a letter of regret at his death. Still Mrs. Chaplain adhered to her story, and gave some particulars in support of her statement.”

          So ply any noose-bearing Puritans with beer, and as long as your name isn’t Jones, you should be okay 🙂

          • Matha, that Mrs. Nagle was a brave lady. Good thing Cromwell liked that beer. Can you imagine what happened if he took a drink, spit it out, and exclaimed, “Yuck! This tastes like skunk pi _ _!” (That’s what my hubby says about many beers he does not like.)

  35. L. Winthrop says

    A related question, but one which has nothing to do with omniscience, would be: Was Jesus affected by hormones such as adrenaline or testosterone, and did this affect his behavior in ways not of his own choosing? Most Christians accept that Christ experienced suffering, or even anger, but what about lust? (Setting aside the issue of how he responded to it.)

    • L Winthrop…I think the answer to your question about lust would depend upon what you mean by “lust.” I can’t remember if it was the Church Fathers or the New Testament that talks about Jesus being tempted by all things we are tempted by, but that he never sinned. So, it seems like he would be TEMPTED to lust, but did not lust, if we are referring to lust in a way that refers to people looking at other people in a way that objectifies the looked-upon person. But, I don’t think it would be a sin if Jesus met a woman who he could imagine marrying and having children with if he were not on the path he was obviously on. Perhaps at times Jesus wished he could be two people…one who was the Savior of the world and one who lived a long and happy family life on earth. But probably not. He was likely fully directed on the path he was on. “Daydreaming” probably wasn’t part of Jesus’ life. But hey, I really don’t know. Just thinking “out loud” here, kind of.

  36. The old Howard Baker Watergate questions, eh? I.e., “What did the Son of God know and when did He know it?”

    I knew I’d heard your questions somewhere before…. 🙂

  37. I read FAQ #12.

    Personally, I think that is absolutely ridiculous.

    In Him,


  38. This issue of “Kenotic Theology” can get rather tricky, indeed.
    If Jesus “poured Himself out…” too much, would he not have ceased maintaining a divine nature, obviating His dual nature of God and man (the Hypostatic Union).

  39. Fully God. Fully human. Hmm. I’m able to fathom one side of that mystery.

  40. Fully human. Not even Superman.

  41. well I am not going to go off the deep end by scripture quoting but common sense seems to dictate that if Jesus was to be a human like any other he would have to be raised as one. I would think that he would be given the knowledge of a human as was relative to the time he was living in. I believe that what is important is that God embellished on Jesus a heightened view of the spiritual realm. Spiritual intuition from God guided Jesus in his surroundings not some vast superior intellect (whether Jesus had one or not).

  42. I have a hard time believing that the Father just somehow “zapped” all this supernatural knowledge into Jesus’ head. I have a hard time believing that when he was working with Joseph or when He was studying the Scripture, He was just faking it. Also, it’s interesting that when He quotes Scripture, it’s pretty much always from the Septuagint. Why, if He was somehow supernaturally given the Scriptures in His head wouldn’t He quote from the original Hebrew? I think it’s because He learned like other Jewish men of His time – through diligent study. I actually think it’s quite dangerous to assume that Jesus didn’t struggle to learn and grow. To think that He didn’t makes Him somehow less than fully human.

  43. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    I think we need to remember that many of us are coming from an evangelical context, heirs of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy where one of the five fundamentals was the divinity of Jesus. This means that the theological tradition of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism is far more concerned with affirming the divinity of Jesus than the humanity.

    I’ve read the doctrinal statements of several Christian schools and churches that don’t even mention the humanity of Jesus. I’m not surprised. Most evangelicals are pretty much docetists. There’s almost an attitude of “If we admit Jesus was fully human, we might become liberals! ewwwww”

    So I would try to err on the side of full humanity in answering iMonk’s questions.

  44. The whole “natures of Christ” situation relies on greco-christian substance metaphysics fromt he first few centuries CE. Drop the outdated understanding of human beings and the “how can one thing be two things” debate largely disappears.

    This book has interesting discussion material on the first three cxenturies’ debate on this issue: http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=7832&edition_id=8371

  45. Donald Todd says

    The simplist answer is probably the best answer. Catholics and many Protestants recognize the hypostatic union, which is the formal name given to specific understanding. The hypostatic union is where the Second Person of God took human nature from His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Beginning at that point, we have One Person Who is both God and man, and fully God and fully man at the same time. One Person with two natures.

    The early Church had to deal with the issues of Jesus’ divinity and His humanity in working out the definition of Who Jesus is because there were questions and controversies that arose from attempts to make Jesus fit different conceptions.

    If you do aninternet search using “hypostatic union”, I saw an entry/article from a Protestant source citing Moody’s theology. The article includes a series of scripture cites which might aid the reader in understanding how the Church arrived at its position on the hypostatic union.



  46. I have recently come to suspect that I have always been a semi-Docetist – that I have regarded Jesus in his previous (not current) humanity as a sort of Superman, impervious to normal human travails, doubts and limitations. I believe it was either James Torrance or Karl Barth who said that Jesus did not redeem anything he did not assume. He redeemed the totality of the human condition.

    I am coming to an expanded view of Jesus’ life of faith and of his walking in the Holy Spirit that he must have lived during his time on this soil. Did he know the truth about himself during that time? In the sense that faith – in his case a profound faith – is the evidence of unseen things, he did. When did he know it in actuality? I don’t think it was until the moment of his death (or of his resurrection).

    This adds weight to Gal. 2:20. If the correct rendering is, as I think probable, faith “of,” rather than faith “in” Jesus, then my shaky, intermittent faith is subsumed in his, and my life in his.

  47. And just to throw an off-topic(?) log on this fire, here’s a link to an article in “The Washington Post” on the recent Vatican conference on astrobiology (who says Catholics don’t evangelize? we’re makng long-range plans to convert extra-terrestrials!) 😉


    Now, the bit I want to highlight (apart from the standard boiler-plate about Galileo and Bruno) is this:

    “I think the discovery of a second genesis would be of enormous spiritual significance,” says Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University who is speaking at the Vatican conference. He believes the potential challenge to Christianity in particular “is being downplayed” by religious leaders.

    “The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets.”

    Davies explained the tensions within the Catholic Church: “If you look back at the history of Christian debate on this, it divides into two camps. There are those that believe that it is human destiny to bring salvation to the aliens, and those who believe in multiple incarnations,” he said, referencing the belief that Christ could have appeared on other planets at other times. “The multiple incarnations is a heresy in Catholicism.” (As Giordano Bruno learned.)”

    Ummm – “the multiple incarnations is a heresy in Catholicism”? I have no idea what he’s wambling on about there; the nearest I can come to it is the condemnation of Nestorianism, or the notions about two separate persons in Christ – the human being who was the one who suffered and died on the cross, and the divine ‘tenant’ of the human body which slipped out before the suffering and dying part.

    But someone like St. Thomas Aquinas examined the question “Whether one Divine Person can assume two human natures?” and came to the conclusion that it was not absolutely impossible or beyond the bounds of reasonableness, so it could be that if there is other intelligent life out there, and if that life has fallen, and if incarnation is necessary to save them, and if the human incarnation on earth is not sufficient, then yes, a second incarnation as an alien could conceiveably be possible:


    Of course, this is brain-melting stuff and is really only in the realms of theologians having a wild time talking crazy stuff when they let their hair down and have a pint in hand, but since we’re talking about the effects of the human nature of Christ, imagine the effects if we had to talk about the Vulcan/Klingon/Martian nature as well! 😉

  48. I believe it was either James Torrance or Karl Barth who said that Jesus did not redeem anything he did not assume.

    Actually, that goes back as far as the Church Fathers. St. Gregory of Nazianus, one of the Cappadocian Fathers – i.e., Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea (330-379); Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa, bishop of Nyssa (c. 335-post 394); and a close friend, Gregory Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 330-c. 390) – is quoted as saying: “What is not assumed is not redeemed.”

    Some, though, attribute it as far back as Tertullian and Irenaeus.

  49. I started reading comments, but will admit to not reading them all. Has anyone mentioned the verse where Jesus, after being found by his parents in the temple at age 12, submitted to their authority and “increased in wisdom and stature?” If he increased in wisdom as he aged, then obviously he didn’t know everything to begin with. Now, at what point did he become smarter than the average bear? That is the question.

  50. As a mum, I wonder what a sinless toddler looked like. What happens with that classic developmental “no” stage? Does a sinless toddler throw a tantrum? I guess not….

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