This week's question deals with the life of Christ. The only problem is it deals with a part of Christ's life of which we know nothing. The question: "What did Jesus do between the ages of 12 (when he was a child in the temple) and 'about 30' when he began his public ministry?"
The best answer to that question is this: We don't know. The Bible is silent about this period of Jesus' life and there are no outside sources to help.
But a lack of information in scripture has never stopped scholars from theorizing, especially when there is internal evidence, that is, evidence we can deduce from the literature itself, to support a pet theory. So, here are three theories I have encountered in my studies.
The first theory is generally considered the most likely by orthodox Christianity. This theory suggests Jesus remained in his father's (Joseph's) home and learned the family business. This was the most common path for Jewish lads to follow. In Jesus' case, it would mean he worked in his father's shop as an apprentice until he fully learned the trade. This trade is commonly been held to be carpentry, but was more likely stone cutting and building (the Greek text supports this point). In any event, according to this theory Jesus would have worked in the family trade until he was about 30 (Luke 3.23) and then set out in his ministry.
"But," say scholars, "his education would have been severely limited if he remained in Nazareth. Surely, he got his education from somewhere else; and it must have been somewhere radical, because of his radical interpretation of scripture."
Thus we have theories number two and three.
The second theory suggests Jesus joined the Essenes in the Dead Sea area as a monk or separatist. This notion follows the widely-held theory that John the Baptizer was one of the Essenes and that Jesus followed his cousin to the Dead Sea caves to study with him.
Just who were the Essenes? They were, for all practical purposes, the Pharisee's Pharisee. They believed to be holy they had to be separated from the unholy. They held that the regular Pharisees didn't go far enough in their righteousness, so they left Jerusalem and civilization to study scripture and live the separatist life in the wilderness. It is from this company that we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, for they were prolific copiests.
According to some, Jesus' association with this group would be where he gleaned his distaste for the behaviors of the Pharisees who remained within society. It may also be from these that he and John the Baptizer adopted the rite of baptism.
Then there is theory number three. This notion doesn't get much support from orthodoxy, but it has a strong band of supporters. These claim that Jesus went to India or elsewhere in the Near East and studied Buddhism.
How in the world is this theory supported? Because much of Jesus' radical teaching, and many of his proverbs and sayingsincluding those in the Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical collection of sayings attributed to Jesuscan be found in Buddhist writings that predate Jesus and his ministry. Indeed, supporters of this theory point out that the underlying philosophy behind Jesus' teachings is parallel to Buddhism. These parallel issues include the kingdom of God being a present reality and oneness with God. In any case, the theory suggests that following his studies with the Buddhists, Jesus returned to teach his radical philosophy of a self-giving life to Israel.
So here are three current theories as to what Jesus did during that 18 years or so between his temple visit as a child and the beginning of his public ministry. Which one is the historical reality? We will likely never know because it wasn't deemed important enough to record by those who knew Jesus best. Perhaps we too must be satisfied with this.