Christ and the Doctors

The 12-year-old Jesus reveals his divinity for the first time at the Temple of Jerusalem.

Jesus Among the Doctors, by Albrecht Dürer, 1506, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Bridgeman Images.

The only biblical account of an event in Christ’s youth is found in St Luke’s Gospel. Aged 12, he accompanied his parents, Mary and Joseph, to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When his parents set out to return home to Nazareth, the boy lingered behind. Mary and Joseph, in a state of panic, looked for him among their friends and relatives, but he was nowhere to be seen. Only after three days did they discover his whereabouts, in the Temple of Jerusalem where he was in discussion with teachers who were astonished by his erudition and insight. Mary, relieved, but no doubt also angry, questioned him:

Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously.

His response was enigmatic: 

Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?

The father he referred to was not Joseph, but God. He had not spoken of his heavenly father before and, therefore, this marks the first time that Christ acknowledged his own divinity.

Albrecht Dürer’s depiction of the episode, dark and claustrophobic, with no details of the Temple itself, contrasts the cherubic Christ with the grizzled, somewhat grotesque appearances of the elders. Hands, always a speciality of the great Nuremberg draughtsman, are to the fore, as are books, though the divine Christ has no need of them. All his knowledge comes directly from God.