The Young Messiah—Heresy or Homage?  

Posted by JC Lamont


The Young Messiah is an upcoming American biblical drama set to hit theaters in March 2016. The movie portrays a seven-year-old Jesus returning from Egypt to His hometown of Nazareth, and along the way discovers the truth about who He is. In a press release, Director Chis Nowrasteh stated, “[The] film seeks to present a realistic portrait of Jesus as a child both grounded in faith and consistent with the adult Jesus revealed in the Bible.” [1]

Reactions to the movie trailer [2] amongst Christians have been diverse, from those praising the production of another well-made Biblical film, to those criticizing the use of Caucasian actors and British accents, and those condemning the movie as outright heretical and blasphemous for suggesting Jesus had to be told of His divinity and who He was, which they claim He knew from birth.

So what exactly does the Bible say about this?

Jesus’ divinity is clearly portrayed in scripture, both before His incarnation (John 1) and after (John 10:30-33). And during His ministry (ages 30-33), Jesus was well aware of His divine pre-existence (John 8:58).

So the question of whether or not He was divine is not the issue here. That is a given. The question is when did the human Jesus realize He was the divine Son of God?

As far as Jesus’ childhood, all we know is that by the age of 12, Jesus understood His Divine Sonship – that God was His Father (Luke 2:49). What he knew prior to His temple visit/age 12, we don’t know.

We do know that from Phillipians 2:7 that the pre-incarnate Christ veiled His divinity and took on human form. Ever since the First Council of Ephesus in AD 431, Christians have defined Jesus’ nature as 100% divine and 100% human (called the Hypostatic Union). So what is a human infant aware of? How much knowledge can a human infant brain contain?

In “Research in Brain Function and Learning” [3], a study published by The American Psychological Association, Dr. Margaret Semrud-Clikeman notes that “a newborn infant has enough motor control to feed and to move away from painful or other unpleasant stimuli. Although visual and auditory systems are present at birth, they continue to develop in the first few months of life as the brain reacts to the environment (Carlson, 2014).” She goes on to explain that the motor and sensory systems as well as auditory and visual skills improve during the toddle and preschool years and that “brain development after birth is influenced by inputs from the environment.” She then expounds on the early elementary years, where children develop “motor skills, visual-motor coordination, reasoning, language, social understanding and memory. As learning is consolidated into neural networks, concepts combine into meaningful units that are available for later use. An ability to generalize and abstract begins at this stage and continues into adulthood. Also during this time, the child learns about perspective-taking and social interaction. The ability to understand one's social place is crucial for the development of appropriate relationships with other people. These skills are closely tied to development of the tracts of the right hemisphere as well as in the areas of the brain that are tied to emotional processing.” (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, a human infant is aware of only a few basic needs, particularly the need for nourishment. As a baby grows, its brain also grows. And as the child grows physically, his brain develops, thus he also grows mentally. This is precisely what we find in scripture. In Luke 2:40, prior to the temple visit at age 12, Jesus “grew and became strong (physically), and increased in wisdom (mentally). And in Luke 2:52, after Jesus’ visit to the temple, Jesus increased in wisdom (mentally) and stature (physically). In order to grow and increase in wisdom, one cannot begin with 100% wisdom. Wisdom was evidently part of what Jesus “emptied himself” of or veiled when He took on human form.

Speculation is not the same as heresy. There is nothing inherently wrong with speculation. Revelation 22:18-19 has often been misused to "prove" all Biblical speculation is forbidden, but 1) John specifically says "anyone who adds or takes away from THIS book of prophecy;" he makes it quite clear that he is referring to the book of Revelation and not the gospels or the epistles or the entire Bible, and 2) when applying this verse correctly to Revelation, and considering the myriad of Christian novels and films that speculate on end-time events, we see that speculation is not considered by most Christians as "adding" or "taking away." Many scripturally sound biblical movies and books speculate on a myriad of topics surrounding Jesus. For instance, when did He meet Lazarus, whom He must have known quite well as he was referred to as simply “the one whom You love” (John 11:3)? Who gave Him the gift of a seamless tunic (John 19:23)? The loom on which a seamless tunic could be weaved was invented in His day, thus it was not common, and garments made on it would have been quite expensive. Incorporating a fictional scene where Jesus meets Lazarus or is given a seamless cloak in a novel or movie about Christ is by no means forbidden.

So how much did Jesus know and understand as an infant? A toddler? A child? A teenager? All we know from scripture is a little more every year…just like any other human being. Did this wisdom come directly from God? Did Mary and Joseph tell Him?  Did He learn in school from His Rabbi where He memorized large portions of scripture? We can’t know for sure, but it was likely a combination of the above factors.

One thing we do know for sure: it is not heretical or blasphemous for a film to portray Jesus growing and increasing in wisdom. Is it unusual to have a film based on one verse? Sure. But that’s a reason to celebrate. Jesus is once again reaching the masses through a medium that has overtaken our nation. We can use the film to reach non-believing friends, families, and co-workers. And for personal edification, we can watch a movie that uplifts and inspires us to see a Savior who would deign Himself to become a human being and grow up in a cursed and fallen world in order to redeem us.

[1] Chattaway, Peter T. (September 1, 2015). "First look: The Young Messiah, based on Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. (And yes, the film has a new title.)". patheos.com.

[2] The Young Messiah Movie Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVfmdLO2Ui8

[3] The American Psychological Association: "Research in Brain Function and Learning." Margaret Semrud-Clikeman PhD, LP, ABPdN, University of Minnesota Medical School. http://www.apa.org/education/k12/brain-function.aspx