The Humanity of Jesus: Increasing in Wisdom

ManI can be a real moron. If you knew me in high school you would not have been impressed with my intellectual prowess. I had neither book smarts, nor street smarts. In college I jumped off a roof into some bushes as part of a game! In other words, I was a moron for much of my life. Maybe I still am, but I at least feel smarter now than I did back then. Partly that is because I have disciplined my mind. I’ve increased in knowledge and in the awareness of how to apply such knowledge. That comes with age and with study. But what does the Bible mean when it says that Jesus “increased in wisdom.” Surely Jesus was never a moron like me. So seeking to understand this will help us both better understand Jesus, and better understand his role as our example.

Stories of Jesus’ childhood abound, and yet there is only on actually recorded in the Bible by all four gospel authors. In Luke chapter 2, in particular, we read of Jesus’ meeting with the religious leaders in Jerusalem as a little boy. Luke 2:41-52 records Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders, but verse 52 is particularly interesting. It reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”  There are many pieces of this verse that are worthy of our attention, but let’s focus on the first part. Jesus “increased in wisdom.” The idea is stated in 2:40 as well. How does God get smarter?

This is no small question. There are some theologians who suggest in fact that God must get smarter, that he does not know all things. He is continually “becoming,” or, as others suggest, he is continually learning. But that has not been the orthodox understanding of God, nor does it represent the omniscience of God in Scripture. So how then do we reconcile Jesus’ divinity with his “increasing in wisdom?” We are reminded of what we have already learned: Jesus lived his earthly life out of his human nature.

Jesus’ increase in knowledge is evidence of his living out of his human nature. Theologian Bruce Ware writes:

Yes, he surely was god, and in his divine nature he knows the Scriptures perfectly, since he knows all things perfectly. But if Jesus “increased in wisdom,” then his knowledge was not out of his divine nature per se. Rather, his human nature had to acquire the knowledge and wisdom that he later evidenced, whether at the age of twelve or thirty. (52)

We must remember that Jesus’ humanity was not a sham. It was not a hoax or a delusion. He was 100% human (just as he was 100% God). But in being human that meant that he was to be like us in every way (Heb. 2:17). In his intellectual development as a human Jesus needed to “increase in wisdom.” He needed to learn and grow. Again Dr. Ware helps us understand this dynamic. He points out that Jesus’ intellectual growth as a human is paralleled with his physical growth as a human. He writes:

One compelling reason for seeing this wisdom as his growing human wisdom is that Luke speaks of Jesus as growing in wisdom while also becoming stronger physically (increasing “in wisdom” and in stature”). So the wisdom that Jesus has, evidently, is a growing wisdom that parallels or accompanies his growth physically. And from that observation it should be clear that the wisdom of which Luke speaks cannot be the wisdom of Jesus’s divine nature. (49)

Jesus’ wisdom in this passage is a wisdom coming from his human nature. That’s helpful as we think, then, about our own lives. As we come to terms with this reality it helps us to think carefully about how we can “increase in wisdom,” particularly as it relates to the things of God. Jesus can be our example here too.

Jesus’ growth in knowledge was not merely a product of study. Jesus was never a moron like I was and understanding the things of God requires more than just reading some books and hearing some sermons. So there is an element of his “increase in wisdom” that we must carefully consider. Verse 40 talks about “the favor of God” resting upon him. It’s not entirely clear precisely what Luke means when he speaks of the “favor of God,” nor is it entirely clear from this passage how God’s favor aided Jesus’ growth in wisdom. Many passages inform our understanding here, though, and so we may conclude that the “favor of God” aiding Jesus’ increase in wisdom is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have already discussed how Jesus was empowered by the Spirit. But here we may see particularly how that Spirit aided his growing knowledge of the Scriptures. Ware draws this conclusion too, he writes:

This favor of God would most likely be the gift of the Spirit, whom the Father poured out upon his Son, now in human flesh, granting him insight and increased understanding of God’s Word and will as he grew. It seems reasonable, in any case, to understand Luke’s reference to the favor the Father placed upon his Son to be the Spirit, who came upon him at his conception. (50)

The Scriptures teach us that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate the Word of God in our minds, to teach us his will, and to aid us in understanding his ways. For Jesus, in his human nature, it was not any different.

We have already discussed Isaiah 11:1-3, but in this passage we catch a glimpse of the Messiah’s relation to the Spirit, particularly as it relates to his understanding of the things of God. Verse 2 states, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The Spirit, it was foretold, would come upon the Messiah to grant him wisdom. In chapter 61:1-3 we see a connection between “the indwelling Spirit on the Messiah with his role of proclaiming the Word of God” (51). In his human nature Jesus relied on the Spirit to give him the insight into understanding the Word of God. This is such an encouragement to us because we have access to this same resource.

We do not have to remain ignorant of the things of God. No, even in this aspect of our sanctification Jesus is our model. It is of paramount importance that we see the connection between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Many people may study the Bible as a textbook, a religious artifact, a cultural phenomenon. But those people will not understand it. The things of God are hidden to men who do not have the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). But we who are believers, like Jesus, have this Spirit of God. And the Spirit in us, like the Spirit in Jesus, can help us to increase in wisdom and understanding. Ware concludes:

We dare not, then, separate the Word and the Spirit as if we can fulfill God’s work and live in a manner pleasing to God with one but not the other. No, Spirit and Word are inseparable in God’s economy, and Jesus bears glorious testimony to this truth. May we learn from Jesus that yielding to the Spirit and devotion to the Word are necessary companions. (55)

The humanity of Jesus continues to teach us not simply about his relation to the Father, but about ours too.

Jesus grew in wisdom because he relied on the Spirit of God to illuminate the Word and will of God. The question we must ask ourselves is will we do the same. Will we follow our savior even here?

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