Was Jesus Naughty?
Hebrews 1.4 The Son was made greater than the angels.
Was Jesus naughty? This isn't the
facetious question it might seem. Lurking behind it is an important
difference between ourselves and those first Christians who attempted to
work out what Jesus meant for them.
Most of us are so familiar with the "Christmas story" that it takes
some effort to reinterpret it and, as it were, come down to earth.
It may help to recognise that Jesus as Son of God is an invention of
theologians. There is no good evidence that he thought of himself in such
terms. How was Jesus the man made into Jesus the God?
- The earliest followers of The Way (Acts 19.9) thought of themselves
as Jews. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who would
return to take over the world.
- Through the work of Paul, Christianity quickly spread to the Greek
and Roman cultures. But they had no tradition of a Messiah. What made
sense to them was to perceive great people as gods. Roman and Persian
emperors often declared themselves divine. It was an easy step in this
kind of culture to redefine Jesus as Son of God.
- The authors of the Gospels have preserved more than one tradition
about the importance of Jesus. He's called "Son of David", "Son of Man",
"Son of God" and one or two other variations. There seems to have been a
definite "Vote for Jesus as God" movement some 35 years or so after
- The author of John's Gospel was another pioneer of the "Jesus as
God" movement. His primary theme as a theologian was that Jesus was the
eternal Word "made flesh". There is little history and much theology in
his Gospel. It was used by the early Church authorities to promote the
teaching that Jesus was God come down from heaven to earth. This
teaching was codified (some would say cast in concrete) in the Christian
The Nativity accounts are part of the early "Jesus as God" movement.
They are not history, but delightful stories intended to make a statement
about the nature of Jesus, to advance the "Jesus as God" movement in the
early Church. Tales of strange stars, of kings and shepherds, of angels
and wondrous prophecies were the TV and popular movies of the times.
They were used by the "Jesus as God" movement as the ancient
equivalent of an advertising campaign. We're wrong if we condemn early
Christians for what we nowadays call "spin" or "factual inexactitudes".
They thought differently about truth and falsehood. The Gospel authors
would not have understood our need to know "what really happened". Their
work was intended primarily as theology rather than as history
Does it make sense in the 21st century to perceive Jesus as a Man-God?
It it worth wondering if he somehow constantly switched from a "man" state
to a "God" state and back, like a light switching on and off? The way our
minds work today makes it nearly impossible to think in Man-God terms as
did our predecessors in the Christian faith.
So to ask, "Was Jesus naughty?" is to venture a statement about his
nature. It explores what happens if Jesus is perceived as human in every
sense. We can be absolutely certain that the baby Jesus needed to be
cleaned up just like any other infant. He learned to walk and talk as you
and I did, falling over, bumping his head and yelling blue murder. He went
through the "terrible twos" like everyone else. He learned the rules of
good behaviour as we did - and such learning requires behaviours that
grown-ups call "naughty". Other Jewish boys were probably spanked from
time-to-time. Was Jesus given the same discipline? I'd be surprised if he
The same considerations continue into Jesus' teenage years. He learned
about sex as we all do. He wouldn't have been normal without sexual
thoughts and no doubt some physical exploration. Part of growing up is to
say "No" to one's parents. Like most teenagers he probably struggled to
achieve independence from his family. As a young adult he had to
experiment, to find his way around the adult world just as we all do.
In short, it makes more sense today to regard Jesus as a man
and nothing else. It doesn't feel real to regard him as God encased in
human flesh, pretending to be fully human but in reality a fabulous sort
of split personality. The historical fact is that we know nothing about
the baby Jesus, about his birth and the circumstances surrounding it. In
the absence of good evidence, therefore, we must assume that he was a
child like everyone else. Jesus was naughty.
A legitimate and endless source of wonder today is that this Jesus of
Nazareth, who began life as the baby we revere at Christmas, was so great
and loving a person that his way of life has persisted over many centuries
to this day. We worship or "give worth" to him because no other man has
had so extraordinary an effect on the world.
We rejoice in the birth of
Jesus because he has sown in us the knowledge that nothing - not life nor
death, not powerful people, nor politicians, nor threats of suffering, nor
anything in this existence - can separate us from God's love. His gift to
mankind is the proclamation that those who seek to imprison us by threats
of alienation from God are ultimately powerless. Jesus the man lived out
the message that God is with us, that God always has been and always will
be by our side.
In celebrating the birth of this extraordinary man - so
extraordinary that our ancestors in the faith called him
"God-in-the-flesh" - we celebrate the gift of life. Life transcends death
in the same way that Jesus has transcended death for two thousand years.
The baby Jesus was a real child, who became a real teenager, and a real
adult, just like ourselves.
Through Jesus we are able to live our lives
to the full with the same wonder, joy and steadfastness with which he
approached his life.