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Most traditional paintings of Jesus portray him either as an infant or as an adult. However I don't believe any classical authors ever portray Jesus as a child, teenager or a young man.

What is the reason behind this, from the point of view of Christianity? I assume most religious paintings are commissioned by the church so they have a say in how Jesus is supposed to be portrayed.

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Surely the main reason Christ is very rarely depicted in this way is simply because there is so little source material for Jesus as a child or young man (I've omitted "teenager" simply because I'm not convinced this was even a concept in classical times).

Our primary source for the life of Jesus is the gospels, and by chapter count, 95.2% of the gospel narrative is focused entirely on times when Jesus is a grown man. The gospels of Mark and John don't even have Jesus' birth or childhood.

If we're feeling generous to Jesus' young-boyhood, we can assign the remaining 5% as such - 3.3% Jesus' birth or prior, 1.5% Jesus as a young boy. Bear in mind though, that my 1.5% includes Matthew 2 (The visit of the wise men). My understanding is that this took place when Jesus was a young boy, although culturally we tend to tell this as part of the Nativity story, and people often assume he was a baby. If this assumption were correct, then all of a sudden Jesus' boyhood only occupies 0.3% of the gospels, with Jesus birth and prior occupying 4.5%.

The only verses in the Bible which are explicitly anything to do with Jesus' boyhood are Luke 2:41-55, the story of "The Boy Jesus in the Temple". There are no other primary sources still available to us which give an actual depiction of what Jesus was like as a child. Given that most of the traditional art around Jesus is focused around some sort of material in the primary source, it seems pretty unreasonable to expect that there would be anything like the same number of paintings of Jesus as a child/young adult, than there are of Jesus as an adult/baby.

To get the statistics above, I used the following figures:

Chapters which refer to Jesus as a grown man: 85

(Matt 3 - 28, Mark 1 - 16, Luke 3 - 24, John 1 - 21) some of these don't explicitly refer to Jesus as a grown man, they are simply after the chapters which finish referring to Jesus as a child. You could possibly have a fourth category of "chapters which don't refer to Jesus at all", but this wouldn't take anything away from the point that chapters in which Jesus is described as a child are a tiny minority.

Chapters which refer to Jesus as an infant or prior to Jesus' birth (Wise men visited in Jesus' childhood): 2.75

(Matt 1, Luke 1-2:40)

Chapters which refer to Jesus as a child (Wise men visited in Jesus' childhood): 1.25

(Matt 2, Luke 2:41-55)

Chapters which refer to Jesus as an infant or prior to Jesus' birth (Wise men visited in Jesus' infancy/standard nativity story): 3.75

(Matt 1-2, Luke 1-2:40)

Chapters which refer to Jesus as a child (standard nativity - these are the only verses which explicitly describe Jesus as a child): 0.25

(Luke 2:41-55)

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  • How are you measuring these percentages? Verse count? Word count? And what's your source? – Matt Gutting Apr 27 '17 at 10:42
  • @MattGutting chapter count - I specified just before the first statistic. Word/verse count would have been more accurate but no doubt the result would basically be the same in that passages which explicitly refer to Jesus as a child are vastly outnumbered by the rest. I approximated a little bit in that I took Luke 2:41-55 to be "0.25 of a chapter" and the rest of Luke 2 to be "0.75 of a chapter" but otherwise it's a straightforward count of chapters. Source is simply my own work counting the chapters which refer to Jesus as a baby/child, and the ones which refer to an adult Jesus. – danl Apr 27 '17 at 12:41
  • @MattGutting I've just added more detail at the bottom - hopefully this is better rather than just spewing out stats – danl Apr 27 '17 at 13:05
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In 1849–1850 John Everett Millais (a Pre-Raphaelite painter) painted "Christ in the House of His Parents", showing Christ as a child in Joseph's carpenter's workshop. This artist said that he painted this painting to provoke, and it received heavy criticism, especially from Charles Dickens, who wrote that Millais had expressed ugliness of feature and attitude.

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Actually he is very often depicted as child and called "Christkind" in Germany. Its very common to have like angel statues christkind statues for decoration.

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  • One can also see image of Jesus engaged in debate with the elders in the Synagogue at the age of 12. I am, however, not able to tell whether that image is graded as a classic painting, or not. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Apr 28 '17 at 6:25

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