Question: I have a friend who says she is leaving the Catholic Church because of…
Jesus’ untold years
Question: Why do the Gospels omit so much of Jesus’ life? It would have been edifying to see how he lived as a child, teenager and adult. As a parent I would love to show my daughter, “See, this is how Jesus handled such and such a matter.”
— Miriam Lane, via email
Answer: The stated purpose of the Gospels is not to write a complete biography of Christ’s life. Rather they are written that we can know what is needed to draw us to faith in Jesus. St. John says at the end of his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31).
St. Luke says something similar: “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you … so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Lk 1:1-4).
Thus the purpose of the Gospels is not to be an exhaustive history, but to provide us with what is needed to understand and believe that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. They are less biographies and more in the form of what the ancient world called a “bios” or a “life.” This genre would select events and utterances of a person to provide illustrative snapshots of a person’s life. They do not report everything a person did, but emphasize who they were and their significance through the use of epitome (or summary).
Given the expense of written documents, such a form makes sense. Parchment and skins were costly and every individual document had to be handwritten. Thus exhaustive biographies were, in the modern form, very rare.
The hidden years of Christ intrigue us due to the mysterious quality of them. But the Holy Spirit determined that much of what we needed to know was not in those years, but in the final years of Jesus’ public ministry, his passion, death and resurrection.
There is an ancient source of the early years of Jesus that has some credibility you might consider reading. It is called the Protoevangelium of James. While it has a legendary style, many things that we assume today are contained in its pages. For example, that Joachim and Anne are Mary’s parents; that Mary served in the temple and gave birth miraculously, remaining a virgin perpetually; that Joseph had been chosen for her by the priests in the temple, was an older widower, and so forth. The Protoevangelium of James is not a heretical book, but it is not Scripture either, and care must be taken to remember that the events described are more in the form of legend than verifiable history.
Question: Is an eating disorder a sin? I have struggled greatly with bulimia and body dysmorphia. But I read how gluttony is a capital sin.
— Name withheld
Answer: No. As a disorder, it is a temptation to overeat, under-eat or purge. The moral questions relate to what one does in response to the disordered relationship with food and hunger. If one has a verifiable eating disorder, their guilt in matters of binging (gluttony), purging, etc., is usually lessened. However, if one does nothing to seek help, there is a sin in that. As we know, eating disorders can cause serious health problems and even be deadly, and thus I pray you are being helped by professionals.