Here Are 12 Theories About The Mysterious Lost Years Of Jesus Christ

List Rules
Vote up the most plausible theories for how JC passed two decades.

The New Testament talks about Jesus A LOT, and yet the Gospels don't say anything about what Jesus was doing between the time he was 12 and when he turned 30. But don't jump straight to a 13 Going On 30-esque conclusion. There are plenty of far more plausible theories about the lost years of Jesus.

Just like scholars have found convincing physical evidence that Jesus was a real person, there is also evidence that he may have traveled during the unknown years of Jesus, including proof of Jesus in India. He might have even gone to Britain or Japan, according to some theories. If Jesus stayed closer to home, working in the sun as a carpenter, it's even less likely that Jesus looked like a white European. Or maybe the lost years are "lost" because Jesus was breaking some Biblical rules.

Where was Jesus during the missing years? Now's your chance to vote for the most likely explanations.


  • Jesus Spent The Years Working As A Carpenter With Joseph
    Photo: Thomas Mirtsch / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
    4,404 VOTES

    Jesus Spent The Years Working As A Carpenter With Joseph

    The mainstream explanation for the lost years of Jesus is pretty straightforward: he spent his youth in Nazareth studying to be a carpenter with his father, Joseph, and indeed grew up to be a carpenter. This theory is the most straightforward, since sons generally practiced the same trade as their fathers. And the Gospels support the theory, as in Mark 6:3 when Jesus begins teaching and people respond, "Is not this the carpenter?"

    There is little proof that Jesus spent those years as a carpenter, however. Even the early Christian writer Origen argued that "Jesus himself is not described as a carpenter anywhere in the Gospels accepted by the churches."

    4,404 votes
  • Jesus Spent The Lost Years As A Family Man
    Photo: Jan Cossiers / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    4,795 VOTES

    Jesus Spent The Lost Years As A Family Man

    When Jesus showed up at the wedding in Cana and started changing water into wine, he sure seemed to know what wedding guests want at a party. Could that be because Jesus had his own wedding during the lost years?

    In The Lost Gospel, Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici argue that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children during the lost years. They base the argument on a 1,500 year-old Aramaic book found in the British Library. And it isn't the only source to suggest that Jesus was married. A fourth-century Egyptian papyrus also includes a quote from Jesus mentioning his wife. 

    4,795 votes
  • John The Baptist Was Teaching Jesus During The Lost Years
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    3,400 VOTES

    John The Baptist Was Teaching Jesus During The Lost Years

    Some scholars think it's unrealistic to assume that Jesus spent nearly two decades as a carpenter before becoming a religious leader. Jesus may have put in years as a disciple before gathering his own disciples. In Rabbi Jesus, Bruce Chilton argues that Jesus never went back to Nazareth after his visit to the Temple. Instead, he became a follower of John the Baptist, who trained Jesus. Chilton says, “Jesus had a rebellious, venturesome spirit. He did not become a passionate religious genius by moldering in the conventional piety of a village that barely accepted him.”

    Matthew says that when Jesus asked John to baptize him, John responded, "I need to be baptized by you" rather than the reverse. Could it have been a "the teacher becomes the student" moment?

    3,400 votes
  • Jesus Spent Years Arguing With Scholars
    Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-4.0
    3,228 VOTES

    Jesus Spent Years Arguing With Scholars

    The only Biblical mention of Jesus between his birth and his 30s comes in the story of Jesus at the Temple. When he was 12, according to Luke 2:41-52, Mary and Joseph accidentally left Jesus in Jerusalem for several days - sort of a first-century Home Alone. When they rushed back to the city, Mary and Joseph found their tween in the Temple, arguing with the teachers and giving them astonishing answers. 

    Jesus obviously spent a lot of his time devoting himself to learning. And even at 12, he told his parents not to be surprised that he had spent several days arguing with scholars. That episode hints that Jesus may have devoted years to scholarly pursuits before he began to collect followers.

    3,228 votes
  • 5
    2,947 VOTES

    Jesus Became A Desert Monk By The Dead Sea

    In 1947, the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in the dry, arid desert southeast of Jerusalem. And the documents may contain clues about the lost years of Jesus. As a young man, Jesus may have visited Qumrān, home to the monastic Essene sect. The Dead Sea scrolls represent their ancient religious texts, and there is evidence that John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus, may have been influenced by the sect. 

    If John the Baptist learned from the Essene sect, it is possible that Jesus also studied with the group. And one scroll even mentions a figure who sounds a lot like Jesus. He's called "Son of God" and "Son of the Most High."

    2,947 votes
  • Jesus Made Multiple Trips To India
    Photo: Jesus’ Journey to Kashmir / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
    3,471 VOTES

    Jesus Made Multiple Trips To India

    18 years is a long time, so it's possible that Jesus traveled long distances during the lost years. One theory claims that he went all the way to India more than once. Jesus may have studied Buddhism in Kashmir, where some even claim he settled after the date of his crucifixion. At one Buddhist monastery north of Srinagar, Jesus reportedly attended a religious meeting in AD 80, years after he was supposedly crucified. 

    According to the theory, Jesus may have visited India to return the visit of the three Wise Men from the East. It might also explain why Jesus sent St. Thomas to India, where he was ordered to spread the Gospel.

    3,471 votes