Did Jesus know he was God?

2 mins read
The Transfiguration. Peter Paul Rubens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Question: When did Jesus know he was God? When he was an infant? Did he have an “aha moment” and realize he was God as an adult? What does it mean that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (cf. Phil 2:6)?

Dennis Diebolt, via email

Answer: In Christ, we must distinguish his human knowledge from his divine knowledge. Clearly, as God, Jesus always knew he was God since the divine knowledge is omniscient (all-knowing). In terms of his human knowledge, there are varying opinions, but not all views are equally valuable. To review all this would require a book-long answer. However, the basic answer to your question would be that Jesus, even in his human knowledge, always knew he was God and that no “aha moment” was needed.

To lightly elaborate, theologians have generally distinguished that, even in his human knowledge, Christ had three kinds of knowing. First, there was the beatific vision, wherein he fully experienced the immediate vision of God. This is the first way that Jesus always knew he was God. One day in heaven, we, too, will have the beatific vision, but Jesus had it from the first moment of his conception. Secondly, Jesus had infused knowledge, wherein all things humanly knowable are poured forth into his human intellect. As such, he lacked no information or knowledge of all that has been or will be and, in this knowledge, he always knew he was God. A third kind of knowing is experiential or acquired knowledge. One may wonder, if Christ knew all things, how he could learn or become “advanced [in] wisdom” (Lk 2:52). This is how. It is one thing for us to read history books or travel brochures and know all sorts of things related to a place, but when we actually go there, we no longer merely know about it; we know it by experience. And thus, for Jesus to know something because he is God is one thing. But to experience humanly what it is like at every stage of life is a form of knowledge he can acquire by experience.

Shedding the utter perfection of the heavenly realm

As for the quote from Philippians, Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped,” we can say a few things. First, it does not mean he shed his divinity when becoming human. God cannot change and become “not God.” What he certainly did shed was the glory and the utter perfection of the heavenly realm. He walked our dusty roads, and — St. Paul also says in the same Scripture passage — he was regarded by others as a mere man. As such, he humbled himself even unto the ignominy or being considered the worst of sinners, dying in the way assigned to the worst of criminals (cf. Phil 2:7-8). But of course, he always was God and human, he was also sinless. So, St. Paul’s quote here has to do with Jesus’ humility and human obedience to his Father, not to his knowledge of his divinity, which he always had.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.