Saturday, October 14, 2006

How old were the disciples?


I recently heard someone say that all the disciples, except Peter, were under 20 years old.

The reason given was the story of the 'coin in the fishes mouth' (Matthew ch17 v24-27) The coin in the story was enough to pay the taxes for Jesus and Peter only, even though the other disciples were present. Men under 20 were not required to pay the roman taxes, which led to the suggestion that the other disciples were all under 20!

I'm not sure if this merits a 'Back to the drawing board' award, like the 'No more domes' post.
I need to do more research. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

41 comments:

A real life GAR said...

Sounds very logical to me. You have to remember, though, that people at that time had shorter and harder lives, and consequently might have also "looked older" than they would have been today. Nourishment and (lack of) sun protection are also a factor here. People exposed to the sun and eating the local diet will not look like your plump, pale skinned, baby-faced McDonald's eating young man of today.

Paul G said...

Yes the sun would have definitely made skin leathery on outdoor workers such as fishermen. As for nourishment I think a diet of fish was much healthier than a diet of burgers and the disciples probably were much fitter and healthier than the average obese sedentary youth of today. A diet of iTunes, TV, movies, celphones, and junk culture makes today's youth more docile, both mentally amd physically.

the VYBE said...

I just heard of this recent concept just recently. All we have to go on is the scriptures and other writtings of that day. Keep in mind that all pictures are strictly artists interpretation of that time.

Bible artist said...

Yes, this is absolutely true. I don't think that any Bible artist would claim to have every detail accurate.
I certainly wouldn't!
But it's important to try and do the best we can with the information available. I get stuff wrong all the time. It's a learning process.
At the end of the day, we are providing visual aids to help those who have the important job of sharing the Gospel message.

21stcenturychristian said...

I was thinking of this only today. I run a youth group at a small church, where several of the older members of the congregation are continually complaining about our young people. They're disrespectful, irreverent, noisy and 'different'. They don't worship in the same way as the older generation !!!

I reflected that the disciples were all young, and disrespectful (at least to the Pharisees) probably noisy, and considering their occupations, not the sort of guys you'd want your daughter to bring home for tea !

Perhaps Jesus picked them to show us something !!!

I salute the young Christians who will forge our faith into the 21st century, and I will do all I can to help them achieve their faith.

Paul

Paul G said...

Not all youngsters are disrespectful or noisy Paul. Only some. So it's safe to say the disciples' personality went across the spectrum from loud and extrovert to introspective and quiet. Some were married. And we musn't forget some older people can be noisy and disrepectful as well. :))

nolan said...

So does anyone have any other resources about this subject? Because I'm trying to research it as well, and could use some help.

Paul G said...

John has been linked to Patmos as you know where tradition says he resided as an old man around the end of the century. So this would most likely have made him a teenager during Jesus' final years. Peter was married and journeyed to Rome where he was crucified according to tradition. Other disciples suffered various executions in different parts of the world according to tradition. James died in Jerusalem as you most probably know. That is one death that is recorded as an historical fact by Josephus.
This doesn't help regarding the age of disciples during Jesus' lifetime. John was most likely the youngest at around 16-20 years. Others were most likely in their twenties to thirties as many had established professions. I see no evidence that suggests most of the disciples were teenagers as some have suggested.

Bible artist said...

The observation on John is helpful Paul. Researching this subject will be like researching any other biblical subject. You need to get into some serious Bible study! Also, get some background knowledge from other writers of the time that talk about the customs etc, such as Josephus. Try checking out the taxation laws to confirm the above theory, look in more detail at the occupations of the disciples, this may also give some clues to their ages. e.g. Was there a minimum age for a tax collector?
There will be lots of clues, you just need to find them!

For some reason there's a lot of interest in the question "How old are the disciples?" It's one of the 'search topics' that brings many people to this blog!
let us know how you go on nolan.

Angumei Rocky said...

i think Jesus disciples were mostly teenagers.
1. Matthew 17:24-27.
2. Exodus 30:11-16

From the above two passages we can say that the 11 other disciples were just teenagers (belows 20 yrs). Otherwise, why should Jesus ignore the rest of his disciples temple tax if they are above 20 years?

3. Matthew 10:42. In this passage Jesus referred to his disciples as "little ones". If they are grown up adult I don't think Jesus would address them as little ones. I think Jesus refer his disciples as little ones because they really are.

Hope this helps.

Rocky

Bible artist said...

Thanks Rocky!

nolan said...

Yea, from what I've gathered (mostly from commentaries and such about the Matthew 17: 24-27 passage) all the disciples except Peter were under 20, due to the fact the Jesus seemed very intentional on following the laws in Capernaum which required all males 20 and older to pay taxes. If Jesus was so intentional about having him and Peter pay it, why didn't the other 11 disciples? The only logical conclusion people have seemed to come up with is that they were under 20 yrs of age.

steve said...

I just learn't recently that the diciples were not only young but that they were rejects. All jewish boys were to belong to a rabbi or teacher those who didn't have what it takes were rejected, they then went on to take up other trades of the day. Which sheds light on the verse in acts that claims they were uneducated men.

Paul G said...

I don't agree with the reasoning that says the disciples were uneducated.

The disciple Matthew was a tax collector. This required writing and accounting skills. Matthew also wrote one of the gospels. He was therefore an educated man.
John wrote arguably the most intricately layered and poetic gospel. Not the work of an uneducated man.

Paul G said...

As you know Steve, Acts 4:13 states in no uncertain terms that Peter and John were both uneducated men.
So how do you go from being uneducated to being able to write a gospel of great intricacy? There are a few possibilities. Because John's gospel was written late in his life there is the possibility John did in fact educate himself.
The second conclusion is the John mentioned in Acts didn't write the fourth gospel. Many Biblical scholars now believe this to be the case as the gospel shows evidence of more than one author at work.
The third is God worked through John to create the gospel and his lack of education didn't matter.

Who am I to know which of these is true?

Bible artist said...

I would go for the third option!

Paul G said...

After much research and thought over this question of an "uneducated" man writing a gospel I discovered this text on a Bible Study site. I think this is one of the best explanations I have come across and therefore I share it -

"In the first century AD every village in Judea and the Galilee had a school in association with the local Synagogue to teach boys to read and write Hebrew (the liturgical language) and/or Aramaic (common language) and probably some Greek (the international language/ the language of commerce). Boys also studied Scripture intensively from about the ages of five to twelve, and boys who showed particular promise would have been sent to Jerusalem to continue their studies. In any event, it is entirely credible that John the Apostle, who grew up in a Greek-culture dominated Galilee (even his friends Andrew and Philip had purely Greek names), who took a leading role in a multi-cultural ministry that spanned over 60 years and serving as the Bishop of the Christian churches of Asia Miner for circa 50 years, would have learned considerable Greek with or without any formal education in the language. Then too, the Greek of the fourth Gospel is the simplest of the New Testament Greek texts; precisely what one might expect from a man who learned Greek as a second language."

Paul G said...

To call the disciples "rejects" as children is harsh. Any child who showed promise in Scripture went on to further studies. Those that didn't show promise went on to learn various trades. That isn't rejection but being practical.

No child today would be called a "reject' for not displaying a talent in religious studies. They would just be directed into areas more suited to their talents. And made to feel good about themselves.

Dennis said...

steve, i suggest you study 1st century rabbinical systems before you call the 12 "rejects".

RANDY said...

Wow very interesting theory, now that throws a spin on things for sure. Question.. how could luke be a doctor at such a young age ? Colossians 4:14

Paul G said...

That's easy to answer Randy. Colossians refers to events after Jesus' death and resurrection. Some commentators believe Colossians may have been written about twenty years after the events in the Gospels. Therefore the disciples would be approaching middle age when Paul wrote these comments about Luke.

marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!
_____________________________

Engineering Dissertation

Timothy Eldred said...

Let's not forget that Luke wasn't a disciple. He wasn't an eyewitness, as he states in Luke 1, he is recording the accounts of others.

Now, back to the original question people seem to want to debate or ignore. Were the disciples teens minus one (Peter)? No one has yet to give a biblical rebuttal to the question. There are opinions, pictures, feel-good points of view, but no other biblical evidence contrary to Matthew 17. Seems we might want to let the Bible speak for itself.

On another note: rejects might be a harsh word but not far from the truth. Jesus broke all the rabbinical rules. Unlike other rabbis, he went and found his own disciples instead of setting of school and letting them come to him. Interesting enough, when he commission his students (and us) in Matthew 28, he basically said, "Follow my example. First, go out and find some disciples..." Hmmm.

The question of the disciples age isn't simply interested, it has huge ramifications for us today as we consider how the church has low expectations of youth and why youth ministry has become a spectator sport - and why the church can't keep youth engaged in their faith must past high school.

We don't value them. Maybe the question is perfect for us to wrestle with today as uncomfortable as it makes us.

Bible artist said...

Good points Tim!

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, my only question is, what if the other disciples had already paid their taxes?

Bible artist said...

H,mmmm, now there's a point!

xblessed said...

Might not the definition of those who would fight in the OT also be the definition (age) of those who would be ready for spiritual warfare? From 20 years and upward?

chris said...

It was interesting reading all the comments. I too have heard that the 12 were under 20 except for Peter. I am a youth Pastor and was looking to confirm some of this.In addition to the Bible's innuendo of 11 of the 12 being teens, most jewish boys only went to school till about 12 years of age. If they did not go on to be a disciple of a Rabbi then they would go work for their father, i.e. Andrew and James, the sons of Zebedee. They were working on a boat with their dad when Jesus called them. My pastor has also mentioned a few times in service that they were very young, most being teens.

My sermon tonight is about being an example to the believers while still young (1Tim 4:12). I wanted to use the 12 as an example so I thinkI will, along with Joseph and how he overcame being sold to Egypt as a young boy....

Thanks everyone for your insights.

Bible artist said...

Thanks Chris!

Wendy said...

Chris, I think you meant to say that John and James were the sons of Zebedee.

nancy C said...

Paul G - notice in Acts that God did not call them 'ignorant and unlearned men', but rather the crowd did. Given that the apostles were not a favored group, and the tendency for people to depreciate the qualifications of their antagonists, the chances are at least reasonable that the apostles in question were educated.

Bible artist said...

Let's not forget that the education and understanding that God gives men through His Holy Spirit cannot be compared to the education that man receives from man. The most educated university professor cannot begin to grasp the mysteries/wisdom that God gives to an obedient worshiper.

I remember an elderly gentleman I once knew, (he made our wedding cake), speaking at a conference alongside a bishop who was high up in the Church of England. After the conference the bishop came up to this man and declared "I was ordained by the church of England, but you were ordained by God!"
This chap was a humble baker.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree that people lead shorter lives in those times. Abraham died at the age of 930, Enoch was raptured at 987 years, Noah was 950 years etc. Yes, David died at 70 and Solomon died at 60 but sin played a major part in their lives but it was not the norm. They did not live a "hard" life...quite the contrary. The Disciples were targeted because of their association with Jesus and for preaching the Gospel. Stephen was stoned to death at the age of 34, not because he lived a hard life. The Disciples were between the ages of 13 and 19 years, except for Simon Peter. The media (mostly non-Christians) made, and continues to make a lot of assumptions about the Disciples and biblical icons and we as Christians allow it. They don't know so they produce shows and programs with these Disciples all bearded and old looking like they are on their last leg!

Becca England said...

I have found this blog to be particularly helpful, I am a Christian artist currently working on a commission and I refuse to protray anything less then what I know to be as close to accurate as possible. I even get annoyed if Jesus and his followers are dipicted too european or mediteranian!

I agree that John was likely the youngest perhaps much like a teen looking to Jesus as a surrogate father. I'm tthinking about 16 years old maybe slightly younger since in those days you were considered an adult once you had your Bar Mitsva.

As far as Simon Peter goes I think I could resonably see him be right around the same age as Jesus, the comment about refering to the disiples as "little ones" I don't see as being completely literal, but rather perhaps refering to how young they were in thier faith. W all know that Peter definately had a temper on him that would rival many two year olds.

Bartholomew definately was educated in the Hebrew traditions. But perhaps may have been grouped in with being called uneducated because there isn't much evidence of him speaking out much... maybe he was the quiet type?

Matthew I definatly see as being older than Jesus, he was a dispised tax collecteor prior to his calling. It would take time for that kind of reputation to build. However I definately don't see him being the old white haired man he is often shown to be in privious illustrations. I'd say probably no older than late 30's...early 40's max. again the "little one" refferance refering to maturity in faith not age.

Judas has got to be a bit younger than Jesus, but not by a lot. He was crafty and sly...a bit of a shady character you wouldn't trust to watch your pricey car for you when going in to the bad part of town on an errand. After all he regularly stole money from the group's finances...perhaps causing the tax dilema with Peter and the fish.

God's Blessings to you all,
Becca England
Illustrator

Anonymous said...

My point is:AT THE END OF FIRST CENTURY jESUS WOULD BE ABOUT 100 YEARS OLD,HE WAS BORN 3 B.C.;JOHN WAS ABOUT THAT SAME AGE WHEN HE DIED ABOUT 100 A.D...NOW WHAT DOES THAT MEANS?

Anonymous said...

Matthew 17:24-26 records a conversation Jesus had with Peter about temple tax. To conclude that the other disciples did not have to pay the tax from this passage is quite a leap. Nowhere in this text does it say that the other disciples did not have to pay this tax never mind that they must be too young to pay it. If my landlord talks to me about paying rent you would NOT conclude that no other tenants in his building must have to pay rent just because the landlord isn't talking to them as well. The leap is just not justified. That is a huge argument to make out of silence.

We know from the Gospels that Peter is married and cares for his mother in law. He is old enough to be married to someone who father has died, and he owns his own boat - but he is not just barely over 20 years old. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman governor - you don't get that job being a teenager. Jesus leaves Mary into John's care at the Cross - he would have had to be the man of his own house not living with his parents anymore for that to happen. These men are in their mid-twenties at least.

Now John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark was no doubt very young when he started to follow Jesus - maybe even 14. So there was no doubt a rage of ages among the disciples but to say that Peter must be the only one over twenty from these three verses in Matthew is a really bad interpretation.

In Jewish culture you are not really considered an adult after your Bar Mitzvah. Children and teens were very looked down on until you were married and kids of your own. Even older siblings would have less standing if they were still single than their married younger brothers or sisters. It is still that way across the Middle East and Central Asia today.

Don't forget that even the disciples were forbidding children to come to Jesus, silencing a blind man who was crying out for Jesus - this paints a picture of there being at least a handful of adults among them. Teenagers would not be doing that.

Anonymous said...

Matthew 17:24-26 records a conversation Jesus had with Peter about temple tax. To conclude that the other disciples did not have to pay the tax from this passage is quite a leap. Nowhere in this text does it say that the other disciples did not have to pay this tax never mind that they must be too young to pay it. If my landlord talks to me about paying rent you would NOT conclude that no other tenants in his building must not have to pay rent just because the landlord isn't talking to them as well. The leap is just not justified. That is a huge argument to make out of silence.

We know from the Gospels that Peter is married and cares for his mother in law. He is old enough to be married to someone who father has died, and he owns his own boat - but he is not just barely over 20 years old. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman governor - you don't get that job being a teenager. Jesus leaves Mary into John's care at the Cross - he would have had to be the man of his own house not living with his parents anymore for that to happen. These men are in their mid-twenties at least.

Now John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark was no doubt very young when he started to follow Jesus - maybe even 14. So there was no doubt a rage of ages among the disciples but to say that Peter must be the only one over twenty from these three verses in Matthew is a really bad interpretation.

In Jewish culture you are not really considered an adult after your Bar Mitzvah. Children and teens were very looked down on until you were married and kids of your own. Even older siblings would have less standing if they were still single than their married younger brothers or sisters. It is still that way across the Middle East and Central Asia today.

Don't forget that even the disciples were forbidding children to come to Jesus, silencing a blind man who was crying out for Jesus - this paints a picture of there being at least a handful of adults among them. Teenagers would not be doing that.

Shell Inge said...

I believe they were young because of they were working for their fathers and were rejects, now the working age is 16-18 i believe they did not further their education and were force to work.... I was wondering because I heard this before but cant back up my memory. I believe the structure of the schooling would answer the question

Anonymous said...

"even though the other disciples were present..." is the key phrase here. Who said they were? In previous verses, yes, they were present, but these 3 verses happen at Peter's home, where Jesus was a guest. The others were at their homes, or spread out. Only these two men present, no proof of age of anyone from this passage.
Extra biblical sources say age ranges from 16 ish to mid/upper 30s.

Anonymous said...

Remember, Jesus was most likely born between BC 8 and BC 4 due to the fact that the known death of Herod was in BC 4 and he had ordered all the sons in and around Bethlehem that were two years old an under to be killed. Based on the fact that we don't know how long it was after this order was made that he died, we can at least deduce that Jesus was born no later than BC 4. If Jesus really did have a 30 year life before his 3 year ministry ending in his crucifixion on the cross, then we can put his death at no later than AD 29. Finally, if we believe that John truly is the author of Revelation, believed to be written in AD 90, that puts 61 years between the death of Christ and the authorship of that book. Even placing John as a 20 year old when he started following Jesus would make him an 84 year old author of Revelation. People just didn't have those kinds of life spans in that day. This helps us conclude that at least John, and probably some of the other disciples were indeed very young men when they were following Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Herod did not die in 4BC, but in fact 1BC.(January)...Josephus records that in the week of Herod's death there was an Eclipse of the Moon, and it was unusually red, which he put down to all the blood that was on Herods hands.Theologians chose the 4BC Lunar Eclipse, but it could not have been, as it was just a partial one, and would not have displayed a red colour.However the Eclipse of 1BC was total, and was the only one visible from Jerusalem, within a proper time frame. Jesus was born in 2 or 3 BC, and there is a lot of evidence to support this!