Posted by: chuckbumgardner | March 7, 2014

Jesus’ teenaged disciples?

In reading through Craig Keener’s article on the Gospel of John in the new (2nd) edition of IVP’s Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I find a interesting reference when Keener is defending the possibility of Johannine authorship. He makes the point that John could very well have been alive, in his 80’s, in the last decade of the first century. After all, “disciples typically were in their teens” (427). That’s an intriguing thought, and though a bit jarring to my twenty-first century American mind, not implausible. Can anyone point me to further studies that would support this assertion?



  1. I don’t have a direct study on this, but it seems there is a case to be made that Mark was Peter’s son. Most scholars accept that the Gospel of Mark was actually Peter’s account dictated and written down by Mark. And Peter calls Mark, his son – 1 Peter 5:13 “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.”

    Many scholars believe the naked young man of Mark 14:52-53 (A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.) was Mark. This might give some idea to the age of Peter at the crucifixion.


    David (the Gentle Knight)

  2. Very interesting, David, and thanks for the suggestion; I hadn’t heard it. Since Paul calls Timothy his “child (teknon) in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2), “child (teknon)” (1 Tim 1:18), “beloved son (teknon)” (2 Tim 1:2), “my faithful and beloved child (teknon) in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:17), and was clearly not his natural father (Acts 16:1), I tend to see paternal language in general to be affectionately Christian, not literally biological. That’s how I’ve always taken 1 Peter 5:13. But it is striking that in the passage you reference, Peter uses uios not teknon to describe Mark. The distinction between those two terms in those contexts would be interesting to chase. As would any church tradition that Mark was indeed Peter’s biological son. Thanks for the lead!

  3. Thanks for a great site. Regarding the issue of the age of the disciples we know that Peter was married and probably the oldest.

    In Matt 17:24 it seams like Peter and Jesus are the only ones who pays the tribute money for the temple. The temple tax refers to the half-shekel tax paid annually by male Jews to support the temple (Exod 30:13-16). In Exodus 30:14 we read that everyone who crosses over to those numbered, from twenty years old and up, is to pay an offering to the LORD.

    Since Peter is the one who always takes a lead among the disciples he is probably the oldest, and since only he and Jesus pays the temple tax the other disciples are less than 20 years old. The disciples are probably somewhere between 13-20 years old!

    Compare also Paul who studied by the rabbi Gamaliel (Act 22:3). According to Jewish custom he must have left Tarsus around 13 years of age to go to Jerusalem to study. He stayed probably at his older sisters who was married (Act 23:16).

  4. Followup a few years later: note this selection from Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H, 2016), when discussing the age of John in connection with his Gospel:

    “most ancient testimony insisted that he lived to a ripe old age and penned the works in the New Testament that now bear his name near the end of the first century. . . . For those who question whether an eyewitness of Jesus’s life (AD 27 or 28 through 30) could live so long, recall our discussion about life spans [i.e. some people in NT times lived as long as they do today, just not near as many]. Intriguingly, a persistent tendency in ancient Christian painting and iconography is to depict John as the one disciple without facial hair. It is impossible to know if this is based on any independent historical information, but if it is, it could mean that John was no more than a young teenager during Jesus’s earthly life. Since Jews were considered adults by age twelve or thirteen, a self-styled rabbi like Jesus could have selected anyone younger than him down to the age of fourteen or so to be his disciple. If John were as young as seventeen after Jesus’s three years of ministry in AD 30, he would have been only 85 in AD 98, a very conceivable life span.” (160-161)

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