How Old Were the 12 Disciples
And what can teenage kids really do?
Children's Bible story books and art museums often shape our basic Bible knowledge. For instance, how old do you believe the 12 disciples might have been?
Typically, we think of them as grown men, perhaps in their twenties or thirties. Perhaps we even envision them with long white beards and a staff to help their feeble ambulation.
But let's reconsider that notion and challenge ourselves to see our own young people differently.
Some scholars suggest that Jesus disciples were nothing more than a bunch of teenagers
. Consider the following:
1. The Temple Tax
Jewish law required every male over the age of twenty to pay the temple tax (Ex. 30:14-15)
. In the NT the religious leaders questioned Peter why Jesus didn't pay this tax. Jesus then performed a miracle whereby he provided enough money to pay His and Peter's tax.
The text seems to suggest that none of the other disciples had to pay up.
2. Educational Norms of the Day
In Jesus' day young people usually finished their formal education by the age of 15. At that time they usually entered the workforce. If a boy seemed promising, a rabbi might take him under his wing for a few more years of intensive rabbi training.
Jesus may likely have followed this practice.
We also know that the disciples up and left their jobs at a moment's notice. This seems to indicate that they were not deeply attached to their business as an older person would have been. He could freely up and leave, pursuing his yearning for a continued education.
An older person would not be as carefree when it came to his work. At the very least, he would likely have to take a great deal of time to make arrangements with his job and work associates.
3. Marriage Customs
In Jesus' day marriages were typically arranged marriages, and a man would be given a wife promptly at the age of 18.
We know that Peter was married because the Bible says that Jesus healed his mother in law. But no other marital commitments are even hinted at among the other disciples.
Being that it would be odd for Jesus to whisk a man away from his wife (and the occupation whereby he provided for his wife), the rest of the disciples may likely have been under 18 years of age.
4. Childish references and actions
In John 13:33 Jesus calls his disciples, "My children." This might not have been a figurative expression given all that is mentioned above.
Youth is also a time when there is more zeal and more folly. These two attributes most definitely fit the men who...
- bickered about who would be the greatest in the kingdom.
- were rambunctious enough to be called "Sons of Thunder."
- would have been exceedingly scared and unable to handle a boat when a storm blew in on the Sea of Galilee.
- wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans.
- had the energy & freedom to race throughout the world declaring the gospel.
Taken together, these Scriptures give us a different perspective of how old the disciples might have been.
More importantly, these Scriptures give us an idea of how useful our children can be to the Lord.
At the very least, we can remember that our teens can be avid workers, productively contributing to a family economy. We do not have to wait for them to graduate from college or reach 30 years of age to be useful.
Today, many people see the teenage years as "lost years." They are years squandered away by a thing we call adolescence.
Such is rubbish. Christ saw these teenage years as a ripe fruit for the picking. He invested himself in 12 adolescents and put the balance of history in their hands.
As we raise our children, we should remember that the Lord harnessed the vigor and opportunism of the teenager for his kingdom purposes. He saw them, not so much as boys, but as men who were in the prime time of discipleship.
These teenage boys were His first round draft for world change, and our young people should be viewed in the same light.
As we raise our kids, we should be remembering that they have a similar potential. They are commissioned to be kingdom servants, bringing the truth of the Lord to bear in every sphere of life.
While they are in our homes we should be striving to train them up to serve God's purposes, just like Jesus did with his young posse.