The Age of the Disciples Ditto

The most popular post of this blog to date is an article I wrote detailing the argument for aging the disciples in their teen years instead of old men. Read the original post here. And while you’re at it take a look at the discussion in the comments section.  There has been quite a debate, and lots of great information given there.

Here are some of the points made by the commentators:

  • John, often thought of as the most dearly loved disciples, may not have been. Which means he might not have been the one Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to. The concluding thought related to this article, is that Jesus did NOT leave the care of his mother to 13-year-old John. So, who do some think was the dearly loved disciple? Maybe Lazarus? Some interesting arguments for that in the comments. And yes, that means some folks believe John did not write “John.”
  • Adolescence, as we understand, was introduced in 1904 with a book by Stanley Hall. In antiquity there were children and men. If you were 13 and confirmed, you were considered a man.
  • Tradition plays a powerful part in our idea of an older age for the disciples. The commentators encourage us to let Scripture be our guide. (This led to a discussion on preterism vs pre-millennialism.)
  • When James and John’s mother speaks to Jesus about her son’s position in His Kingdom, it makes more sense that her sons were younger than older.

Try a new imagining

As I have been studying John the last few months, I’ve imagined teenage disciples throughout the study. It helps me understand and digest some of the idiosyncrasies of their words and actions. Here are a two examples:

  • When the disciples discover Jesus talking with the Samaritan women, their response is hesitant and almost embarrassed. Imagine youths, often literal-minded, having this discussion with him.

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him [Jesus] talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

“Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

  • During a discussion about Jesus’ departure, they express their confusion. Their continued inability to to draw conclusions from his picturesque language is often found in youth, who lack the required brain development and life experience to often see beyond their immediate circumstance. Imagine a group of teens trying to grasp a hard lesson just beyond their mental reach.

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

  • My favorite to imagine, is Peter jumping into the water to prove his verve and to seek affirmation from his mentor; just like many teen thrill-seekers I’ve known.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.

“It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

  • And the easiest to imagine is a group of young men, in awe of their “idol,” afraid to offend in trying times, yet terrified of their own abilities and desperate for help. They are in a boat and out of control.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I challenge you to read through the gospels with a new mind. Can you picture young men with Jesus instead of old?


11 thoughts on “The Age of the Disciples Ditto

  1. so, this starts me wondering re Jesus putting giving his mother “into” john’s care. now, it’s clear that mary lives with the disciple from then on, but if he really was 13, perhaps Jesus wanted to make sure JOHN was cared for as well? that he knew a 13-yr-old was going to need an adult around??

    just a thought.


    1. Sorry… he would not be 13. He would be sixteen according to John’s narrative. He would have been called to follow the Rabbi at perhaps thirteen but three years had passed since then.
      Also a point that has not been brought up is that James the Lord’s brother took over the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost. Why? Peter may have been over twenty but James would have been at least thirty years of age.


      1. Ken, thanks for your thoughtful comments. The major point seems to be that the disciples were far younger than has been traditionally thought. John has oft been depicted as a heavily bearded man in his late 20s or early 30s. I agree that by the time of the cross, the Apostle John may have been in his mid teens. But to your thought about James being in his thirties, I think the following passage compels one to consider otherwise. Peter may have been the only disciple old enough to be obligated to pay the Temple tax. Therefore, that has lead some to conclude that, at the time Jesus pulled the coin out of the fish, all the disciples were less than 20, including James. Why else would the tax have only been paid for Peter and Jesus?

        (Matthew 17:24-27) When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He *said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them FOR YOU AND ME.”


      2. Hello Chuck:

        You misunderstood. I was not speaking of James the son of Zebedee, but of James the son of Joseph and Mary, the brother of Jesus. Acts 12:17 has Peter, after the death of James the son of Zebedee, telling the disciples to “tell these things to James and to the brethren.” In Acts 15, at the Council in Jerusalem, it is James the Lord’s brother who speaks and settles the matter. Again, he is mentioned by name when speaking of the Church in Jerusalem in Acts 21:17-18.
        James would have been much older than the Twelve, either as the second born of Mary or as the son of Joseph by a prior marriage (the two primary versions depending on your doctrine).
        James the Lord’s brother had the Lord appear to him after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). He is called one of the pillars of the Church at Jerusalem in Galatians 2:9.
        In every case, he is listed first. The most likely reason for that preeminence is that he was the primary leader at the Church in Jerusalem.
        Once you accept the youth of the Twelve, it makes much more sense that someone like James the Lord’s brother would become the leader of the Church. You had to be 30 years old to be a rabbi.


      3. Ken, thanks for the clarification. I did in fact misunderstand you. Very insightful. I’d not considered this angle. Seems viable to me and adds another piece to the puzzle Kblon has cleverly put together. Blessings!


  2. I don’t know how I missed the Teenage Posse followup. 🙂 Great additional thoughts. To this day, even though I’m convinced that these disciples were in their teens (with the exception of Pete), as I read the Bible I still conceptualize them as being much older. I have DVD’s of the Gospel of John (which was a an Hollywood-produced movie), Matthew and Acts and they all portray the disciples as bearded men in the late 20’s and 30’s. So I guess it’s difficult to shake. I really enjoyed thinking through your examples and the conversations seem to make more sense given their youthfulness.

    I ran into an article about the Apostle John yesterday and the writer contended that because John had a joint fishing enterprise with Peter and James, he owned a home in Jerusalem. But I think, based upon the assumption that John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, a false characterization of John has been built.

    To your knowledge, is Ray Vander Laan still one of the few scholars to suggest the young age of the disciples? I don’t understand why there’s not more written on this subject because it definitely flavors one’s reading. Thanks again. Blessings, Chuck


    1. Hey Chuck,
      I haven’t heard this theory anywhere else, but from Ray. I believe its true! You also convinced me to read up on the favorite disciple. Did you see that post? Thanks for introducing me to that. It amazes me everytime I learn something I took for granted, isn’t really “granted.” 🙂

      I don’t understand why there’s not more written on this subject because it definitely flavors one’s reading.

      I like the way you put that!


      1. Kay, I did in fact see your article and I thought your reasoning was very persuasive. However, most won’t get as far as you did because their minds are clouded with preconceived ideas. I’ve found that the ability of discovering truth, has far less to do with intelligence and far more to do with one” ability to shed potentially errant presuppositions. And, as I think you know, that’s far more difficult than one might think. Most of the arguments for the Apostle John’s authorship of the 4th Gospel begin with a tidbit or two of anecdotal evidence and then digress from there into circular reasoning.


  3. we had a topic on this question about the age of Jesus when he called the disciples and we have not reached a conclusion as of yet but it is proving to be very interestingto


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