How Old Were Jesus’ Disciples?

The student who presented in my historical Jesus class on the twelve disciples mentioned that disciples – i.e. apprentices or students – were normally younger people. We tend to think of Jesus’ disciples as older, but the possibility that they may have been teenagers was drawn to mind by a humorous video Mark Goodacre shared (which in turn was sparked by something I posted about the aforementioned meeting of my class on the historical Jesus):

Well, that certainly explains why Thaddeus isn’t famous, doesn’t it?

The student who presented also mentioned as a consideration the typical age at which people shift religious allegiances, which I also thought was interesting.

Jesus was perhaps not like other teachers. But perhaps he was more like them than is sometimes assumed. What age do you think his students typically were?

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  • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

    I agree, most Jesus’ followers might have been young, unmarried, with no dependants (exception Peter). The Kingdom of God promised by John and Jesus was on earth, for flesh & blood, with no eternal life. Jesus suggested it would bring easy to get food, drink and clothes, greatly reducing labour and consequently increasing life expectancy.
    For poor young people, facing a life of hard work (but also having got a taste of it), the message was very attractive.
    For poor older people, who went already through that, nearing the end of their (short) life, it was too late: they would enjoy only a few years of God’s Kingdom. They had no reason to be enthusiastic about it.

  • steven

    That is the trouble when you have a group of people about whom there is no evidence of their existence (people like Thomas, for example)

    It is really hard to pin down their ages when they can’t even be shown to have existed.

    It is not even as though we can point to other examples of itinerant preachers who have a fixed number of disciples, and see what sort of ages those disciples would have been and use them as a basis of comparison.

  • Zach

    We know the Disciples were under the age of 20. In Matthew 17:24-17 Jesus instructs Peter to pay the Temple Tax for himself and for Jesus. All 12 Disciples were together at this point according to the earlier text. The Temple Tax was imposed on individuals age 20 and older. Therefore we can conclude through the use of historical information that the Disciples were all under the age of 20, with the exception of Peter.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      Interesting observation!