Group Portrait of American Male Teenagers, 2013
Jesus’ twelve disciples were probably young, almost all under the age of eighteen and some as young as 15. All were most likely bachelors, but for one.
There is no indicator in Scripture of a specific age for any disciple. So we look through the lens of historical context as well as clues derived from Scripture.
In the time of Jesus, a Jewish man received a wife after the age of 18. Peter was the only one known to have been married. In Matthew 8:14-15, we learn that Peter had a wife when Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Again, Scripturally, no other disciples’ wives are mentioned.
Education Of That Time
Why are we to assume Jesus’ disciples were so young? The tradition of education of that time indicates it.
Education for the Jewish child concluded at the age of 15.
For those bright (or wealthy) enough, higher education consisted of studying under a local rabbi. If they didn’t find a rabbi that accepted them as a student (much like a college entrance application), then they entered the workforce by their mid teens. In most cases, they apprenticed under their fathers and worked for the prosperity of the family.
Most of the disciples were already apprenticing at their trades as in the case of disciples, James and John.
A Rabbi At The Age of 30
Historically, a rabbi of that time would begin to take on students at the age of 30. It was at the age of 30 that Jesus, we believe, began his public ministry. This also fits in with the rabbinical traditions of the time.
Why was Jesus considered outlandish by the status quo? He was not a rabbi who taught in the synagogue. He taught by the seashore and from the mountaintop. He was anti-religious. His message was radical. Jesus’ idea of loving everyone, occurred to no one. Culture was about hate and aggression. Also, Jesus stated that He was the Son of God. He claimed that the only way to God was through him. (John 14:6)
Of course, this posse of young Jewish guys were not known as “Christians”. Most probably, they were simply students of the Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. As far as we can ascertain from the book of Acts, the early Jesus movement was known as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; Acts 24:14) .The name “Christianity” did not occur until Antioch, several years after Jesus’ resurrection. (Acts 11:27)
Unlike the cinematic portrayals of the past and even in the latest TV miniseries, The Bible airing now , the disciples were probably not middle-aged men. Not only is it against the historical times but flies in the face of Scripture. The only one who might have been older, other than Peter, was Matthew. He had a profession as a tax collector.
Here are a few youth indicators from Scripture”:
The use of the term “little ones”
In Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, and John 13:33, Jesus calls his disciples little children, “little ones”. This would be a bit insulting if they were men, no matter how radical or gentle the rabbi!
James and John
These guys were brothers. They had a pushy mom named Salome who wanted to arrange where they would sit with Jesus at the table. Salome’s pushiness wouldn’t make sense if the brothers were grown men.(Matthew 20:20-24). Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”as they were probably either loud or bold, characteristics in youth.
Only Peter Is Known to Have been Paid the Temple Tax
In Exodus 30:14-15, Jewish law states that every male over the age of 20 is to pay a half-shekel as a census offering when they visit the temple of God. In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus instructs Peter to “fish up” this tax. And to find a four-drachma in the mouth of the fish he catches; enough to pay the tax for two men, himself and Jesus. Jesus requests this only for Peter and for Jesus. You could conclude that the others were underage and did not need to pay.
Teenagers have always been a key component in movie attendance. Today, the physical movie theatre is still a principal destination for teenagers: largely because they can meet friends there, date, hang, etc. While a movie executive in the 80s and 90s, I was always looking for ways to make stories “younger”. An ensemble film, Young Guns, featured a retelling of “Billy the Kid” with a very youthful cast. It had been hugely popular when it was released in 1988. Indeed, we may have had a “Young Guns” cast with the disciples. It was always there.
A youthful discipleship doesn’t change the Truth of the Gospel.
It simply adds a different tonality to its music.