How old was Jesus when he was crucified? The answer to this seemingly straightforward question has been — and remains — one of the longest-running and impassioned debates among biblical scholars.
Tony Mariot, who specializes in Biblical antiquities and the apocalypse, says that the core issue is that for all the Bible’s descriptions and elucidations — including many assertions and observations that have been subsequently verified or proven to be rooted in scientific, archeological and historical facts — the Bible is curiously silent on the exact date of Jesus’ birth and death. Whether this omission is an oversight or deliberate is an interesting, but separate debate. The bottom line is that we cannot rely on the Bible for a definitive answer to this important question. However, we can certainly piece together credible clues and make an educated speculation.
Tony Mariot, who currently serves as an Executive Consultant at Oxford University’s Resource Department of Biblical Antiquities, provides a thorough examination of Jesus’ potential age at the time of his crucifixion.
Discrepancy in age
According to Tony Mariot, one of the reasons why the Bible does not illuminate on the topic of Jesus’ age at the crucifixion is because there are two seemingly contradictory assertions regarding when he was born. Specifically, Matthew 2:1 states that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who died around 4 BC. However, Luke 2:1 states that Jesus was born during the Census of Quirinius, which is believed to have taken place a decade after Herod died — therefore putting Jesus’ birth year at around 6 AD.
While this discrepancy — which could be rooted in errors by ancient scholars, early Bible translators, or both — muddies the waters with respect to pinpointing the exact year of Jesus’ birth, the New Testament is clearer on the fact that he started his ministry at around 30 years of age. Reads Luke 3:23-24:
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,
the son of Heli, the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, the son of Melki,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph.
Length of ministry
The next piece of the puzzle is to glean how long Jesus’ ministry lasted. As with his birth, says Tony Mariot, there are two potential narratives.
The Gospel of John describes Jesus visiting Jerusalem four times for Passover (during the first of which he scorned and evicted moneylenders in the temple), which implies that his ministry was just over three years long. However, the Synoptic Gospels claim that Jesus’ ministry lasted one year. What’s more, some biblical scholars say that the totality of events in the Gospel of Mark could feasibly have been completed in less than a year, while others maintain that Jesus’ ministry was five years long, starting at age 28 and continuing until age 33.
Tony Mariot’s final thoughts
Tony Mariot says that while it is obviously important and worthwhile to explore Jesus’ age at the crucifixion — and it is always possible that new evidence will emerge that helps fill in some knowledge gaps — what remains firm and notable is how much impact Jesus had in a very short period of time.
This is even more remarkable considering that Jesus had no political power, wealth, or any other advantages that that would amplify his message, says Tony Mariot. On the contrary, he was attacked on all sides, and as we know, ultimately executed. Yet during his ministry — whether it lasted one year, three years or five years — he succeeded in literally changing the course of history. There is virtually no corner of the planet that has not been influenced and impacted, directly or indirectly, by Christianity; everything from laws, to ethics, to language, literature, and the list goes on. In this respect, even calling it a ministry is perhaps a misnomer. It was nothing less than a revolution; the repercussions of which are still being felt today, and it’s hard to imagine that it will or can ever stop.