Christ's Age at Death?


#1

In another thread, somebody has rather strenuous objection to Irenaeus’ claim that Jesus was closer to 50 than 30 when he died (using this as a reason to dismiss everything else in his writings.)

I have always “assumed” Jesus was 33 when He died. (I am not very sure why I believed that to be the case. I think it is by summing the “about 30” in Luke and the about 3 years of ministry from scripture?)

The “bible alone”, certainly does not give us enough information to determine His precise age at death (not that it matters from a theological basis).

From the Bible and historical records, I think we “know” the following:

Christ was born during the reign of Herod 37-4 B.C.E.
John starts his ministry in 29 C.E ("fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar.”)
We know Pilot was procurator from 26-36 C.E.
Caiphas was High Priest from 18-36 C.E.
We know that his Public Ministry was at least 3 years (at least 4 separate Passovers are listed after His baptism).

We also “know” from Luke that Christ was “about 30” when he “began” His public ministry. But I’m not sure if this actually tells us anything. What does “when Jesus began his ministry He was about 30 years of age” actually mean? When did He “begin His ministry?” Before, After or When He was baptized? What is “about 30: 25-35; 30-40; 30+? I do not really know if Luke tells us anything for sure about His age here.

I “think” we may be able to claim that He must have been “at least” 30 and less than 50 when He started His ministry based on Numbers 4:3 and perhaps this is all that Luke was really getting at with this verse.

I have seen an analysis somewhere that says that we can know “for sure” that He died on April 2nd, 33. based on the years that we end up celebrating the Passover on a Thursday, but I’m not sure if I buy into that just yet.

So on to the math work:

The real problem (as I see it) is, we have no real basis on which to limit the “unknown” times. That is he could have been born up to 23 year earlier than 4 B.C.E. and His public ministry could have lasted up to 7 years after His baptism.

It seems to me that his absolute minimum age at death was 31 (4B.C.E. to 26 C.E.) and His absolute maximum age was 74 (37 B.C.E. to 36 C.E.) based simply on the death of Herod and the term of Pilot.

If we know that absolute latest birth year was 4 B.C.E. and John didn’t even start his ministry until 29 C.E. then he had to be at least 34 when He was baptized and therefore with at least 3 ½ years of public ministry was at least 37 when He died.

He was more likely to have been born no later than 8-5 B.C.E. (rather than 4 B.C.E) Given that Christ was likely born a minimum of a year before Herod died probably 2-3 years. (i.e. even if Herod gave the order on his death bed, why would he have gone after 2 year olds if Christ had just been born?) So He would need to have been more like at least 38-41 years old when he died.

I don’t see any evidence that precludes Christ from having been older than this at death (other than He must have been less than 74.)

All of a sudden Irenaeus’ "50"doesn’t look so wacky to me.

What am I missing? (It seems like the date of the Census should come in here somehwere, but that the date was in major dispute?)

Chuck


#2

Did you go through Irenaeus’ actual exegesis (part 4-5 here). I don’t necessarily find him to “conclude” 50.

Also check out Mark Bonocore’s treatment of Irenaeus here if you haven’t already.

I also found this on a web Q&A if it helps:

We do not know for sure the exact age of Jesus when He was crucified, but He was probably 33 years old. Here is the argument.
Jesus was baptized. But the reason He was baptized was to “fulfill all righteousness,” (Matt. 3:15). He had to fulfill the legal requirements for entering into the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:8-10; 6:20). Priests offered sacrifice to God on behalf of the people. Jesus became a sacrifice for our sin (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21) in His role as priest.
To be consecrated as a priest, Jesus had to be: 1) washed with water - baptism - (Lev. 8:6; Exodus 29:4, Matt. 3:16). 2) Anointed with oil - the Holy Spirit - (Lev. 8:12; Exodus 29:7; Matt. 3:16). Additionally, He may have needed to be 30 years old, Num. 4:3, “from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.” Therefore we can conclude that Jesus began His earthly ministry at the age of 30. Since it went on for 3 1/2 years before Jesus was crucified, it is safe to say that He was 33 at the time of His death.


#3

Yeah. I see the same thing. The title for the chapter says “over 50”. But the body of the chapter seems to be suggesting He was in His 40s but had the experience / wisdom of an old man i.e. over 50.

By my reconning He could very well have been in his 40s.

Chuck


#4

I have seen some interesting arguments from two passages in John’s Gospel.

At John 2:12 ‘But He spoke of the temple of His body.’ Jesus compares himself to the Temple. Herod’s Temple was completed in 12 BCE, so the Temple would have been about 45 years old then. Was Jesus perhaps also about 45 years old?

John 8:57 has ‘The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”’ This can be read to imply that Jesus was between 40 and 50. Had He been between 30 and 40 then it would have been more likely for the Jews to have said “You are not yet forty years old”.

rossum


#5

First of all his precise age is not that important but why can’t you accept what the Bible says. Luke says he was about 30 when he started his ministry and his ministry lasted around 3 years. That would mean Jesus was “about” 33 when he died. Normally when people say someone is “about” a certain age it is usually 2 or three years either side. Nobody could construe about 30 plus 3 as meaning 50.


#6

If we accept some of the details of the Infancy Narratives as fact, Jesus is about six months older than John. At the Annunciation Elizabeth is about six months along and Mary hastened to visit her. Perhaps to stay and assist her kinswoman until John’s birth. I really like to think that. I don’t know if we are any better informed of John’s time of birth.


#7

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