Jesus' age- insight from John 2:20?


This is a question for the experts on Greek and the original NT manuscripts.

How old was Jesus when he was crucified? Lots of theories. My own belief is that he was in his late forties when it happened, given a 12-11 B.C. date of birth and heavy reliance on the eighth chapter of John.

Which is:

Gospel of John 8:57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

8:58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 8:59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Well and good. And there are threads on this subject and counter-arguments- albeit weak ones- that have been made.

But is there added evidence of Jesus’ “late” age in the second chapter of John?

Gospel of John: 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.…

But can we make the bridge from the age of the Temple rebuilding to Jesus’ actual age?

According to a late crucifixion scenario, Jesus would have died in A.D. 36. If we can interpret the above passage to intimate that Jesus was 46 years of age in the year before his crucifixion, A.D. 35, then he would have died at the age of 47- fitting in well.

Herod the Great started building the foundations of the Second Temple in 20 B.C. and finished the groundwork around 10 B.C. The actual Temple- the First Temple- was untouched as this work was done. The area AROUND the site of the First temple was built up to what we see today in Jerusalem. This was called the outer courtyard and was open to those of every faith.

Only after the outer courtyard had been tiled over and finished was work began in what became known as the Inner Sanctuary- where the First Temple was rebuilt under the watchful eyes of the Jewish High Priesthood.

So in A.D. 35 the work on that aspect of the Second Temple had been going on for 45-46 years, and John was accurate in that respect. Was this just a coincidence that Jesus and the “new” temple were approximately the same age?


I’d say 38-39 was more likely, given a commonly-accepted birth year of 6BC, and a death year of AD33.

While no longer a “young” man, HE would have been in the prime of His life when “cut off.”

Somehow though, I don’t think the image of a grayheaded LORD would ever catch on.



In Luke 3:23 it says Jesus was “about 30 years of age” and John records about 3 1/2 years of his ministry. So it would seem he was still in his thirties when he died.


One problem with such an older age is that you make Mary to be in her mid 60’s at a minimum. That’s awfully old for an aged woman to follow around for 3 years on foot, following her Son.


Mary was somewhere between 10-14 years old when she had Jesus.


What about the year of the Crucifixion? I think there are two things that can now safely be said about the question.

  1. It can only be either 30 or 33. Several other dates were put forward at different times in the past, but all the other possibilities except these two have now been rejected on astronomical grounds (Passover, i.e. Nisan 14, the full moon, falling on a particular day of the week).

  2. Those scholars who reject 30 base their argument on the fact that Sejanus was still in power at the time as the commander of the Pretorian Guard and *de facto *ruler of the Empire, since Tiberius had withdrawn to Capri and relied on him to manage the business of government on his behalf. They further say that Sejanus was hostile toward the Jews and that Pilate, therefore, would never have allowed himself to be pressured by the Jerusalem priesthood into upholding the death sentence.

Are there any other arguments that we need to be aware of?


The Synoptics put his ministry at one year only, and most biblical scholars today agree with that.


Then that’s even further away from late forties.


I always thought that tradition stated that Mary was 14 when she conceived the Lord, and that He was 33 when he died.

Not sure if theologically correct, however. However, a lot of great saints died at 33, and it has been read as a special sign of favor from the Lord.

But I am pretty sure He was not in his late forties as steve53 suggests. When they said “you are not even 50 years old” they were just trying to point out that he was very young to claim to have seen Abraham…they could have said “you are not even 100 years old” and gotten the same point across. They probably just used 50 because it was obvious just looking at Him that He was younger than that. I doubt that those people conversing with Him were aware of His actual birthdate.


I meant to write “some scholars” not “the Synoptics.” I should not try to post and write papers. I am not good at multi-tasking. My mistake, and I apologize. My focus of study for my Master’s is the historical Jesus. I believe his ministry was "about 3 1/2 years. So, here is what I believe:

Well, we know Jesus was born during the final years of the reign of Herod the Great. Herod died in 4 BCE, so Jesus was most likely born in late 5 BCE or early 4 BCE. Frankly, I go with late 5 BCE because Herod had to have enough time to order all boys two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area killed (Mt 2:16; 19).

Scholars are widely divided on the year of Jesus’ crucifixion, with dates ranging from 26-36. It is fairly easy to rule out some of those years by asking who was in office when Jesus was crucified? Who were the officials who presided at Jesus’ trial? They were Caiaphus and Pilate, both of whom were in office from 26-36 CE. Right away, we can rule out any year prior to 26 CE. The crucifixion occurred on a Friday (the only thing problematic with that is that Jews usually did not allow the bodies of the crucified to be on the cross late in the afternoon, but are we really sure that Jesus was on the cross from noon till three? I don’t think so.). However, we will accept Friday since it is generally accepted. The only years in which 14 Nisan (the generally accepted date and month) occurred on a Friday were 27, 30, 33, and 36 CE. Okay, getting closer.

Luke 3:1-3 tells us that John the Baptist began his ministry “in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” The Emperor Augustus died on August 19, 14 CE, a fact which can be confirmed by the Roman historians Tacitus (*Annales *4§4) and Suetonius (Tiberius 73). So, the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, the year in which John the Baptist began his public ministry would have been 29 CE.

In Lk 3:23, we read that Jesus was “about 30 years old” when he began his own public ministry. If Jesus was born in 5 BCE, this would mean that he was about 33 years old when he began his public ministry. (Men had to be between 30-50 to enter the royal priesthood of Melchizedek, so Jesus was at least 30 at his baptism.)

The gospel of John, which I take as the most accurate, tells us that Jesus celebrated three Passovers with his disciples: (1) Jerusalem (Jn 2:13; 23), (2) Galilee (Jn 6:4), (3) Jerusalem (Jn 11:55;12:1). Matthew 12:1, I think it is, records a fourth Passover not recorded in John. That would make a public ministry of 3 ½ years. If Jesus began his public ministry in 29 CE, a 3 ½ year ministry would bring us to 33 CE, and 14 Nisan was on a Friday in 33 CE.

John 2:20 tells the reader that the temple was completed “46 years ago.” If any of you are familiar with the writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, he states in his Antiquities 15.11.1 § 380 that renovation of the temple began in 20-19 BCE and was completed 18 months later (Antiquities 15.11.6 § 421). So, if we add 46 years to 18-17 BCE, we are brought to 29 CE.

If the above biblical passages are correct, and if the calculations are correct, Jesus died on Friday, April 3, 33 CE.

In Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 22 Irenaeus says Jesus was “about fifty” when he was crucified, however that would mean Jesus was born about 20 BCE! Surely, not!

Note: All of the above work is not original to me. I’ve culled and put together things from true biblical scholars in writing my Master’s thesis. I can’t take credit for the work of others.:eek:


After studying the bible, Jewish historians, Roman historians, and biblical scholars, I believe Jesus was born in November 5 BCE. (Note there was no year zero when calculating.)


Not necessarily so, according to Harold Hoehner. His book *Herod Antipas *includes a seven-page appendix entitled “The Commencement of John the Baptist’s Ministry” in which he examines, among other things, the different formulas in use in antiquity for calculating regnal years. One possibility, for instance, is that Year 1 of Tiberius’s reign may have been reckoned from Aug. 19, AD 14, to Dec. 31, AD 14, and consequently his fifteenth year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, AD 28.

Hoehner’s conclusion about JB’s ministry: “Whichever of these last three methods is accepted, it follows that John’s ministry would not have begun before 1 Tishri AD 27 nor after 18 August 29.”


There will no doubt be disagreement about this until the end of time when all is made clear and we meet Jesus face-to-face. However, the timeline I’ve used is the one used by the most scholars and the most respected scholars. I, myself, have no doubt that Jesus died on Friday, April 3, 33 CE, however, no one can prove any specific date.



On the Death of Herod, the Birth of Jesus and the Accuracy of Luke

Matthew tells us that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.

Matthew 2:1-2
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”

Logically, Jesus had to have been born before the death of Herod the Great.

In the late 1800’s, German scholar Emil Schurer claimed that Herod died in 4 BC. Thus, Jesus had to have been born no later than 4 BC.

Herod slaughtered all the newborns who were two years old and under.

Those newborns would have been born between 6 BC and 4 BC.

Therefore, Jesus may have been born as early as 6 BC – maybe earlier.

But is this correct? No. Schurer may have relied on Josephus who made errors in his reporting of the dates of key events. If Josephus is incorrect, how can we determine the accurate date for the death of Herod? By going back to the beginning of Herod’s reign.

When was Herod the Great appointed king?

Josephus offers two possibilities: 40 BC and 39 BC. These can’t both be right, but there are other sources that suggest 39 BC is the correct date: Roman historians Appian and Dio Cassius. Appian wrote a history of Roman civil wars which mentions the appointment of Herod. It is possible to compare those events with Dio Cassius’ Roman History to determine that key events contained in these two works including the appointment of Herod occurred in 39 BC.

How long was Herod’s reign?

We know that Herod reigned as king for 37 years. Therefore, in order to work out when Herod died, we simply add 37 years to the year of his appointment as king to arrive at a date of 1 BC.

When did Herod conquer Jerusalem?

Once again, Josephus offers two dates for Herod’s conquering of Jerusalem: 37 BC and 36 BC. He further tells us that Herod 34 years later. Since Josephus did not count partial years (Herod did not begin his reign on January 1, for example), this puts the death of Herod in either 2 BC (if he conquered Jerusalem in 37 BC) or 1 BC (if he conquered Jerusalem in 36 BC). Is there any way to determine which of these is correct? Yes.

Which lunar eclipse is the correct one?

Josephus recorded that Herod died between the occurrence of a lunar eclipse and Passover. Astronomers have confirmed that there was a partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC and a total lunar eclipse in 1 BC. Since 4 BC is not an option for the death of Herod based on the two previous points, the eclipse of 1 BC must be the one that Josephus is referencing.

When did Herod die?

Putting all of these facts together, we have:

• Reason to believe that Herod died in 1 BC based upon the date of his appointment and length of reign
• Reason to believe that he died in either 2 BC or 1 BC based upon his conquest of Jerusalem
• Reason to believe that he died in 1 BC based upon the lunar eclipse that occurred just prior to his death.

More specifically, Herod died sometime between January 10, 1 BC (the date of the eclipse) and April 10, 1 BC (the date of Passover that year).

So, Jesus was born as late as 1 BC?

There’s a bit more to consider. If Jesus was born before the death of Herod in 1 BC and before Herod’s slaughter of the infants up to the age of two years old, then working backward from 1 BC, Jesus could have been born as late as 3 BC. Add a year just to be conservative, and we would appear to arrive at date range of 4-3 BC for the birth of Jesus.

But we have to remember that Herod wanted to be sure of killing a rival to his throne, so he based his decision on which infants to kill upon a range of plus or minus some amount of time from the date he learned from the magi. For example, if the magi had told Herod that the star appeared one year earlier, Herod may have chosen to kill all the boys two years old and under – just to be safe from his perspective.

So, Jesus may have been born around 2 BC?

Let’s work backwards beginning with Herod’s death in 1 BC. Assume that Herod met the magi a year earlier. That would be 2 BC. Assume further that the magi told Herod that the birth had occurred a year earlier. That would be 3 BC. Upon hearing that news, Herod ordered the deaths of all boys two and under – putting Jesus’ likely birth date in the 2-4 BC range. However, Herod almost certainly over-estimated just to be sure of wiping out his rival, and that makes it more likely that the birth of Jesus occurred around 2-3 BC at the latest based upon the testimony of Matthew, Josephus and modern astronomy.



Is there additional evidence for this date?

Yes. Luke records that Tiberius became emperor after Augustus died in August of A.D. 14. Roman historians (e.g., Tacitus, Suetonius), however, tended to skip part years and begin counting an emperor’s reign with the first January 1 after they took office. On that reckoning, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar would correspond to what we call A.D. 29. (Remember, the 15th year is the time between the completion of the 14th year and the completion of the 15th year, the same way a child’s first year is the time between his birth and his first birthday.)

Jesus’ ministry starts somewhat after John’s, but it doesn’t appear to be very long. Perhaps only a few weeks or months. If so, Jesus’ ministry also likely started in A.D. 29.

That’s important, because Luke gives us a second clue: He says Jesus was “about thirty years of age” when he began his ministry (Lk 3:23). So, if you take A.D. 29 and back up thirty years, when does that land you? You might think in 1 B.C., but remember that there’s no Year Zero, so it would actually be 2 B.C. or the end of 3 B.C. if Luke was counting Tiberius’s reign from when he became emperor rather than from the next January 1. Thus, 2-3 B.C. is a reasonable estimate based on Luke’s reporting.

Significantly, using two completely different means of working out the dates, Matthew and Luke agree on the birth date of Jesus.

Is there any support for these dates outside of scripture?

Yes. Here is a table adapted from Jack Finegan’s excellent Handbook of Biblical Chronology (p. 291) giving the dates proposed by different sources:

The Alogoi 4 B.C. or A.D. 9
Cassiodorus Senator - 3 B.C.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
St. Clement of Alexandria - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Tertullian of Carthage - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Julius Africanus - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
St. Hippolytus of Rome - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
“Hippolytus of Thebes - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Origen of Alexandria - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Eusebius of Caesarea - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Epiphanius of Salamis - 3 B.C. or 2 B.C.
Orosius - 2 B.C.
Dionysius Exiguus - 1 B.C.
The Chronographer of the Year 354 - A.D. 1

Except for a few outliers, there is strong support for Jesus being born in either 3 or 2 B.C – just as Matthew and Luke have implied.


All any of us can do is guess. If very learned biblical scholars, who have studied this for years can’t figure it out, we cannot.

Jesus probably died in his mid-30s. That’s about the best we can do.


There is a lot of questionable information that has been presented in this thread that deserves to be addressed. And I will do that in a later post.

What I was concerned with was the passage in the second chapter of John referring to the temple being under construction for 46 years. In any translation of the Gospel of John is there a suggestion that Jesus’ actual age was 46 years- and this in the year before his crucifixion?

I am NOT a Greek language scholar.


Liiy, forgive me for saying this, but there seems to be a contradiction in the last sentence of your post #13. On the one hand, you concede that “no one can prove any specific date.” But at the same time you assert that “I, myself, have no doubt that Jesus died on Friday, April 3, 33 CE.” If there is no proof – and on this we are agreed – how can you “have no doubt”?


I’m writing my Master’s thesis on the historical Jesus. I’ve researched about 10-12 different authors and their books regarding the dates of Jesus’ birth, public ministry, crucifixion, etc. I’ve made an extensive study of the Gospel of John as well (not for my thesis, though).

In my own mind, this research had led me to believe without doubt that Jesus died on Friday, April 3, 33 CE. However, other people have come up with other dates. I cannot say with absolute certainty that the date I gave is correct. The fact that it is correct to me does not make it factually correct. There is much proof that Jesus died about that time, but not incontrovertible proof that the date I gave is the exact date. However, if you reject that date, you also have to reject the year 33 CE and back down to 30 CE or move up to 36 CE if you believe Jesus died on a Friday, 14 Nisan.


Why do you think Jesus was 46 at the time? Construction on the temple began 16 years before Jesus’ birth. I give you Barnes’ notes on that passage in John (bolding is mine)::

*Forty and six years … - The temple in which they then were was that which was commonly called “the second temple,” built after the return of the Jews from Babylon. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. This temple Herod the Great commenced repairing, or began to rebuild, in the eighteenth year of his reign - that is, sixteen years before the birth of Christ (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ b. xv. Section 1). The main body of the temple he completed in “nine years and a half” (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ xv. 5, 6), yet the temple, with its outbuildings, was not entirely complete in the time of our Saviour. Herod continued to ornament it and to perfect it even until the time of Agrippa (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ b. xx. chapter viii. Section 11). *As Herod began to rebuild the temple sixteen years before the birth of Jesus, and as what is here mentioned happened in the thirtieth year of the age of Jesus, so the time which had been occupied in it was “forty-six years.” ** This circumstance is one of the many in the New Testament which show the accuracy of the evangelists, and which prove that they were well acquainted with what they recorded. It demonstrates that their narration is true. Impostors do not trouble themselves to be very accurate about names and dates, and there is nothing in which they are more liable to make mistakes.

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