When were the apostlesand New Testament writers born? [Akin] (Merged)

jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/twelve-apostles-300x172.jpgWouldn’t it be neat to know more about the apostles?—like when they were born?

How about members of Jesus’ family?

It turns out, we can figure that out with more reliability than you might suppose.

Let’s put on our detective hats and see what we can discover . . .

A Key Insight

I was a child in the 1970s. It was a tumultuous time. It followed the youth rebellion of the late 1960s, and there were many, similar youth rebellions and protest movements in different parts of the world in the ’70s.

Listening to TV and radio reports of everything that was happening, I couldn’t help but notice that—over and over again—the people involved in these movements were young. It didn’t matter where in the world they were—Iran, West Germany, South Korea, or anywhere else—it was always young people and “students” who were involved.

The pattern was so striking that I asked my father—a university professor—why it was always young people involved in these revolutionary movements.

I don’t recall his exact words, but my memory is that he said they had less to lose. Young people haven’t yet put down roots in society. They haven’t married, gotten jobs, and established families, and so they could join revolutionary movements without threatening the lives that they were building for themselves and their loved ones.

One thing that I’m sure my father didn’t mention, though it’s true, is that passions also run high in youth. It’s part of the nature of the beast. In adolescence, our hormones are famously raging, and part of that continues into young adulthood.

Thus St. Paul warns St. Timothy:

Shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22).

St. Paul undoubtedly meant the sexual passions that rage during youth, but youth is a passionate time for many reasons, not all of them sexual. Young people feel everything with a special passion, and that is part of what leads them into revolutionary movements all over the world.

Including Palestine.

Including in the first century.

In view of this, we would expect that the majority of the followers of the revolutionary movement started by Jesus of Nazareth would be young.

Specifically: They would be younger that he was.

I mean, if he was leading a revolutionary movement of young people, it is unlikely that the average age of his followers would be higher than his! Individual followers may have been, but this would not have been the norm.

That raises an important question . . .

What are the dates for Jesus’ birth and ministry?

Most scholars today think that Jesus was born around 6 B.C., and possibly earlier.

This date is based on the idea that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who they hold to have died in 4 B.C.

The Gospel of Matthew indicates that Jesus was as much as two years old when Herod died (see Matt. 2:16), which would require a date of 6 B.C. or earlier—if Herod died in 4 B.C.

However, Herod did not die if 4 B.C. Instead, he died in 1 B.C. As a result, it turns out that the Church Fathers were correct in placing the birth of Jesus in 3/2 B.C.

Luke reports that John the Baptist began his ministry “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1), or A.D. 29. He also reports that Jesus began his ministry (very) shortly after John and that “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23).

This fits with the date established for his birth. If he was born in 3/2 B.C. then, bearing in mind there is no “Year 0” in the B.C./A.D. system, he would have been “about thirty” in A.D. 29. (In fact, his 30th birthday would have fallen in A.D. 29 if he was born in 2 B.C., due to the absence of a “Year 0”).

Since we can show that Jesus was crucified on April 3, A.D. 33, that means he was between 33 and 34 years old at the time of the Crucifixion.

This gives us a basis to calculate the probable ages of the apostles and the New Testament authors.

The Ages of the Twelve

If Jesus was thirty when he began his ministry and the twelve apostles tended to be younger than him, their average age would be somewhere in the twenties.

It’s hardly likely that Jesus was leading around teenagers—people around half his age—so the twenties are the correct time. Let us suppose that they were, on average, twenty-five years of age at the time Jesus’ ministry began.

If so, the average apostle would have been born around A.D. 4.

We can refine this estimate in a few cases, though, because among the Twelve there were at least two sets of brothers—Peter and Andrew (sons of Jonah) and James and John (sons of Zebedee).

We have no evidence that they were twin brothers. Twins are very uncommon, and we already have reason to think that Thomas was a twin (that’s what both his Aramaic and Greek names mean), so Thomas probably wouldn’t have been called “the Twin” (John 11:16) if there were other twins in the group.

Protocol would indicate that the brothers named first were older, so there must be some time between the births of the elder brothers (Peter and James) and the younger brothers (Andrew and John).

Although it is possible that only a year separated the older from the younger, this is unlikely. Not only do couples typically delay the resumption of marital relations after a birth, in the ancient world, ordinary mothers breast fed their children, which tended to delay the next pregnancy. There were miscarriages, stillbirths, and cases of infant mortality. Half of all children were girls, and there could even be an intervening brother who did not follow Jesus. Between these factors, a considerable amount of time is likely to have passed between the birth of the older brother and that of the younger. We will estimate the period as being six years.

This means that we may estimate Peter and James as having been born three years earlier than the average estimated birth year (i.e., in A.D. 1) and Andrew and John as being born three years later (i.e., in A.D. 7).

This would give us estimated birth years for three of the traditional authors of the New Testament:

*]Peter: A.D. 1
*]Matthew: A.D. 4
*]John son of Zebedee: A.D. 7

The Brethren of the Lord

Two of Jesus’ “brothers”—James the Just and Jude—also authored books of the New Testament.

There have been attempts to identify them with the apostles known as James son of Alphaeus and Jude Thaddeus.

However, this is implausible, because John’s Gospel unambiguously indicates that Jesus’ “brothers” were not disciples during his ministry, stating, “even his brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). It is thus scarcely likely that two of them were among the apostles that followed him during his ministry.

We thus can’t use the average age of apostles to determine the age of these two figures. However, we may be able to determine their probable ages in another way.

If the theory—common in Protestant circles—were true that they were Jesus’ younger half-brothers (born to Joseph and Mary) then we might estimate their birth years based on Jesus’ birth year. However, this view is excluded by other information we have, which indicates that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus.

Since the time of St. Jerome, it has been common in Western Catholicism to propose that the brethren of the Lord were cousins. If so, we have no way of telling whether they were older or younger cousins (or both). We would know only that they were of the same generation as Jesus, which we could have determined anyway.

However, the earliest proposal for who the brethren of the Lord were—a proposal that dates to the A.D. 100s, making it older than either of the above views, and which has always been the view maintained in Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Christianity—is that they were Jesus’ step-brothers, that is, children of Joseph by a prior marriage. As an elderly widower, Joseph was not seeking to begin a family and thus was willing to serve as the guardian of a consecrated virgin like Mary.

If so, the brethren would have been older than Jesus—but by how much?

The Gospels identify Jesus’ brethren as James, Joses (Joseph), Jude, and Simon (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3a). They also indicate that he had at least two “sisters” (Matt. 13:56, Mark 6:3b).

We have already taken into account the effect that sisters would have had on the average gap between surviving sons, so if the above list reflects the birth order of Jesus’ brethren (as is probable), we may estimate that James was the oldest, that Joses was six years his junior, that Judas was twelve years his junior, and that Simon was eighteen years his junior.

We must also allow time for Joseph’s first wife to pass and for him to grieve and then become the husband of Mary. We will assume that this represented three years, since men with small children (as Simon would have been) tended to remarry quickly in the ancient world.

After marrying, it was customary to wait a year before beginning cohabitation, and Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit during this period.

That would give us the following estimates for the births of Jesus and his brethren:

*]James: 25 B.C.
*]Joses: 19 B.C.
*]Jude: 13 B.C.
*]Simon: 7 B.C.
*]Jesus: 3/2 B.C.
[/LIST]Of course, these are only estimates, and Jesus’ brethren—or some of them—may have been born much less than six years apart.

On the other hand, around A.D. 378, in his Panarion, St. Epiphanius of Salamis reports a tradition that James died at the age of 96. From Josephus, we know that James was martyred in A.D. 62, in which case he would have been born in 35 B.C., so the above estimates might be too late rather than too early.

Either way, however, the brethren would have been significantly older than Jesus, which may explain their attitude of disbelief during Jesus’ ministry. As Jesus said, a prophet has no honor in his own family.

From their perspective, Jesus was the much younger son of their father’s second wife, and it took the miracle of the Resurrection to convince them that he was the Messiah.

UP NEXT: We can also figure out when the other authors of the New Testament were born. Stay tuned!

Looking for Something Good to Read?

jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/commentary.pngMay I suggest my*commentary on the Gospel of Mark?

It goes through the whole text and provides fascinating information that you may have never heard before.

It also comes with a verse-by-verse study guide with questions that you or your study group can use.

And it comes with a lectionary-based study guide, so you can read along with Mark in the liturgy and ponder its meaning before or after Mass.

Right now, this commentary is available*exclusively on Verbum Catholic software.

Verbum is an incredibly powerful study tool that I use every day, and I heartily recommend it to others.

I can also***save you 10%***when you get the commentary or one of the bundles of Verbum software. Just use the code***JIMMY1***at checkout.




Handy information. Thanks Jimmy!:thumbsup:

jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/new-testament-1-300x200.jpgIt’s surprising, but with a little sleuthing, we can get good estimates of when the authors of the New Testament were born.

Let’s put on our detective hats and see what we can learn about Paul and his circle of New Testament authors.

(Yesterday we looked at the Twelve and the brethren of Jesus.)


We first meet Paul in Acts 7:58, at the stoning of Stephen, where Luke describes him as “a young man named Saul.”

Since the Jewish authorities were imposing the death penalty on Steven—something they were normally forbidden by the Roman authorities to do (cf. John 18:30), this event likely occurred during the period immediately after Pontius Pilate’s dismissal as governor in A.D. 36, before the new governor arrived.

Someone described as “a young man” is likely between 20 and 30, with an average age of 25. However, given the leadership role that Paul was granted in persecuting the early Church, we will assume he was 28. If Paul was that age in A.D. 36 then he would have been born around A.D. 8.

This becomes a key date for helping us determine the ages of Paul’s companions.


We first hear of John Mark in Acts 12, which takes place in A.D. 43. At the end of this chapter, Mark accompanies Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, and he subsequently became their junior travelling companion on the First Missionary Journey (cf. Acts 13:5), though he soon left their company and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Based on our estimate of Paul’s year of birth, he would have been around 35 in A.D. 43, and Mark would have certainly been younger.

How much younger is hard to say, but we may have something of an analog in Timothy—the junior companion of Paul whose age we can most closely estimate.

As we will see below, Timothy began travelling with Paul when he was very young. It is probable that he was around 17 years old at the time.

This is probably unusually young for a Pauline traveling companion, but it indicates the kind of age that Paul’s junior companions could have at the beginning of their travels.

Mark was probably a bit older than this, though still a young man. We will assume that he was 23 when he first began travelling with Paul and Barnabas, in which case he would have been born around A.D. 20.


Although Luke was a travelling companion of Paul, he was a different kind of companion. The evidence we have indicates that he was more independent than Paul’s unmistakably junior companions (Mark, Timothy, Titus).

One line of evidence that indicates this is that he is not always with Paul in Acts. There are some passages—known as the “we” passages, where he uses the word “we” to describe the movements of Paul’s party. In these passages, he is present, but the “we” passages are interspersed with other passages where the party’s movements are described in the third person. Luke thus does not seem to have been with Paul on those occasions.

Also, unlike the unmistakably junior companions, we don’t have his absence explained by statements that Paul sent him on a mission (cf. Acts 19:22, 1 Tim. 1:3, Tit. 1:5). It thus seems that Luke may have made more of his own decisions about travel.

This is consistent with Paul’s description of Luke as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). Physicians commanded more respect than junior associates who had no other career, and Paul was probably reluctant to give Luke commands the way he did other companions.

Physicians also tended to be older. Even in the ancient world, becoming a doctor would have required a comparatively lengthy apprenticeship, and Luke would have acquired his profession and practiced for some time before becoming Paul’s companion.

All of this speaks to Luke being more of a contemporary of Paul rather than a junior companion. Since he was still young enough to travel extensively (and amid conditions of hardship; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-27), and since he was a subordinate, if somewhat independent companion, he probably wasn’t notably older than Paul.

We will therefore assume that they were approximately the same age.

We first encounter Luke in Acts 16:10, when Paul is in Troas and the first “we” passage begins. This appears to have taken place in A.D. 49, when Paul—and by extension Luke—would have been around 41 years old.

We thus estimate that Luke would have been born around A.D. 8.

Paul’s Co-Authors

Unusually for writers in the ancient world, Paul lists three individuals—Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy—as co-authors of some of his letters. Though people seldom think of these men in this light, they therefore count as New Testament authors, and so we will estimate their ages.


The most mysterious of the co-authors is Sosthenes. Paul lists him as having helped in writing 1 Corinthians, which he penned around A.D. 53 from Ephesus, during the period referred to in Acts 19:10.

Scholars have debated whether he is the same Sosthenes mentioned in Acts 18:17, who Luke describes as “a ruler of the synagogue” in Corinth and who was beaten by a crowd.

This is possible, but it is not certain. Unfortunately, Luke does not give us enough detail about this Sosthenes, and it is not even clear if he is a Christian or a non-Christian Jew.

It is possible, if he were not a Christian at the time, that he later became one and relocated to Ephesus (perhaps due to further persecution in Corinth), and so Paul decided to include him as a co-author since the Corinthians already knew him.

Since “Sosthenes” was an uncommon Greek name and since Paul introduces him to the Corinthians in a way that suggests he is familiar to them (referring to him simply as “our brother”; lit., “the brother”), we will assume that he is the same person.

The ruler of a synagogue would not be young, and the crowd would presumably not beat an elderly man. It is thus probable that Sosthenes was between 40 and 60 at the time. We will assume that he was 50 at the time of the beating, which would have taken place in A.D. 51.

We thus assume that Sosthenes was born around A.D. 1.


We first hear of Silas (*aka *Silvanus) in Acts 15:22, where he is describe as one of the “leading men among the brethren” in Jerusalem. He, along with Judas Barsabbas, is sent from the Jerusalem Council to take a letter with the council’s results to Antioch.

The council took place in A.D. 49, and the fact Silas was then a leading man in Jerusalem means that he was not a young man. Also, Luke tends to note it when he introduces a young man (cf. Luke 7:14, Acts 7:58, 20:9, 23:17-18, 22), though not always (see below).

Silas was not too old to travel, though. Indeed, he was still able to travel in the mid-A.D. 60s, because he was the letter carrier for 2 Peter (1 Pet. 5:12).

He was also willing to accept a subordinate position to Paul on the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-18:22), so he probably was not significantly older than Paul.

All of this suggests that he was approximately Paul’s contemporary, so we will place his birth in A.D. 8, making him 41 at the time of the Jerusalem Council.


We first meet Timothy in Acts 16:1, when Paul visits Lystra. Unusually, Luke does not introduce Timothy as a young man, though he must have been, for in 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth.”

Acts 16:1 took place in A.D. 49, and 1 Timothy was written around A.D. 65—sixteen years later! For Timothy to still be described as young at that point means he must have been very young when he became Paul’s travelling companion.

The fact he is listed as a co-author after Silvanus in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1 also suggests he was younger than Silvanus.

A man of 40, or even a man near 40, would not have been despised for his youth, and so Timothy must have been in his early-to-mid 30s in A.D. 65, making him a teenager when he joined Paul.

We will assume that he was around 17 in A.D. 49, which would place his birth around A.D. 32.

John the Elder

There is a final figure we need to consider. Although John son of Zebedee is traditionally regarded as the author of the Johannine literature in the New Testament (i.e., John, 1-3 John, Revelation), there is reason to think that another figure—who the Church Fathers refer to as “John the Elder” or “John the Presbyter”—was responsible for at least some of it.

Thus St. Jerome and Pope Benedict XVI held John the Elder to have been the author at least of 2 and 3 John (both of which are addressed as being by “the Elder”). It is thought he may have had a role in other Johannine books also.

If he was responsible for any of these books, when he would have been born?

This is difficult to determine. The patristic evidence indicates that John the Elder was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, making him at least a contemporary of he apostles.

The fact he is referred to as “the Elder” also suggests he was not a young man when he was in his literary prime. If he wrote 2 and 3 John, he was probably in his late 50s or 60s at the youngest.

Unfortunately, without knowing more it is hard to establish any firm date, so we will assume that he was a rough contemporary of the apostles and would have been born around A.D. 4.


From the above, we can establish the approximate birth years of the traditional authors of the New Testament as follows:

*]Matthew: A.D. 4
*]Mark: A.D. 20
*]Luke: A.D. 8
*]John: A.D. 7
*]Paul: A.D. 8
*]Sosthenes: A.D. 1
*]Silas: A.D. 8
*]Timothy: A.D. 32
*]James: 25 B.C.
*]Peter: A.D. 1
*]John the Elder: A.D. 4
*]Jude: 13 B.C.
[/LIST]Or, to put them in chronological order:

*]25 B.C.: James the Just
*]13 B.C.: Jude
*]D. 1: Peter and Sosthenes
*]D. 4: Matthew and John the Elder
*]D. 7: John son of Zebedee
*]D. 8: Paul, Luke, and Silas
*]D. 20: Mark
*]D. 32: Timothy
[/LIST]Bear in mind that these are only approximations. People in the ancient world did not keep track of birth years as rigorously as we do, and we have very incomplete evidence. The actual years undoubtedly vary somewhat from these.

However, the estimates provide a starting point for answering questions like, “Could the traditional authors of the New Testament have written the books attributed to them?”

That’s a subject we’ll talk about soon.

Looking for Something Good to Read?

jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/commentary.pngMay I suggest my*commentary on the Gospel of Mark?

It goes through the whole text and provides fascinating information that you may have never heard before.

It also comes with a verse-by-verse study guide with questions that you or your study group can use.

And it comes with a lectionary-based study guide, so you can read along with Mark in the liturgy and ponder its meaning before or after Mass.

Right now, this commentary is available*exclusively on Verbum Catholic software.

Verbum is an incredibly powerful study tool that I use every day, and I heartily recommend it to others.

I can also***save you 10%***when you get the commentary or one of the bundles of Verbum software. Just use the code***JIMMY1***at checkout.




Has anyone else read this thread?

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