Jesus’ Age at Death
Q: How old was Jesus when he died?
A: Scholars debate the exact time of Jesus’ birth, so fixing His age at death is difficult. Estimates vary from 33 to 38, with some even going as high as forty years. The Bible is not specific, but using the background historical record of who was in office at different times in His life leads most to assume an age of between 30 and 35 years when He was baptized and began His ministry. This is in line with the age of religious maturity observed by many of the Jews. Among them, no one would be accepted as a rabbi before his thirtieth year.
In parts of Judaism, certain Scriptures were not supposed to be read by anyone younger than thirty, thus keeping one from becoming a rabbi until he reached that age. These books were sometimes referred to ones requiring the washing of hands. Some Jewish leaders taught that their contents might lead one to ritual uncleanness or be a burden on their faith. Because of its somewhat erotic content, the Song of Songs was one of these. Many moderns are surprised to find that Ezekiel was also one of the proscribed books for younger Jewish readers. This was for several reasons, including both God’s Glory abruptly withdrawing from his holy city, Jerusalem, and specific action prophecies commanded by the Lord for Ezekiel which were counter to Levitical law.
While I think it quite possible that He was a few years older, tradition remains that Jesus was thirty-three years old when He died. Vestiges of this thought remain among the worship practices in parts of Christianity. For example, the traditional cassock worn in the Roman Catholic Church often has 33 buttons and I’ve read encouragements for priests to meditate and pray upon Christ’s Passion as they fastened these buttons. Also, some churches, including my own congregation, ring their bells thirty-three times before the start of the service as a reminder that it is because of “Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)” that we gather. I’ve also discovered that some ancient monastic practices, such as patterns of prayer, are based upon a cycle of 33 occurrences.
A Note to Australian Visitors (17 January 2007): Because I noticed a great number of hits coming to this post from Google Australia, I posted about this phenomenon and received a brief reply about a contest being held Down Under. If anyone else would like to fill us in about this event (and how it’s going for you), please visit the update and leave us a comment. Thanks much!
Updated and expanded on 19 January 2007.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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