Teens as Disciples: Did Jesus Blow a Hole in the Statement: Teens are the church of tomorrow?
July 5, 2012, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

Recently in church, one of our teens mentioned that they heard a speaker suggest most of the disciples were teens.  It made me think, “How old were the disciples?”  In addition, what can we learn about working with teens from Jesus?  Let’s first look at the age of the disciples.  Where they in their teens? Or where they old men with grey beards and walking staffs? Or maybe something between?

In examining their age, what can be offered as proof of them being young, in their teens?  I believe that we need to start with an event recorded in Matthew 17:24-27.  “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?  He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?  Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.  Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”   In this passage it tells us that Jesus and Peter paid the tax, “…take, and give unto them for me and thee.”  Why not for the other disciples.  According to Exodus 30:14-15, “Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.  The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.”  Jewish law states that every male over the age of 20 is to pay a half-shekel as a census offering when they visit the temple of God.  Peter gets the shekel from the mouth of the fish he caught, which was enough to pay the tax for two men, Jesus and Peter.  What about the others.  A deduction from this concludes that the others were under the age of 20, so they didn’t have to pay.

A second proof is Jesus’ use of “little ones” toward the disciples.  “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”  The word in the KJV is “babes”. The term is “nepios” and occurs 14 times in the New Testament.  7 times it is translated as “child”, 6 times “babe”, and “childish” once.  It means 1) An infant, little child, 2) a minor, not of age, or 3) a metaphor for childish, untaught, or unskilled.  Another time Jesus used this term for the disciples was Luke 10:21 “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”  A third time Jesus referred to His disciples with a similar term was John 13:33, “ Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.”  The term for “little children” is “Teknion” which is translated 9 times out of nine occurrences as “little children”.  The term meant “a little child” or as a kind way of teachers referring to their disciples. The argument is that this term would be a bit insulting to adults, but teens would understand the usage.

A third argument is that except for Peter, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), there is no mention of the other disciples’ wives.  In the New Testament times, a Jewish man received a wife after the age of 18.  Therefore, you could conclude that the other disciples were under the age of 18.

A fourth observation in the Gospels, comes from the behavior of the disciples.  They were enthusiastic and often foolish in their choices.  That seems consistent to the behavior of teens.  It seems more logical that teens would argue over who was the greatest in the kingdom of God, than adults.  Experienced adult fishermen would be less likely to panic when a storm hit, but it is consistent with inexperienced teens to be fear-stricken and waking up Jesus for help.  Experience in working with teens confirms that while they want the privileges of adulthood, when trouble come, they turn to parents for help.  Teens often are forgetful and distracted when it comes to learning, so it is understandable that they forgot what Jesus said, when He died, even thought He had taught them about it.  They were quick to admit their failures when Jesus pointed them out because like teens, they sought approval from a parent figure.  In addition, they seem to have no limit of energy when taking the Gospel throughout the country.  Jesus seemed patience with them, had low expectation of their behavior because they were teens, and He taught them in ways better suited for teens.  If they were grown men, they were the most childish grown men possible.  The behavior of the disciples better fits the characteristics of teens.

The final argument for the disciples being teens is found in the Mishnah, a rabbinical commentary that was added to the Old Testament.  In it we learn of the ancient Jewish education traditions.   At age 5, the study of scripture began.  Mishnad study started at age 19.  Torah obligations were completed at aged 13, and those chosen by a teacher for continued study were selected at age 15.  If not, apprenticeship to a trade began.  Marriage took place at 18.  Formal teaching began at 30.  Jesus began teaching at 30.  For most Jewish children,  education stopped at age 15.  These disciples were taken from trades when Jesus selected them to be his followers.  As young people, they were more likely to want to continue their education.

The arguments against this view are as follows.  Matthew was a tax collector.  Would a teen be trusted as an agent by the Romans?  The authority of a tax collector was found in the support of the Roman military.  So a teen could do the job.  In addition, think about a teen’s desire to be independent and on his own.  Certainly it fits with a young man taking a job for money and advancement, even if it meant he would be disliked.

The biggest objection was when Jesus, while on the cross, committed to John the care of Mary.  John was the youngest of the disciples, possibly 13.  Would you trust your mother to the care of a 13 year old?  Maybe John was grown-up and mature for his age and since he lived longest, you can argue he was the best choice.  Jewish boys were considered men at age 12.

Should we examine how Jesus taught these children so we can begin to use those methods in our youth groups and Christian schools?  We adopt the world’s methods to teach truths that the natural man can’t understand.  We are trying to reach teens with God’s truth using the world’s methods.  Isn’t this a time for change?  We need to think outside the box, or we will lose a generation.


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