The public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth lasted approximately three years. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe Jesus’ miraculous birth and a few stories from his early life like his family’s escape to Egypt. Yet the majority of the Gospels describe his public ministry. Many people want to know what Jesus’ age was when he began his public ministry.
Jesus was about 30 years old when he started his public ministry. There is one clear statement in the Gospels about his age at that time, as well as supporting facts from other verses. Taken together, the textual evidence regarding Jesus’ age is strong. What’s less clear is exactly what year it was.
What is the evidence for Jesus being 30 when his ministry started? What can people know about what year it was when Jesus began his public ministry? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
How do we know Jesus was 30 when his ministry started?
The Gospel of Luke records Jesus’ approximate age when his public ministry started: “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23, ESV). Every major English translation renders Jesus’ age the same way — about 30 years old.
Is there any debate regarding the number 30 in Luke 3:23? There is no ambiguity in the Greek text regarding the number 30. There is no debate among Bible scholars about the number either. The Greek word translated 30 is pronounced triakonta and it’s rendered as “30” wherever it appears in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 13:8; Mark 4:8; John 6:91; etal.)
Why does Luke 3:23 say Jesus was “about” 30 years old? Every major English translation describes Jesus’ age as “about” 30. Why? The English preposition “about” comes from the Greek adverb hosei. Depending on the context, hosei can mean “as if,” “as it were,” or “like.” However, when it appears with numbers it means “about.” For other examples of this, consider Matthew 14:21 and Acts 1:15.
- “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:21, ESV)
- “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120).” (Acts 1:15, ESV)
Why does Luke approximate Jesus’ age? It’s not ultimately known why Luke approximates Jesus’ age using the word “about.” It could be the case that he took into consideration the dates he was sure about (e.g. Luke 3:1; more below) and provided readers with an informed estimate of Jesus’ age. It could also be true that one of his sources (Mary?) estimated Jesus’ age when his ministry began, and Luke records it.
What year was it when Jesus began his public ministry?
The Gospels don’t state the exact year that Jesus started his public ministry, but historical information gleaned from a few verses suggests it was probably around the year 27 A.D. give or take one year. Please see the chronological tables below for more context regarding Jesus’ life and ministry.
Luke dates John the Baptist’s ministry to Tiberius’ reign
Luke 3:1 reads, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene” (ESV).
Roman authorities gave Tiberius joint reign of eastern provinces in 12 A.D. The “fifteenth year” of his reign would be approximately 27 A.D. Tiberius began to reign the provinces himself in 14 A.D., so some scholars believe Luke 3:1 may allude to 28 or 29 A.D.
John dates rebuilding the temple to one of Jesus’ conversations
John 2:20 reads, “The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?'” If readers can know when the temple was rebuilt, they can know the approximate date for the conservation Jesus had with these Jewish leaders and date other events in reference to it.
The written record of the Jewish historian Josephus suggests that the start of the temple rebuild was in 19 or 20 B.C. If the temple took “forty-six years” to rebuild, it would suggest a completion date of 27 or 28 A.D. given that there is no year zero.
Jesus’ Early Life – Birth to Adolescence: 5 B.C. to 8 A.D.
How can Jesus have been born B.C. — “Before Christ”? People didn’t divide history into “before the life of Christ” and “after the life of Christ” for several hundred years after Christ died.
Though some theologians and Christian historians began the practice around the 6th century, it wasn’t in widespread use until the 10th century. The dates used to calculate the birth of Christ failed to take into account several historical details, making their estimation 4 to 6 years off.
|Jesus is born||5-6 B.C.||Matt. 1:24-25|
|Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee to Egypt||3-4 B.C.||Matt. 2:1-12|
|Adolescent Jesus teaches in the temple||7-8 A.D.||Luke 2:46-47|
The Inauguration of Jesus’ Ministry: 27 A.D.
|John the Baptist baptizes Jesus||26-27 A.D.||Matt. 3:13-17|
|Jesus’ first miracle at Cana||26-27 A.D.||John 2:1-11|
|Jesus is tempted in the wilderness||26-27 A.D.||Matt. 4:1-11|
|Jesus cleanses the temple||27 A.D. (Winter)||John 2:13-15|
|Jesus meets Nicodemus||27 A.D. (Winter)||John 3:1-21|
|Jesus meets the Samaritan woman||27 A.D. (Winter)||John 4:5-42|
|Jesus begins to preach in Galilee||27 A.D. (Fall)||Luke 4:42-44|
The Time of Popularity: 28 A.D.
|Jesus chooses 12 disciples||28 A.D. (Winter)||Mark 3:13-19|
|Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount||28 A.D. (Spring)||Matt. 5:1-7:29|
|Jesus ministers in Galilee again||28 A.D. (Summer)||Luke 8:1-3|
|Jesus sends out the 12||28 A.D. (Fall)||Matt. 9:35-11:1|
|Jesus calms the storm||28 A.D. (Fall)||Luke 8:22-25|
The Time of Opposition: 29-30 A.D.
|Jesus feeds 5,000||29 A.D. (Spring)||Matt. 14:13-21|
|Jesus transfiguration||29 A.D. (Summer)||Matt. 17:1-13|
|Jesus attends the Festival of Tabernacles||29 A.D. (Fall)||John 7:11-52|
|Jesus begins his last trip to Jerusalem||30 A.D. (Winter)||Luke 17:11|
|Jesus resurrects Lazarus||30 A.D. (Winter)||John 11:1-44|
|Jesus is crucified and resurrected||30 A.D. (Spring)||John 19:17-42|
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