Was Jesus about fifty years old? John 8:57


(Courtesy of ChristArt.com)

In a debate over the age of Jesus, wayseer on Christian Forums makes this statement, ‘Then there is this …. John 8:57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”’[1]

How do we explain your statement? Anglican exegete, Leon Morris, in his commentary on the Gospel of John explained:

The Jews incredulity breaks out in a reference to the age of Jesus. A man not yet fifty years old could not have seen Abraham, they imply. It is curious that they use the number ‘fifty’. Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘about thirty years of age’ (Luke 3:23) at the beginning of His ministry and all the indications are that the ministry occupied no more than about three years. It is not likely that John is presenting us with another tradition as to the age of Jesus.[2] More probably fifty is thought of as a good age, possibly as the completion of a man’s working life and the entrance on to old age. It is the age at which the Levites completed their service (Num. 4:3). Or it may be meant to contrast one short life-time with the centuries that had elapsed since Abraham’s day. In any case we must bear in mind Langrange’s reminded that they thought of Jesus as being out of His mind. They were certainly not discussing his age with any precision accordingly. They simply gave good measure.[3] Jesus was still a young man. He could not claim even to be one of the elders. How then could He possibly have seen Abraham? Notice that the Jews do not repeat Jesus exactly. He speaks of Abraham seeing His day, they of His seeing Abraham (Morris 1971:472-472).

D A Carson’s commentary on this verse is much briefer:

A claim like that of v. 56, if valid, would mean the overthrow of all points they had been arguing. It was easier to interpret Jesus’ words rather crassly, as if Jesus had claimed to be Abraham’s natural contemporary. Then it could be handily dismissed: Jesus was not yet fifty (a round figure, and no indication of Jesus’ age at the time, despite the deductions made by a number of church Fathers), while Abraham had been dead for two millennia (Carson 1991:357-356).

Eminent church historian, Philip Schaff (n d:vol 1, 54, 62) states that

According to Matthew 2:1 (comp. Luke 1:5, 26), Christ was born “in the days of Herod” I, or the Great, who died according to Josephus, at Jericho, A.U. 750 (or B.C. 4), if not earlier….

The day of the week on which Christ suffered on the cross was a Friday, during the week of the Passover, in the month of Nisan, which was the first of the twelve lunar months of the Jewish year…. The Synoptical Gospels clearly decide for the 15th, for they all say (independently) that our Lord partook of the paschal supper on the legal day, called the “first day of unleavened bread,” (Matt. 26:17, 20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7, 15. Comp. John 18:39, 40)….

The view here advocated is strengthened by astronomical calculation, which shows that in A.D. 30, the probable year of the crucifixion, the 15th of Nisan actually fell on a Friday (April 7) and this was the case only once more between the years A.D. 28 and 36, except perhaps also in 33. Consequently Christ must have been crucified A.D. 30.

To sum up the results, the following appear to us the most probable dates in the earthly life of our Lord:

Jesus’ earthly life Dates
Birth A.U.[4] 750 (Jan ?) or 749 (Dec ?) B.C. 4 or 5
Baptism A.U. 780 (Jan ?) A.D. 27
Length of Public Ministry (three years and three or four months) A.U. 780-793 A.D. 27-30
Crucifixion A.U. 783 (15th of Nisan) A.D. 30 (April 7)

Therefore, in Christian History (online), it is not surprising that Dan Hargraves assesses that a ‘possible date for Christ’s death‘ is AD 30, 7 April.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Schaff, P n.d. History of the Christian church, 8 vols (online), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.toc.html (Accessed 31 March 2012).


[1] Christian Forums, Theology (Christians Only), Christian Apologetics, ‘Bible contraditions’ #46. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7643378-5/ (Accessed 31 March 2012).

[2] At this point Morris has the footnote, ‘Strachan thinks that “the words suggest His youthfulness. The Jewish objectors interpret Jesus’ reply prosaically and ironically as meaning that Abraham had actually seen one who still had his reputation to make, and was as yet undistinguished” (Morris 1971:472 n 114).

[3] At this point the footnote is: ‘Chrysostom reads: “thou art not yet forty years old” (LV. 2; p. 198). Irenaeus argues that Jesus must have been over forty, for had he been less they would have said “thou art not yet forty years old”’ (Adv. Haer. II, 22.6). Cited in Morris (1971:473 n 115).

[4] What is the meaning of A.U.? ‘Ab urbe condita (related with Anno Urbis Conditae: AUC or a.u.c. or a.u.) is a Latin phrase meaning “from the founding of the City (Rome)”, traditionally dated to 753 BC. AUC is a year-numbering system used by some ancient Roman historians to identify particular Roman years’ (Ab urbe condita. Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab_urbe_condita (Accessed 31 March 2012).


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.