How Old Were the Disciples?
The common perception is that Yeshua’s disciples were young adults as Kefa (Peter) being in his early forties while the rest of them were in their thirties. Yochanan (John) is believed to be the youngest among them. This perception is received mainly from the popular Bible movies where the disciples are portrayed more or less as such. But how old were they? In the account of Matthew, we read:
And when they came into Kephar Nachum, those who received the tax came to Kepha and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Yehoshua spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Shim’on? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tax, from their own sons or from the strangers?” Kepha then said to Him, “From the strangers.” Yehoshua said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. But, lest we cause them to stumble, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you shall find a coin. Take that and give it to them for Me and you.” (Mat 17:24-27)
In order to answer this question, we need to refer to the Torah for more insight. In the Torah, every Israelite, rich or poor, who had reached the age of twenty was obligated to pay a half shekel as an offering to YHVH into the treasury. In our story, we see that Yeshua found the way to pay the Temple tax for Himself and Kefa (Peter), according to Exo_30:13-15:
Everyone among those who are registered is to give this: half a sheqel according to the sheqel of the set-apart place, twenty gerahs being a sheqel. The half-sheqel is the contribution to Yehovah. Everyone passing over to be registered, from twenty years old and above, gives a contribution to Yehovah. (Exo 30:13-15)
For this offering everyone gave a half-shekel, the total of which was earmarked. The rich and poor were equal in them. Nahum M. Sarna writes in The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, Nahum M. Sarna, Jewish Publication Society, Pg. 195:
The present poll tax is a one-time imposition for the building of the Tabernacle and not an annual obligation. In later times, however, the injunction was treated as a precedent, and the text came to be interpreted as such. In Second Temple times Jews contributed the half shekel annually from all the lands of their dispersal. The money was used to maintain the communal offerings and for other public projects.
Now, how could that help us determine the age of the disciples? In our story, we see, the contribution was a half sheqel per person. Since Kefa found a sheqel in the fish, he had enough money to pay for himself and Yeshua, while the rest of the accompanying disciples did not pay anything. This comes to tell us that Kefa was at least twenty years old while the others were young enough (under 20) not to pay the required Temple tax.
And indeed, the disciples were seen young enough by the Messiah so that He often called them “children” as seen in Joh_21:5, “babes” as in Mat_11:25, and “little children” as in Joh_13:33.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.