Mere Teenagers

How old do you suppose Jesus’ disciples were? Maybe young, like John? Or older, having left jobs? Old enough to be married, like Simon? Perhaps a contemporary of Jesus?

In New Testament times, most disciples – talmidim – left home to intern with a rabbi around the age of 15. By 18, they had already returned home to marry and pursue the family trade they had learned earlier in life (starting around the age of 10).

A rabbi, however, began teaching no sooner than the age of 30. So in order for there to be a rabbi/talmidim relationship, by definition, Jesus had to be quite a bit older.

Sometimes, a talmid could be a bit older. For example, we know Peter was married. But according to Matthew 17:24-27, only Jesus and Peter were old enough to pay the annual temple tax, which was required starting at age 20. Though it doesn’t explicitly state the others were too young, the amount Jesus instructed Peter to take from the fish’s mouth was only enough for two.

Now James and John, along with Peter and Andrew, were fishermen. But remember, James and John left their father in the boat. This could indicate their father owned the business, not them, and these two were possibly still learning the trade.

We also know that Matthew was a tax collector, but again, he could have still been in training. And he expected to return to that trade after his talmidic training was complete.

Since the purpose of being a talmid was to become a rabbi (which was not a vocation), then we can safely assume, none of Jesus’ disciples had even reached the age of 30.

Taking a close look at the norms of New Testament times presents a fairly clear case for the idea that the disciples were all significantly younger than I ever thought. Most of them were mere teenagers.*


That may explain some things, like why the disciples had such a hard time exorcising the demons out of the epileptic son; why they worried over where lunch was coming from; or why the four fishermen initially returned to fishing (for fish) after Jesus’ resurrection.

And can’t you just see Jesus’ exasperation when He asked, “How long do I have to be with you for you to get it?” Kind of like saying, “How many times do I have to tell you?” Ha!

Now I have a feeling many moms would find the idea of sending their teen sons to follow a rabbi for a few years rather appealing. But from our vantage point in history, we might question God’s sanity in this, particularly for Jesus’ talmidim.

Would He truly entrust the kingdom of God to these impulsive, illogical, hot-headed, heavily-testosteroned, pimple-faced youth? Really?


And in knowing this, I think there are some vital lessons for us moms to learn here.

♦First, Jesus saw potential when others didn’t.

Usually, talmidim were the cream of the crop. Once they had proven themselves, they usually approached a rabbi and asked to become a follower.

Yet, Jesus approached these guys – not while they were pouring over Jewish law, but while they were busy in their jobs. My guess is that most of these disciples never expected to be a part of such an elite group.

We must never underestimate the plans God has for our children.

♦Second, never overestimate God’s plans either.

We mustn’t be like James’s and John’s mother who tagged along and tried to promote them to high rank. Our children will be extremely embarrassed and it doesn’t work.

We must resist the temptation to speak for our children to professors and employers. We have to stay out of the way so they can do this for themselves. Yes, they will handle some things rather awkwardly, but they will learn.

♦Third, promotion is not what God is really after.

He’s not all that interested in mere knowledge either. If a child is not that great of a student, that’s not likely a concern to God. Even when he is performing far below his capabilities, God’s not nearly as interested in capabilities as He is character.

♦Fourth, we have to trust the Rabbi.

Much character formation happens away from home. It’s not up to us. We’re not the rabbi. And even if we fear we’ve a Judas in our midst, we can still trust Jesus with his life.

As for our daughters, had it been culturally appropriate to invite them to join the talmidim, Jesus would have. And who knows? Maybe some young ladies were there, assisting Jesus’ mother and other women in the group. These ideas apply to them as well.

It’s that raw, impressionable, idealistic exuberance that advances God’s kingdom.


He calls, teaches, and enables these pre-adults for that purpose. And, now that we have the Holy Spirit in our midst, God is not limited to a few. He can use thousands … millions … each and every one.

But moms, we have to let them go.

And when it looks like they aren’t following after the Master, be assured …

He’s following them.


©May 2016 by Cheri Johnson


3 thoughts on “Mere Teenagers

  1. Oh, Cheri, great post. Love your last line. I’m beginning to think that parenting is all one big lesson for us–the parents. Mine are – almost 21, 18 and 14, and I’m forever learning…and this season is no different. Letting them go doesn’t come naturally, but praise God, they don’t go alone. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So very, very true – always learning. And here we thought we were to simply be the teachers. In letting go, I’ve found Go is a much better rabbi than I could ever be. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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