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We know the baby Jesus, and we know the young man Jesus. Both have been adorable to Christians. But would Jesus still be adorable if he had lived to be a very old man?

Isn’t it interesting that old Christian men idolize the young man Jesus? Is this something like an 80-year-old man revering the prowess of a young male athlete? Is it similar to an 85-year-old cellist envying the talent of a young male musician? Is it the same as a 90-year-old admiring the rugged face of a young male actor?

The gospels speak of Jesus’ age, and each says something different.

The Gospel of Luke chapter 2 says Jesus was born during a census enacted by Augustus Caesar. We know from other ancient sources that an Augustinian census occurred in 6 CE, although there was no Roman practice of requiring people to return to their ancestors’ hometown. So, according to Luke, Jesus was born in 6 CE.

In Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry after John the Baptist begins his. Luke chapter 3 says that John emerged in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s rule, which would have been 29 CE. Jesus would therefore have been 23 or 24 years old when he, Jesus, began his public ministry. And yet Luke chapter 3 says Jesus was “about 30” when he began his ministry, a discrepancy with his own dating of Jesus’ birth and John’s emergence. With one Passover mentioned in Luke’s gospel, and Passover being a once-a-year event, Jesus’ ministry could have been anywhere from several months to a year long. So, for Luke, there are two possibilities for Jesus’ age when Jesus dies. If Jesus was 23 or 24 when he began his public ministry, then Jesus was between 23 and 25 years old when he died. If Jesus was 30 when his ministry began, he was 30 or 31 when he died.

The Gospel of Matthew chapter 2 says King Herod died when Jesus was between infancy and a toddler. We know from other ancient sources that King Herod died in 4 BCE. So, for Matthew, Jesus was born somewhere between 6 and 4 BCE. Jesus died sometime during the reign of Pontius Pilate, who we know from other ancient sources ruled between 26 CE and 36 CE. So, for Matthew, Jesus was between 30 and 42 years old when he died, with his public ministry beginning several months to a year earlier, since only one Passover is mentioned in the gospel, and Passover is a once-a-year event.

The Gospel of John chapter 8 tells of a person encountering Jesus during Jesus’ public ministry and saying that Jesus is “not yet fifty” (i.e., 45 years old ?). In John, Jesus has a three-year ministry (three Passovers mentioned). So, for John, Jesus was maybe 48 years old when he died.

If Jesus came to suffer, he should have lived a long, long life.

In The Age of Reason Thomas Paine suggested Jesus should have lived a full life into old age and even into decrepitude. If Jesus had truly come to earth in order to suffer, said Paine, if the intent was to suffer, then Jesus should have lived long and endured more suffering.

If Jesus had died when he was 95 years old, bent over like a hoop from a musculoskeletal disorder, leaning heavily on a cane, blurred in vision, hair thinned to strings, teeth gone, face engraved with a lifetime of worry, brain struggling with dementia, body feeling pangs and scars from any number of diseases and surgeries endured along the way, Jesus truly would have suffered what humans have suffered.

If Jesus came to suffer, he should have lived a long, long life.

But would an older Jesus be idolized by older men? We were only ever given the baby Jesus and the young man Jesus. Could anyone, man, woman, or child, tolerate old man Jesus? Could anyone adore him?

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J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...