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Long-Lived Apostles? Not So Much


If the life expectancy in Jesus’ time was thirty to thirty-five years, how are can it be that the twelve apostles lived up to 90 years old to preach the gospel or write the Gospel?


The problem with the typical statement that the average lifespan was only thirty or forty years at that time is that it is an average. In the ancient world a considerable portion of the population died in infancy or childhood. To average them into the equation thereby greatly reduces the “lifespan.” There are other factors that also can skew the equation. For example, if a large portion of the younger population goes off to war and dies at a young age, that skews the average age of the population as well, even though those who didn’t go off to war lived on.

The fact is, people didn’t just start dropping dead in their thirties and early forties in the ancient world. After all, nothing in the Gospels refers to Jesus as an “old man,” and the disciples seem surprised that Jesus spoke of his impending death.

The key to longevity in the ancient world was to be lucky enough to survive to adulthood and then avoid wars and contagious diseases. While the average person who did those things probably didn’t live as long as the average person today, ancient records indicate that it wasn’t unheard of for some individuals to live into their nineties.

Overall, science has generally concluded that if someone in the ancient world survived into adulthood and avoided wars and plagues, they could expect to live at least into their sixties.

Of the apostles, only St. John is unanimously considered to have lived into his nineties. Most of the other apostles are generally considered to have died by A.D. 75. If they had been in their twenties at the time they joined Jesus’ ministry, that would place them in their sixties at their deaths and well within the life expectancy of an adult in those times. And given that some individuals did live into their nineties, it’s not shocking that one out of the Twelve was able to live that long.

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