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Dear Father Angelo, my name is Gaetano. 

I would like to ask you the following: why do we say that Jesus was 33 years old when he was crucified?

Was Jesus Christ really 33 years old? Or, instead, is there any error in the way we calculate the “year zero”? Is this a symbolic language or is it explicitly stated in the Holy Scriptures? Is this statement coming from the Church, or is it just a popular tradition?

Glory to God for your availability and your service to Him.

I wish you a blessed Epiphany time.

Priest’s answer

Dear Gaetano,

1. Traditionally, the years of the Lord’s life are counted as 33.

This tradition has solid foundations in the Gospels.

2. The first foundation is that indicated by Saint Luke when he writes: “When Jesus began his ministry he was about thirty years of age. He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Lk 3:23).

The second is given by the Gospel of John, which distinctly mentions three Jewish Easters.

The first one is mentioned at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, immediately after the miracle of the wedding at Cana: “Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (Jn 2:13).

The second easter is mentioned in the midst of Jesus’ public life: “The Jewish feast of Passover was near.” (Jn 6: 4).

The third one is on the occasion of his death: “Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves.” (Jn 11,55); “Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” (Jn 12: 1).

3. Regardless of the year in which Jesus was born (whether was the year zero, or a few years earlier) the thirty years noted by Saint Luke as the beginning of Jesus’ preaching, and the three distinct Easters mentioned by Saint John, bring us to the conclusion that Jesus was thirty-three when he died.

4. Some theologians see another, vague indication of the age of thirty-three in the words spoken by the Lord in the last week of his public life, where he speaks about the barren fig tree saying that “for three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.” (Lk 13,7).

But drawing from here a reference to the three years of his ministry – although it cannot be excluded – does not seem convincing.

5. Regarding the fact that Jesus was thirty years old when he was baptized in the water of the Jordan river,  St. Thomas wonders whether or not Christ was baptized at the appropriate age. He replies: “Christ was fittingly baptized in His thirtieth year. First, because Christ was baptized as though for the reason that He was about forthwith to begin to teach and preach: for which purpose a perfect age is required, such as the age of thirty. Thus we read (Gn. 41:46) that “Joseph was thirty” years old when he undertook the government of Egypt. In like manner we read (2 Kgs. 5:4) that “David was thirty years old when he began to reign.” Again, Ezechiel began to prophesy in “his thirtieth year,” as we read Ezech. 1:1 “(Summa theologica, III, 39,3).

I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo