A black and white close-up of two ancient biblical scrolls, one labeled "John the Baptist" and the other "Jesus," emphasizing their historical significance and potential age difference.

How Much Older Was John The Baptist Than Jesus?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: John the Baptist was around 6 months older than Jesus.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will examine the birth dates of John the Baptist and Jesus in detail to determine how much older John was. We’ll look at evidence from the Bible and from historical sources to nail down the years they were born.

We’ll also consider different theories biblical scholars have about their exact ages and birth years. Read on for a deep dive into figuring out the age difference between these two important biblical figures.

When Was Jesus Born?

Year of Jesus’ Birth According to the Gospels

The gospels do not directly state the year when Jesus was born. However, the Gospel of Luke provides some helpful clues. Luke indicates that John the Baptist began his public ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign (Luke 3:1-2).

Since historians know Tiberius became emperor in 14 AD, this means John the Baptist began preaching around 29 AD. Luke also notes that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23), which followed shortly after John’s ministry began.

Doing the math, this suggests Jesus was probably born around 6-4 BC.

Secular Historical References to Jesus’ Birth Year

A few ancient non-Christian writers also make reference to Jesus’ birth date. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions an eclipse that occurred shortly before Herod the Great’s death. This eclipse has been astronomically calculated to have occurred in 1 BC.

Since Herod died shortly after Jesus was born, this provides corroborating evidence for a birthdate for Jesus around 6-4 BC. The Romano-Jewish historian Tacitus claimed Emperor Augustus ordered a census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. Quirinius became governor in 6 AD.

However, this may have been Quirinius’ second term, with his first being as early as 10 BC. So Tacitus’ census account provides more evidence for Jesus being born before 4 BC.

Scholarly Theories About the Year Jesus Was Born

Most scholars believe the evidence points to Jesus being born between 6 and 4 BC. There are a few different theories about the precise year scholars have proposed:

  • 6/7 BC – Some think John the Baptist began preaching in 28/29 AD, shortly before Jesus, which calculates back to 6/7 BC for Jesus’ birth.
  • 5 BC – Several date Herod’s death to 4 BC, indicating Jesus had to be born in 5 BC or earlier.
  • 3/2 BC – The eclipse Josephus mentions occurred in 1 BC before Herod died, so 3/2 BC allows time for the eclipse and then Herod’s subsequent death.

When Was John the Baptist Born?

Gospel Accounts of John’s Birth

The Gospel of Luke provides the most detail regarding the birth of John the Baptist. According to Luke 1:5-25, John’s parents were Zechariah, a priest of the division of Abijah, and Elizabeth. They were an elderly couple who had been unable to have children.

One day, while Zechariah was serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth would bear a son that they were to name John.

Gabriel told Zechariah that John would be great in the sight of the Lord and would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. He would turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God and would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah” to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).

This connects John’s birth and ministry to the prophecy in Malachi 4 regarding Elijah’s return prior to the coming of the Messiah.

Estimating John’s Birth Year

Although the Gospel of Luke does not provide an exact date for John’s birth, it does anchor the timing to the reign of Herod the Great. Specifically, Luke writes that John’s father Zechariah was serving in the temple when Gabriel appeared to him, which would place John’s conception around the time of Zechariah’s temple service.

The division of Abijah, which Zechariah belonged to, is known to have served in the temple during the second half of the 4th year of the 4-year cycle for temple service (see 1 Chronicles 24). Historical records indicate Herod died around 4 BC.

So if Zechariah was serving around the 30th year of Herod’s reign, then John would have been conceived around 6 BC, with his birth following around 9 months later in 5 BC.

A 5 BC birth year for John would make him approximately 6 months older than Jesus, who appears to have been born between 6-4 BC based on the reference to Herod’s death shortly after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-19).

The Gospel of Luke also notes that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23), which is generally dated around 28-30 AD historically. Counting backward 30 years from 28-30 AD also points back to a birth for Jesus around 6-4 BC.

The Age Difference Between John and Jesus

John Was About 6 Months Older than Jesus

Based on the biblical accounts, it seems clear that John the Baptist was older than Jesus, but only by about 6 months. Here are some key pieces of evidence:

  • The Gospel of Luke states that Elizabeth, John’s mother, was in her sixth month of pregnancy when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:26, 36). This means John was about 6 months older than Jesus.
  • Mary visited Elizabeth after the annunciation but before Jesus’ birth, meaning John would have been in the final trimester while Jesus had not been conceived yet (Luke 1:39-45).
  • John began his public ministry before Jesus, as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and confirmed in the Gospels (Matt 3:1-3; Mark 1:2-4; Luke 3:2-6; John 1:6-8). This also suggests John was older.

Evidence Supporting a 6 Month Age Gap

In addition to the biblical evidence above, some other historical clues support the conclusion that John was about 6 months older than Jesus:

  • According to the historian Josephus, John the Baptist was born around 5 BC, while most scholars believe Jesus was born around 5-4 BC. The small window between their estimated birth years allows for a 6 month gap.
  • Tertullian, an early Christian author (c. 155 – 240 AD), explicitly states that John was conceived 6 months before Jesus.
  • Some church fathers like Augustine also wrote that John was born 6 months before Christ.
  • Ancient Christian celebrations honored Mary’s visit to Elizabeth on May 31 and John’s birth on June 24, while Jesus’ birth was celebrated on December 25. The 6 month span between these feast days mirrors the biblical narrative.

So although their exact birthdays are unknown, the biblical text and early historical sources indicate John the Baptist was roughly 6 months older than his cousin Jesus. The months between their conceptions and births allowed John to pave the way in preparing people for Jesus’ ministry as the promised Messiah.

Other Theories About Their Age Difference

Some Think the Gap Was 1-2 Years

While most scholars believe John was around 6 months older than Jesus, some argue the age gap may have been smaller. A minority view is that John and Jesus were born only 1-2 years apart. Proponents of this theory point to the biblical description of John and Jesus as young boys together (Luke 1:80, 2:40).

If accurate, this would mean a smaller gap in their ages.

However, most historians find the evidence more convincing for a larger gap of about 6 months. Luke 1:36 specifically states Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when Mary conceived Jesus. Since John was Elizabeth’s son, this plainly describes John as 6 months older.

John and Jesus as Biological Cousins

Intriguingly, some scholars have suggested that John the Baptist and Jesus were biological cousins rather than simply relatives. The theory rests on analyzing the family trees of Jesus and John. Scripture refers to Mary visiting Elizabeth, who was a “relative” (Luke 1:36).

If Mary and Elizabeth were close cousins, their sons John and Jesus may have been first cousins.

While creative, this theory lacks conclusive evidence. The Greek word for “relative” used in Luke 1:36 (sungenēs) has a broad meaning and does not necessarily imply a first cousin relationship. Most theologians thus view Jesus and John as more distant relatives.

But the cousin possibility continues to fascinate some.


In summary, most evidence points to John the Baptist being around 6 months older than Jesus. The Bible tells us John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah about 6 months before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph.

Though we don’t have their exact birth years, historians estimate Jesus was born around 6-4 BC, meaning John’s birth was probably in the spring of 5 BC. While some theories suggest a wider 1-2 year gap between them, the traditional view has been they were only 6 months apart in age.

Whether they were cousins, six months apart, or somewhere in between, the Scriptures make it clear John’s birth preceded Jesus’ by a short time, fulfilling John’s role in history of preparing the way for Christ.

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