The Greek text for Luke 2:42 reads: Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο ἐτῶν δώδεκα, ἀναβαινόντων αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸ ἔθος τῆς ἑορτῆς

The English translation (KJV) of Luke 2:42 reads: And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast

Here "was" is a translation of the Greek word "ἐγένετο." In the Greek, "ἐγένετο" is in the aorist tense. Is it true that when discussing age, the use of the aorist tense for "was" suggests the time when someone turned/became a certain age? Furthermore, is it true that if looking to communicate one simply being a certain age (rather than the actual point in time when they turned that age), a verb in the imperfect tense would be used for "was?" Thanks for the help!


1 Answer 1


Young's Literal Translation puts the verse like this:

"And when he became twelve years old, they having gone up to Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast.." Luke 2:42 YLT

This indicates that Jesus had attained 12 years of age before the time of Passover that year.

The text does not say that he was "about 12 years of age". It seems to be clear enough that Jesus was 12 years of age by the time that Passover started. The Christian Greek scriptures were written in koine Greek, not classical Greek, so it may be best to stick to what the Greek words meant back then, in koine Greek.

  • Thanks for your answer. Question about your analysis that "this indicates that Jesus had attained 12 years of age before the time of Passover that year". The aorist tense is used to communicate that he was 12 years old (ἐγένετο in the Greek). Doesn't this, paired with the genitive absolute ἀναβαινόντων αὐτῶν's use of a present participle, indicate he became (i.e., turned) 12 at the same time they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover? Commented May 16 at 17:57
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    @warriorfortruth teleiōsantōn tas hēmeras ‘after having completed the days,’ of the feast. The phrase is, like the preceding one, in the genitive absolute, but the tense shifts from the present (suggesting habit, see above) to the aorist; this is done in order to describe an event which immediately precedes the event referred to by the main verb. Translation Commentary.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 18 at 11:09
  • @NigelJ Thanks for your comment. What you pulled from the linked translation commentary seems to go more into the aorist participle in Luke 2:43's temporal relationship with the main verb of Luke 2:43. While it does mention that Luke 2:42 also contains a genitive absolute, my question posed above in the comments was more so asking about the temporal relationship between the present participle ἀναβαινόντων found in Luke 2:42 and the main verb of Luke 2:42. Isn't the fact that ἀναβαινόντων is a present participle an indicator that the two actions are contemporaneous? Commented May 18 at 20:52
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    @warriorfortruth Everything points to the child already being twelve before the journey. I don't see any problem, myself. There is a grammatical argument that Luke is deliberately not being precise about the actual birthday. Which is perfectly understandable. It would take someone very competent indeed in the Koine Greek language (or, indeed, a native speaker, did such a one exist) to fully explain the nuances of this particular text. I suggest consulting Daniel B Wallace's Beyond the Basics. Personally, I do not accept looking at Latin, since Greek developed differently and previously.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 19 at 9:23
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    @warriorfortruth I refer you to my previous comment above. No further comment. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 20 at 16:12

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