How old was Isaac when he was taken to Mt. Moriah by Abraham?

We discussed Abraham and God’s commandment that he offer his own beloved son Isaac to be sacrificed in Gospel Doctrine today.   I think most people assume Isaac was a young boy, but it is worth pointing out that he could have been anywhere from about 10 to 36.  There are many Jewish traditions indicating Isaac was in his 30s at the time.  Here are some things to consider:

At the time Isaac was conceived, Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 90 and Ishmael was 13 (Genesis 17:1, 17. 25).  Ishmael was sent out of the household at the time Isaac was weaned, which would indicate Isaac was about two or three years old.  Isaac was sacrificed sometime before Sarah died at the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1).

So, Isaac must have been taken to Mt. Moriah sometime between the age of about five and 36.  He is referred to in the Bible by the name “lad,” which in Hebrew is na’ar.   This same noun is used to describe Joseph at the age of 17 (Genesis 37:2) and at the age of 30 (Genesis 41:12, 46).

Isaac was old enough to travel three days with Abraham but without his mother.  His conversation with his father is typical of that of a teenager or young man.  Isaac is also old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain.  So, the preponderence of evidence would indicate Isaac was a teenager or young man.

There are many Jewish traditions indicating Abraham was in his 30s at the time of his sacrifice.

Bottom line:  we don’t know how old Isaac was for sure, but any claims that he was very young (say, less than 12) are probably incorrect.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

11 thoughts on “How old was Isaac when he was taken to Mt. Moriah by Abraham?

  1. One faithful sister (who raised boys) jokingly told me that Isaac was either under 13 or over 19, because if he were a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

    And I like to point out that Paul said that Abraham thought God was going to raise his son from the dead, Hebrews 11:19</a.

    An institute direct/teacher pointed out the many parallels of the story of Isaac's almost-sacrifice and the Atonement of Christ, and stated that the story therefore implies that Isaac was 33, and that the almost-sacrifice took place on the hill later to be known as Calvary.

  2. No matter the exact age, he was obviously a mature young man as he was able to carry the wood for the sacrifice up the mount. He was certainly strong enough to have resisted when his aged father bound him, but, as with the Savior, Isaac willingly submitted to the will of his father.

  3. Good discussion. thanks Geoff for raising the question. Ditto what Patti said. Also to give consent like Jesus, Isaac needed to have the maturity to understand the significance of what was happening.

  4. Isaac was also a “friend of God” like his Father, a patriarch- and prophet-to-be in his own right. So at that time he likely had similar understanding of the Plan of Salvation, and the future Atonement and Resurrection of Christ just like his father Abraham did. Surely, Abraham would have taught the Plan of Salvation to his son from his earliest ability to understand. So not only Abraham, but Isaac would have believed in and understood God’s power to resurrect someone from the dead.

    As one sister pointed out a while back on another blog, it’s theoretically possible that both Abraham and Isaac knew in advance that the exercise was to be only a similitude, and not actually to be carried out. However, that’s speculation, as the scriptures are silent on whether Abraham knew the outcome of the scenario ahead of time.

    Though the Old Testament has had plain and precious things taken out, we believe (or know, actually) that the Old Testament prophets knew that Jehovah (“the LORD”) was the Son of Elohim the Father, and that it was Jehovah who would be born of a mortal human mother and eventually suffer and die as part of the Atonement.

    Animal sacrifice was practiced by the patriarchs from Adam on down. The prophets surely knew what the animal sacrifice represented. That it was symbolic of the future literal blood sacrifice of Jesus/Jehovah.

    Since Abraham (and perhaps Isaac at that time too, we don’t know) had his exaltation (calling and election) made sure, the sacrifice-of-Isaac scenario may have also been to teach them what it was going to be like when they were gods with spirit children, and had to allow their first-born spirit son to take on the sins of all the rest of their spirit children. After all, if we humans are to “grow up” and become like Heavenly Father, and have spirit children (as per Gospel Principles) and duplicate the generational cycle (as per JS’s King Follet discourse), then, what does the first-born spirit child of a god need to do for the rest of his spirit brothers and sisters? IE, if you and your wife are going to become gods with spirit children, and you want those spirit children to “grow up” and become gods too, won’t the same Plan of Salvation apply to them? (IE, what the first-born-in-spirit, and only-begotten-in-the-flesh does.)

  5. I don’t have them handy, but either the Book of Jasher or the book of Jubilees has Isaac as being 30 years of age. That is the legal age for being a rabbi in Judaism. Also, it was about the same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified.

  6. What a spiritual experience for both father and son! Wow!
    We must also remember that our culture and history is different than theirs. Things were different. I don’t think they had so called ‘teenagers’. I think that is a term than popped up in the last 50-60 years.

  7. “and that the almost-sacrifice took place on the hill later to be known as Calvary.”

    I’ve never heard this before. Interesting thought Books.

  8. Nibley makes a bit deal of this in his old Improvement Era series on Abraham. He points out this idea that the sacrifice was actually a test of Isaac rather than Abraham has lots of support in ancient texts. (Of course those texts are themselves hardly authoritative to Mormons and still written centuries if not millennia after the events in question)

  9. I feel that Isaac was 33, the same age at which Jesus was crucified. Me Moriah was later called Golgotha where Jesus made the final sacrifice for us all. This act was a perfect preview of what was to come 2000 years later.

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