What is the Minimum Age for Marriage According to the Bible?

The Bible does not speak to any minimum marriage ages for men.  In fact in the Bible tells us this regarding a young king in Israel:

Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. And Jehoiada took for him two wives; and he begat sons and daughters.”

II Chronicles 24:1-3 (KJV)

Now does this mean Joash started having sex with his two wives when he was seven? Probably not.  But it was probably not long into his early teens when did.

Rev. Dr. Eugene Weitzel stated this about the Jewish view of early marriage:

“As we noted above, the Jews clearly understood that the first command that God gave to Adam and Eve was “increase and multiply” (Gen 1:28). In fact one rabbi firmly believed that “A bachelor is not truly a man at all.” Furthermore, celibacy was looked upon as an anomaly, almost a disgrace.  Now keep in mind that Jesus Christ, a devout, practicing Jew who dearly loved his Jewish faith, grew up with this view of celibacy.  He also knew that his people believed in early marriage.  Many rabbis, even during Jesus’s time, taught that eighteen was the ideal age for marriage for a man but certainly not later than twenty-four. He knew too that girls were ready for marriage as soon as they were physically ready to conceive and bear children, which according to the law was twelve and one-half years. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably no more than fourteen years old when she gave birth to the Son of God.”

Weitzel, Eugene. J. (2010). I Want to Be a Husband and Father for Life and a Catholic Priest Forever. U.S.: Xilbris Corporation. p. 113

Jewish tradition tells us that for men marriage typically occurred between 18 and 24 and for women we are told marriage occurred at a much earlier age around “twelve and one-half years”.  So the question  is while Jewish tradition supported such a young age of marriage for woman was this based on the Bible?

The Bible teaches that a woman must have reached puberty before she can be allowed to marry

Two Bible passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New indicate that the minimal age for marriage of woman is when she reaches puberty.

“7 I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.

8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.”

Ezekiel 16:7-8 (KJV)

In the passage above from Ezekiel we read of God’s love story with Israel.  He presents himself as a wealthy man who finds an infant girl who had just been born and is left for dead in a field.  He takes her as ward in his home and when she reaches puberty (grows breasts and pubic hair) he declares that “thy time was the time of love” and he takes her as his wife.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul tells of a similar story of a man with a young woman who is his ward whom he has an attraction to:

“36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.”

I Corinthians 7:36 (KJV)

When it says “pass the flower of her age” it literally means “ripe” as when a fruit is ready to be plucked and eaten.  Like Ezekiel 16:7-8 it refers to the fact that she has reached puberty and is now ready for marital love.

So according to both the Old and New Testaments a girl must first reach puberty before she can marry and when a girl reached puberty she was no longer considered a child but was now considered a woman.

The Bible Says A Father Determines When His Daughter Marries

There was a second factor in determining a woman’s age at the time of her marriage and we find this in the book of Exodus:

“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”

Exodus 22:16-17 (KJV)

Today our culture treats a father’s blessing for his daughter to marry as a cute tradition and nothing more. Fathers are expected to rubber stamp any man their daughter says she wants to marry because after all it is her life, her body and her choice right?  Fathers have had their authority over whom their daughters marry completely removed.  However, we can see in the Scriptures that this was not just some tradition but we see that God grants fathers the authority over whom their daughters may marry.

Now a word caution on this.  A father’s authority over his daughter while being similar to that of a husband over his wife is different in some key aspects. A father’s authority is temporary.  He is there to raise her and prepare her for her future husband.  His authority and ownership over his daughter is not meant to be for life as a husband’s authority is meant to be for life.   So if a father is inhibiting his daughter from marrying well into her adult life in order to keep her in his home he has failed in the role God has given him.  He is sinning against God and his daughter by inhibiting his daughter from following God’s first command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

If you have read this and are wondering about state laws on marriage age see my article entitled “Does God Give the Government Authority Over Marriage?

Advertisements