بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
The Age of Marriage and Sex in the Bible: Refuting the Lies of Secularized Christian Apologists
View YouTube Summaries: Parts 1, 2, & 3
“…the Holy Bible presupposes that men and women must have reached an age beyond puberty in order to be mature enough to get married.”
– Hassamo “Sam” Shamoun
In the modern age, by far the most popular polemic against Islam is the alleged “immorality” of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) marriage to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her). It is well-known that the two were married when Aisha was six years old and the marriage was consummated when she turned nine. Many atheists, and for some reason, Christians as well, have taken issue with this and have used it to mock Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The fact is that using modern and secular standards to judge how people lived hundreds of years ago is anachronistic and absurd. Just because social maturity is now occurring later in life does not mean that people in ancient times could not mature earlier. It was for this reason that the marriage of Muhammad and Aisha was never a controversial subject until the early 20th century. Ancient societies had a different definition of “adulthood” than in modern times. But while atheists will no doubt continue to deride the blessed marriage of Prophet Muhammad to Aisha based on their ever-changing opinions on “morality”, there does not seem to be a Biblical reason for Christians to do the same. Other researchers have already provided ample evidence from the Bible for what would be considered “child marriage” in the modern age. But this has not convinced secularized Christians, who seem to be in a state of denial. In this article, I will make my humble contribution to helping these Christians overcome their denial and accept the fact that there was nothing Biblically wrong with Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. This article will demonstrate that the Biblical standard for age of marriage was, at a minimum, the onset of puberty.
The Age of Marriage in the Bible
It is well-established that people tended to marry early in ancient societies. This is neither a matter of debate nor controversy. Even up to the 20th century, it was not uncommon for girls as young as 10 years old to get legally married. Biblical times were no different.
Psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein observes that there are no age restrictions mentioned in the Bible (the Tanakh or the New Testament), except one for “military conscription” (20 years) and one for priests (25 years). He then states that (emphasis ours):
“[a]ge requirements are lacking for just about every other activity or right or penalty one can imagine: ruling, marrying, having children, working, being punished for breaking a law, owning property, making blind agreements, drinking alcohol, leaving home, traveling, studying, riding chariots, and so on. Young people in the Bible did it all.”
He also provides the well-known example of Mary’s age when she gave birth to Jesus (peace be upon him). Despite the protests of some Christians, it is almost certain that, given the marriage practices of her time, Mary would have been married by age 12 and conceived Jesus no later than age 13. Epstein states that (emphasis ours):
“[h]istorians are pretty sure that Mary had just entered puberty when Jesus was conceived. As a peasant in Nazareth she almost certainly would have been married off around the time [of] puberty. […] In short, there is every reason to believe that the Virgin Mary–the mother of one of the world’s major religions–was a young mother indeed.”
So, in Mary and Jesus’ time, the earliest appropriate age of marriage was around the onset of puberty, which was around age 12. The Mishnah, which was completed around the beginning of the 3rd century CE, notes this as the average age as well.
Evidence from the New Testament and Christian History –
Evidence for this view can be found in the New Testament and extra-biblical sources, such as the early church fathers. In Mark 5, Jesus revives a 12-year old girl (Mark 5:42). However, in Luke’s version, the girl’s age was “about twelve” (Luke 8:42). However, in Matthew 9, no age is given. This is explained in the commentary on Matthew 9:18 in Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“Mark calls her his ‘little daughter’: though both he and Luke say, she was about ‘twelve’ years of age, and that with strict propriety, according to the Jewish canons, which say; that ‘a daughter, from the day of her birth until she is twelve years complete, is called ‘a little one’ and when she is twelve years of age, and one day and upwards, she is called ‘a young woman’.’’”
Thus, the girl would have been called a “child” if she was up to exactly 12 years old, but if she had been even one day older than 12, she was no longer a “child” but a “young woman”. This was the custom of the time.
Furthermore, Luke provides corroboration that Jesus’ parents also followed the customs of the time as pious Jews. In chapter 2, Luke mentions that they used to go to Jerusalem every year for Passover (verse 41), but then he mentions specifically that they took Jesus (peace be upon him) to Jerusalem “when he was twelve years old” and that this was “according to the custom” (verse 42). Earlier, Luke had stated that they followed the “Law of the Lord” (verse 39). What was the significance of Jesus’ age? Why does Luke even mention it? The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides the answer (emphasis ours):
“Up to this age a Jewish boy was called ‘little,’ afterwards he was called ‘grown up,’ and became a ‘Son of the Law,’ or ‘Son of the Precepts.’ At this age he was presented on the Sabbath called the ‘Sabbath of Phylacteries’ in the Synagogue, and began to wear the phylacteries with which his father presented him.”
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers concurs:
“It was, therefore in strict accordance with usage, with perhaps a slight anticipation of the actual day, that the “child Jesus” should, at the age of twelve, have gone up with His parents to Jerusalem.”
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible adds that (emphasis ours):
“[a]ll males among the Hebrews were required to appear three times a year before God, to attend on the ordinances of religion in the temple, and it is probable that this was the age at which they first went up to Jerusalem…”
Other commentaries also agree, including Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, the Expositor’s Greek Testament, and Vincent’s Word Studies. John Lightfoot even cited the Talmudic adage:
“Let a man deal gently with his son till he come to be twelve years old: but from that time, let him descend with him into his way of living…”
Some commentaries note that the age was 13 years. Thus, Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states that:
“[n]ot that he was now, “a son of the commandment”, (r) to use the Jewish phrase; or now came under the yoke of the law; or was obliged to the duties of adult church membership, as is asserted by some; nor particularly to go to Jerusalem to make his appearance at the feast of the passover, or any other feast: for according to the maxims of the Jews, persons were not obliged to the duties of the law, or subject to the penalties of it in case of non-performance, until they were, a female, at the age of twelve years, and one day, and a male, at the age of thirteen years, and one day…”
Nevertheless, Gill explained that Jesus’ age was still significant since:
“…they used to train up their children, and inure them to religious exercises before…”
Moreover, he noted that going to Jerusalem for the festival was a religious duty on the part of Mary and Joseph:
“…after the custom of the feast of the passover, it shows their religious regard to him; and may be an instruction to parents, to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…”
Thomas Coke also explained the verse this way (emphasis ours):
“To shew how eminent Jesus was for his wisdom even in his childhood, the evangelist gives us the remarkable instance here recorded. When he was twelve years of age his parents carried him up to the passover, with a view to instil an early regard for religion and its precepts into his tender mind. See Exodus 34:23. Deuteronomy 16:16. It is generally allowed by learned men, that twelve was the age when young people, according to the Jewish maxims, came under the yoke of the law.”
Moreover, the “custom” of bringing all males to a festival is mentioned in the Bible, though a specific minimum age is not mentioned:
“Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.”
However, only adult men were likely required to come, as Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers explains:
“By “all thy males” we must understand all of full age and not incapacitated by infirmity or illness.”
This is also the view espoused by Joseph Benson, Matthew Poole, and John Wesley. Gill also mentions that the Jewish sages also interpreted the verse as exempting male children (emphasis ours):
“Misnic doctors have the following canon (c),”all are bound to appear except a man deaf and dumb, a fool, a little one, one of neither sex, or of both sexes, women, servants not free, the lame, the blind, the sick, an old man, and he that cannot go on his feet.””
And Adam Clarke specifically noted that males under thirteen were exempted:
“Old men, sick men, male idiots, and male children under thirteen years of age, excepted; for so the Jewish doctors understand this command.”
So, whether it was age 12 or age 13, we have direct evidence from the New Testament that Jesus’ parents strictly followed the Jewish customs. Although there is no evidence from the New Testament that Jesus ever married, as shown above, it was the custom at the time for girls to marry by age 12, and for boys, by age 14.
The early church father, Tertullian, confirmed this cultural standard, even in his time at least 150 years after Jesus (peace be upon him). Scholars note that in Tertullian’s homeland of Carthage, “puberty” was “defined as 12 years old” (the same as the Jewish custom) and that Tertullian was attempting to argue that unmarried women should wear headdresses in church. Furthermore, twelve was considered the “age of consent for both sexes”. Tertullian cited the practice of the “heathens” and determined that this was the “natural law” (emphasis mine):
“Time even the heathens observe, that, in obedience to the law of nature, they may render their own fights to the (different) ages. For their females they despatch [sic] to their businesses from (the age of) twelve years, but the male from two years later; decreeing puberty (to consist) in years, not in espousals or nuptials. “Housewife” one is called, albeit a virgin, and “house-father,” albeit a stripling. By us not even natural laws are observed; as if the God of nature were some other than ours!”
Indeed, Tertullian also stated that “veiling” should be done as soon as puberty starts (emphasis ours):
“…doubtless the age from which the law of the veil will come into operation will be that from which “the daughters of men” were able to invite concupiscence of their persons, and to experience marriage. For a virgin ceases to be a virgin from the time that it becomes possible for her not to be one. And accordingly, among Israel, it is unlawful to deliver one to a husband except after the attestation by blood of her maturity; thus, before this indication, the nature is unripe. Therefore if she is a virgin so long as she is unripe, she ceases to be a virgin when she is perceived to be ripe; and, as not-virgin, is now subject to the law, just as she is to marriage.”
This was also the view of medieval Christian theologians, including John Calvin, who insisted that (emphasis ours):
“[a] child needed to be both physically and morally mature enough to enter marriage…At minimum, the child needed to reach puberty…”
According to Calvin (emphasis ours):
“[i]t has always been judged, and properly so, that marriage is not legitimate except between those who have reached puberty.”
He also accepted marriage in which a child was betrothed by his/her parents before reaching the age of puberty provided that the now pubescent “youngster” agreed with the marriage:
“…the contracts made before the proper age do not bind the children unless, after they reach puberty, they feel the same way, and voluntarily acknowledge that they consider their premature marriage valid.”
Interestingly, the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas allowed betrothals to occur as early as age 7, and sometimes even earlier:
“…the age of seven years is fixed reasonably enough by law for the contracting of betrothals, for since a betrothal is a promise of the future…it follows that they are within the competency of those who can make a promise in some way, and this is only for those who can have some foresight of the future…”
Coming back to Tertullian’s discussion of “ripeness”, interestingly, the time at which a girl was “ripe” was also discussed by Paul, which demonstrates that Paul was aware of girls as young as 12 getting married according to Jewish custom in his time (he would have since he claimed to be a Pharisee) and did not condemn it. The verse of interest is 1 Corinthians 7:36:
“But if any man think that he behaves himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age [hyperakmos], and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry.”
While there is debate among scholars, the word “hyperakmos” is generally translated as referring to the age at which a “virgin” is “beyond the bloom/prime of life” or “overripe”:
Edward Robinson rendered it as “beyond the flower of life, past the proper age”. Most other lexicons also defined the word similarly. So, at what age would a “virgin” have been considered to be “beyond the bloom of life” or “overripe”? As we have seen already, girls were considered of “marriageable” age at 12 years and one day. This was also the average age for the onset of puberty. According to Vincent’s Word Studies, the Greek philosopher Plato “fixed the point” for “hyperakmos” at 20 years. Thus, it means that a pubescent girl who has exceeded the age of 12 but has not gone over 20 years would NOT be considered to be “beyond the bloom of life”. If she was older than 20, then she would “hyperakmos”.
But the Christian apologist Hassamo “Sam” Shamoun has made the ludicrous and deceitful claim that:
“Paul, and the folks that he was writing to, presupposed that a person had to become ripened before s/he could be considered physically mature and old enough for marriage. Both the Apostle and his audience believed that this took place at some point after puberty, as implied by the word hyperakmos.”
This is an astoundingly laughable claim. That is NOT what Paul was saying! The age of marriage was not “at some point after puberty”! When Paul used the word “hyperakmos”, he was referring to an age when a girl was already “ripe”. In fact, she was “overripe”. This was not the ideal situation for a girl! As John Martens explains: (emphasis ours):
“Puberty was the time when many, if not most, girls were married. A young woman beyond puberty and not engaged could be in a difficult situation. Treggiari states that ‘for the girl’s family, it was important to have a husband ready to marry her at that ‘short-lived and not precisely predictable moment when she was ‘ripe’.’ Beyond this moment is the time when a girl might be considered hyperakmos. […] The ancient sources stress over and over: female virginity is valuable, but precarious and easily lost. The only guard against it is early marriage.”
Dr. Verlyn Verburgge echoes this view:
“[t]he word hyperakmos (‘getting along in years’…used only here in the NT) can refer to any woman after menstruation has occurred…What is behind the situation depicted here is probably the view of the father that a Christian should not live on the level of the body but on the level of the spirit (see comments 7:1). But the daughter feels differently and would like to marry.”
He also adds that Paul used the word “parthenos” (virgin), which:
“…is the most generic word that can be used to cover all situations for young girls who are of marriageable age but are not yet married.”
However, Bruce Winter offered an alternative translation of the word “hyperakmos”. He explained that it could mean (emphasis ours):
“…the reaching of puberty and reproduction for women or sexual passion for men.”
He then concluded that the latter meaning was more appropriate for the context of the verse. Nevertheless, he also explained that the 1st-century CE Alexandrian physician Soranus (a pagan) used the word “hyperakmos” (emphasis ours):
“…as a medical term to describe females who were past puberty (i.e., fourteen years old), but certainly not past child-bearing age.”
Soranus also advised (emphasis ours) that:
“…the time to begin sexual intercourse is after the onset of puberty which, he observed, was at the age of fourteen, outlining the risks for those who have intercourse before menstruation begins…”
Thus, he advised against sexual intercourse before puberty, with the ideal age being around 14 years (after the onset of puberty). In the Roman statutes, this medical advice was evidently taken to an extreme, so much so that the Papian Law of Augustus:
“…laid down the age for marriage for women to be between twenty and fifty, but there is evidence of marriages at an early age.”
Thus, by Roman standards, even secular laws of marriage (most countries allow marriage as early as age 16 with parental permission), were too relaxed!
However, Winter adds that the word “hyperakmos” (emphasis ours):
“…was used to refer either to a woman who has reached puberty and therefore could engage in intercourse and safely conceive, or to the sexual drives or passions notionally of either sex.”
So where did Shamoun get the idea that Paul taught that the “ripe” age for marriage was “sometime after puberty”? At a minimum, the onset of puberty was considered the marker for sexual maturity, and the age for this varied from 12 (per the Jewish custom) to 14 (per Soranus’ medical advice).
Even the sources Shamoun quoted in his article said the exact opposite! John Calvin clearly stated that the “flower of her age…means the marriageable age” which was defined by the “lawyers” to be “from twelve to twenty years”. This agrees with the view of Plato, as shown above. In other words, if a girl were 21 years old, she would be considered “hyperakmos”.
Shamoun also ignored some commentaries from the same website he used to selectively quote certain commentaries (which still refuted his claim). For example, the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges states that “hyperakmos” means (bold emphasis ours):
“if she be past the flower of her age, or more probably  if she have reached the age of maturity, implying her having past the period at which she attained it.”
So, there was a difference between the age of marriage (puberty) and “hyperakmos” (beyond that age). A pubescent girl was technically ready for marriage once puberty had started.
Evidence from the Tanakh –
Further proof for the age of marriage in the Bible comes from Ezekiel 16. A controversial chapter, Ezekiel 16 uses symbolism to depict the nation of Israel as an unwanted infant that grew to maturity and was loved by God. As Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains:
“…the Jewish nation is represented under the simile of a female infant, whose birth, breeding, marriage, grandeur, and conduct, are described, in order to show the wickedness and ingratitude of, his people; who, on account thereof, are threatened with judgments; though mercy is promised to a remnant that should repent.”
For our purpose, Ezekiel 16:7-8 is the passage of interest. It states:
“I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked. “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body.”
Notice that verse 7 describes the nation of Israel as a naked, pubescent girl whose “breasts had formed” and whose “hair had grown”. The NIV translation identifies this as the period of puberty, though other translations do not specifically mention it. Nevertheless, the context shows that the verse is referring to the onset of puberty.
Interestingly, since puberty is implied by the verse, the “hair” growing on the naked girl could refer to “pubic hair”. Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible explains that the phrase “your hair had grown” was:
“…an euphemism, expressive of puberty, which in females was at twelve years of age…”
The Zondervan NASB Study Bible also explains that the “hair” referred to pubic hair. Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible also explains the verse this way (emphasis ours):
“This is not a reference merely to “longer hair,” but as Greenberg noted, to hair not visible at all previously, ‘Lo, hair is grown on thy vulva.’”
In other words, God was describing the nation of Israel using the simile of a naked, pubescent girl whose breasts and pubic hair had grown!
Moreover, by this time, the “girl” was of “marriageable age”, as explained by Gill (emphasis ours):
“…thy breasts are fashioned; swelled and stood out; were come to a proper size and shape, as in persons grown and marriageable; see Sol 8:10…”
This is the view of all the major commentators including Barnes, Calvin, John Trapp, Matthew Poole, Peter Pett, George Haydock, the Benson Commentary, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, the Pulpit Commentary, and Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. Among the Jewish commentaries, the Talmud also agrees with this assessment:
“The Gemara asks: Until what age is one still considered a minor? Rav Ḥisda said: A girl until she is three years and one day old, and a boy until he is nine years and one day old, for these are the ages from which a sexual act in which they participate is considered a sexual act. Some say: A girl eleven years and one day old and a boy of twelve years and one day old, as that is the age at which they are considered adults in this regard. This age is only approximate, as the age of majority for both this, the boy, and that, the girl, is at the onset of puberty in accordance with the verse: “Your breasts were formed and your hair was grown” (Ezekiel 16:7).”
Now, there is no doubt that the embarrassed apologists, like Shamoun, will appeal to verse 8, which states (emphasis ours):
“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body.”
They might argue that this verse “clearly” refers to “sometime after puberty” when the girl was “old enough for love”. Yet, as we have already seen, the girl was already at the age of marriage in verse 7. All the major translations and commentaries, both Jewish and Christian, agree on this matter.
The fact is that verse 8 refers to “love” in addition to “marriage”. It is then that God offers marriage to the nation of Israel. This is explained by the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (emphasis ours):
“Thou wast of marriageable age, but none was willing to marry thee, naked as thou wast. I then regarded thee with a look of grace when the full time of thy deliverance was come (Genesis 15:13, Genesis 15:14; Acts 7:6, Acts 7:7). It is not she that makes the advance to God, but God to her; she has nothing to entitle her to such notice, yet He regards her not with mere benevolence, but with love, such as one cherishes to the person of his wife (Song of Solomon 1:3-6; Jeremiah 31:3; Malachi 1:2).”
Wesley’s Explanatory Notes says the same thing:
“The time of thy misery was the time of love in me towards thee.”
So did Calvin:
“Here God speaks grossly, yet according to the people’s comprehension. For he personates a man struck with the beauty of a girl and offering her marriage. But God is not affected as men are, as we well know, so that it is not according to his nature to love as young men do.”
Gill, Trapp, Poole, and the Benson Commentary, also explain the verse this way.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers further adds that when God “passed by” in verse 7 and verse 8, they were part of the same “passing”, whereas the “passing” in verse 6 was a separate one (emphasis ours):
“Here, as in Ezekiel 16:6, omit the when, and render, “and I passed by thee.” Two separate visits are spoken of: the one in Israel’s infancy in Egypt, when God blessed and multiplied her (Ezekiel 16:6); the other when she had become a nation, and God entered into covenant with her in the Exodus and at Sinai. The verse describes this covenant in terms of the marriage relation, a figure very frequent in Scripture.”
That verse 7 is referring to the time when Israel became “a nation” (i.e., “grew” up) is clearly stated:
“I made you grow like a plant of the field.”
Hence, there is no doubt that Ezekiel 16:7-8 uses the simile of a naked pubescent girl, with breasts developed and pubic hair grown, ready for marriage. This refers to the time that was generally accepted to be around age 12 (on average). Twelve was not an age “sometime after puberty”. It WAS the average age of puberty! One must wonder whether Shamoun agrees with letting 12-year old girls (or even 14-year old girls, per Soranus) get married in the modern age. By secular standards, this is far too young an age for marriage and sexual intercourse, but this is the Biblical standard.
Finally, there is one more example to prove that the Bible allowed marriages to girls that we would now consider to be children. I speak, of course, of Numbers 31:18:
“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
This verse has generated much debate between Muslims and Christians. The latter have tried to hide the plain meaning of the verse, just as they try to hide the plain meanings of verses like Ezekiel 16:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 7:36. In the interest of keeping the article from getting any longer, I will simply provide the evidence that the virgins in Numbers 31:18 were children (by modern standards) who were handed out to the Israelite army to serve either as concubine or wives.
First, the Hebrew text refers to the girls as “haṭ-ṭap̄”, which means “children”:
Second, the context of the verse is clearly referring to marriage and sex. Notice that all non-virgins were killed, but the virgins were to be “saved for yourselves”. The Jewish sages commented that a girl had to be at least three years and one day old to be fit for marriage. The Chizkuni Commentary states (emphasis ours):
“…you shall let live for your benefit. This formulation prompted Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai to state that a female convert who has not attained the age of three years and a day, is fit to marry a priest. [as she could not have been contaminated through carnal intercourse].”
Now, whether the claim that 3 years was the minimum is correct or not is not the issue. In fact, in my opinion, this rule seems to be completely unwarranted. However, what is clear is that the Jews interpreted this verse as referring to marriage and sexual relations, contrary to the opinions of modern Christians who are embarrassed by the plain meaning. Other Jewish commentaries also concur on this point, including Or HaChaim and the Talmud.
Even Christian commentaries, including most modern ones, agree with this assessment as well, though some also suggested other less sinister possibilities (these are baseless, in my opinion). For example, Gill stated that “keep for yourselves” meant:
“…either to be handmaids to them, or to be married among them when grown up, and become proselytes, and initiated into their religion.”
Poole also made multiple suggestions, though marriage was also one of them:
“…either to sell them as slaves to others, or to use them as servants to yourselves, or to marry them, when you have prepared and instructed them.”
But John Trapp indirectly showed that the purpose of sparing the virgins was for marital and sexual relations:
“Ver. 18. That have not known a man.] As far as they could conjecture by their age. But the way of a man with a maid, is one of Solomon’s secrets. [Proverbs 30:19] Of Rebecca it is noted, that she went for a maid, and she was so.”
Notice that he appealed to Proverbs 30:19, which states (emphasis ours):
“…the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman.”
The Hebrew word translated as “young woman” in the NIV is “almah”, which means a woman of marriageable age:
So, according to Trapp, the Midianite girls, who were clearly “children” were of “marriageable age”.
To make matters worse, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers explains that the law concerning captive women (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) was revealed shortly after the war against the Midianites:
“The Israelites were allowed to make slaves of their captives. Shortly after the capture of these Midianitish women, and, it may be, as arising out of it, the law concerning marriage with captives was enacted. (See Deuteronomy 21:10-14.)”
This law clearly stipulates that captive women, after seeing their families killed, would become “wives” of the Israelite soldiers:
“…if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.”
It is, therefore, undeniable that the Midianite virgins were:
- Young girls whom modern law would consider to be mere children, and,
- Spared to become the wives of the Israelite soldiers.
This is further proof to refute the lies of the Christian missionaries who insist that marriage could only occur at “some point after puberty”. The Bible clearly disagreed. Marriage could occur earlier. As for sexual intercourse, in light of Numbers 31:18 and Deuteronomy 21:10-14, it appears that it was allowed even before puberty, but it was probably not the norm.
This article has demonstrated what scholars already know, but that some secularized and deceitful Christian apologists do not want to acknowledge: The Biblical standard for the age of consent and marriage was, at a minimum, puberty. Unlike with most theological issues, ancient Jewish and Christian communities agreed on this, as demonstrated above. This is undeniable and those who seek to deny it are simply too embarrassed to admit it. Perhaps the main reason for their denial is because of their irrational and demonic hatred of the blessed Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). His marriage to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) is by far the favorite polemic used by Christians (and atheists) to engage in character assassination. But as the evidence has shown, there was nothing Biblically “wrong” or “immoral” in that blessed union. Virtually all Jewish and Christians, up until modern times, would have had no problems with it, which is why not a single source in the history of Jewish and Christian critiques of Islam, up until at least 1905 CE, ever mentioned it as a way to condemn Muhammad (peace be upon him). That is NOT a coincidence. And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!
 Jonathan A.C. Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choice of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (London: OneWorld Publications, 2015), p. 144.
Brown observes that “[t]he first condemnatory note” came from David Margoliouth in 1905!
 Robert Epstein, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (Sanger, California: Quill Driver Books, 2007), p. 289.
 Ibid., pp. 289-290.
 Ibid. pp. 287-288.
 Ibid., p. 288.
“All Jewish adult males were required to attend the passover; and it was usually observed by the entire families of all the people who were physically able to make the journey.”
“At this age every Jewish boy was styled “a son of the law,” being put under a course of instruction and trained to fasting and attendance on public worship, besides being set to learn a trade. At this age accordingly our Lord is taken up for the first time to Jerusalem, at the passover season, the chief of the three annual festivals.”
“At twelve a Jewish boy became a son of the law, with the responsibility of a man, putting on the phylacteries which reminded of the obligation to keep the law…”
“At which age he was known as a son of the law, and came under obligation to observe the ordinances personally.”
See Ketubot 50a, https://www.sefaria.org/Ketubot.50a.6?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.
 Exodus 23:17; cf. Deuteronomy 16:16.
“All that were of competent years, and health, and strength, and at their own disposal.”
“To wit, such as are of competent years, and health, and strength, and such as were at their own dispose…”
“All that were of competent years, and health and strength, and at their own disposal.”
“In contemporary society in Carthage, women older than puberty (defined as 12 years old) had to wear a head-covering in the street, unless they were prostitutes (ch. 13). In church the married women always covered their heads, and girl-children did not, but the position of unmarried women was less clear, owing to mixed precedents.”
 Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins, Chapter XI, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian28.html.
As Adrian Thatcher explains:
“Tertullian clearly thought that the contracting of marriage at the age of puberty was a law of nature and so a law of God” (Adrian Thatcher, Living Together and Christian Ethics [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002] p. 148).
 Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins, Chapter XI, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian28.html.
 John Witte Jr. and Robert M. Kingdon, Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva, Volume 1: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 29.
“This natural law, medieval writers taught, communicated God’s will that fit persons marry when they reach the age of puberty, that they conceive children and nurture and educate them…
 Ibid., p. 204.
 Ibid., p. 213.
The apologists may respond to my appeal to Calvin by pointing out that he condemned marriages between older men and younger women. This is true, but knowing the apologists, we should suspect that this is only half true. The reality is that, while he did not like such marriages and would not give his approval for them, he saw nothing inherently “illegal” about them. As Herman Selderhuis explains about Calvin:
“He was, for example, unable to understand a marriage between two partners who were separated by a large gap in age. He thought that an old man simply did not make a good match for a young woman, nor an old woman for a young man. Such cases had to be about something other than love, which was not good because the younger partner would always be shortchanged. ‘If a frail old man falls in love with a young woman, it must be from shameful lust. If he marries her, he will in face deceive her.’ Something just had to be wrong; perhaps the younger partner was crazy, perhaps the older partner was lustful” (Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, trans. Albert Gootje [Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009], p. 177).
In fact, one such case turned one of Calvin’s friendships into a mere acquaintance. His friend Guillaume Farel, at age 69, decided to a marry a much younger woman. According to T.H.L Parker:
“Farel, now aged sixty-nine, was engaged to a mere girl, the daughter of his refugee housekeeper. What is more, she had been for some time, and still was, living under the same roof with him” (T.H.L Parker, John Calvin: A Biography [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007], p. 184).
When Farel’s colleagues asked Calvin if they should try to force Farel to “break off the engagement”, Calvin responded that (emphasis ours):
“…no, nothing can be done about it. Farel has given his word to the girl and he must keep it. The marriage is not illegal and no one has a right to break it off” (Ibid.).
As for the age of the woman, she is described as a “a teenaged woman over fifty years his junior” (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-french-firebrand).
 Witte Jr. and Kingdon, op. cit., p. 213.
Note that when the marriage between Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was contracted, she was six years old. However, based on her own testimony, she was aware of this and had thus consented.
“Narrated `Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) I had seen my parents following Islam since I attained the age of [reason]. Not a day passed but the Prophet (ﷺ) visited us, both in the mornings and evenings” (Sahih Bukhari, 8:124, https://sunnah.com/bukhari/8/124).
The English translation given in the link is “age of puberty”, but the more accurate translation is “reason”. According to Hans Weir’s Arabic-English dictionary, that “اعقل العمر” refers to “the most reasonable time of life, the years of reason and maturity” (Hans Weir, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, 4th Edition, ed. J. Milton Cowan [Urbana, Illinois: Spoken Language Services, Inc., 1993], p. 737):
So, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was still living with her parents and had already reached the age of “reason” or “maturity” (أَعْقِلْ). Later, she began menstruating (Sunan Abu Dawud, 43:161, https://sunnah.com/abudawud/43/161). Thus, before the consummation of the marriage, she had reached both mental and sexual maturity.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Supplement to the Third Part, ed. Anthony Uyl (Ontario, Canada: Devoted Publishing, 2018), p. 138.
A little over 120 years after the death of Aquinas, the 29-year old Richard II of England married the 7-year old daughter of the French king Charles VI (https://archives.history.ac.uk/richardII/isabelle.html). However, since the law prohibited consummation until puberty (which again was around age 12), they would not have had sexual intercourse at the time.
 This appears to be the correct translation for the word “hyperakmos”. The NIV translates it as “and if his passions are too strong”, but adds in a footnote that an alternative reading is “if she is getting beyond the usual age for marriage” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+corinthians+7&version=NIV#en-NIV-28524). This is the reading favored by Dale Martin. He explains that Paul’s (emphasis ours):
“…statement about ‘over the limit’ (hyperakmos) was probably meant to refer to a virgin’s precarious situation, either due to her having passed the point of puberty or simply because her desire was about to get out of control. […] Within that [ideological] context Paul’s rhetoric functioned to urge celibacy but allow marriage where abstinence would endanger the frail physiology (body and soul) of the weaker members of the church, young virginal girls” (Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 226).
 Edward Robinson, A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (London: William Tegg and Co., 1852), p. 847, https://archive.org/details/greekenglishlexi00robirich/page/846/mode/2up.
 See G. Abbott-Smith, Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922), p. 458, https://archive.org/details/manualgreeklexic00abborich/page/n5/mode/2up:“past the bloom of youth”; Thomas Sheldon Green, A Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament (Boston: H.L. Hastings, 1896), p. 193, https://archive.org/details/greekenglishlexi00gree/page/192/mode/2up:“past the bloom of life”; W.J, Hickey, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament After the Latest and Best Authorities (New York: MacMillan & Co., Ltd., 1915), p. 197, https://archive.org/details/newtestamentinor00west_2/page/818/mode/2up:“beyond the prime of life”.
 John W. Martens, “Fathers and Daughters in 1 Corinthians 7:36–38: The Social Implications of Marriage in Early Christian Families”, T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World, eds. Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker (London: T&T Clark, 2019), p. 343.
 Verlyn D. Verbrugge, “1 Corinthians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans-Galatians, Revised Edition, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008). p. 327.
 Bruce Winter, “Puberty or Passion? The Referent of ΥΠΕΡΑΚΜΟΣ in 1 Corinthians 7:36”, Tyndale Bulletin, 49, no. 1 (1998): 78, https://legacy.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/Library/TynBull_1998_49_1_05_Winter_1Cor7_Puberty.pdf.
 Ibid., p. 75.
 Ibid., p. 86.
 Ibid., p. 77.
 Zondervan NASB Study Bible, ed. Kenneth Barker (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999), p. 1175.
“I caused “thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou” didst increase “and” wax “great, and thou” didst come “to excellent” beauty; “thy breasts” were “fashioned and thine hair” was grown, yet wast “thou naked and bare.” The prophet has arrived at the time at which the child grew up to maturity.”
“He adds at the same time, thy breasts were made ready, for כון, kon, means to prepare, to strengthen: but as he is speaking of breasts, I have no doubt that he means them to have swelled as they ought to do. Thy breasts then were fashioned, that is, of the right size, as in marriageable girls. Thy hair also grew long. Finally, the Prophet expresses thus grossly what he could have said more concisely, in consequence of the people’s rudeness. Thy hair grew long, whilst thou wast naked and bare; that is, as yet you had no outward ornament, you was like a marriageable girl…”
“He prosecuteth the allegory of a miserable maiden, with whom the matter beginneth to mend. Iam enim menses patiebatur, ubera creverant et pili circa pubem; so that now she was marriageable.”
“…grown up to maturity or full age…the prophet further describes the beauty and glory of the Jewish nation, grown up and fashioned under God’s own hand, in order to be solemnly affianced to God.”
“Their ‘ornaments’ are then described, fully fashioned breasts and long and luxurious hair. These were indeed the ‘ornament of ornaments’ for a woman.”
“…being arrived at that age when decorations are most sought after. — Fashioned. Literally, “swelling.” Septuagint, “erect.” (Haydock) — Hair, (pilus.) Women are allowed by canon law to marry at twelve.”
“Thy breasts were fashioned, &c. — Thou didst come to woman’s estate.”
“The rest of the verse, however, continues the figure of the child growing up to womanhood.”
“The ornaments here are the natural beauty of womanhood, as distinguished from those mentioned in Ezekiel 16:11. ‘Her breasts were fashioned’ was rendered by Keil as, ‘Her breasts expanded.’”
“The two clauses that fellow point to the most obvious signs of female puberty. For whereas, read, with the Revised Version, yet, etc., as describing, not as the Authorized Version seems to do, a state which trod passed away, but one which still continued even when full-grown girlhood would have demanded clothing.”
“But the meaning is, that while Israel was thus growing into the full development and beauty of womanhood, she was still “naked and bare.”
 Berakhot 24a:12, https://www.sefaria.org/Ezekiel.16.7?lang=bi&with=Berakhot&lang2=en.
“…the Targum explains of the time of redemption of the people of Israel out of Egypt, which was an instance of the great love of God unto that people; and which time was fixed by him; and when it was come, at the exact and precise time, the redemption was wrought…”
“When thou wast both fit for marriage, and desirous of it.”
“…the time of thy misery was the time of love and pity in me towards thee, and the time of thy grown beautified state was the time of my love of delight, when I rejoiced in thee, and espoused thee to be my wife. Thy time, i.e. the season fittest for the discovery of my purposes towards thee, was the time of love…”
“The time of thy misery was the time of my love toward thee.”
“The meaning is that those who were allowed to live should convert to Judaism and only when they were Jewish would they qualify for the description חיים, “to be alive,” as then they would be allowed to get married and to remain “alive” by means of the children they would bear.”
 Kiddushin 78a:19, https://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.31.18?lang=bi&with=Kiddushin&lang2=en
“The mishna states that Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says that the daughter of a convert and a Jewish woman is fit to marry into the priesthood. It is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: A female who converts at less than three years and one day old is fit to marry into the priesthood, as it is stated after the war with Midian…”
 Deuteronomy 21:11. Rashi added that it did not matter if the woman was previously married (https://www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.21.11?lang=en&with=Rashi&lang2=en). This was also the view of Chizkuni (https://www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.21.11?lang=en&with=Chizkuni&lang2=en).
18 thoughts on “The Age of Marriage and Sex in the Bible”
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Excellent article with lots of facts. The only argument that Christians have is where Jesus(as) calls a 12 year old as “little women”.
[Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”]
The girl’s father also uses the word “little daughter”
Mark 5:23 [and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.”]
I think this was more out of affection than being less than exactly 12 years and a day old.
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Luke muddies the water by saying she was “about” 12 years old, so Christians cannot use that argument.
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Just a heads up guys. The next article/video will follow-up on this series and I think it will be a blockbuster. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just leave it at that. 😉
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Do you know if FullMetal Theist accepted to debate Hassamo Shamoun?
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Hi, a Christian quoted this verse in an attempt to prove that the age of marriage is 20.
In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness.
Their argument is that those under the age of 20 are called children. How would you reply to this? Thanks in advance.
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the text does not say “but those under the age of 20”
31As for your infants, of whom you said that they will be as spoils, I will bring them [there], and they will come to know the Land which You despised.
are ppl under the age of twenty infants?
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Salaam alaikum. The people 20 years old or more were those who were eligible to serve in the army, not for marriage. See Numbers 1, where a census is taken to determine who is old enough for the army.
Also, there are numerous examples of Israelite kings who were as young as 7 when they became kings (e.g., Josiah in 2 Chronicles 24:1). If children can becomes kings, why can’t they marry?
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Are they saying that 19.5 year olds cant grumble against yhwh?
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Adding on to what QB said even in Islam someone can marry under 15 but still can’t serve in the military.
Furthermore, the word used for “children” is taph in the sentence and it denotes a specific age group. Kinda like how we would say in English “toddler” nobody would think I’m talking about a 19-year-old.
Finally, this still bites them in the back as most age of consent is 18 and they have no cultural issue with that number because “the government said it”
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Great job ! Many thanks 🥰 for the sharing..
The only thing to add when debating the issue of the early marriage of mother Aisha (mAbpwh) is the hidden wisdom.. she lived during the prophet’s life, during her father, Omar, Othman and Ali’s era, she was the second narrator of Hadiths after Abu Hourayra.. she was a reference, the guardian of our religion and prophet’s tradition.. she reported every detail and private life of the prophet peace be upon him.. usually when the ”Sahaba” face a theological issue, they knock at her door to ask her because she became a true scholar..
And above, it was a happy and successful marriage and she never complained about it, she was proud of it !
So we should also focus on the wisdom behind when preaching..
Another example, imagine when the prophet peace be upon him saw the angel Gabriel for the first time, terrified, he run and reported it to a very young wife.. she would have fled the house and asked for divorce.. she would have believed she married a mad man !! Because a too young wife like Aisha would have been fragile to stand the position and the reaction of Khadidja who was older and mature ! Isn’t it?? On the contrary, Allah the Wise and the Glorious made the blessed marriage of the prophet peace be upon him with someone older than him to be his support and power..
In short, we see how every detail of our beloved prophet peace be upon him is not a matter of lust and worldly reasons.. but for powerful spiritual teachings..
Apologies for this long comment and be blessed with the truth of Islam..
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It’s funny that Sam “deceiver” Shamoun calls his book of infanticide “holy”. It’s like a hindu calling hindu scriptures “holy”. Almost no difference.
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Great Article. All point are 100% correct. Now for even MORE PROOF
Christian Scripture teaches that marriage can also be entered into to AVOID fornication.
Now, get this: fornication INCLUDES masturbation.
Now, consider this FACT. It is a known fact in wicked western nations that masturbation is considered acceptable at any age.
So, if one seeks to AVOID masturbation, God’s Word CLEARLY COMMANDS marriage.
Thus God commands and sanctions marriage covenants AND subsequent consumation without respect to age or the ability to reproduce in order to AVOID sexual temptation.