The Holy Bible on the Age of Marriage

Sam Shamoun

Visitors to our site may be aware that the Quran permits Muslim men to marry prepubescent girls. For instance, the Quran prescribes the waiting period (iddah) after a divorce has been made:

O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them when they have reached their period. Count the period, and fear God your Lord. Do not expel them from their houses, nor let them go forth, except when they commit a flagrant indecency. Those are God's bounds; whosoever trespasses the bounds of God has done wrong to himself. Thou knowest not, perchance after that God will bring something new to pass… As for your women who have despaired of further menstruating, if you are in doubt, their period shall be three months; and those who have not menstruated as yet. And those who are with child, their term is when they bring forth their burden. Whoso fears God, God will appoint for him, of His command, easiness. S. 65:1, 4 Arberry

And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the 'Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses (i.e. they are still immature) their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise, except in case of death]. And for those who are pregnant (whether they are divorced or their husbands are dead), their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is until they deliver (their burdens), and whosoever fears All‚h and keeps his duty to Him, He will make his matter easy for him. S. 65:4 Hilal-Khan

Now a woman can only be divorced if she was first married, so it is clear that this injunction assumes that young girls can be married and divorced and remarry before they reach puberty. Even more, the purpose of this waiting period is to ensure that the wife who is about to be divorced is not pregnant, or if she is to make sure that the true father is known, i.e. that the child is from the current husband, and not a next husband that she may marry afterwards. Thus, this verse presupposes that the Muslim men who are married to prepubescent girls have sexual intercourse with them.

The renowned Muslim commentator Maududi, in his six volume commentary on the Quran, confirms this by stating the following regarding this passage:

"Therefore, making mention of the waiting-period for girls who have not yet menstruated, clearly proves that it is not only permissible to give away the girl at this age but it is permissible for the husband to consummate marriage with her. Now, obviously no Muslim has the right to forbid a thing which the Qur’an has held as permissible." (Maududi, vol. 5, p. 620, note 13, emphasis added)

Most of our readers will be familiar with Muhammad’s marriage to a nine-year-old girl named Aisha:

Narrated 'Aisha:
that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death). (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64; see also Numbers 65 and 88)

Narrated 'Aisha: I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah's Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for 'Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, NOT YET REACHED THE AGE OF PUBERTY.) (Fateh-al-Bari page 143, Vol.13) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 151)

For more on these specific issues please consult the following articles:

What the readers of our site may not know is that the Holy Bible makes a reference to the general age of a girl considered for marriage. The reference is found in a parable where God likens Israel to a baby girl whom Yahweh took in and then eventually married. The parable proceeds to liken Israel’s dabble with idolatry to a wife who commits adultery and prostitution.

Not only does this specific parable present the marriageable age of a girl, the parable also assumes that this is a fact that was already well known and observed by the peoples, specifically Israel.

"On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, ‘Live!’ I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. 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 nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 16:4-14

God mentions that the young babe attained the age for lovemaking after her breasts had formed and her pubic hairs had grown, clear signs of puberty. The reason we believe that the reference is to pubic hair is because a) the hair on the head of a girl grows many years before reaching the time of puberty, and b) the connection to nakedness suggests that the exposure of her body parts needed to be covered since it was shameful for them to be exposed for all to see. In other words, there was no shame for the hair of a girl’s head to be uncovered, but exposing one’s pubic hairs would be.

Here is how the English Standard Version renders the above passage:

"I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you AGAIN and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine." Ezekiel 16:7-8 ESV

Pay attention to the fact that it is only after the young girl attained maidenhood, puberty, that God passed by again and then proceeded to marry her. God’s spreading the corner of his garment and making a covenant with the young maiden refers to marriage as the following passages indicate:

"A man shall not take his father's wife so that he will not uncover his father's skirt." Deuteronomy 22:30

"He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.’" Ruth 3:9

Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her so as to preserve Naomi’s family’s line.

"And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. ‘For the man who hates and divorces, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.’" Malachi 2:13-16

Thus, we have a biblical text establishing that the age for marriage begins when a girl has become post-pubescent, i.e. when she has reached a point where she is past puberty.

What we would like to do at this point is to quote various translations and commentaries in order to solidify our position and exegesis.

Bible Translations

I made you thrive like plants of the field. You grew up and matured and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, but you were stark naked. Then I passed by you and saw you, and you were indeed at the age for love... Holman Christian Standard Bible

and grow up like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; ... RSV

and grow up like a plant of the field. You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love... NRSV

You grew and developed, you came to the age of puberty; your breasts were formed, your hair had grown, but you were still stark naked. Again I passed by you and saw that you were now old enough for love… NAB

And I made you grow like the gross of the fields. You developed, you, you reached marriageable age. Your breasts became firm and your hair grew richly, but you were stark naked. New Jerusalem Bible

"I will increase your numbers just like plants growing in the field." And you did increase, you developed, you reached puberty, your breasts appeared, and your hair grew long; but you were naked and exposed... Again I passed by you, looked at you and saw that your time had come, the time for love... Complete Jewish Bible

I made you grow like a plant in the field. You grew up, matured, and became a young woman. Your breasts developed, and your hair grew. Yet, you were naked and bare. I went by you again and looked at you. You were old enough to make love to... GOD's WORD Translation

"Grow up like a plant in the field!" And you did. You grew up. You grew tall and matured as a woman, full-breasted, with flowing hair. But you were naked and vulnerable, fragile and exposed. I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover... The Message

I caused you [Israel] to multiply as the bud which grows in the field, and you increased and became tall and you came to full maidenhood and beauty; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown, yet you were naked and bare. Now I passed by you again and looked upon you; behold, you were maturing and at the time for love,…  Amplified Bible

I took care of you, like someone caring for a tender, young plant. You grew up to be a beautiful young woman with perfect breasts and long hair, but you were still naked. When I saw you again, you were old enough to have sex… CEV

Bible Commentaries

16:1ff This message reminded Jerusalem of its former despised status among the Canaanite nations. Using the imagery of a young baby growing to mature womanhood, God reminded that he raised her from a lowly state to great glory as his bride… (Life Application Study Bible, New American Bible- Updated Edition [Zondervan Grand Rapids, MI, May 2000], p. 1364)

16:6-14 The LORD passes by twice (vv. 6-7, 8-14)... The LORD's action contrasts with that of the parents. Following ancient Near Eastern custom, the LORD enacts a legal adoption by announcing, literally, "In your blood, live." The life-giving act, however, is threatened by the nakedness of postpubescent reality… The LORD acts to protect the vulnerable young woman who is now sexually mature… (The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version With the Apocrypha (Hardcover) [Abingdon Press, May, 2003], p. 1175)  

The creative command turned into fact, and the baby grew into adolescence and sexual maturity, marked by breasts and pubic hair (cf. Isa 7:20)… (Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel 1-19 [Word Book Publishers, Dallas TX 1994], p. 237)

God then cared for the nation and caused it to increase and flourish like sprouts in a field, language reminiscent of the growth of the nation in Egypt as described in Exod 1:7, 12. So she (Israel) prospered until she reached the maturity of womanhood. As a beautiful young woman of marriageable age, she became the wife of Yahweh… (Lamar Eugene Cooper, Sr., New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture- NIV Text, Ezekiel [Broadman & Holman Publishers 1994], pp. 169-170)

… The word of the Lord was all it took to turn the field from a place of death (16:5) to a place of life (16:7). Subsequently, she grew up, reached sexual maturity (16:7), and attained an age appropriate for marriage (16:8)…

6. NIV: "You … became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew," should perhaps rather be translated, "You developed the ornament of ornaments [namely] your breasts were formed and your [pubic] hair sprouted." The point is the physical development that accompanies the onset of puberty… (Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1999], p. 210)  

… The text chronicles her growth; she flourishes (grows up) "like a sprout (… semah) of the field," a vegetal simile conventionally an increase in population, but here descriptive of physical maturation. "At full womanhood" (NRSV) is, in Hebrew, "ornament of ornaments" (i.e., the loveliest of ornaments): well-formed and "sprouted" [simmeah] pubic hair. Ezekiel’s double of samah, "to sprout," v. 7 creates a "a verbal bridge" between the images of vegetal fertility and female puberty… Now Yahweh passes by her again and, seeing that she has reached the age for sexual lovemaking… spreads the edge (lit., "wing") of his cloak over her, covering her nakedness… (The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Introduction to Prophetic Literature, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel [Abingdon Press, Nashville 2001], Volume VI, pp. 1226-1228)

… It denotes growing to the threshold of maturity and child bearing in a woman… After this there takes place the second occasion of Yahweh’s passing by, introduced verbally exactly like the first. This calls the mature girl to the full honor of womanhood and to "life" in the full sense… the sovereign freedom of Yahweh, who is wherever he wills to be and who is therefore always present at the right time, is to be seen in this. Yahweh affirms what v. 7 has described, on the basis of what he himself has seen, and does not shrink from the view that he is waiting until the time is ripe. Then he affirms his choice… (Walther Zimmerli, Hermenia, Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible Series- Ezekiel 1: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24 [Fortress Press, Philadelphia 1979], pp. 339-340)

A non-Christian Jewish commentary writes regarding 16:6-8:

God wills the abandoned infant to live. She lives and grows to puberty… Upon reaching puberty, she is ready for marriage… (The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation, Torah, Nevi'im, Kethuvim (Hardcover) [Oxford University Press, October 2003], p. 1069)

Concluding Remarks

In light of the foregoing we conclude that the Bible does set forth the acceptable age of marriage. Yahweh’s parable to his people presupposes their prior knowledge and acceptance of the marriageable age being set sometime after a young maiden has attained puberty. Anything before this would be viewed as abnormal and unusual. Extra-biblical sources provide some support for puberty being the marriageable age, that both Jews and Christians have understood this to be the case. For instance, an early Christian writer and Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, wrote:

It is not only fornication, but also the giving in marriage prematurely, that is called fornication; when, so to speak, one not of ripe age is given to a husband, either of her own accord or by her parents. (Clement of Alexandria, IX.-Fragment of the Treatise on Marriage, Early Church Fathers - Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II; online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The Mishnah sets the age of maturity for a female at twelve years and six months:

"she won her case in court before she matured [at the age of twelve years and six months], lo, they belong to the father." Mishnah Ketubot, 4:1.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible in volume 2, page 1407, under "Marriage", states this about Jewish marriage customs:

"Subsequently, minimum ages (for marriage) of 13 for boys and 12 for girls were set."

Jim West, Th.D., writes in an online article titled, "Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs":

"The wife was to be taken from within the larger family circle (usually at the ‘outset of puberty’ or around the age of 13) in order to maintain the purity of the family line." (Source)

The foregoing also puts to rest the slander and false claim that passages such as Numbers 31:17-18 allow men to have sex with young, prepubescent girls, something nowhere stated within the chapter itself. The passage from Ezekiel establishes the point that these young girls could not be touched until they attained the age of puberty, and even then the men had to marry them as the following citation states:

"When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go WHEREVER SHE WISHES; BUT YOU SHALL CERTAINLY NOT SELL HER FOR MONEY, YOU SHALL NOT MISTREAT HER, because you have humbled her." Deuteronomy 21:10-14

Islam, however, allows for the raping and selling of captive women even if they are married! (Cf. Sura 4:24)

For more on these issues please read the following:

More importantly, the Ezekiel text provides further evidence that Muhammad was not a true prophet and that the Quran is not God’s word. Muhammad’s marriage to a prepubescent girl and the Quran allowing men to both marry and divorce prepubescents are in direct conflict with God’s true Word, the Holy Bible.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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