Question: "Does the Bible say what is the proper age for marriage?"
Answer: The Bible does not specify any particular age requirement for a person to be married; rather, it speaks in general terms of marriage being for those who are “grown up” (see Ruth 1:12–13). Both the language and culture of the Bible strongly support the idea that puberty, at bare minimum, is a condition that must be met before becoming someone’s spouse. This fits with one of the historical purposes of marriage—conceiving and rearing children. Scriptural evidence indicates that those too young for childbearing are not candidates for marriage, though there is no explicit age given in the Bible.
It is reasonable to look at the practices of ancient Judaism for cultural considerations on the proper age for marriage. According to tradition, boys were not considered “men,” and therefore not marriageable, until the age of 13. Girls were not considered “women” until age 12. These ages more or less correspond to the onset of puberty. While those ages might seem too young to us, they are not unusual ages for getting married, historically. It has only been within the last century or so that the average age of getting married has drifted into the late twenties and early thirties.
It’s also important to recall that maturity—often used as a benchmark for allowing sexuality and marriage—is highly cultural. In modern Western countries, people are not generally expected to be self-sufficient until they are nearly in their twenties, or even later. For most of human history, however, people were expected to “grow up” much sooner. The age of getting married was normally young, as everyone was expected to mature socially and emotionally more quickly than today.
The Hebrew language also supports the idea that puberty is a requirement for a legitimate marriage. Ezekiel 16 contains a metaphor for God’s relationship to Israel. In this passage, God cares for Israel, pictured as an orphaned girl in various stages of development. The Lord first sees her birth, then watches her grow up: “You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown. . . . 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” (verses 7–8). In this illustration, it’s only after the girl arrives at physical maturity, sometime after (not during) puberty when she is “old enough to love,” that she is ready for marriage. Other translations say the girl “grew tall and came of age” (NET) and “grew up, matured, and became a young woman” (GWT).
Hebrew, as English, uses different words for younger and older members of either sex. Naˈar refers to young men, while yeled refers to boys age 12 or younger. For females, naˈarah means “a marriageable woman,” while yaldah refers to a girl 11 or younger—too young for marriage. Once again, these words and definitions seem to enforce the idea that the onset of puberty is a requirement for marriage. Before that time, a boy or girl is not of an age to be married.
The New Testament has even less to say about the age of getting married. Still, there are clues in New Testament Greek similar to those in Hebrew. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:36 uses the word hyperakmos in reference to a female. In this case, it’s a young woman who’s engaged to be married. Hyperakmos is translated as “past her youth” (NASB), past “the flower of her age” (KJV), or “past marriageable age” (CSB). The word literally means “ripe,” a common euphemism in many cultures for describing a woman’s capability for bearing children. Paul’s inclusion of the word definitely indicates that the marriageable age was sometime after puberty, when a woman is fully grown. But Scripture nowhere sets a definitive marriageable age: physical maturity is a must, but when a girl reaches maturity can vary. The 12-year-old in Mark 5:41–42 is still a “little girl” and obviously not ready for marriage.
As with many other issues, the proper age for getting married has a cultural component that the Bible does not specifically override. What constitutes a proper marriage age can vary from culture to culture and still fall within the bounds of scripturally proper conduct. The bottom line is that pedophilia and child marriages are unacceptable. A person must be fully grown to be married; he or she must be physically mature enough for sexuality and child-bearing. Beyond that, the Bible does not specify a minimum age for marriage.