Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most fascinating figures in the Bible. Her unwavering faith and remarkable role in the birth of Jesus have captured the hearts of many Christians. Virgin Mary’s story begins with her pregnancy, a miracle that evokes curiosity. One question that’s often asked by believers though is the age of Mary when she married Joseph. So, how old was Mary when she married Joseph?
While scripture doesn’t state how old Mary was when she married Joseph, most scholars speculate that she was around 13-15 years old at the time of marriage. According to traditional Jewish customs in the first century, girls could be betrothed at 12 years to marry at the age of 13 or 14 years.
Although betrothal was binding, it was not possible to consummate the marriage or engage in intimacy until the couple was legally married years later. In ancient Jewish customs, the marriage process involved a betrothal process followed by a waiting period and, finally, the consummation of marriage. Since betrothal was legally binding, it could only be broken through a divorce. The official marriage age also varied across many eras and cultures, but it was normal for people to marry younger than is typical today.
Mary and Joseph as Parents
Mary gave birth in a manger over 2000 years ago, and none of the synoptic gospels provides any indication that she suffered any complications during delivery. This may suggest that her body was already physically mature for the exercise. However, in Mary’s time, young motherhood was pretty common because as we have seen, women would marry in their teenage years.
Also, the bible doesn’t mention any parental involvement in Mary and Joseph’s marriage, as per the culture at the time. This is quite interesting since arranged marriages were an important facet of the fabric of the Jewish culture. Even though arranged marriages are no longer the norm in modern Jewish society, some still practice it to date. For instance, the Hasidic (subsection of Haredi) Jewish families believe that arranged marriage is still the way to go. Considering this, it is rather strange that there was no parental involvement in Mary and Joseph’s marriage. However, we know from scripture that this was no ordinary union – it was divinely orchestrated and God’s angel even came to tell Joseph not to leave Mary quietly as he was considering.
Once the couple had been united under the law or through betrothal, they were recognized legally as being together. While children were expected, this was not necessarily the defining factor. Matthew 1:24 also suggests that the marriage between Mary and Joseph occurred long after Mary became pregnant.
Earlier in the same chapter, Matthew explains Christ’s earthly lineage and parents and refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband (Matthew 1:16). In Luke 1:26-27, it is indicated that Mary was betrothed even before Angel Gabriel appeared. The exact date of the angel’s visit has yet to be discovered, but it’s believed that Mary was engaged to Joseph during this time. The Gospels also specify that Mary conceived Jesus while she was still in Bethlehem. Shortly after, they went on a journey for the census. This clearly shows that Joseph and Mary’s union took place before Jesus’s birth.
While the waiting period after betrothal could vary, it was typically one year during which the couple could prepare for their future time together. The scriptures contain several examples of betrothals, including Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 24:50-67), David and Michal (1 Sam. 18:27), Samson and his Philistine wife (Judge. 14:1-20), Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:18-21) among others. The betrothal served several purposes, such as;
- Allowing the bride and the groom to know each other well
- Allowing the families to make arrangements for the wedding
- Providing enough time to confirm the bride’s chastity
Why Did the Angel Had to Visit Joseph in Dream
While Mary had not been unfaithful to Joseph, to see her pregnant could have raised a lot of suspicion and ridicule from people. It would have been difficult to believe that her pregnancy was by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, therefore, had a plan to divorce her privately. If Joseph had gone ahead with his plans to leave her, she would have been accused of adultery which was a capital offense under Mosaic law. However, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she was going to give birth to the messiah (Matthew 1:20-21).
When Joseph woke up, he did exactly what the angel had told him and took Mary to be his wife but did not know her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus ( Matthew 1:18-25). Once Mary had given birth to Jesus, she became intimate with him, and the two were blessed with other sons and daughters, some of whom are mentioned in the Bible by name (e.g. James).
The salutation that the Angel gave Joseph was also significant. “Joseph, son of David.” Although Joseph was not a direct son of King David, the Angel acknowledged that he was from David’s lineage; hence, he had to prepare him for the next part of the message that he would pass. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were promised by God that a Messiah of King David’s lineage would come (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
To wrap it up, it is not possible to state the exact age at which Mary got married to Joseph. However, we can infer from the context of the prevailing cultural practice at the time. As we have established, it was common practice for girls to be betrothed as soon as they hit puberty (as early as 12) and then get married approximately a year later. Scholars have used this cultural context to infer that Mary must have gotten married in her early teen years (anywhere from 13 to 16 years) as that was the norm in her days.