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In most of the western countries the minimum age for marriage is 18 years. (Some would like to argue that this could be 16 or 15 but none would argue it to be 9)

As a Christian I take pride in the fact that Christianity does not support the horrible custom of child marriage (which is still practised in some parts of the world). It is one of those things that you don’t think much about because it seems so very basic.

However it recently crossed my mind that I’ve never seen a Biblical backing to it. Could it be that it’s only a cultural concept that I think of as a Christian concept?

So my question – On what grounds should Christians oppose child marriages?

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Could someone substantiate MarcGravell's statement - "It is usually accepted that Mary was around 14 when giving birth, and was married at that time" Did any early Christian writer say that or is there a church document? What is the source? –  Monika Michael Jul 18 '12 at 7:02
    
Just as a note: many Western countries allow an age as low as 16 (and a few have 15, but only under special circumstances, and require special court approval). –  vsz Jul 20 '12 at 16:59
    
1 Corinthians 7:36 definitely supports the idea that a Christian should not get married while they are still a child. –  plv Aug 3 '12 at 7:17
    
In the UK, the youngest that one can marry is 16, but this requires written parental consent. –  Kaz Dragon Aug 3 '12 at 7:43
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3 Answers 3

Indeed, AFAIK the Bible doesn't make any overt statements on this subject. It is, however, usually accepted that Mary was around 14 when giving birth, and was married at that time. In many ways it is perhaps fortunate that the Bible doesn't wax lyrical on the subject; your description of child marriage as a "horrible custom" sounds largely a product of culture (or dare I even say, "moral relativism"?). There is obviously also an issue of comparison, with radically different life expectancy and life-style (education in particular, and a harsher life, leading to a shorter childhood), historically at an age of around 14 (not the younger 9 that you cite) the majority of females would be fertile (or rapidly approaching fertility), about as educated as they were ever going to get, and with limited years ahead.

Islam, of course, has a glitch here in that it needs to accommodate the marriage of Aisha (often taken to be around 9) with the view of Muhammad as the ideal Muslim, which makes it rather hard for Islam to make a statement that such marriage is inherently wrong. However, even in Christianity (and OT in particular), the fact is that many (not all) of the laws around marriage are more about property laws (with the wife being the property) than of human rights-of / decency-towards the wife.

This leads me to conclude that we aren't going to get much direct and literal guidance from the Bible on this subject, and must resort to other arguments. Perhaps arguments such as these, or from unicef.

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Well that clarifies the Biblical stance on it but raises the issue another issue. Just where did this limit of 18 originate and why? Also, on what grounds could we say that age of 9 is "inherently wrong"? They'll just defend it as a part of their culture. –  Monika Michael Jul 18 '12 at 6:59
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And the reason why limit of 18 in western countries confuses me is because medieval Europe had what we'd call fundamentalist Christianity. It makes me wonder if people in such a society would come to accept a concept that had no religious connections. Specially when the Mary was married at 14. –  Monika Michael Jul 18 '12 at 7:09
    
@Monika to be fair, we should perhaps rephrase that as "some would just defend..." - as with most things, there is no single defining view. As for "part of my culture" in a more general sense, then for different cultures, so have been all manner of things. Personally, I don't put much weight behind cultural tradition, especially when it gets inter-woven with religion. I don't have a simple answer to that, but in some ways it ties into the current circumcision debates (see Germany in particular). Christianity is pretty benign in its cultural/religious traditions - I'll say that for it ;p –  Marc Gravell Jul 18 '12 at 7:10
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Historically, the age of menarche has been closer to 16 or 17. It's only been in the 20th century that girls have been maturing earlier. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menarche –  Gilbert Le Blanc Jul 18 '12 at 13:07
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I know of no specific references in scripture to what age is "best" for marriage, though I have read historical accounts that state that the traditional age for marriage in ancient Jewish culture was the late teen years. Josephus might have something to say on the matter, and if he doesn't, I'm sure Edersheim does.

It's also worth taking a historical view of the concept of marriage. The contemporary understanding that places a primary importance on the affections and desires of individuals is a distinctly modern concept. Throughout much of history, marriage was in a many ways a necessity for survival; mutual affection was of course always preferred, but was generally viewed as an ideal that was rarely found in reality. The option of being an "adult bachelor" was restricted to the very wealthy, those who could afford to maintain servants to complete the many tasks essential to daily life.

Many of our modern ideas about marriage developed during and prior to what is called the "Romantic Period" of history, in the 18th and 19th centuries. While that time was defined by many more ideas than what we would today associate with the common understanding of the word "romantic," it marked a substantial cultural shift from the prevailing ideas of the Enlightenment. (See also the German "Sturm und Drang").

Sometimes we take for granted the number of labor-saving devices that enable the type of life that we have become accustomed to in the 20th and 21st centuries. Throughout much of history, however, life was defined by a struggle to survive against the elements. Life in an agrarian cultures, especially without the benefit of electricity and internal combustion machinery, could be brutal, and often required laboring from dawn to dusk. Roles that required greater physical strength were generally considered part of the male domain; women were expected to complete everything else, and neither gender could ever expect much in the way of "spare time," unless they were part of a wealthy family. For women, the labor involved in obtaining potable water, preparing food, and completing laundry -- not to mention caring for children -- could alone easily occupy the majority of an individual's waking hours, though the completion of several additional tasks was normally expected.

So, for much of history, marriage was more of an individual economic necessity used to support life. The role of the family in the individual struggle to simply exist was of vastly greater importance than it is today, and arranged marriages provided families with a means by which to ensure the continued expansion of their wealth and influence within their communities, which would increase the status of every member of the family. It would also be interesting to consider the extent to which there was what would today be considered a strict separation of the genders, which could make it much more difficult for young men and women to meet and get to know each other than it is in contemporary times. That is, arranged marriages greatly simplified "courtship" -- a distinct historical process, in contrast to today's "dating."

Please take note that this post is in no way intended to support the practice of arranged marriage, or young marriage -- or anything else, for that matter. Especially in light of the extent to which we have thus far "conquered the elements," there is ample support for the view that arranged marriage is a reprehensible infringement on personal liberty. This response is intended simply to provide some historical background that might facilitate an understanding of some of the functional roles of marriage throughout history. Cheers.

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Some things only require a bit of common sense. If a child seems to be mentally ready for marriage, they can be allowed to get married. The appropriate age varies wildly. I've known 14 year old girls who could run an entire households on their own, and I've also known grown women in their 20's who still sleep with teddy bears and expect daddy to take care of everything.

It's a question of emotional maturity more than mere age.

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