I have heard that the legal age of marriage was quite young in Jewish culture at the time of Christ. I believe young girls at the age of twelve could marry. However, I find it difficult to imagine Mary as young as thirteen years years old around the time of her giving birth, because of the maturity of her words that are found in the gospels.

Is there any tradition that would place a more realistic age of Mary? Or is this just completely unknown even when guessing?

  • I've also heard she was about 12-14 but I can not give you any source for that..
    – 2pietjuh2
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 11:57
  • 1
    Why based on the maturity of her words? Which words? What about the words?
    – svidgen
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 13:45
  • @svidgen - It is only my gut feel when reading Luke 1, Mary's prayer. I just feel that someone older than twelve expresses all the whole range of emotions in the prayer. I am not saying it is not possible that Mary was as young as was legally allowed, I just get the feel that 16-18 might be more realistic. I really do not know if there is anything that would suggest to us an acceptable age range that would still consider a woman as a young virgin. Curious if there is any ancient tradition about it.
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 15:09
  • Catholic Canonic law might be related to this question, but I'm not sure, so I started a related question.
    – Pavel
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 12:36

5 Answers 5


She was probably between 13 and 14 years old according to the Catholic Encyclopedia in the section entitled "Mary's pregnancy becomes known to Joseph":

From the age at which Hebrew maidens became marriageable, it is possible that Mary gave birth to her Son when she was about thirteen or fourteen years of age. No historical document tells us how old she actually was at the time of the Nativity.

  • 2
    +1 - I think its safe to say nobody knows then. If there is no tradition in the Catholic church other than an educated guess, then I doubt there is any tradition to be found anywhere.
    – Mike
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 1:26
  • @mike There's plenty of tradition regarding Mary's pre-annunciation youth in the Catholic Church, but nothing that one is required to believe. Excepting that she was immaculately conceived and did not sin.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 15:11
  • @Andrew That sounds pretty terrible. Would God really have a 13 or 14 year-old girl deliberately go through giving birth? I don't believe so. It just seems wrong. Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 20:14
  • 2
    @jlaverde In the ancient world, childbirth typically took place in the early teen years. It was not seen horrible. Additionally, if a woman didn't give birth by late teens, she could be considered damaged. "As boys and girls reached their teens, marriage was often considered as the next step in their lives. Boys would have been circumcised sometime after they reached the age of ten, and girls were often considered marriageable by thirteen. Once a young man and woman married, the cycle of life would begin again. Read more: touregypt.net/featurestories/mothers.htm#ixzz3jxFtELVS
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 20:26
  • 3
    @jlaverde You might want to recalibrate your understanding of various cultures that are not 21st century western culture. Look at the age for a Bar Mitzvah (13) and Bat Mitzvah (12). (See also the Quinceañera). These came from mature cultures that often saw marriage in the mid teens (by which point boys and girls are usually fertile) as a norm. The "you have to be 18/adult to marry" norm is very recent. Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 13:32

In Mark 5:41-42, a 12 year old is referred to as a little girl. Mary was always called a woman in the Bible. So there is a strong possibility that she was much older than 12. Likewise, in Luke 1:42, Mary is referred to as a woman - "Blessed are you among women" - even before Jesus is born.

I have more evidence to support the claim that Mary was older than 20 when she gave birth:

God in the Bible called all those below the age of 20 as children

Numbers 32:11 “Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me.”

Deuteronomy 1:39 “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.”

Mary was always called a woman in the Bible. In Luke 1:42, Mary is referred to as a woman - "Blessed are you among women" - even before Jesus is born. This proves that Mary was older than 20 when she gave birth.

Proof from Bible manuscripts that Rebecca was 20 when she married Issac.

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12610-rebekah According to the Book of Jubilees (xxxi. 8-11, 48), Jacob, when he arrived home, found his mother alive; and she afterward accompanied him to Beth-el to accomplish his vow (comp. Gen. xxviii. 19-20). She died at the age of 155, five years before Isaac's death (Jubilees, xxxv. 1, 41), this determining that her age when she married was twenty years.

The Book of Jubilees is found in the manuscripts of the Dead Sea scrolls and is part of the canonical Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

  • I edited in your supporting point, as it strengthens your case. Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 13:14

Some understand that Mary was about 15 years of age based on the juxtaposition of Herod's Temple and the real Temple who is Christ Jesus.

Herod began building what would be called Herod's Temple in 20 BCE in the 18th year of his reign. Josephus says it was the temple of God.

  1. AND now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign, and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God, Ant. XV. 11.

The work began. So too Mary would be born and raised up over those 15 years to 5 BCE when the temple was finished and the virgin conceived. 9 months later the real temple of God was born in whom we have redemption through His blood.

PS. Manuscripts of the Protevangelium of James have her age ranging from fourteen to seventeen.

And she was sixteen1589 years old when these mysteries happened.

1589 Six mss. have sixteen; one, fourteen; two, fifteen; and one, seventeen.


The Magificat or the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-56) mirrors Hannah's prayer 1 Samuel 2:1-10 so closely that one would have to think that Mary found her words in through reflecting on scripture.

And Hannah prayed:                             And Mary said:
My heart exults in the LORD,                   “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 
my horn is exalted by my God.                  my spirit rejoices in God my savior  
                                               For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
                                               behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  
                                               The Mighty One has done great things for me,
                                               and holy is his name
                                               His mercy is from age to age
                                               to those who fear him.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in your victory.
There is no Holy One like the LORD;
there is no Rock like our God.
Speak boastfully no longer,
Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths.
For an all-knowing God is the LORD,
a God who weighs actions.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,            He has shown might with his arm,               
while the tottering gird on strength.          dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,    He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
                                               but lifted up the lowly
while the hungry no longer have to toil.       The hungry he has filled with good things;
                                               the rich he has sent away empty 
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life,
casts down to Sheol and brings up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
humbles, and also exalts.
He raises the needy from the dust;
from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.
“For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and he has set the world upon them.
He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones,  He has helped Israel his servant,
                                               remembering his mercy,
but the wicked shall perish in the darkness;
for not by strength does one prevail.
The LORD’s foes shall be shattered;
the Most High in heaven thunders;
the LORD judges the ends of the earth.
May he give strength to his king,
and exalt the horn of his anointed!”
                                                according to his promise to our fathers,
                                                to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

That scripture, which would have been burned in to her Immaculate Heart, by means of a singular grace would have certainly been with her at a young age when she would be betrothed. One tradition (not Sacred Tradition), which is mostly forgotten by popular imagery, is in that Catholic Encyclopedia article Drew linked to which says that Mary was a consecrated virgin raised in the temple, that her parents Anne and Joachim prayed for her and when they got her, gave her up to the temple where she would have been able to absorb scripture like Anna (Luke 2:36-38), who would have certainly known all about her if that were the case.

  • 2
    Hi Peter! This is a good an interesting article, but bears very little on the actual question :) That's my only reason for a downvote. Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 16:35
  • @AffableGeek Merry Christmas! well, I think the reason for the question was "if she was 13 years old, she wouldn't have said all that stuff." All I'm saying is, "yes, she certainly could have said all that stuff because it was second nature."
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 17:11

Despite people believing that she could have not been no older then 14 is not true. Mary like most Jewish girls was in her mid teen years or even late teen years (Source: New King James Version, Study Bible, Cultural Backgrounds, @google books)

There are other several sources that claim that Jewish girls married early-mid teen years, but it seem that some scholars only think Mary was no older then 14, despite the fact that Jewish girls did get married over 14 years and probably most likely did. There's no proof that 12 was the customary age of marriage
{Source: The Reign of God is Such as These: A Socio-Literary Analysis of Daughters in the Gospel of Mark; Sharon Betsworth; @googlebooks}

Matter of fact the idea of most people dropping dead around 20-35 is also a myth.

"the average life expectancy for males in the U.S. is 76.3 years, and for females it’s 81.2 years. By 2030 these numbers are projected to rise to 79.5 and 83.3 respectively.

But, again, these are life expectancy numbers, which are calculated based on how long someone is likely to live at birth. It does not give an accurate picture of what age the average adult in a society is likely to reach. That number has actually remained fairly steady throughout history."

  • Please Complete the citation for your first source, it is unclear. Welcome to Christianity.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to get a feel for how a Q&A site works. (You'll a couple of badges if you do so. :) ) Also, please review, in the help center "How to Write a Good Answer" as it provides good advice on what to include to support your answer. I edited your answer to get the links embedded, but you need to follow up to make sure the citations for each link are complete/correct. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:54
  • When you link to Google books, please use proper links and tell us the books' titles and authors.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 8:12

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