The birth of Jesus is of great significance in the lives of Christians across many denominations in the world. Prophets in the Old Testament had foretold the birth of a Messiah who would be born of a virgin and would redeem the world from the bondage of sin.
Even though many did not know when this would happen, they waited patiently for the Messiah to be born. They looked forward to the coming of the Savior of the world who would bring an end to their suffering and pain. So, the birth of Jesus came as a fulfillment of the ancient prophesies that were made about the Messiah.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:14
This is a prophesy made by the prophet Isaiah who prophesied that Jesus would be born by a virgin. We all know about this since it already happened. What we don’t know is the exact age of Mary at the time when she gave birth to Jesus. How old was Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she gave birth to Him?
The revelation about the age of Mary at the time she had Jesus may seem meaningless but it carries profound significance to many believers. It not only erases our curiosity but also helps us understand the cultural traditions that surrounded the birth of Jesus and some other historical contexts. This revelation is also important in the theological interpretations of the life of the woman that God chose to carry the Messiah in her womb.
The Bible does not mention the exact age of Mary when she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and when she gave birth to Jesus. It only gives us a detailed account of the events that took place from the time the angel of God announced to Mary that she would give birth to a Messiah to the time of His birth.
Luke 1:28-35 reads, “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled by his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
These verses illustrate to us how the angel of God approached Mary to reveal to her the divine assignment ahead of her. But how old was Mary at this time? Did she conceive the same day of the annunciation?
Mary was a Jew and there’s no doubt that she respected the laws, traditions, and customs of the Jews. At the time the angel of God visited her, she was betrothed to Joseph, a devout Jew too. According to the customs and traditions of the Jews, a woman was to maintain her purity until the time she got married.
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The fact that Mary was still a virgin at the time of the angel’s visitation indicates that she was obedient to the laws of her community. Jewish women at the time of Mary were betrothed at the age of 12 to 16 years. Many theologians believe that Mary could have been between the ages of 12 to 16 years when she got engaged to Joseph. As we all know, the Jews are a community that is very strict when it comes to the observance of laws and regulations.
They must have had customs and regulations that governed practices of marriage and childbirth. Anyone who went against the laws are regulations of their community was severely punished. Those who engaged in sinful acts that defiled their bodies were stoned to death. This proves to us that the age Mary got betrothed was exactly the age that was permitted for women to get betrothed in their community.
Think about the example of a nation that considers a person an adult when they attain the age of 18 years. Anyone below this age is still a child while anyone who is 18 years or above is an adult. If any man marries or engages in any sexual relationship with a woman who is below 18 years, they are considered a criminal and are charged.
This could have been the same case with the Jews at the time when Mary was betrothed to Joseph only that the ages of the women were younger. It could be that during the time of Mary, the Jews considered a woman a grown-up lady when she attained the age of 12. She could be betrothed at 12 and married off at 15 or 16 years.
Mary was within this age bracket because we are not told how long her relationship with Joseph had lasted before the annunciation.
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Furthermore, Bible scholars argue that Mary must have been considered a grown-up woman because of the fact that she was able to walk many miles to visit her relative Elizabeth alone. A woman who is seen as a child cannot be allowed to walk all that distance alone.
If she had needed a traveling permit or visa, she could have processed it on her own since her community permitted women within her age group to access them.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.”Luke 1:39-40
We are not told if Mary had to ask for permission from anyone to go visit Elizabeth.
Rather, we are told she made preparations on her own, got ready, and left for Judea. This shows that even though she was between the ages of 12 and 16, she was considered a grown-up woman by the Jewish community. She could make decisions on her own and successfully carry them out.
Additionally, despite her young age, Mary was not only considered mature by her community but she also proved to be mature in the things of God. When the angel announced to her that she would give birth to a Messiah who would in turn save the world, Mary gave an answer that proved she was spiritually mature. Luke 1:38 reads, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”
She did not hesitate to accept the message that the angel had come to bring to her. Instead, Mary accepted to be used as a vessel for God to carry out His purpose and plan on earth. Mary knew very well that this could risk her life since her community would think that she had broken the law, but she willingly accepted the call.
What Lessons Can We Learn from Mary?
Mary was a young woman, probably between 12 to 16 years old. And we can note from the annunciation story in Luke 1:28-38 that the angel calls her a highly favored woman. This tells us that Mary was a woman with dignity, respect, and honor despite her young age.
She came from a humble background but God chose her among all women because of this. Furthermore, she was also a brave woman who was willing to carry out the assignment of God regardless of the consequences that could follow her actions. She risked being stoned to death for being unfaithful to Joseph for the sake of God.
The revelation about Mary’s age at the time she gave birth to Jesus may not be very significant but we acknowledge her role in carrying the Messiah in her womb for nine months. As a young woman, she accepted this divine responsibility and played a significant role in the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
We pray that the young women in our societies today will walk in the footsteps of Mary. They may not carry the Messiah in their wombs but as they emulate her, they can become great people in the world and bring a positive impact in the lives of other people.
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Let us teach them to respect the laws that govern their nations and be always willing to be used by God to fulfill His purpose on earth.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”Romans 12:1 reads
Mary offered her body as a living sacrifice and God used it to bring forth the Messiah that redeemed us from sin and destruction. When the young generation in the world today offer themselves as holy and pleasing sacrifices before God, the world will not remain the same.