Author: Ron Graham
Was Rebekah Married At Three?
—Was Isaac a pedophile?
Was Rebekah a child of three years when Isaac married her? Was Isaac a pedophile? This is one of many claims used to discredit the Bible and Christianity.
1 The Biblical Facts
The following scriptural facts are used to establish Rebekah’s age at her marriage to Isaac.
- 1. Sarah was 90 when Abraham was 100 (Genesis 17:17).
- 2. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).
- 3. Sarah died at aged 127 (Genesis 23:1-2).
- 4. Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20).
Two further facts are necessary inferences from the above four facts
- 5. Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born (conclusion from 1 and 2 above)
- 6. Isaac was 37 when his mother Sarah died (because 127-90=37)
These six facts alone do not supply sufficient information to work out Rebekah’s age when Isaac married her.
2 The Tradition
In order to make any calculation of Rebekah ’s age at marriage, it is necessary to make assumptions that cannot be substantiated in scripture.
These assumptions are tradition. We reject this tradition because Jesus said that "the word of God is invalidated for the sake of tradition" and called those who teach such tradition "blind guides" (Matthew 15:6).
Two more “facts”?
The tradition takes certain events as happening at the same time. These events are: the binding of Isaac on the altar in Moriah (Genesis 22:9); Abraham informed of Rebekah’s birth (Genesis 22:20-23); and Sarah’s death aged 127 (Genesis 23:1-2).
If these events did all happen at the same time, within just a few weeks, then two more necessary inferences could be added to the six facts above...
- 7. Since Isaac was 37 at his mother’s death, he was 37 when Rebekah was born.
- 8. Since Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, Rebekah would be 3 when the marriage took place (because 40-37=3)
But these last two inferences are spurious, because they are based not on what the scripture says in Genesis 22 and 23, but rather what is said in non-biblical tradition.
The argument at 7 and 8 above hinges entirely on the assertion that Rebekah was born at the same time as Sarah died. If Rebekah was born a decade or so before Sarah’s death, Rebekah would be a young woman of child-bearing age, not a child of 3.
3 The Exegesis
Let us now look at Genesis 22 to see that nowhere does it suggest that Isaac’s binding, Rebekah’s birth, and Sarah’s death were concurrent.
- There is no indication of Isaac’s age at the time Abraham bound him on the altar (Genesis 22:9) except that Abraham called him a “lad” or “youth”.
- After the binding of Isaac "Abraham lived at Beersheba" (Genesis 22:19). For how long Abraham dwelt in Beersheba we don't know.
- It was "After these things" that Abraham was told that Milcah had born eight children to Nahor, Abraham’s brother (Genesis 22:20-22). How long it took for this news to reach Abraham, we don't know.
- The statement "Bethuel begat Rebekah" (Genesis 22:23) is not part of the news Abraham received. Abraham was told that Nahor begat Bethuel. Rebekah’s birth was a generation later. How old Bethuel was when Abraham heard of his birth, and how old he was when he begat Rebekah, we don't know.
People are generally not happy with “not told” and “don't know”. They want to fill in the gaps. In this case, they compress time and make three events concurrent to eliminate the gaps, and thereby create an anomaly: God arranging for a 40 year old man to wed a 3 year old girl.
A Marriage by Consent
When Abraham told his servant, under oath, to find a wife for Isaac, the stipulation was that "If the woman is not willing to follow you, you will be free from this my oath" (Genesis 24:8). In other words the marriage was to be at the woman’s consent.
Rebekah’s brother Laban and her mother also asked Rebekah to confirm her willingness. "And they said, 'We will call the girl and ask her to speak her wishes by her own mouth'. Then they called the girl and said, 'Will you go with this man?' And she said, 'I will go'" (Genesis 24:56-59).
Whilst this doesn't prove exactly how old Rebekah was, it does prove that she was at the age of consent.
Through the whole lovely story in Genesis 24, Rebekah is pictured as a young woman fully aware of what was happening, and quite willing to accept this life-changing opportunity. So she arose and mounted a camel and set off with the caravan to a new life. She took along her servant-nurse and her other maidservants.
When Rebekah arrived at her destination, she veiled herself to meet Isaac. Isaac took her into the tent that his mother had occupied. There he made love to Rebekah with her consent and participation. Thus they became man and wife.