Age of consent is a legal term that refers to the age at which a person can legally agree to marriage or sexual activity. The age of consent varies from country to country, and in the United States it varies from state to state. The age of consent in Nigeria is 11, whereas the legal age of consent in South Korea is 20. Islamic law puts the age of consent at 9, but only within the confines of marriage. In the United States, the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18. The median age of consent worldwide is 16. Sexual relations with someone under the age of consent is considered statutory rape, and the offender may be prosecuted regardless of whether or not the act was consensual.
Age of consent is not a biblical term, but laws establishing an age of consent reflect a biblically supported desire to protect children. In the Hebrew culture of biblical times, the expectation of maturity came quite early in life. Boys at the age of 13 usually began apprenticeships with older male relatives as they learned a trade. Once a girl had passed puberty, she was considered marriageable and could be betrothed to an older man who could provide for her (betrothal being different from actual marriage). When ancient Israel took a census or called for men to form an army, the minimum age was 20 (Numbers 1:3; Exodus 30:14; 2 Chronicles 25:5).
The purpose for age of consent laws is to protect the innocence and immaturity of children. Sexual activity is a life-altering event, one that God designed to consummate a lifelong commitment in marriage (Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 7:39). The age of consent also helps protect children from sexual predators who want to exploit them. In fact, campaigns against human trafficking have historically pushed for a higher age of consent as a means of protecting vulnerable youth and encouraging social stability. Age of consent laws give governments more power to arrest predators and stop the exploitation of minors.
While the Bible does not define an age of consent, the concept is biblical. Sex should never be forced (that is, non-consensual), and those at risk of exploitation must be protected. It is biblical to restrain the actions of pedophiles, prevent the victimization of children, and deter sexual abuse in general. Age of consent laws help do all of that.
Parents have a responsibility to prepare their children for marriage and sexual expression that honors God. Ephesians 6:4 tells parents to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” When God’s plan for sexual purity is valued within the family, a child can grow up knowing that the age of consent is that moment in adulthood when he or she has the wisdom to choose a spouse “for better or worse.”