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.”

Was 20 the age from which God would consider a man accountable specific to the event (Promised land), to the people (Israel), to the time (3500 BC) or universal?

It would be interesting to know what rabbis (both schools) teach about the time of accountability.

Age of accountability: 12 or 20?

  • 2
    Asking what rabbis teach, suggests that this question may belong in Judaism. Commented May 18, 2015 at 21:35
  • It is ok if I can't get rabbis hermeneutics but I would be pleased to get it from here. Commented May 19, 2015 at 22:08
  • 2
  • "What factors define meaning of “little ones” in Deuteronomy?" According to rabbinic tradition (apparently drawing from these texts), the age of accountability was twenty.1 1. Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1–11 (The Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 151 Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 20:46

7 Answers 7


Yes in rabbinical tradition it is from 20 that Heavens declare someone accountable , but before earthly court he is accountable from 13 years and can be judged in court.

Describing the stages of life, Rabbi Yehudah ben Tema said (Avot 5:25):

At five, a child begins [the study of] Torah
At ten, Mishnah
At thirteen, [he is responsible for performance of] the mitzvot
At fifteen, he begins [the study of] Talmud
At eighteen, [he is ready for] marriage
At twenty, he begins the pursuit [of a livelihood] [1]
At thirty, [a person is at the fullness of] strength
At forty, [he reaches the time of] understanding
At fifty, [he can offer] counsel
At sixty, he enters his senior years
At seventy, he attains a ripe old age
At eighty, [his survival indicates] strength
At ninety, he becomes stooped over [in anticipation of the grave]
At one hundred, it is as if he were dead, passed away, and withdrawn from the world.

[1] -Rashi cites an opinion that the word “pursuit” refers to this being the age when the heavenly court pursues a person for his actions, holding him liable for Divine punishment for his sins (ArtScroll Siddur, 578).

R. Huna adheres to his own opinion, for he says: "If one is twenty years old and does not marry, all his days will he spent in sins." How is it possible to think that he will spend his days in sins? Say, therefore, that he will spend his days in thinking of committing sins.
Said Raba : And so also are we taught in the school of R. Ishmael :
"Until the age of twenty, the Holy One, praised be He, sits and waits for a man to become married; as soon as one reaches the age of twenty and does not marry. He says: 'The man who does not marry, may his bones decay.' (Kiddushin folio 2b)

  • Yes it seems highly unlikely they waited until 20 to pursue a craft. I've read elsewhere that it was more like 12-13 (whenever the "two hairs" appeared) that they then started more intense learning of the law like you said, but they then started to apprentice at a profession. To put it in context, this is why Luke's story of Jesus "being about his father's business" at the Temple at the specific age of 12 was relevant for Luke to include. This was before the Bar Mitzvot as we know it today.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:15
  • If 12 is, then isn't it in contradiction with 20? 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.” Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 20:49
  • @TruthSeeker To clarify, I was mostly commenting on how Rashi's clarification of "pursuit" makes more sense since 20 is too late to begin pursuit of a profession. I'm not taking it any further than that in regard to the main question.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 12:30
  • I still cannot see any clear answer, explanation, evidences, sources regarding whenever 12/13 or 20 years old is the age of accountability of their sins before God. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 19:42

The age of adulthood and consent are clear in the Bible. It is the age of 20. The age of consent in the Bible is 20. Israel did not follow what the rest of the world did, but followed what God told them to do thus separating them from the rest of the world. You can find the age of adulthood and consent in Numbers 14: 26 - 35 - Leviticus 27: 4 - 7 Exodus 30: 14. Mary had to be 20 or older to be married as anyone under that age was considered a child and called a little one by God.

Leviticus 18:3 'You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan

where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.

Leviticus 20:23 'Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things,

and therefore I have abhorred them.

Deuteronomy 12:30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after

their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'

Deut 1: 39 Moreover, your little ones, who you said would be taken as booty, and your children who don’t yet know good from bad — they will go in there; I will give it to them, and they will have possession of it.

Numbers 14:29 your carcasses will fall in this desert! Every single one of you who were included in the census over the age of twenty, you who have complained against me, Numbers 14: 31 But your little ones, who you said would be taken as booty — them I will bring in. They will know the land you have rejected.

Exodus 30:14 Everyone over twenty years of age who is subject to the census is to give this offering to Adonai

Leviticus 27: 4 if a woman, thirty shekels. 5 If it is a child five to twenty years old, assign a value of twenty shekels for a boy and ten for a girl;

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  • Ezekiel 16 describes a woman ready for love as someone who has reached puberty and has fully formed breasts. A woman's breasts are developed fully when she turns 17 or 18 and until she reaches her 20s. texaschildrens.org/health/breast-development In ancient times age of menarche happened much later. So according to Ezekiel, age of marriage in the Bible is 20. This fact is further corroborated by the age of adulthood described in the Bible as 20. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 16:27

The most clearer answer to this question is 20 years old. Since we study and try to follow the will of God.

In these two verses God said children and little ones are below 20, they are not consider as adult yet. Even when God commanded Moses to count the number of people of Israel they were exempted.

Num 14:29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,

Deu 1:39 Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.


It is very simple.

According to Torah (Genesis) the age of consent and adulthood is at 13yo for boys (Gen 17:25) and when a period starts for girls(Lev 15:19).

At 20 yo, a man is allowed to serve in the military (adult enough to handle war) I.e Numbers 1:3

And at 25, sons of Levites and Aaronites (priests) could serve at the Tabernacle. Numbers 8:24

There is nothing else in the Torah and everything else can be considered invention of the rabbis that was not commanded by God.


The Talmud, indeed appears to extrapolate from this incident that God does not punish those who are below the age of 20:

Tractate Shabbat folio 89b

R. Samuel b. Nahmani also said in R. Jonathan's name: What is meant by, For thou art our father, though Abraham knoweth is not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us: thou, O Lord, art our father; our redeemer from everlasting is thy name? In the future to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to Abraham. ‘Thy children have sinned against Me.’ He shall answer Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Thy Name.’ Then shall He say, ‘I will say this to Jacob, who experienced the pain of bringing up children: peradventure he will supplicate mercy for them. ‘So He will say to him, ‘Thy children have sinned.’ He [too] shall answer Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Thy Name.’ He shall retort, ‘There is no reason in old men, and no counsel in children!’ Then shall he say to Isaac, ‘Thy children have sinned against me.’ But he shall answer Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Are they my children and not Thy children. When they gave precedence to "we will do" over "we will hearken" before Thee, Thou calledst them, Israel my son, my firstborn: now they are my sons, not Thy sons! Moreover, how much have they sinned? How many are the years of man? Seventy. Subtract twenty, for which Thou dost not punish, [and] there remain fifty. Subtract twenty-five which comprise the nights, [and] there remain twenty-five. Subtract twelve and a half of prayer, eating, and Nature's calls, [and] there remain twelve and a half. If Thou wilt bear all, ‘tis well; if not, half be upon me and half upon Thee. And shouldst Thou say, they must all be upon me, lo! I offered myself up before Thee [as a sacrifice]!’ [Thereupon] they shall commence and say, ‘For thou [i.e., Isaac] art our father.’ Then shall Isaac say to them, ‘Instead of praising me, praise the Holy One, blessed be He,’ and Isaac shall show them the Holy One, blessed be He, with their own eyes. Immediately they shall lift up their eyes on high and exclaim, ‘Thou, O Lord, art our father; our redeemer from everlasting is thy name.’ (Soncino translation; my emphasis)

The great Talmudic commentator Solomon Ben Isaac in his commentary thereto explains the bolded line as follows:

For so we find in the generation of the wilderness that The-Holy-One-Blessed-Be-He did not punish [them] except from the 20 years and above, as it is written: in this wilderness your corpses shall fall... from the age of 20 years and above whoso has complained against me. (My translation)

In other words, God's statement that no one above the age of 20 would enter Israel is taken as the source that God in general does not punish people below the age of 20.


By 12 you were entered into the Hebrew society as an adult and from the first temple to the second temple period you could begin working being that would be the age you completed primary studies in the synagogue i.e the law, history, math, reciting and writing. By 20 years old you were of adult age this is when people began to stop referring to a male as a lad and a female as a maiden. Now he wasa young man and she became a damsel. Even until tis day in Israel one is usually done with their primary and secondary schooling by the age of 20 and if qualified can pursue higher education 22 on upwards. God accounts all ages for their sins remember David was but a lad under 20 not fit or old enough for war when Samuel was told by Eloah to go and find the man after his own heart. But those were different times teenagers spoke like adults with integrity while today people in their 20s are like older teenagers. 20 is the age that God has set for the beginning of adulthood but your virtues are what really make a man or woman out of you.


Easy answer is that there is no exact year when you become accountable. It probably varies from person to person. However, on becoming an adult it is clear in the Bible and in psychology. 2 books that everyone should consider: Teen 2.0, and The Myth of Adolescence. Phychologically speaking, it is shortly after puberty that someone is capable of being adult (mentally/physically/reproduction). Check out Luke 2:42 "And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast". This passage is critical as it proves that Jesus was a man at age 12. As part of Leciticus law, the passover was required to be attended by all Jewish ADULT MALES. This means that Jesus, our Lord and savior was a man at age 12. So since Jesus lived a normal biological life and we are supposed to follow Christ's example on this earth, that would mean that we should be considered adults shortly after puberty. 1 Corinthians have some interesting verses regarding becoming an adult and on adulthood. 1 Corinthians 13:12 states, " when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways". Notice that the major differences Paul mentions are in language, thinking, and reasoning. And these areas a person goes from being a child to being an adult, without an intervening period of so-called adolescence. Also notice that language, thinking and reasoning are all things that signal adulthood and are expressed shortly after puberty. Thus, manhood as described by Paul is shortly after puberty (around 12 or 13). also see 1 Corinthians 7:36, " but if any man think that he behave himself uncommonly toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age and need so require, let him do what he will - he sinneth not: let them marry". Christian's have always understood this to be menarche. Obviously children cannot give birth. If they could, that would be madness and confusion, and God is not the author of that. So a girl who reaches menarche around 12 is a woman as God only allows adults to get married. This is why back in the day when the legal age of marriage was like 8, the Christians came together and changed it to 12. Check out 1 John 2 " I have written to you, little children, because you have known the father. I've written to you, father's because you have known the one who has existed from the beginning. I've written to you, young people, because you are strong [...]" right here John is referencing the stages of life with little children being prepubescents, young people (young adults) being teenagers/20 year olds, and fathers who are senior adults probably 30 and above. And you are an adult under 20. If that were the case, why did God state in Ezekiel 16:6-8 that he married the "woman" (children of Israel) shortly after beasts were formed and pubic hair grew. This isn't age 20, and both Christian's and Jews have known this for centuries. To say they are wrong is nothing short of a private interpretation.

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