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Who Gives This Woman?

I recently read a short article in a church bulletin written by a father whose daughter had just become engaged to be married.  The point of the article was not really about the daughterís engagement, but rather it was about making the most of our time because the days pass by quickly.  However, it was the way the father was informed of the daughterís engagement that intrigued me.

The article said that this manís daughter had called him on the phone to tell him that she was engaged.  The father was stunned simply because it didnít seem that his daughter could be grown up so quickly, but he should have been stunned for another reason.  As the father of this young woman, he should have been heavily involved in the process that led to his daughterís betrothal.  Instead of being told over the phone that his daughter was engaged, he should have been asked for his consent face to face by the young man who sought his daughter as a bride.  The father should have had the opportunity to decide whether the young man would make a suitable husband for his daughter.  As it was, he simply received a phone call telling him that the engagement was already set regardless of his consent.

Call me old fashioned, but what ever happened to the father giving away the bride?  Modern weddings often include the preacher asking, "Who gives this woman?Ē and the father replying, "Her mother and I do,Ē but these words are strictly ceremonial in most cases.  There was a time not so long ago when these words had meaning, but today a father is often nothing more than an accessory of tradition in the wedding ceremony and has no real part in it (other than paying for it!).  What has happened to the days of a young man asking a father for permission to marry his daughter?  In fact, a young man wouldnít even court a young woman without her fatherís consent in those days.  What has changed in our modern times?

Indeed, I am old fashioned, but I am also concerned with following the patterns of the Scriptures.  Consider the instructions given to fathers concerning their unmarried, virgin daughters in 1Corinthians 7:36-38:

But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.  But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.  So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

These instructions were given in light of the "present distressĒ (v. 26) in Corinth with the general advice that it was better for Christians not to marry.  However, the present distress had no bearing on a fatherís God-given obligation to oversee his daughter.  It is clear from this passage that it was the fatherís responsibility to keep his own daughter in his home or else to give her to a suitable man in marriage.  The decision of his daughterís marriage was his to make.

This same tradition concerning marriage is evident in many other passages of Scripture as well.  In Genesis 24, we read of Abrahamís arrangement for the marriage of his son Isaac.  Abraham sent his servant to the city of Nahor where he found Rebekah.  Rather than first making an agreement with Rebekah, Abrahamís servant first dealt with her brother Laban (apparently her father was dead) and her mother (vv. 29-61).  Rebekah was then allowed to decide whether she wanted to go with Abrahamís servant (vv. 8, 57-58), but she did not make the decision without her brotherís and motherís consent.  Some other examples that show the need for parental involvement in marital arrangements are: Ishmael, whose wife was selected by his mother Hagar (Gen. 21:21); Esau, who grieved his parents because he chose his own wives from the Hittites without their consent (Gen. 26:34-35); Jacob, who made arrangements with Laban to marry his daughters, Rachel and Leah (Gen. 29:9-30); Deuteronomy 22:13-30, which stated the law requiring a man to deal with a womanís father in the matter of marriage; Samson, who needed his parents involvement to take a wife from Timnah (Judg. 14:1-7); and David, whose marriage to Michal was arranged by her father Saul (1Sam. 18:17-30).

Let no one misunderstand my message.  I am not suggesting that the Bible ever requires a woman to marry against her will (see again the example of Rebekah Ė Gen. 24:8, 57-58).  I am emphasizing a Biblical pattern of parentsí involvement and consent in their childrenís marriages, especially for their daughters.  These Scriptural patterns have been tossed aside not because the Bible has changed but because the culture has changed.  The influence of feminism has affected Christians so that most will scoff at the Biblical directions I have presented here.  I suppose that some Christians will even laugh at these notions, but why?  These traditions were practiced and respected for most of human history.  It was only in recent times (approximately the last 100-150 years) that we became so "enlightenedĒ that we now think we know better.  Of course, the result has been a disaster with half of all marriages ending in divorce, adultery becoming rampant, and the institution of marriage being eroded day after day.  In light of these things, is there anyone today who will "stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way isĒ (Jer. 6:16) concerning marriage?

Stacey E. Durham



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