The Importance Of The Dowry 1


Rebellion against authority, along with the pressure for independence and individualism, have been marks of western culture for generations. As usual, this has had an impact in the Church, and in the Christian family. The godly father must recognise these pressures, and beginning with scripture and prayer, seek to re-order his family, after a godly pattern. This will lead amongst other things, to the re-consideration of the dowry, within the Christian community.

Exodus 22:16-17

A number of assumptions are implicit in this text:
1) God Himself, acknowledges the legitimacy of a young woman being under the authority of her father, who was responsible with his wife to care for her, and oversee her marital future. A father’s authority here is clearly indicated. Even Samson’s father-in-law, though a Philistine, seemed to acknowledge this. (Judges 15:1-2) See also Numbers 30, and I Corinthians 14:34. Whilst in Babylon, God commanded His people to “take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands.” (Jer.29:6) Clearly, this was a father’s responsibility.
It is essential to understand the Biblical notion of legal status.“Biblically, the daughter who is still living at home is not an independent legal agent. An unmarried daughter living at home is under her father’s covenantal administration.” 1 Even a betrothed woman, still living with her parents, was considered by God to be married, but still under their authority. (Deut. 22:23-27) Though they lived before the giving of the law, “Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters…”(Gen.19:14) Jacob said to Laban concerning Rachel, before their wedding feast, “give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go into her.” (Gen.29:21) This is consistent with the Biblical notion, that demonstrated responsibility, should precede freedom and privilege.

2) God acknowledged the legitimacy of a dowry payment (to be made to the father-in law) for a bride.

3) Responsibility for pre-marital sexual intercourse lay primarily with the man; if this occurred, he would be obliged to pay the woman a dowry, whether or not the woman’s father permitted them to marry. Matthew Henry’s commentary (written about 1710) on this passage is helpful:

If the father [of the violated woman] refused her to him, he was to give satisfaction in money for the injury and disgrace he had done her. This law puts an honour upon marriage and shows likewise how improper a thing it is that children should marry without their parents’ consent…there was an express reservation for the father’s power; if he denied his consent, it must be no marriage.

The dowry was a means of giving a woman a measure of financial security, in the event of her husband’s incapacity through accident or illness, death, unfaithfulness, or abandonment of her. It was also a means to minimise needless exposure to interlopers and fornicators, who would only wish to use and abuse a young woman. In the context of the Corinthian church being the bride of Christ, the apostle Paul picks up this theme, as he takes the protective role, of a bride’s father: “.. I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” (II Cor.11:2) 

“The dowry served as a kind of ‘incompetence insurance.’ What if her husband divorced her, and her father and brothers should lose their wealth at the same time? The wife could not easily return empty-handed to her father’s household under such circumstances. With a dowry she would be protected from this sort of calamity.” 2

One minister, whose views I respect, has written that “by far the majority of church families I know are not protective enough of their children.” 3 A dowry represents a statement of a girl’s value, to her father, and to God. On God’s behalf, the father is saying, to all possible suitors:

I see you are interested in my daughter. I can understand that. She’s of great value to her mother and I, to our family, and to God. We’ve put a lot of time, money and effort into raising her: she’s really special to us. If you are interested in marrying her, becoming our son-in-law, and being the father of our grand-children, you’ll have to prove to me, that you are really serious about this. You will need firstly, to have proven yourself to us, as a godly, responsible person, able to care for my daughter and our grandchildren. That could take some time. Secondly, you will need to have saved $75,000,4 that you will need to give to me, to be held in trust for my daughter, before I will permit marriage to take place. Still interested?

The need to prepare a sizeable dowry, which some commentators estimate could have been as much as three years’ wages,5 would generally dampen a young man’s enthusiasm for a hasty relationship. A young man who has planned long-term, and spent years saving up a dowry, will be more likely to be prayerful, cautious and circumspect in his consideration of a wife, as he surrenders this capital for the new family to her father, before marriage.6

1. North, G., Tools of Dominion, 1990, p.660. North adds that, “this principle also governs the covenantal obligation of anyone dispensing contraceptives to an unmarried male or female minor to receive written permission from the head of household first.”
2. North, G., Tools of Dominion, 1990, p.258.
3. Dr. S. M. Davis, Changing the Heart of a Rebel, 1998, p.1.
4. In 2009, the average salary in Australia was about $50,000. Bearing in mind normal rates of return on investment today, this dowry could become 2 million dollars within forty years; significant for the couple’s superannuation, and their childrens’ inheritance.
5. Rushdoony, R. J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1973, p.177.
6. The only hint in scripture I know, of who should be responsible for the wedding feast, is in Mat.22:1-2. In Samson’s case, his father only “went down to the woman, and Samson made the feast there,” (Judges 14:10) presumably because she was a Philistine.


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