Who giveth this woman… ?

My daughter is getting married in a few weeks time and we are in the midst of wedding fever. My husband cannot understand why my daughter and I needed to spend a whole Saturday and drive all over Sydney choosing the paper for the invitations "for something that has a shelf life of about 30 seconds!" However, the care that is put into aspects of the ceremony, and some traditions we have bumped up against, have set me thinking about the symbolism of the wedding day and what that has to say about marriage.

The first one we encountered was when the minister who is conducting the wedding asked my daughter if she wanted her father to "give her away", saying that many couples dispensed with this today since it was a throw back to when young women were seen as the property of their fathers, to be "given away" on their wedding day.

This tradition, which is formalised in the BCP wording "who giveth this woman to be married to this man", rests on the idea that women are the property of their fathers or husbands and can do nothing without their consent.

This was the case in ancient Israel, where the status of women was generally low, and the main purpose of marriage was for procreation and the perpetuation of a man's name. Marriage involved the payment of a "bride price", which was followed by some kind of wedding celebration and then the bride took up residence in her husband's home.

Later Roman laws were generally fair to women and raised their status: this fair treatment of women was strengthened by Christian teachings on the equality of men and women (Gal 3:28) and led to marriage being built on the free consent of both partners.

Wedding ceremonies were civil affairs in Roman times and the early church, and only gradually did marriage come more and more under the influence of the church. As late as the 10th century the main part of the wedding took place outside the church door, and it was not until the 13th century that the priest took charge of the proceedings. The influence of the church in marriage has waxed and waned over the centuries, to the situation we have in Australia today where only 37% of couples choose a church wedding according to ABS figures. Many of these couples would not be Christians, and it is interesting to consider the breadth of influence that a church wedding can have, even beyond the thought given to the wording of the service.

The question about "giving her away" prompted us to consider our role in her married life when her fiancé "leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). In the midst of all the other wedding planning, thinking about this symbolic action was a helpful prompt for us as parents to reflect on how we need to be as Godly parents to the newly married couple. As a counsellor, too often I see couples struggling with divided loyalties as in laws fail to allow their adult child to leave their family of origin and "cleave" to their spouse.

So will my daughter be given away by her father? You will need to be there to find out!

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (23)

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  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 19, 09 - 12:12am
    Ahh. come on Nicky can't you give us a hint?
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 19, 09 - 1:38am
    I'm reading a provocative book by Voddie Baucham Jnr 'What he must be... if he wants to marry my daughter' He argues fathers have a God given role in giving their daughters in marriage (jeremiah 29.6). This is a symbol of protection and care for the daughter being entrusted to her husband. It is also a symbol of trust - the father is saying to the daughter: 'I have evaluated this guy & I trust him with the most precious thing in the world, my little girl' More than just a symolic gesture he thinks fathers need to be involved in seeing daughters marrying well and ssons becoming worthy husbands.
  • Jean Marlow
    March 19, 09 - 1:48am
    My daughter is particularly close to my father, so when she got married, her dad was on one side and her pop on the other. They BOTH gave her away.
    I was recently at the wedding of two dear friends who had been married previously-he met her at the door to the Church and they walked down the aisle together (although her father did stand up to "give" her away)
  • Gill Evans
    March 19, 09 - 3:13am
    Interesting question Nicky. When my niece was married (her mother and father had both died) her brothers walked her down the aisle and "gave her away". I guess it is the symbolism - and also what it "means" to those participating and l=those looking on.
  • Deryck Howell
    March 19, 09 - 4:12am
    Hi Nicky and all

    I have always thought(and taught) that as much as the symbolism means anything, and I don't know its history, what is symbolised as the bride is brought to her soon-to-be husband is Genesis 2 - God bringing the woman to the man to end his aloneness - the one aspect of creation described as "not good". While not taking away from the weight of concern as to whether the woman may be seen as the "chattel" of her father or not, this point at least grounds the practice as a symbol of what the Bible does actually say,and does not demean either female or male; rather it exalts te generosity and good ness of God, and the specialness of male and female.
  • David McKay
    March 19, 09 - 4:30am
    This was the case in ancient Israel, where the status of women was generally low, and the main purpose of marriage was for procreation and the perpetuation of a man’s name. Marriage involved the payment of a “bride price”, which was followed by some kind of wedding celebration and then the bride took up residence in her husband’s home.

    Nicky, I'm not sure this is a completely accurate explanation of what we read in the Old Testament.

    Cocnerning giving away, at our daughter's wedding ten years ago, both couples did the giving.
  • Nicky Lock
    March 19, 09 - 8:52pm
    Hi Michael, I'd be interested to know what is controversial about the book you mention, but there is some truth is what you mention re the necessity for the father's involvement in his daughter "marrying well". An involved father has an important role in developing a daughter's sexual identity, giving her a male perspective on her self esteem. This in itself will assist her in being psychologically ready to make good choices re the man she marries. Similarly important is a father's involvement in raising his sons to be first and foremost, Godly men, who will make good husbands. However, I think many parents would be both be concerned with the person they are "entrusting" their child to in marriage.
  • Nicky Lock
    March 19, 09 - 8:56pm
    Hi David, I agree that the issue of marriage and status of women in ancient Israel is complex and probably one beyond the scope of this posting to deal with adequately. Can you recommend any good resources/books/websites for readers who wish to further their knowledge of this?
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 19, 09 - 9:02pm
    what's controversial? He's pro-patriarchy, anti-dating, wants men to ask for permission to court, tells his reeaders they are usually looking for the wrong things in marriage, and has quite a bit on mixed race marriages. Apart from that...? There was a review on the Pyromaniacs website recently...
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 19, 09 - 9:49pm
    link, Michael?
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 19, 09 - 10:04pm
    sorry... can anyone help?
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 20, 09 - 12:16am
    I have spoken to an expert in OT scholarship and Nicky is factually wrong.

    There are three references to bride price in the OT testament. Its was not widely practised by the Israelites.

    I'm trying to source some references that can be chased up.
  • Nicky Lock
    March 20, 09 - 12:54am
    I think your statement that I am factually wrong is a strong one given statements like this from Baptist Old Testament Professor Claude Martinotti www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2008/10/status-of-women-in-israelite-society 'In Israel, most marriages were sealed with the gift of the mōhar. There is much question whether the mōhar, the bridal price which a man gave to the father of the bride, was actually a purchase by which a woman became the possession of her husband. Whether the mōhar was considered the price paid for the bride or a compensation that contributed to the union of two families, it is possible that in many situations, the mōhar was considered a purchase, which served to promote the idea that the woman was the husband’s property." and similar discussions in the IVP OT Background commentary. It would seem this is still a matter for debate rather than certainty!
  • Nicky Lock
    March 20, 09 - 12:56am
    Sorry re the typo in "Mariottini" in above comment!
  • David Maegraith
    March 20, 09 - 1:32am
    link to Voddie book review on Pyro
  • David Maegraith
    March 20, 09 - 1:36am
    I was speaking to Warwick Marsh, head of Fatherhood Foundation the other day and he said he has recently seen that a good father figure is more important for a DAUGHTER than a son - turning years of presumption on its head.

    RE equality of sexes: the only thing men and women are equal in is sin. 'Equality' is the wrong word. 'Ontology' is a better one.
  • David McKay
    March 20, 09 - 3:07am
    RE equality of sexes: the only thing men and women are equal in is sin. 'Equality' is the wrong word. 'Ontology' is a better one.

    Mr Maegraith, sure you don't mean missional?
  • David Maegraith
    March 20, 09 - 3:09am
    Please elaborate David
  • John Sandeman
    March 20, 09 - 3:53am
    What's Baucham's take on mixed race marriages?
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 20, 09 - 4:18am
    We should look for God's man, not a black man. The souls of my grandchildren outweigh their complextion. Racism is an ugly sin that is alive and well in AMerican church culture. See color & learn not to see race. He is writing to a setting where it would be scandalous for one of his relatives to marry a white.
  • John Sandeman
    March 20, 09 - 4:29am
    Thanks from a half and half
  • David McKay
    March 20, 09 - 8:42am
    Hi David Maegraith
    I have a few pet hates.
    One of them is the disappearance of the correct usage of you and me. [Most people don't have the faintest idea what I'm talking about and don't think it is ever correct to say "you and me." Peter O'Brien does.]

    But I also loathe the words ontology, ontological and their cognates with a passion.
    Most sentences [with the exception of this one] make perfect sense without the words and they are usually completely unnecessary.

    I also do not like the word missional, which seems to have taken over from ontology as a popular buzz word. However, missional does appear to have a meaning, ugly neologism notwithstanding.
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    March 22, 09 - 11:34pm
    Regarding the issue of bride price. I am told a different perspective to the one articulated by Nicky can be found in:

    Susan Foh, Women and the Word of God, pp. 71–73