Why should a woman be under someone's protection in issues regarding marriage?

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Why should a woman be under someone's protection in issues regarding marriage?

Feb 20, 2012 |Candice Watters
Question

Where does this idea, encountered in "so called biblical patriarchy," really come from? Why should a woman be under the protection of a father/pastor/elder/older couple in issues regarding marriage? How do you set a biblical pattern for these teachings? What kind of authority do parents, especially a father, have over children, especially daughters? At what age is an adult responsible for his/hers actions and decisions, and in what way does this change the authority relationship with the parents?

What is the biblical principle (not the doctrine of patriarchy and courtship present in some Christian movements in America) behind the "woman under the man's leadership" in this sense? It's one thing to not exercise authority over men and not rise above them, but to not be able to make her own decisions but submit to a male all her life – father or husband? This sounds like ancient Israel where a woman could not do anything without the approval of the authoritative male figure in her life – father or husband. How and why do you think this becomes a biblical principle for all women in all history?

My understanding is that submission to the husband means a different thing than this, and a daughter's submission to her father even more different thing than this; of course, parents and mentors may have a consultative authority role, but for sure it's not appropriate for them to meddle into personal issues and decisions like asking a man what are his intentions regarding a certain woman.

I think this kind of question is only available for God (as speaking to the man's conscience) or the woman directly involved – only God and the woman involved have the legitimate right to ask the man of his intentions. You shouldn't ask for clarification. If, as a woman, you feel the friendship with a man is inappropriate, you can communicate to him that you don't feel it's OK, and you step out of it. That's all. No leading questions, no intermediaries who ask him what his intentions are concerning you. After all, marriage is a relationship made only of three persons: God, man and woman. Let's try to remain biblical (like submission in marriage) maintaining the correct interpretation of biblical texts and accurate, appropriate application of them into our specific contemporary situations. Maybe in the Bible there are some arranged marriages presented, but does that become mandatory Christian principle for people in every age of history?

Answer

A marriage is not a "personal issue." Marriage is communal. We seem to have forgotten this. People didn't used to think of themselves primarily as individuals. Prior to the Enlightenment, they thought of themselves in relation to the people around them: as someone's daughter, sister, wife, mother, church member, etc. It's a recent shift in thinking to refer to oneself primarily apart from other people, and it's a pervasive one. I suspect it's the underlying motivation of your question.

In this context, I understand why what I said sounds offensive, but I don't agree that it is offensive. When fathers teach their children the way of wisdom, they are modeling God's Fatherly protection and provision. Certainly we must never follow anyone into sin, but in general, the design God put in place was that children learn to obey Him by first learning to obey their parents. Your parents are God's agents; they have rightful authority over you.

If you have parents who've divorced, who've failed to obey God's design for a permanent, till-death, one-flesh union, I can understand why you'd bristle at my insistence that parents be involved in the process of dating and getting married. But women in this situation should know even better than the rest the need we all have for someone's help along the path to marriage. The best sort of help comes from Christian parents who have been faithful in marriage — because they know from experience that it's not easy.

When parents aren't available or are unwilling to help, it should be sought out in the body of Christ. Why? Because it's not a given that marriage is for life. What's needed, in addition to supernatural wisdom, is guidance from a couple who is living out their vows. Such help is not only historically normative, it's biblical.

When a father asks a man who is pursuing his daughter for marriage about his intentions (and his character, his finances, his spiritual habits, his church membership and more) he is not meddling, far from it. Consider just this small sampling of what the Bible says about wisdom and folly:

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Proverbs 26:12).
A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent (Proverbs 15:5).
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:21).
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).

You're right that submission to father is different from submission to husband, but it flows from the same heart posture and inclination. A woman who honors her father is more likely to be equipped to submit to her husband. I realize the words submission and authority are loaded with meaning. Often they conjure up images of women as doormats, doing anything and everything a more powerful man forces her to. In the case of sinful men and women, that is sadly, often the case. But that's a distortion; it's not what those words mean biblically. God establishes authority to help us. Paul Tripp explains it this way in his book Age of Opportunity,

If a person fears God, he will be submissive to the authorities that God has placed in his life. A person who disregards, argues against, or seeks to skirt the authorities in his life is not taking advantage of God's help in fighting the spiritual battle. God placed authority in our lives to restrain sin. A person who is aware of his sinfulness and who wants to live a godly life will not chafe against authority. He will appreciate it and submit to it.

The Bible is a book of relationships. It begins with a Trinitarian God — three in one — who creates man and woman for relationship with Him and with one another. A married couple then relates to the children who are born as the fruit of their marriage. Prior to the New Testament, the overriding metaphors of Scripture are familial: God is Father, Israel is His bride, the people of God are His children. When we relate rightly to Him, including obeying Him and submitting to Him, all goes well. It is the rebellion against proper authority that leads to trouble. Only when Christ submits to the will of the Father "becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8) are things made right again.

When we function as we were intended to, life is harmonious. We are commanded to honor Father and Mother in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12) and the command is affirmed in the New (Ephesians 6:2). It is honoring when a woman seeks her father's blessing over her dating and marriage decisions. It's not always possible to get that blessing, but she should try. Lest you think this applies only to small children still living at home, study the life of Christ, the grown man who did nothing apart from the Father's will (John 5:19), who said of himself, "I honor my Father" (John 8:49). My friend Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, describes Jesus' submission to the Father this way,

Marvel at the eternal submission of the Son to the Father, a submission that occurs in eternity past (eternal Son), in is earthly mission (incarnate Son) and in eternity future (raised, exalted, reigning Son). Here, then, is a stunning principle: It is as God-like to submit with joy and gladness to rightful authority, as it is God-like to exert wise and beneficial rightful authority. Understand that God has purposed to exhibit something of Himself in our human relationships that involve authority and submission, especially those of a husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:3).Quoted from a sermon series entitled "Beholding the Wonder of the Trinity," Session Three: Beholding the Wonder of the Son and the Father, taught by Dr. Bruce A. Ware at Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, KY, September 21, 2011.

The danger in cutting your parents (or where that's not an option, pastor or Christian mentor) out of the dating/courtship decision making process is that you cut yourself off from help in choosing wisely. You also open yourself up to being taken advantage of. It is God's good design that places us in families on our way to forming families; that He gives us dads — men — to shepherd us in our journey to marrying a man. I realize that many dads, shockingly many, have failed in their responsibilities to their children in this area. But the presence of such brokenness is no reason to stop holding up a picture of what it looks like when things are whole. In a family where a dad loves his daughter and they have a good relationship, he is the one best suited to guard her from men who may appear charming but be up to no good. He is also the one best able to encourage a good man who may be timid or dragging his feet to "step up and show himself a man" (the way David did with Solomon, 1 Kings 2:2) and embrace God's favor in providing him a wife.

There is no prize for going this alone. And to suggest that these all-important conversations and decisions are supposed to take place between the man, the woman and God — and no one else — is to suggest that they can already act married, before they are or know if they should be. If we were still forming matches in the Garden of Eden, it would surely be enough to trust that a man, in conversation with God, would be motivated purely to make a good marriage. But we live east of Eden, post sin, where men and women both bring their fallen nature to the process. Our motives are not pure. Our desires are selfish. And sometimes, we lie about what it is we're after. In the midst of sin is much peril. That is why it's essential to have wise counsel in the process.

It's up to us as Christians not just to read the Bible but to study it (2 Timothy 2:15). And not just by ourselves, but with the help of other believers, in the context of a committed church body. Only then can we begin to apply it rightly to our own lives and grow up in maturity (Colossians 1:28, 1 Peter 2:1-2). As you do, you'll likely find that for most of our modern situations, there won't be words or phrases you can Google or look up in You Version — things like "courtship," or "father's role in marriage." I hope you'll discover something infinitely better than that, that

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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