Why do fathers give their daughters away in wedding ceremonies? Is this just an empty tradition, or does it have a deep theological and moral basis? The Protestant reformation of the purity of the Christian faith had implications not just for doctrine, worship, and the church, but also in ethics. The institution of marriage, for instance, was reformed to no longer be seen as a sacrament, celibacy was put back into proper perspective, the appropriate role of civil government with regard to marriage was restored, etc. Amidst this reformation of the family and marriage, Protestants also maintained the necessity of parental consent in the marriages of their children, against Rome, which held that children may marry without parental consent. Below we have gathered several quotations from Reformers and Post-Reformation theologians on this topic. A special thanks to Gregory Moeck, Michael Jeffrey Hunter, and R. Andrew Myers for several of these references.
Martin Luther (1483-1546).
“If such an engagement [to a second woman while already engaged] occurs without the knowledge and consent of the father and mother, or of the guardians, then let the (fiancée’s) father decide which girl is to remain as the wife. If she is betrayed it is her own fault, for she should know that a child is supposed to be subordinate and obedient to its father, and not become engaged without his knowledge. In this way, obedience to parental authority will put a stop to all these secret engagements which occasion such great unhappiness.” (Martin Luther, The Estate of Marriage (1522), Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 29).
Two years later, Luther wrote:
“Previously I wrote that obedience to parents is so important that a child should not become engaged or marry without their knowledge and consent, and that if this does occur the parents have the authority to dissolve such a union. But now parents are going too far in this direction. They are beginning arbitrarily to hinder and prevent their children from getting married and…to compel them to marry someone they do not love…
“It is quite certain therefore that parental authority is strictly limited; it does not extend to the point where it can wreak damage and destruction to the child, especially to its soul. If then a father forces his child into a marriage without love, he oversteps and exceeds his authority. He ceases to be a father and becomes a tyrant who uses his authority not for building up—which is why God gave it to him—but for destroying. He is taking authority into his own hands without God, indeed, against God.
“The same principle holds good when a father hinders his child’s marriage, or lets the child go ahead on his own, without any intention of helping him in the matter (as so often happens in the case of step-parents and their children, or orphans and their guardians, where covetousness has its eye more on what the child has than on what the child needs). In such a case the child is truly free and may act as if his parent or guardian were dead; mindful of what is best for himself, he may become engaged in God’s name, and look after himself as best he can…
“A child should not marry or become engaged without the knowledge and consent of his parents… The fourth commandment here stands strong and firm, “Honor and obey your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12; cf. Eph. 6:1-2). This is why in all of Scripture we find not a single example of two young people entering into an engagement of their own accord. Instead, it is everywhere written of the parents, “Give husbands to your daughters and wives to your sons” (Jer. 29:6); and Moses says in Exodus 21:9, “If a father gives a wife to his son,” etc. Thus, Isaac and Jacob took wives at the behest of their parents (Gen. 24:1-4; 28:1-2).
“From this the custom has spread throughout the world that weddings and the establishment of new households are celebrated publicly with festivity and rejoicing. Thereby these secret engagements are condemned, and the marriage entered into with the knowledge and consent of both families is confirmed and honored. Even Adam, the very first bridegroom, did not himself select Eve as his bride. Instead, as the text (Gen. 2:22-23) clearly states, God first brought her to him; thus did he receive her…
“Parents should understand that a man is created for marriage, to beget fruit of his body (just as a tree is created to bear apples or pears), unless his nature is altered or hindered by God’s supreme grace and special miracle. Therefore, they are in duty bound to assist their children to marry, removing them from the perils of unchastity… Where they proceed in Christian fashion there will be knowledge and consent on both sides: the father will not bestow his child without the child’s knowledge and consent (as is written in Genesis 24:57-58, where Rebekah was asked beforehand and freely consented to become the wife of Isaac); the child in turn will not bestow himself without the father’s knowledge and consent.”
(Martin Luther, That Parents Should Neither Compel Nor Hinder the Marriage of their Children, and that Children Should Not Become Engaged Without their Parents’ Consent (1524), Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 386 & 389).
The First Book of Discipline of the Great Council of Scotland (1560).
“And first, public inhibition must be made that no persons under the power and obedience of others, such as sons and daughters, [and] those that are under curators, neither men nor women, contract marriage privily and without knowledge [of their parents, tutors, or curators, under whose power they are for the time]: which if they do, the censure and discipline of the church [ought] to proceed against them.
If the son or daughter, or others, have their heart touched with desire of marriage, they are bound to give that honour to the parents that they open unto them their affection, asking of them counsel and assistance, how that motion, which they judge to be of God, may be performed.
If the father, friend, or master, gainstand their request, and have no other cause than the common sort of men have (to wit, lack of goods, or because they are not so high-born as they require), yet must not the parties whose hearts are touched make any covenant till further declaration is made unto the church of God.
And, therefore, after they have opened their minds to their parents, or such others as have charge over them, they must declare it also to the ministry, or to the civil magistrate, requiring them to travail with their parents for their consent, which to do they are bound.
And if they, to wit, the magistrate or ministers, find no just cause why the marriage required may not be fulfilled, then, after sufficient admonition to the father, friend, master, or superior, that none of them resist the work of God, the ministry or magistrate may enter in the place of the parent, and by consenting to their just requests may admit them to marriage. For the work of God ought not to be hindered by the corrupt affections of worldly men.”
Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562).
“The law of God, the example of the saints and the decrees of the emperors and popes all require the consent of parents and those to be joined…We do not approve the secret and furtive consent of two persons without parental consent…especially when the parents object to the union for good reasons…If the contracting parties have been joined together contrary to agreement and the worthy and just regard of the parents, their union will be revoked and dissolved. The Council of Toledo requires the agreement of both those being married and their superiors.”
Second Helvetic Confession (1566).
“Let marriages be made with consent of the parents or such as are in the place of parents.”
Sandomierz Consensus (1570).
“[Wives] must be taken with the permission of the parents or those who are in their place.”
Theodore Beza (1519-1605).
“We now have to speak of clandestine promises to marry which are made without the consent of those who have power over those making the promises. Since those promises are diametrically opposed to God’s will and commandment and to natural equity itself, it seems that they cannot be reconciled with God, as our creator. They are therefore void and (as they say) have no standing in law.
“Let us first talk about divine law. Children owe honor to their parents. In my view no one will deny that this [honor] should be measured by the power of the parents over their children. That children were counted among the goods or wealth of the father of their family is altogether clear in the very ancient story of Job: Satan attacked Job’s children after he had been given power to destroy all of Job’s possessions (Job. 1:12, 18-19). Children were no more allowed to free themselves from the authority of others than were slaves, unless they had their parents consent. That very reality proclaims that this was fair and honorable, since, according to God, children owed their being to their parents, and hence they were counted among their parents’ goods on far better grounds than any slave or subject who was under their dominion or was bought at a price.
“The Lord did not amend the law that parents were allowed, when pressed by need, to sell off their children as slaves, even though this is perhaps because of their number and the hard hearts of that people that [God] tolerated rather than approved this (Ex. 21:7). Still this argues for the supreme power which parents have always had over the bodies of their children. The same practice long flourished among the Romans. For example, fathers had the power of life and death over their sons. But if a question arises that is something more particular and looks specifically at the marriage of the children, what prevents there being an explicit law which clearly has been in use forever? Rebekah was sought after and received only from the hand of Bethuel (Gen. 24:27-28). Jacob took his wives from Laban, and so on. Moses inculcates the same paternal authority in talking about who has raped a virgin and also about not having sons-in-laws and daughters-in-laws from pagan nations. The same [practice] is clear from the oath that Israelites took against Benjaminites. Samson too, although captivated by the love of a foreign woman, still requested his father’s consent. Tamar tried this way to escape from the hands of her rapist brother (2 Sam. 13:11-15). Paul in speaking about virgins and hired women who need protection clearly shows that he supported the right of fathers over their children.”
(Theodore Beza, De Repudiis et Divortiis (Geneva 1569), 2:76-81, translated by John P. Donnelly, S.J.).
Martin Bucer (1491-1551).
“Therefore, the laws of the early church and of pious emperors define it as rape if anyone joins a woman to himself in matrimony without the knowledge and consent of parents, even if the woman consents. 
. . .
God did not want to hold valid the vow of a daughter if it displeased her father (Num. 30:4-6). Should the promise of a girl made to a man against her father’s will then be valid?”
(Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (1557), p. 321).
“Now this passage [1 Cor. 7:37] serves to establish the authority of parents, which ought to be held sacred, as having its origin in the common laws of nature. Now if in other, less important actions, no liberty is allowed to children without the authority of their parents, much less is it reasonable that they should have liberty given them in the contracting of marriage. And that has been carefully enacted by civil law, but more especially by the law of God.
“So much the more detestable, then, is the wickedness of the Pope, who, laying aside all respect, either for Divine or human laws, has been so daring as to free children from the yoke of subjection to their parents. It is of importance, however, to mark the reason. This, says he, is on account of the dignity of the sacrament. Not to speak of the ignorance of making marriage a sacrament, what honor is there, I beseech you, or what dignity, when, contrary to the general feeling of propriety in all nations, and contrary to God’s eternal appointment, they take off all restraints from the lusts of young persons, that they may, without any feeling of shame, sport themselves, under pretense of its being a sacrament?
“Let us know, therefore, that in disposing of children in marriage, the authority of parents is of first-rate importance, provided they do not tyrannically abuse it, as even the civil laws prohibit. The Apostle, too, in requiring exemption from necessity, intimated that the deliberations of parents ought to be regulated with a view to the advantage of their children. Let us bear in mind, therefore, that this limitation is the proper rule: that children allow themselves to be governed by their parents, and that they, on the other hand, do not drag their children by force to what is against their inclination, and that they have no other object in view, in the exercise of their authority, than the advantage of their children.
“38. Therefore he that giveth in marriage. Here we have the conclusion from both parts of the statement, in which he states, in a few words, that parents are free from blame if they give away their daughters in marriage, while he at the same time declares that they do better if they keep them at home unmarried. You are not, however, to understand that celibacy is here preferred to marriage, otherwise than under the exception which was a little before expressed. For if power be wanting on the part of the daughter, the father acts an exceedingly bad part if he endeavors to keep her back from marriage, and would be no longer a father to her, but a cruel tyrant.
(John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:37-38 (1546)).
Calvin also on Numbers 30:2-5:
“[Moses] begins by repeating the basic law that everyone should faithfully pay whatever he has vowed. While this is the general rule, he only refers to those who are their own masters. Women or girls, who are under the power of another, were not free to make vows without the consent of their fathers or husbands…[I]f a daughter, while living with her father, has vowed anything without his knowledge, it is of no force. He lays down the same rule when the father, hearing the vow, has disallowed it.”
(John Calvin, Commentary on Numbers 30:2-5 (1563)).
Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562).
Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583).
“What marriages are lawful? That the union constituted by marriage may be lawful, the following things are necessary: … 3. That it meet the approbation of parents, or those who are in the place of parents, and whose consent is required by the law.” (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (1585), p. 593).
William Bucanus (d. 1603).
“What is the honour due unto the parents [in marriage]?
“That the children contract not matrimony without their parents counsel and will.
“First, for that the first man Adam took not a wife without Gods will and consent: where God is said not only to have created her, but also to have brought her unto Adam.
“Secondly, because children are not at their own disposing, but in their parents power.
“Thirdly, for that the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, yea and Ishmael, though fierce otherwise, and Shechem a Gentile, shewed that marriage is not to be contracted without the parents consent.
“Fourthly, Paul saith: Children obey your parents in all things, and therefore in that matter of marriage.
“Fifthly, God did not ratify a vow made by children without the parents knowledge or consent: much less matrimony made by contract without parents consent. Esau married wives, both which grieved and vexed his parents. And the Scripture prescribeth precepts unto the parents about giving their children in marriage: further Christ saith: that the law of honoring parents is violated, when the children take the parents goods without their knowledge, and offer it unto God in the temple. How much more is that law violated, when children withdraw themselves out of their parents power? Which they doe, when they contract matrimony without their parents knowledge or consent. But yet the godly Magistrate is to consider, whether the parents have reasonable or else unreasonable cause to withstand and hinder it.”
(William Bucanus, Institutions of Christian Religion, translated by Robert Hill (1606), p. 119).
William Perkins (1558-1602).
“Consent of the Parents, is that act whereby they give their word and promise, to bestow their children in marriage, and in regard of right, do indeed presently bestow them. Therefore private contracts, that are made without free and lawful consent of parents, are not only unprofitable and unlawful, but even by the law of God mere nullities. Reasons:
1. They are contrary to the express will and commandment of God: Exodus 20, Honor thy father and thy mother.
2. They are flat repugnant to natural equity; which teacheth, that he who hath not power, nor right over himself, cannot bind himself by promise to another. Now children have not power over themselves, but are under the government and at the disposition of their parents; therefore the covenants which they make, are not made and appointed of God, and those which God maketh not, are in deed and truth none at all.”
(William Perkins, Christian Economy: A Short Survey of the Right Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures, translated by Thomas Pickering (1609), p. 76).
Robert Cleaver (c. 1561-1614).
“It may appear by sundry examples, both before the Law was given and after, that this is a duty required of children towards their parents, namely, to have their consent in contracting of marriage, as these places do plainly show: Gen. 21:21; 24:3 etc.; 29:19; 34:4; Deut. 7:3; Judges 14:1 etc.; 1 Cor. 7:36-38. Whereby is manifestly proved that children ought not to match without the consent of their parents:
First, because it is against the law of nature.
Secondly, because the parents have authority over their children, more than they have over their servants.
Thirdly, because children are their father’s goods and riches, and therefore they must not bestow themselves in marriage, but must be bestowed of their parents.
Fourthly, because parents have authority over the vows of their children (Num. 30:4-6).
Fifthly, if a man’s daughter be enticed, yet her father may refuse the contract; being not available or of any force, without his consent (Ex. 22:16-17).
Besides all this, what clearer proof can we have than the fifth commandment, in the which children are commanded to honour their fathers and mothers, with a blessing promised to those which perform the same? Whereby we gather, by the nature of contraries, that there is a curse also belonging to all those children that shall dishonour them.”
(Robert Cleaver, A Godly Form of Household Government for the Ordering of Private Families According to the Direction of God’s Word (1621)).
William Gouge (1575-1653).
Speaking of the “great mystery concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32), Gouge remarks:
“All things requisite to join man and wife together, do fitly concur between Christ and the church… 2. They have their parent’s consent: for God is the common father of both. [John 20:17] And God has given Christ to the church, [Rom 8:32] and the church to Christ. [John 6:39]” (William Gouge, Of Domestical Duties (1622) 1.85, pp. 327-328).
Gouge more directly addresses the topic later in the same work:
“§. 19. Of the sin of children in marrying without their parents’ consent.
Contrary is the mind and practice of such children as over lightly esteeming their parents power, take matches of their own choice: and that sometimes privily without giving any notice at all to their parents: and sometimes most rebelliously against their parents mind and charge: not much unlike those who in the old world are condemned for taking wives of all that they chose (which was one branch of that wickedness for which the world was drowned) or rather like Esau who took such wives as proved a grief to his parents. What blessing can be expected to fall upon such marriages? or rather what curse may not be feared to follow them? God’s law is transgressed thereby: his Image in parents despised, that which is more proper to them then any goods; or fraudulently, or violently taken from them: their souls grieved thereat: and they oft provoked to cast off their children, and curse their marriages. Now God’s curse doth oft follow the just curse of a parent.
. . .
Objection. Children marry for themselves and not for their parents, why then should parents’ consent be so much stood upon?
1. Answer. Though they marry not for their parents, yet they marry from their parents (see the second reason in Section 17): by marriage they are freed from the power of their parents.
2. Answer. Children are not their own: they are the inheritance of the Lord (Psa 127:3): the Lord hath given them to parents as an inheritance: a child therefore may no more marry for himself without consent of parents, than alienate his parents’ goods for himself.
§. 21. Of stealing children from parents for marriage sake.
To the forenamed sin, and to the vengeance thereof, doe they make themselves accessory, who fraudulently allure, or violently take away children to marry them otherwise then their parents would. This is a worse kind of felony then stealing away the goods of a man. For children are much more properly a mans own, then his goods: and dearer to him then any goods can be: yea and so much more highly to be esteemed, by how much reasonable creatures are to be preferred before senseless, and sensual things. Our statute law expressly condemneth this, and imposeth a severe punishment on such as shall offend herein. And justly do such offenders deserve to be severely punished, both in regard of the heinousness of the sin, and also in regard of the many mischiefs which follow thereon, as, Alienation of parents affection from their children, Disinheriting heirs, Enmity betwixt the friends of each party so married, Litigious suits in law, Ruin of families, and (if the personages, whose children are married without their parents consent, be great and noble) Disturbance of whole towns, cities, and nations. Instance the destruction of the Shechemites Gen. 34, This is said to have been the cause of the ten years war betwixt the Grecians and Trojans, and of the ruin of Troy.
§. 22. Of ministers sin in marrying children without parents consent.
Such ministers also as through Carelessness, not taking due account of the parties whom they marry, whether they have their parents consent or no; or through bribery, being hired by reward, do marry such children as they know have not their parents consent; do in an high degree make themselves accessory to the forenamed sin. Their fact is as bad as the fact of the principals themselves. Their solemnization of such marriages embolden both the parties that are so married, and also all the persons that are present thereat. They highly dishonour God’s holy ordinance, in that bearing the person of God they say of such as God hath forbidden to be so joined together, Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. If ministers had not their hand in such unlawful marriages, they could not be made: for our Church ratifies no marriage but what is made by a minister. Wherefore some minister or other is guilty of this foul sin, whensoever any child is married without consent of parents. Well therefore doth our Church (to prevent this sin) expressly forbid ministers to marry any without parents consent: and inflict a severe censure on them that shall offend herein.”
(William Gouge, Of Domestical Duties (1622), 5.19-22, pp. 327-328).
The Directory for the Public Worship of God; Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster (1645).
“Before the solemnizing of marriage between any persons, the purpose of marriage shall be published….
Before that publication of such their purpose (if the parties be under age), the consent of the parents, or others under whose power they are (in case the parents be dead), is to be made known to the church officers of that congregation, to be recorded.
The like is to be observed in the proceedings of all others, although of age, whose parents are living, for their first marriage.
And, in after marriages of either of those parties, they shall be exhorted not to contract marriage without first acquainting their parents with it, (if with conveniency it may be done), endeavouring to obtain their consent.
Parents ought not to force their children to marry without their free consent, nor deny their own consent without just cause.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646).
“It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry who are able with judgment to give their consent (Gen 24:57-58; 1 Cor 7:36-38; Heb 13:4; 1 Tim 4:3)…” (24.3a).
William Gurnall (1616-1679).
Gurnall, arguing that Christian’s should marry “in the Lord,” takes parental consent for granted: “That the parents’ consent is fit to be had, we all yield; and is not thy heavenly Father’s?” (The Christian in Complete Armour (1655), vol. 1, p. 441).
Samuel Clarke (1599-1682).
“Quest. What is another duty of children to their parents?
Ans. Obedience, which is the surest note of the honour a child gives to his parent: Hence, Eph. 6.1. Col. 3.20. without which, external reverence is a mere mockage; as, Mat. 11.21. Obedience is a duty so proper, that the Apostle applies it to Christ as a proper attribute, 1 Pet. 1.14. As obedient children, &c. See Christ’s example, Luke 2.51. Solomon calls the neglect of it, a despising of a parent, Prov. 23.22.
Quest. Wherein consists this obedience?
Ans. First, in forbearing to do things without their parents’ consent, which is a duty they are most bound to whilst they are under their parents’ government, during which time, parents’ consent is not only meet but necessary, Num. 30.17. and that for these reasons:
1. Children are as the goods of their parents, wholly in their power to be ordered, and disposed by them. Hence Satan having all that Job had put into his hands, took liberty over his children as well as his goods and chattel, Job 1.12, 19.
2. Children, whilst under their government, even the eldest that are heirs, differ nothing from servants, Gal. 4.1.
3. By God’s Law, parents had power to sell their children, Exod. 21.7.
4. Parents had power to disannul such things as children had done, Num. 30.4.
Now this subjection of theirs consisteth principally in five things…
Secondly, In their marriages: For,
1. God himself hath given us a pattern, by bringing the woman to the man, Gen. 22.2. shewing that he who gave a being to the woman, had a right to dispose of her in marriage, which right now parents have in God’s room.
2. We have God’s express rule for it, Deut. 7.3. 1 Cor. 7.36-37. The parent had also power in giving, or not giving her that was deflowered, Exod. 22.17.
3. We have the examples of God’s saints for it; as of Isaac, Gen. 24.67. Jacob, Gen. 28.2. He also asked his daughter of Laban, Gen. 29.18, &c. Samson, Judges 14.2.
4. We have the judgement of the ancient fathers, who constantly taught this doctrine.
5. The very heathen acknowledged the equity hereof, Gen. 34.3, &c. and 21.21. Yea, and all laws confirm it.
Quest. Why must parents consent be had in marrying their children?
Ans. First, because by marriage they are put from their parents, Gen. 2.24. therefore its but equal that it should be with their consent.
Secondly, the parents’ power by marrying the child is put over to the husband, or wife: and shall this power be taken away without their consent?
Thirdly, children for the most part are rash and heady, and would undo themselves, whereas parents’ love their children, and have more experience, and discretion in choosing for them.”
(Samuel Clarke, Medulla Theologiae, or, The Marrow of Divinity contained in sundry questions and cases of conscience, both speculative and practical (1659), pp. 259-261).
Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686).
“And as children must hearken to the counsel of their parents in spiritual matters, so in affairs which relate to this life as in the choice of a vocation, and in case of entering into marriage. Jacob would not dispose of himself in marriage, though he was forty years old, without the advice and consent of his parents (Gen 28:1-2). Children are, as it were, the parents’ proper goods and possession, and it is great injustice in a child to give herself away without the parents’ permission. If parents should indeed counsel a child to match with one that is impious or Popish, I think the case is plain, and many of the learned are of opinion that here the child may have a negative voice, and is not obliged to be ruled by the parent. Children are to “marry in the Lord;” not, therefore, with impious people, for that is not to marry in the Lord (1 Cor 7:39).” (Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, p. 293).
Francis Turretin (1623-1687).
“May children withdraw themselves from the power of their parents and marry without their consent? We deny against the papists…
The orthodox maintain that the consent of parents in the marriages of children is not only of honesty, but also of necessity, so that without it the marriages are not legitimate and may also be broken. On the state of the question observe:
(1) the question here is not whether the parental authority extends so far that it can compel unwilling children to marriage and to make matches for them without their consent; for this is denied on both sides.
(2) It does not concern insane and maniacal parents or captive in a far distant region, who cannot give their consent. Rather it concerns sane and free parents, who can use their rightful power.
(3) It does not concern children freed and in their majority, who have already gone from under parental power (whom no one doubts to be independent), but especially concerns minors, who are still in every way constituted under parental authority.
(4) It is not whether any dissent of parents can hinder or render void a marriage. We confess that where parents morose and avaricious and through sheer obstinacy will not consent to the proper marriage of children and cannot give sufficient reasons for their dissent after the request has been made by their children that the latter are not absolutely bound to their will, but it is right for them to apply to a superior power to whom a judgment concerning the justice or injustice of the dissent belongs. Thus the matter being well considered, they may determine what the children ought to do and consult their interest by supplying in this point the defect of the consent of the parents.
But this is the special question—whether children, without the consent or knowledge of their parents, may lawfully marry, their consent not being sought or expected. This we deny. The reasons are:
(1) from the fifth commandment, for that honor consists principally in the obedience due to them and since it is to be rendered to in all things “in the Lord,” according to the command of Paul (Eph. 6:1), marriage cannot be excepted…How can they be said to obey them in all things, who in the most momentous case pay no regard to them?
(2) From the special passages pertaining here in which precepts are given to parents concerning the settling of children in marriage. “Thou shalt not take of their daughters unto thy sons” (Ex. 34:16); “thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son” (Deut. 7:3); “Take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands” (Jer. 29:6); “So then he that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better” (1 Cor. 7:38). Now how could such things be said unless the children were in subjection to parental power, especially in the contraction of marriage?
(3) There is an express law concerning a daughter seduced and defiled who is not married, unless the father has assented: “If a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife” (Ex. 22:16). This is repeated in Deut. 22:29. Nevertheless that this was not to be understood absolutely, but with the condition of the consent of the father, it is immediately added, “If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins” (Ex. 22:17)…If it is left in the power of the father, whether he is willing to give the defiled daughter in marriage to her defiler (requesting it), assuredly in the marriage of a daughter the necessary consent of the parent is supposed. Yea, it binds even more strongly; for if this holds good with respect to a debauched daughter (whose dishonor seems to be covered by marriage), how much more with respect to an untouched and pure daughter? The same thing is proved from parity, as was seen before from Num. 30:4. The father can make void the daughter’s vow; therefore also a marriage. If a vow, which is a promise made to God, comes under the parental will, how much more a promise made to men?
(4) From the continuous practice and the examples of the Old and New Testaments. Abraham sought Rebecca for his son (Gen. 24); Hagar a wife for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21); Jacob from Laban (Gen. 29:21). See similar examples in Caleb promising his daughter (Judges 1:12); in Samson seeking a wife from his parents (Judges 14:3); in the Israelites binding themselves to the Benjamites for this—that they would neither give their sons nor receive daughters from them (Judges 21:7); in Tamar answering Amnon according to law and custom, referring her disposal in marriage to her father—“speak unto the king for me” (2 Sam. 13:13).
(5) They who are not their own masters cannot determine for themselves. Children who are under parental power are not independent.
(a) They are reckoned among the goods of parents as being from the parents and owing themselves to them (Job 1:2, 10, 12).
(b) It was lawful for parents in extreme poverty to sell them into servitude (Ex. 21:7).
(c) The vow of a daughter is rendered void by a father because she is under his power (Num. 30:5). For if it is not lawful to dispose of the goods of parents without their consent (if no power is given to the son of making away with money or of selling property), how can it be lawful for him to dispose of himself?…
(6) The opinion of our opponents is urged with the greatest absurdities. Not only is the divine law concerning honor to parents violated, the authority of fathers weakened, public morality flowing from the law of nature trampled upon, but also (the father being unwilling) an heir is introduced, domestic peace disturbed, while (against the will of the father) the young bride (who ought to be in the place of a daughter) is brought in and the safety of children (who on account of their age cannot yet consult for themselves) is placed in imminent danger. Devoid of counsel, inexperienced and untried, the latter are easily captivated by allurements and entangled in miserable marriages. The window is even opened to lust, since with the hope of matrimony many virgins are easily enticed to fornication.
(7) The civil laws written with the highest agreement both by ancient lawyers and by the emperors are too well known to be ignored, too clear to be obscured, too sacred to be rightly abolished. “Natural and civil reason persuades this,” says an emperor, “that the consent of parents ought first to be obtained” (Justinian, Institutes 1.10)…”
(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology XI.XVI, vol. 2, pp. 104-111).
Matthew Poole (c. 1624-1679).
“2. Unquestionably parents have not a power to determine children in all things as to which God hath left them a liberty, for then they have a power to make their children slaves, and to take away all their natural liberty. To marry or not, and to this or that person, is matter of liberty. Parents cannot in this case determine their children; Bethuel (Gen, 24:58) asketh Rebekah if she would go with Abraham’s servant before he would send her.
3. In matters of civil concernment they have a far greater power than in matters of religion. All souls are God’s, and conscience can be under no other dominion than that of God.
4. In civil things parents have a great power, during the nonage of children, and after also in matters which concern their parents’ good, as to command them to assist them, to help to supply their necessities, &c.
5. Parents being set over children, and instead of God to them, as it is their duty to advise their children to the best of their ability for their good; so it is the duty of children to receive their advice, and not to depart from it, unless they see circumstances so mistaken by parents, or so altered by the providence of God, as they may reasonably judge their parents, had these known or foreseen it, would not have so advised. But that parents have an absolute power to determine children in all things as to which God hath not forbidden them, and that children by the law of God are obliged to an obedience to all such commands, however they may see their parents mistaken, or God by his providence may have altered circumstances, I see no reason to conclude.”
(Matthew Poole, Annotations upon the Holy Bible (1683), on Jeremiah 35:19).
Poole also on 1 Corinthians 7:36-38:
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely 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. 37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
If she pass the flower of her age; if she be of marriageable years, or rather, if she beginneth to grow old,
and need so require, and be desirous of marriage, so as the parent seeth reason to fear that, if he gives her not in marriage, she will so dispose of herself without asking her father’s advice or leave, or be exposed, possibly, to worse temptations: which two things seem to interpret that term, if need so require.
Let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry; In such a case as this, a Christian parent shall not sin if he disposeth her in marriage. Let her marry to such a person as she loveth, and her parent seeth proper for her. He speaks in the plural number because marriage is between two persons. The reason of this determination is, because the apostle, in his former discourse, had no where condemned a married estate during the present distress of things, as sinful or unlawful, but only as inexpedient, or not so expedient as a single life during the present distress; he had before determined (1 Cor. 7:9), that it was better to marry than to burn. Now no inexpediency of a thing can balance what is plainly sinful. If therefore the case be such, that a man or woman must marry, or sin, through marriage brings with it more care and trouble, yet it is to be preferred before plain sinning.
Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart; if a man be resolved to keep his daughter a virgin, not uncertain in his own mind, and wavering what he should do, upon a just consideration of circumstances;
having no necessity; and doth not see a necessity to dispose of her, either for the avoiding some sin against God, or for the better providing for himself and the rest of his family;
but hath power over his own will; but hath a perfect freedom in his own will, so that his will be not contradicted by his daughter’s fondness of a married life; for in such a case the father, though he would willingly not dispose of his daughter in marriage, yet ought to be overruled by the will of his daughter, and so hath not a power over his own will, being forced by the rules of religion to take care of the soul and spiritual welfare of his child; for though the parent hath a great power over his child, and ought to consent to the marriage of his child, yet he hath no such power as wholly to hinder them from marriage.
And hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin; if he be fully resolved, upon a due consideration of all circumstances, and the virgin be satisfied, and yields up herself in the case to her father’s pleasure, in such a case, if the father doth not put her upon marriage, but resolves to keep her unmarried, he
doeth well; that is, not only he shall not sin against God, but he doth that which is more eligible, considering the present circumstances of things, and better than if he did find out a husband for her, and give her to him (as it is expounded in the next verse).
So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well: there is no general rule for all parents in this case, where the duty or sin of parents may arise from their or their children’s different circumstances. But supposing that a parent, having duly weighed all circumstances, be fully resolved, and he finds the child’s will concurring, that she can forbear, and is willing to do in the case what her parent desires; in such a case as this, if the parent disposeth her in marriage, I cannot say he sinneth, but he doth what he may do.
But he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better; but with reference to the present state of things in the church and in the world, and with reference to the young woman’s liberty for the service of God, he doth better, if he doth not so dispose her. The thing is in itself indifferent, and Christians must be in it ruled and inclined one way or another from circumstances.
Thomas Vincent (1634-1678).
Children must be willing to follow “reasonable counsel [of their parents], in reference to their calling, station, marriage, and any great affairs of their lives.” (Thomas Vincent, Shorter Catechism Explained, on WSC 64).
Matthew Henry (1662-1714).
“This shows how great a deference children owe to their parents, and how much they ought to honour them and be obedient to them. It is for the interest of the public that the paternal authority be supported; for, when children are countenanced in their disobedience to their parents (as they were by the tradition of the elders, Mt. 15:5, 6), they soon become in other things children of Belial. If this law be not to be extended to children’s marrying without their parents’ consent so far as to put it in parents’ power to annul the marriage and dissolve the obligation (as some have thought it does), yet certainly it proves the sinfulness of it, and obliges the children that have thus done foolishly to repent and humble themselves before God and their parents.” (Matthew Henry on Numbers 30).
James Fisher (1697-1775).
Q. 21. May children dispose of themselves in marriage without the knowledge or consent of their parents?
A. No; as appears from the charge given by Abraham, concerning his son Isaac (Gen. 24:3-4), and that of Isaac to Jacob (Gen. 28:1-2); but if children should dispose of themselves without the knowledge and consent of their parents, they act contrary to the honour, deference, and gratitude they owe to them, as Esau did (Gen. 26:34-35).
(James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, on WSC 64).
Samuel Willard (1640-1707).
“As to the consent of parents, doubtless it is required by the law of God that children should be directed by them; it being a part of the authority which God has vested them withal, and the light of nature directs to it; and therefore clandestine marriages, stolen contrary to, or without their consent is a breach of the fifth command directly; and must usually argue an ungoverned passion in the persons themselves, which is against the seventh, and therefore civilized governments have provided severely against it; though whether such marriages are altogether void, is matter of dispute. And if children are unreasonably withheld by their parents from marriage, they ought to seek their redress from the civil authority. It is hence also to be inferred, that no marriage ought to be made between persons till they come to age of maturity and discretion.” (Samuel Willard, Body of Divinity, Sermon CXCIV – December 12, 1704).
John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787).
“As children have so much dependence on parents,—and as the happiness of the parties and their offspring so much depend on the propriety of their marriage-connection, none ought to enter into it without consulting their parents, if alive, and obtaining their consent. And, as marriage can never be dissolved but by death, or on account of adultery or wilful desertion, none ought to be forced into it by parents or others,—or to enter into it without great deliberation and solemn consulting of God, the supreme and general Parent of mankind.” (John Brown, Systematic Theology: A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion, p. 21).
“The duties of parents to their children are: … 12. Seasonable disposal of them in marriage suited to their station, temper, consent, and their temporal, but especially their spiritual and eternal welfare, Ruth 3:1; 1 Cor 7:36; Gen 24; Gen 28.” (ibid., p. 478).
 Decret. II, c. XXXVI, q. 1, c. 3; q. 2, c. 2, 6, 8, 10; Novellae 150, 1.
Turretin likewise considered this to be a form of rape, similar to our concept of statutory rape today where one party is not legally capable of consent. On the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, he writes, “Rape, when a girl is forcibly carried from the house of her father for the purpose of lust, whether she struggles against or assents to it. For then violence is done at least to the father from whom his property is violently wrested.” (IET XI.XVIII.iii, vol. 2, p. 121).