parental consent necessary for marriage?

Discussion in 'Family Forum' started by cultureshock, Jan 4, 2005.

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  1. cultureshock

    cultureshock Puritan Board Freshman

    In our culture, especially in Christian circles, it is usually customary for a young man to ask permission of the father of the woman he intends to marry. Is this mere custom or is it a biblical mandate? I was wondering, specifically, how the fifth commandment and Numbers 30 factor into this issue.

    Furthermore, if it is shown that this custom is a biblical mandate, are there any cases in which it is right for a couple to marry against her parents' wishes?

    This is something of a personal question for me, since my wife and I were married quite apart from her father's approval. We went ahead with it on the advice of my pastor, who tends to be rather dispensational. I have never quite been convinced of his reasons because of his dispensational leanings, but my conscience still sways back and forth on the issue, wondering whether we did the right thing or not.

    I would appreciate any Scripturally-reasoned input on this issue.

  2. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Hi Brian!

    First of all, welcome to the Puritan Board! :welcome:

    Second, I too have a personal interest in this issue because my wife and I eloped under difficult circumstances. Our experience is not one that I can discuss in a public forum, but I can say that I have researched this issue at some length (both before and after our decision) and, yes, I believe there are circumstances that warrant marriage without the father's permission. However, that ought not to be the norm. There is a Biblical responsibility that parents have to approve a marriage and a Biblical duty of a prospective couple to honor the parents. Yet, as stated in the Wesminster Directory for Public Worship: "Parents ought not to force their children to marry without their free consent, nor deny their own consent without just cause." If a parent does deny consent without just cause, the next step would be to take the problem to the church session. However, that is not always possible and our society is not geared towards handling these issues either. The Records of the Geneva Consistory show that the civil magistrate handled issues like this during Calvin's day. Martin Luther also wrote about this issue. I have accumulated quite a bit of documentation over the years which I don't have readily at hand at the moment, but I can assure you that this issue is one that has been addressed by godly minds in times past. I'll be glad to dig up some of my resources a bit later. Meanwhile, the next issue to how to go forward after the marriage with healing and reconciliation if possible, not to mention a relationship between the parent and any future children. These are very tough issues and in my own life they are not easy to answer, let alone for another. But, I hope these comments offer some encouragement at least. Best wishes.
  3. cultureshock

    cultureshock Puritan Board Freshman


    Thank you for your response.

    In our situation, we really struggled with the issue for a year and a half before getting married. As far as I understand it, the issue between us was that her parents hold to the teachings of Bill Gothard, who promotes very strict, and I think extra-biblical, requirements before a young person is ready to be married. And, according to this man's teaching, until a young person meets those requirements, the parents should not consent. At the same time, she and I were both moving towards Reformed theology, and this caused very much tension. We waited and tried to discuss the issue of marriage with them every so often, but her father did not seem willing to relent on the Gothard stuff, and would re-assert the same ideas. I tried to respectfully disagree with him many times, but that only ever demonstrated to him, all the more, that I was a rebellious individual. So, we finally went through with it according to our pastor's counsel. What do you think, was our action justified or not? This is not to give the impression that we did everything right or as respectful as we might have; we certainly did not.

    By the way, where did Luther write about this issue? I have read all of his major writings, and some minor ones, and have not yet come across it. Perhaps I missed it? I'm interested in any Reformed resources on this issue.

    Also, how do 1 Corinthians 7:38 and Numbers 30:3-5 specifically apply to this issue?

  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Could you elaborate on the teachings of Bill GOtherd as it relates to this topic? I do not think I have heard of the man.
  5. cultureshock

    cultureshock Puritan Board Freshman

    Jacob, see for yourself at:

    Most of what Bill says in this link I have no quarrel with. One part that I find very strange is when he requires, under "4. Determine Marriage Readiness", "Does the young man have a clear purpose in life that his wife can support?" Now, I'm not exactly sure what Bill means here, but the way this principle was applied to my situation excluded me from marriage readiness even though I had asserted, as the next step in my post-college life, the goal of attending seminary and not being sure of what would happen after seminary. Call me crazy for not having the rest of my life planned out step-by-step (is sarcasm ok on this board?). In spite of the way it was applied to my situation, I believe the principle to be an enforcement of something that should not be enforced. What do you all think?

    Gothard is really popular inter-denominationally with homeschoolers. Though his views on courtship are basically conservative and mostly good, his fundamental theology is kind of strange on topics like grace and such. You might check out more on his main page if interested (

  6. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    GOTHARD!!!! YIKES!!!!

    (feel sorry for ya)
  7. Ivan

    Ivan Pastor

  8. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian


    I can certainly relate to the harmful Gothard influence on this subject. In my case there was an extreme extra-Biblical requirement to which we could not in good conscience submit.

    I can offer the following citations which may be helpful to you (not all are exactly on point perhaps to your situation but may nevertheless be profitable or encouraging):

    Some Scriptures relevant to the the subject of marriage and parental consent (I'll defer to others on Num. 30):

    Gen. 2.24; Gen. 24.58; Ps. 45.10; Eph. 6.4

    Of primary importance, perhaps, are the Fifth and Seventh Commandments:

    Westminster Larger Catechism: See Q. 123-133

    See also Q. 137-139:

    Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God:

    Wesminster Confession of Faith, XXIV.III:

    Matthew Poole's Commentary re: Ps. 45.10:

    Poole's Commentary re: Jeremiah 35.19:

    Poole's Commentary on I Cor. 7.36-38:

    Calvin's Commentary on I Cor. 7.36-38:

    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) -- see also

    Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel:

    Spottiswood's History of the Church of Scotland, pp. 366-367:

    Philip Edgecombe Hughes, ed., The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin, p. 73:

    E.L. Hebden Taylor, The Reformational Understanding of Family and Marriage, pp. 8-9, 14:

    William Gouge, On Domesticall Duties, p. 113 (re: Eph. 5.31):

    [Edited on 5-1-2005 by VirginiaHuguenot]
  9. cultureshock

    cultureshock Puritan Board Freshman

    Wow. I had no idea there was so much Reformed writing on the subject. Thanks for posting all of that. It is very helpful.

  10. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    You're welcome, Brian! God bless you and your family.
  11. ChristianasJourney

    ChristianasJourney Puritan Board Sophomore

    No scripture, just my $.02

    I'd not blame Gothard for the strict guidelines that Christian parents tend to lay set down. Gothard, from what I've read, merely suggests ideas, and offers's the parents that come up with their own guidelines, as well as other notable pastor's and teachers that are out there (i.e. Jonathan Lindvall who is into the courtship movement).

    The Bible doesn't require that a parent only ascribe to Biblical laws in setting down rules. If your child is glucose intolerant you command that he not eat flour, yet flour is perfectly okay to eat. Likewise a parent that lays down extra-Biblical requirments for their daughter's marriage isn't violating scripture. My relative told her daughter that she couldn't marry a diabetic. Why? Because her family has a long and troubled history of diabetes, babies have died, people have gone into comas, etc, and she didn't want her to increase that weakness in her own family. Your dw's parents are likely looking out for the welfare of their daughter, even though they're laying down rules that you disagree with.

    However, regardless, it is a Biblical philosphy that a daughter is under the protection of her father. As long the rules aren't ungodly should it matter really what they are. It should be between her, her father, and God, and certainly if a marriage it to take place, God is big enough to see that'll happen. To circumvent the father's authority is asking for long-term trouble and a ruptured relationship that might take years to heal.

    Parents who follow IBLP, while I disagree with many of them, are some of the most loving, devoted Christian parents that I've met. Whether you see it this way, your wife's parents probably had her best interests in mind...

    Now that you've married without her parents approval how is the relationship? Would it have been possible to abide by those principals while courting her instead of just wrestling her out from under their authority, or 'saving her from them' (which is often the mentality of many dh's). It may have taken longer, but in the long run it would have salvage a very important relationship between a parent and child.

    And in everything God is sovereign. He will see to it that what is supposed to happen will happen--and if a relationship ends because of strict parental guidelines, both parties involved should recognize that this too is the will of God.

    Anyway, as I said, it's my $02.

    [Edited on 5-1-2005 by ChristianasJourney]
  12. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian


    I appreciate your comments but I have to disagree overall. I think that extra-Biblical requirements laid upon a potential couple by parents -- unless they are agreed upon by those involved -- are generally by definition contra-Biblical. If the daughter, for example, desires marriage (ie., is of age and is not gifted with continency) and the prospective suitor is a Christian (thus meeting the Biblical requirement to marry "in the Lord") and there is no moral impediment to the marriage, I cannot see a justification for a parent to hinder that marriage. While the daughter and the parents may jointly come up with particular qualifications which they agree upon, which I think is reasonable in general, if the parents and the daughter are at odds because of excessive strictness on the part of the parents, then according to the wisdom of the godly men whom I have previously cited on this subject, it is the parents who should yield, not the daughter. Extra-Biblical requirements can amount to tyranny or slavery, and that authority is not given to parents. Marriage is a duty to those who have not the gift of continency and should not be hindered by parents unless on solid moral and Biblical grounds. This is taught by the Westminster Standards, as I have noted, and is the historic understanding of marriage according to the Reformers and their heirs. A father has a duty to be involved in the marriage of his child, but has not authority to hinder a reasonable marriage by withholding just consent. Perhaps the 'rub' lies in determining what is 'just consent,' but I have given examples of that earlier. In any case, the father's will is not absolute and consideration must be given to a daughter's calling to marriage and whether the requirements of a father are truly Biblical.
  13. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    No one is saying that the parents are neccessarily horrible, Janice. The problem lies with Gothard.

    He doesn't "just suggest"...he is dogmatic about his teachings. One of my closest friends was Alumni. Because we didn't go that direction (we couldn't afford the Advanced I know the Lord intentionally didn't let us go) they went from being mentors to us to hardly saying two words...(their sons fortunately do still speak to me when we run into each other...they are like brothers to me as I am closer to their age). We read their books...even some we weren't supposed to read (since we didn't go to that particular seminar) friend lives her life by an outline everyday and in bondage...
    She's constantly calling herself a glutton and she barely eats...she will only wear makeup based upon a book that is "recommended" by Gothard reading every ingredient on the label, using only certain cook books, etc. She admits that she misses witnessing oppurtunities because she has a list and schedule in her head and it's point A to point B to point C to the point where she can walk right by you and not see you because she is trying to be perfect...(can you picture the clergyman beating himself over and over for his sin in the Scarlett letter...that's her).
    Gothard teaches dogmatically that hospitals are evil places to birth a child. (my sister in law could have died due to this teaching...fortunately our mil was living with her and happened to be a nurse). He teaches that you have to pray the "sins of the parent" out of a child (especially if that child is adopted) and that that child WILL carry on the generational sin (where is God's sovereignty here or His changing of the believers nature?) this particular teaching I believe increased abuse in my own childhood. I didn't even know my father (mother divorced), but was made to pay for years by her and my s-dad for my father's sins (though my s-dad carried out the same sins as well).
    Gothard has taken good ideas...legalized them...warped them. The man is neither married nor has he children. He is accountable to no one and all are accountable to him (sound like a cult yet?)
    Book suggestion: A Matter of Basic Principles...this book was written when a cult watch group had received numerous phone calls and letters asking about Gothard and giving testamonies of abuse and scandal surrounding Gothard. I also suggest you do a web search...I have come across news reports of abuse within his varying reform schools and training schools.
  14. ChristianasJourney

    ChristianasJourney Puritan Board Sophomore

    I've been to both Gotherd seminars (years ago) and have known a number of people who are part of the Alumni (enthusiastic supports of him) their kids were in ATI, etc...and while they have been very much into rules and procedures I haven't encountered the same feelings that your friends have portrayed, toward you. If anything I've noticed to much of an openess to "strange thoughts" and not a well rooted understanding of Biblical principals, too many rules and not enough doctrine.

    I have researched Gothard on the web, and personally while I'm not a big fan of his, I'm not ready to believe what other's say about him either. I take everything I read with a grain of salt. Just ask my church history professor friend his opinions on Calvin, and his attitude will curl your toes. Is his information wrong, probably not, but there are two sides to every story, and any one side will sound really, really biased.

    I have a relative who tried to court a girl whose parents were big into Gothard, and that courtship went about as sour as you could it's not that I don't have an understanding of what's wrong. The principals taught by IBLP is often a really really skewered interpretation of scripture. I recognized that when I was 13.

    But this isn't about Gothard, and this doesn't make these parents more or less right because they're followers of Gothard. The point here is how much say does a Christan parent have over an adult child. Do they have a right to not give approval of a marriage based upon non-Biblical (not to be confused with anti-Biblical) criteria. At present I do feel that parents have that authority if those criteria aren't violating scripture. You can see this illustrated by the authority that God has given to fathers to be able to nullify a daughter's vow that they disagree with (Deut.), in such a case God will not hold the daughters accountable. You can also see it in cases such as Jacob asking Laban for his two daughters, and Moses being "given" Zipporah. In Judges in the story of Jephthah.

    A parent might see some undesirable qualities in a man dating their daughter...but qualities that don't contradict Biblical principals--he might be immature, short-sighted, too impulsive, or other traits which he believes will cause hardship, for his daughter, he is trying to protect her from the trajectory he can see her headed down. While I disagree with Gothard--and while he has turned some of what is good into a list of so many rules I believe that his basis and the reason why he encourages fathers to cause their daughter's beaus to jump through so many hoops is to raise them to maturity. (While I can't say how strong I disagree with this--and the frustration and provokation that's likely to result) that doesn't mean that a father doesn't have the right to tell his daughter that he wants her to wait until she and her beau are more mature, or that this isn't the right person for her.

    It isn't uncommon for two people who profess to be Christians to marry, and later for one to fall away and turn this "Christian marriage" into a nightmare. If before the marriage the parent perceives an immature in either one of them (and often this is the case) it is his responsibilty to do everything in his power to cause them to grow, or to tell them to wait (unfortuantely this seldom happens.)

    Anyway that's my conservative opinion.
  15. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Janice...I'm about as conservative as you get without going amish (I know, I've been there in a literal sense!). We also believe and are preparing our children to accept courtship rather than dating. My husband and I actually started out courting (but were allow to go to dating as we got older and were engaged for 2 LONG years). We had a whole town of chaperones (I kid you not!).

    You actually affirmed what I was trying to say. There are good ideas. But skewered. There are principles, but with faulty misuse of scripture as a foundation. This is where things get sticky.

    With all that said...

    There are at times extreme circumstances where marriage w/ or w/o a parents permission may be deemed appropriate. The gentlemen on this board are not sharing those details as they are personal. Therefore their cases may have had just cause. My case definately had just cause. I actually had permission under certain conditions. A teacher refused tolet me graduate as she did not want me getting married. I went and got my GED instead. In all actuality, I stayed in a bad situation when I could have married a year earlier. I wanted to do that which was right, but put my life in physical danger in so doing.

    Also the Bible does say that if the temptation is too great then let them marry. In other words, it is instructing thought towards understanding the situation and what is betimes neccessary.

    I have watched a friends children from ATI courting, the loops everyone had to jump through, and the disaster that it ended in. I think that there are better, more balanced ideas of courtship out there. Joshua Harris would be one of them.
  16. ChristianasJourney

    ChristianasJourney Puritan Board Sophomore

    I agree.
  17. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

  18. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    hmm...just some related stuffs;

    1. What is the christian woman's parents are unconverted? Does this change the situation at all? What if they are against her marrying a believer of any kind?

    2. Do a christian man's parents have the same kind of authority to control the marriage for their son?
  19. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I think the situation for a Christian young lady whose parents are not believers and in fact hostile to Christianity is indeed different from the situations that we have been discussing in this thread. Obviously, the Fifth Commandment is not negated because of the parents' unbelief; however, if the young woman is called to marriage it is her duty to marry in the Lord, and I argue that parents have no authority to hinder a Biblical union. Care must be taken by the young woman (and her beau, and ideally, the minister, etc.) not to offend the parents unnecessarily, but the parents cannot hinder what God would bring together.

    Parents have a Biblical duty to be involved in their sons' preparation for marriage just as much as their daughters'; however, there is a difference perhaps in how that plays out to the extent that the daughter is going from the headship of the father to the headship of her husband, while the son is leaving the headship of his father to become a head himself. The young woman's consent is crucial (witness Rebekah) and not to be trampled upon, but a young man is expected to be the initiator of the courtship and the young woman is not. All I'm saying is that there are some differences in the way it all plays out, but parents have a duty and a role in both cases.

    Colleen, I really appreciate your thoughts on this whole matter. Thank you for your wise and helpful remarks.

    One other point I'd like to make is that Laban is sometimes viewed as a good example of a father/father-in-law. I have read Calvin's and Poole's commentaries on the whole account with Jacob and Laban, and I am in agreement with them that Laban was "crafty" and "iniquitous." I would say that he was the antithesis of a good father/father-in-law. His requirements and dealings with Jacob ought not to be viewed as a model but as a warning to fathers which they should avoid.
  20. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Andrew, I'm not sure if I fully agree with you here. This could play out in varying ways. I had parents that insisted they were Christians and yet were hostile towards that selfsame Christianity in many ways. (confused yet?)

    Either way...I don't believe the commandment reads that Children obey your parents in the Lord, only if they are in the Lord, etc. I don't believe that a parent's unbelief is cause for rebelling. The areas that speak of exceptions, I believe are historically and scripturally given provision for.
  21. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I may not have been entirely clear. What I am trying to say is that the Fifth Commandment applies to all relationships whether the parties are Christians or not. However, just because the parents are unbelievers does not authorize them on the basis of the Fifth Commandment to prohibit an otherwise lawful and Biblical marriage on the part of their Christian daughter. I am just trying to reaffirm the very verse that you cited, ie., Children obey your parents in the Lord. If parents whether they be believers or unbelievers lay contra-Biblical requirements or conditions upon marriage to their children, I consider that to be an unlawful hindrance to marriage and submission in that case would not be obeying in the Lord but rather submitting to tyranny. A Christian young person in such a case ought to have recourse to the church or civil magistrate to remedy the abuse of parental authority and on that basis be able to proceed with a Biblical marriage even if the parents object for unBiblical reasons. Make sense?
  22. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

  23. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Cool! :)
  24. cultureshock

    cultureshock Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks, everyone, for your replies. I think the biggest struggle for me that left me in doubt was that my pastor threw out Numbers 30 largely due to his dispensational influence. I was never quite satisfied with that approach, since I affirm that the principle of corporate solidarity continues into the New Covenant. Since we believe this, my wife and I really wrestled with the idea of whether there ever exists a case in which it is lawful to go against authority, and if there did, whether ours was such a case. I do believe we did the right thing in marrying against her father's wishes, and that our case was one in which he was trying to delay the marriage without just cause.

  25. LadyFlynt

    LadyFlynt Puritan Board Doctor

    Glad the discussion was of service...and it made for good discussion at one came to blows
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