Bride-Price—How Should Christians View It?
THE ancient custom of paying a bride-price is still practiced in many lands. In most cases, payment is in the form of money, along with gifts of valuables. The value varies from place to place and from family to family, depending on social status, education, and other factors. It is set by law in some countries, although few people observe the fixed price.
Careful consideration shows that the modern custom involves more than paying a bride-price. Hence, it is wise to consider how this can affect you as a Christian.
In Papua New Guinea, the bride-price payment is like a transfer of assets from one family group, the bridegroom’s extended family, to the corresponding group on the bride’s side of the marriage. The payment can range from $100 to $46,000, depending on the affluence of the bridegroom’s family. In Sri Lanka, the situation is the reverse. The parents of the bride have to give a dowry to the bridegroom. This may include jewelry, property, house, and cash. So that the property will not get out of the family, it is customary to marry a first cousin.
In many parts of Africa, the payment is one of the customary requirements that makes a contract of marriage complete and valid. “Among the Igbos,” says a Nigerian father whose daughter was being prepared for marriage, “payment of the bride-price is essential for the marriage to have cultural recognition. Acceptance of it is a token of the consent of the girl’s family. It satisfies the people’s concept of marriage. For this reason, even a marriage contracted in a church or in the government registry would not be recognized in the local community unless the bride price was paid.”
How It Can Affect the Father
Among these African people, the payment used to be a symbolic gesture demonstrating the man’s ability to maintain a family. Members of his family would visit the girl’s parents for token bargaining over the bride-price. In many areas this is no longer the case, as fathers now actually bargain for the highest price they can possibly get. Amounts ranging from about $12, which is set by law in some areas of Nigeria, to $1,400 or more are demanded. Money or gifts may even be expected before the initial visit of the suitor’s parents. Then, as in Zaire, more may have to be paid to “unlock the father’s mouth,” that is, to induce him to negotiate the price for his daughter. Even after a certain sum is paid, other payments and gifts can be demanded.
Such practices can encourage greed for money. Yet, the Bible says: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Because of greed, people can become extortioners, and this brings God’s disfavor. The Bible tells us that no “greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”—Ephesians 5:5; compare Proverbs 20:21; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10.
Yet, there is nothing improper in giving a bride-price to the father as a token compensation for the loss of a daughter he reared and educated. A prospective son-in-law could properly view this payment as a symbol of his appreciation for the training given his fiancée. However, some parents try to recover all that they spent, feeling that their married daughters will not help in educating the younger children. Such parents look for the highest bride-price possible, as if their daughters were mere commodities for sale. But they owe their children a good upbringing. Their pride should be in fulfilling this obligation, not in seeing how much they can get back in terms of money or prestige through an exorbitant bride-price. Instead of leading parents to think of material advantages that children can bring, the Bible says: “Children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.”—2 Corinthians 12:14.
Demands made by some professed Christian fathers disregard the financial means of young Christian suitors. Why, there are cases in which such fathers have refused reasonable offers made by Christian brothers because worldly men offered more! Some even leave negotiations to worldly relatives, who then demand an exorbitant price. While this bargaining goes on, the situation could push the young people into fornication. This is what takes place among worldly people. It often happens that a frustrated young couple will use pregnancy as the easiest means of forcing the girl’s family to accept what the suitor can afford to pay.
Christians should not act in this way. God’s Word forbids fornication, and those committing it may be expelled from the congregation. (1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4) A father cannot absolve himself of blame if his extortionate demands contribute to his daughter’s falling into immorality. Such blame could seriously affect his standing in the congregation. Likewise, accepting bride money in any amount from a worldly person in order to marry a dedicated Christian daughter to him is untheocratic. Doing this disqualifies a brother at least for certain special privileges in the congregation. Christian parents should want their young people to remain strong in the Christian congregation and should help them to maintain chaste conduct. They should desire their daughters to be happily married “only in the Lord,” to husbands who also love Jehovah and have deep respect for his laws and principles.—1 Corinthians 7:39.
It is unchristian to treat the bride-price as a means of making money off one’s own child, extortionately charging more than what is right. A Christian father must guard against greed and selfishness, as this could seriously affect his spirituality and the privileges he enjoys in the congregation.—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
Happily, many Christian fathers have shown consideration in what they have requested as a bride-price, and this reveals a fine attitude. Some have even chosen not to require a bride-price at all, in order to guard against abusing the custom and causing spiritual troubles.
How It Can Affect the Bride and Groom
A girl’s greed has, in a number of cases, influenced the amount the parents set as a bride-price. There are those who ask for a very costly and showy wedding, even nagging their parents constantly for this. Others demand that their parents buy costly utensils for use in the new household. In order to take care of such demands, a father may feel it necessary to increase the bride-price.
This, in turn, forces the bridegroom to begin his married life under a burden of debts incurred for a costly wedding and expensive furniture. God’s Word says that “the wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.” Young couples should let their “reasonableness become known to all men” by planning a wedding that does not put a heavy financial burden on anyone.—James 3:17; Philippians 4:5.
After the wedding, a wife could begin to measure her husband’s love for her by the amount he paid as the bride-price. She may feel insecure if he made a small payment. She could reason that if he should get tired of her and wish to send her away, he would readily do so, being willing to forfeit the small amount he paid. It is true that some husbands have sent their wives back to their parents for various reasons, such as not being able to produce children or showing a rebellious spirit. This is unwittingly encouraged by those who say to a young man who has just paid the bride-price: “You have bought a wife.” If he had paid a high price, he could be tempted to view his wife as a purchased servant instead of his most intimate friend. Also, for various reasons, fathers have returned the bride-price and compelled their daughters to leave their husbands.
There are those who argue that a high bride-price helps to discourage this because of the difficulty of recovering or refunding a large amount of money. They also feel that a high price cuts down on early marriages, since it takes longer for a man to save toward getting married. These considerations, they feel, result in mature and responsible husbands and more stable marriages.
True as this may be in some cases, the stability of a Christian marriage should not be based on such materialistic considerations. A Christian husband’s faithfulness should not depend on what he may lose materially if the marriage breaks up. Rather, he should be governed by the Scriptural principle: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:6) Instead of viewing wives as purchased property, husbands are commanded to ‘assign them honor.’ (1 Peter 3:7) Jesus said that a man and a woman become “one flesh” when they marry. (Matthew 19:5; Genesis 2:24) The Bible counsels husbands to love their wives, to cherish them and care for them, just as they do their own bodies. (Ephesians 5:28, 29) Furthermore, the real measure of a man’s love should be the way he treats his wife during the years after the wedding. Whether a husband has paid any bride-price or not, if he takes good care of his wife and is loyal in his love, could anyone doubt that he loves her?
The bride-price can also affect the way a husband views his wife’s parents. Having paid a high bride-price, he could conclude that he no longer owes them anything, even if they fall into need. Yet, the Bible says: “If any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.” (1 Timothy 5:4) Christians follow this counsel, but a problem can develop if a husband allows the fact that he paid a bride-price to distort his sense of responsibility.
Maintain a Balanced View
Certain practices connected with the bride-price could create special problems for a young man who is going to marry a spiritual sister whose parents are not Christians. They could require him to participate in rites based on ancestor worship and belief in the immortality of the soul. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4) But could he do this without losing God’s favor and the blessing Jehovah reserves for those who have ‘purified their souls by their obedience to the truth’? (1 Peter 1:22; Revelation 18:4) Facing such demands, a dedicated Christian must always be determined to “obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
The foregoing comments about extortion, avoiding fornication, and marrying only fellow believers apply equally when the bride’s family provides a dowry. A Christian girl and her parents should not be guided by worldly standards in the choice of a husband. Marrying a non-Christian is an act of disobedience to God. Through Moses, He told the Israelites: “You must form no marriage alliance with them. Your daughter you must not give to his son, and his daughter you must not take for your son.” (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 7:39) Obviously, it would be inappropriate for young Christian men or women to advertise themselves in public newspapers as seeking eligible marriage partners. It is among their Christian brothers and sisters that they should look for suitable mates.
Marriage is a sacred arrangement of Jehovah, and all of us should be guided by what he says about it in his Word. Intense love for Jehovah, our children, and our fellow believers should lead us to steer clear of all practices that violate what is right and good. (Psalm 119:105; Hebrews 4:12) The blessing of Jehovah is certain to continue with those who let his Word guide them in decisions regarding not only bride-price and dowry but also all other affairs of life.—Proverbs 10:22.