The Authority of Fathers in Giving Away their Daughters in Marriage

“If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth…  But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”

Num. 30:3-5

“…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.”

1 Cor. 7:36-37




How far Sons & Daughters are to Obey their Parents

The Mere Will or Determination of Authorities: an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reasons, Manifest to Consciences



Order of Contents

Importance of Parental Consent for Marriage
.      Articles  3
.      Quotes  25+
.      Historical  10+

When Parental Consent is Not Required  8+
Breaking Engagement Vows  1



On the Importance of Parental Consent in Marriage




Vermigli, Peter Martyr – ‘Whether it be Lawful for Children to Marry without the Consent of their Parents’  in Common Places  (1583), Part 2, ch. 10, pp. 431-437



Hall, Joseph – 4th Decade, Case 1, ‘Whether the Marriage of a Son or Daughter without or against the Parents’ Consent may be Accounted Lawful?’  in Cases of Conscience Practically Resolved Containing a Decision of the Principal Cases of Conscience of Daily Concernment & Continual Use Amongst Men: Very Necessary for their Information & Direction in These Evil Times  (London, 1654)

“Doubtless then, we may in a generality safely conclude that it is altogether unlawful for a child to sleight his parents consent in the choice of his marriage; There may be some particular cases incident wherein perhaps this may without sin or blame be forborn; as when:

The child either by general permission, or former elocation shall be out of the parents’ disposing, or where the parent is defective in his intellectuals, or where the child lives in remotis, out of the compass of intelligence; or where the parent being averse from the true religion denies his consent to match with any but those of his own strain; or shall upon other by-occasions willfully stand upon so unreasonable terms that neither friends nor authority can overrule him;

But where these or the like preponderating exceptions do not intervene, the child cannot without sin balk the parents’ consent to his choice in marriage.” – pp. 293-5

Turretin, Francis – 11th Topic, ‘The Law of God’, Q. 16, ‘May Children Withdraw Themselves from the Power of Their Parents & Marry Without their Consent?  We Deny Against the Papists.’  in Institutes (P&R), vol. 2, pp. 104-112



A  Collection of Quotes

Barth, Paul – ‘The Importance of Parental Consent in Marriage’  (2019)  a collection of 25 quotes

Including quotes by Luther, the Scottish First Book of Discipline, the Hungarian Confessio Catholica, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Sandomierz Consensus, Beza, Bucer, Calvin, Ursinus, Bucanus, Perkins, Cleaver, Gouge, Westminster Directory for Public Worship, WCF, Gurnall, S. Clarke, Watson, Turretin, Poole, Vincent, Henry, Fisher, Willard, Brown of Haddington.





William Attersoll

A Commentary upon the Fourth Book of Moses, Called Numbers  (London, 1618)

pp. 704-705

“The donation of Ananias and Sapphira was made to God for the use of the poor, it lay not now in their power nor in the Churches to revoke and reverse that grant, wherein God became now to be interessed.

We see this in marriage, published in the face of the Church, solemnized by consent of parties and parents, ratified by the action of the minister, and celebrated in the presence of many friends; the knot cannot be untied, no not by agreement of the parents, of the parties, of the minister, of the friends, and of the whole congregation, because marriage is not of the nature of a civil contract, but God is a party and hath a special hand in it, and whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder, or separate again without his consent. (Mt. 19:6)”


p. 781

“Thirdly, it condemneth such as vow, having no power or authority in themselves, to bind themselves; such vows cannot bind, being made against the law of nature.  For all lawful vows must be made with consent of their superiors, so long as they are under the government of others, as appeareth by the fifth commandment, ‘Honour thy father, etc.’ (Ex. 20:12)”


p. 1,159

“Fifthly, such as are wicked and ungodly vows…  And thus two evils meet together, the one whereof is to vow, the other to perform such a vow; and therefore such vows are not to be kept.  This serveth to set before the eyes of many their folly, who never consider what the vow is which they have taken upon them to observe, but if they can say, I have a vow to do this or that, they grow obstinate and settled in evil, and will by no means be removed, yea and think they are bound by virtue of their vow to do it, and are discharged of all fault and offence when they have done it: whereas that which is evil to vow, is much worse to perform; and therefore they must repent of their rash vow, and not proceed to the accomplishment of it, for that were to add one transgression to another, as it were drunkenness unto thirst, and to plunge themselves into endless destruction both of soul and body.

This is the case of many young men and women who have entangled themselves in such vows, by promising marriage either to other without the consent of parents; they often pretend great scruple of conscience, which cannot be tied by such evil vows, the vow was evil, and therefore the way is not to go forward, but to crave pardon of God for that evil, as here it is prescribed in this Chapter [Num. 30].”


p. 1166

“Lastly, the question may be asked touching the daughter of a man given in marriage, the husband commandeth one thing, and the father another, whether of these is to be obeyed, the husband, or the father?

I answer, the husband.  For, as she must obey her husband before the father, so she is to love the husband better also, and God commandeth the man to leave father and mother and to cleave to his wife (Gen. 2:24), which is also a commandment unto the woman to leave parents, and to cleave to her husband, for they twain shall be one flesh, Mt. 19:5; Eph. 5:31; 1 Cor. 6:16:

Therefore in this [latter] case the will of the husband is to be preferred before the will of the father.  For as it is in the two great lights which God hath set in the firmament, the lesser evermore giveth place to the greater, and when the sun shineth, the light of the moon fadeth and vanisheth away: so when the greater authority of the husband commeth in place, the lesser power and authority of the father ceaseth.  Besides, his giving of her in marriage to the husband is a giving away of his own right over her, as well as over that portion of goods which he bestoweth with her: so that now his authority is abridged, nay clean abolished.”


pp. 1,167-8

“The second duty is obedience to their lawful commandments in performing of their will, howsoever sometimes they may seem unpleasant and unpleasing unto them, Mt. 21; Col. 3:20; Jer. 35; Deut. 21:18-19…

…in the greatest matter of all that doth most nearly concern them, I mean their marriage, when they shall begin to think of seeking a companion to live with them in that estate.

Thus all faithful children were content to submit themselves to their parents, and to be ordered by them, and never attempt to bestow themselves in marriage without their parents’ knowledge, Gen. 24:3.  So did Jacob at the commandment of his father, and the advice of his mother, and by consent of them both, Gen. 27:46 & 28:1.

This was observed of those that otherwise led no sanctified life, Gen. 21:21, yea of the very heathen themselves.  I will produce one testimony among many others, and that is of king Cyrus after he had conquered Babylon, and come home in triumph, his uncle Cyaraxis offered him his daughter unto wife: he thanked his uncle, and praised the maid, and liked the dowry, but for giving consent to marriage, he made him this answer, which I would it were observed and followed of all Christians:

“O Cyaraxe, tò te genos Epainô, kai tén paida, kai dôra; boulomai de, ephê sun tê toû patros gnómê, kai tes metros tanta sunainesai,” (Xenoph., Cyrop., book 8)

which is englished in this manner: “Uncle Cyaraxis, I commend the stock and the maid, and the portion; howbeit” (saith he) “by the counsel of my father and mother I will assent unto you:” as if he had said, without their advice I can do nothing.  All histories, philosophers and poets in a manner, are full of the practice of this duty (Terent in phormion).  And no marvel, for this is agreeable to the common principle in nature, “Whatsoeuer ye would that other men should do unto you, do ye even so to them,” Mt. 7:12.

Sampson saw a maid in Timnah that liked him well, notwithstanding he spake not one word to her, but came back to his parents, and desired them to make the marriage for him.  They were the first whom he acquainted with his purpose: not as in our days, wherein commonly the parents are the last.  Judg. 14:2, “Get her to me, for she pleaseth me well.”

For seeing parents have taken great pains, and bestowed great cost in bringing up their children, it is reason they should reap some fruits of their labor and travail in the bestowing of them in marriage, and thereby be acknowledged more wise and better able to provide and foresee for them, than themselves.

This justly reproveth many children in our days, that never regard this duty, and condemneth the common practice of our corrupt age so much degenerated and grown out of course, that they never require nor regard the consent of their parents in their matches and marriages; but make their choice after the lust of their eyes, and the delight of their hearts, in despite of father, mother, governor, kinsfolks, friends, yea God Himself, and all good order.  These oftentimes run on in haste, and on an head, and learn to repent at leisure.  For we live not longer after the holy examples of the patriarchs in former time, then we come far behind them and live different from their manners and godly discipline.

…Such likewise as run upon their own heads, and will not be advised either in the course of their life, or in the choice of their companion to live withal in married estate, like Esau, that profane Esau, who against the liking and good will of his parents, took Canaanitish women to be his wives (Gen. 26:35), to the great grief of the hearts of his godly parents.”


p. 1,257

“For as children ought to have the consent of their careful parents, and not to dare to bestow themselves without their advice, which practice we see in the very gentiles, as appeareth in Euripides, where Hermione answereth Orestes, desiring of her a promise of marriage (Eurip., in Andromacha):

‘Sponsaliorum meorum pater meus curam
habebit, non est meum statuere hoc;’

That is:

‘It lyeth not in my hand at all
myself for to contract:
Unto my father’s care and power,
I must refer that act:'”


Thomas Boston, Works, 2:221:

“That children ought not to dispose of themselves in marriage without the consent of parents, is the constant doctrine of the Protestant churches. And the reasons are these:

(1) The scripture gives the power of making marriages for children to the parents, Deut. 7:3; Jer. 29:6; 1 Cor. 7:37, 38. Yea, even after parties have consented, it is left to the parent, whether to give his abused daughter to him that has been guilty with her, Ex. 22:16, 17.

(2) The most approved examples of marriage in scripture go this way, Gen. 24:3, 4; 28:1, 2; and 29:19; Judg. 14:2.

(3) Lastly, The reason is plain; for the child cannot give away any thing that is his parents’ against their will. Now, the child himself is the parents’, a part of their self-moving substance, in which they have a most undoubted property. So, when the devil was permitted to fall upon what was Job’s, he fell upon his children, and killed them in the first place. Yet, upon the other hand, no parent can force a child to marry such and such a person; for consent makes marriage, and that which is forced is no consent. The child must be satisfied as well as the parent, Gen. 24:57. So the short of it is, that the consent of both is necessary, and that the parent must neither force the child, nor the child rob the parent.”






Jones, Peter  2017

‘Marriage in Medieval Canon Law’

‘Choosing the Right Spouse in Geneva’

‘Premarital Sex in Calvin’s Geneva’

‘Impediments to Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva’

‘Parental Consent to Marriage in Geneva’

‘Cold Feet in Calvin’s Geneva’

‘Courtship, Engagement & Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva’

‘Engagement, Marriage & Consent in Calvin’s Geneva’

‘Consent, Coercion, & Conditions to Marriage in Geneva’

‘The Economics of Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva’

Manring, Benjamin – ‘Parental Consent in the Formation of Marriage: a Forgotten Legacy’  n.d.  38 pp.

This article is in general excellent, both in the history of the issue and in setting forth the Biblical data.

Table of Contents

Intro  1
I.  Marriage under Medieval Roman Catholicism  2
II.  Marriage & the Gospel  5
III.  Parental Consent in Reformed & Lutheran Civil Marriage Ordinances  7
IV.  Age of Maturity  8
V.  The Exegetical Basis for Parental Consent  10
VI.  The Reformed Confessions  (10 Confessions)  21
VII.  England & the Puritans  (21 Individuals)  25
VIII.  Concluding Thoughts



When Parental Consent is Not Required for Marriage


Fentiman, Travis – ‘Qualified Headship: That the Father’s Authority Within His Proper Sphere is Qualified and Limited, as Respecting the Marriage of His Daughters’  (RBO, 2014)  42 pp.

Does the Bible teach that a father may forbid the marriage of his daughter for any reason? Must the father’s will always be obeyed if he does not require one to sin, though he is acting in ignorance and sin himself? A rising tide in Christianity believes the Bible’s answer to these two questions is Yes.

This paper demonstrates that the Bible’s answer, and the answer of the large part of historic, reformed Christianity, is No. Daughters and their suitors are justified before God in getting married against the father’s will in certain grievous situations where, there is not “just cause.”


Collection of Quotes

Fentiman, Travis – ch. 2 of ‘Qualified Headship: that the Father’s Authority within his Proper Sphere is Qualified & Limited, as Respecting the Marriage of his Daughters’  including 12 quotes from the puritan era




The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France – ch. 13, ‘Of Marriages’, Canons 1-5  (1559)  in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, vol. 1, p. xlix


John Calvin

Commentary on Matt 8:21

“21. Lord, permit me to go first and bury my father.   …He was prevented from immediately obeying the call of Christ by the weakness of thinking it a hardship to leave his father.  It is probable that his father was in extreme old age: for the mode of expression, Permit me to bury, implies that he had but a short time to live.  Luke says that Christ ordered him to follow; while Matthew says that he was one of his disciples.  But he does not refuse the calling: he only asks leave for a time to discharge a duty which he owes to his father.  The excuse bears that he looked upon himself as at liberty till his father’s death.  

From Christ’s reply we learn, that children should discharge their duty to their parents in such a manner that, whenever God calls them to another employment, they should lay this aside, and assign the first place to the command of God.  Whatever duties we owe to men must give way, when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to Himself.  All ought to consider what God requires from them as individuals, and what is demanded by their particular calling, that earthly parents may not prevent the claims of the highest and only Father of all from remaining entire.”



Samuel Bolton

‘True Christian Freedom’  on Jn. 8:36, from The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, ch. 1

“(iv) Freedom from Obedience to Men

In the next place we observe that the believer is not only freed from Satan, from sin, and from the law; he is also freed from obedience to men.  We have no lords over us; men are our brethren; and our Lord and Master is in heaven.  We find in Scripture a double charge: do not usurp mastership, do not undergo servitude.  Consider the first, not to usurp mastership.  We read in the Word: ‘Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. . . . Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.’ (Matt. 23.8-10)

As for the second, not to undergo servitude, we read: ‘Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7:23).  The meaning is, that we are not to acknowledge any our supreme master, nor are we to give our faith and consciences, nor enthral our judgments, to the sentences, definitions, or determinations of any man or men upon earth, because this would be to make men masters of our faith, which the apostle so much abhorred: ‘We are not masters of your faith, but helpers of your joy’ (2 Cor. 1:24).  

There are two kinds of masters, masters according to the flesh, and masters according to the spirit.  The first kind you read of in Eph. 6:5-7: ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh’.  The second kind we read of in Matt 23:8-10, as already mentioned.  To our masters according to the flesh we are to be obedient, so far as appertains to the outward man, in all outward things.  But of our souls and consciences, as we have no fathers, so we have no masters upon earth, only our Master and Father which is in Heaven; and in this sense Christ speaks, that we must not absolutely yield up ourselves to be ruled by the will of any, nor enthrall our judgments, nor submit our faith and consciences to any power below Christ. It were high usurpation for any to require it; it is to trespass on Christ’s Royal Prerogative, and it were no less iniquity for us to render it.


William Gouge

Of Domestical Duties…  (London, 1662), the 5th Treatise, the Duties of Children, pp. 449-50

“§18. Of a child’s carriage in case a parent provide an unfit mate or none at all.

2nd Question, “What if the parent be negligent, and in due time provide no fit match?  May not the child provide one for himself?

Answer:  A parent’s negligence is not a sufficient pretext to make a child [wholly] cast off that subiection which he owes to his pa­rent.  Yet I deny not but that a child knowing where a fit match is to be had, may make known as much to his parent (as Sampson did) and crave both his consent and help there­unto, Judg. 14:2.  And if his parent give no ear to his humble suit, he may use the mediation of his kindred or other friends.

Yea if necessity require that the child be married, and his parent add wilfulness to negligence, and will not be moved at all, neither by the humble suit of his child, nor by the earnest so­licitation of any friends, means may be made to the Magi­strate (who is in God’s place over the parent as well as over the child, and ought to afford relief unto the child) and what the Magistrate does in that case is as good a warrant to the child as if the parent had done it.

The like means may be used if a parent be an idolater, heretic, or atheist, and will not yield that his child be mar­ried to any but to one of his own profession and dispo­sition.”


Francis Turretin

Institutes (P&R), vol. 2, 11th Topic, ‘The Law of God’, Q. 16, ‘May Children Withdraw Themselves from the Power of Their Parents & Marry Without their Consent?  We Deny Against the Papists.’, p. 108

“XV.  …the orthodox maintain…  the question here…

(3)  …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 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.”



Thomas Ridgley

Body of Divinity (1731; 1814), vol. 3, pp. 522-523, commenting on Westminster’s Larger Catechism

“[1.]  We do not speak of parents that are so far deprived of judgment, that they are not fit to determine this matter;

nor, [2.] Such as have divested themselves of the natural affection of parents, and entertaining an ungrounded prejudice against some of their children, are endeavoring to expose them to ruin, that they may show more kindness to others.  These forfeit that right, which is otherwise founded in nature.

[3.]  If parents, by refusing to comply with the desire of their children, plainly, in the judgment of the wisest of men, obstruct their happiness, and the glory of God herein.  Or, if they have no reason for their not complying, or the reason given is contrary to the laws of God, or the common sense of all impartial judges; especially if the affair took its first rise from them, and afterwards they changed their mind, without sufficient ground.  This, without doubt, lessens, or it may be so circumstanced, that it wholly takes away the charge of sin in the child, in acting contrary to the will of his parents, and fastens the guilt on them.

[4.]  The case is vastly different, when applied to children who are so far from being dependent on their parents, that they depend on them.  Nevertheless, in this case, some deference and respect ought to be paid to them; and as it is the children’s duty, it may be their interest so to do; since we can hardly suppose, that parents, who depend on their children, would oppose their happiness, in an affair that is apparently contrary to their own interest, if they did not think that they had sufficient reason for it; which ought to be duly weighed, that it may be known, whether their advice is expedient to be complied with, or no.

And if in this, or any other instance, children are obliged to act contrary to the will of their parents; they ought to satisfy them, that it is not out of contempt to their authority, but a conscientious regard to the glory of God; and that it is conducive to their happiness, in the opinion of the wisest and best of men.”



On the Scottish Reformation

Todd, Margo – pp. 267-68  in ch. 6, ‘Church & Family’  in The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland  (Yale University Press, 2002)



On Breaking Engagement Vows


Scottish Reformation

Todd, Margo – p. 268  in ch. 6, ‘Church & Family’  in The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland  (Yale University Press, 2002)




Related Page

 The Family