Does the Bible condone paying for a bride like property? (A look at the Bride-Price)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 130 0

Throughout Scripture there are events, customs, and many other things that are generally seen as backward to a modern reader. One of these appears in Genesis 34:12, Exodus 22:16, and 1 Samuel 18:25. These verses speak about a bride-price. A man was to pay money to the family of the would-be wife for her hand in marriage (think of something like a dowry). Paying a price for a bride is seen by some as degrading to a woman because it treats her like property. Is this true? Does the Bible treat women as mere property because of this?

Quite to the contrary this is not the way that it was understood in Ancient Israel. First off, the Hebrew word for bride-price (mohar) is better translated as “marriage gift” (or “marriage present”).[1] This helps us to understand what the gift was all about. The marriage gift was usually several years’ worth of wages and helped the bride’s family compensate for the work that the woman would have provided for them. It also helped to provide economic stability for the new marriage, create closer family ties, and provide security in case of divorce or the death of a spouse.[2]

More importantly, however, paying a bride-price (remember which was usually several years of wages) showed that the man had serious intentions in marrying the young woman. It made him value the marriage as it would be costly and hard to get. This would force him to make a full and formal commitment instead of making marriage a quick decision (like it is for so many today). This would make the man appreciate and work hard for marriage.[3]

Paying a bride-price was not degrading towards a woman. It honored her instead of treating her like property. This is a “problem” that skeptics take away from the verses in question simply because they do not understand the customs recorded in the Bible.

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[1] Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 117. Richard Davidson. Flame of Yahweh (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 249. Daniel Block. “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World Ken M. Campbell ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003), 57.

[2] Copan, 117. Block, 57.

[3] Copan, 117. Douglas K. Stuart. Exodus (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2006), 510.

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