Why did the ancient Israelites pay a bride-price?
IN BIBLE times, the bride-price was given to the bride’s family at the time of a marriage arrangement. The bride-price may have included objects of value, animals, or money. At times, it was paid by performing labor, such as in the case of Jacob, who agreed to work for Rachel’s father for seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage. (Gen. 29:17, 18, 20) What was the purpose of this custom?
Bible scholar Carol Meyers notes: “A bride-price might compensate the bride’s family for the loss of a daughter’s labor, which was important in [agricultural] families.” The bride-price may also have served to strengthen the bond of friendship between the families now related by marriage. Those family ties could become a means of finding help during hard times. In addition, the bride-price established that a woman was engaged and that she would be moving from the care and protection of her father to that of her husband.
Paying the bride-price did not mean that the wife was an object that could be bought or sold. The book Ancient Israel—Its Life and Institutions states: “This obligation to pay a sum of money, or its equivalent, to the girl’s family obviously gives the Israelite marriage the outward appearance of a purchase. But the [bride-price] seems to be not so much the price paid for the woman as a compensation given to the family.”
Today, in some countries, people continue to follow the custom of paying a bride-price. When Christian parents request a bride-price, they let their “reasonableness become known to all” by not asking for more than is reasonable. (Phil. 4:5; 1 Cor. 10:32, 33) In this way, they demonstrate that they are not “lovers of money,” or greedy. (2 Tim. 3:2) In addition, when Christian parents do not request an unreasonably high bride-price, the future husband will not be forced to postpone the marriage until he has earned enough to pay the bride-price. Or the future husband will not feel obligated to give up his service as a pioneer because he must work full-time secularly to obtain the funds required to pay a very large bride-price.
In some parts of the world, the bride-price is regulated by law. Where this is the case, Christian parents abide by those laws. Why? God’s Word requires Christians to be “in subjection to the superior authorities” and to obey laws that do not conflict with God’s laws.—Rom. 13:1; Acts 5:29.