[Written by a father of a beautiful daughter who will someday soon desire to marry…a man other than me!]
36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. 39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:35-39)
From what I read in 1 Corinthians 7:36-39, it appears that the father does have a role in approving his daughter’s marriage, but absent is a particular reference to “handpicking” the man. In fact, two passages in Proverbs indicate quite the contrary: “House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD” (Proverbs 19:14); and, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” (Proverbs 18:22)
Fathers do not provide a son a wife, the Lord does, and in the former case (Proverbs 19:14), we may be talking about the son’s dad seeking out a suitable wife for his son, rather than the daughter’s! In the latter verse, the emphasis is on finding a wife, and the one finding a wife, is the man, and when he has succeeded, he obtains favor from the Lord. Despite what we might understand about ancient culture, it seems to me from these plain scriptures, if anyone is on the hunt, it’s the man, not someone’s father.
Even still, the Corinthians passage is unclear if it is written to the father or to the male suitor–therefore we can’t be dogmatic. So the question for the father is, as a father am I getting direction from the Lord to allow my daughter to marry, or to keep her single? The backdrop is Paul’s preference that all remain as he is, i.e. single, especially in light of the “present distress” and the distractions and divided devotions of marriage. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of grace in what Paul writes, and an acknowledgement of how God pre-wired man and woman, that there is likely a consuming passion, i.e. burning (1 Cor. 7:9) to cohabit and to fill each other’s gaps. Otherwise, why would the fact that Adam was alone, “not good” in God’s opinion, and why was a “suitable helper” necessary? (Genesis 2:18) Truth is, we are thankful that Paul’s parents found each other!
Back to the passage, does the father alone determine on his own whether he should give his daughter in marriage or to keep her single? I see a necessary “buy-in” from the daughter. I find it difficult to believe that a dad can unilaterally decide the fate of his daughter when the “bloom of her youth” is about to fall and her desire to marry “must be so.” If the daughter cannot abide singleness, such a desire, in my mind, is the “constraint” talked about in verse 37. Behind the word “constraint” is the meaning “press tight,” or the idea of necessity and inevitability. So the operative phrases in these verses are “if it must be so,” and “not under constraint.” Consequently, the father is “hard-pressed” to withhold if marrying is indeed the daughter’s will.
So if the daughter is the marrying kind, the father is left with one primary task, and again, presumably in an advisory role; to be assured that the man is a believer in Jesus Christ. We see this alluded to in verse 39, referring to widows, who, upon the death of their husbands, are free to marry “whoever they wish,” but only someone “in the Lord.”
Everything else, all those prerequisites we might tack on, such as possessing a good name and occupation, a godly heritage, or sizable wealth, are irrelevant, as we recall from whom an “excellent wife” comes. Even then, Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent wife, who can find?” pointing again to the need for a Divine Matchmaker.
The most important conversation that should take place between a father and a prospective son-in-law, therefore, (outside of his salvation experience) is how the Lord led him to your daughter. If the marriage is “made in heaven,” then expect “Grade B” miracles in the story. Then you will be convinced that he is the one.
Only the Lord can provide an excellent wife, but the father knows above all others, in his heart of hearts, that the woman he has raised is worthy of this description–an excellent wife. He does not sin in releasing her to take on the role of suitable helper, that precious invaluable role she was designed by God to play.