Outdated Tradition or Biblical Truth?

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Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s right—and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s sacred.

As a child I loved to pull my parents’ wedding album from under the bookshelf that held the fiction. I would dust it off and page through, pausing at my favorites. My parents’ wedding color was red, matching the church’s Christmas trees decorated with white lights and red bows. Candles lined the aisle, and everything glowed.

But paging through it now, the glow and perfection are marred by my updated perspective.

In one photo, my grandfather lowers my mother’s veil over her face, shrouding her as he prepares to give her away like a gift.

It’s one of many images—my parents kneeling together to pray, leaning in to kiss, holding the knife together to cut the cake—but it’s the one that bothers me the most.

It’s a moment that doesn’t reflect my parents’ marriage. My dad didn’t ask for his father-in-law’s blessing before proposing to my mom. My parents have always been equals, so it’s strange to see my mother being given away, a gesture that hearkens back to arranged marriages.

According to Susan Waggoner, author of I Do, I Do! The Origins of 100 Classic Wedding Traditions, the presence of the father with the bride at a wedding was to intimidate the groom and make sure the arranged marriage actually took place. In our current culture, where people marry for love, it seems unhelpful to perpetuate a symbol that is no longer an accurate representation of marriage.

But because this tradition has become so ingrained in our culture, we—especially we Christians— latch onto it.

For Christians, a wedding is a sacred commitment two people make to each other and to God. For that reason, it should be approached with reverence and care. My concern is that Christians confuse the importance of weddings with the importance of outdated traditions. There seems to be a fear among Christians to let go of certain traditions, perhaps because we have let ourselves see them as integral to the Christian wedding ceremony. But just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s right—and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s sacred.

The Bible doesn’t give us detailed instructions on what a marriage ceremony should entail. We have the freedom to choose wedding traditions that suit us or to design our own. We should make sure those traditions represent us and our commitments.

My mother being given away at her wedding was a misrepresentation of my parents’ relationship. They followed the tradition because it was expected, but it was out of place in their marriage.

While I am uncomfortable with certain wedding traditions, I know there are plenty of people who have good reason to feel differently. As time passes, we give traditions new connotations. For some women, walking down the aisle with their dad is meaningful and beautiful. I don’t want to tell those women that they’re wrong, but I do think we should examine traditions to make sure they mean what we think they mean.

As a Christian community, it’s important to support people who decide to do away with certain wedding traditions, trusting that new traditions are being formed that honor the relationship and glorify God.

I hope to get married someday, and I hope to involve my parents in the ceremony. But I won’t have my dad give me away. My parents conformed to a tradition that made no sense in the context of their relationship. I hope that every part of my wedding will be a true representation of the commitment I want to make.

About the Author

April Otto is a graduate of George Fox University, Newberg, Oreg., who grew up in the Reformed tradition.

See comments (3)


The article is well intentioned but not well researched. Your story of giving away the bride is one I have never heard before. For centuries men and boys were taught to protect women and girls. Often there was very little legal protection for girls and women. A man was expected to protect his wife and daughters. If a father died before his daughters were married their brothers offered this protection. The father who had protected his daughter passed this duty of protection to her husband. It had nothing to do with ownership or pressuring the groom to go forward with the marriage.

Rev. Harold Westra

Hello April,
    As a husband and a father who has been blessed with four daughters, now married, your article made my heart ache a little. I too have often questioned the proper place of traditional practices and Heaven knows, the Christian Church is full of them. I have also learned that some traditions have great value, being born of wisdom and testing over the ages.
    Our sons in law met with my wife and me before they proposed marriage to ask advice and discuss what would be their most important life decision so far, rather than to seek permission for our daughters’ hands in marriage and we commended and respected them for it.
    Our daughters, although strong and independent, do lean toward tradition and each one asked that we “walk them down the aisle” during the wedding ceremony. This was not our way of transferring ownership or intended to intimidate the groom but an ushering into a new life, new relationships and new challenges. As a father I had been the “main man” in my daughters’ lives for decades and I was now giving up that role to another man, as I was bound to do. I must say it was an act full of both love and apprehension.
    So I hope that you find someone to make the rest of your life full and rich and can celebrate your marriage in a way that is meaningful and true to you. Perhaps you can even start some new traditions. And for what it’s worth, I have come to believe that discarding old traditions is sometimes in order but like throwing out old relics, should be done only with the utmost care and caution as some of them may be worth more than you think.

When we got married in 1980 we broke tradition also when my wife's parents both escorted her up the aisle. I do recall not asking permission from her father but she did phone her parents immediately when we got engaged with the good news. I think the idea of the father escorting her daughter up the aisle could be based on God bringing Eve to Adam but that's just my guess.