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On the Father-Daughter Relationship in Scripture

Against the background of the particular stress some Christian groups apply to the relationship between fathers and daughters, as well as the claim that the headship verse of 1Cor 11:3 places daughters under the authority of their fathers in the same way a wife is under the authority of her husband, I searched Scripture for what it has to say about father-daughter relationships, trying to find biblical backup for the above stress and claim. The result of my research is that there is no such thing as a special authority a father has over his daughters that would resemble that of a husband over his wife, and that making a father the guardian of his daughter's purity is a modern, not a biblical approach.

Before adressing the topic more specifically, let me say a few introductory words about the responsibility that Yahweh's Law Word places on the parents when it comes to raising their children properly.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Pro 22:6)

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deu 6:6-7)

Scripture clearly places the task of educating children not into the hands of some institution, but into the hands of the parents. They are called to raise their children properly, i.e., according to Yahweh's law and precepts, so that they may not be a burden or even an evil to the brethren comunity when they come of age. You see this responsibility reflected also in the following verses:

"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear." (Deu 21:18-21)

"Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" (1Ti 3:2-5)

"(...) if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. (...)" (Tit 1:6 -7)

If a person turns out to be unruly and insubordinate, a glutton and a drunkard, it falls back on the parents. The adult child's behavior proves that the parents were unable to raise their child properly, and the consequences according to Yahweh's Law Word, as depicted in Deu 21, are dire. Mind you, we are talking about adult children here who are gluttons, drunkards, insubordinate, and deaf to reproach, just like Paul talks about adult children of "overseers". The education must be finished, the children of age and accountable for their actions before Deu 21 will apply, and a person should not, according to Paul, become an overseer before his children, all of them, are of age and have shown that they are not departing from the way in which they were raised. Otherwise it would be impossible to determine if a man has been leading his house well, i.e. if he meets the requirements.

All of this being said, and notwithstanding the fact that it is certainly not wrong to impart on your children the importance of purity in mind, spirit and body, we do not find a special relationship between father and daughter being spelled out in Scripture that would justify reading the headship verse of 1Cor 11:3 as more universal, i.e. not directed to the relationship of husband and wife in particular, but to the relationship of fathers and daughters as well. Some present day Christians, however, stress the "headship" role of the father over the daughter (just like over his wife) and somehow make the father the guardian of his daughter's purity. While it might be a worthy goal and certainly biblical practice that a daughter of age enters marriage untouched, having her pledge her virginity to her father, thus making him the guardian of her purity, is not a biblical approach.

Looking at Yahweh's Law Word as well as practical examples of father-daughter relationships in Scripture, we cannot conclude that a father is the head of his daughters as he is the head of his wife. He and his wife are responsible for sons and daughters as described in the beginning, and both bear the burden of admitting to failure in the worst case scenario of Deu 21, but there is no indication anywhere in Scripture that children of age are to wear signs of their father's authority on their heads like wives do, neither girls nor boys. To infer this from Paul's headship verse means to add to Scripture what Yahweh's Law Word does not bear out, neither in this verse nor in its entirety.

The only chapter in the bible which describes a scenario in which a father and a husband have explicitly similar responsibilities over a daughter or wife is Numbers 30 where we find that fathers and husbands can nullify a daughter's or wife's vow on first notice, if they choose. The type of vow we are talking about here is specified a chapter before, which sets the context so that chapter 30 cannot be read as pertaining to any vow, but just to specific vows. The vows and pledges in question are those made in connection with freewill offerings, and so, to protect a family from financial ruin or a girl of age or a wife from personal ruin, fathers and husbands have the right to nullify their daughter's or wife's silly vows, and the Lord will forgive the woman. To conclude from these chapters that fathers and husbands have similar authority over daughters and wives generaly speaking would be pulling them out of context in a way that, again, is not supported by the totality of Scripture. The concern that is expressed in chapter 30 is that of economic ruin brought over the family by a silly pledge made by a daughter or wife, and the head of the family has the right to protect his household from such ruinous vows.

Pertaining to a daughter's purity in particular, we find only few statements in the case laws :

We read that the physical purity of a girl is something a husband can expect upon marriage. Basically, he pays the bride price for it. (Exo 22:16; Deu 22:16-21 for how to deal with fraud in this regard)

Furthermore, we read that daughters are not to be made prostitutes for it will be the downfall of the land, and that a daughter of a Levite will pay with her life for whoredom because her behavior falls back on her father, as we saw above, and profanes him. (Lev 19:29 and Lev 21:9)

But apart from the general rules on who is not to lie with whom, this is about all we find concerning a daughter's purity, and the father does not play a special role in either of these other than receiving money for his daughter's ruined reputation according to Deu 22, if she was accused falsely. Since the bride price was usually given to the bride as her private fortune to fall back on should she be dealt with deceitfully, this was "extra money" for the father that served as reparation for the fouled name of his daughter. So much for what the Law says about the matter.

The only practical example of a daughter's physical purity being taken without the parents' consent we find in the "Dinah-incident" in Gen 34, and the ones who seem to be most upset about Dinah being defiled are her brothers (Gen 34:7). They deal deceitfully with Dinah's seducer and his people and revenge their sister in such a fashion that their father Jacob rebukes them for putting Jacob and his whole household in jeopardy over it (Gen 34:30). The possible ruin of the whole family is a more important matter to Jacob that should not have been risked just to revenge the defilement of his daughter Dinah.

Other practical examples are even worse that Jacob's reaction: We find two incidents in which fathers offer their virgin daughters to a mob of sodomites in order to protect their guests (Gen 19:8 and Jdg 19:24). Not that these are examples to emulate, but they certainly show that it is not exactly biblical to elevate the father-daughter relationship to something that has as one of its main features the protection of the daughter's purity. Biblical fathers have shown to place another concern far over their daughters' purity, namely that of the safety of their household including guests residing under their roof.

If there are any "special" relationships between one parent and daughters or sons, they are between mothers and daughters as well as fathers and sons:

We find the proverb "like mother, like daughter" quoted in a negative sense in Eze 16:44 and explained in Eze 16:45, and we find that son will turn against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law in Mic 7:6, and then again in Mat 10:35 and Luk 12:53, each time linking the father to the son and the daughter to the mother, or daughter-in-law to the mother-in-law, and Micah and the New Testament verses implying that there would be a close connection between father and son/ mother and daughter, and that even those connections will be severed. So if you absolutely wanted to see a "special" relationship between one parent and a child, it would be to a child of the same sex as the parent. From a practical standpoint, this seems logical, as girls will have learned their skills mainly from their mother and boys theirs from their father. The Titus 2 woman might be a mother too, but more likely, this particular guidance is directed towards fellow brethren whose children are raised already and who have the time to help the younger ones out - the grandmothers, if you will. But over all, and certainly in terms of purity or authority, children are under the authority and responsibility of both parents, with the wife and mother herself being under the special authority of her husband, and the husband and father responsible for the whole house.

In conclusion, any attempt to create special relationships between fathers and daughters that place particular stress on the daughter's purity, or on the father's special authority over his daughters that should be shown by the daughters wearing a covering on their heads, might very well be well meant and give the daughters the feeling of a special bond to the father, but there is no biblical background for such a practice. Attempts to argue for such practices from Scripture have to rely on general statements while ignoring the particulars.