Marriage arrangements vary across time and cultures. The Western tradition of man on bended knee proposing marriage to his unsuspecting darling is a relatively new practice. In past times, and in many cultures today, marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Although the idea of a woman proposing to a man is slowly gaining acceptance, it is still considered the norm for the man to initiate a marriage proposal. But simply because a practice is traditional doesn’t mean it is right. So, according to the Bible, is it ever appropriate for a woman to propose marriage to her sweetheart?
Although there is no Bible verse that speaks definitively to this issue, the concept of the man taking the initiative to propose actually does have some foundation in Scripture. God created the man first and then created the woman from the man’s rib. Genesis 2:22 says, “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Paul echoes this order of creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8–9 when he says, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” He goes on to explain that this order is part of God’s design in leadership, not based upon cultural mores but God’s intention. Except for Ruth’s special case, there are no instances in the Bible where a woman proposes to a man. Marriages were arranged through the families of each, and so the idea of a woman proposing was never considered.
Since God created men to lead, both in church and at home, then it seems natural that his leadership would begin with proposing marriage to the woman of his choice (1 Corinthians 11:3). She is, of course, free to decline his offer; however, it may not be wise to extend her freedom to proposing marriage. A woman’s proposal may set an unhealthy precedent for the resulting marriage. A common complaint by Christian women in marriage counseling is that their husbands won’t lead spiritually. If the man will not even take the initiative to propose marriage, a woman could be setting herself up for a lifetime of disappointment at his lack of leadership.
The biblical parallel of Christ as bridegroom also lends some wisdom to this issue. Throughout Scripture, Jesus is compared to a bridegroom who loves His bride, the church, and is preparing to return and carry her away to the wedding feast (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25–27). Jesus, as our model groom, is the aggressor in every aspect of His relationship with us. It is He who came to earth to redeem us while we were far from Him (Romans 5:8). And it is the initiative of the Father that draws us and supplies the faith we need to respond (John 6:44; Ephesians 2:8–9). Due to this spiritual precedent, it seems clear that God’s design was for the man to bear the responsibility of pursuing the woman he loves until he proposes marriage.
But not all relationships follow the same pattern. Every romance is different, and therefore the particulars of a couple’s engagement will be unique to that couple. Some of the healthiest marriages were mutually decided as the couple spent a significant amount of time getting to know each other. As they served the Lord together, they came to see the benefit of a lifelong commitment. They began to discuss the “what if’s” of a life together, and, when the time was right, the man proposed with a ring to signify his commitment. The proposal wasn’t a surprise, but neither did she take the lead in the matter. They had already decided to move forward, and the actual proposal was a confirmation of that mutual decision.
In modern culture, the boy/girl dance of romantic commitment has been hijacked by rampant immorality and living together without marriage. This dynamic throws everything else out of sync by introducing tensions, emotions, fears, and guilt that was never to be part of an engagement. Even the concept of an engaged couple has come to include a couple living together, presumably planning to marry at some undetermined future date. It is often the woman who secretly regrets this lack of commitment and begins to pressure her bed-mate to marry her. Sometimes there are already children involved, which was never God’s intent when He created marriage (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7).
It would appear from the biblical patterns that it is God’s intention that a man take the initiative in proposing, leading, serving, and providing for the woman he chooses. For an impatient bride-to-be to circumvent that pattern could result in a marriage that is out of balance and one in which both spouses come to resent this backward dynamic. It may be wise for all women desiring to marry to keep this thought as a guide: If he won’t propose, he won’t lead in other ways. I don’t want to pledge my life to a man who won’t even honor me by asking.