This is the second installment to a series of articles by Guest Blogger: Zachary Garris you can find his first article here, “What Does the Bible Say About Dating?” This article (part 1 of 2) looks at the cultural norms of independence and how Christians ought to think about independence and dependence through a biblical lens.
When Does a Child Become Independent?
I recently read a Facebook post by a Christian mother about her daughter who graduated from high school. The mother said her daughter now begins “her own life.” In other words, the daughter was under the authority of her parents’ household, but now that she is 18 and out of high school, she will go off to college and be on her own. She is now known as “independent.”
This mother’s view of independence is quite in line with the culture of 21st century America. Graduation from high school is considered a life marker, transitioning a person from adolescence to adulthood and from a dependent to an independent. Our government also recognizes this marker, as an 18 year-old (the average age of a high school graduate) is legally considered an adult. An 18 year-old has the legal right to disregard parents, enter the military, and buy cigarettes (though not alcohol—that requires three more years of “maturity”!).
Our culture therefore clearly sees graduation from high school as the transition marker to adulthood and independence. But culture is not an infallible standard of authority. Just look at how our culture rejects God’s teaching on children, gender roles, marriage, and sexuality. We must not assume that the culture is correct in its view of when a child becomes independent. Instead we must ask, ‘What does the Bible say about the independence of children?’
The Bible is very simple on this matter. It does not give a specific age for when a person is considered independent, but it does provide a life marker for when children transition away from the authority of parents. And that life marker is not high school but marriage. That’s right, marriage is the major transitional marker in a person’s life. Of course, this sounds odd in a society where people are marrying later and later in life, thus creating a prolonged state of singleness.
In turning to Scripture, we see that God instituted marriage right from the beginning of creation. God created Adam (Gen 2:7), and then He created Eve as a helper for him (Gen 2:22). Moses, the author of Genesis, then comments on this first marriage:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
This is the Bible’s foundational statement on marriage, and for this reason it is quoted in the New Testament by both Jesus (Matt 19:5-6; Mark 10:7-8) and Paul (1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). Genesis 2:24 teaches that God designed marriage as sexual union between one man and one woman. But this verse also teaches that a man “shall leave his father and mother.” This aspect is often left out of the discussion, but it is clear from the text that marriage is a transitional marker for a man. When a man marries, he is no longer under the direct authority of his parents. Of course he is to still honor his parents (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16). But a married man leaves his parents to start a new family. Marriage therefore marks the beginning of a new household with a new head of the house (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:23).
Genesis 2:24 shows us that marriage is the transitional marker for a man’s independence. But what about women? When do women transition to become independent? Now the answer to this question might upset some readers, but Scripture teaches that a woman is never independent, except in the case of widows and divorcees. A woman is always under the authority of a man, either her father or her husband. She begins under the authority of her father, and this authority is transferred to her husband in marriage. This of course is extremely offensive to our post-feminist culture. So let me seek to persuade you by appealing to this quote from the Word of God. For the sake of space I am only quoting a portion of Numbers 30:1-16:
3 If a woman vows a vow to the LORD and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, 4 and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand.
5 But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her. 6 If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself,
7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the LORD will forgive her. 9 (But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.) (Numbers 30:3-9).
The above passage provides instructions for women and vows. A woman is free to make a vow, but her vow can always be voided by her covenant head, either her father or her husband. If a women is “within her father’s house in her youth” (v. 3), then her father can void the vow (v. 5). And if a women “marries a husband” (v. 6), then her husband can void the vow (v. 8). Numbers 30 therefore demonstrates two important principles regarding authority and independence for women: (1) An unmarried woman is under the covenantal authority of her father; and (2) A married woman is under the covenantal authority of her husband.
Now this passage and its principles may sound archaic to modern ears, but this has much to say about how our culture has strayed from the teachings of Scripture. God did not design women to be independent but to always be under a man’s authority and protection. As Genesis 2 teaches, God created women to be helpers for their husbands. But this functional difference does not imply ontological inferiority. A woman under authority does not have less worth but is in fact fulfilling her God-given role as one made in the image of God (Gen 1:27).
The principles of Numbers 30 must be applied to our current practices regarding children and independence. And this means we must always regard a woman (except for widows and divorcees) as under covenantal authority. A single woman is dependent upon her father until she marries. And when she marries, she becomes dependent upon her husband. The covenantal authority is transferred from father to husband. This is seen in the New Testament in the book of Ephesians, as instructions are given for children and for spouses. Children are to “obey” their parents (Eph 6:1-3), while wives are to “submit” to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24) and husbands are to “love” their wives (Eph 5:25-28). There is no category for “independent daughters.”
 There are of course exceptions to this, as both Jesus and the Apostle Paul were unmarried independent adults. But both of them had the gift of singleness (1 Cor 7:7-8) and should therefore be considered exceptions to the rule. Those who do not have the gift of singleness should marry.