Paying the bride price or lobola is a controversial issue in South Africa. Some believe that the tradition of paying the bride price brings families together and creates a platform for unity and prosperity. Others believe that lobola is demeaning to the bride and damages the relationship of the young couple. I believe that the best way to draw conclusions regarding this much-disputed concern is to study what the Bible has to say.
In Scripture there are a couple of occasions where money is exchanged between the families of an engaged couple. In Genesis 24, before marrying Isaac, jewelry was given to Rebekah by Abraham’s servant. Gifts were also given to Rebekah’s family. History explains that these gifts were diplomatic in nature and not a bride price. In Genesis 29, prior to marrying Rachel, Jacob worked for Laban for fourteen years. The situation surrounding Jacob’s service was rooted in Laban’s deceit and manipulation and was again not a bride price.
In Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 22, the term bride price is used to describe payment required from a man to a young girl’s family. The payment is punitive in nature and demanded if a man takes sexual advantage of a virgin girl.
There does not appear to be specific instruction regarding lobola in the Bible. The concept is not included in the laws given by Moses to the Israelites and is not mentioned at all in the New Testament. Jewish tradition does, however, include the idea that a man should give money to his future in-laws. The money is to be held in reserve to take care of his wife and possible children in case something happens to him.
I have lived in South Africa for over seven years. The subject of lobola is common among young women and men. A friend recently decided to marry and then changed her mind. The bride price her family demanded would take numerous years for the groom to pay, and, if her father and uncles agreed that payments could be made after the wedding, the newlyweds would be crippled financially for years to come.
I do not know all the ins and outs of this tradition and would not presume to give instruction on such a delicate cultural matter. I would, however, pose this question to the families of an engaged couple: Will lobola help the couple getting married or hinder them?