What's Wrong with Courtship
by vaughn ohlman 1/19/2009 / Marriage
First of all it should be noted that the word courtship today, is used to cover a variety of different systems and ideas. Obviously I cannot simultaneously cover all of them, especially as it is impossible to find all of them. So what I intend to do in this paper is address what I consider the root of courtship, and explain why I consider it to be unbiblical.
Any system that calls itself 'courtship' should realize the importance of the name.
'Courtship' the word derives from the verb 'to court'. Regardless of what extraneous or important additions are made by any system the essence of courtship, the focus of courtship, the heart of courtship, is 'courting'.
So what does it mean to 'court'? Who 'courts', and who do they 'court'? What action does the verb 'to court' represent, and what is the result if that action is successful?
At its heart the verb to court means that a (young) man convinces a (young) woman to marry him(1). The courter, is the man, the courtee is the woman, the courting is a series of actions on the man's part designed to convince the woman, and a successful courtship is one where she is convinced.(2)
So, what is wrong with courtship? I believe that this, the heart of courtship is Biblically wrong at every point. I believe that the initiator should not be the young man, the responder should not be the young woman, that the convincing that takes place should not involve either of the two parties concerned and that the end result should be a binding commitment, and not an emotional decision.
Scripture does show many examples where a man is involved in seeking a wife. It does say, 'he who finds a wife has found a good thing', and 'a virtuous woman who can find'. It does speak of a man 'taking a wife'. However, a careful examination of the scriptural pattern and precept, shows, I believe that these examples, and these phrases, should not be taken as a justification for the kinds of action meant by 'courtship'.
First of all, we need to distinguish between a variety of different marriages in scripture. Not everything in scripture is meant to be normative, some scriptural examples clearly show the results of special providence, unusual circumstances, or actual sin, other scriptural examples apply to people outside the scope of our particular discussion, Boaz, for example took Ruth to be his wife as the result of a very specific application of the levirate law concerning the inheritance of the promised land not circumstances facing many of our youth today.
When we look at scriptural examples of godly men marrying godly women, examples where scripture lays out for us adequate details, examples where the participants are shown as acting in presumably godly ways, and examples falling within the scope of our current study, I propose that there are exactly three; marriage of Adam and Eve, the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, and the marriage of Christ and the church.
In none of these examples are we shown the man taking any initiative on his own. Adam was, by the command of God, asleep at the time when his wife was fashioned. Isaac was unaware of the plans and actions of his father until such time that he was presented with his wife. Christ was betrothed before the foundations of the world, to the church and acted in everything that he did according to the specific and overriding will of his father. In none of these normative examples do we see the man taking the imitative. In fact we see quite the reverse.
However, in our counter examples we find quite another story, Esau took first one wife, and then another, quite to the consternation of his godly parents. Jacob, commanded by his father to 'take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother," was so set on his own choice of wife that he rejected the wife he was (treacherously) given (but who nonetheless would have been an obedient fulfillment of his fathers command) and married polygamously and jealously immediately after Leahs week.
Even more clear in scripture is the fact that that the woman is not meant to be the focus of any actions that would properly be termed courtship or " being courted". Everywhere in Scripture we see both the phrase and the action properly entitled 'giving in marriage". No where do we see the phrase or the action "being convinced to marry". In all of our normative examples we see a woman pledged to, given to, a man before she has any cognizance of the event. Eve was formed and brought to Adam. The church was created and designed for Christ, and it was said of Rebekah " The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken. Nowhere , not even in the non-normative or even ungodly examples do we see a woman being approached by a man and convinced to marry.
The convincing itself is perhaps the most unBiblical and dangerous of all of the points of courtship. For a young woman to be convinced to marry, for a young man to convince her, both of their thoughts must of necessity include in an extremely ungodly direction. The young man must have said to himself, have said to the girl's father and must now be saying to the young woman (whether explicitly or implicitly) I want this girl for my wife; she is someone I would like to take into my bed. To say this of anyone except the woman that we are explicitly in covenant with is a form of adultery or at the very least fornication. Similarly the young woman in making her "decision" must of necessity accept for the sake of the decision making process the concept of giving her body to this man. This is not her role, and is a violation of the Biblical standards of purity. Even worse the role of the young woman's father to have allowed the young man to approach the young woman in such a fashion. (3)
Which brings us to the fourth and final point. It is clear Biblical pattern and precept that our godly men and women, especially our young men and women, are to be in relationship with each other only as brother and sister until such time that they are in covenant as husband and wife. No intermediate period of possible, proposed, or planned marriage is shown to us. In all of our normative scriptural examples we see our young people going from a time of waiting and "sleeping", through a time of pledged to one woman who is not yet taken and then moving to a time of full intimacy.
In one sense I have nothing but good to say of those godly men and young men who have seen the evils inherent in the world's system of dating. They have duly noted the catastrophic results of a system that is essentially a practice for divorce. They have spoken of the inherent impurity in a system that allows and even encourages young men and young women to spend long times alone together. They have pointed out the significance of the way that the role of the parents has been stripped away from the process of a young men and young woman getting married, and even mocked.
They have gone to scripture and they have found precept after precept that is violated and ridiculed in the world. However my challenge to them is to not allow themselves to be blinded by the culture that we find ourselves in into denigrating the biblical pattern that is written alongside of those precepts they so duly champion. Many times I read them as they carefully exegete a passage such as the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca only to reach a certain point in the passage and say in effect or in actuality , "but of course we wouldn't to do this", and cease any further attempt whatsoever at exegesis or application. How is it that the marriage of Isaac should serve as a precept for the "involvement of the father of the groom" and yet we ignore the complete lack of involvement of the groom? How is it that we note that Adam was asleep when God created a bride for him and yet we fail to recognize that he did not then wake up and convince her to marry him?
My brethren it must not be so. 'All Scripture is inspired and is profitable." We should not and must not cherry pick that part of Scripture which we approve of and ignore those parts that "go too far". We must look to all parts of Scriptural pattern and precept to see 'the way we should go'.
(1) The primary focus of this paper is on the road to marriage for Godly virgins of Godly parents. I do not here address the variety of complexities that arise from other situations. Thus my study and my arguments are addressed to that situation.
(2) In answer to the possible objections that I can hear from the various courtship advocates, I realize that their methods involve much more than that, I realize that one or both sets of parents is heavily involved, that much prayer or preparation is called for, at all stages of the process, that a variety of other safeguards and qualifications are put in place. All these may be very excellent and even biblical ideas. However if the method still preserves the name of courtship, than some form of courting must in some fashion be going on. If the (young) man and (young) woman are already pledged in marriage, or if the (young) woman has no say in whether she will marry the young man, than the method involved should not be called 'courtship'.
(3) In answer to objections I have already received on this point: I am not saying anything in this paragraph about the intentions of the fathers, or the godliness of the young people involved. I am not saying that the fathers are telling their sons to dwell on, or even to think about, any impure actions or thoughts. I am saying two things.
Firstly, I am making the logical point that it is never right for us to 'covet' someone as our spouse, who is not our spouse. This point is a difficult one to drive home, as we have been taught that that is, indeed, one of the roles of a young man. Much as it is one of the roles of a housewife to go to the store and select, from among the various bunches of bananas on sale the one that they will bring home for their family to eat, so we (or our culture) have taught our sons that it is their job to go out and select from among the women available the one they wish to (court and hopefully eventually) marry.
But where with bananas none of us object to eating a banana that has been looked at and thought about by a variety of other housewives, Scripture is clear that it is a problem if our wife has been or is being looked and considered. Jesus speaks clearly of such actions with another mans wife as being adultery. So unless the young man looks at, chooses, courts and marries the very first woman he sees he has engaged, however reluctantly, in inappropriate thoughts toward (someone who ends up being) another mans wife.
Secondly, I am making the emotional point that we are deliberately placing our young men (especially) in an untenable position. If I tell my son to go to the car dealers, look over a variety of cars, compare and contrast them as far as make, model, mileage, etc. all with a view of possibly buying one of them for his use; and yet I insist that he not 'think about driving' any of them well, I am being a bit naïve. I have placed him in a position where the most pure and undistracted young man will be exceedingly tempted to disobey me.
It takes no rocket scientist or master theologian to acknowledge that the thoughts of a young man, when in the company of young women, turn very naturally to her physical form, and thoughts beyond. If we then literally ask him to think about which of these women he would like to court. By which we all understand means court with the possibility of marriage in the end. By which we all understand means to eventually end up in the same bed as this woman. We have put him in an untenable position. We have asked him to focus on the abstract qualities of character, godliness, etc. in the context of someone he may eventually be having sex with.
This is not a good position to put our young people in.
A former missionary to Africa, I am now an LVN and EMT with a wife, six kids, and small farm. I like to write about Theonomy, Betrothal, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, just for starters.