Biblical Romance
Biblical Romance
Phillip Kayser
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Table of Contents

Why We Need a Fresh Study

I was motivated to write this book for several reasons. First, people have repeatedly asked my opinion on the “courtship wars” current in the homeschool movement. Is “courtship” a Biblical practice? If so, which of the many competing definitions of courtship should we follow? Is dating sinful? Must all Christians endorse the so-called “betrothal method”? And, if so, which betrothal method is Biblical anyway? What about “dating with purpose”? And what should that mean? Is physical touch appropriate? What is “going too far”? Is the physical contact of Ruth and Boaz lawful? What about Robert Andrews’ suggested sexual progression? And if we are going to use the Bible to talk about premarital romance, what about arranged marriages? Should Christians avoid all romance prior to marriage? What is the difference between betrothal and engagement? Does the Bible even set guidelines? What is legalism and what is Biblical? Can one behavior be sinful for one couple and not sinful for another? These are a few of the questions this book is designed to answer.

A second reason for writing this book is that I have witnessed great confusion in general over the process of finding a spouse. There have been too many hurt feelings because both parties have had quite different expectations of what this season is all about. Should it be a safe process of dating multiple partners with some parental oversight? Or should it be a more formal process of research to see if there is any interest in even entering into a relationship? Some have merged the time of discussion and engagement into one, while others deny that any time of discussion is even biblical. Some see engagement as merely the equivalent to “going steady” while others see it as a covenant that can only be broken by a divorce. With such wide-ranging viewpoints, it is no wonder that the landscape has been littered with a lot of hurt feelings, bitterness, and broken relationships. God’s “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12) was intended to give you maximum liberty. God’s good law (Rom. 7:12,16,22; 1 Tim. 1:8) was intended to be “for your good” (Deut. 10:13) and for your joy (Ps. 19:8; John 15:9-17). It is my hope that this book will help to restore such joy.

A third reason for writing this book is to encourage people to take advantage of the time of betrothal to learn many creative ways of expressing non-sexual love. How many women wish their husbands could express love in more ways than in bed! Betrothal gives men and women practice in other languages of love than touch, and these creative habits of expressing love follow them into marriage. We will be seeing that God intends betrothal to be the ideal training ground for a richer and fuller expression of love than many couples know. Unfortunately, many are so focused on avoiding sexual love before marriage that they miss the most important purpose of betrothal. This book will give the Biblical basis and ground rules for making betrothal a perfect environment for growing in friendship.

A fourth reason I have been motivated to write this book is to show the unintended consequences that certain approaches to romance can produce. Over the past thirty years numerous friends have told me that they quickly slid into sexual involvement when they were dating. They never intended to commit fornication, but the very process of dating that they were using almost guaranteed it. This has in turn left some of them not only with regrets, but also with sexual issues within marriage that came from guilt or other negative feelings over the premarital fornication. At least some women have said that they don’t trust their husbands because, “If he had no self-control with me before marriage, how do I know he will have self-control with someone else after our marriage?” Counselors often have to deal with these negative “fruits” but are not willing to cut down the “root” so as to stop these problems from perpetuating generation after generation. I think it is time to completely restudy what the Bible says about ways of finding a spouse so as to produce Biblical fruit.

A fifth reason I have been motivated to write this book is that legalism is rife within the homeschooling movement, and it is strikingly evidenced in the way many families go about pursuing marriage for their children. Legalism can produce just as many problems in a beginning family as license can. I have known best friends become estranged because of legalism, inconsistency, and judgmentalism in the way they have guided their children to pursue marriage. But, done Biblically, it can bring great joy as well as provide a smooth transition for marriage.

My last reason for writing this book is that I am tired of having to contradict people who claim that the Bible doesn’t talk much about pre-marital romance. The problem is not that the Bible doesn’t say much, but that it says far more than many people are comfortable with.




“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

– Galatians 5:1

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

– Galatians 5:13

“I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.

– Psalm 119:45

“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 7:39

“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

– James 1:25

“So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.”

– James 2:12

“as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.”

– 1 Peter 2:16

1. Avoiding Legalism and License

Scripture gives more than one model and calls for flexibility

This book will seek to demonstrate that the Bible gives more than one model for finding a life partner in marriage. For example, we will look at passages that show God’s authorization of marriages that had neither a time of prior discussion or an engagement. But we will also look at Scriptures that lay down a great deal of structure for both of these seasons in most situations. We will see that God authorized parents and even trusted friends to arrange a marriage, while other passages speak of the man and the woman taking most of the initiative. Sensitivity to the person and the situation dictated these differences. Unfortunately, some people will latch onto one paradigm or another and insist that it must be applied to all people in all situations. But God deals with us as unique individuals, not as abstract statistics. He wants us to depend upon His guidance and wisdom as we apply the Scripture to new situations.

Scripture gives all the principles needed for this subject

But let me be clear that when I advocate flexibility I am advocating Biblical flexibility, not pragmatism. I in no way want to deny the complete sufficiency of Scripture for this subject. The powerful Scriptures have “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:2-4) and are so overwhelmingly sufficient “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Unlike existentialism that excuses sin based on motives, and unlike situational ethics that excuses sin based on unique situations, I will be seeking to give Biblical principles for understanding proper motives, goals, and situations. It is my hope that the principles of this book will give a jump-start to your study and application of God’s Word for your own romance and for that of your children.

What is Form and Freedom?

Francis Schaeffer repeatedly urged a balance between form and freedom. He showed the disastrous results of both autonomous freedom and rigid legalism. Autonomous freedom lacks Biblical definition and leads to anarchy and eventually to the bondage of sin. Rigid legalism leads to another kind of bondage because it adds to God’s “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) and in the process nullifies it (Mark 7:1-13). This rigid legalism suffocates people by giving them no room for expression and in the process dehumanizes them by applying some Biblical rules but ignoring what the Bible says about the person, the goal, and the situation. People intuitively recognize that we can’t do this with other aspects of life.

Imagine what art would be like without both form and freedom. Imagine a father who wants his child to learn poetry well but focuses all of his time on the principles of form and allows no opportunities for his son to creatively express his heart. This father teaches his son syllabification, emphasis, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, simile, parallelism, style, symbol, themes, etc. All of these give form to great poetry. But form without creative freedom does not produce art. Having taught the son all about the “form” of poetry, the father then proceeds to ask his son to write a poem. Sadly, as soon as his son begins to write, the father is seized with shame (a form of pride) that his son’s poetry is nothing like that of Wordsworth or even Shakespeare. He wonders what other people will think of his son’s poetry. In trying to protect his son from “poor” poetry, the father crosses out each word, substitutes new words, changes the meter, and adds new verses. What would we have to conclude about this poem? Eventually we would have to conclude that this is the father’s poem, not the son’s. By removing freedom the father has failed to teach his son how to write poetry. The son has failed to take ownership of the poetry. The son has not experienced the thrill of actually writing poetry. I think we would all recognize that this is a problem.

Now imagine a second father who over-reacts to this “legalism” and decides that his son is only going to have freedom by the leading of the Spirit. He asks his son to write poetry, but he refuses to give him guidelines. He is convinced that guidelines will inhibit his creative spirit. In his effort to avoid legalism the father gives no instruction on syllabification, meter, emphasis, rhythm, rhyme, etc. What would be the result of rejecting the forms of poetry and embracing autonomous freedom? It would be a total lack of poetry, even if the child calls it poetry. The son has freedom, but no form. And he is left with frustration and numerous mistakes.

The same is true for other areas of life. If the “form” of civil government is rejected, people and properties suffer under the resulting anarchy. Any time civil government exceeds the limits of “form” found in the bible, increasing tyranny is the inevitable result. True liberty is expressed as freedom within form. Francis Schaeffer illustrated how the balance between freedom and form is needed in science and in art, in church and in family.

Form and Freedom in Romance

It is possible to go to the same extremes of neglecting either form or freedom while seeking a marriage partner and during the season of engagement or betrothal.1 Some fathers set up such unrealistic standards for potential suitors that they chase away qualified young men. They think, “Only 0.001% of the men I know are good enough for my daughter.” If everyone thought that, how would the church fulfill Paul’s command, “Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2)? Some couples quickly become so romantically attached that they lose perspective and are not able to evaluate the Biblical qualifications that need to be in place. Others make the regulations surrounding betrothal so heavy that they rob that period of its intended purpose – the development of non-sexual romance. Others overreact to legalism and end up causing themselves pain through premarital sexual sins. What God intended to be a joyful time of preparation for marriage2 has in some circles become so restrictive that they really can’t get to know their future spouse. Some have claimed that during betrothal there should be no emotional attachment, no letters of endearment and no expressions of “I love you!” being said. They believe that the heart may not be given away until marriage, and certainly (they think) the man should not be wooing the young lady’s heart. While some of those fears are legitimate before the two young people are certain they wish to marry, I believe they are totally foreign to the Bible’s description of engagement or betrothal.

It is my belief that a time of discussion and seeking the Lord’s will regarding marriage has a different purpose than the time of engagement. Both can help to set the tone for a godly marriage, or both can create problems within a marriage. Many modern marriages lack the balance of form and freedom. Francis Schaeffer describes the balance of form and freedom within marriage when he said,

But the difficulty within evangelical circles is that we often forget that within the proper form of marriage there is to be an interplay of personality which is beautiful. There is both form and a freedom for reality of personal interplay within the form. The form is necessary. But we must understand that form is not all there is, or sexuality becomes frigid and dead. So if we have a totally faithful marriage that is also ugly, it is certainly not what it ought to be; it does not portray what God means marriage to be. We can speak a great deal against sexual laxity in the whole area of sexual morality, but merely speaking of this is not enough. We must show to a world that is looking for beauty in the midst of twentieth-century ugliness that in the proper form (marriage), there can be a freedom of personal interplay which is beautiful.3

This book is designed to show the beauty of preparation for marriage with the same balance of form and freedom. The form that God has given consists of the guidelines laid down in the Bible. The freedom that the Lord has given consists in the myriad ways in which those forms are creatively used to glorify and enjoy God under the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we err by throwing out either form or freedom, it will not achieve what God intended these things to achieve, and could in the process negatively impact the families involved.

Spoiling what God intended to be delightful

People will sometimes point at legalists who have misused this season and want nothing to do with it. But why let man’s sin rob you of God’s good gifts? The sin of man can spoil anything that God created to be precious and joyful. For example, God made the Sabbath to be a day of blessing (Ex. 20:11; Is. 56:2) and “delight” (Is. 58:13),4 but the Pharisees robbed the day of its joyous celebration when they added endless regulations designed to “protect” the day. No doubt their intentions were noble (they wanted to keep people as far from sinning as they could), but they were driven by lack of faith in God’s plan and fear of man’s human nature. And what resulted was a monstrosity of a day that produced mourning instead of joyful celebration. Others have overreacted to such legalism and have robbed themselves of refreshment, joy, and celebration by completely neglecting God’s form for the day. Whether we err by throwing out form or throwing out freedom, the result is not good. Only God’s regulations prove to be “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). All else leads to either the bondage of sin or the bondage of legalism. Any bondage is incompatible with God’s calling to sonship (John 8:31-36), whether that bondage is the result of adding to God’s laws (Mark 7:1-13) or the result of breaking God’s laws (2 Pet. 2:19), “for you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom. 8:15).





“find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage”

– Jeremiah 29:6b

“that each of you should know how to acquire his own vessel [wife] in sanctification and honor.”

– 1 Thessalonians 4:4

“a prudent wife is from the LORD.”

– Proverbs 19:14b

“This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.’”

– Numbers 36:6

“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

– 1 Corinthians 7:39

2. Surveying the Biblical Options

Let’s avoid reductionism

The five Scriptures to the left expose the fallacy of reductionists. Some reductionists insist on the “freedom” of seeking a wife without any parental involvement, while others have presented a paradigm of parentally guided betrothal. Some emphasize the Lord’s choice of a spouse so heavily that they become passive, waiting for a spouse to drop out of heaven (so to speak), while others do not seek the Lord’s guidance enough. Obviously, God should be in the equation (Prov. 19:14), parents should ordinarily be involved in the process for both sons and daughters (Jer. 29:6), sons should usually be active in the process of taking wives (1 Thess. 4:4; Jer. 29:6a), and daughters should have a choice in the matter too (Numb. 36:6). The ideal is to have all four perfectly matched, as in the diagram that follows on the next page.

But what happens if parents do not have the mind of the Lord? What happens if parents believe that a son or daughter should not get married? What happens in the case of fornication? What happens if the man, the woman, and the parents all want the marriage to happen, but the church rightly points out that the marriage is unlawful? What happens if there are no parents? Though this is ordinarily an issue between families, there are times when both church and state may be appealed to or must step in to help. We live in an imperfect world, and the Bible shows the flexibility to be able to handle every circumstance that we might face.

For example, the way two young people search for a marriage partner (Gen. 2:21-25; Ps. 45; 1Cor. 7:36-37) might look different from the pursuit of marriage by an older man and widow (Ruth 3-4; 1Cor. 7:39). Likewise, the process of a master and a female slave getting married (Ex. 21:7-11) will likely take a somewhat different route than the marriage of two young people who are under the authority of their parents (Ps. 45; 1 Cor. 7:33-38), though neither marriage should be a forced marriage, and all of the Biblical principles we will look at under “form” must be followed.5 Since the master acts in a parental capacity with a slave (see Gal. 4:1-2; Gen. 14:14; 17:23), he is in the unusual situation of marrying someone under his authority to another person under his authority (Ex. 21:9). This is quite different than two families negotiating a marriage for their respective children. It is my contention that the Bible presents more than one model for finding a spouse, though the universal principles (the form) apply to all. The following are some of the models that I see in Scripture:

Marriages without a time of discussion or betrothal

Model 1 – Arranged Marriage Without Betrothal

There are times when sons and daughters think so much like their parents and/or matchmaker that they are able to get married to the one selected for them without a time of personally discussing their compatibility for marriage or a time of betrothal. While the Bible is against forced marriages as well as marriages that are contracted while the children cannot give informed consent, it does present arranged marriages as one viable option. This is still the preferred option in many countries. Of course, all marriages need to be willingly entered into by both the man and the woman or it is not a “covenant” (Mal. 2:14; Prov. 2:17). But on this model the bride and groom are not involved in the search for a spouse. This was the situation with Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21-25). God gave them to each other and they got married the same day they met. It could be argued that since God was a perfect parent He should not be considered a model for how marriages of sinners and by sinners are conducted. But the fact of the matter is that marriages could be lawfully covenanted in this way. Examples of such marriages are: Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21-25), Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 24), Onan and Tamar (Gen. 38:8), and Ishmael’s marriage arranged by his mother (Gen. 21:21). While this was not the normal practice in the Bible, there were circumstances that warranted not having a prolonged waiting period.

Model 2 – Marriage of Necessity.

The Levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10; cf. Gen. 38:8-11; Ruth 3:9-4:13; Matt. 22:23-28) involved an obligation to marry that did not require a season of discussion or betrothal. The only decision that was made was whether to reject the marriage or not (Deut. 25:7-10; Ruth 4:5-8).6 This marriage was entered for two reasons: 1) to raise a seed for the dead brother, and 2) to redeem the widow out of very difficult circumstances. In the situation of Ruth, she had two options: Boaz and an unnamed “close relative.” Obviously Ruth was hoping for Boaz, but the text seems to indicate that in these dire circumstances, either one would have been a good choice. This again illustrates that both seasons were not considered absolutely necessary prior to marriage. However, it should be emphasized that there was no forced marriage, or it would not have been a true marriage covenant, which implies a mutual agreement to marry. Both Deuteronomy 25 and Ruth 4 show that there was a way out of such a marriage.

Model 3 – Marriage to a Slave.

The marriage of a master to a slave who had been captured in war could have been a tremendous blessing to the slave (see Deut. 20:14 with 21:10-14; and by analogy Ezek. 16:1-14). Though Deuteronomy 21 indicates that conversion was required before marriage, and the time for mourning and conversion was set at one month,7 there is no indication that there was a time of extended discussion or a time of betrothal required. The description of God’s bride in Ezekiel 16:1-14 seems to be an application of this passage: 1) Israel was treated as being a foreigner from an enemy people, with the father being an Amorite and the mother being a Hittite (v. 2), 2) Israel was rescued from destruction (vv. 5-6), 3) the rescued girl was young enough to meet the requirements of the law (vv. 4-6), 4) Israel was a woman without property, 5) as she grew God saw that she was beautiful, 6) and verses 8-9 discuss an entering into the covenant of marriage, which is “the time of love” when his garment covered her nakedness. Both passages almost treat it as an act of charity. However, it must be strongly insisted upon that both parties would have needed to agree to the marriage or it would not be a covenant agreement (see Ezek. 16:3,8 where God enters into an oath and covenant with his bride).

Model 4 – Marriage after Fornication.

What should a father do when his daughter has been lured into fornication? The Bible gives two options. Exodus 22:16-17 did not require marriage, since the father could refuse to give her to the young man (v. 17). But at the same time, it is clear that the father and daughter were in a legal position to force the young man to marry (v. 16). In the case of Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31), Jacob gave permission for Shechem to marry Dinah, and Shechem immediately took her to his house (v. 26). One reason there was no time of discussion or betrothal was because fornication jumped the gun and missed the whole purpose for those seasons that we will discuss below. The point of listing this is to demonstrate the flexibility Scripture has to meet all situations.

Marriages with betrothal alone

Model 5 – Marriage of Economic Necessity.

Not all slave marriages were without betrothal. Exodus 21:7-11 discusses marriage of a master to his slave after “he had betrothed her to himself.” A time of discussion was obviously not necessary to get to know the woman since the master dealt with the woman and had gotten to know her quite well. The woman was a slave because of debt, and the dowry was the release of the debt to the parents. This economic negotiation necessitated a betrothal. Notice that the betrothal was just as binding on the master as a betrothal would be to a non-slave. If he broke the betrothal, she was a free woman (v. 8) and the master would lose the dowry of the forfeited debt. Once married to the woman, he could not treat her as a slave since she had all the liberties of a married free woman (vv. 9-10), the debt forgiveness being the bride price.8 Again, both the betrothal and the marriage covenant require that she enter into this voluntarily. There is no such thing as a valid “shot-gun” marriage in the bible. Though we do not have slaves in America, there are applications that can be made from the lesser (the slave) to the greater (the free). For example, this passage clearly teaches that any abuse equal to or greater than the abuse described in verse 10 was grounds for divorce. One application that could be made is that a time of discussion may not be necessary if two people have grown up together and the families know the couple quite well. There is no reason why such a couple could not move immediately to betrothal if they so desired.

Model 6 – Arranged Marriage with betrothal.

A sixth model shown in the Bible is for free people to enter into arranged marriages. Some examples would be the promised hand of Merab in marriage to whoever would slay Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:25, the betrothal of Merab to David in 1 Samuel 18:17 (which betrothal Saul broke), the subsequent giving of Merab to Adriel (v. 19), and the betrothal of David to Michal in 1 Samuel 18:21-27 (with 2 Sam. 3:14). Though there are likely others, I cannot prove that they took place without a prior season of discussion. Many such marriages have been entered into using this model in the last few years, and for the most part they have been successful.

Marriages after a season of discussion and betrothal

Model 7 – Discussion and Betrothal.

It is the assumption of this book that the vast majority of betrothals were contracted only after the parents and the potential bride and groom had engaged in sufficient research to make them convinced that the marriage would be a good one. As we will see, a time of talking about the two people’s compatibility for marriage involves researching and “seeking” the right spouse while betrothal is a commitment to marry. There is ample evidence that research was engaged in by both parents and children. Even daughters were normally expected to think through the implications of whom they would marry. For example, the law of Moses said of the daughters of Zelophehad, “Let them marry whom they think best” (Numb. 36:6). It is this last option that is the safest way of finding a wife, the most common way of finding a wife, and the way designed to prepare the couple to start their marriage solid and strong. The rest of the book will seek to demonstrate that this is the case.






“find wives …”

– Jeremiah 29:6

“who can find a virtuous wife?”

– Proverbs 31:10

“he who finds a wife”

– Proverbs 18:22

“Let them [the daughters of Zelophehad] marry whom they think best…”

– Numbers 36:6

“Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife.”

– 1 Corinthians 7:27 TNIV

“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 7:39

3. Clearly Defining Our Terms

It is very easy for disagreements to happen simply because terms mean different things to different people. The term courtship has often been used to refer to this season, but since it is not a term that is used in the Bible9, it is hard to insist on it and choose one definition for it. Indeed, since there are so many different versions of “courtship” circulating in Christian circles,10 I have been tempted to come up with a totally different word that could describe the period of seeking a spouse that occurs before betrothal. I would like a word that means “pre-romance-investigation,” or “pre-betrothal-consideration,” but have not found one. So instead of using the term “courtship”, I will be using phrases that describe seeking a spouse. I believe that some of the variation in definitions occurs because the Bible gives a great deal of liberty and latitude within boundaries. However, in many cases “courtship” is simply a conservative backlash against loose dating: it is an attempt to move the clock back to Emily Post or the nineteenth century. But the traditions of men are not helpful to those who want to be Biblical, whether those traditions are relatively new or relatively old. In this book I will be disagreeing with the activities that Robert Andrews allows within “courtship.” It is my contention that Andrews has not defined his term carefully enough from the Bible. He has allowed cultural definitions to fill in the gaps in his knowledge and this has led to significant errors.

What a season of discussion is not

It is not “Reformed dating”

Joshua Harris’ approach to courtship has been labeled by some as “safe dating,” or “Reformed dating.” It is dating with parental supervision, with cautions on purity, and with serious intent to discover a marriage partner, but it is still dating. Robert Andrews’ approach, while slightly different, also amounts to a kind of careful Reformed dating. I see no evidence that the Bible allows for anything close to what has been described as dating. Here are the contrasts that I see between the two:


Dating: “Dating is a shared event between a male and a female … with no commitment to one another and who are themselves primarily responsible for their own supervision while on the date.”11 “Temporary romantic relationship focused on current enjoyment/pleasure without future commitments; usually one of series of relationships.”12

Biblical seeking: My definition of Biblical seeking is “A season of seeking the Lord’s will concerning marriage that ordinarily constitutes the paternally supervised process used by two families to keep their children pure while they seek the will of the Lord by testing the evidence for their suitability for marriage to each other, with no deliberate promotion of romance or romantic touch.”

Age & preparation

Dating: Most teens start dating long before they have intentions to marry, and before they have the necessary resources for marriage.

Biblical seeking: “Entered into only after full preparation for marriage is finished: spiritually, financially, etc.” (Prov. 24:27; Gen. 29:18; Gen. 34:12; Ex. 22:16-17; Deut. 22:28-29; 1 Sam. 18:25; etc.)

Relation to family authority

Dating: The couple meets on their own initiative, with minimal supervision (perhaps a curfew or asking where they are going) and often without the need for approval. (May later request permission of father to get engaged.)

Biblical seeking: The man seeks the approval of the woman’s father or guardian before a time of discussion begins. Supervision by the parents of the couple is present throughout (1 Cor. 7:36-38; Ex. 22:16-17; Gen. 2:22).


Dating: Rarely do people date with the upfront stated intention of marriage. In fact, this would usually scare would-be daters away. Purpose is usually casual recreation, fun, pleasure with no strings attached.

Biblical seeking: Purpose is always with the serious intent to pursue marriage, or at least to talk through issues to see if marriage is suitable to both (Ruth 2:1-23; 1 Cor. 7:36-38).

Who plans?

Dating: Usually planned by the youths themselves, or sometimes is not even planned (more dangerous).

Biblical seeking: Planned by parents with the cooperation & consent of son/daughter (Judges 14:1-7; 1 Cor. 7:36-38).

View of oversight

Dating: Oversight, chaperoning is resented as being an intrusion of privacy.

Biblical seeking: Oversight, chaperoning is required and welcomed by the couple for moral protection (Deut. 22:15,17,19; 1 Cor 7:36-38; Judges 14:4,7; Hos. 2:19-20; Gen. 34:9).


Dating: Complete privacy is permitted by parents and it is usually expected by the couple who is dating.

Biblical seeking: Though a couple may talk together without needing to be overheard, chaperoning is not considered a burden, but a protection (Judges 14:1-10).


Dating: Physical affection that arouses sexual desires is allowed and expected as being normal.

Biblical seeking: Physical affection that arouses sexual desires is reserved entirely for marriage (Judges 14:1-10; 1 Cor. 7:1; Rom. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Tim. 5:2; 1 Thes. 4:1-8).

Nature of love emphasized

Dating: Tends to emphasize eros love (romance) and phileo love (friendship). Thus, whether one has the right feelings or has “fallen in love,” tends to be determinative of whether this is Mr. or Mrs. right.

Biblical seeking: Tends to focus on agape love (self-giving) and phileo love (friendship), though feelings are obviously present too. Commitment based, not feelings based. (1 Thes. 4:1-8; 1 Tim. 5:2) More realistic expectation for the sacrificial love needed in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33).

Why do they break up?

Dating: Any number of reasons. However, loss of romantic feelings (“Am I really in love?”) or presence of disagreements tend to be major cause. The lack of objective criteria makes it confusing to know if this person is right for them.

Biblical seeking: Prior to betrothal the primary function of the relationship is discussions to see if marriage should be pursued. Feelings are not as important as fundamental worldview issues, unfaithfulness, disapproval of parents, whether the other person is mature enough or in other ways ready for marriage (1 Thes. 4:1-8; Matt. 1:18-19; etc.).


Dating: Heart is wounded with emotional scars, bitterness, insecurity from past breakups. This is especially true of women, but can be true of men as well. Men who “scope out the landscape” can raise false hopes.

Biblical seeking: Ordinarily, the heart is protected by one romance for life. Because of the involvement of parents, and the upfront nature of this time, people don’t need to experiment with multiple people to “scope out the landscape” before they are betrothed (1 Cor. 7:34; etc.).


Dating: Conscience is almost always defiled and/or seared through increasing foreplay.

Biblical seeking: Conscience is more easily kept pure (1 Thes. 4:1-8; 1 Tim. 5:2; Hos. 2:19-20).

Baggage in marriage

Dating: Sometimes there is much baggage from past romantic (sexual) relationships, emotional bonds, unrealistic standards of comparison and appetite that has been generated for variety and change. Some authorities believe this “trial” mentality sets people up for divorce.

Biblical seeking: Free from the baggage of dating. The relationship starts with commitment to the Lord and to honoring each other (1 Thes. 4:4; Hos. 2:19-20). |

It is not mandated

A second thing that is important to clarify is that this time of discussion between the families is not mandated in Scripture. I am not comfortable with a view that claims the Bible mandates a time of discussion or betrothal, since God Himself gave no time for that purpose for Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21-25), and other marriages were lawfully covenanted without either (Gen. 24; 1 Sam. 25:35-44). I am not comfortable with a definition that is either more restrictive than the Bible or less restrictive. So, though I recommend a time of discussion as the best and easiest way to implement all of the Biblical principles that we will look at, I do not see it as a Scriptural mandate. Rather, it is my attempt to describe what usually happened in the Biblical finding of a spouse.

It is not a parents-only activity

By “a time of discussion”, I do not simply mean an activity of the parents that leaves the potential groom and bride as passive spectators or timid participants. Though parents on occasion have the authority to mandate a marriage (Ex. 22:16-17), and though it is lawful to bypass this season altogether (Gen. 2:21-25; 24:64-67; Ezek. 16:1-14), a time of serious discussion implies a healthy relationship in which the parents and the children are all maturely seeking the Lord’s will. Certainly the Bible speaks of the man as taking initiative in this process. It speaks of him seeking a wife (1 Cor. 7:27),13 finding a wife (Prov. 18:22; 31:10) and taking a wife (Gen. 28:1,6; Lev. 21:7,13). It is this process of seeking and finding that enables the young man to finally decide that he will take her as a wife, which leads to either betrothal or immediate marriage. Nor did the potential bride only have veto power. Though she certainly possessed such a right (Gen. 24:58; Nub. 36:6; Deut. 25:7-9), it is also clear that God expected the women to be prayerfully considering “whom they think best” to marry (Numb. 36:6; 1 Cor. 7:28,39). Though the parents oversee the process, the young couple must be fully involved in the evaluation for it to constitute a time of discussion.

It is not a couple-only activity

However, this time may not ordinarily exclude the parents in the process.14 The normal pattern was for fathers to “find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage” (Jer. 29:6). They were very involved in the process, often initiating the process.15 Though the young man and woman are actively involved in finding a spouse, it is the parents who should ideally determine what that will look like – especially the parents of the bride. Scripture is quite clear that the father has authority over his daughter until the day of marriage (1 Cor. 7:36-40; Ex. 22:17). He even has the authority to refuse to give her in marriage if he has lawful reasons (Gen. 24:41; 1 Cor. 3:37-3816). When the law uses the phrase, “if he utterly refuses to give her to him,” it is implying a father’s ongoing authority over his daughter and protection of his daughter until marriage (Ex. 22:17).

Are there exceptions to this general principle? Yes. Pastors do discover messy situations where the ideal is not possible. For example, God explicitly allows women to come under the protection of a male other than the father,17 and sometimes that preferred male is not the immediate family (John 19:25-27).18 As another example, when a father is a pagan or acts like an idolatrous pagan, leaving the home may be necessary. While Naomi encouraged Ruth to go back to her father (Ruth 1:12-15; cf. 2:11), she appears to have been blessed by not doing so (Ruth 1:16ff). Going back to her pagan household would not have been a wise choice. Likewise, a father’s poor economic decisions might place a daughter under another’s authority (Deut. 15:17; Ex. 21:7,20,26-27,32; 23:12; Lev. 25:6,44 for some examples of this less than ideal situation). John Calvin faced at least one situation where church discipline of a father was necessary because of the father’s selfish refusal to allow his daughter to marry. But those exceptions do not deny the rule that ordinarily a father has authority over the daughter until she is married.

Thus, a young man who is seeking to discern God’s will for marriage should abide by her father’s rules. The young man cannot in any way undermine the father’s authority. This pulling of the woman back and forth in a tug of war between two authorities has proved disastrous in many relationships. When the man encourages the girl to buck her father’s authority he is teaching her to undermine his own authority once he is married.

So how does a young man show initiative if the father has total authority? He can show initiative in two ways. First, he can show initiative by pursuing the father, honoring the father, demonstrating his character to the father, and winning the trust of the father. There is no better way of winning the trust of a daughter than winning the trust of a father. Second, once the father trusts the young man sufficiently, he may ask the man to propose some ways in which he might show leadership to the daughter during the season of finding out if marriage is the Lord’s will. This is a great test of the young man’s character and initiative and will help to show to the girl whether this is the kind of leadership that she wants to be under for the rest of her life. We will discuss this in more detail later, but the bottom line is that this time is not merely for asking the father if you can go out on a date and then determining for yourself everything else that happens. Ordinarily the whole season is supervised and directed by the father. This of course does not rule out negotiations (Gen. 24; 48; 1 Sam. 18:17-30) and communication (Gen. 48; Judges 14:7) prior to betrothal, but it is a warning to a young man to not take authority prematurely.

It is not something that warrants congratulations

Fourth, this time is not a stage in the acquisition of a spouse that calls for congratulations. Though it implies that both are interested enough in each other to consider whether marriage might be a possibility, this process should be called off as soon as they discover that they are not interested in marriage, even if that means ending the process after the first interview. This is not akin to going steady. It is purely for the purpose of discovering the Lord’s will on the matter, and discovering His will to the satisfaction of the young man, the young woman, and both sets of parents. As soon as all parties are convinced that this is of the Lord, they should proceed to betrothal (recommended) or marriage (optional).

It is not necessarily a once-only experience

But this of course means that a man may have to pursue more than one woman before he decides whom he is going to marry. If he gains permission from a father to discuss the potential of marriage with the daughter, it is assumed that the father already approves of the young man sufficiently to move things forward. But what if the young woman objects to marriage after a month of getting to know him? Or what if the father discovers circumstances about the man that warrant him not approving of the marriage (1 Cor. 7:36-38)? And what if the young man finds something biblically objectionable in the young woman after one week? That process would be ended, freeing them up to pursue a different person. This time is not a commitment for life like betrothal is. It is a serious testing to discover if marriage is the will of God.

It is not the time intended for developing romance, though if all things go well, romantic love will inevitably start.

This season should not be seen as the time for deliberately developing romance. Though the process will often lead to feelings of romance (see 1 Sam. 18:20 for an example of early romance), the purpose of the time is not to fan the flames of romance but to see if romance should be pursued. During this season, the couple should seek to be as objective as possible in order to carefully evaluate the evidence of whether God would have them marry. Too often the emotions of premature romance cloud the judgment and make couples believe that their love for each other will compensate for major “red flags” that would (on better judgment) preclude marriage. If romance develops too early, the heart is given away before there are adequate grounds for either the parents or the couple to approve on a Biblical basis. But having said that, it is impossible to keep all feelings out of the equation as their friendship progresses – especially if there is every indication that God is leading the couple to marriage. It would not be wrong to develop romantic love, but this is not the purpose. The purpose is to discover quickly if romance should develop.

What a season of discussion is

Having cleared the deck of possible misunderstandings of my position, let me try to define what I mean by “a season of discussion.” To avoid misunderstandings, it is imperative that I give a clear definition of what I mean. I believe this definition will enable those who choose this route to avoid pitfalls and to follow all of the Biblical principles that we will discuss later in the book.


This book is not being written with any other definition in mind, and it should be judged on the basis of this definition - “this season of discussion ordinarily constitutes the paternally supervised process used by two families to keep their children pure while they seek the will of the Lord by testing the evidence for their suitability for marriage to each other, with no deliberate promotion of romance or romantic touch.” Let’s examine each of the parts of this definition against the touchstone of Scripture.


The first operative word in the definition is “ordinarily.” As we have already seen, this process is an option, not a mandate (Gen. 2:21-25; 24; 38:8; Ex. 22:16-17; Deut. 20:14; 21:10-14; 25:5-10; Ruth 3-4; etc.). If two families are in full agreement that they want to bypass this process, I am fully supportive. Since the only purpose of this season is to discover whether the two people should get married, there is no point in going through the process if that conclusion has already been reached. Tightly knit families who have grown up together may not need a time of discussion, or may only need a very short one. A man and a woman like Boaz and Ruth may have already seen all they needed to see to make an informed decision without need for a more formal discussion.

However, it is rather rare that the period of investigation can be bypassed without missing a lot. If you do not know the other person’s character issues, leadership style, personal disciplines, worldview, calling, work competencies, ability to handle finances, abilities as a peacemaker, theological soundness, etc., then it is likely that you need a period to talk through those things. Ordinarily this time is an extremely helpful thing before any lifelong commitment is made (betrothal).

Paternal Supervision

The next part of the definition indicates that this should ordinarily be a process that is “paternally supervised.” This is one of the key differences with dating. Adam and Eve did not select each other apart from the supervision of their Father (Gen. 2:22). Paul makes clear that this Edenic romance stands as a paradigm for marriage today.19 Just as the Father gave Eve to Adam, the Father gave the bride to Christ (John 6:36; 1Cor. 1:9), and as one receiving authority from the Father, Paul acts in a fatherly way presenting a chaste bride to Jesus (2 Cor. 11:2). Ordinarily it was the father who initiated and supervised the getting of a wife (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; Ex. 22:16-17; Judges 14:1-2,10; Ezra 9:12; Jer. 29:6; Matt. 22:2; 24:38; Luke 17:27; 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 7:36-38; cf. John 6:44; 17:6), though there were other forms of supervision that were practiced when the father was not alive (Gen. 24:1-41; 29:18-19; 41:45; Ruth 2-3). 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 indicates that the father of the bride continues to have full authority to permit or not permit a wedding. Exodus 22:17 roots this in the law. But the parents of the groom were also responsible to give their guidance and to “take” wives for their sons (Gen. 2:22; 21:21; 24:3,37; 28:1,6; cf. John 6:44; 17:6). This was so thoroughly ingrained in the thinking of Israelites that even a compromised older man like Samson didn’t dare to approach a lady on the subject of marriage apart from the supervision of his parents (Judges 14), though he may no doubt have wanted to (see the compromises with the prostitute in Judges 16). R. J. Rushdoony gives an interesting insight into this “paternal supervision” by giving the definition of the words “bridegroom” and “father-in-law” in the Hebrew:

…the Hebrew word for bridegroom means “the circumcised,” the Hebrew word for father-in-law means he who performed the operation of circumcision, and the Hebrew word for mother-in-law is similar. This obviously had no reference to the actual physical rite, since Hebrew males were circumcised on the eighth day. What it meant was that the father-in-law ensured the fact of spiritual circumcision, as did the mother-in-law, by making sure of the covenantal status of the groom. It was their duty to prevent a mixed marriage. A man could marry their daughter, and become a bridegroom, only when clearly a man under God.20

The Biblical evidence for the father’s authority in this matter was so strong that it was not questioned in the church until recent times. Tertullian (150-220 AD) said, “even upon earth, indeed, sons do not legitimately marry without the consent of their fathers.”21 In 370 AD Basil said in Canon XLII, “Slaves marrying without the consent of their masters, or children without consent of their fathers, it is not matrimony but fornication, till they ratify it by consenting.”22 These were declarations that marriage was not made by a sexual act but was made by a covenant ceremony.23 And more to the point of our current discussion, the covenant of marriage was under the authority of the parents, and especially the father. While our individualistic age might consider such language odd, this opinion was seen throughout the church. The Westminster Assembly wisely recognized this paternal authority as having exceptions, such as when a father was dead.24 However, the exceptions ought to reinforce the rule in our minds. Scripture knows nothing of the unsupervised “dating” culture that started in the 1900s.

Scripture indicates that this principle of paternal oversight was true even for older women, divorced women, and widowed women. They ordinarily remained under the authority of their fathers or some other male relative until they were given in marriage (Gen. 24:41, 29:19; 34:8; Ex. 22:17; 1 Cor. 7:38; etc). Divorced or widowed women either came under the protective covering of their father (Gen. 38:11; Lev. 22:13), a son (John 19:25-27), a grandson (1 Tim. 5:4), a member of the family (1 Tim. 5:16), a friend of the family (John 19:25-27) or—in cases where the woman was truly “left alone” (1 Tim. 5:5)—she could come under the protective care of an elder (2 John; 1 Tim. 5:1-19). Such protective care was considered a blessing. Where there was no protective care of a male (such as the case of Naomi and Ruth), the kinsman redeemer often stepped in. While one could argue that widowhood “freed” a woman from such submission, the pervasive evidence seems to treat the plight of widowhood as a curse (Ex. 22:24) that needed the protection of law (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 16:11,14; 24:17,19-21; 26:12-13; 27:19), and which was remedied as soon as possible by marriage (Deut. 25:5; Ruth; 1 Tim. 5:14), or (if meeting the Biblical qualifications) being employed by and under the authority of the church (1 Tim. 5:9-10). In any case, I am at least arguing that paternal supervision is the ideal for any part of the process leading to marriage.

Discussion, Betrothal, and Marriage Under Family Jurisdiction

The next phrase in the definition says, “discussion ordinarily constitutes the paternally supervised process used by two families…” This is seeking to make it clear that all issues involved from the beginning of the discussion process to marriage are clearly within the jurisdiction of the family and can ordinarily be concluded without the permission of either church or state. There is no evidence in Scripture that either the church or the state issued licenses of any sort.

This does not mean that church or state have no jurisdiction. Both church and state may and should forbid all marriages that violate Biblical law. For example, it was lawful for Paul to forbid marriage that violated the laws of consanguinity and to engage in church discipline when those laws were violated (1 Cor. 5:1-13).25 It was lawful for the church to forbid divorce that did not meet biblical requirements (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Thus to claim that the church has no jurisdiction over marriage whatsoever is going too far. Likewise, it was lawful for the state to forbid divorces in certain circumstances (Deut. 22:19,29)26 and to mandate divorces in certain circumstances (Ezra 10).27 So it is clear that the State also has some limited jurisdiction. Just as the state should not recognize certain contracts as legally binding contracts (contracts for murder, prostitution, kidnapping, etc.), the state should not recognize certain marriage covenants as lawful within the state (incestuous marriage, polyandry, homosexual marriage, etc.). But there is a vast difference between having statutory definitions of lawful marriage and setting up a police state that prevents unlawful marriages by means of a licensing system. The moment the state tries to prevent sins or crimes (as opposed to punishing crimes at the petition of citizens) it slides down a pathway into total control and total tyranny.

Marriage licenses are a modern phenomenon that should be resisted by Christians.28 For a helpful discussion of the Biblical and practical problems involved in all forms of civil licensing (medical, food, service, housing, etc.), see E. Calvin Beisner’s book, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity. There is no biblical evidence that God ever authorized the state to license anything. This is certainly true of marriages. If the marriage qualifies as a Biblical marriage (not within the bounds of consanguinity, not a homosexual marriage, not a polyandrous marriage, etc.) the state and church do not need to get involved. For example, was the wedding of Isaac to Rebekah a church wedding (Gen. 24)? No. Was the state involved? No. It was clearly a covenant entered into by two heads of household - Abraham the father of Isaac and Laban the brother of Rebekah. Nor is there the slightest hint that families had to obtain permission from either church or state for any other part of discussion, betrothal, or marriage. This does not mean that citizens are sinning by reluctantly obtaining a marriage license to avoid problems, but the state itself is overstepping its authority when it requires marriage licenses. When I perform a wedding, I do not do so by the authority of the state or by the authority of the church, but by the authority delegated to me by the fathers. My presence is also a tacit statement by the families that they are not doing anything that would violate biblical laws governing marriage. Though attempts to break a marriage covenant can be disciplined by a church and prevented by the state, the marriage itself is a public covenant between two families.

In Purity

The next part of the definition says, “to keep their children pure…” Anyone who understands the power of the flesh will immediately identify with the strong cautions and warnings that the Scriptures give to young couples during this stage of their search for a spouse. It is all too easy to give in to the cravings of the flesh and to commit fornication. Modern methods of dating almost guarantee failure in the area of purity. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul discusses this point of purity rather strongly when he admonishes the Thessalonians on “how to acquire their own spouse in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (vv. 4-5). He wanted the methods for acquiring a wife to be conformed to Scripture, not the customs of culture. We will later give a detailed exposition of verses 1-8.

Seeking the Will of God

The next part of the definition says, “while they seek the will of the Lord.” Proverbs 14:19 says “a prudent wife is from the LORD.” If a good wife is from the Lord, it means that those who seek a good wife must be studying His Word and seeking His guidance. The whole time must be God-centered rather than following the “philosophies” and “principles” of the world (Col. 2:6-8). Marriage should not be seen simply as a plan for economic advancement. It is to be seen as the calling of God for two individuals to be committed to each other for life. Both individuals must seek God’s guidance and the parents should seek God’s guidance on their behalf. In the case of Adam and Eve, both had the same parent, and that parent happened to be God, so the guidance was clear. In the case of Isaac and Rebekah, God’s guidance was clearly given to the servant and the parents of the bride (Gen. 24, especially verses 40,48-52), but neither Isaac nor Rebekah acted on the guidance until they were convinced in their own mind that this was from God. Rebekah said, “I will go” (v. 58) and only after “the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done” (v. 66) did Isaac decide to marry her (v. 67). The Puritan writer Richard Baxter wisely said, “…if the consent of the parents be necessary, much more is the consent of God.”29

Before I move on, I need to correct a tendency in some circles to pit trust in God for finding a mate against active seeking. Tom Ha uck is one of many who advocate total passivity as they trust God to bring a spouse to their doorstep. In a chapter titled, “Finding vs. Searching for a Mate,” Pastor Tom says that when Scripture speaks of finding a wife (Prov. 18:22) it is not advocating seeking a wife. He says, “think of it more as a surprise discovery rather than the results of effort put into searching.”30

He gives two illustrations to try to prove that we should not put effort into searching for a spouse. The first is from the parable of the growing seed in Mark 4. Hauck says,

After he plants it, it doesn’t matter if he sleeps or is awake, the seed sprouts and the man doesn’t have to even know how it does that. It is not knowing how it will happen that makes it happen; it is just believing it will.31

His second illustration is of God’s bringing a spouse to Adam. He says,

In God’s pattern for marriage, as found in Genesis, chapter two, what did Adam do to find his mate? What was he doing just before he met Eve? He was sleeping – not searching, but sleeping. Sleeping represents trust and peace. Adam didn’t have to search for Eve, God brought her to him.32

He also believes that Paul forbids searching for a spouse in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. He says,

Searching isn’t biblical because it doesn’t match with God’s call for being single. It doesn’t allow the undivided, undistracted devotion to the Lord required in 1 Corinthians 7:35. A searcher’s interest is divided and he/she cannot give one hundred percent to God.33

There are five problems with this approach to Scripture. First, to pit divine sovereignty against human responsibility is hyper-Calvinism and is not Biblical. Scripture indicates that a total trust in God frees us to act upon our responsibilities. For example, Philippians 2:12-13 says

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

It is the very fact that God makes us willing and actually works in us the doing of good works that enables us to work at it so diligently. We work out what God works in. We must never pit divine working against human working. The first enables the second.

Even Hauck’s illustrations bear this out. A farmer who does not research, investigate problems, and work hard at farming will not receive a harvest. Certainly it is God who gives the farmer life, breath, a farm, rain, and productive seed. Yet God does not do it apart from man’s actions. God blesses the farmer with a crop not because he sleeps, but because the farmer had a future oriented focus on planting, nurturing, and harvesting. The same was true of Adam. It is simply not correct to say that Adam did not search. God made all creatures in pairs except for Adam, and as Adam named the creatures, the implication of the text was that he was looking for his pair. Notice the “but” of contrast in Genesis 2:20.

So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

He had obviously been looking. God gave him this assignment to name the animals so that he could notice the disparity of every creature having a mate except for him. It was deliberate. God was making Adam look. And this was before the Fall, so we cannot say that what Adam did was wrong. “But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him (emphasis mine).”

Third, the Bible over and over calls upon people to search and to seek for a godly mate. Jeremiah 29:6 commands the remnant in Babylon, “find wives for your sons” (NIV). Contrary to the claims of Hauck, the Hebrew word for “find” in Proverbs 18:22 and 31:10 is not a passive discovery void of seeking. Indeed, in the ancient Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for find (מָצָא) is almost always translated with the Greek word hurisko (εὑρισκω), which means, “to come upon something through a purposeful search” or “to discover intellectually through reflection, observation, examination, or investigation, find, discover, (emphasis mine).”34 Though it can occasionally refer to something found accidentally, the following Scriptures show that the word for “find” (מָצָא) is not at all in contradiction to the words for “seek” (בָּקַשׁ, or דָּרַשׁ or שָׁחַר)

…if you seek (בָּקַשׁ) the Lord, you shall find (מָצָא) him.
Deut. 4:29

…and you will seek (בָּקַשׁ) me and find (מָצָא) me when you search for me with all your heart.
Jer. 29:13

Seek (דָּרַשׁ) the Lord, while he may be found (מָצָא)
Isa 55:6

Fourth, Hauck cannot appeal to 1 Corinthians 7 as supporting his claim that a single must be undistracted from thoughts of a spouse since the context was not ordinary situations relating to singleness, but a temporary need “because of this present distress” (v. 26) that would produce “trouble in the flesh” that Paul wanted to spare them from (v. 28) and was not a universal “commandment from the Lord” (v. 25). What was a universal commandment was “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (v. 2) and what was a temporary advice was “Do not seek a wife” (v. 27). But even that temporary command implied that when people were prepared to get married and the situation was right, it was proper to seek a wife.

Finally, it should be noted that submission to God’s guidance is not contrasted with marrying someone whom you desire. God’s command to even women was, “let them marry whom they think best” (Numb. 36:6). That implies a process of thinking through the issues, not passively waiting for God’s guidance. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7:39 does not pit God’s guidance (“in the Lord”) against a person’s personal wishes (“whom she wishes”). Instead, it says, “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” When God gives “liberty” to seek, it is legalism to condemn such seeking, so long as the seeking follows biblical principles.

Time of Serious Evaluation of Each Other

The next part of the definition is “by testing of the evidence for their suitability for marriage…” This is the biggest decision two families will make, and it is imperative that they seek the mind of the Lord. The purpose of this process is not to romance someone who may not end up becoming your wife. It is not to get physically involved without a commitment. It is not even to woo the heart of the bride. It is see if God wants her to be the bride. It is to seek God’s mind on the subject. The reason Adam did not need to test the evidence of whether Eve should be his bride was because God had already done that for him (Gen. 2:21-25). The reason Isaac did not need to test the evidence is because he trusted his father’s servant to follow instructions and to thoroughly test the evidence for him (Gen. 24:1-67). But the evidence needs to be tested in some way before a commitment to marriage is made. Both the man and the woman need to have the maturity that will enable them to be spiritually one (Mal. 2:15) and to raise “godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). There needs to be evidence that the woman fits the husband’s calling since she is to be “a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18,20 NASB). This means that if he is called to be a missionary to headhunters, she needs to know that. It would not be proper for a woman to marry a man if she is convinced that she has disabilities that would keep her husband from pursuing God’s call upon his life. Women who desire to marry men who might be officers in the church must themselves be developing the qualities of 1 Tim. 3:11; Titus 2:3-5; etc. The main purpose for this season is research. It is not (as one person worded it) “a reformed version of dating.” It is a time of serious investigation, and as soon as the research shows that they are not meant for each other, it should be called off. As soon as they know that they are meant for each other, the relationship should progress to commitment (betrothal). A time of seeking the Lord’s will regarding marriage should only last as long as the families are undecided.

There are two helpful books that I have written to help in this process of evaluation. There is a book for men called, Leader Development: A Mentoring Checklist for Sons and Young Men. This book is divided up into 32 areas of life with 586 diagnostic questions. Most men will be growing in these areas all of their lives, so the point of the book is not to see if a man has arrived, but to serve as a starting point for evaluating the man’s character qualities, leadership style, worldview, calling, competencies, etc.

The second book is Mature Daughters: A Mentoring Checklist for Daughters and Young Women. This book is divided up somewhat differently, but has 680 diagnostic questions designed to see where a daughter is at in preparing herself to be a helper to her future husband. Again, no woman will be finished growing in all of these areas prior to marriage, but the book helps a person to consider whether the woman is qualified in some measure to be married.

For the Purpose of Seeking Marriage

The seventh part of the definition has already been implied in the previous part of the definition, but it is worth emphasizing that the purpose of the time is not recreation, fun, good feelings, fellowship, or an answer to loneliness. Those things will no doubt occur, but unlike most dating, there is one central purpose – to seriously evaluate whether to marry a particular person. If you are not serious about marriage, you shouldn’t be looking into the possibility.

The Bible speaks of the purpose for this period as being to “seek a wife” (1 Cor. 7:27). When difficult circumstances made it unwise to get married,35 Paul said that it was just as unwise to seek a spouse.36 His advice was that until those circumstances that made marriage unwise were changed that “it is good for the man to remain as he is” (v. 26) and to “not seek a wife” (v. 27). But by implication it would also mean that no one should start a discussion process until they are ready for marriage financially, spiritually, doctrinally and in terms of competencies. Without readiness for marriage, the discussion is not serious. Until ready for marriage, virgins should remain uninvolved in the distractions of relationship (vv. 32-35), and try to remain focused on “how he may please the Lord” (v. 32). Every Biblical example of a man righteously spending “quality time” with a woman in whom he was interested was for the purpose of seeking a wife, not simply for the purpose of fun (See for example Gen. 24:3-4,7,37,38,40; 28:1-2,6; Lev. 21:7,13-14; Deut. 21:11; 22:13; 24:1; Ruth 4; Prov. 18:22; 31:10; Jer. 29:6; etc.). This is why young teenagers should not date. They are not old enough to get married. Avoiding premature marriage (1 Cor. 7:28-40) logically rules out entering into a premature relationship (vv. 26-27).

Concern for the Welfare of the Two Courting

The next part of the definition says, “to each other.” God cares about the individual needs and interests of both the females (Numb. 36:6; Deut. 25:5-10; Ruth 2-4; 1 Timothy 5:14; 1 Cor. 7:36) and the males (Deut. 21:11; Judges 21:16; Prov. 18:22; 19:14; 1 Cor. 7:9) who are courting. This is not as much about the parents’ interests and welfare as it is about the welfare of the two individuals who are courting and the will of God in their lives. Both of those children were placed by God “under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the Father” (Gal. 4:2). As stewards we will be answerable to God for how we treat them during this time. Will they come away frustrated at our selfishness or praising God that we were faithful stewards? Though a father has authority to say “No” to a suitor (Ex. 22:17; 1 Cor. 7:37), the father must be very sure that the “No” is in the best interests of both young people.37

Sometimes parents have agendas for marrying off their children that are self-serving rather than stewardship agendas that are seeking the interests of the children. To marry a daughter off for wealth, position, power, connections, prestige or anything else that is purely self-serving and not in the interests of the children is wrong. Both individuals who are seeking marriage must be convinced that God wants them married. There is no Biblical justification for shotgun marriages. There is no Biblical justification for parents arranging marriages against the wills of their children. Even though Isaac and Rebekah trusted the guidance that God gave through other parties (Gen. 24:48-53), and even though that guidance was rather remarkable (Gen. 24:12-22,40-52), all the parties who were involved knew that Rebekah must still agree to be married (Gen. 24:39-41,57-58), as must Isaac (Gen. 24:66-67). This implies that both Rebekah and Isaac were part of this investigation of the “evidence.” Though the interests of the family do have a bearing (see for example Numb. 36:1-13), it is still important that the interests of the individuals not be neglected.

The purpose of the father is not to intimidate or needlessly scare away suitors. The purpose of the parent is not to hold onto his daughter as long as he can. The purpose of the parent is to discharge a stewardship trust before God of facilitating his daughter entering into a godly marriage. Biblical principles can be used as a tool of blessing or as a club to keep away all suitors. Make sure that you always keep in mind the welfare of those who are pursuing marriage.

Avoiding Most Romantic Actions

The last part of the definition is the phrase, “with no deliberate promotion of romance or romantic touch.” Obviously romantic attachments can easily happen before betrothal (see Genesis 28:19), and in most circumstances it is impossible to keep one’s heart from becoming romantically attached. In fact, it is assumed that some degree of romantic love will persuade two young people to desire to enter a time of discussion, and eventually to decide to get betrothed. However, that is not the central purpose. The central purpose is to find out if you should get married, and to that end, it is wise to seek to protect each other’s hearts during that investigation. While a season of discussion is the time for determining whether the couple should lawfully be involved in romance, betrothal is the time when romance is more fully developed. We will later discuss the implications of Paul’s command, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1) We will also discuss the meaning of the Song of Solomon’s call, “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before it’s time” (Song. 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Suffice it to say at this point that romantic feelings tend to blind a couple from objectivity during this time of investigation.






And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.’

– Deuteronomy 20:7

‘I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal,

– Jeremiah 2:2

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD.

– Hosea 2:19-20

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

– 2 Corinthians 11:2

4. Clearly Defining Our Terms — Betrothal

Is betrothal Biblical?

There are some who claim that it is not biblical to follow the betrothal model in “New Testament times,” since the “age of grace” has nullified the Old Testament law.38 There are others who are simply overreacting to the legalism they have found within the betrothal camp. Some of the legalism has come by defining betrothal from the Babylonian Talmud rather than the Bible, failing to realize that the Jewish traditions that they cite are the “traditions of man” that Jesus castigated in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 19, Matthew 23, and other places. However, just because betrothal has been abused does not mean we should neglect the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Let’s correct, not neglect.

Betrothal is not only mentioned over and over in the Bible (Ex. 21:8-9; 22:16; Lev. 19:20; Deut. 20:7; 22:23,25,27-28,30; 2 Sam. 3:14; Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:19-20; Matt 1:18; Luke 1:27; 2:5; 2 Cor. 11:2; see Rev. 19:7-9; 21:1-4,9-10), but the law itself treats those who are betrothed in a different way than those who are not. For example, fornication with a betrothed person was punished much more severely (Deut. 22:20-21,23-24,25-27) than fornication with an unbetrothed person (Ex 22:16; Lev. 19:20; Deut. 22:28-29). Likewise, betrothed people had special legal rights (Ex. 21:7-9). Furthermore, God Himself spoke of betrothing Israel to Himself (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:19-20) and the New Testament speaks of the church being betrothed to Jesus: Paul said, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2) Given this information, I find it difficult to see how anyone can say that betrothal is not Biblical. While it is not the only option that the Bible allows, it was certainly a part of most biblical relationships that led to marriage.

What betrothal is not

Because legalists have coopted the word “betrothal” and used it in an unbiblical way, it is very important that we clearly define the term and not import non-biblical ideas as so many have done.39

Betrothal is not mandated or essential to getting married

It is common to affirm that betrothal is a necessary step before marriage.40 However, for it to be a necessary step, it would have to be commanded in the Scripture. Though betrothal was no doubt the most common (and most wise) approach to marriage in the Scripture, we have already demonstrated in this book that God both modeled and authorized alternatives. There were at least four biblical models that bypassed betrothal altogether and went straight to marriage. To mandate betrothal for everyone is to tread into the waters of legalism. But if it is not commanded, then there is flexibility on what form the commitment to marriage might take. Clear communication between families of exactly what is intended by “engagement” or “betrothal” is critical to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Biblical betrothal should not be associated with hyper-patriarchalism

It is common to reject any thought of betrothal simply because the concept has been abused in some hyper-patriarchal circles. I gladly embrace all Biblical law, including laws that call for patriarchy (such as Numbers 30). However, numerous people who have gotten on the Patriarchy bandwagon are actually guilty of hyper-patriarchy because they have gone beyond (Greek = huper) Biblical law. Let me give a few examples of the difference between biblical patriarchy and hyper-patriarchy with regard to betrothal:

We have already seen that biblical patriarchy gives options and a great deal of flexibility on the issues leading up to marriage. In stark contrast, hyper-patriarchs insist on only one way of doing things. When the law says “You shall not add to the law I command you, nor take away from it” (Deut. 4:2) it is calling upon us to not only maintain all laws, but also to maintain all liberties that are granted in the Scripture. Hyper-patriarchalism has become suffocating because it limits the Biblical options.

A second example is the issue of the degree to which both the parents and the young couple are part of the process of deciding whom to marry. Hyper-patriarchs frequently keep their daughters in the dark about the young man until they have decided that she should be betrothed. When people object that this is virtually identical to an arranged marriage, these people will quickly counter that a daughter has veto power. But that veto power is virtually emptied of its power because of false guilt that the young people have if they do say “No.” This is true because the hyper-patriarchs teach that

  1. God speaks to the sons and daughters through the parent and
  2. that godly sons and daughters will unreservedly give their hearts to their fathers, and this means that he or she “fully surrenders to his parents’ desires, opinions, tastes, aspirations, etc.”41

There have been several cases of young people marrying a person that they do not want to marry, but doing so out of submission to their parent. This is going way beyond Biblical law, which allowed women to “marry whom they think best” (Numb. 36:6; 1 Cor. 7:39). The discussion of the chart in chapter 2 shows how the decision-making should involve more than simply the father’s desires. The father is a guide to decision making, not a substitute for decision making.

A third issue revolves around who may take the initiative in seeking a wife. Hyper-patriarchs have tended to insist that the fathers must always take the initiative. But again, this goes beyond the Scripture and is therefore beyond patriarchy. Scripture allowed fathers (Jer. 29:6), the unmarried man (1 Thes. 4:4), and the unmarried woman (Numb. 36:6; Ruth 3) to take the initiative, depending on what was most providentially prudent. While we generally encourage fathers to not be passive, the process is interactive, not unilateral.

Many other examples could be given, but these should be sufficient to distance my proposal from hyper-patriarchalism.

Biblical betrothal should not be defined by the practices of medieval Judaism

One of the problems that I have with some modern definitions of betrothal is that they take the word “betrothal” from the Bible but run to the Judaism of the Middle Ages to define what betrothal means and/or they fill in the gaps with other traditions of man. This can lead to a related form of legalism. If betrothal is a Biblical doctrine, we should allow the Bible alone to define it. But when we look in the Bible, we find a range of things involved in betrothal (depending on the circumstances and needs of the people involved). In other word, the Bible sets boundaries, but within those boundaries there are many liberties that have been given.

Thus we do not insist on a one-year betrothal, though obviously people have the liberty to do that. Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, and others appear to have married on the day that they met. We do not insist on a written contract since some betrothals were entered by oral contract.42 We do not insist on the young lady drinking from a glass of wine, though pomp and ceremony can be appropriate to the making of a betrothal contract. While these and other customs from Jewish betrothal customs may be nice, they are not necessary. Those customs can only be traced back to the middle ages. What is central to all betrothals is that it is a promise/contract to marry, enforceable by law, and subject to sanctions should the contract be broken.43

Betrothal is a contract, not necessarily a covenant

This of course brings up the controversy of whether betrothal is a covenant or a contract. Medieval Judaism treated betrothal as a covenant and blurred the lines of distinction between marriage and betrothal. It is this blurring of distinctions that has led to issues in the betrothal movement. While there is no reason why a betrothal cannot have a full covenantal status if a family so wished, there is plenty of Biblical evidence that covenant is not at the heart of betrothal. It is my contention that a betrothal is a promise/contract to enter into the covenant of marriage, not a “covenant to covenant,” as Greg Price words it. As we will see, the implications of this are very significant.

Covenant is oath, contract is not (Deut. 29:12; 2 Kings 11:4; 1 Chron. 16:16; Ps. 89:3-4; 105:9; Ezek. 17:19; Heb. 6:13-15,17)

The first contrast between a contract and a covenant is that a covenant always involves the making of an oath, while Jesus and James both forbid the use of oaths in private promises/contracts. Jesus said, “Do not swear at all” (Matt. 5:34), and James insists, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment” (James 5:12). These prohibitions do not contradict the many Scriptures that command us to swear an oath (Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Jer. 4:2; Jer. 12:16; Is. 19:21) because those Scriptures are describing oaths under authority,44 whereas Christ is describing commitments made between individuals. Though a contract is legally binding without an oath, a covenant does not even exist without an oath. In his outstanding book on covenants, O. Palmer Robertson says that an oath is so essential to a covenant that the terms “covenant” and “oath” are often treated as synonyms.45

Can families impose a covenant oath on the parties at the time of betrothal? Certainly they are free to do so. But is such an oath essential to a betrothal? No. Boaz’s promise to marry Ruth (Ruth 3:10-13) was absent an oath, though it did include a token (Ruth 3:15-18). In contrast, his marriage commitment took the form of a covenant (Ruth 4:8-13). His betrothal was without witnesses (3:8-18) whereas the marriage covenant necessarily involved witnesses (4:9-12). His betrothal had a condition inserted into the contract (3:13) whereas the marriage covenant was an unreserved commitment of Boaz’ person and property to Ruth (4:1-12). The same distinctions can be seen in other relationships. The words of 1 Samuel 18:17 are contractual and legally binding, but have no covenantal language. The same is true of 1 Samuel 18:20-26 and other passages.

Covenantal oaths can only be imposed by lawful authorities (Numb. 5:19,21; Neh. 5:12; Ex. 22:11) whereas contracts can be entered into with no authority present

The second major difference between a contract and a covenant was already hinted at in the previous section. Covenantal oaths can only be imposed by (or between) lawful authorities,46 whereas contracts can be entered into by two persons with no “greater” authority present.47 Some bring up Jonathan and David’s covenant (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:16; 23:18) as an example of equals making a covenant without authority being present. However even that covenant was between one authority (Crown Prince Jonathan) and one who had already been anointed as a succeeding authority (Anointed Successor David) and the covenant they made explicitly mentions the relationship of authority between them, stating, “You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you” (1 Sam. 23:17).

Thus O. Palmer Robertson rightly defines a covenant as a bond in blood sovereignly administered. He says, “Both biblical and extra-biblical evidence point to the unilateral form of covenantal establishment. No such thing as bargaining, bartering, or contracting characterizes the divine covenants of Scripture.”48 So essential is the concept of authority to covenant that the authority is said to be the covenant (Is. 42:6; 49:8; Dan. 11:22). Thus Hebrews 6:16 gives the requirement of all covenants when it says, “men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” Since an oath is essential to a covenant (previous point) having a lawful authority present is also essential (this point). Of course, Hebrews says that this poses a problem for God since there is no other authority. But Hebrews points out that since God is the highest authority, this is not an issue - “because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (v. 12). So even with God the authority issue was present. “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…” (v. 17).

This is one of the differences between a wife and a concubine in the Old Testament. A wife had a written covenant attested to by some authority whereas a concubine had a legally binding contract, but no covenant.49 Both commitments were treated with great seriousness, but the marriage of concubinage did not have every right that a marriage covenant did (Lev. 19:20 versus Deut. 22:23-27). So Scripture recognized two levels of marriage: contractual concubinage50 and covenantal marriage.51

With this as a background, I think it is clear that betrothal did not have the characteristics of a covenant. It was a contract to enter into the covenant of marriage. Just like other contracts (but unlike covenants), betrothal could have contingencies placed in it (Ruth 3:11-13). Indeed, the Hebrew word for “betrothal” (אָרַשׁ) simply indicates a “pledge to be married.”52 The word “pledge” fits the language of contracts. This term and the related terms “request” (אָרַשׁ) and desire (אֲרֶשֶׁת) all indicate anticipation, not fulfillment. Though there is no reason why a betrothal cannot be turned into a covenant, it would go beyond the Scripture to insist that all betrothals must adhere to full covenantal ceremonies. The meaning of the term itself, its usage, and the examples of those betrothed in the Bible show that it was a legally binding contract but not a covenant ceremony with oaths, authority, and witnesses.53 A further confirmation of our conclusion is that the Bible knows of only one “covenant” related to marriage (note the singular in Mal 2:14; Prov. 2:17). I will deal with the objection that the betrothed are called “husband” and “wife” in the next section.

Betrothal is not unbreakable

Misunderstanding of Matthew 19:9

When betrothal advocates call betrothal an “irrevocable decision”54 that cannot be broken without divorce, treat betrothal as a “marriage without consummation,” and say that the betrothed are indeed husband and wife, they are going beyond the Scripture.55 Deuteronomy 20:7 makes it clear that betrothal does not marry the couple in any sense of the word. It says, “And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.” It is clear that the betrothed are not yet married.

It is common in some circles to assert that a betrothal may only be broken if one of the parties has engaged in premarital sex. Matthew 19:9 is used to justify this interpretation. This verse says, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” On their interpretation, this is not talking about the divorce of a married couple (something they believe cannot happen), but is talking about the divorce of a betrothed couple. Their main arguments are as follows: Betrothed people can be called husband and wife (see 2 Sam. 3:14; Deut. 22:24; Matt 1:20). Such betrothed people can be divorced (literally “put away” in Matt 1:20) only on the basis of fornication.56 A fornicating betrothed may not marry anyone else. They then try to reconcile Mark 10:11-12 with Matthew 19:9 by saying that Matthew was written to Jews, whereas Mark was written to Gentiles. They believe that since Gentile Romans would not have understood that betrothal was the first step of marriage, they might assume that the exception clause allowed married people to get divorced (as opposed to only betrothed people getting divorced) so Mark left the exception clause off to avoid confusion.

But this imports too many presuppositions into the passage and contradicts several Scriptures. First, Matthew 19 and Mark 10 are referring to the same event and cannot be made to refer to quite different things (divorce in betrothal and divorce in marriage respectively). Second, the context (verses 3-12) is clearly answering questions about marriage, not questions about betrothal. Third, the Old Testament passage being discussed (Deuteronomy 24) was clearly dealing with marriage, not betrothal. Fourth, it is simply not true that such betrothal practices would not have been understood by the Romans.57 Fifth, the Greek word porneia is a much broader term than simply premarital sex. There is no justification whatsoever for making Matthew 19 refer to divorce within betrothal alone.

Betrothal doesn’t have to be a covenant to be taken seriously

On the other hand, a pledge, promise, or contract should never be broken by a Christian since his word should be as good as gold. Jesus commands us to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). The only things that would permit a betrothal to be broken would be

1) the presence of something that could break a marriage, 2) the discovery that the contract was entered into fraudulently through misrepresentation by one of the parties, 3) the discovery that the contract is an unlawful contract.

Let’s examine each of these exceptions:

Anything that breaks a marriage can break a betrothal

Joseph was declared to be a just man when he wanted to put Mary away legally (Matt. 1:19). If his suspicion of fornication had been true, he would have been fully justified. Biblically, adultery with a betrothed person was worthy of capital punishment (Deut. 22:23-27), but lesser penalties were allowed.58

The discovery that the contract of betrothal was entered into fraudulently can break a betrothal

A second thing that can break any contract is if the contract has been entered into fraudulently. If a married man pretended to be single when getting betrothed, a subsequent discovery of this fraud would make the contract itself fraudulent and null and void. Likewise if it were later discovered that the man had pretended to be a Christian in order to get permission to be betrothed, but subsequently announced his lack of interest in Christianity, his contractual deceit would be legitimate grounds for breaking the contract. Integrity demands a high level of proof for this fraud, and it would need to be proved in either a civil or a church court. Breaking the contract would forfeit the dowry (Ex. 21:8).

The subsequent discovery of anything that the Bible would say prohibits marriage should break a betrothal

Finally, if the Bible says that two people should not be married, they should not be married even if a betrothal promise has been made. Promises should be renounced if they are unlawful promises (Numb. 30:5,8,12-13 with Acts 23:12,14; Mark 6:26). The Westminster Confession rightly says, “No man may vow to do any thing forbidden in the word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded.”59 If only one of the parties to a betrothal becomes a believer, he should break off the betrothal since the Bible forbids marriage to an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:39). This would not be possible after marriage, but it certainly is beforehand. If it was discovered that the person you were betrothed to was a blood relative forbidden in Leviticus 18, the betrothal should be broken. Likewise, if the person becomes a witch, homosexual, or some other criminal guilty of a capital crime, the betrothal should be treated as broken, since entered into on holy grounds. Likewise if one of the parties to a betrothal became excommunicated justly by a church, the betrothal should be treated as a broken contract since an excommunicated person is to be treated as an unbeliever (Matt. 18:17).

It is my view that the only lawful reasons for breaking the contract would be issues that would either make any contract null and void (fraudulent misinformation) or subsequent issues that would ordinarily make it biblically unlawful to enter into marriage. Betrothals are not to be lightly entered into. They are serious contracts that are binding before God. But unlawful contracts must be treated as unlawful to fulfill. To keep an unlawful contract (betrothal) by entering into an unlawful marriage doubles the sin and makes it permanent.

Betrothal is not arranged marriage

Some people have the mistaken notion that all betrothals were arranged marriages where the decision was made by the parents. Some betrothals may have been arranged marriages, but not all. The marriages of David, Boaz and the daughters of Zelophehad are all illustrations that betrothal does not imply an arranged marriage.

Betrothal is not a commitment made without reference to already existing love

Jonathan Lindvall says, “Our marriage is not based on love, our marriage is based on the will of God, and the love followed the decision to surrender to God’s will.”60 While Mr Lindvall is certainly correct that lawful marriages can be contracted without any romantic love prior to the wedding day (see the marriage of Isaac in Genesis 24), and while such a married couple can certainly learn to love each other (Genesis 24:67 says, “she became his wife, and he loved her”), there is nothing in Scripture that mandates that this be the case. This is the main difference that I would have with some betrothal-only advocates. It is legalism to mandate what Scripture does not. We have already seen in our discussion that many (if not most) people will get betrothed precisely because God has already produced a love for the other person within them. While a season of discussion is not for the purpose of developing such a love, Scripture seems to expect that love will ordinarily develop before a commitment of betrothal is made (see for example Gen. 29:18-20; Prov. 30:19; 1 Sam. 18:20).

Betrothal is not simply a “committed relationship,” “going steady,” being a man’s “intended,” being “spoken for,” or being “ringed”

Another mistake is to lower the standards of betrothal to our modern culture’s ideas. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus lists the following words as synonyms for the word “betrothed”: “plighted,” “going steady,” “committed,” “pledged,” “asked for,” “intended,” “spoken for,” and “ringed.” However, those words all have quite different connotations, and only the words “plighted,” “committed,” and “pledged” approximate the Biblical definition. When those who date start “going steady” they are not committing themselves to marriage. Betrothal is a legally binding commitment to enter into the covenant of marriage at some future date. In contrast, going steady is simply a commitment to an exclusive relationship of dating.

What betrothal is

Having ruled out everything that is not at the heart of betrothal, I offer the following definition as capturing the essence of what the Scripture associates with betrothal: “Betrothal is a binding commitment to enter into a marriage covenant at some future but not-distant date, after approval of the father, publically announced, usually accompanied by some token, and beginning a period in which a couple can learn to express non-sexual romance, usually under the guidance of parents, as they plan and prepare for their wedding.”

A binding commitment

First, it is “a binding commitment.” God says, “I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hos. 2:19). This is not a “I hope so.” This is a life commitment. It should never be entered into lightly. An engagement by one whose word is as good as gold would qualify. But so would a written contract or even a more formal covenant.

We have already seen that any unlawful contract should be broken, but our attitude toward betrothal should never be “maybe.” Just as any other contract is binding upon the parties, and just as a broken contract can be appealed to a church court, a broken betrothal can be appealed to the elders of the church of which they are members. Breaking a betrothal should be treated very seriously as having “dealt deceitfully” (Ex. 21:8). A person should only enter into betrothal if they are completely convinced that they should marry.

For the purpose of marriage in the near future

The next part of the definition says, “to enter into a marriage covenant at some future but not-distant date.” If a person is not financially ready to take on marriage, is underaged, or does not intend to get married soon, he should not presume to get betrothed. Betrothal is not intended to be a means of reserving a person for years at a time so that someone else cannot get her. Nor should parents prolong the betrothal in the hopes of gain as Laban did (Gen. 24). 1 Corinthians 7 implies that if some “present distress” (v. 26) or “necessity” (v. 37) hinders marriage, it should also hinder betrothal.61 The provision in Deuteronomy 20:7 implies that betrothal would not be for a long, indefinite time. Though Medieval Jewish betrothals could sometimes be for six months to a year, Biblical betrothals were likely shorter than a year. Boaz’s one day betrothal (Ruth 3-4) would be on the short side, David’s two betrothals (1 Sam. 18:17-19; 18:25-27) likely lasted in the range of weeks rather than months, and Jacob’s seven year wait is portrayed as an ungodly imposition of the greedy Laban (Gen. 29:1-30). While the Bible does not give a mandate on this subject, it certainly encourages us to be considerate in not putting off marriage too long (Deut. 20:7; 1 Cor. 7:9,36; 1 Tim. 4:11; 5:14).

After the approval of the father

Too frequently young romantics ignore the next provision of the definition and ask their young lady to marry them before having gotten permission to ask from the father. It is clear in Scripture that a father has the authority “keep his virgin daughter” from a suitor (1 Cor. 7:37) or to “give her in marriage” (v. 38-39). Nor is oversight of a father restricted to his daughter. Jeremiah commands fathers, “take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands” (Jer. 29:6). And the law of God gives situations where it is perfectly appropriate for a father to utterly refuse to give his daughter to a young man, even though they have fornicated (Ex. 22:17). Godly Abraham gave guidelines in the search for a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24) and Reuel gave oversight to the marriage of his daughter to Moses (Ex. 2:21). It was Jewish fathers who were required to take an oath before God to not give their daughters to pagan sons, and to not take pagan daughters for their sons (Neh. 10:29-30). Anyone who has examined all the evidence of Scripture will agree with Tertullian’s summary when he said, “sons do not legitimately marry without the consent of their fathers.”62 Obviously we have discussed exceptions that can occur, but this is the general pattern of Scripture.

Publically announced

The next part of the definition is “publically announced.” The reason betrothals were publically announced was that this gave extra protection to the woman. Biblical law punished fornication with a betrothed woman much more severely (Deut. 22:20-21,23-27) than fornication with an unbetrothed person (Ex 22:16; Deut. 22:28-29) because betrothed people had special legal rights (Ex. 21:7-9). This would be utterly impossible to know unless the betrothal was publically announced. Likewise, fornication with a woman betrothed as a concubine (Lev. 19:20) was punished differently than one betrothed to be a wife (Deut. 22:20-21,23-27). Certainly God’s betrothal to Israel was announced to the heavens and the earth (Hos. 2:20-21) with the earth responding (v. 22). Certainly a public announcement has the added benefit of giving the dad relief from multiple would-be suitors knocking on his door. An announcement through the church would be one way to make this public. Another way would be to give the county clerk’s office notice of the marriage.

Usually accompanied by some token of ability

The next part of the definition says, “usually accompanied by some token.” Sample tokens in the Bible were jewelry (Gen. 24:53; Ezek. 16:12), a large sum of money (Gen. 34:12), a city (1 Kings 9:16), and some sort of service (Gen. 29:15-30; 1 Sam. 18:25). A ring is a public statement that this person has been taken. But these tokens were often more. They were a type of dowry.

I would hasten to say that though the dowry is mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 29:18-20; 34:12; Ruth 4:10; 1 Sam. 18:25; 1 Kings 9:16; Hos. 3:2; 12:12), the only place it is commanded is in the case of rape (Ex. 22:16; Deut. 22:29). I acknowledge that giving a bridal provision is wise. This was one test by which a father of the girl could be assured

  1. that the man was able to support a wife (the man would place a sum of money into the hands of the father of the bride)
  2. that the woman would be cared for should the husband die (the father would place the dowry into the daughter’s hand - Luke 15:8; Gen. 31:15; Josh. 15:19; Judges 1:15; cf figurative use in Gen. 30:20).

However, insurance could achieve objective 2 and other tests could be used by the father to gauge a man’s ability to protect and support a wife. For example, David was too poor to afford a worthy dowry (1 Sam. 18:22-26). King Saul was satisfied with proof of valor in battle (1 Sam. 18:27). Caleb’s requirement of valor in battle by a future son-in-law was similar (Josh. 15:16-18). The key is that an Adam can provide a home and sustenance for an Eve. The sign of commitment that Boaz gave for Ruth was a load of grain (Ruth 3:15-18) and the promise to purchase Naomi’s property, which amounted to paying off a debt (Ruth 4). Scripture seems to portray a bridal provision as a wise though optional part of getting married.

A time to learn non-sexual romance

Can romance be involved in a betrothal? Yes (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:19-20). In fact, God speaks so highly of this precious time, that we can say that it should ordinarily be present. Does it always have to be present? No. A long period of developing romance was not always present (Gen. 2:22-25; 24:64-67; Ruth 3). We need to distinguish between what is normal and healthy, and what is required. But when God described His pursuit of Israel, He said, “I will allure her… and speak to her heart” (Hos. 2:14). Many men have a hard time learning how to speak to the heart in a way that ministers to a woman. Yet we find that the romance in that chapter is so pronounced that heaven and earth seem to brighten (vv. 21-22). And Israel’s response to God is pictured as “the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal” (Jer. 2:2). This appears to be one of the main purposes for betrothal – to prepare a couple emotionally for marriage and to produce habits of non-sexual communication and love that will strengthen marriage for a lifetime.

You will notice that this definition avoids the language of “no touch.” When we discuss 1 Corinthians 7:1 we will be seeing that any kind of touch that is sexually arousing should be avoided, even if that touch is holding hands. But touch itself is not the issue. What is to be avoided is any sexual romance. Such sexual focus robs many young men and women of the opportunity to learn much more important forms of romantic communication that women long for once married.

Ordinarily under the guidance of parents

The next part of the definition says, “usually under the guidance of parents.” It is clear that betrothal in Scripture almost always included parental oversight and guidance (Gen. 21:21; 38:6; Ex. 21:9; 22:16-17; Judges 14:1-2,10; 2 Sam. 3:14; Ezra 9:12; Jer. 29:6; Matt. 22:2; 24:38; Luke 17:27; 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 7:36-38; cf. John 6:44; 17:6). I am not insisting that the definition of betrothal always include parental oversight or it would rule out older people whose parents were not present (Boaz & Ruth; David and Abigail; Abraham and his later wives) and could present obstacles to those who are far distant from their fathers, as was the case with Jacob (Gen. 28). In the latter case, Isaac was trusting Jacob to follow Biblical guidelines, but Jacob was not under the supervision of his parents. Ruth was a woman who had some helpful oversight of her mother-in-law, but for most of the day, this was not possible. However, Thompson is correct that in the vast majority of Scriptures, parents of both the man and the woman approved and supervised the betrothal all the way up to the day of the wedding. 2 Corinthians 11:2 gives one of the reasons for this supervision: “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Though using an illustration for our relationship with Christ, for the illustration to work, it should be the goal of parents to protect their children from needless fornication. It is interesting that even King Solomon’s betrothal took place at Shulamith’s home when he was romancing her. (See Song 2:8-17 for the memory of this period. 63). Such supervision was even true of older men like Samson (Judges 14).

For the purpose of planning and preparing for the wedding

The last part of the definition is “as they plan and prepare for their wedding.” The time of betrothal is not only a fantastic time of learning to romance the hearts of each other, it is a practical time of learning to work with each other on the huge project of planning a wedding. While some Biblical weddings were rather simple events, others were great celebrations with family and friends. Jointly preparing for such an event can be a wonderful time for developing leadership, vision, character, relationship, and other issues of life.







“make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts”

– Romans 13:14

“It is good for a man not to touch a woman”

– 1 Corinthians 7:1

“flee also youthful lusts”

– 2 Timothy 2:22

“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes.”

– Song of Solomon 4:9

“For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

– 2 Corinthians 11:2

5. Maintaining Purity

General Biblical Guidelines

Miscellaneous commands

The whole process, all the way through to marriage, must be traversed with absolute sexual purity and with integrity of heart. The following Scriptures should be foundational for those who are seeking a spouse:

Flee sexual immorality.
1 Cor. 6:18

Flee also youthful lusts.
2 Tim. 2:22

…make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Rom. 13:14

It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
1 Cor. 7:1

Do not arouse; do not stir up [sexual] love before its time.
Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4 in NAB

For this is the will of God… that each of you should know how to acquire his own spouse in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles…
1 Thes. 4:3-4

Of course, many godly men and women have found these admonitions even more difficult to keep during the days leading up to marriage. This makes it all the more troubling that so many books advocate an approach to seeking a spouse that almost guarantees failure on these issues.

The question of this chapter is, “How can one express the ‘love of your betrothal’ (Jer. 2:2) and remain ‘betrothed to one husband… as a chaste virgin’” (see 2 Cor. 11:2)? The goal of parents is not only to get their children to the marriage as virgins, but to keep them chaste in spirit and body the whole way. It is clear that betrothed people were supposed to relate to each other in strict “righteousness,” “justice,” and “faithfulness” (Hos. 2:19-20; Jer. 2:2; see also Deut. 22:15,17,20; Matt. 1:19), yet still get to “know” each other in “lovingkindness” and “devotion” (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:19-20). Paul expresses the heart of many parents when he tells the church, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” The jealousy of a parent for his daughter’s purity is important. But though Jews expected a chaperoned accountability, God implies that there could be a degree of privacy for the couple to share their hearts with each other at least during the betrothal stage (Jer. 2:2). This chapter will deal with general and specific principles related to purity during a season of discussion and betrothal. When implemented, these principles will continue to guard the hearts of couples throughout their marriage.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 – How to acquire a spouse

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 is an important passage that gives instructions to every believer (“each of you”) on “how to acquire his own vessel [wife] in sanctification and honor.”64 These instructions do not merely constitute wise advice from a man. They carry full apostolic authority (“we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus” - v. 1) and they reflect the moral authority of Jesus Christ Himself (“commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” - v. 2). Paul insisted that anyone “who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” (v. 8). So these issues are not legalistic additions to the Bible, but are Biblical blueprints designed for God’s honor (v. 1 – “to please God”) and our good (v. 6-7 – “because the Lord is the avenger of all such…God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.”). In this passage Paul lays out the following rules to maintain purity while acquiring a wife:

First, Paul commands “that you abstain from sexual immorality” (v. 3). “Sexual immorality” is any sexually stimulating contact outside of marriage. As the Song of Solomon makes clear, sexual contact must be defined much more broadly than simply intercourse.65 It includes any kisses, touch, talk, dancing, or actions that lead either party to be sexually aroused. Proverbs contrasts the righteous sexual arousal (“enraptured”) caused by a wife’s kisses, arms, and breasts with the sinful sexual arousal (also “enraptured”) caused by a seductress’ kisses and the embrace of her arms (Prov. 5:1-23). Sexual immorality includes any and all of the foreplay that arouses sexual desires. This command cannot be taken for granted because even among mature believers, fornication is a very real danger if the following rules are not followed.

Second, Paul commands believers to be totally set apart to the Lord in their relationship (“in sanctification” vv. 3-4). To be set apart means to be separated to the Lord from the world’s ways of doing things.

Third, Paul calls every man to “acquire his own wife in… honor” (v. 4). Anything that would dishonor this woman must be avoided. A good question to ask is, “Would I be embarrassed by what I did to her if she later married someone else?”

Fourth, during this stage when you are seeking “to acquire a wife,” do not arouse the “passion of lust” (v. 5). Note that this verse doesn’t just forbid the couple from fulfilling the passion of lust (i.e., sexual fulfillment by intercourse); it forbids the passions of lust from arising in the first place. Anything that arouses these passions must be scrupulously avoided. To fail to do so is to play with fire. Paul will reinforce this command again in 1 Corinthians 7:1 by ruling out all touch that “ignites the fire” of sexual desire. Because of the strong temptations to rationalize, it is helpful to note that kisses (Song 1:2), hand under head (Song 2:6), petting (Song 5:4-5), and embraces (Song 1:3; 2:6; 8:3) can definitely be sexually arousing. If the mind and heart are not guarded, even innocent things like the beauty of feet (Song 7:1), “the curves of … thighs” (Song 7:1), “tresses” of hair (7:5), privacy (Song 1:4), ornaments (Song. 1:10-11), perfume (Song 1:12; 3:6; 4:10), eye to body appreciation (Song 4:1-8; 5:11-16), hand to head contact (Song 2:6; 8:3), leaning on each other (8:5), a right handed embrace (Song 2:6), and gazing into the face (Song 2:14) can be a temptation as well. The mind is a powerful thing, and as we will see, setting up rules like the Muslims do will not solve the problem. The heart itself must be guarded by God’s grace so that we “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). This book is not seeking to lay down a list of appropriate and inappropriate touches (which may be different from couple to couple). Rather, it is encouraging couples to avoid all sexually arousing touch until marriage. It is not a formula, but a principle of living. Formulas let you down, whereas principles of gracious living apply to every circumstance.

Fifth, we should not imitate the way the world gets a spouse: (“not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” v. 5). Robert Andrews has unwittingly failed on this point by using a secular model of sexual progression to define his view of courtship. (More on that below.) God has his own blueprints in the Bible, and we need to turn to those.

Sixth, Paul commanded every believer to not “take advantage of” the person whom he is considering for marriage. Just because one person is not aroused by physical touch does not mean that the other partner will not be. Sensitivity to the holiness of the other person must be heightened. Again, what is proper must be defined by the Bible, not by culture. Andrews should exegetically show that the kinds of touch he is advocating are all proper.

Seventh, the man who is seeking to acquire this woman must make sure that he does not “defraud his brother in this matter” (v. 6) of passions. There are differences of view as to whether the person defrauded is the woman’s father or the woman’s future husband, but since the defrauding has to do with sexual passions (which only a future husband has a right to), I believe that it is the future husband who is defrauded. The point of the passage is that with respect to “this matter” of sexual passions, the suitor must not take what is not yet his to take.66 John Thompson states: “But who is this brother that is being defrauded? It can only be the woman’s future spouse!” Leon Morris agrees: “The future partner of such a one has been defrauded…. It reminds us that all sexual looseness represents an act of injustice to someone other than the two parties concerned.”67 Until a person is totally committed in betrothal, anything he is doing to this woman is potentially being done against another man. So don’t relate in any way to this woman that you would regret if you didn’t end up marrying her. This defrauding is not limited to sexual intercourse. We know this for two reasons: first, Verse 6 says that even though others may not find out, God will know and avenge.

Second, The phrase “this matter” indicates that Paul doesn’t want the “passion of lust” robbed from the future husband because sexual desire (“passion”) is the right of the husband and wife alone. This means that any use of each other that arouses sexual desire is taking something that belongs to the future spouse alone. Therefore this phrase rules out most forms of dating because of the sexual feelings and romantic attachments that are taken from each other.

Obviously, once betrothal has happened, the previous point does not apply to the same degree that it would before betrothal (the couple are pledged to be married, and nothing but a divorce could separate that). But even though betrothal is the time of developing romance and giving the heart away (see Jer. 2:2 - “The love of your betrothal.”), it is still a time when sexual purity must be maintained (“I will betroth you to me in righteousness… I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” – Hos. 2:19-20). A betrothed woman must be able to be presented by the parent to the husband as a chaste virgin (2 Cor. 11:2).

Paul anticipates the flippancy of some who think that stolen kisses are no big deal by warning us that this is indeed a serious matter: “because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified… Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” (v. 6). Failure to keep these rules will almost guarantee failure. Paul knows human weakness, and he knows how easy it is for us to rationalize our compromise of the commands of God.

Eighth, we are to avoid all “uncleanness” in our relationship (v. 7). This would involve not just sexual intercourse, but any sexually stimulating actions.

Ninth, we are to actively pursue holiness in the relationship (v. 7). This gives the whole time a God-centered focus.

1 Corinthians 7:1 – Premarital touch

1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Some commentators take the phrase “touch a woman” as a euphemism for “to marry a woman,” and agree with the NIV paraphrase (“It is good for a man not to marry”), teaching that Paul was strongly recommending against marriage. This would make verse 1 a parallel to verse 26. While this is a possible interpretation, there are several arguments that stand strongly against it.

First, this appears to contradict Paul’s words in the very next verse where Paul commanded the Corinthians, “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (v. 2). Why would Paul command (the Greek is in the imperative) something that he has just said is good not to do?68 That seems like an extremely awkward way to argue his point.

Second, the Greek word for “touch” has sexual connotations, and is not a synonym for “marry.” Its primary meaning is to cause burning to take place, to light a fire, or to kindle a fire. The derivative meanings are to have close physical contact, to cling to, to touch intimately, or to have sexual contact.69 Though the word “touch” could have non-sexual connotations (and often does), it frequently referred to any kind of physical touch that would ignite the flames of passion. But in the ancient world the full phrase, “to touch a woman,” referred to some kind of sexually stimulating contact with a woman, whether within marriage or outside of marriage.70 The straightforward meaning of the term has caused some commentators to take it as an encouragement for married people to abstain from sexual relations. However, this too violates the context, which immediately calls for regular sexual relations within marriage (vv. 3-5). Why say that it is good to abstain from sexual relations within marriage and then immediately command every married couple to engage in regular sexual relations and to not deny one another (v. 7)? Though this interpretation takes the correct meaning of the term, it fails to apply it to the right people – singles.

Third, the context itself confirms that Paul was calling upon Christians to avoid any touch prior to marriage that would arouse sexual desires. The kind of touch he was talking about was always immoral outside of marriage (v. 2a) yet was commanded inside of marriage (vv. 2b-5). What kind of touch would be considered “sexual immorality” before marriage, but would be considered an obligation after marriage? It is a touch that renders the Biblically commanded “affection due” to a spouse (v. 3), any touch that demonstrates authority over the other person’s body (v. 4), and any touch that relates to sexual hungers (implied in “lack of self-control” – v. 9). The implication is that the fiancé in verses 25-40 does not yet have authority over the other person’s body (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2). The lady remains under her father’s protection until marriage (vv. 36-38). The further implication is that they should indeed deprive one another of their sexual desires prior to marriage (the opposite of v. 5), they should show self-control (vv. 5b, 9) and they should not “burn with passion” (v. 9). In context Paul is ruling out sexual touch or anything that arouses sexual desires.

The previous considerations rule out three interpretations: First, Paul was not promoting the single life. Instead, he was commanding marriage as the norm for “each man” and “each woman” (v. 2) just as Genesis 2 did. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Paul later considered any prohibition of marriage to be a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-3) that was completely contrary to his normal desires (“I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children…” – 1 Tim. 5:14). It is also supported by a close analysis of Paul’s arguments in the rest of the chapter which show that marriage was the norm while singleness was only temporary advice that applied during “the present distress” (v. 26).71

Nor was Paul promoting abstinence within marriage. This ascetic interpretation flies in the face of the sexual imperatives in verses 2-5, the language of obligation in verse 3 (ὀφειλομένην = to owe something; ἀποδιδότω = to pay something due), the issue of authority/lack of authority in relation to their bodies (v. 4), and the moral dangers involved in long abstinence (v. 5). This interpretation is foreign to Paul’s thought.

Nor is Paul ruling out all touch of women before marriage (as some Christians have taught). For example, Paul is not referring to the kind of touch that a man would have for his sister. 1 Timothy 5:2 admonishes us to treat “younger women as sisters, with all purity.” Certainly some forms of brotherly/sisterly touch might become inappropriate if they began to enflame passions, but the prohibition in verse 1 is not a prohibition of all touch, but a prohibition of any touch that might stir up sexual desires.

The bride of Song of Solomon gives sound advice to the virgins of Jerusalem when she charges them: “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time” (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4 in NAB). The love that is being stirred up is sexual love. Certainly “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9), but it is better to not start those sexual fires in the first place through touch (v. 1). God’s will for couples seeking marriage is to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) and to “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). He calls them to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).

A Detailed Study and Interaction With an Alternative View

Now that we have laid down the general principles, it is time to analyze in detail what this looks like. I will be using Robert Andrews’ book, The Family: God’s Weapon of Victory, first edition, as a foil with which to interact with mistakes people have made in both form and freedom. I am using his book as a foil for three reasons. First, because two chapters in the book have led a number of people into needless stress and even sin. This is because Robert Andrews has neglected key elements of Biblical form and has consequently misinterpreted the true nature of freedom. The second reason I am using his book as a foil is because Andrews’ book is the best book that I have read on the subject of family and comes very highly recommended by me. I would like people to have the needed corrections to the book so that they can benefit from the rest of what he had to say. The third reason I am using his book as a foil is that it brings up all the issues that need to be discussed in this chapter: issues of “love at first sight,” gazing into one another’s eyes, romantic talking, holding hands, deep communication of vision, hand around the waist or shoulder, and kissing. It is my hope that people will benefit from both his book and from my interactions with it. My goal is for the body to grow by means of iron sharpening iron.

The Primary Areas of Disagreement with Robert Andrews

The chapters where the most problems can be found in Robert Andrews’ book are chapters 15 and 18. In chapter 15 I especially take issue with the following sections: “Get me to church on time – the sexual progression,” “Steps to Oneness,” “The total package,” and “Sexual progression summary.” In chapter 18 I especially take issue with the following sections: “Establishing a courtship relationship,” “During courtship,” and “Engagement!”

Though he describes steps 4-12 of his “steps to oneness” as being “sexual” in nature, he believes that steps 4-6 are appropriate in courtship and that steps 7-9 are appropriate in engagement. The three “sexual” steps he allows during “courtship” are holding hands, arm to shoulder contact and hand to waist contact. The three steps that he approves of for engagement are mouth to mouth kissing, hand to head contact and eye to body perusal. He believes the twelve steps outlined are the normal, sequential steps that should be taken in a healthy relationship.

There are three problems with this approach. The first is that Andrews does not seek to justify his “steps to oneness” from Scripture. Nor does he seek to define each step by Scripture. Instead, Andrews has simply adopted a secular sociological model established by Desmond Morris, a zoologist/anthropologist. It is “man’s wisdom,” not the wisdom of God.

Second, this is a formulaic approach to finding a spouse that is not sensitive to great differences that occur among individuals. While it is true that one couple may find holding hands to not in any way arouse sinful desires, another couple may react quite differently and stumble into sin by using these steps. The Bible’s approach does not try to push everyone through the same formula. Instead, it provides principles which must be applied by the Spirit’s help to unique people and unique circumstances. Formulas tend to lead to immaturity because there is no need to think, apply Scripture or seek the Spirit’s wisdom - you just apply the formula. But formulas also have a tendency to lead to either legalism or moral failure. They can lead to legalism if a person insists that each of these steps is necessary to achieve a godly marriage (when Scripture does not insist on any of his “pre-marital” steps). On the other hand, it can lead to moral failure if a person feels pressured to kiss or engage in other body contact that would turn him/her on sexually. As we will see, the Bible requires wisdom to avoid sin, not formulas.

Third, it is disconcerting that Andrews would view any sexual touch as appropriate prior to marriage. We have already demonstrated that when Paul said, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1), he had in mind all touch that ignites sexual arousal. Andrews believes that six of the nine “sexual” steps are appropriate prior to marriage. He says, “Sex is not intercourse alone. Sex is the total package, beginning with holding hands.” (p. 204)

But this last statement brings up a fourth objection. I am not convinced that his characterization of what is sexual and what is not sexual is accurate in all situations. For example, on steps 1-3 Andrews says, “At this point, little if any bonding has occurred. Either or both parties can stop the relationship because the sexual progression has not begun.” However, his comments after steps one and two belie this: “Where have I been?” “Their eyes meet. There is magic in the air.” As we will see in the next section, even these steps can be sexually intoxicating given the right people, the right circumstances and the right frame of mind. On the other hand, is it always true that “hand to hand” contact is “the first ‘sexual’ contact” (p. 203)? I think these issues need to be defined Biblically, which we will now seek to do.

It is more complex than Andrews’ formula shows

Andrews rightly admonishes his readers to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) and to “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). He calls them to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Those are great admonitions. However, it is foolish to think that only steps 10-12 would make provision for the flesh. Steps 10-12 are so obviously wrong for an unmarried person that we would agree with Andrews’ assessment that they are only appropriate to marriage.72 Andrews lists steps 10-12 as 10) hand and mouth to breast, 11) hand to genital and 12) genital to genital. But Song of Solomon indicates that in the right context all twelve steps (and many more) can be intoxicatingly erotic. Song 6:5 says, “Turn your eyes away from me, for they have overcome me.” His very gaze was intoxicating her with sexual desire. This is not to say that every look from her husband had that effect, and it would be legalistic to say that betrothed couples may not look at each other at all. But we need to recognize that even a look can go too far. Scripture cautions us, “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time” (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4 in NAB). It is saying that anything that stirs up sexual love before marriage should be avoided, whether it is physical or not. Sexual love is “like flames of fire” (Song 8:6) and “many waters cannot quench love” (Song 8:7). To get the fires of sexual desire started is a dangerous thing. You simply cannot start down the slippery slope of any sexual touch without violating Song 2:7; 3:5, and 8:4.

However, avoiding sin in our romance is more complex than simply setting up a legalistic set of rules. Some Muslims have sought to avoid sin by covering their women head to toe and avoiding all physical contact prior to marriage. Scripture does set guidelines and hedges in place, but it does not see all non-sexual sight and touch as inappropriate. How do we define what is and is not sexual? Anything can have the potential of being sexual during a romantic betrothal. But this does not mean that we are to avoid meeting together. On one occasion, a glance at the feet or hips would not stir up sexual passion, but in the right situation Solomon confesses that the beauty of feet and “the curves of your thighs” (Song 7:1) was intoxicating and “the king is held captive by your tresses” (7:5). That is certainly sexual language. Likewise a kiss (Song 1:2; 4:11; 5:13,16; 7:9; 8:1), privacy (Song 1:4), ornaments (Song 1:10-11), perfume (Song 1:12; 3:6; 4:10), eye to body appreciation (Song 4:1-8; 5:11-16), hand to head contact (Song 2:6; 8:3), leaning on each other (8:5), a right handed embrace (Song 2:6), gazing into the face (Song 2:14), embracing chest to breast (Song 1:13), as well as the obvious examples of steps 10-12 are all capable of quickly leading to the final act of love.

Couples need to guard their hearts by not putting themselves into situations where innocent acts could easily lead to guilty acts. Given the right circumstances, Solomon confessed to his wife that even “one look of your eyes” has “ravished my heart” (Song 4:9) and a “link of your necklace” had the same effect. I use these illustrations to point out that even what might be permissible in some contexts for a betrothed couple could lead to sin in other contexts. This requires personal maturity on the part of the couple, not simply formulaic rules. Only those who “walk in the Spirit” will “not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). A set of rules will not fix the problem. Such a couple might need to back away from even innocent things should their hearts begin to be ravished. Any touch that amounts to “foreplay” violates the command to not defraud (1 Thes. 4:6). It is also making provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (contrary to Romans 13:14).

The good and the bad of the twelve steps

Let’s consider each of the twelve steps that Andrews lists and try to discern the liberties and cautions that the Scriptures set before us.

Step 1 – Eye to person. He notices her across a crowded room. “Where have I been?” he says.

This eye to person contact could have quite a wide range of meaning from negative (stare, leer, peek, gape, oggle, undress with one’s eyes, longing eyes) to neutral (notice, glance) to positive (observe, recognize, watchful). Obviously the maturity of the heart will dictate whether this step violates Matthew 5:28 or whether it is a godly observation such as Boaz had of Ruth (Ruth 2-3). Boaz’s objective analysis of Ruth’s marriageability is a very good example of this step being useful. However, it would be legalistic to say that this step is necessary. Many good marriages have been contracted via a mail romance with eye to person contact not being made until late in the game. Isaac and Rebekah didn’t see each other till their wedding day (Gen. 24:64-67). It would be legalistic to insist that this be a needed step for a Biblical marriage to take place. It may be preferable for any given couple, but not necessary.

A further observation that needs to be made is that it is naïve to say that this step cannot be sexual. Judges 14:1 shows that Samson fell into sin at this first step. Judah contracted a bad marriage because his heart became committed at this very first step (Gen. 38:2). One of the reasons for parental supervision and involvement (see below) is because it is hard for people to be completely objective. However, single men and women must guard their hearts and make sure that they do not allow their hearts to be given away prematurely. For example, it is clear that the eye to person contact in Song of Solomon 4:1-8; 5:11-16; and 7:1,5 is descriptive of a person who has completely given his or her heart away to the other person. As such, it would not be appropriate to a person considering marriage since one needs to guard against stirring up love before it’s time (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) or committing one’s heart before he or she had evaluated whether the other person meets the Biblical qualifications. The point of this discussion is that formulas do not show the complexities of life.

Step 2 – Eye to Eye. Their eyes meet. There is magic in the air!

While there is nothing wrong with eye-to-eye contact prior to intentions being stated (it is inevitable), we need to recognize the naiveté of thinking that eye-to-eye contact is always non-sexual. Proverbs 6:25 speaks of the power of a prostitute’s eyes – “Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyes.” If it is possible to give your heart away to a prostitute because of eye-to-eye contact, even a godly man and woman can give their hearts away without intending to. Think of the intoxicating power of the godly bride’s eyes in Song of Solomon 4:9. The husband says, “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes.” Does this mean that there should be no eye-to-eye contact before marriage? Of course not. Legalistic rules do not provide for solid marriages. But when “magic is in the air” (as Andrews words it) we must immediately guard our heart sufficiently to investigate the character, worldview, calling and other fundamental issues that are foundational to a good marriage. It is hard to reason objectively without such caution.

I am not saying that God cannot make people romantically “fall in love at first sight.” But neither is it the foundation for a godly marriage. This appears to be what happened with Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 29). And interestingly, it appears to be the eyes that made the heart connection with Rachel and it was the eyes that made him not attracted to Leah – “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance” (v. 17). So I am not disagreeing with Andrews when he says that this is often a step in romance. But we need to recognize the power of this step and not treat it as inconsequential. Many a man is committed by step two without having done any of the Biblical steps of evaluation first.

While this step does not mention the communication that happens with other facial expressions, this non-verbal communication can be quite powerful. Consider the myriad ways that the face can communicate without saying a word: grinding his teeth, her face grew pale, he blushed, his face turned red with anger, radiant, beaming, interested, frown, smile, grin, pursed lips, knitted brow, worried look, bemused, puzzled, expressionless face, glower, chin jutting out, clenched jaw, gaped, “her mouth fell open,” “he had a determined look on his face,” “her face grew soft,” serene face, troubled face, tight lipped, joyful, bedraggled, tousled, flustered, shocked, pleased, proud look, despise, look down on, snarl, “curled his lip,” sneer, “the lights went on,” “her face became clouded,” astonished, friendly, cruel, aloof, poker face, bored. Obviously, most of these words do not relate to finding a spouse, but evaluation of a person’s character should sometimes take into account non-verbal communication.

Step 3 – Voice to voice. This is a get-acquainted time as the couple gets to know one another. There are no overt sexual overtones. This step occurs in a group setting.

Obviously hearing each other speaking in a group setting can be a wonderful way of evaluating other people in a relaxed way. However, this too takes maturity so as not to use deceit and flattery to make an impression. Often, those who are “fishing for a mate” can come across differently when talking with someone that they are interested in than they might with others. But this is where many different kinds of group settings can be helpful in seeing the real person (church fellowships, work events, hospitality, political events, etc).

However, in this list of developing oneness, voice-to-voice communication should have been included under the previous sections about a time of discussion and betrothal as well. This is true for two reasons: First, it is imperative that Christian young people discuss such issues as worldview, doctrine, values, presuppositions, calling, passions, etc. long before their hearts begin to romantically bond. The purpose of a time of discussion is not romantic bonding, but finding out if the other person is really qualified to be a spouse.

The second reason is that betrothal is a great time to practice romantic communication that is not sexual in nature. Many a married woman wishes that her husband knew how to be endearing without feeling like such words will always be the prelude to sexual touch. Quality time and encouraging words are needed throughout marriage, and the time of betrothal is a great time to practice such voice-to-voice communication unhampered with sexual agendas. It will develop habits and patterns of speech that will strengthen a marriage later. In fact, it is one of the main purposes for betrothal. The time of betrothal is a time of preparation for marriage through non-sexual communication, endearment, planning, and service.

Having agreed that voice-to-voice communication need not be sexual, we should not be so naïve as to think that words cannot begin to lead a person down a slippery slope into sin. They can. The book of Proverbs not only warns people about non-verbal seduction, but warns about the “seductress who flatters with her words” (Prov. 2:16; see 6:24; 7:5), whose “mouth is smoother than oil” (Prov. 5:3), and who can smoothly rationalize sin with her speech (Prov. 30:20). It is not simply seductive kissing that makes “the mouth of an immoral woman a deep pit” (Prov. 22:14), but also the communication that comes from that mouth. Communication is complex and requires the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to keep it godly. Not even all non-sexual talk is appropriate between those who are not courting with parental approval.

Step 4 – Hand to hand. “We are a couple.” They have decided to continue the progression. This is the first “sexual” contact.

There are at least four problems with the way Andrews has worded this: seeing any sexual contact as being appropriate prior to marriage, seeing any “progression” of sexual contact prior to a commitment (betrothal) being made, seeing all hand-holding as involving sexual contact, and making hand-holding an expected thing during courtship.

I am first of all amazed that Andrews would allow for any “sexual contact” prior to marriage. If (for the sake of argument) we were to agree that holding hands was sexual in nature, then 1 Corinthians 7:1 would rule it out. Any “touch” that kindles sexual desires before marriage is considered “sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Scripture admonishes us to “flee youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:2 ESV), not to play with them. Though this book does not say that people should avoid holding hands before marriage, we should not be naïve about the power of touch. In the illustration that Andrews gives, “She finds the touch of his hand to be an almost erotic experience.”73

Second, to give allowances for a progression on the sexual scale (as his whole paradigm does) is also dangerous. Andrews describes the progression from the first sexual touch to the next:

When he holds her hand, both notice the level of excitement is considerably lower than it was the first time. The sexual law of diminishing returns is now operative: There must be deeper, more intimate physical contact to receive the same stimulation as the previous sexual encounter produced.74

Once a person starts to give in to actions that pique sexual desire, the sexual desires continue to grow stronger and stronger in a slippery slope that drives irresistibly towards coitus. Paul did not speak of easing one’s way into sexual progression, but rather said, “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14 ESV). One should stay as far away from the sexual “progression” as he can. Later in this book I will distinguish between sexual romance and non-sexual romance.

This brings up a third objection. I think we are going beyond the Bible if we insist that all hand-holding is sexual in nature. If it was, it should be avoided prior to marriage. And some couples will have to avoid holding hands if they are to make no provision for the flesh. But they should not make rules for others regarding holding hands if the Bible has not made such rules. And this highlights the difference between following principles and following paradigms. The principle is that we should not engage in any touch that arouses sexual feelings. This might mean quite different things for different people. Indeed, it might entail becoming more strict as one goes further into betrothal. A paradigm puts everyone through the same experience (making some fall into sin and causing others to miss legitimate romance). Parents often feel, “If it was good for me, it should be good for my children.” But your children may have greater vulnerabilities to lust than you did. It is much better to give the principle – “Make sure that you seek to guard your hearts during courtship. Make sure you guard your sexual desires during betrothal and avoid anything that stirs them up.” It is quite conceivable that a woman might be able to hold hands with no kindling of the sexual desires while her fiancé is not able to do so. She needs to be sensitive to his weakness and not push the issue. It is quite conceivable that both are able to hold hands at the beginning of their betrothal, but as time passed, it became a temptation to sin. Only the individual can know those boundaries and avoid them. A rule will not achieve the same thing. I am not saying that a couple cannot make stricter rules for themselves because of the dangers that they feel, but in this section I am trying to avoid legalism. Scripture indicates that holding hands can be a sign of affection with absolutely no sexual intimation, as children holding hands with a mother (Is. 51:18) and God holding our hand (Ps. 73:23; Is. 41:13; 42:6). There can also be other reasons for holding a person’s hand. Jesus drew Peter’s mother-in-law to her feet by the hand when he healed her (Mark 1:31), as He did another unmarried girl (Matt 9:25). Peter did much the same with Tabitha (Acts 9:40-41). So there is at least a theoretical possibility that a betrothed couple could express their affection for each other through holding hands.

But neither would I want to insist that this should be a normal part of the process of deciding whether to marry or for betrothal, as Andrews does. I see no requirement for it in the Bible. The Bible indicates that parents should not press their children to do anything that might cause them to stumble (Mark 9:42; 1 Cor. 8:13; 2 Cor. 11:29). Instead, they should encourage their children to apply the universal principles in a way that will keep them pure all the way until marriage (2 Cor. 11:2).

Step 5 – Arm to shoulder. This is the first signal that “I want to protect you.”

The fifth step that Andrews recommends is “arm to shoulder” contact. He says, “This is the first sign that I want to protect you.” But is she his to protect during this time? Second, is it premature for him to pull her to his side prior to her father giving that permission? Based on our definition, this is the period to try to decide whether they are to be married at all, so why would the man presume to affirm this kind of belonging? Until the father gives permission to marry (as, for example, in betrothal), she is not his to protect.

The second problem I have is that “arm to shoulder” could mean different things. This could be a greeting that one would give to a mother or sister (see 1 Tim. 5:2). Or it could be a quick, innocent expression of love and affection that would be appropriate to betrothal. Or it could be a more sensual and prolonged touch that leads to sexual arousal. So even if this step were applied to betrothal, it would have to be qualified. It is unfortunate that Andrews believes that physical contact of some sort is necessary for a budding romance to be “alive and well.”

Step 6 – Hand to waist. At this stage of vision, deeply held beliefs, values, and life goals are shared. This is an opportunity to know one another rather intimately without sexual pressure.

The sixth step that he gives is hand to waist. He states,

At this stage vision, deeply held beliefs, values, and life goals are shared. This is an opportunity to know one another rather intimately without sexual pressure.

This hand to waist contact does not flow from a commitment to the woman since there is still a “chance to get out of this relationship without someone being seriously hurt.”75 But if these steps are truly part of “a slippery slope to intercourse” as Andrews affirms, 76 I fail to see why he would advocate getting onto the “sexual progression” at all, let alone before there is a commitment. Furthermore, what the hand to waist has to do with vision, deeply held beliefs, values and life goals, I fail to see. The second sentence seems to be more the driving reason for putting the hand to the waist – deeper physical intimacy. But the problem once again is that this season is not the time for intimacy, but the time for discovering whether they are to be married in the first place. I see this as a form of embrace. Ecclesiastes 3:5 tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. 1 Corinthians 7:1 indicates that any time that embracing leads to sexual arousal prior to marriage, it is not the time to embrace. Song of Solomon indicates that any time that it arouses sexual love before its time, it is inappropriate.

Step 7 – Face to face (mouth to mouth). Kissing occurs for the first time. Much time seems to be spent gazing into each other’s eyes. Care must be taken as the motor is now running. The wedding had better be approaching.

Step 7 takes place during betrothal on Andrews’ plan. Two of the things that Andrews allows at this stage can be highly erotic: gazing for prolonged times into each other’s eyes and kissing mouth to mouth. Even his definition of this stage admits that this is playing with fire. But the question comes, “Why must care be taken while kissing and gazing into each others eyes as opposed to care being taken to avoid kissing and gazing into each other’s eyes?” I want to give Biblical information on these two points because they have formed a stumbling block for so many people. But first, let me point out that Andrews himself shows how inappropriate this is simply by discussing the issue. He says,

God designed the slippery slope to end in intercourse, two people becoming one flesh. For anyone to think that he or she can stop the progression whenever they choose is foolish and naïve… Sex is not intercourse alone. Sex is the total package, beginning with holding hands. We do not hold hands with members of the same sex. Why? Because even holding hands is sexual in nature. Each step, beginning with holding hands, is designed by God to lead one step nearer the ultimate goal of sexual union.77

As a counselor I have seen many couples end up engaging in the ultimate goal of sexual union because they have caved into social pressure to engage in the previous steps. It is foolish. God tells us to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) and to “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). He calls us to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). He clearly tells us not to touch each other in any way that will ignite the fires of sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:1). We are to avoid being on the slippery slope altogether because it is almost impossible to put the brakes on once you are heading down the slippery slope. As Andrews himself notes, “It is impossible to overemphasize the power of the sex drive when it is unleashed. Whatever starts the sexual engine must be avoided if purity is the goal.”78 Much of what Andrews says elsewhere does promote purity, but he is sending mixed messages with chapters 15 and 18.

Gazing into each other’s eyes for prolonged periods

The eyes are the windows of the soul. As such, they are vehicles of communication that are profound. A couple with pure hearts can look into each other’s eyes with no problem, but this gazing can very quickly and suddenly lead to arousing sexual desires. Song 6:5 says, “Turn your eyes away from me, for they have overcome me.” The person in this passage is experiencing the intoxicating desires that locked eyes can produce. On the other hand, loving looks should not be forbidden completely. Each couple will need to distinguish through mature dependence on the Spirit where their hearts are.

Kissing mouth to mouth

Though a kiss is also a kind of touch, and should be evaluated according to the principles given above, it might be useful to see what the Scripture says about kissing. It must be admitted that not all kissing of the opposite sex is wrong. For example, the whole church is admonished to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14). While the early church interpreted this admonition as applying women to women and men to men, the text does not say so. Indeed the admonition indicates that a “holy” kiss was commanded to guard against the possibility of an unholy kiss. From this it might be easy to conclude that greeting a fiancé in the same way one greets her mother in church could be appropriate. However, as with every other ethical decision, one must not only look at the rules of Scripture, but must also analyze what the Scripture says about the inner disposition and the outer circumstances.79 The Scriptures seem to indicate that the ethics of kissing are framed not just be rules, but also by the inward heart and by the changes in the outward circumstances.

For example, Song of Solomon 8:1-2 seems to indicate that what is appropriate in respect to kissing changes as soon as there is any romantic relationship involved. It says,

Oh, that you were like my brother, who nursed at my mother’s breasts! If I should find you outside, I would kiss you; I would not be despised. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, she who used to instruct me.

This passage indicates that the kind of kissing appropriate between a brother and sister would be inappropriate (“despised”) when engaged in by the couple in public. Whichever way one interprets that passage (are they betrothed or married?), it seems to at least indicate that the “who” and the “where” can change the appropriateness of a kiss. Those two factors made a kiss that was appropriate in one circumstance inappropriate in another. Thus it is not enough to look at the rules of Scripture. One must also examine the inward heart and the outward circumstances.

Another example is the situation of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob kissed Rachel when he first met her and had found out that she was a cousin (Gen. 29:11-12), but after a month passed and Laban discovered that he had grown to love her (vv. 14-19) there appears to be no more contact (vv. 20-25). This could explain the lack of recognition of Leah’s voice, kiss, body, gestures, etc.

Of course, we must be cautious about deriving norms from examples like this, but they do illustrate that circumstances change when a couple is engaged. It is the opinion of this author that kissing will almost always become sexual when engaged in by a betrothed - even if it doesn’t start that way. Any kissing that is sexual violates the principles on the former pages. However, all the Scriptural data is presented below so that the reader can make his own ethical decision on this subject:

Statistical Analysis of Kinds of Kissing in the Bible

The following list comprises a comprehensive catalogue of types of kissing in the Bible.

  1. Parents (or grandparents) kissing sons & daughters (Gen. 27:26-27; 31:28; 31:55; 48:10; 50:1; 2 Sam. 14:33; 1 Kings 19:20; Luke 15:20)
  2. Related same-sex males kissing (Gen. 29:13; 33:4; 45:15; Ex. 4:27; 18:7)
  3. Related same-sex females kissing: (Ruth 1:9; 14)
  4. Non-related same sex males kissing (1 Sam. 10:1; 20:41; 2 Sam. 15:5; 19:39; 20:9; Matt. 26:48-49; Mark 14:44-45; Luke 7:45; 22:47-48; Acts 20:37)
  5. Non-related, non-romantic opposite sex kissing (Gen. 29:11; Luke 7:38; Luke 7:45)
  6. Sexual kissing that is sinful: (Prov. 5:3; 7:13; 22:14)
  7. Sexual kissing that is pure: (Song 1:2; 4:11; 5:16; 7:9; 8:1)
  8. General invitation to greet with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thes. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). Though the early church interpreted this as men kissing men and women kissing women, the text does not say.
  9. Religious kissing of idol, etc: (1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:27; Hos. 13:2)
  10. Metaphorical kissing: (Ps. 2:12; 85:10; Prov. 24:26; 27:6)

Here is a breakdown of the numbers:

Type of Kissing # times %
Parents/children kissing 8 17
Related same-sex males kissing 5 11
Related same-sex females kissing 2 4
Non-related same-sex males kissing 10 21
Non-related, non-romantic opposite sex kissing 3 6
Sexual kissing that is sinful 3 6
Sexual kissing that is pure 5 11
General invitation to greet with holy kiss 5 10
Religious kissing of idol, etc. 3 6
Metaphorical kissing 4 8
Total 48 100

While norms cannot be gained from narrative passages (unless God or His representative is approving), there are some interesting facts that should be noted from these Scriptures. 100% of opposite-sex kisses on the mouth are described as sexually stimulating (Prov. 5:3; 7:13; 22:14; Song. 1:2; 4:11; 5:16; 7:9; 8:1). 100% of “French kissing” is connected with either immoral sex (Prov. 5:3; 22:14) or marriage sex (Song 4:11; 5:16; 7:9). Scripture warns against impurity in kissing by calling for the church to only engage in a “holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thes. 5:26). In my 31 years of counseling I have found that when young couples begin to kiss, they inevitably start down Andrews’ slippery slope of sexual stimulation. There is a reason why many courtship and betrothal advocates call for the first kiss to be on the day of the wedding. Kissing is described in Scripture as having an exhilarating and powerful effect upon one’s body.

Step 8 – Hand to head. This signifies complete confidence. Who do you allow to touch your head? Only those you trust completely.

There is a wide range of nuance for “hand to head.” This could be a perfectly appropriate praying of blessing upon the head of another person. This is something that anyone might do with a mother or sister, so would not necessarily be ruled out for betrothal. But Song of Solomon also describes the head in erotic ways: “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me.” (Song 2:6; 8:3). Certainly that hand to head action was highly erotic and utterly inappropriate prior to marriage. The fact that Andrews lists this under a sexual progression troubles me, but hand to head by itself would not necessarily be sexual. Once again, the Scripture’s approach is simpler and avoids legalistic rules. It simply asks all parties to honestly evaluate whether the touch engaged in kindles sexual desire. If so, avoid it.

Step 9 – Eye to body. This is not sexual in nature. “I’ve grown accustomed to the tent in which you live.”

The ninth stage that Andrews lists is eye to body perusal. Can a person notice the beauty of a woman without lust (Gen. 29:17; Esther 1:11)? Yes. Can a woman notice the beauty of a man without sin (Gen. 39:6)? Yes. Jesus was not blind. The narrators of Scripture describe the beautiful form of men and of women (Gen. 12:14; 24:16; 26:7; 29:17; 39:6; Deut. 21:11; 1 Sam. 9:2; 16:18; 25:3; 2 Sam. 11:2; 14:27; Esth. 1:11; 2:7; Job 42:15; Song 1:16; etc.). But obviously caution needs to be exercised since (contrary to Andrews’ assertion) what might be innocent one moment can become quickly lustful due to our sin nature (Matt. 5:19,28; Mark 7:21; see Gen. 39:6-7; 2 Sam. 11:2; etc.).

Andrews lists the last three steps as reserved for marriage. These steps are:

Step 10 – Hand and mouth to breast.
Step 11 – Hand to genital.
Step 12 – Genital to genital.

Scripture is quite clear that there are to be no sexual relations during betrothal (Deut. 22:13-21; Matt. 1:18-25) or any time outside of marriage. Andrews rightly sees these last three steps as only appropriate to marriage. The breasts are supposed to ravish the husband (Prov. 5:19; Song 1:13) and are inappropriate for anyone else to touch romantically (Ezek. 23:3,21). It is impossible to read the Song of Solomon without seeing that steps 10-12 are appropriate to marriage, and to marriage alone.

Having looked at these steps, we can come to several conclusions:

  1. The steps are not Biblical steps.
  2. The steps aren’t logically progressive steps. Even he seems to see step 9 as less erotic than step 7. Any step can quickly progress to any other step.
  3. Not all steps need to always be seen as sexual.
  4. It is much simpler and better to follow the general principles of Scripture and avoid anything that will arouse sexual desire and/or to back off from anything that does so. Therefore, if hand-holding is sexual, it must be avoided. If hugging is sexual, it must be avoided. If kissing is sexual, it must be avoided. If a hand around the waist is sexual, it must be avoided.

Andrews’s advice is radical in our age, but it is not radical enough. On page 204 he says,

I can hear someone saying, “Andrews, you have gone too far. Do you really believe that holding hands is sexual and should be avoided?” Yes, I do, until the appropriate time… When I gave this material many years ago a married woman came up to me afterwards. “I never thought of it before,” she said, “but when I first held hands with my husband it definitely was an erotic experience. I can see that holding hands starts the motor.

Having standards that preclude any sexual contact with members of the opposite sex until a permanent commitment is made may incur the world’s temporary ridicule, but that is a small price to pay for sexual purity, for after all, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Those are good words indeed. But the “proper time” to get the sexual motors moving is not before marriage. Paul says that the “touch” of 1 Corinthians 7:1 that ignites the fire should be reserved to marriage (v. 2). There is no gradual entering into sexual touch before marriage in these verses. There is no start down the slippery slope of no return of sexual desire. It is hard enough to keep such passions in control without fanning the flames hotter. To reiterate once again, God’s will for couples seeking marriage is to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) and to “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). He calls them to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).







“I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the LORD.”

– Jeremiah 2:2-3a

“I will allure her…and speak to her heart… I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.”

– Hosea 2:14,19-20

“I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

– 2 Corinthians 11:2

6. Is There a Place for Pre-Marital Romance?

Betrothal - Delightful Romance

There are some who go overboard in their attempts to stay pure and speak of not giving their hearts away until after they are married. But this is the whole point of betrothal in the Bible. It is a time in which the betrothed couple seeks to grow in friendship, seeks to learn the art of male-female communication, and seeks to become expert in expressing non-sexual love, endearment, care, and consideration for each other. Indeed, it is these non-sexual expressions of love that set up a healthy pattern for the rest of their marriage. How many women wish their husbands knew how to show love in more ways than in bed? Well, betrothal is the perfect period in which to practice what should be a lifetime of wooing each other’s hearts. Hosea 2:14-23 speaks of an ideal betrothal (that of God with His betrothed, Israel – see vv. 19-20), and speaks of this time as a time of wooing (“I will allure her… I will speak tenderly and to her heart” – v. 14 Amplified).

Though Scripture warns that there are dangers involved in the allurement of romance, God tells His betrothed, “I will allure her… and speak comfort to her” (Hos. 2:14), and this romantic allurement would be so effective that it would cause Israel to sing (v. 15) and make heaven and earth seem to resonate (vv. 21-22). It is clear that this couple has fallen head-over-heels in love with each other. Though still betrothed (see vv. 19-20), the woman would transition from using the very formal “sir” (Hebrew Baal) to the more intimate “my man” (Hebrew Ishi), which was a more romantic and informal type of address that was used by both married people and betrothed couples.80

Other indications of increasing romance are that the groom-to-be speaks “to her heart” (literal Hebrew of Hos 2:14), gives her gifts (v. 15a), helps her dream about the future (v. 15b - “door of hope”), helps her to feel comfortable in the covenant of betrothal (v. 18), and helps her to gradually become comfortable with the fact that they belong to each other (v. 23). All these verses are expressions of being “in love” and show a couple that is comfortable in finally giving their hearts away. Once the covenant of betrothal has been entered into, this is the best time for a couple to learn non-sexual ways of expressing their love. Hosea makes it very clear that all this romantic communication (vv. 14-15) and all these expressions of “lovingkindness” (v. 19) can be done in a manner that guarantees total purity and propriety, for God said, “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD” (vv. 19-20). So Hosea 2 is a passage that shows the possibility of maintaining purity and propriety at the same time as romancing the heart of the other person.

In a similar way, Jeremiah 2:2-3 speaks of the “love of your betrothal” (v. 2) and “the kindness of your youth” before the actual marriage takes place. It too describes this relationship as having purity in form when it describes it as being “holiness to the LORD” (v. 3), but it does so in the context of intimate relationship (“went after Me in the wilderness”). It is a beautiful balance of form and freedom that should instruct our betrothals.

Betrothal – Time For Developing Habits and Skills for Marriage

Before I recommend specific activities for the time of betrothal, let me mention that betrothal is explicitly said to have as one of its purposes the developing of habits and skills for a lifetime of marriage. Romancing the heart of each other is not uncontrollable emotion, but involves thought, creativity, action, words, social involvement with other friends, etc. For example, Jeremiah 2 implies specific activities during the betrothal that showed the considerate “kindness of your youth” (Jer. 2:2), the creative expressions of “love” (v. 2), emerging expressions of leadership and followership (“when you followed Me” – v. 2), and new patterns of worship and devotions together (“Israel was holiness to the LORD” – v. 3).

Hosea 2:14-23 also implies developing skills and habits that would benefit a marriage. These include the art of wooing (“I will allure her”), leadership (“I will bring her”), learning to comfort (“speak comfort to her”), gift giving (“I will give her…”), love and respect (v. 16), patterns of righteousness (v. 19), justice (v. 19), mercy (v. 19), and keeping one’s word (“faithfulness”). It is during this time that the relationship can be set on a God-centered foundation rather than a selfish one (v. 20). This is the time to highly develop the art of communication (vv. 21-22). Though there are sexual skills to be learned after marriage, these other issues are the types of things that many marriages are weak on. What better time to learn them and make habits of them than during betrothal? The rest of this book will seek to give some guidance on a few of these areas.

Exercising leadership while under leadership

Every man is going to be under authority yet also has opportunities to exercise authority. Hopefully the young lady and her parents have seen the kind of submission and leadership that the young man has. A wise father will test such leadership throughout the discussion process so that the young lady can witness what it is that she will be submitting to. But betrothal is also an excellent time to develop this leadership in submission. The young lady is still under the father’s authority until such time as she is married (Gen. 2:24; Numb. 30; 1 Cor. 7:37-38). Numbers 30 is particularly clear that the woman cannot make unilateral vows apart from her father’s permission “while in her father’s house” (vv. 3,16). However, it is wise for a parent to give more and more leadership to the betrothed man to give him practice in leading a wife. If a father is not willing to relinquish any degree of leadership, the young man should submit and wait. However, the wisest course is to not keep the man passive throughout the betrothal.

The five languages of love

While every person tends to be stronger in one language of love than another, it is wise to seek to grow in the expression of all five languages of love. These are

  1. The expression of encouraging words (1 Cor. 8:1)
  2. Acts of service (1 John 3:18)
  3. Gift giving (John 3:16; Eph. 5:25)
  4. Quality time (John 15:15)
  5. Physical touch and closeness

Encouraging words are especially encouraging when they are accompanied with the same body language. It is good for all of us to work on our body language and make sure that it lines up with what we are seeking to communicate verbally. Greeting each other with a big smile and the words, “I am really glad to see you,” are quite different than a shy “Hi” with eyes avoiding his. Depending on the couple, teasing and flirting can be words that build up. Expressions of thanks and appreciation for the other person’s actions of love, notes, and special cards are great ways of expressing encouraging words. Trying to see things from the other person’s view, or asking questions of clarification, or affirming respect for the other person’s view (even if you haven’t been convinced yet) can go a long way when there are disagreements. Praising the other person in front of others is another way of being encouraging.

Acts of service are a natural way of expressing love. The more varied and creative these are, the better. These acts of service could be anything from the more mundane tasks of cooking, washing dishes, helping to clean the new house, putting gas in the car, etc. to the more creative services of opening the car door, buying a dinner date, or helping to pick up the dishes.

Gift giving might seem obvious. “Doesn’t this involve things like a dinner out, a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, or a special book?” Yes, but it can be much more. Gifts do not need to be expensive to be meaningful. Obviously a well thought out gift shows special interest in the other person. However, even spontaneous gift giving “on the fly” (the buying of a treat at the zoo, the whimsical purchase of hat at a fair, etc.) can be very meaningful as well.

Quality time is something that Jesus had with the Father continually, and he urged us to have as well. Quality time with your partner involves more than reading the newspaper together or watching a movie together. It involves careful listening to what the other person is saying and/or feeling and responding to him or her with care. It involves conversational basketball. It involves working together, walks in the park, and doing things that the other person likes (even if it isn’t your favorite). It is a willingness to share time out of a busy schedule to fellowship. It is an essential element of friendship.

Physical touch is a language of love that should be used with care by anyone who is betrothed since any physical touch has the potential of getting the sexual motors going. However, some couples will have no problem with a hug around the shoulder while with family, sitting together in a “love seat,” a lift with the hand into a horse-drawn carriage, occasional holding of hands, etc. Each couple will need to measure whether (or to what extent) physical touch can be used for the expression of affection, always keeping 1 Corinthians 7:1 in mind. Obviously if the father of the young lady forbids any touch, the couple can joyfully show submission even if they might disagree. But it would be well worthwhile for a betrothed couple to at least study some of the many ways of expressing physical affection and love to each other, and to review those throughout their marriage.

Interact with other friends

It is easy for a betrothed couple to be so lost in the wonder of love that they forget their responsibilities and their friends. But to be totally self-focused sets up patterns of selfishness that could be carried into marriage. It is wise to use at least some of the time of betrothal to jointly minister to the needs of others by continuing friendships, continued attendance at social activities, continued involvement (perhaps even jointly) in church activities and community activities. What is done during betrothal should set the tone for what is done during the rest of marriage. Your primary responsibility is to each other, but if you care for each other, you will seek to get out of your shell and continue to be part of the world around you.

Spend extra amounts of time with each other

Nevertheless, the previous point needs to be balanced with the fact that your most important relationship is your fiancé. You should step back from some of the responsibilities that you have to ensure that you have enough time to prepare for the wedding, minister to each other, and romance each other. What is true for the first year of marriage (Deut. 24:5) should also be true for the time of betrothal (Deut. 20:7). Scripture says,

When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
Deut. 24:5

And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.
Deut. 20:7

Both Jeremiah 2 and Hosea 2 imply that those who are betrothed spend a great deal of time together. Parents and friends should be sensitive to this need and not make as many demands upon their time as they used to.

Make sure God is the foundation and goal for all that you do

Finally, make God the foundation and goal for all that you do. It is very easy to become so wrapped up in each other during betrothal that God becomes excluded from your thoughts. But if God is to bless your relationship, He must be at the center of all.

It is my prayer that this would be a time of joy and not of undue stress. Look to the Lord, your Joy-Giver, throughout the process. As pictured on the following triangle, the closer you draw to God, the closer you will draw to each other. You do not want your time before and after the wedding to be so focused on each other that you remain distant from the Lord who alone can build a house that will last.

7. Case Study: Genesis 24

In this chapter I want to illustrate the principles of this book using a Biblical case study. I am deliberately using a less common model for finding a spouse to illustrate the fact that the Biblical principles are universal while the models are flexible. It is my hope that the following thirty-five principles will help to make the teaching of this book practical and down-to-earth.

Value of a father’s involvement even when older (v. 1; 25:20; 1 Cor. 7:36)

The first principle illustrated in Genesis 24 is that a father’s involvement should ideally be present even when the son is older. The chapter begins:

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
Genesis 24:1

How old was Isaac at this point? Genesis 25:20 says, “Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife.” Though Isaac had been of age for twenty years, he still valued his father’s input on marriage. Notice that I didn’t say that a father’s involvement is mandated. But Isaac valued his father’s input. There was a much higher value placed on fatherhood in Isaac’s day than we have in our day, and I dare say that it is we who are on the short end of that stick. That is not to say that all fathers are trustworthy. But we are talking about an ideal here.

This is an ideal for both males and females. 1 Corinthians 7:36 speaks of a father’s input on his daughter’s marriage even when she is beyond her prime. The Greek word is ὑπέρακμος, which refers to a woman who is “beyond the bloom of youth.”81 Though she is an adult lady, it appears that her father is still ideally involved in guiding her.

I know this is foreign to American thinking, but in Asia, India, and Africa I have seen this paradigm work very well. We can pray that fathers would embrace their fatherhood so thoroughly that their sons could have this kind of trust. I would certainly seek my father’s advice if I was in Isaac’s shoes. So principle number 1 is that a father’s value in the search for a wife continues even when we are beyond our prime. If that is true, how much more so when we are young?

It is better to wait than to marry the wrong one

The second principle implied in Genesis 24:1 is that it is better to wait than to marry the wrong one. Obviously believing women were scarce in the districts that Isaac lived in. In our church it seems to be the opposite. It seems that the women outnumber the men. But the principle is that there is a place for waiting.

Of course, there are other principles that balance this one. Some parents needlessly wait because they are either too perfectionistic or they are too passive in their view of God’s guidance. But it is better to wait than to marry the wrong person.

Be active in seeking a spouse (vv. 1ff; cf. 1 Thes. 4; Numb. 36:6; Jer. 29:6; Gen. 2:20)

The third principle illustrated in this chapter is that we should actively seek for a spouse. As demonstrated earlier in this book, God commands all parties to be active. He gives instructions to men in 1 Thessalonians 4 on how to acquire a wife, and those instructions make it clear that he is not passive. God commands the daughters of Zelophehad, “let them marry whom they think best,” and that phrase in Numbers 36:6 (“whom they think best”) involves thinking about who would be best – quite contrary to what some teachers advocate. The Bible does not advocate passivity on the part of young men or women. God also commands fathers to be very active when he says, “find wives for your sons …” (Jer. 29:6) There is nothing passive about that. Earlier in this book we saw that even Adam was not completely passive in the search for a spouse. And this passage gives us one case study example of actively seeking for a spouse.

Be willing to think outside the box when no one locally is a suitable potential spouse

The fourth principle illustrated in Genesis 24 is that we should be willing to think outside the box when there are no adequate spouses locally. Don’t passively wait for God to drop someone into your lap. Travel; go to conferences where like-minded people gather; ask your elders for help; use technology to get introduced. In this case, Abraham took some initiative and sent his trusted servant to look.

Fathers should treat the issue of their children’s marriages seriously (vv. 2-3)

Verses 2-3 illustrate the fifth principle – that fathers should treat the issue of their children’s marriages seriously. The text says,

So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh,

and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth,

Genesis 24:2-3

Why did he make this servant take an oath? It was because of the enormous importance of getting one’s children well-married. Too many fathers turn a blind eye when their child starts showing an interest in a person who is not qualified for marriage. Though Samson’s parents protested the choice of a Philistine wife in Judges 14, they eventually went along to get along when he insisted, “get her for me.” But they should not have done so. By actively involving themselves in the process of allowing him to be introduced to that unbiblical wife, they were implicated in the sin. The marriage of our children is so important that we should not take a laissez faire attitude toward it.

Don’t let your children become unequally yoked (v. 3)

Verse 3 introduces the sixth important principle: do not let your children become unequally yoked. Abraham instructed his servant:

that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell;

While this clearly rules out a marriage to an unbeliever, it also rules out spouses that have worldviews hostile to our own. Whether it is the father of a Samson or a father of an Isaac, fathers should refuse to endorse or even attend the wedding of their son if he is marrying an unbeliever.

Both fathers and other matchmakers can be involved in the search for a spouse (v. 4)

Verse 4 shows that both fathers and other matchmakers can be involved in the search for a spouse. Abraham said,

but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.
Genesis 24:4

This delegation of matchmakers can be trusted relatives, church leaders, or friends. I have from time to time suggested a possible match to an overly passive father who doesn’t have eyes in his head to see.

Don’t be desperate (v. 5)

The eighth principle is that none of the parties should be so desperate for marriage that compromises are made. Genesis 24:5 says,

And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?”
Genesis 24:5

Some parents are so eager to get their kids married off that they will jump at any interested party. You don’t need to lower the Biblical standards in order to marry. On the other hand, the Biblical standards are not perfection. But desperation has made some people overlook major character issues that really should be deal killers. If a woman is not willing to follow the man’s leadership, that should be a deal killer. Abraham said that it needed to be a deal killer for Isaac. She needed to follow him, not vice versa.

Base your decision making on the inspired revelation of Scripture (vv. 6-7)

The ninth principle is that decision making for marriage should be based upon the inspired revelation of Scripture.

But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there.

The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.

Genesis 24:6-7

Of course, if all parties need to be thinking biblically on these issues, it implies that fathers need to be teaching their children God’s Biblical principles of marriage and romance from the time that they are young. Here Abraham was appealing to earlier revelation. Of course there are many Biblical issues that need to be considered. I have two booklets designed to help you think through what it looks like to be ready for marriage. You can download them for free from the web. One is for women, and the other is for men. But I would issue a word of caution even in using such booklets – don’t be perfectionistic or your kids will never get married. Too many parents have such idealistic standards for their children that if everybody had that approach, we would never be able to obey Paul’s command, “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” (1 Cor. 7:2). Paul’s command for everyone to eventually get married means that everybody is going to marry a sinner. When we are talking about Biblical principles being in place, we are talking about direction, not perfection. What direction are they going in?

Find a wife that will fit your calling and follow you (v. 8)

Verse 8 says,

And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.
Genesis 24:8

The principle that I see in this verse is especially for young men - you should never marry a woman who will hold you back from your calling. Fathers need to be sensitive to God’s calling upon their sons when they are seeking a wife for their son. If God has clearly called your son to be a missionary to the head hunters in Papua New Guiinea, you better look for a woman who has flexibility, boldness, security in the Lord, and a love for adventure. I have seen too many people not able to pursue their callings because they have married a person who is really quite at odds with their call. This is especially important for the man, since he has the primary calling in the family. But if you have a daughter who shows remarkable abilities to be a helpmeet to a particular profession, think along those lines and let her enter into a relationship that will help her to flourish.

All matchmakers should themselves be believers (v. 9)

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.
Genesis 24:9

At a minimum, all matchmakers of believers should themselves be believers. We know from earlier passages that this steward was a believer in Yahweh who shared Abraham’s passions, worldview, and vision. He was a circumcised believer who was in covenant with God. He was not an unbeliever. I try to warn people not to listen to the advice of unbelievers when it comes to marriage. This means that when the fathers themselves are unbelievers, a son or a daughter might have to veto their suggestions and even take initiative for finding a spouse on their own. Contrary to what some prominent teachers teach, the Bible only commands submission in the Lord. Ruth sought the advice of her mother-in-law and not the ungodly advice of her Moabite blood family. Scripture is quite clear that you may not be unequally yoked, even if your parents want you to be. So this point gives a limit to the degree to which a person follows the counsel of his father.

Matchmakers must know the worldview, passions, desires, and personality of those they are serving.

But matchmakers should also know the worldview, passions, desires, and personality of those they are serving. There is a sense in which this matchmaker was part of the family. He knew Isaac as well as anyone, and he was following the father’s directions.

Men should be able to financially support their wives (v. 10)

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, for all his master’s goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.
Genesis 24:10

This verse illustrates a thirteenth principle - that the man should be financially prepared to support a wife. Obviously none of us needs to be as wealthy as Isaac was, but we do need to be able to support a wife without relying upon her income. Is this an absolute principle? No. But it is the whole point of the dowry system referred to in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The dowry especially was designed to prove that the man was able to be the man of the household. If you scrimp on this, you actually cripple the new home with years of financial struggle. I strongly urge people to not go into marriage with debt. Is that an absolute principle? No. The Bible allowed even slaves to get married. But I’m talking about the ideal of what makes for strong marriages. I don’t think slavery is the ideal. It is best if the husband is the bread winner.

Fathers should be interested in passing on a multi-generational heritage (vv. 11-12)

Verses 11-12 illustrate yet another ideal:

And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.

Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham.

Genesis 24:11-12

Why does it say, “show kindness to my master Abraham” rather than “to show kindness to Isaac”? Obviously he wanted Isaac to be well married. But it was a kindness to Abraham for Isaac to be well married because of covenant succession. Another way to state this fourteenth principle is that fathers are involved in finding spouses for their children because they have a vested interest in it and they are commanded to pass on a spiritual heritage from generation to generation, and a bad marriage can short-circuit that. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves a heritage to his children’s children…” Any father who has developed a 200 year plan with any degree of realism has his heart stirred with great interest in his children’s future spouses and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Therefore it mystifies me that fathers are so passive in this process.

We should bathe the whole process in prayer, seeking God’s guidance (vv. 13-14)

The fifteenth principle illustrated in this chapter is that we should bathe the whole process in prayer, seeking God’s guidance. Verses 13-14:

Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.

Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, “Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.

Genesis 24:13-14

The steward of Abraham bathed this in prayer, and in doing that he was following in the spiritual steps of his master, Abraham. If we expect God to bless our marriages, we should seek His face.

Have a set of essential criteria in a potential spouse and prepare your children to meet those Biblical criteria (vv. 13ff)

In the next verses, we see a sixteenth principle illustrated: fathers should be preparing their sons and daughters to be ready for marriage. This steward (representing the father’s wishes) was looking for five things that he wanted to see in a wife for Isaac.

First, he wanted to see a good work ethic. If he hadn’t seen that in Rebekah, she would probably have been disqualified. It takes a lot of work to water camels, so this was setting a pretty high standard. He wanted a woman with an incredible work ethic. Laziness was not tolerated in our home because laziness utterly disqualifies both a man and a woman for marriage. The man is supposed to be taking dominion and the woman is supposed to be his helper suitable to him. Without a good work ethic neither of those roles is possible.

Second, he was looking for someone who was generous-hearted. This is one evidence of God’s grace producing ministry. Every Biblical home should be a home committed to ministry, and generosity is an essential ingredient for the sacrifices needed for ministry.

Third, he was looking for someone who would be hospitable. For Isaac’s line of work, hospitality was critical. But really, Romans 12:13 says that every single believer will be “given to hospitality” when he is mature.

Fourth, he was looking for someone who was patient. It would take patience to do what was asked of her to do.

And fifth, he was looking for someone who was respectful. In verse 18 she says, “Drink my lord.”

The criteria you are looking for in a spouse may be different. Like I said earlier, if your son is called to missions, you may want to remind him that he needs a wife who will be strong enough to endure the hardships of the mission field. If he is called to be an elder or a deacon, Titus lays out some pretty significant characteristics that are absolutely essential for an officer’s wife. It’s not enough to say that any godly, beautiful, Christian girl will do for my son. It’s not enough for the father of the bride to think that godliness alone will make for a good husband. There should be complementary giftings. Often the children are not objective enough – especially if they are smitten, to evaluate these things. They sometimes need to be told. But in any case, fathers can take a leadership role in making sure that all parties involved will evaluate the readiness and qualifications for a potential spouse.

Objectivity is needed – not allowing beauty to blind you (vv. 15-16)

The seventeenth principle is that objectivity is needed when searching for a spouse. It is so easy to allow beauty to skew your decision-making process. Verses 15-16:

And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder.

Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up.

Genesis 24:15-16

Notice that there is no provision that a bride must be beautiful or even that she must be a virgin, though such things would be huge bonuses. A person’s character, Christian walk, giftings, and other things can sometimes compensate for a lack of both. Because this steward was being objective, her beauty didn’t blind him. He kept watching. He was seeking to be objective.

Have confidence in God’s providence and guidance (vv. 17-21)

The eighteenth principle is that we should have confidence in God’s providence and guidance. This is illustrated so well in verses 17-21:

And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.

So she said, “Drink, my lord.” Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink.

And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.

Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.

And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.

Genesis 24:17-21

I love that phrase, “to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.” To me it speaks of having confidence in God’s providential leading/guidance. It takes faith in God’s providence for a son or daughter to trust a father to be involved and it takes faith in God’s providence for a father to believe that he can actually be involved in a way that will truly bless the hearts and lives of his children. God loves to bless our children in this way. After all, Scripture says, “a prudent wife is from the LORD…” God is very much involved in match making, and we shouldn’t fear that God will make us marry someone we will hate. Instead, Numbers 36:6 is interested in both His qualifications and our desires when He says, “Let them marry whom they think best…” We can have confidence in God’s providential leading/guidance because He loves us and cares about us.

Don’t be shy about asking questions (vv. 22-25)

So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold,

and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?

So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.

Moreover she said to him, “We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge.

Genesis 24:22-25

There are actually a number of principles in that passage, but I will just highlight one. Don’t be shy. Neither fathers nor sons should be shy to investigate and to ask questions. Too many parents are nervous about asking questions. They think they will be embarrassed if they asked and get turned down. In our congregation we have managed to cultivate an atmosphere in which inquiries by a father on behalf of a son are not thought to be rude, and being turned down is not received as anything other than the will of God. Shyness to investigate doesn’t help. So this servant wants to talk to the dad.

Be God-centered (vv. 26-27)

Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the LORD.

And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.

Genesis 24:26-27

Notice how God-centered this servant was. Marriage was not first and foremost an issue of advancing one’s position, his finances, his respect. It was not first and foremost about romance. It was first and foremost a goal to please God. The steward (and by implication Abraham and Isaac whom he represented) had as his first goal to serve, worship, and be faithful to God. You are on a dangerous track if your first goal is to get a spouse. Be God-centered.

Become the wise father that makes you the first one that your children turn to (v. 28)

So the young woman ran and told her mother’s household these things.
Genesis 24:28

Become the wise father that your children will run to for advice. I don’t know how many times I have seen disastrous marriages happen when young girls seek romance independent of their father’s advice. The first words out of a girl’s mouth when she is asked about romance should be, “You’ll have to talk to my father.” But that assumes that the fathers have done the homework to prepare themselves to be wise guides. I think 1 Corinthians 7 shows that the father is her protector in this regard. Anyway, she ran to her father’s house to ask him. That’s a good thing.

One father can take initiative even if the other father does not (v. 29)

Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the well.
Genesis 24:29

Sadly, who is the initiator in this verse? It’s not her father, Bethuel. He’s present in this chapter, but it seems to be Laban who takes all the initiative. And even though you as the father of a man or a woman might be very involved, you are going to run across a passive parent of someone you are interested in. So the 22nd principle is that one father can take initiative even if the other one does not.

God can still bring good out of family situations that are messed up (vv. 30-31)

So it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying, “Thus the man spoke to me,” that he went to the man. And there he stood by the camels at the well.

And he said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels.

Genesis 24:30-31

What I see in these verses is that God can still bring something good out of the situation even if the motivations of the other family are not totally spiritual. We know from the character of Laban that he can only see dollars in his eyes. Yet God still guided even in that situation. Don’t totally judge a son or a daughter based on the character of her family. That can sometimes be a good indicator, but not always.

Don’t be swayed by pushiness; stay focused on God’s will (vv. 32-33)

Then the man came to the house. And he unloaded the camels, and provided straw and feed for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.

Food was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told about my errand.” And he said, “Speak on.”

Genesis 24:32-33

What I see here is that the steward stayed focused on God’s will and was not swayed by the pushiness of others. He could already see that Laban was keen on the marriage, but since he appeared to be motivated by money, the steward wanted to make sure that he stayed focused on whether this was God’s will, not simply the other family’s will. Once the possibility of marriage is broached, you need to be able to back out if negotiations don’t seem to indicate that this is of the Lord. Until betrothal has happened, there should be no assumed promises or expectations. Some fathers are too easily manipulated by the expectations of others.

Be confident that it is normally God’s will for all of our children to be married (vv. 34-40)

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.

The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys.

And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he has given all that he has.

Now my master made me swear, saying, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell;

but you shall go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.’

And I said to my master, “Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’

But he said to me, “The LORD, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father’s house.”

Genesis 24:34-40

A 25th principle is that we should be confident that the Lord will prosper our way and that all our children will ordinarily be married. 1 Corinthians 7:2 says, “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” It is my conviction that this is the normative statement in 1 Corinthians 7 and that the call to singleness was a temporary provision for the present time of persecution and distress. I believe that the gift of celibacy talked about in that chapter is a rare thing indeed, and God delights in bringing two people together in marriage. Trust that God loves to prosper your search for a spouse. If He has not let you have your heart’s desire, it is because there is something better for you. Although, I will say in passing that some people give up too quickly.

Fathers should model godly leadership to other fathers (vv. 41-48)

‘You will be clear from this oath when you arrive among my family; for if they will not give her to you, then you will be released from my oath.’

“And this day I came to the well and said, ‘O LORD God of my master Abraham, if You will now prosper the way in which I go,

‘behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin comes out to draw water, and I say to her, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,”

‘and she says to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,”—let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

“But before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah, coming out with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the well and drew water. And I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’

“And she made haste and let her pitcher down from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels a drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels a drink also.

“Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists.

“And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.”

Genesis 24:41-48

This whole section is simply a rearticulation to the family of Rebekah of all the principles that we have already talked about. So principle 26 is that fathers should model to other fathers the Biblical principles of fatherhood. That’s exactly what he is doing to this rather passive father, Bethuel. Keep spreading the message that fathers should be involved. To some degree this worked, because both Bethuel and Laban answered in verse 50. Laban won’t shut up, but at least this heavy involvement of Abraham in the life of his son is a testimony to Bethuel, and he at least half-heartedly rises to the occasion. But it sure doesn’t hurt to spread the message.

Fathers have authority to approve or disapprove of potential husbands (v. 49)

“Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”
Genesis 24:49

The 27th principle is that the father of the girl has the authority to forbid marriage or to agree to marriage. I know it is not a popular concept, but it is quite clear in 1 Corinthians 7. That passage says that a father has the authority “keep his virgin daughter” from a suitor (1 Cor. 7:37) or to “give her in marriage” (v. 38-39). Nor is oversight of a father restricted to his daughter. Jeremiah commands fathers, “take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands” (Jer. 29:6). There are differences between how you handle sons and daughters, but there should be fatherly involvement with both. And the law of God gives situations where it is perfectly appropriate for a father to utterly refuse to give his daughter to a young man, even though they have fornicated (Ex. 22:17). Even though they have jumped the gun and fornicated, the father can punish the man and refuse to give the daughter. Godly Abraham gave guidelines in the search for a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24) and Reuel gave oversight to the marriage of his daughter to Moses (Ex. 2:21). It was Jewish fathers who were required to take an oath before God to not give their daughters to pagan sons, and to not take pagan daughters for their sons (Neh. 10:29-30). He was saying that to all the fathers of Israel. Anyone who has examined all the evidence of Scripture will agree with Tertullian’s summary when he said, “sons do not legitimately marry without the consent of their fathers.”82 I believe there are some exceptions that can occur, but this is the general pattern of Scripture. 1 Corinthians 7 is simply upholding the authority of a father over a girl’s promises as described in Numbers 30. Marriage is not a state or church issue primarily (though they do have a vested interest in making sure that the marriages are lawful). But it is primarily a covenant between two families and two individuals. So getting the father’s permission is essential.

Get used to talking frankly about marriage potential (vv. 50-53)

But the 28th principle that I see here is that we need to get used to talking frankly about the potential of marriage. Some parents may not even think of the possibility if you don’t bring it up to them. But after they have thought about it for a while, they might say, “Wow. Why didn’t I think about that? I think they would be a good match.” So get used to talking frankly about the potential of marriage.

The legitimacy of a bride price and dowry (vv. 50-52)

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the LORD; we cannot speak to you either bad or good.

Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.”

And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.

Genesis 24:50-53

This is the issue of dowry (what I consider insurance and savings in case of death or divorce) and bride price (a blessing to the parents who will lose the productivity of Rebekah). Not all suitors in the Bible were able to pay both a dowry to the wife plus a bride price to the parents, but a dowry was considered almost a necessity for even the poorest of the poor. One example of a poor dowry was the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15. The coin that was lost was one of the coins on her dowry necklace (Luke 15:8-10).

Women have a strong say-so in whom they marry (vv. 54-58)

And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.”

But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.”

And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.”

So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.”

Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”

Genesis 24:54-58

One of the principles clearly illustrated in these verses is that women had a say in whom they married. I’ve alluded to this already, but it needs to be its own point. This was more than simply vetoing a series of losers that the parents were trying to get her married off to. They had input ability as well. The Law said of virgin daughters, “Let them marry whom they think best” (Numb. 36:6), but then of course gave some Biblical restrictions that she had to operate within. But that phrase implies that the girl’s own thoughts and input factored in. There needs to be great discussion going on between daughters and fathers many years before they are even marriageable. In other words, if the father and the daughter have each other’s heart, they can broach the topic of potential young men with each other, and she can feel free to share her heart with her dad, and to share her own insights as to why she thinks it’s a good idea or a bad idea.

Cast the vision of having many children (vv. 59-60; cf. Gen. 1:28; 1 Tim. 5:14)

So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men.

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her:

“Our sister, may you become
The mother of thousands of ten thousands;
And may your descendants possess
The gates of those who hate them.”

Genesis 24:59-60

Principle 31 is that people should marry with the desire to have children. It was part of the dominion mandate and Paul emphasized that it continued to be a moral imperative in the New Testament (1 Tim. 5:14). Marriage with zero desire to have children is shameful. Onan’s desire to have no children whatsoever by Tamar was judged by God.

Pass on a legacy and vision (vv. 59-60)

Principle 32: Even the fathers of daughters should instill in their daughters a long-term vision for passing on a legacy and taking dominion. I didn’t deal with this as a separate principle, but in passing I would say that it is great if fathers can bless a daughter with property, if they are able to do so. In this case, the property was a slave.

Fathers must relinquish control of their daughters once married (v. 61)

Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.
Genesis 24:61

Principle 33 is that fathers must relinquish control of their daughters so that they can form a new family. This is especially necessary when you have a Laban who has tendencies of controlling the family. I know one family where it is the mother who constantly seeks to control her daughter’s family. That cannot be tolerated. It is not healthy to allow the grandparents to control the way things are run within the family. Once married, you are your own unit. Of course, you will love and honour your parents, and they will love and try to bless you any way that you can. But in terms of authority, there is a break; there must be a break. In some circles of hyperpatriarchy this is not happening. The fathers are little Labans.

Instill spiritual qualifications of leadership in your sons (vv. 62-63)

Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South.

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.

Genesis 24:62-63

Here is a hint at the spiritual qualifications that Abraham had instilled into Isaac. He was not just a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Christian. God was part of his life day by day, and here he was out in the fields meditating on God’s revelation. He had personal devotions. And the point is that fathers can instill this kind of a spiritual heritage in their sons quite early.

Be confident that love can grow after marriage (v. 67)

Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel;

for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.

And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.

Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Genesis 24:64-67

The thirty-fifth principle is that we can be confident that love can grow after marriage. It certainly did here. And love is something that must be worked on for the rest of our married lives.


1We will define the term “betrothal” later in this booklet and show the shades of meaning that it can have. Though some people make a big distinction between betrothal and engagement, I will use the terms interchangeably from now on. Various translations translate the Hebrew word אֵרַשׂ as “pledged” (NIV, WEB), “betrothed” (NKJV, AMP, ESV) and “engaged” (NASB, NET, NLT, NRSV, GWORD). It is not as important to argue over the term that is used as it is over what it means. In my view of engagement, the parents are involved in granting permission, there is a promise by the fathers to permit the marriage and there is a promise by the engaged couple to get married in the Lord.

2See especially Hosea 2:14-23 where God describes his joyful betrothal to Israel.

3Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 4 (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982), p. 62.

4In Nehemiah 8 God actually rebukes Israel for making the Sabbath a day of weeping, sorrow, and introspection, saying, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep… Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The weekly Sabbath was the first and the greatest of the festival days listed in Leviticus 23. In four passages God connects blessing with the Sabbaths. Three times the word “delight” is in the same paragraph as the Sabbath. One time God equates losing the Sabbath with losing mirth (Hos. 2:11). In nine verses about the Sabbath the terms joy, rejoice, or enjoy occur 13 times. It is anything but a kill-joy day. It is God’s great gift to us. And in Ezekiel 20 and again in Ezekiel 22 God says that it makes Him sad when we despise what God intended for our delight.

5Note that the marriage of a master to a slave mentioned in Exodus 21:7-11 implies:

  1. the agreement of the slave girl to this marriage covenant (note the reference to “marriage” in v. 10, which is always a covenant or an agreement between two parties, and the phrase “he has dealt deceitfully with her” in v. 8, implying a covenant promise)
  2. that once she is married she can no longer be considered a slave (v. 9),
  3. that she has full marriage rights as if she had been a former free woman (vv. 9-11)
  4. that this is clearly a sin on the part of the master (“he has dealt deceitfully with her”).

In connection with point 4, it is important to distinguish between what is a sin and what is a crime. Not all sins are crimes. There are many divorces that were sins but were not crimes. The civil government only steps in when a divorce happens to ascertain that the divorce meets the minimum civil requirements. In this case, it is lawful in terms of civil law, but is unlawful in terms of personal sin. We should never confuse sin and crime in our exegesis of Scripture.

6As we will see later, Boaz made an informal betrothal commitment that lasted less than one day. It was a contract, but not a covenant. If the other relative had agreed to marry Ruth, there would have been no need for a betrothal to him. It could have been concluded that same day.

7The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says of verses 12-13, “This was a token of renouncing her religion, and becoming a proselyte to that of the Jews. This is still a custom in the East: when a Christian turns Mohammedan, his head is shaved, and he is carried through the city, crying, la eelah eela allah wemochammed resoolu’lahee, ‘There is no God but THE God, and Mohammed is the prophet of God.’” If this interpretation is not taken, then Deuteronomy 21 blatantly contradicts such passages as Deuteronomy 22:13-19,28-29; 24:1-4, Ezra 10:1-16, Nehemiah 13:23-30, and Malachi 2:14-16. The permission to marry a foreigner could only be in a situation similar to Rahab’s, who voluntarily renounced idolatry and embraced Yahweh. The Old Testament did not forbid intermarriage with other nationalities. Rather it forbade intermarriage with other faiths. Christ’s own genealogy has examples of Gentiles who became Jews: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

8Note that verse 7 does not conflict with Deuteronomy 15:12 because she was being sold for marriage. Deuteronomy 15:12 is clear that both male and female slaves were set free in six years, but Exodus 21:7 says that she did not go free in the sixth year. The reason she did not go free was because she was purchased for marriage. The debt was forgiven in place of a dowry, and since marriage is permanent, her place in his household was permanent.

9Though, this alone is not reason to reject it since there are many labels for Biblical doctrines which are not found in the Bible. For example, though the word for inerrancy is not in the Bible, the doctrine is. Though the word “Trinity” is not in the bible, the doctrine clearly is. Though the phrase “hypostatic union” clearly describes the relationship of Christ’s two natures as taught in the Bible, the name given to the doctrine does not. We could just as easily call courtship “seeking a wife” (see 1 Cor. 7:27) or “finding a wife” (Prov. 18:22). The label we use is not as critical as whether the label is being used to describe Biblical content or man-made content.

10Some definitions of “courtship” that I disagree with:

  • Jonathan Lindvall: “A romantic relationship between a young man and woman in which both were of marriageable age, had the full blessing of their parents, and were seriously contemplating marriage.” As Lindvall later lamented, this definition was inadequate and could easily define dating.
  • Joshua Harris: “Dating with a purpose; friendship plus possibility; and romance chaperoned by wisdom.” A relationship with a clearly defined direction. “A reformed version of dating under the supervision of parents between a man and a woman who are ready for marriage in the near future.”
  • Robert Andrews: “From the outside courting may look a lot like the old dating game… But unlike dating, they know that they are contemplating marriage, and the restrictions on physical contact still hold. The couple is still conscious of the fact that they have no ownership of the other, and they must continue to guard their hearts. There is no commitment at this point. The fathers must give constant oversight… The purpose of courtship is evaluation, not preparation…” Robert Andrews, The Family: God’s Weapon of Victory (Rice, WA: Sentinel Press, 1995), p. 253. Though this is much closer to my definition, as we will see, his allowance for too much physical mars his approach.
  • Planet Papers: “courtship is a reformed version of dating under the supervision of parents between a man and a woman who are ready to marry in the near future.”
  • Wikipedia: “the wooing of a female by a male, includes activities such as dating (dinner and a movie, a picnic, or general “hanging out”), along with other forms of activity, such as meeting online (also known as virtual dating), chatting on-line, sending text messages or picture messages, conversing over the phone, writing each other letters, and sending each other flowers, songs, and gifts. Courting usually involves getting to know the family (especially the parents) of the one you are courting. Most of the time courting will be done somewhere public, to lower the chances of anything going on between the couple.”

Some definitions of “courtship” that I basically agree with:

  • Thompson: Courtship - A stage/period in Scriptural Romance prior to Betrothal. Courtship constitutes the process of investigating a person with marriage in mind: evaluating character, values, beliefs, practices, interests & life purpose to ensure a godly match. There is to be no physical contact and no developing of romance/emotional ties during this period. Parents first investigate, followed by more detailed investigation by the young people themselves, generally within family settings.
  • Myers: Courtship - consists of three main elements:
    1. accountability to parents and other trusted adults;
    2. building each other’s character rather than focusing on physical attraction; and
    3. waiting to develop serious relationships until you are ready to get married.
  • Barth: Courtship - “a process by which a mature young man or young lady of marriageable age, along with their parents, seek to discern their God-given life partner. It involves the parents or authorities on both sides and yet allows for feelings and discernment from both of the young people involved.”
  • Raunikar: Courtship – a relationship / process begun with full approval of both sets of parents (or an accountability couple if not possible) with the intent to consider marriage, and to become acquainted through family and group activities.

11Greg L. Price, “Christian Education in the Home: Help! My Daughter Wants to Date” (unpublished pdf, 1994).

12Richard Anthony, “Dating, Courtship, & Scriptural Betrothal” at

13The text says, “Do not seek a wife” under the temporary circumstances being discussed. But that is clearly in contrast with the ordinary process of seeking a wife when such persecution is absent. For a detailed discussion of the controversy of “seeking” see pages 37ff.

14Obviously when no parents exist, or when the couple is much older (as in the case of Boaz and Ruth), some flexibility can be seen. But even there, propriety dictated that others be involved.

15Note that it isn’t just the father of the groom who can initiate investigation

16“But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.” (NASB)

17In addition to an adult woman coming under the protective covering of their father (Gen. 38:11; Lev. 22:13), you also see God authorizing single adult women coming under the protection of a son (Jesus – see John 19:25-27), a grandson (1 Tim. 5:4), another member of the family (1 Tim. 5:16), a friend of the family (John 19:25-27) or—in cases where the woman is truly “left alone” (1 Tim. 5:5)—she could come under the protective care of an elder (2 John; 1 Tim. 5:1-19). I especially find it significant that Jesus preferred the spiritual oversight of the apostle John over that which might have been expected from His brothers (who were at that time unbelievers – John 7:5). When discussing options that a daughter might have other than being under the authority of an abusive or foolish father, consider the implications of this verse. The Scriptures also seem to indicate that where there was no protective care of a male (such as was the case of Naomi and Ruth), the kinsman redeemer often stepped in. While one could argue that widowhood “freed” a woman from such submission, the pervasive evidence seems to treat the plight of widowhood as a curse (Ex. 22:24) that needed the protection of law (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 16:11,14; 24:17,19-21; 26:12-13; 27:19), and which was remedied as soon as possible by marriage (Deut. 25:5; Ruth; 1 Tim. 5:14), or (if meeting the Biblical qualifications) being employed by and under the authority of the church (1 Tim. 5:9-10). While these verses show extensive support for a woman being under the oversight of a male, these illustrations seem to indicate that God primarily had protection in mind, not necessarily the father’s authority. Any time a person is in another person’s home, the authority of the head of that home must be considered. But it seems to me that these verses indicate that there may be options other than her father’s home when her father’s home has major problems.

18It is interesting that Jesus gives His own responsibility to care for his mother to his best friend, John, rather than to his brothers or sisters. The reason is that his brothers were not believers until after the resurrection (John 7:5; Mark 3:21). On Christ’s close friendship with John, see John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7; 20:24.

19As examples, see 1 Cor. 11:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:13-14

20R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 344.

21As quoted by Philip Schaff in History of the Christian Church, volume II, p. 164.

22Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., The Seven Ecumenical Councils (NPNF-2 XIV; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

23That marriage truly is a legally binding “covenant” can be seen from Mal. 2:14 and Prov. 2:17. It is a common belief that when a man and a woman enter into a one-flesh relationship that they are married in God’s eyes. However, Exodus 22:17 makes it quite clear that fornication did not make that couple married, and the law provided that “if her father utterly refuses to give her to him” (v. 17) the young man had no recourse. He would have had recourse if he were the new authority in that woman’s life. But until the two are covenantally married, the father of the girl remains the authority. If it was the sexual union that made the marriage rather than the covenant vows, then how could Christ say to the woman at the well that she was not the wife of the man with whom she was currently committing fornication? He agrees with her that she had no husband: “The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, “I have no husband,” for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” (John 4:17-18) Likewise such a view makes nonsense of the difference between wives and concubines in the Old Testament. (While concubinage and polygamy were sins in the Old Testament, they were not crimes.) Until a man and a woman are properly married by family covenant vows, they are living in fornication and should not consider themselves married.

24The original Directory for the Public Worship of God said, “Before that publication of such their purpose, (if the parties be under age,) the consent of the parents, or others under whose power they are, (in case the parents be dead,) is to be made known to the church officers of that congregation, to be recorded. The like is to be observed in the proceedings of all others, although of age, whose parents are living, for their first marriage.”

25The assumption of 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 is that this man got a divorce from the state before he was restored to the church.

26Deuteronomy 22:18-19 authorizes “the elders of the city” to impose a law where “he cannot divorce her all his days.” The question is, “Why?” Deuteronomy 19:16-20 makes it clear that a false witness should receive the same penalty that the pretended crime would have deserved. Since the man in Deuteronomy 22:18-19 had falsely accused the woman of adultery, and since adultery could lawfully lead to either the death penalty (Lev. 20:10; 21:9) or divorce (Jer. 3:8; Is. 50:1; Matt. 1:19), a similar punishment could be imposed on the man. But giving the woman either penalty would not protect her in the least. The general equity of Deuteronomy 19:16-20 requires that the punishment protect the woman, not punish her. Thus the requirement that he could not divorce her all his days.

27Since Ezra 10:3 indicates that Ezra judged each case “according to the law” (cf. v. 3), our interpretation of Ezra 10 should not contradict the regulations concerning divorce and remarriage found in the Pentateuch. Nowhere in the law is there a mandate that every foreign woman be divorced. Indeed, God made provision for marriages to foreigners if they converted (Deut. 20:14; 21:10-14). It seems certain that the foreign wives that the Jews had to divorce were

  1. unbelievers
  2. had been or were currently involved in criminal behavior. (See my book, Is The Death Penalty Just?)

As such they parallel the situation in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.

28Though church licenses went back to the Middle Ages, state-granted licensing is more recent. In America, licensing was used in the early 1900’s to prohibit whites from marrying blacks, mulattos, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Malays, or Filipinos. These laws have since been declared unconstitutional by the courts. However, contrary to popular opinion, licensing did pre-date these laws in at least some states. Eleven states (Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah) and the District of Columbia still recognize common law marriages as being valid within their borders even when a marriage license is absent. Common Law marriages contracted in those states will likely be recognized in all other states. It is illegal to perform common-law marriages (i.e., marriages without a license) in the following states (where known, dates of specific statutes are included): Alaska (1917), Arizona (1913), Arkansas, California (1895), Connecticut, Delaware, Florida (1968), Georgia (1997), Hawaii (1920), Idaho (1996), Illinois (1905), Indiana (1958), Kentucky (1852), Louisiana (which has French Law, not English Common Law), Maine (1652 and again in 1820), Maryland, Massachusetts (1646), Michigan (1957), Minnesota (1941), Mississippi (1956), Missouri (1921), Nebraska (1923), Nevada (1943), New Mexico (1860), New Jersey (1939), New York (1933, 1902, 1908), North Carolina, North Dakota (1890), Ohio (1991), Oklahoma (2010), Oregon, Pennsylvania (2005), South Dakota (1959), Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin (1917), and Wyoming. In the Meister v. Moore case of 1877, the Supreme Court declared common law marriage to be a right and that state laws and statutes created before or since are not legal constraints but are “mere directives.” It ruled that Michigan had not abolished common-law marriage by establishing rules governing the solemnization of marriages. Though most of the states have routinely ignored this case, it can be appealed to as a precedent should Christians want to challenge a marriage license law in a given state. The IRS recognizes common-law marriage if it is recognized by the state where the taxpayers currently live or in the state where the common-law marriage began.

29Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory (Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), p. 395.

30Tom Hauck, Parenting for Purity (Zondervan: Pleasant Word, 2006), p. 75.

31Hauck, Parenting, p. 77.

32Hauck, Parenting, p. 77.

33Hauck, Parenting, p. 78.

34BDAG, 411

35Note that Paul is not making the single life the ideal for all time, but rather the best option during “this present distress” (v. 26). The Corinthian Christians were undergoing severe persecution, and Paul wanted to spare them “trouble in the flesh” (v. 28). It was not a sin for any of them to get married (v. 36), but Paul advised them to wait until times were a little better. Contrast this advice to wait with Paul’s advice to not wait in 1 Tim. 5:14. In that passage Paul gave the norm when he said, “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, …” We should never pit Paul’s time-bounded advice in 1 Corinthians 7 against the universal norms of the Creation Mandate.

36Remembering our definition of COURTSHIP, it is clear that Paul’s statements: “it is good for a man to remain as he is” (v. 26) and “Do not seek a wife” (v. 38) are statements advising virgins not to COURT.

37It is very important to note in 1 Corinthians 7 that when the father says “No,” and resolves in his heart to “keep his virgin daughter” that he is not postponing her marriage too long (v. 36) and it is because it would be in their best interests (v. 26). All the instructions for singleness were temporary provisions “because of the present distress” (v. 26) and because he wanted to spare them trouble in the flesh from the severe persecution that was about to happen. This was not an arbitrary “No” on the part of the father, but a very carefully planned out “No” that was in their best interests.

38For a thorough refutation of this faulty theology, see Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard (Tyler, TX: ICE, 1985). This book is available for free online at

39Some of the different definitions of betrothal are as follows:

John W. Thompson: “Betrothal may be defined as a binding commitment to marry, sought by a young man, agreed to by a young woman, approved and supervised by the fathers of both, and attested by a bridal provision (bride price/dowry) and by witnesses and/or a document.”

Lindvall: “An irrevocable and publicly announced commitment to marriage, only terminated for infidelity, during which the cultivation of a romantic relationship is permitted. Betrothal is instigated by the young man and woman with the full approval of parents. No physical contact occurs until after the wedding.” This is my summary stitching together of Lindvall’s chart on

Von: “Betrothal is a covenant between two people, usually entered into for them by their fathers, which permanently binds them as husband and wife. This then begins a period where they call each other husband and wife, but do not yet physically consumate their marriage.”

Greg Price: “Betrothal is ‘a covenant to covenant’–a binding vow to be united in holy matrimony.” Christian Education in the Home: Help! My Daughter Wants to Date. (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1994), p. 11.

40For example, Greg Price said, “All male-female relationships should pass through courtship and engagement on their way to marriage.” Help! My Daughter Wants to Date, p. 19. Common terms are that betrothal is “both pattern and precept.” See for example Vaughn Ohlman’s book, The Covenant of Betrothal. It is the contention of this book that it is a pattern (one model), but not a precept (or command).

41Jonathan Lindvall in a letter, as cited by Robin Phillips, The Way of a Man with a Maid, p. 43. I cannot endorse Robin Phillips antinomianism, but if he has correctly quoted Lindvall, Lindvall gives more authority to the parent than the Scripture does.

42See Ruth 3:11-13 as one example. Jesus said to “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt 5:37). A person’s word should be as good as gold.

43For example, Exodus 21:8 gives the sanctions when a master breaks his betrothal to a slave.

44There are three governments that can administrate oaths and covenants: the family, the church, and the state.

45He says, “a covenant is an oath. The commitment of the covenantal relationship binds people together with a solidarity equivalent to the results achieved by a formal oath-taking process. ‘Oath’ so adequately captures the relationship achieved by ‘covenant’ that the terms may be interchanged (cf. Ps. 89:3,34f.; 105:8-10),” O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980), p. 6, footnote 7.

46Though not an exhaustive list, the following Scriptures illustrate this point: Gen. 21:27,32; 26:26-30; 31:44-54; Deut. 7:1-2; Josh. 9:6-16; 1 Sam. 11:1-3; 2 Sam. 3:12-13,21; 5:3; 2 Kings 11:17; 23:3; 1 Chron. 11:3; 15:25; 2 Chron. 23:1,3,16; Ezra 10:3; Neh. 9:38; Is. 42:6; Ezek. 17:12-16; Dan. 9:27; Hos. 12:1

47Though not an exhaustive list of contracts, the following are a good representation of signing a contract of shaking hands on a contract: Gen. 38:17-20; Ex. 21:8; 22:26; Deut. 24:10-13,17; Ruth 3:9-18; Job 17:3; Prov. 6:11; 17:18; 22:26; Jer. 23:3-20; 32:10-16; Ezek. 18:7,12,16; Matt. 5:37; James 5:12; etc.

48Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, p. 15.

49Interestingly, this tradition has survived in Judaism till today. Rabbi Maurice Lamm comments: “[T]he Sages said that to live with a wife without a ketubah, or without specification of fair conditions, is regarded as concubinage—the difference between a wife and a concubine is that a wife has a ketubah, and a concubine does not.”

50Gen. 22:24; 25:6; 35:22; 36:12; Lev. 19:20; Judges 8:31; 19:1-2,9-10,24-25,27,29; 20:4-6; 2 Sam. 3:7; 5:13; 15:16; 16:21-22; 19:5; 20:3; 21:11; 1 Kings 11:3; 1 Chron. 1:32; 2:46,48; 3:9; 7:14; 2 Chron. 11:21; Esther 2:14; Song 6:8-9; Dan. 5:2-3,23.

51Gen. 34:9; 38:8; Ex. 21:10; Lev. 20:14; 21:14; Num. 36:3-4,6; Deut. 7:3; 20:7; 24:1; Joshua 23:12; Judges 12:9; 2 Chron. 18:1; Ezra 9:14; Ps. 78:63; Is. 62:5; Matt. 5:32; 19:9-10; 22:2,24,30; 24:38; Mark 10:11-12; Mark 12:25; Luke 16:18; 17:27; 20:34-35; Romans 7:3; 1 Cor. 7:9,28,36,38; 1 Tim. 4:3; 5:11,14; Heb. 13:4; Rev. 19:7,9.

52Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson, Hebrew/Aramaic to English Dictionary, from Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance. See also Ersnt Jenni and Claus Westerman, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. “First of all, on the one hand, one should distinguish the intention of ʾrś from that of the marriage ceremony proper: a man may have betrothed a maiden but not yet have “taken her as wife” (lqḥ, Deut 21:11; 22:13f, etc.; cf. also bʿl “to marry,” Deut 21:13, etc.; → baʿal; lqḥ is directly juxtaposed to ʾrś in Deut 20:7 and to hyh leʾiššâ in Deut 22:29).

53The one possible exception being in Hosea 2. Though see below.

54Jonathan Lindvall, email newsletter, #88, 2001.

55See previous discussion about betrothal being a serious contract, but not a covenant.

56For example, Richard Anthony says, ““Betrothal can only be terminated on the basis of infidelity; requires scriptural divorce.”

57Many examples could be given, but Robin Seager describes the betrothal of Tiberius: “But although the betrothal may have been political in conception, the eventual marriage – probably celebrated after Tiberius’ return from the East in 20 – was a happy one…” Tiberius (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 11. These betrothals were legally binding. N.S. Gill says, “The Betrothal, Dowry, and Engagement Rings - Engagements and engagement parties were optional, but if an engagement were made and then backed out of, breach of contract would have had financial consequences. The bride’s family would give the engagement party and formal betrothal (sponsalia) between the groom and the bride-to-be (who was now sponsa). Dowry, to be paid after the marriage, was decided on. The groom might give his fiancee an iron ring (anulus pronubis) or some money (arra).” Matrimonium: Roman Marriage, cited at

58See my booklet, Capital Punishment (Omaha: Biblical Blueprints, 2009).

59The Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows“, 22:7.

60Jonathan Lindvall, from the taped lecture, “Scriptural Betrothal: God’s Design for Youthful Romance.” Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living)

61At least this is true if you read (as I do) “virgin daughter” rather than “virgin betrothed.” It was the father who had authority to give or to not give his daughter. This is the view of most the church fathers as well as Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Bachman, Parry, Edwards, Allo, Morris, Robertson and Plummer, Snyder, Goudge, and Heinrici.

62As cited by Philip Schaff in History of the Christian Church, volume I (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1871), p. 331.

63Joseph Dillow in Song of Solomon on Sex (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977), pp. 183ff explains how this little section is a memory of the previous courtship. He says, “As Shulamith reflects on her wedding day, she remembers the springtime visit Solomon paid to her country home in the Lebanon mountains. These three reflections occur as Shulamith awaits the wedding procession sent by Solomon to pick her up and bring her to the palace in Jerusalem. These reflections picture God’s purposes in betrothal. The first brings out the idea that God’s primary purpose is that couples get to know one another in ways other than sexual.” (p. 186). An abbreviation of his outline is as follows:

  1. Wedding Day (1:1-2:7)
    • Reflection #1 - Shulamith in the Palace 1:2-8)
    • Reflection #2 - At the Banquet Table (1:9-14)
    • Reflection #3 - In the Bridal Chamber (1:15-2:7)
  2. Betrothal Days (2:8-3:5)
    • Reflection #4 - Remembrance of a Spring Time Visit (2:8-14)
    • Reflection #5 - Catching the Little Foxes (2:15-17)
    • Reflection #6 - A Dream of Separation (3:1-5)
  3. From the Wedding Procession to Marital Union (3:6-5:1
    • Reflection #7 - The Wedding Procession (3:6-3:11)
    • Reflection #8 - The Royal Couple Alone on the Wedding Night (4:1-5:1)
  4. Sexual Adjustments in Marriage: “the Dream of Love’s Refusal” to the “Dance of Mahanaim” (5:2-8:4)
    • Reflection #9 - Troubled dream (5:2-5:8)
    • Reflection #10 - Upon awakening, changes her attitude (5:9-6:3)
    • Reflection #11 - Return of Solomon (6:4-10)
    • Reflection #12 - Shulamith in the Garden (6:11-13a)
    • Reflection #13 - The Dance of Mahanaim (6:12b-8:4
  5. A Vacation in the Countryside (8:5-14)

64The Greek word for vessel (σκεῦος) was a Jewish idiom for a wife (1 Peter 3:7). Thus, Hendriksen translates it, “how to take a wife for himself.” Other translations have “taking one woman for his wife.” (TCNT), “each of you shall know how to procure himself a wife” (Weymouth), “his own wife” (EBC). “how to take a wife for himself” (RSV), “finding a husband or a wife” (GWT) JFB says, “how to possess his vessel — rather as Greek, “how to acquire (get for himself) his own vessel,” that is, that each should have his own wife so as to avoid fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 7:2). The emphatical position of “his own” in the Greek, and the use of “vessel” for wife, in 1 Peter 3:7, and in common Jewish phraseology, and the correct translation “acquire,” all justify this rendering.” Because Andrews (refer to discussion later in this chapter) sees the vessel as the man’s own body, he misses the critical information in this passage.

65Bahnsen says, “It should be noted that ‘sexual sin’ (=fornication) need not involve genital intercourse. Imagine a wife who engages in romantic kissing, undressing, caressing, fondling, … [of] someone not her husband. It would be ridiculous to defend her against the charge of “fornication” by appealing to the absence of genital intercourse. The Song of Songs presents the kind of activities mentioned here as appropriate to the state of marriage.” Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse (a Presbytery paper for the OPC), p. 3. John White rightly says, “Is there any moral difference between two naked people in bed petting to orgasm and another two having intercourse? Is the one act a fraction of an ounce less sinful than the other? Is it perhaps more righteous to pet with clothes on? If so, which is worse, to pet with clothes off or to have intercourse with clothes on?” (John White, Eros Defiled , ((Madison, WI: IVP, 1977), p. 53

66To defraud means to cheat, to deprive of rights or of property; “to have or to claim more than one’s due” (Liddel & Scott).

67Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 124.

68This tension is heightened when one considers Paul’s strong opinion to the contrary in other passages. For example, 1 Timothy 4:1-3 considers one of the deceptive “doctrines of demons” to be “forbidding to marry.” In the same book he commands younger widows to get married and bear children (1 Tim. 5:14). While it is still possible to make verse 1 parallel with verse 26, as a temporary encouragement to avoid marriage, the immediate context and the meaning of the terms rule that interpretation out in my opinion.

69BDAG dictionary lists six definitions: 1. to cause illumination or burning to take place, light, kindle, 2. to make close contact, 3. cling to, 4. to partake of someth., w. cultic implications, have contact with, touch, 5. to touch intimately, have sexual contact,6. to make contact with a view to causing harm, touch. Any of definitions 1 (metaphorically), 2,3 or 5 could be in view and would fit the context of not arousing and/or satisfying sexual desires.

70The nine times it occurs in the ancient world is in Plato’s Leges 8:840a; Aristotle’s Politica 7.14.12; The LXX on Genesis 20:6, Ruth 2:9, Prov. 6:29; Plutarch’s Life of Alexander the Great 21.4; Josephus’ Antiquities 1.163; Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 1.17.6.

71To those who object that verses 25 and following are indeed promoting singleness as an ideal, I would respond that singleness for the Corinthians was only “good because of the present distress” (v. 26) and because he wanted to spare them from the “trouble in the flesh” (v. 27) that they would experience during the “short” (v. 29) time of intense persecution that was soon to come upon them. His instructions were not a pattern for all time, but were a temporary measure. So strong was the norm of marriage and children in Paul’s mind (see the parallel of Gen. 1:28; 2:18-15 in 1 Tim. 5:14; 4:1-3), that Paul makes clear that even his temporary advice during the present distress could be ignored if the father thought his daughter was getting too old to wait (vv. 36,38). Far from making singleness the norm, marriage and children is the norm, and singleness is the exception that requires a special “gift” from the Lord (v. 7).

72We are of course not considering the non-romantic touch that is necessary for a health care worker to administer care, hygiene, etc.

73Andrews, The Family, p. 202

74Andrews, The Family, p. 202.

75Andrews, The Family, p. 203.

76Andrews, The Family, p. 202.

77Andrews, The Family, p. 204.

78Andrews, The Family, p. 205.

79Two examples might suffice: Proverbs 27:14 says, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.” There is nothing wrong with giving a blessing. In fact, you can probably think up a few Biblical rules that command us to bless each other. There are even situations where doing so with a loud voice is appropriate. But when you do it at 2 o’clock in the morning, it will not be received as a blessing. Sensitivity to the situation is necessary to fully obey the Bible.

Another example could be given in the area of worship. Proverbs 21:27 says, “”The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with wicked intent!” Sacrifices are good, but when we have just rebelled against God, God won’t accept our worship. Our worship is even more offensive if our motive for worshipping is not to please God, but to impress other people, such as the Pharisees were seeking to do. These two Scriptures illustrate that the Bible requires a proper motive, situation, and standard.

80See Deut. 20:7 where הָאִישׁ is used of the betrothed man and אִשָּׁה is used of the betrothed “wife.” The same is true in the Greek where Joseph is called Mary’s “husband” after betrothal but before marriage (Matt. 1:19).

81Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, ὑπέρακμαζω.

82As cited by Philip Schaff in History of the Christian Church, volume I (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1871), p. 331.