Courtship vs. Betrothal

"Love the one you marry." - Paul - Apostle - circa 60AD

"And if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with." - Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young - musicians - circa 1970AD

Lindsey couldn't have been 6 or 7 years old when she and Carrie were having some conversation in the kitchen and the topic turned to the future when Lindsey might marry some day:

Carrie: "Lindsey, don't you have the most wonderful daddy in the world?"
Lindsey, a little thoughtfully: "Why, yes - he is."

Carrie: "Don't you think I did a great job picking out your father as my husband?'
Lindsey, a little quicker: "Why, yes - you did."

Carrie: "Don't you think I will do a great job helping you pick out YOUR husband?"
Lindsey, beaming confidently: "Why, yes - I think you will."

Such was the beginning of the process in preparing our children to be excluded from the ever popular social activity of dating.

It was shortly after we entered the homeschooling community that the term "courtship" was beginning to be bantered around. In the beginning, it was an answer to the physical and emotional dangers of dating, particularly as it was played out in the 80's and 90's as opposed to the 40's and 50's.

However, I believe that the concept of courtship has taken a turn for the worse these past 5 years or so as more people have jumped on the bandwagon and attempt to distinguish their brand of courtship from everyone else's brand of courtship. I believe that is what is happening when people exert a lot of energy drawing distinctions between courtship and betrothal, for example.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that there existed cultural differences between courtship and betrothal. But to me and for my purposes here in the US, they were merely terms that expressed an anti-dating sentiment rather than a commitment to some specific methodology employed to garnish a spouse.

The past few years has seen a growing number of "experts" rise from amongst us and propagate their brand of courtship or betrothal based on their children's experience, their own experience, or even no experience what so ever. They each have their own ideas about how a boy should be introduced to a girl; how much time the two should spend together; should there be time for the couple alone; should they touch and, if so, when and how much; how long should the courtship/betrothal take; how long should the pre/post wedding ceremony go on; who gets the wedding night sheets; ad infinitum …

Michael Pearl, in his January/February 2001 issue of No Greater Joy has responded to another well known betrothal advocate with his own analysis, thoughts, and ideas of the subject. Now, I will openly admit my appreciation toward Michael and Debi Pearl and their practical insights with child training. I think they have been a refreshing voice for a generation that was not taught how to train and discipline children.

But I must also say that I cannot agree with much of what I know of Mr. Pearl's theology outside of the most basic tenants of the Christian faith, and sometimes I wonder about some of them. You may ask what one's theology has to do with their understanding of betrothal and I must insist that the answer is, "Everything!"

For it is his theology that drives him as to how to identify and analyze the Bible for the proper application of God's word to the issue. Mr. Pearl states, "The Bible clearly defines Christian conduct, which of course applies to the processes of marriage and 'giving in marriage,' but it does not give us a betrothal plan" yet after examining 13 passages of scripture that use the word (or a form of) "betroth," he leaves us with 1 Corinthians 7:1,2 as the only Biblical suggestion for guidance.

Mr. Pearl writes, "The Bible does indeed offer clear alternatives to the godless sport of dating, but you won't find them delineated in the Bible under the word 'betrothal'" and "You asked, 'Do we practice betrothal?' I answer, not the way it is described in the Bible to have occurred in the eastern cultures" and "The Bible does not give us a cut and dried method for taking a wife."

We may rightly agree with Mr. Pearl that the Bible does not specify the kind of systematic methodologies espoused by many of the modern betrothal experts around town, but when he concludes, "If God wrote a book of great length and did not choose to give a rigid order for taking a wife, let us not put words in his mouth nor pretend that our words are Scripture," he leaves us with the idea that methodology can be distinct from ideology and that, while we may gain guidance for our conscious directly from God's word, there is no universal application for God's Church from that guidance.

So it is with much caution that I refer you to their newsletter where Mr. Pearl addresses the issue of betrothal and courtship and some of the extremes he perceives in some people's attempt to apply a biblical answer to the problem of marriage.

I have a couple of suggestions if you are thinking of reviewing the article:

1. It is a long article. He spends some time at the front going over their own experience. It's interesting, but not really relevant. At least get to the meat of the article near the middle.
2. Some of Mr. Pearl's questionable theology shows forth in the article but I don't believe it disqualifies the major points. Watch for it and consider the source.

While Mr. Pearl is arguing that the roadmap doesn't exist, Jonathan Lindvall's 1996 article, The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance, attempts to extract the principle behind the cultural expression of betrothal practiced in the Bible as well as other passages relating to holiness for its application in society today.

While there may be some advantage to the progression of thought in Mr. Lindvall's article, it is best read from the end of Part 2 to the beginning. In other words, Mr. Lindvall's final example and appeal should be the very cornerstone of his argument and the basis by which all other passages, ideas, and experiences are measured and validated. That his premises are upside down is, too, a matter of theology.

Mr. Pearl and Mr. Lindvall share their wisdom as garnered vicariously from their children's real experience or from other's who share stories with them.  More voices, as our children come to age, are crying out from first hand experience.  Some have positive, heaven-like stories; others real horror stories straight from hell.  

One who is telling their first hand story from more of a down to earth perspective is Israel Wayne and his lovely wife, Brooke.  In his article, Betrothal: Should We Kiss Courtship Goodbye?, Israel leans heavily on defining the terms courtship and betrothal according to modern cultural perceptions, assigning a methodology to each of the terms based more upon the modern application than historical application, and then explaining why the methodology assigned to the term betrothal is more effective than that of the common practice of courtship.  If all that sounds overly technical and boring, it's not really.  The article is light and easy to understand.

I encourage you to read the three articles, note similarities of view and closely consider the differences in interpretation and application.

I would love to read your thoughts about the articles. 

Give us your FEEDBACK.

NO GREATER JOY by Michael Pearl

SCRIPTURAL ROMANCE by Jonathan Lindvall

 by Israel Wayne



Patrick L. Hurd
Weatherford, Texas

EST. 01/01/01