Courtship? Dating? What Does The Bible Really Teach?

For many years now, most Christian homeschoolers have been anti-dating, encouraging something known as courtship instead. Why do we do that? How is courtship superior to dating? Is it truly more biblical? I don’t think so.

A quick look through the concordance will show what I mean. Let us start with the word ‘date.’ We will not find it; it is not in the Bible; it was an unknown concept. The same thing goes for the word ‘€œcourtship.’ It also does not appear anywhere in God’s Word. The word ‘court’ is found there, with three different meanings. Scripture speaks of the court of the king, a court of law, and the outer court(yard) of the Temple. Nowhere does the word refer to anything relating to romance or preparing for marriage.

If the Bible doesn’t talk about courtship or dating, how do we pursue romance and marriage? What are God’s plans for His people to find mates? While Scripture does not tell us in so many words, I do believe it gives guidelines in that area. Let’s look at the key concepts involved here.

The Bible often speaks of betrothal (or espousal), but never tells us exactly what it was. However, we can learn much from the Biblical examples of it. Joseph and Mary were betrothed when she was found to be with child. Joseph would have had to divorce her to be out of the bonds of marriage. The Song of Solomon is a love story between a betrothed couple. The ‘bridegroom’ in Matthew 25 was coming to retrieve his betrothed from her father’s house when the five foolish virgins were closed out of the feast.

Historically, we know that betrothal was a commitment to marry. It was much more permanent than most of us consider engagements today. A betrothal was a LEGAL commitment, binding on both parties, as a marriage. Once a couple was betrothed they were, ‘off the market,’ no longer available for any type of romantic activity. Barring an extremely unusual circumstance, the betrothed couple was married for life.

Wait! How did this couple ever get to this point. How did two young people decide to become betrothed? What brought them together? Here is where I get radical, but I believe it is also Biblical. Bear with me, and I will show you what I mean.

The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the ritual of courtship, or any ritual prior to the betrothal commitment, but we do get a few hints. The first one comes in the often-repeated words: ‘give their daughters in marriage.’ This always refers to fathers and seems to imply bestowing her as a gift upon the chosen husband. How was he chosen? That is the most important question of all– the answer to our dilemma in this area.

Let’s look at two particular Biblical examples of this — one that I believe was done the right way and one that was not. It is interesting that these two examples were succeeding generations of the same family– Isaac with Rebekah and Jacob and his wives. For purposes of my own, I will deal with them in reverse chronological order.

How did Jacob meet and fall in love with Rachel? The Scripture tells us that he was sent by his father to find a wife from the members of their extended family on his mother’s side. Once he was there, he fell in love with Rachel. All the Bible tells us about how this happened is that she was beautiful and that he loved her. While it is never stated that the attraction was primarily physical, we are given to believe that this may have been the case. At any rate, Jacob loved her enough to work seven years for the right to marry her. We are all, no doubt, familiar with the treachery of Laban in giving Jacob the wrong daughter and Jacob’s honor in remaining with her in spite of his disappointment. We also know the story of Jacob later marrying Rachel also and all of the heartache that followed for an entire family.

Jacob began his search for a wife in the right way. He followed the appropriate procedure. He started out with his father’s approval; he asked for and received her father’s blessing. He was cheated out of what he really wanted. Who can blame him for being upset? However– and here is the rub– he failed to follow through in his duty to his wife. He never learned to love her or to cleave to her as God had taught since Adam and Eve. He still loved Rachel, even though he was married to Leah, and that was his undoing. However unjust his marriage had been, it was binding in the eyes of God and clearly was the Lord’s will for Jacob. After all, it was through Leah that Jacob became an ancestor of the Messiah, not through Rachel.

Now let us look at Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah. They never saw each other until their wedding day. Rebekah was brought to Isaac by Abraham’s servant, an arranged marriage if ever there was one. By our standards, this might be expected to be a disaster– two people stuck in a loveless marriage. Yet, Genesis 24:67 tells us that Isaac loved her from the beginning. We can only assume that she responded to him the same way. Their marriage was by no means perfect, but they were spared the deceit and bickering that resulted from the double marriage of Jacob.

What made the difference? I think it was the commitment to love the spouse, even when they had not chosen each other. Nowhere does Scripture tell us to marry the one we love, but its pages abound with commands to love the one to whom we are married. Any husband and wife who both truly do that will have a good marriage, no matter what.

Are we really any closer to understanding God’s design for romance? I hope we are. I think His Word leads us to see that how we choose a mate is not as important as who we allow to do the choosing. For evidence of this, look at the way God led Abraham’s servant to Rebekah (Genesis 24), making clear His choice of her for Isaac, and contrast that with the choice God made for Jacob and how he responded to it.

If we wait upon the Lord and are attune to His leading, finding a mate will not be a problem. Perhaps, that is why it is never directly addressed in Scripture. Perhaps, it is not something on which we should dwell. If we simply live our lives in close communion with God, He will provide us with all good things, including the perfect mate. When that choice is made clear is when, I believe, Biblical romance begins, not during the search.

Courtship, as practiced today, is often just another form of dating. It still involves actively being on the lookout for someone to marry. The concept of not dating and waiting until you are ready to marry to court a girl has often led young men to see every young lady they like as a potential mate, thus a subject for courting. When this happens, is it really any different than dating? Young ladies are too quick to accept the attention of any young man as a potential mate, thus allowing themselves to become emotionally involved before it is appropriate to do so. This leads to heartaches and problems.

How then is a young person to find God’s choice for a mate? Let us again go back to Rebekah. How did God provide her with a husband? What was she doing to find him? Genesis 24 shows us that this young woman was merely going about her daily routine. She was doing what she should be doing where she should be doing it. She was a faithful member of her father’s household and the community. It was her spirit of service that led her to the man who took her to her husband. Isaac, at the same time, was not actively pursuing her. He wanted a wife, but he trusted his father and his God to bring her to him at the right time. Would that we could teach our children to live this way, enjoying life in Christ, serving Him and others, never thinking about whether the girl next door or the guy who works across the hall (or anyone else) might be The One.

Scripture does teach that parents are to be a vital part of their children’s romantic life, and it may happen in many ways. It may be the parents who actually introduce the couple to each other; parents should be consulted for approval before the marriage is undertaken; in many cultures parents are even expected to choose their children’s spouses. Whatever form this may take, I believe there is an even more important role for parents to play.

I think we should be actively teaching our children, from their earliest years to see ALL people as friends and all Christians as brothers and sisters. The young person who truly relates to others in that way will not entertain unwholesome thoughts or develop crushes on one another. We should train our children to wait on the Lord for ALL things, including the provision of a life mate if He so desires.