Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?

See also:

Emotional Purity and Broken Heart Syndrome

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?


The Way of a Man With a Maid

Bill Gothard and ATI

When I was researching for my book The Way of a Man with a Maid: A Response to the Courtship and Betrothal Movement, I had occasion to explore Jonathan Lindvall's teachings on betrothal. In this post I want to explain a bit about what Lindvall's "betrothal" teaching is and what some of the main scriptural objections are to it.

Lindvall and his followers teach that betrothal as a kind of half way house between marriage and engagement. While you can back out of an engagement you can’t back out of betrothal. It is an irrevocable commitment to marry a person of the father’s choosing. Prior to the betrothal, the couple should have no feelings for each other. In some cases, they may hardly know each other. It is during the betrothal period that the couple are allowed to actually fall in love.

When researching for my book I was dismayed to come accross many horror stories from people who are being burnt by the betrothal system. Many young men who have sought to marry a girl have submitted to the betrothal system, only to fail in the end at passing through the tricky betrothal obstacle course. Other testimonies tell of daughters being totally shocked at the men their fathers choose for their future husbands. Many young men who have been home-schooled, have very high standards and would normally be attracted to the kind of conservative women whose families do betrothal, are scared off by the whole process. They consciously avoid any girl whose family professes betrothal since they feel they must court that woman's father rather than the women herself, and must make a commitment before they know what they are committing to. Yet the main objection remains that the scriptural basis that Lindvall appeals to in support of his views remains faulty. In this post I hope to demonstrate that.

But first of all, what exactly is betrothal and how does it differ from courtship? I'd like to answer that question by examining the teachings of the main proponent of betrothal, Jonathan Lindvall (pictured left). Those seeking a broader cross section of views beyond the teachings of Jonathan Lindvall, as well as references to the primary source material cited in this post, would do well to purchase a copy of my book The Way of a Man with a Maid: A Response to the Courtship and Betrothal Movement.

The definition of betrothal is best left to Lindvall’s own words. He says, "In the Biblical model of ‘betrothal’, the decision to marry is made based on God’s will, confirmed by parents and other authorities, rather than emotional and hormonal impulses. The betrothal period is provided for the emotions to catch up to the irrevocable decision made prayerfully and rationally. Our emotions are not to lead us, but to follow us."

Notice that Lindvall makes the alternative to betrothal one in which marriage is based solely on emotional and hormonal impulses. Elsewhere Lindvall writes (speaking of his marriage),

"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."

We have an either/or situation here as prayer, spiritual submission and rationality are contrasted to emotionally felt love. The idea that prayerful submission to God’s will is opposed to emotionally felt love is simply assumed.

Lindvall likens love occurring as an act of the will to the act of the will involved in praising the Lord and choosing to be joyful whether we feel like it or not. When we make that choice the emotions will follow, for "God's intent is that emotions would follow the will...that the will would dictate to the emotions." He quotes Colossians 3:13 ("Put on love") and says, "Put your will in gear and say, 'I WILL love.'...Love is an act of my will to put someone else first."

But hold on. If Lindvall believes that the definition of love is a volitional commitment, and that such a commitment must form the foundation for marriage, then what of his frequent statements that "Love is not to be the foundation of marriage"?

Part of the problem is that Lindvall frequently uses inconsistent definitions of love interchangeably, depending on which conclusion he is arguing for at the time. His ideas have a fundamental lack of coherence which makes systematic evaluation challenging.

Bail Out Mode

Lindvall suggests that when a person experiences a series of temporary romances, the breaking up process that is necessarily involved develops bad habit patterns. “Though ‘breaking up is hard to do,’” he writes, “the more you do it the easier it gets. This is more accurately preparation for divorce than for marriage." Israel Wayne has argued similarly, writing that

"After a while, a deep-rooted pattern of leaping out of relationships is developed. Once such a person is married, if things don’t go their way in the relationship, they revert to default mode: bail out!"

Is this true? It depends. If the reason a person moves through a series of boyfriends or girlfriends is because of a fundamentally wrong approach to relationships – whether because they are flirtatious, or seeking the thrill of short-term intimacy rather than the potential of marriage, or because they are unwilling to stick it out through the difficult as well as the positive seasons of a relationship - then of course these sinful attitudes, like any sinful attitude, are going to become easier the longer they are practiced. However, consider the case of a woman I know who approached relationships very conscientiously and prayerfully, but who, through a combination of misfortunes and mistakes, went through two boyfriends plus one broken engagement before she found the man she finally married. This woman did not create for herself ‘a deep-rooted pattern of leaping out of relationships.’ In fact, the opposite was true: the more this woman broke up with various boyfriends, the more desirous she became to find a relationship that would be permanent. It is nonsense to suggest that now she is married she must find it more difficult to remain with her husband because she had a series of short-term relationships prior to marrying him.

Based on the construction of this false problem, Lindvall is able to argue that we need an alternative method for conducting relationships. At first he taught that the solution to dating was courtship. Eventually Lindvall concluded that courtship has unscriptural flaws because "it does not go far enough." This is because there is still the opportunity for either person to bail out if they find they are not emotionally compatible, which Lindvall suggests sounds "vaguely similar to the rationale for a couple living together for a time before marriage - to find out if they are compatible…’ Thus, according to Lindvall, the whole idea of courtship being a 'testing ground' is flawed.

Lindvall concludes that the only answer is betrothal. This includes a complete prohibition on all personal friendships with the opposite sex prior to the betrothal period. If breaking up during a romantic relationship will really lead to all the damaging consequences that Lindvall suggests, then we need to be sure that our children don't fall in love or experience any romantic emotions or thoughts prior to knowing with absolute certainty who they will marry. Once the match is determined, it needs then to be impossible for either party to back out. To fully understand why Lindvall believes this is necessary, let’s have a look at his teaching about the pre-betrothal period in which romantic emotions and thoughts are disallowed.

Retroactive Marriage

Lindvall postulates a rather convoluted argument that I have taken the liberty of calling “the theory of retroactive matrimony.” This idea implies that marriage works backwards, so that behavior that would be inappropriate for Lindvall's wife to exhibit towards other men (i.e.. going out with them, having a romantic relationship. etc.), would be equally wrong before she ever married Lindvall. He maintains that whether a person is actually married or actually single is irrelevant to the fact that it is wrong to have romantic emotions towards them, unless you know for sure that this person will one day be your spouse. Thus, to an imaginary young man going out on a date, Jonathan says, "So tonight you're taking out a girl that probably will not be your wife, and in fact, someday she'll probably be someone else's wife. So you're taking out somebody else's wife tonight....

The assumption here is that if a woman might someday be someone else's wife, then to take her out is the same as taking out somebody else's wife. This assumption is absurd, for the obvious reason that the marriage has not yet occurred. Or has it? Lindvall’s mentor, Bill Gothard, has argued that

"Being a ‘one-woman man’ or a ‘one-man woman’ means that we have accepted the lifelong commitment of marriage. The wisdom of proverbs praises the one who does the partner good all the days of his life (including before marriage). (See Proverbs 31:12.)

We do this by remaining morally pure in our thoughts and actions for the one we will one day marry. Because this commitment to reserve ourselves for one individual, every person is like a ‘strange-man’ or a ‘strange woman’ to us except the one God directs to marry through the confirmation of parental authority and the love He places in our own hearts.”

No one would dispute that you should keep yourself pure for your future spouse even before you are married, but this is very different to what Gothard means by “lifelong commitment of marriage.” To assume that marriage works backwards in time as well as forward, gives rise to all sorts of absurd and unnatural situations, such as Lindvall’s scenario of “taking out someone else’s wife.” Another consequence is Lindvall’s suggestion that Paul's words in 1 Tim. 3:12 and Tit. 1:6 that a church leader should be literally a "one-woman man" might be referring to premarital emotions as well.

In the Old Testament the sin of adultery was considered more serious than that of fornication, and incurred a greater penalty
The reason for this was because adultery is a transgression against an existing marriage covenant, one that did not exist until it was ratified.

Because Lindvall implies that the marriage covenant extends, not only into the future, but retroactively into the past as well, he is able to argue that the same standards which apply to relationships among married people apply equally to relationships among unmarried young people. He says,

"I am convinced if there is something that is inappropriate for me to do with a woman I'm not married to, it is also inappropriate for my son to do this with a woman he is not married to."

Somehow we have been brainwashed into thinking that we can have one standard for married people and another standard for single people.... We've got a double standard here.

Of course, there are abundant situations where Lindvall is totally correct that the same standards that apply to a married person also transfer over to the unmarried. For example, both married and single people must avoid lustful thoughts, must maintain sexual morality, honor God in all their relationships, and so on. However, there are clearly other situations where a married person has a different set of obligations and responsibilities to that of a single person.

Ideally we hope that romance will always lead to marriage, yet we acknowledge that because we live in a fallen world, this ideal will not always be realized. There are times when engagements must be called off, for whatever reason. When this does happen and a person ends up having successive romances, though this may be regrettable, it is in no way comparable to a married person being romantic towards someone who is not his or her spouse.

Your Emotions Belong to Dad!

Lindvall carries his theory to its consistent conclusion: no young person should have any romantic feelings for anyone until they are engaged to their future spouse. This brings us back to the concept of ‘emotional purity’ which I looked at in the preceding chapter. “There's a time for romance,” writes Lindvall, “but it's not before their decision, it's after the decision has been made. Essentially, Lindvall says to his children, “Do not stir up nor awaken love until the father so desires” - to make a variant of Song of Songs 2:7.

Just as we teach our young people to reserve themselves physically for marriage, I believe the scriptures call us to train them to reserve their romantic emotions for the betrothal period immediately preceding marriage, having enjoyed the benefit of God-ordained protectors (parents) in helping them seek and find His will for their lifelong companion.

Part of Lindvall's motivation for doing this with his children is that he and his wife "bear deep regrets" from the fact that they each had romantic relationships with others before they married each other. Even when Lindvall was in his fifties, he said,

"I sometimes ponder wistfully what a wonderful thing it would be if I were the first man she had knitted her heart with. She wishes the same about me, but with pain I recognize that I didn't save my heart for her. It is my intention to spare my own children the regrets I bear."

Building on the fact of his particular deep regrets, Lindvall suggests that no young man would want the woman he will one day marry to be dated by another man or to have romantic feelings for anyone else other than himself. Consequently in keeping to the Golden Rule of doing to others as we would have them do to us, he thinks we ought to restrain any romantic feelings until we know for certain who we will marry. A woman, he says, is the property of her future husband, and therefore we should think in terms of property and ownership when it comes to romantic relationships. When a woman is 'given in marriage' by the father to the groom, this symbolizes a transfer of ownership. But to have a romance with a woman before her ownership has been formally transferred, is for that man to "defraud his brother" (1 Thess. 4:6) since he is stealing something that properly belongs only to the woman's future husband. "God intends for them to marry," says Lindvall, “but God wants them to experience authorized romance. Authorization, not only for the physical but for the emotional ownership of one another."

It’s Up to God to Make It Work!

So when does this authorization for emotional ownership occur? First of all, God reveals who the son or daughter is supposed to marry. How does He reveal this? He reveals it to the parents. As Lindvall writes,

"As we go through the right way, I think there are enough safeguards that we can be pretty sure that you're not going to get the wrong person if you do it the right way. How are we going to know it's the right person? God will speak, and God has revealed in His word that He speaks through authorities in all of our lives."

...the decision of whom to marry is based entirely on God's will confirmed by our authorities, with a confidence that God would bring romance to us as a blessing of our obedience...

...God wants young people to honor their parents...by voluntarily submitting their choice of a marriage partner to them.

We see from the above quotations that the entire betrothal system hinges on the assumption that God is going to make it work. Parents essentially end up straight-jacketing young people into the one-and-only-way for getting married. The question might now be considered from the Lord’s point of view. I wonder how God feels when told that He has to work within the confines of this system – that the whole plan hinges on His cooperation.

Despite the emphasis placed on God’s participation, His exact function in the betrothal system remains ambiguous. Lindvall says that the young person can say, "It's in God's hands, God's speaking to my parents, and I'm just resting." When I was a boy and discussed this issue with Lindvall I happened to refer to "the father choosing" who his offspring would marry, whereupon Lindvall corrected me. "No," he said, "it's not the father who chooses. It's God who chooses. God reveals His will to the father." As these statements seem to suggest, God’s prescriptive will exists independently of human agency. There is a “right person” out there which only God knows, and which He then divinely reveals to the father. This being the case, it seems rather erroneous for Lindvall to go through long lists of criteria for helping parents to decide (see chapter 2), analyzing the conditions each of the four parents must keep in mind when making the decision, and presenting dozens of safeguards and prerequisites along the way as a sort of insurance policy. This would seem to imply that it is not so much a matter of direct Divine revelation as analytical deliberation on the part of the parents. Furthermore, the idea that if any of the six people involved (i.e. both sets of parents, both young people) choose to veto it, the marriage can't happen, hardly seems consistent with the supposition that God has mandated the match through a special revelation to Dad.

Lindvall wants it both ways: in order for young people to be persuaded, Lindvall wants to be able to have the father claim that God has revealed the rightness of the match to him. Yet Lindvall also wants the father to have the subsequent possibility of the match not being of God if one of the six people choose to veto it. As he says (and remember, this is before the young people are allowed to have any feelings toward each other).

"It would seem to me that any one of the parties involved, either of the mothers, either of the fathers, and either of the young people has a possibility of vetoing the whole thing and everything is off at that point."

A possible way out of this problem would be for Lindvall to say that all of the checks and balances are God’s means of revealing His will, or that God’s will adapts itself to the conditions set by the parents. This would be similar to when I tell my children to clean their rooms. As soon as I issue the command that my children have to clean their rooms, it becomes God’s will that they clean their rooms since He has commanded that they obey their parents. Had I told my children to clean the bathrooms instead, then that would have been God’s will for them at that time. Unfortunately this option is not available to Lindvall since he speaks of God’s choice of a marriage partner as a static reality which the father must discover through prayer and testing (similar to if I “discovered” that God’s will was for my children to clean their bedrooms and not the bathrooms.) Further, if Lindvall did see God’s will for a marriage partner in the more flexible sense as something which adapts itself to the conditions set by the parents, then why is the betrothal system necessary at all for ascertaining His will? Parents might equally choose any other set of conditions in which God’s will can be manifested, just as I might choose any of rooms in the house to ask my children to clean.

Veto Power: a Generous Concession?

Typically if one points out that this scheme involves forcing unwilling marriages upon people, Lindvall will point out that this is not the case because of the veto-power with which the son and daughter are invested. However, a further look reveals that veto power is not the generous concession it at first seems.

One has to remember that in order for the betrothal system to work in the first place, in order for it to even make sense to the young people involved, they must have grown up under conditions that most people would consider quite abnormal. In short, the children must have been discouraged from developing a sense of their own independence, and they must not be nurtured towards spiritual maturity (that would jeopardize the whole system). Rather, the children must have been taught from a very early age to accept their parents’ judgment on everything. The anecdotal evidence from people who have escaped from such families confirms this basic picture. It is normally the case that such a person finds independent thinking scary and, in many respects, cannot even function as an individual before God. Given this background, it sounds good in theory to say that such a person has the ability to veto their parents’ choice of a mate, but if they have been trained never to disagree with Dad and Mom, if they have been told that God speaks His will directly to the father, if they have been taught that they must obey their parents in everything even as adults, then to tell them they have permission to veto the person their parents have chosen for them to marry, is like telling a person in a wheel chair that he has permission to walk after I have crippled him. Veto power is hardly the generous concession that it seems.

Someone I know who grew up under a similar system had some very insightful observations to make regarding this, so called, ‘veto power.’ Looking back over her own experience, she pointed out that we must

"take into account that these young people have never had any kind of close bond with anyone outside their family, and have never even had same-sex friends that weren't family friends. All their social interactions were in the context of their own family, and they were expected to have their only really close friends within the family (parents and siblings.) So they don't know what really connecting with someone or having a healthy relationship with the potential of deep emotional intimacy looks like. If their parents don't have an exceptionally good marriage, they haven't seen what real connection, love, and respect looks like, or how a man and woman who deeply love and respect each other treat one another."

Since these young people have heard all their lives that love is not a necessary prerequisite for marriage, and that married love is really no different from "brotherly love" or the love all Christians should have for each other, they really see no necessity for any connection beyond that of faith, similar convictions, and liking each other reasonably well. So it would make no sense for a young person to reject the first person that comes along that their parents like, as long as that person is godly, has the correct views and character traits, and seems nice enough. That's really all that's considered necessary.

Keep the Woman In The Dark

I have suggested that the young person’s ability to veto the proposed match is not the generous concession that it seems. This becomes even more evident when we consider the fact that the young lady, according to Lindvall and many other advocates of betrothal, should not even be informed that the match is under consideration until it has passed all the other five people. The reason for this is so that the lady is not tempted to release her emotions towards the man prematurely (in case he doesn’t “pass the test.”) Therefore, she "should be the last one to know unless God sovereignty speaks to her first." As Israel Wayne puts it,

If she knows that this man desires to marry her, she will almost inevitably give her heart to him (assuming he is a decent man.) This would be dangerous if the young man fails to follow through with the needed preparation

Once the Betrothal Begins

If the young lady says yes, then the betrothal starts and "the young couple can begin to safely release their emotions to each other," to quote Lindvall. At that point "this is an irrevocable commitment" which Lindvall suggests is initiated by presenting it to the congregation. The congregation is then required to hold the young people responsible for a number of things, such as staying morally pure, not touching each other, not spending time alone together and

"Another thing that we would ask the congregation to hold them accountable to is cultivating that emotional bond, that during this period even though, you know, they're saying, 'Hey, we know that God wants us to get married, we're not in love with each other and so we're asking the congregation to pray for us, to reinforce us, to push us together emotionally, to cultivate that romance so that we will, in fact, be in love, deeply in love, before we marry."

"God wants our young people to experience a 'no risk' commitment.... God's design is that we would encourage them to fall in love only after the commitment is made.

Lindvall suggests that the betrothal period differs from the normal idea of engagement in that, while one may break an engagement, a betrothal is irrevocable. Although the betrothal is not legally binding, and although consummation has not occurred, it is still just as binding as a regular marriage. It thus entails a 'no risk' commitment, because there is not the risk that you will 'defraud' your future spouse through experiencing emotions towards another person or through bailing out in the middle of engagement. Once the betrothal ceremony has occurred, your chance of backing out is gone. During this period, the young people are authorized to fall in love, and indeed, are required to do so, despite the fact that they must constantly be chaperoned.

In his taped lecture "Scriptural Betrothal" Lindvall gives suggestions (allegedly based on Biblical patterns,) for the betrothal period and wedding. Lindvall does say that these are only suggestions for us to think about. Though he hopes his children will take the following suggestions, he does not advocate them with the same dogmatic adherence as he does the basic principles of betrothal.

One such suggestion is that the parents decide the date of the wedding without telling the two young people. This enables the parents to wait until they feel the young people are ready and then arrange the wedding sort of like a surprise birthday party. To support this idea Lindvall appeals to Christ's words that "not even the Son knows the day nor the hour, only your Father who is in heaven" which he says is a reference to Jewish marriage customs.

Another suggestion is that the wedding should happen at the parents’ house, with the service being officiated by the father. Regarding sexual instruction, Lindvall suggests it is best for this to occur on the day or a few days before the wedding. Regarding the honeymoon, Lindvall asks "What is the scriptural precedent? Going to the groom's house - going to their home." Lindvall says that hopefully during the betrothal period the man will have been making or preparing a home he can take his wife to.

The reason Lindvall believes some of these suggestions have “scriptural precedent” is because they were practiced in the Jewish culture at the time the Bible was written. As this is the same ground from which Lindvall argues for the betrothal, we must consider whether the argument holds. In short the following three questions must be asked.

1) Is betrothal, as Lindvall defines it, actually an ancient Jewish practice?

2) Does scripture give any indication that the traditions of Judaism are accompanied with a divine endorsement?

3) Thirdly, and most fundamentally, is betrothal Biblical? That is, does the Bible actually teach it.

These are the questions I would like to explore now. In short, does the idea of betrothal, as it is being advocated by Lindvall and his followers, have any Biblical support? Those who teach betrothal not only claim that the Biblical evidence is there, but they claim that the evidence is so overwhelming that you have to either be blind or dishonest not to see it.

Brief Survey of Old Testament Culture

In Ancient Near Eastern culture marriage was often treated more like a business contract than a relationship, the wife being an object of property (and I don't mean that in a Pejorative sense). A man could have many wives just as he would have many heads of cattle, although women were not allowed to have multiple husbands. If a man grew tired of his wife he could write her a certificate of divorce for an offense as trivial as cooking a meal in the wrong way. A woman was not granted the same privilege, however, and could only divorce her husband under special circumstances.

In Ancient Near Eastern culture, the bride had to be ‘bought,’ if you will, by the bridegroom's father, either by money or service offered in exchange for the bride’s father being willing to part with her, while the bride herself received no dowry. In that culture, when the bride was 'given in marriage' there was a transfer of ownership from her father to her husband.

It is only against this cultural backdrop that we can understand the custom for parents to authorize or, in some cases, to arrange their daughter’s marriages. In Ancient Near Eastern culture, if a man wished to marry a girl, he had first to procure the permission of her father. This necessity for parents to authorize a match only applied on the woman's side. Like everything else, this was a function of the patriarchal society, as well as economic and social conditions. Economic conditions were such that dependence on parents and the larger pedigree played a crucial part in the establishment of a new family. People tended to think much less about the union of individuals and much more about the union of families or family groups. It is not difficult to see how this led naturally to some of the customs regarding parental authorization of marriage. It is a gross anachronism to suppose the need for such authorization derived from a network of ideals about emotional purity. When we consider the fact that fathers had the right to sell their daughters into slavery as a concubine if they wished (a practice referred to in Ex. 21:7-8,) it becomes absurd to suppose that the role a father also exercised over his daughter's marriage was a corollary of any doctrine of marriage, or much less an idea of emotional purity as Lindvall and Wayne argue. It resulted, rather, from the simple fact that a daughter was considered her father's property, to do with as he liked whether that meant marriage or slavery. Women were completely dependent on their fathers or family until that dependence was transferred to a husband. You couldn't just move away from home when you were eighteen and support yourself. The sense in which women lacked economic autonomy led to lack of independence in other areas as well, not least in the marriage decision.

In the Hebrew culture of the Bible and Apocrypha, we find continuity with this basic cultural structure. While young men did not always gain approval from their parents to marry, young women always did (i.e., Jacob had to get Leban's permission to marry Rachel, but not his father Isaac's; Tobias had to get Raguel’s permission to marry Sarah but not his father Tobit’s permission) except for cases when the woman was self-supporting, as in the case of Abigail's marriage to David.

Because society during Bible times was structured like that does not necessarily mean that such structure was derived from a divine mandate. Yet some Christian teachers (Lindvall included) are now picking certain aspects out of this culture (such as arranged marriages) and arguing that these customs have a divine precedent simply because they were practiced in Old Testament times. Such an argument is not only grammatically na├»ve (since it confuses indicative statements with imperative statements), but it is meaningless as long as we cannot also return to the whole network of social and economic conditions that lay behind those customs. Such conditions involved not simply an entirely foreign way of life, but many practices that would be objectionable to try to reintroduce into our society (such as the custom of raising up seed to your brother’s widow.) The fact that the Lord gave commands to show His people how to operate within their existing social context, does not mean that this society always got it right. To use an obvious example, the fact that Deut. 21:15-17 gives laws to govern situations where a man has two wives in no way gives God's stamp of approval on the men of today taking multiple wives.
It is against this cultural backdrop that we must understand a verse like Exodus 22:16-17. Here the Lord commands that if a man has premarital relations with a virgin, the father may refuse to give his daughter to him in marriage, though the young man must still pay the bride price. This scripture is often pointed to in order to prove that parental veto power "is not simply a cultural practice that is neutral in God's eyes. God didn't just permit it, but required it." It may or may not be true that God intends fathers to veto marriages they believe will harm their daughter, but we cannot infer such a position from this passage alone. The passage assumes a society in which a father had the power to veto his daughter’s marriage, just as Deut. 21:15-17 assumes a society in which men have the power to take more than one wife. But just as the laws governing polygamy or slavery do not tell us, one way or another, whether that was God’s ideal, neither does Exodus 22 tell us whether paternal veto power is God’s ideal.

Michael Pearl explains how Exodus 22:16-17 shows that fornication was viewed in terms of its economic implications since it guaranteed that the father was not defrauded of the bride price that accompanies betrothal. It also discouraged a young man from lying with a girl for temporary pleasure since he would have to pay the bride price anyway and might even be forced to marry her. The bride price was clearly intended as a protection for the woman. The fact that the father could still say no to the union would have prevented a man from lying with a woman in order to manipulate an automatic marriage.

When we look at the Exodus passage in this broader context we find that the whole point of it is not to do with marriage at all, but the fact that there is a responsibility that a man acquires when he sleeps with a woman, and therefore he must pay the bride price even if they do not marry. There are many applications we might draw from this principle for our culture today. On the other hand, to read into this passage a Divine sanction for a certain procedure for getting married, is to make it into nonsense and to completely miss the whole point of what the passage is trying to tell us.

Marriage & Betrothal in Jewish Culture

In defining what betrothal meant in the ancient world, it is necessary to spend equal attention to defining what it was not. Betrothal, as it was practiced in the Jewish and Israelite culture, was very different indeed to 'betrothal' in the new movement.

At the time of Christ the Jews had very defined marriage customs, just as any culture has distinct forms connected with their nuptial rites. These customs had evolved gradually as the culture matured and would not have been present in the ancient times of the patriarchs.

We tend to think of historical betrothal as similar to engagement, or maybe a halfway house between engagement and marriage. In the Jewish culture of the first century, however, betrothal (“erusin”) was marriage. There were two stages to the marriage. During the betrothal stage, though they were legally married, they did not cohabit together. The wife remained in her parent's house preparing herself for the move to her husband's house. This lasted a month. If the wife was under twelve years of age, however, this period lasted a whole year, to give her time to prepare a trousseau. In some parts of ancient Judea, the man and wife were allowed intimate physical contact once during the betrothal period, to wet their appetite and to help the husband appreciate and desire his wife more. After the final wedding ceremony took place, the wife returned to her husband's home for the consummation of the marriage.

Just as Jewish betrothal was equivalent to marriage, so their “shiduchim” would correspond to what we would call engagement, in so far as it was either a non-formalized agreement to get married or a formalized contract to enter at a later stage into a marriage (betrothal) contract.

What Betrothal Was Not

So much for what betrothal was. Now I must say what it was not. It had nothing to do with a father receiving direct revelation for who his child would marry; it had nothing to do with restriction on cross-gender friendships; it had nothing to do with denying all romantic feelings until the betrothal period. On the contrary, Hasting’s Bible Dictionary tells us “that in ancient Israel the association of the sexes was comparatively unrestrained, and naturally led to personal attachments which sought satisfaction in marriage..." And again, as the respected Hebrew scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote,

"Where the social intercourse between the sexes was nearly as unrestricted as among ourselves, so far as consistent with Eastern manners, it would, of course, be natural for a young man to make personal choice of his bride. Of this Scripture affords abundant evidence."

In his taped lecture, "Scriptural Betrothal," Lindvall goes through every single verse in the Bible where the word betrothal occurs. As Lindvall simply tells us what the word betrothal meant (namely, the essence of his ideas in the previous chapter), he is then able to take all these scriptures as support for his position. Effectively, he reasons to his conclusion based on premises which assume his conclusion. His initial assumption, however (i.e., what betrothal meant in Bible times), is not subject to investigation or argument. Lindvall simply announces to us that,

"The scripture talks about a pattern that it calls betrothal.... In the Bible there were two steps, with a fairly long period of time in between. During that lengthy period in between the couple was encouraged to cultivate their romantic feelings towards one another but not be physical with one another. And it was during that period that they fell in love, but it was after the commitment had been made. So they were free and secure, they were not at risk emotionally of giving their heart to someone and then being defrauded. That is God's design. Let's look at the Biblical model of betrothal. God wants our young people to experience a no risk commitment.... God design is that we would encourage them to fall in love only after the commitment is made."

Based on this definition of betrothal, Lindvall is able to argue that the ‘betrothal’ of Mary and Joseph was an irrevocable period (apart from adultery) for “them to mentally and emotionally prepare for marriage…” The ‘betrothal’ of Mary and Joseph is in fact one of Lindvall’s main arguments.

“Even if one doesn't hold that betrothal is to be practiced today,” says Lindvall, “it is at least clear what the Bible means when it uses the term.” So what does the Bible mean by the term? According to Lindvall, “A biblical betrothal was an irrevocable covenant made at the beginning of the romance, authorizing the parties to bond emotionally.” And again, “the parties keep (guard) their hearts from romantic involvement until after the commitment is made and then use the betrothal period to cultivate emotional attachment to one another..."
I have never seen any documentary evidence to suggest that the above definitions of betrothal were part of the Jewish custom of betrothal referred to in the Bible, especially as concerns no risk emotions. In fact, there is actually a wealth of evidence to the contrary. One piece of evidence is the fact that a betrothal, like ordinary marriage, was not irrevocable and did not require an act of physical unfaithfulness for it to be terminated. Thus, to suppose that the concept of 'a no risk commitment' or 'emotional purity' lay behind the betrothal custom, is inconsistent with the fact that if a couple "fell out of love," or the man found another woman more beautiful, he could simply divorce his wife, whether it was during or after the betrothal period. To this we must add the fact that a degree of free association between the sexes was enjoyed and often led to romantic love occurring prior to any commitment. Such customs would be out of place in a culture that put the kind of premium on emotional protection which Lindvall suggests. It emerges that, whatever betrothal might have meant in Jewish culture, it was very different from the principles behind modern ‘betrothal,’ especially as concerns the protection of emotions.

Lindvall's teaching that children should be allowed veto-power but no positive volitional fiat in the decision whom to marry, is again very unjewish. In the Jewish Talmud we read that

A man is forbidden to give his daughter in marriage while she is a minor, until she is grown up and says, 'I wish to marry so-and-so'...

As far as law was concerned, however, though a father could marry off his daughter while she was still a minor (less than twelve years and one day), she could annul the marriage upon reaching twelve years and a day without needing a divorce, if she did not love the man.

Is Emotional Purity an Historical Concept?

Consider the following words, written by Jonathan Lindvall, about the concept of emotional purity.

"...in many parts of the world today, and certainly in the not-so-distant past world-wide, the concept [of emotional purity] has been assumed. In the modern west, we...have entirely forgotten the idea of saving one's heart for the one we will marry."

If Lindvall is prepared to make such an assertion, we would expect him to attempt to provide some historical verification. Although there is a growing quantity of published tapes and literature on this subject, I have yet to see an advocate of betrothal cite even one historical example showing the idea of 'emotional purity' to be anything other than a modern invention. Instead they are content merely to assert dogmatically that emotional purity is an historical concept. The following quotation is a typical example. After positing the false problem of broken-heart syndrome and emotional impurity, Israel Wayne writes

"What is the answer...? My wife and I found it in the Bible. You see, the ancient Jewish people held to the belief that your emotions should follow you, rather than you following your emotions. The Old Testament is filled with stories of young people who chose to marry their spouses before romantic love had begun. They made a decision to love the person they married. Our culture tells us to 'marry the person we love...'"

Lindvall argues similarly: “the norm of scripture is that a couple becomes bonded emotionally after becoming committed to one another.” Is this true? Is the Old Testament really literally 'filled' with such stories?

One scholar, after I asked him if he knew of any documentary evidence that could be used to prove the unjewish-ness of ‘emotional purity,’ pointed me to the Bible, which is full of examples of love occurring prior to commitment. We shall be examining some of these examples in this chapter, but first it must be emphasized that because the Bible stories were not written to specifically address this subject, any bits we are able to extract should not be turned into a model for one method or another. This is precisely the mistake that the advocates of courtship and betrothal frequently make in approaching narrative scripture from a statistical pattern to try to determine right practice. It is always dangerous to turn the descriptive passages of scripture into prescriptive commands. A descriptive passage tells us what happened while a prescriptive passage tells us how something should happen. An example of this is the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10, which is descriptive, vs. the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray which is prescriptive. Now, of course, we can gain wisdom on how to live from studying the descriptive passages, but they should never be approached as blanket models for us to automatically apply in our own situations.

Having said that, I would like to now look at some of the descriptive passages of the Bible where we read about people getting married and having relationships. My purpose in the following survey is to show that the theories of emotional purity do not have a pedigree dating back to the Bible or ancient Jewish practice. (And even if they did, this would not itself prove that such ideas are normative, based on the above distinction between description and prescription.) In so doing we shall also see how completely untenable is the assumption that romantic love is a modern invention - an assumption so pervasive in the literature of the courtship and betrothal movements.

Isaac and Rebekah: Betrothal Blueprint?

The relationship between Isaac and Rebekah is a favorite among many advocates of courtship and particularly betrothal. I cannot begin to count the amount of times I have seen Isaac and Rebekah’s relationship cited as a paradigm of “God's way.” Referring to the Isaac and Rebekah narrative in his book Dating vs. Courtship, Paul Jehle writes, “In principle it is an authoritative guide for us to follow…” However, when we look at what the Bible actually says about Isaac and Rebekah, nowhere do we find God sanctioning the pattern of courtship, betrothal, emotional purity, or anything of the sort.

To fully understand the story, we must back up and consider what God had been doing with Abraham. The Lord had set Abraham apart in order to form a nation that would be God's representative on earth. It was very important that Abraham's son, Isaac, should not procreate seed that was defiled, that is, that was contaminated by the seed of other peoples. Nowadays we see this principle applied in the New Testament where we are exhorted not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers. Racial purity is no longer an issue as it was back then. Abraham made his servant "swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

"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?'
"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 an angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 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.' (Gen. 24:3-8)

We do not know what was behind Abraham's reluctance for his son to travel to his homeland, although we can speculate. The betrothal lobby have suggested that this was because the custom was for young men not to be involved in their own marriage decisions. But notice the servant's reluctance to go without Isaac, together with his doubt that the woman would want to go and marry a man she had never met. The implication is that under normal circumstances Isaac would have sought his own wife. But this was an unusual situation, and that very fact never seems to be taken into account when the betrothal advocates appeal to this example. In fact, it was so unusual an occurrence that a miracle needed to happen. The servant had no idea which girl would be the right one since there was no knowledge of, or interchange with, these far off relatives. Hence, he had to rely solely on an act of divine intervention. Because this was part of the Lord's plan, in fulfilling the mission to found a chosen people through the patriarchs, the Lord moved directly in these affairs, bringing the girl of His choosing to the servant before he had met anyone else. It was all part of the Lord miraculously fulfilling his original word to Abraham. The servant recognized this marvelous act of mercy and praised the Lord for it, saying,

"'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.'" (Gen. 24:27)

What was Rebekah and her parents’ response to this unusual proposal of marriage to a man she had never even met? Her parents recognized that “The thing comes from the Lord...” (Gen. 24:50) though they desired that their daughter remain with them for at least ten days before leaving. (24:55) Despite her parent's wishes, Rebekah desired to depart the very next day. (Gen. 24:56) In this Rebekah showed a degree of autonomy that is discouraged by the advocates of betrothal.

The Lord blessed their faithfulness, for we are told that Isaac loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67). This love was obviously emotional, for we read that it comforted Isaac after his mother's death. (24:67)

Nowhere do we find this story set out as a blue print for selecting a spouse. Rather, it is a story of Abraham, Isaac and Rebekah's trust in God's faithfulness. Abraham's faith in the Lord's word regarding his progeny is shown to have substance in the way God went before and prepared this young woman for Isaac and then miraculously engineered the circumstances necessary to bring them together. To try to find from this story some divine methodology for finding a spouse reduces its power and significance.

Take a Wife

If a divine precedent for finding a spouse had been set through these events, then one would confidently expect Isaac to continue the procedure with his son Jacob. However, with Jacob we find a very different set of circumstances.

We are told in Genesis 26:34-35 that Jacob's brother Esau "took wives" which "were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah." Advocates of betrothal like to take this verse and point out that Esau took wives for himself rather than letting his father select them. They point out further that the result brought grief to Esau’s parents. Thompson refers to this passage by commenting that "every example where the father did NOT initiate and oversee the relationship (such as Esau/wives, Shechem/Dinah, Samson/Delilah, etc.) the outcome was either mixed or disastrous."

But just hold on a second. The unifying factor in the three relationships that Thompson mentions, and which also accounts for their disastrous outcomes, is that each involved union with a Gentile, which God had forbidden. The grief Esau brought upon his parents was not because he “took wives” for himself, for that same language is used of Abraham, a generation earlier, taking a wife for himself: "Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah." (Gen. 25:1) The grief was not because Esau took wives, but because, as Rebekah says,

“I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Gen. 27: 46)

The grief Esau caused his parents was not because of the procedure for getting married, but because he took wives from among the pagans. So Isaac instructs Jacob not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, but to go find one amongst his own family.

Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan." (Gen. 28:6)

Isaac simply sent Jacob away to find a wife. Even I favor more parental involvement than that! Isaac had no idea who his son was going to choose, he simply asks that it be from his own kinsmen. When Esau heard of this he was jealous and went and took another wife from Abraham's family too (Gen. 28:9).

Jacob: Love Before Commitment

It is interesting that in Jacob’s case at least, emotions occurred prior to commitment. Notice that "Jacob loved Rachel" (Gen. 29:18) before he asked Leban if he could marry her. The love preceded the commitment. As Jacob was penniless, and therefore had no means of supporting a wife, he had to work before he could earn her. So deep was Jacob’s love for Rachel that these seven years “seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.” (Gen. 29:20)

Jacob’s story makes sense against the backdrop of a culture in which the father of the bride had to give consent. Now Leban was a scoundrel who took advantage of Jacob's penniless state, maneuvering things to get fourteen years work out of him. Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah thinking he was marrying Rachel. It is interesting that, in this case at least, the arranged marriage (Jacob and Leah) was actually a disaster. Why was the arranged marriage a disaster? Quite simply because Jacob didn't love Leah (Gen. 29:31). On the other hand, the relationship that Jacob himself chose, prospered and was a love-match.

Lindvall acknowledges that “there are several instances in scripture of men and women clearly being drawn emotionally to one another prior to their marriage,” BUT he hastily adds, “these seem to be not only exceptional, but to invariably result in unique problems." I wonder what sort of ‘unique problems’ Lindvall imagines resulted from the fact that Jacob loved Rachel before gaining permission to marry her. He doesn’t say.

Dinah and Shechem

The story of Dinah and Shechem (Gen. 34) has been cited as an example of the disasters brought about by a man choosing his own marriage partner. The incident proves nothing either way, but it does serve to demonstrate the difference between the proper way that Jacob handled his emotions versus the improper way of the Gentile Shechem. Jacob was in love with Rachel just as Shechem was in love with Dinah, but Shechem wanted physical satisfaction immediately while Jacob showed restraint. Jacob obviously desired Rachel physically too (Gen. 29:21), but he waited. Jacob’s attitude runs contrary to the consumerism of our materialistic age, where a premium is placed on instant gratification.

It is interesting that even Shechem went to his father to ask him to obtain Dinah for his wife. This shows that parental involvement was a protocol observed by the godly and the ungodly alike, by the pagans as well as the children of Israel.


We see this again in the story of Sampson. (Judges 14) Although Sampson found a girl that "pleased him well" and whom he desired to marry, it was still necessary for cultural customs to be observed. So Sampson said to his parents, “get her for me as a wife.” (Judges 14:2) The parents initially refused on the grounds that she was from among their enemies, the Philistines. Again we see that the authority of the parents to make the plans was an intrinsic part of that culture. It was not simply a custom observed by righteous people who knew it was “God's way.”


Another person who needs to be studied is David. In 1 Samuel 18:20 we read that "Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him." Notice here again that the love preceded the commitment. It is obvious that this was how people lived then as we do today. Also notice that the father was informed subsequent to the love.

Saul’s interference eventually destroyed David and Michal’s marriage. David eventually took the widow Abigail to be his wife (1 Sam. 25:39-42). David and Abigail certainly didn't follow any procedure of parental authorization. David asks directly for Abigail to be his wife (through messengers) and she accepts immediately. We also read that “David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel” (25:43), but we are told nothing about it.

The ‘Sons of God’: Dating Relationships?

In Genesis 6:1-5 we read about “the sons of God” who saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and so came down to take wives of them. In his defense of betrothal, John Thompson cites this in his list of “significant relationships to study.” The passage is usually thought to refer to angels (“sons of God”, see Job 1:6) who disobeyed God by coming down to take wives of humans, which led to the production of giants. The procedure for conducting a relationship is not the issue here; the issue is disobedient angels and wicked humans. Nevertheless, Gothard somehow manages to see this as an example of "dating-type relationships..."

Christ's Betrothal to the Church

John Thompson writes,

"Perhaps the most compelling reason for recognizing betrothal as transcultural is our Lord's use of this standard for His relationship with His own "multicultural" bride, the church. As the spiritual father of the Corinthians, Paul declares: "...for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." (2 Cor. 11:2) Why would Christ choose betrothal if it were not God's own prescription for pre-marital fidelity? Indeed, Paul suggests that its primary purpose is to "present you as a pure virgin." Just as Christ doesn't want us "dating around" in the spiritual realm because it leads to physical, mental and emotional impurity, so likewise in the natural realm. "

To say that betrothal must be God's way because He drew upon it to illustrate His relationship with the church, is a fallacious argument, for two reasons. First, the argument only works if we assume some approximation between historical betrothal and modern betrothal. Secondly, Jesus and the apostles used whatever material was around at the time for their illustrations. They drew upon everything from living in tents to using swords in warfare. Does that mean that fighting with swords is more godly than fighting with guns because God used the former and not the latter as an illustration? Is it godlier for farmers to plant vineyards of grapes rather than fields of oats because God used the former as an illustration and not the latter?

The attempt to see Christ's relationship with the church as an illustration of modern betrothal has actually led some teachers to implicitly deny the basic gospel message. To show how this is so it is first necessary to review the four-fold progression in betrothal once the go ahead has been given for a match.

1. First an offer of marriage/love is made to the woman
2. Then the woman accepts an irrevocable commitment.
3. Then the couple 'falls in love.'
4. Finally, there is marriage and consummation.

The advocates of betrothal are teaching that the above progression parallels Christ's relationship to the church. First, they say, Christ makes us an offer of marriage through the gift of salvation. Then after we accept comes the betrothal period. During this time Christ woos us and we fall in love with Him. Also during our ‘betrothal period’ we are linked irrevocably to Christ apart from spiritual adultery, which would be turning our back on Him. Finally, when Christ returns, there is consummation of the marriage.

This idea is not Biblical. Scripture declares that Christ's love for us preceded our commitment to Him. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love him because he first love us." (1 Jn. 4:10-19) And again, "God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Why did He die for us to secure our salvation? Out of love (John. 3:16). Therefore His love cannot be the effect of our commitment to Him, but the other way round. When we say “yes” to Christ's marriage proposal, it is because He has wooed us by His great love through the Holy Spirit (John 6:44), instead of in the modern betrothal method where the husband woos the woman only after she has made a commitment to him. Christ's relationship to us is the very antithesis of the pattern of modern betrothal.

What About 'Defrauding'?

There are two other verses from Paul's letters that are frequently cited by both courtship and betrothal advocates. One is 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.

This is one of the main verses cited as a proof text for betrothal a la Lindvall. Lindvall argues that Paul's words that no man should take advantage of (or 'go beyond', as some translations have it), is referring to the sins of sexual impurity, while the word' 'defraud' is referring to the sin of emotional impurity. “We can all recognize," writes Lindvall, "that 'going beyond' applies to physical impurity. This is important, but it's not all there is. He also said not to 'defraud' one another." Lindvall argues that defrauding applies when a person's emotions are drawn towards someone they do not end up marrying. They are defrauded because they expected something that was not given. Hence, emotions should only be released after a commitment to marriage.

Surely this is to artificially impose a distinction in Paul's words that the syntax does not allow. The use of the inclusive conjunction, together with both phrases being linked into 'this matter' of sexual immorality, indicate that 'taking advantage' and 'defrauding' are part of the self same thought rather than a distinction between different forms of sin. Furthermore, since defrauding involves deceit, it cannot apply to cases where there is simply emotional attachment that is not culminated in marriage, but only to those cases where a person flatters or flirts with a person who believes they are being genuine when they are not.

Lindvall tells us that the words “possess his own vessel” means “acquire his own wife.” Scholars disagree whether the words 'vessel' are referring to a wife or one's own body. If they refer to a wife (which is unlikely from the context of the passage,) it is interesting that the emphasis is not on the father acquiring a spouse but the individual in question.

Lindvall claims that the words “passion of lust” refers to the process of pursuing a partner through romance and dating rather than God's method of betrothal. But let's not forget that the whole passage - the whole book of 1 Thessalonians in fact - is talking about personal sanctification versus sexual immorality. If this passage is read in the context in which it occurs, it becomes obvious that it is not instruction to unmarried people about how (or how not) to get married. When Paul intended to give specific advice to unmarried people, as in 1st Corinthians 7, he made it clear what he was addressing. But 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 is a passage about the general wrongs of sexual immorality, similar to Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. He emphasizes the seriousness of sexual purity and the sinfulness of following the passion of lust. Seen in this context, when we read not “to take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter,” it is clear that “this matter” is the sexual immorality spoken of in verse 3, and more specifically adultery. It has nothing to do with pre-marital emotions, as Lindvall would like us to think.

What About Brothers and Sisters?

Another passage that these teachers are quick to point to is Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:2, where Paul instructed Timothy to treat “younger women as sisters, with all purity” and to treat the older woman as if they were mothers. Lindvall argues that this passage indicates that Paul disapproved of romance before engagement.

Paul is telling Timothy to show respect to young women as he would his sister, even as he should respect elderly woman as he would his mother. It is not difficult to find ways of applying this to our own culture. One application would be not to mess around or flirt since the bottom line in all relationships must be agape love. If Paul had wanted to tell Timothy that romance was wrong or that Timothy should be pursuing an agenda of emotional purity, he certainly did not say it here. Further, it is interesting that Paul’s words only make sense if you assume that there was at least some level of casual interaction between the young men and women as there is between brothers and sisters.

Bill Gothard and ATI



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