We have considered courtship and marriage as providing a true biblical alternative to sexual sin. We have also addressed the importance of wisdom in relationships. No technique can substitute for love and kindness. But now we do come to some particular questions. As Christians we take the Bible's teaching on family very seriously—should we not take with equal seriousness the Bible's teaching on the formation of new families?
And if a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins (Ex. 22:16-17).
Remember that in biblical law the bride price was a dowry, and not the sale price. We see in this law the assumed responsibility of the father, which is not abrogated by his daughter’s romantic involvement, or her sexual sin with a young man. This is why, throughout Scripture, sons leave while daughters are given. “The fire consumed their young men, and their maidens were not given in marriage” (Ps. 78:63; cf. Luke 20:34, Matt. 24:38). In Deuteronomy 22:13-21, we see that a father is held directly responsible for his daughter's sexual purity. Numbers 30:3-16 assumes a similar principle. This means that the father has legitimate authority over his daughter's romantic interests.
In the scriptural direction of these things, we are dealing with a society where familial authority was understood and practiced. The scriptural direction often states how that authority should behave, and what it ought to do. We are in something of a different state altogether, and we are frequently faced with the problems that come with unscrambling the eggs. We have to deal with fathers, for example, who take no responsibility, fathers who have abused their authority, etc. and so we have to make shift.
A Definition of marriage
Because of what we are seeking to do, and because of where many have been (fornication, divorce, etc.), it is important for us to define a basic term here—marriage. The Bible requires two essential components before we can say a marriage has been established. The first is that there must be a covenant (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14). The second is that there must be sexual consumation. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Paul reinforces this with his comments in Eph. 5:30-33.
Sex alone does not constitute a marriage (1 Cor. 6:16-18; Ex. 22:16-17).
A covenant alone does not constitute a marriage (Gen. 2:24).
Looking across the church community, there are many options. One wise Puritan said that a man must first choose his love, and then he must love his choice. How is this choosing to be undertaken?
In the Lord—“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 Cor. 7:39). While the text concerns a woman previously married, but we can still clearly see the general principle—do not be unequally yoked.
Likemindedness—our children must only court those who are likeminded (Phil. 2:2) If all Christians are required to be likeminded, how much more must husband and wife be? But there are two aspects of this. Parents should certainly look for likemindedness in what is positively affirmed and understood. For example, should our daughters be courted by men who do not understand or accept the sovereignty of God? Of course not. But likemindedness is also seen throughout the course of life. Someone may share your confession of faith (and that promptly if your daughter is pretty enough), but still not live as though he believed it. Do you see likemindedness in every aspect of his life—work, education, politics, television, etc.? In short, is he obedient?
Attractiveness—we are not gnostic. Our sons or daughters should only court one they find sexually attractive. Marriage is sexual, and this has to be understood and embraced. But at the same time, modesty and decorum should be remembered. There is a difference between attracting and attractive. “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time . . . ” (1 Cor. 7:3).
Miscellaneous—there are numerous other issues which fall under the heading of wisdom. Consider things like cultural background, education and intelligence, calling, personality traits, etc. When it comes to such things, do not be impulsive—these are important. Impulsiveness is likely to be a failing of the son and daughter in question, based on our previous consideration of attractiveness.
CULMINATION OF COURTSHIP
The end of the process, of course, is marriage. As we recover a more biblical approach to community, we will find ourselves with really interesting in-law questions, and headaches for the geneologists. This is because members of tight families are marrying members of tight families, and this is all happening in a tight community. We are going to have to be careful that we do not turn into the tribe of Judah.
A few concluding thoughts on our responsibilities here might be in order.
A new family—the principle is “leave and cleave.” But leaving does not mean “deserting.” And yet “not deserting” still has you establishing a new covenant family.
Authority—remember the authority of the Word of God, and the authority that is resident in various spheres, whether church, civil or various levels of familial authority.
Return to kindness—everywhere you go, you always find sinners. Sin is a given. The difference between covenant blessing in households has to do with how the sin is handled.