The Place to Start

The Bible is the ultimate source for "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2Peter 1:3).40  As such, it is the sole source for what God thinks, commands, ordains, and allows for man, the crowning glory of His creation.  But most of us also know that the Bible never mentions dating, nor does it mention courtship.  You can search any Bible concordance in vain to find either of these words in even a single verse.  You will find the words betrothed and engaged in Scripture. But because they are used either in passages regulating Israel's family structure or in describing the situation in a narrative account, it is challenging to apply their specifics today.

But God's Word does discuss premarital relationships.  At the risk of overgeneralizing, those who hold to a dating method approach these passages more generally, drawing out principles from these texts, while those who hold to a courtship/betrothal method approach these same passages more specifically, drawing out practices.  So the significant difference between the two approaches lies in the specificity with which the scriptural data can be applied.

The question that really underlies the dating debate is how to apply the prescriptives about getting married that we read in the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy), and the descriptions of relationships in the narratives, or stories.  This is not a simple question to answer.  For example, is it legitimate to see the commands in the Law concerning premarital relationships as binding, while leaving other commands strangely unapplied?  I have yet to see a strong argument made for paying a poor worker every day instead of every payday.  But that is what the Law commands (see Deuteronomy 24:14-15).  And what about narrative literature?  Why do some argue that we should imitate the Isaac story in Genesis 24,41 but few - if any - suggest that the pattern in Ruth 3 should be an example?  Ruth waits until Boaz goes to sleep, lies down by his feet, and proposes when he wakes up!

My point is this:  No matter which method you propone, it is more complicated than it sounds.  The thing is, who would argue with a system in which godly parents partner with godly children to pair up godly couples for godly marriages as they do in betrothal and courtship?  It sounds too good to be true.  Sometimes it is not - the system can work just as it sounds, resulting in God being glorified and marriages being enjoyed.  But for courting to really work, many intricate pieces need to come together in perfect harmony.  Two sets of parents and two singles need to be on the same page about the system and about each other.

I will admit it.  If courting worked out in practice the way it looks on paper, you could count me in.  But what concerns me most about the courtship movement as I've seen it is that it lends itself to a strange form of idolatry.  Advocates of courtship are understandably passionate about their system - so much so that they often try to convert daters to courters with an evangelistic zeal.  Unintentionally, the courting system itself can become so important to courters that God is deemphasized.  On the other hand, while courting and betrothal are often selective in applying Scripture, many dating models ignore or neglect major biblical principles.  Dating relationships typically operate with few thought-out guidelines.  Many who date take a largely passive approach.  And few who date could give a biblical justification of what they are doing.  Often the issue is not one of interpreting the Bible; they are not even using the Bible.  Sadly, much of the literature describing and defending dating is built more on love stories than biblical instruction.42