The word "courtship" isn't mentioned once in the Bible.
With all the recent fuss over legalism vs. grace I thought we should take a look at the Scriptural basis for the tenets of what is often called "courtship" or "dating with a purpose" or "whatever you want to call it."
There are key texts written on this topic, the most popular being "Passion and Purity" by Elisabeth Elliot (really anything by Elisabeth Elliot) and "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris.
Skeptics of "courtship" might wonder, "If courtship is so biblical, then why do you need a book to help you figure it out? Isn't that extra-Scriptural? Or worse, legalism?"
Why have so many books been written and read on the topic? Because for generations people haven't been following Scripture! Our culture has gotten so far away from the biblical way of approaching marriage, that we have to in effect re-introduce these ideas.
Now let's look at the biblical foundation for courtship. I've boiled down courtship into what I consider to be the most widely accepted and Scripturally supported pillars. Each of these pillars looks slightly different for families, and some families even have more specific convictions regarding each pillar.
1) Physical Purity
2) Emotional Purity
3) Parental/authority role
4) Intentional timing/dating with marriage in mind
The case for physical and emotional purity:
- "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28) So if looking at anyone except your spouse with lust is a sin, then we should avoid those behaviors which push us towards lust.
- "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) God gives us the strength to overcome temptation, but we shouldn't test God by engaging in temptation-inducing behaviors.
- "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." (Hebrews 13:4) This speaks for itself. Because emotional attachment is such a key part of marriage, I think that forming strong emotional attachments without commitment can end up "defiling the marriage bed."
- "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." (Song of Solomon 2:7) By engaging in sexual sin and by forming emotional attachments without a commitment (the physical and emotional are linked, therefore engaging in one or the other creates a bond between 2 people) we awaken a love which God calls us to reserve for one person only.
The case for parental authority:
- The word counsel appears 19 times in the New Testament alone! "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22) Engaging in any behavior without counsel, particularly from your parents is dangerous.
- "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." (Matthew 19:5) The moving from parents to spouse inherently indicates God considers the parents to be essential in the process.
- "Honor thy mother and father." This commandment is particularly important for relationships in which the parents don't bless or condone. Committing to a relationship in which both parents don't approve clearly does not honor thy mother and father.
The case for intentional timing:
- "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." (Song of Solomon 2:7) Engaging in long, drawn out period of dating make it difficult to avoid sin.
- "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Conrinthians 6:14) If you wouldn't marry a non-believer (or person with "xyz" conviction), why date them? You're risking falling into sin for a person that the Bible says you shouldn't marry.
- "Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house." (Proverbs 24:17). Why buy furniture for a house you haven't built yet? Likewise, why get into a relationship with someone when you know that you aren't either physically or emotionally prepared (i.e. not finished school, in debt, filled with bitterness toward parents, etc.)
- Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot
- I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
- It's Not That Complicated by Botkin Sisters
- Of Knights and Fair Maidens by the Myers
- Her Hand in Marriage by Doug Wilson
- Preparing to Be Help Meet and Created to Need a Help Meet
- What He Must Be by Voddie Baucham
- Need a Spouse Anyone (article) by Debi Pearl (free)
- Josh and Anna Duggar Speak About Courtship (video)