Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Courtship Controversy
Part I
Is it Sinful to Delay Marriage?

I would like to begin a series of articles examining the claims of modern courtship advocates. I would like to begin by reviewing an article by Candice Watters found here. While it is not directly related to courtship, it gives us a glimpse into how courtship advocates think.

The controversy to which this article refers is a controversy over the delay of marriage. How there could be a controversy over such a subject, most Christians would be left scratching their heads. There is certainly no scriptural evidence that it is wrong to delay marriage. However, Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has been pushing this idea, and many people will just take Dr. Mohler's word for it because he has done such a good job in so many other areas.

However, if we are going to be Christians we are going to have to be critically minded, and that includes being critically minded of even folks like Albert Mohler. It always seems like, when it comes to this issue, the lexicons go shut, the Greek and Hebrew grammar books get thrown in the trash, and the philosophy and logic textbooks are sold back to the college bookstore. One has to wonder why that is.

Let me first of all say that there are some arguments against the idea that delaying marriage is sin that are really bad. For instance, the idea that you will not have as much "fun" if you remain single, and the idea that all men are jerks. These are really bad, and indeed, selfish reasons to not get married. First of all, yes, marriage is work. However, there are also many benifits as well as responsibilities that to write it off without weighing each one is simply rediculious. Second, the idea that all men are jerks comes from the feminists who think that all men are trying to destroy them. So, when Mrs. Watters is refuting these people, I'm cheering her on!

However, I think the single strongest argument against her viewpoint has not been given a fair hearing. It is one of the most precious truths in all of scripture, namely, that Christ is sufficient center of our lives. Mrs. Watters states the position in this way:

The top complaint from singles that want to get married but haven't yet had the opportunity has a spiritual bent. It goes something like this: The single years are more virtuous than the married ones, characterized by more faithful, focused and selfless living for the Kingdom. Christ is the sum total of what fulfills us -- to suggest that marriage can, or should fulfill us, is to devalue the role of Christ in our lives. Simply put: all we need is Jesus.

It is the idea that Christ is sufficient, and hence, if marriage never happens, we can lean on him and his sufficiency. This presents a crutial problem. In fact, it is funny that Joshua Harris, who is another courtship advocate, originally would have agreed with me on this position. He has an entire chapter in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye in which he tries to argue that singleness is a gift from God. It is really odd that courtship advocates are now saying that singleness is something that is sinful if prolonged!

Mrs. Watters begins her critique of this position by saying:

The response to this could be an article in itself, because this belief seems to be an emerging motto of Christian singles everywhere. There's just one problem: Adam had perfect communion with God in the Garden of Eden and still God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18) Everything else about Eden was said to be "good" by God. Everything, that is, except a man. Alone.

Of course, the problem is that Mrs. Watters has moved from "not good" to "insufficient." Her argument is hanging on the idea that this is an essential inadequacy. However, is that what the text is saying? Absolutely not! Here is the text:

Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone [ləbadô] I will make him a helper suitable for him [‛ēzer kənegdô]." [NASB]

Here, context plays a big role. The Hebrew term ləbadô can either refer to social solitude or it can be used of referential solitude.

The first example of this is used in 1 Kings 11:29:

1 Kings 11:29 It came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field.

An example of the second usage would be in Psalm 51:4:

Psalm 51:4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.

So, what is it being used as here? Well, the problem is that the English here is sorta hiding the Hebrew.

For all of those trained in Hebrew, the text here is using a qal infinitive construct of hāyâ functioning nominally [See Waltke-O'Connor An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax §36.2.1] Hence, "being" is therefore the subject of the sentence.

The bottom line for all of those who do not know Hebrew is that the translation of the text is much more literally rendered: "The being of the man alone is not good" [Waltke-O'Connor §36.2.1]. Hence, what is being equated here is the "not good" and "the man's being alone." Now, here is an interesting observation. He cannot be singled out referentially because there are certainly many other things with being at this time-plants, birds, trees, etc. So, what does the phrase then mean?

The answer then comes in the next phrase "I will make him a helper suitable for him." The Hebrew phrase ‛ēzer kənegdô is not one of the easiest phrases to translate in the Bible. However, most translations render it just as the NASB has. The term ‛ēzer has the idea both of assistance, but also of giving intervening aide such as military aide [see the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament]. However, one thing is for certain, the term is social in character..

Hence, we see an important point that Mrs. Watters has missed. That is that the deficiency of man's lonliness is social in nature not essential in nature. O. Palmer Robertson, Professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary, summarizes this very point by saying:

This lack in the man os originally created did not refer to any deficiency in his essence which made him something less than being fully in God's image. Instead it referred to an incompleteness with respect to his function as a social creature [The Genesis of Sex pgs. 127-128].

Now, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether God will always take away our social deficiencies. The answer is, of course, no. For instance, a guy who has a crush on a girl may be shy, but God is not going to come down and take away the social deficiency of shyness just so he will go up and talk to that girl. What if God wanted us to learn to trust him more, and hence, ordains that we don't get married until we are in our thirties?

Furthermore, from a New Testament perspective, this would create a problem as to the gift of singleness [1 Corithians 7:7]. Mrs. Watters has an answer for that, though:

People who claim that Jesus is enough typically quote 1 Corinthians 7. In it Paul says, "It is good for a man not to marry" and "an unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit." Paul is describing celibate service -- a calling God places on a select few men and women. Though Paul does say, "I wish that all men were as I am," he goes on to say, "But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." The gift Paul is describing is celibacy -- a gift that equips a person to not "burn with passion" while enabling them to fully expend themselves in God's service without the distractions of spouse and children.
How do you know if you have this gift? Dr. Albert Mohler , president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of Focus' board of directors suggests asking yourself, "can I go the rest of my life without sex, without the companionship of marriage, without having children and without being bitter about it?" If you answer yes, it's likely you do.

The problem is that Albert Mohler is not an exegete. He is a theologian, and as such, is probably not aware of the extensive research that has been done on this passage. Let us look at the text more carefully:

1 Corinthians 7:7-9 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner [ho men houtōs], and another in that [ho de houtōs]. 8 But I say to the unmarried [agamois] and to widows [chērais] that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Verse 7 is very clear as Paul mentions his state and then says that, on the other hand, one has his gift in one way and the other in that using a construction. This is not in dispute. However, what I wish to dispute is the nature of that gift, and the idea that how we know if we have this gift or not is whether or not we are burning with passion. What Dr. Mohler has missed in verse 8 is that there is a masculine followed by a feminine gender. If Dr. Mohler's interpretation is correct, we have a real odd structure in the text as virgins are the only ones addressed more than once. Worse than that, is that Dr. Mohler's interpretation would make Paul a Pharisee who was trained as a scribe, and yet still a virgin. This is utter historical nonsense. Given these two facts, he would have been expected to marry as the Jews did not believe in a gift of celebacy, and only allowed celebacy as an extremely rare occurance [See Gregory Lockwood's commentary on 1 Corinthians].

So, how do we reconcile this problem? I want to suggest as Craig Blomberg [in his commentary on 1 Corinthians], Gregory Lockwood, and others have, that the text of verse 8 should actually be translated "But I say to the widowers and to widows..." In defense of this translation, we might point out that the masculine counterpart to chērais [chērois] is falling out of usage during the first century. In fact, when I did a search on Thesaurus Linguae Gracae I could find no clear instances of chēros in the first century AD. This is why we can say, at very least, that the term is falling out of usage. And, on top of that, agamos is also used to refer to someone who was once married in verse 11.

Hence, Paul is not talking about a gift of celebacy, but a gift of singleness because Paul had been married [and apparently widowered] before the writing of 1 Corinthians. What Paul is saying is that those who have lost their spouse will know whether or not they have the gift of singleness if they still desire the passion they had when they were married. The text about "burning with passion," in other words, is not addressing single people per se, but a specific group of single people, widows and widowers, which also makes it impossible to argue that the gift in verse 7 is celebacy.

Now, we have responded to Mrs. Watter's attempts to find scriptural support for her belief that delaying marriage is a sin. However, if we stopped here without making one critical observation, we would not be able to understand the nature of the thinking of courtship advocates. Do you remember what she said in the beginning of her article?:

Christ is the sum total of what fulfills us -- to suggest that marriage can, or should fulfill us, is to devalue the role of Christ in our lives. Simply put: all we need is Jesus.
The response to this could be an article in itself, because this belief seems to be an emerging motto of Christian singles everywhere. There's just one problem: Adam had perfect communion with God in the Garden of Eden and still God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone.

One wonders why Mrs. Watters rejects the sufficiency of Christ in such a cavalier manner. Mountains of texts can be brought to defend this belief:

Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.

Where is marriage in this request of David?

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

"In all your ways acknowledge the Lord" or "acknowledge marriage?"

Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Notice, Paul's contentment comes, not in marriage, but in the fact that he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength! What is the reason then that courtship advocates have rejected this so viciously recently? I think it is because courtship advocates have an idolatrious view of marriage. Notice, Christ is not sufficient in our lives, we must have marriage. Therefore, marriage is treated as an idol, something that is sought thinking that your are incomplete and insufficient without it. We will show later how courtship advocates view marriage as the foundation for the uniting of Christians, and how courtship advocates even view morality as being founded in marriage.

What is really sad is that, because of this, Mrs. Watters does not even fully understand the argument against her position, because she writes:

For everyone else, the call is to marriage. To marry doesn't diminish the need for Christ. In fact, it increases it: The reason Christian marriage requires a vow is that no mere promise is enough to hold two mortals together for life. We're dependent on Christ to help us fulfill it.

The problem is that no one ever disputed that. No one ever claimed that getting married diminishes the need for Christ, and makes him insufficient. What we are claiming is that anyone who claims that delaying marrage is a sin, or who gets married because they think delaying marriage is a sin is, indeed, saying that Christ is insufficient. Why is that? Because, while marriage is not wrong, marriage is also not needed in order for a person to live their lives in obedience to Christ. The only thing needed for that is the grace of God, and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. To say that something else, such as marriage, is needed to complete someone, or to keep someone pure is pure idolatry. Marriage should be something that is complementary to a person who is already sufficiently trusting in Christ, not something which is added on so that he can now be sufficient or so that he can now be obedient.

Marriage is a wonderful institution ordained by God, and it saddens me that it is under such attack today. However, if we are going to defend it, we have to make sure that we do not end up making it an idol. We must remember that, as wonderful an institution as it is, it is still the creation, not the creator. Hence, we must guard against saying that we need marriage in order to be pure, and that marriage somehow makes us incomplete and insufficient.

In conclusion then, while I admire the desire to uphold marriage, and to consider it something singles should be thinking about, I think the position to which courtship advocates have raised marriage is idolatrious. I do want to make it clear that I think that they are still my brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I think they are hurting their defense of marriage, and most importantly, robbing singles of the joy of resting in the sufficiency of Christ, whether they marry or do not marry.


Ted Slater said...

Adam, you wrote:

"The problem is that Albert Mohler is not an exegete. He is a theologian, and as such, is probably not aware of the extensive research that has been done on this passage...."

While I am impressed with your ability to examine Scripture in the original languages, you need to be cautious not to let that knowledge puff up into pride. According to this page -- -- Dr. Mohler has earned and M.Div. as well as a Ph.D. (in systematic and historical theology). I suspect that his knowledge of biblical languages outweighs those of "a Hebrew student who is going to be getting a degree in the topic in a few months."

PuritanCalvinist said...


Keep in mind also that even if you are correct, and Dr. Mohler *does* know more than me in this topic, that does not mean he is not ignorant, and given the fact that this is not his concentration, it would be easy to see how he would miss it. Hence, what I said will work either way.

Secondly, your argument for the fact that Dr. Mohler *does* know more about me on this topic is really bad. You don't seem to understand that there is a *major* difference in the fields Dr. Mohler has his concentrations in, and the field I am getting my concentration in. While systematic and historical theologians have to study this area, it is *not* their area of concentration. That is, Dr. Mohler is not going to be sitting around like myself and other people who have concentrations in this area reading articles on how to distinguish between mass and count nouns in a Colwell's construction in the NT, the usage and meaning of the greek phrase heos hou in the first century, and the general meaning of the first person aorist subjunctive. Dr. Mohler's concentration applying what the Bible says to Biblical theology, and studying church history to understand how theology developed. It is the difference between a person who is studying how to make and program the computer in a car and a person who is studying to be an auto mechanic. While the person who is studying to be an auto mechanic needs to understand how a car computer functions, and the basics usages of that, he is not going to be able build the computer, and then write the program to run the car. So, no, it is not arrogant to say that there are going to be areas that I have knowledge about that Dr. Mohler is ignorant of. It is simply stating a fact. I am sure the reverse is true, also. However, again, I have to point out that whether or not he actually does have more knowledge than me in this topic is totally irrelevant to what I said.

In fact, if you want someone who has the same level of education as Dr. Mohler [only, with a concentration in New Testament Greek], my first Greek teacher, who is now president of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Dr. Harald G. Tomesch, reviewed these very arguments I presented and agreed with me, and he has a Phd in New Testament Greek! So, I can only come to two conclusions. Given the fact that this is a widely held perspective, and given the fact that Dr. Mohler is an honest man, I would think that if he is going to say the strong things he does about singles, that you would want to deal with arguments such as these that have a direct impact on your interpretation of the passage. Obviously, if you do not, then you are misleading people, because you are not giving both sides, and I believe that Dr. Mohler is honest, and would not do that.

Hence, it is in order to protect Dr. Mohler that I argue that I do not believe he has heard of it, and that on the basis of the fact that it is not his concentration.

Hence, I would say, as I said in my article, even Albert Mohler makes mistakes, and is ignorant of things. That is not a knock on Albert Mohler, nor is it exaulting myself. It is realizing a simple fact that Albert Mohler has made a mistake in an area that I happen to have detailed information about. Whether he has more knowledge than me is totally irrelevant.

So, no, what I said was not arrogant. It is recognizing the simple fact that Dr. Mohler does not have his concentration in this area, and that is the most likely reason for him not addressing a pervasive argument against his interpretation because I believe he is an honest man.