The Courtship Controversy
I promise I will get to my critique of the courtship movements' attempts to find scripture to support their idea that kissing and holding hands outside of marriage is wrong. However, I today I was informed of a new article by Scott Croft entitled "Biblical Dating." I would like to critique this article, because Mr. Croft is now using confusing language calling his position dating, and hence, many people might be led to think that he is actually promoting a "dating" position when he is not.
First of all, I think that Mr. Croft is confusing people by using the term “Biblical Dating.” What he means by “Biblical Dating” is really nothing more than a brand of courtship. I think that, if the words have been defined this way, it is confusing to then turn around and try to use them in a way that is not natural. Imagine if I say that I am a Christian, but I deny that Jesus even existed, am a naturalistic pantheist, and believe that the Bible contains many errors. Obviously, one would simply be confusing people if I called myself a Christian, and held to those beliefs. I don’t think it would help matters if, when challenged as to whether or not I am a Christian, I then say, as Mr. Croft similarly says in his response to his critics “In fact, I'm not much concerned with what you call the position we're describing, as long as we believe things that are true.” Such a comment misses the whole point, as these terms have come to have a specific meaning in our culture. As far as the general usage of terms, I want to make people aware that this is not an article about dating, as the term has come to be known. It is courtship through and through. I just ask that Mr. Croft to be honest about his presuppositions.
I think Mr. Croft misses the point when he argues that we cannot just say that the Bible doesn’t mention dating or courtship. Mr. Croft has not considered the idea that, perhaps, the Bible supports neither, and hence, simply regulates what people do in both dating and courtship. Interestingly enough, when Mr. Croft defines “Biblical dating,” he states the following:
That begins (maybe) with the man approaching and going through the woman's father or family;
that is conducted under the authority of the woman's father or family or church; and
that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal.
Notice how, in another article Mr. Croft wrote, he defines courtship as:
Let's begin by defining courtship. Courtship ordinarily begins when a single man approaches a single woman by going through the woman's father, and then conducts his relationship with the woman under the authority of her father, family, or church, whichever is most appropriate. Courtship always has marriage as its direct goal.
Of course, now Mr. Croft is calling this position “Biblical dating.” Again, when Mr. Croft goes on to define dating in that same article, he says:
What then is dating? Dating, a more modern approach, begins when either the man or the woman initiates a more- than-friends relationship with the other, and then they conduct that relationship outside of any oversight or authority. Dating may or may not have marriage as its goal.
Asside from the strawman that says that “dating may or may not have marriage as its goal,” and “they conduct the relationship outside of any oversight or authority,” notice that Mr. Croft has no problems defining the terms here as “courtship” and “dating” respectively. I think this will cause a whole lot of confusion, and it really hides where Mr. Croft is coming from.
Of course, when we get into the scripture passages, this is where I believe courtship is the weakest. The First text Mr. Croft brings up is:
I Thessalonians 4:1-8 (do not wrong or defraud one another in relationships — by implying a relationship or commitment by your words or conduct that does not actually exist)
Of course, the first problem is that the context has absolutely nothing to do with relationships, but with sin in regards to carnal, sexual relations. In fact, the Greek term porneia is clearly used in verse 3. Other terms such as ktao [to control] [v.1], pathos [passion] [v.5], and epithumia [lust] [v.5] also suggest that we are speaking here about sinning in ones carnal sexual relations. In fact, the text of verse 6 even says that the context has not changed by using the phrase “in the matter.” Hence, it is a total eisegetical assertion to read into this text some idea of relationships, when the text has absolutely, positively nothing to do with that, and defines the context as sinning with regards to sexual intercourse.
The next verse he brings up is:
Song of Solomon 2:7 ("do not awaken love before it pleases" — i.e. before the proper time, meaning marriage)
Of course, this is again, a misuse of the passage. “Awakening love before it pleases” has nothing whatsoever to do with “proper time.” There are plenty of Hebrew words and phrases to choose from Solomon had wanted to convey this meaning. The Hebrew phrase “bə+‛ēt+pronominal suffix” could be used [c.f. with Leviticus 26:4, Psalm 104:27, 145:15, Ecclesiastes 3:11, and Proverbs 15:23], and Solomon uses a word closely resembling that meaning in Ecclesiastes 3:1 [zəmān]. The reality is that the Hebrew verb həpaş has nothing whatsoever to do with time. Love is being spoken of here anthropomorphically, and it is saying that love is not to be stirred until it [love] desires. I think the best interpretation is to say that one cannot make to people fall in love. That is, others cannot arouse love in us, unless we truly desire to love that person.
Interestingly enough, the ASV, KJV, NASB, NASB update, and Brenton’s translation of the Greek Septuagint all translate the phrase “Do not awaken my love until it pleases.” This is because the article can function as a possessive pronoun [The Basics of Biblical Hebrew §5.11.4; Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax §13.5.1e]. The reason why these translations take this interpretation is because the entirety of the Song of Songs is about the love of these two people. Hence, it is rather awkward to say that, at these places [2:7, 3:5 and 8:4], the love which is being talked about is the love of the daughters of Jerusalem. This would strongly support my contention of the idea that love is not something that any human being can arouse in another person.
In the other passages Mr. Croft brings up, he simply engages in question begging. Here is what he says:
I Corinthians 6:9-7:19 (command to be pure, seriousness of sexual sin and instructions regarding marriage)
Proverbs 6:20-7:27 (warning to avoid sexual sin and foolish relationships)
James 1:13-15 (temptation is from Satan and to be taken very seriously)
Romans 13:8-14 (love others, work for their soul's good; don't look to please self)
Romans 14:1-15:7 (favor others, not self ... value what's good to their souls)
I Timothy 5:1-2 (treat single women as sisters in Christ, with absolute purity)
Titus 2:1-8 (young men and women should focus on self-control/godliness)
John 14:15 (if you love Christ, you will obey His commands — read: above your own desires — and live biblically)
Of course, Mr. Croft has not proven that “modern dating” [i.e., just plain ol’ dating] is impure, does not take sexual sins or the commands of marriage seriously, does not avoid sexual sin and foolish relationships, doesn’t take temptation seriously, doesn’t love others, doesn’t work for their soul’s good, is selfish, doesn’t favor others, doesn’t treat single women with absolute purity, doesn’t focus on self-control, obey Christ commands, and live Biblically. In other words, if he is wrong about dating not doing these things, then all of these passages are totally irrelevant to the issue. He bears the burden of proof for these things, and yet he just assumes them. If he is wrong about dating doing these things, then these passages are totally irrelevant.
Mr. Croft writes:
Now, the biblical support for the modern approach to dating ... (insert crickets, tumbleweeds, person whistling here).... That was it. There isn't any. The very idea of extended romantic or sexual involvement outside of marriage doesn't even appear in Scripture unless it is described as illicit (sinful).
Of course, as I mentioned before, the Bible doesn’t say anything about dating or courtship. It regulates the behavior in each system, so that there are boundaries in which people can grow closer to each other, and closer to Christ. As far as Biblical support for the “modern concept of dating” [again, just plain ol’ dating], it is rooted in the idea that we are to love one another in Christ, bear one another’s burdens, and so forth. Obviously, if this is someone you want to marry, you should want to do that to the highest degree. Also, Mr. Croft engages in ambiguous language, as “sexual involvement” could be taken in two ways. First, it could be taken as “sexual intercourse,” and second, it could be taken as just simple kissing, cuddling, holding hands, etc. If Mr. Croft means the latter, then he bears the burden of proof, not only to prove that this is sin, but also to prove that “romantic involvement” is sin.
Mr. Croft writes:
Furthermore, it doesn't even appear in any society, western or otherwise, in any systematic way until the 20th century! While the principles supporting biblical dating have their beginnings with the very structure of the family, modern dating has its origins with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It is brand new, and yet, seemingly, it is all we know.
First of all, you will find dating principles long before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. This is an early 20th century phenomenon. However, Mr. Croft’s position of courtship is not based in the Bible, but many of the principles are very similar to Gnosticism which had a strong influence on Christian theology around the time that courtship came about. However, leaving that aside for a second, does the fact that something came late mean that it is necessarily wrong? Granville Sharp published his work on the “article noun kai noun” construction in Greek in the 19th century. Of course, those of us who defend the deity of Christ are greatly indebted to his work, as it shows that Jesus was called God in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. Does that mean that we throw out Granville Sharp’s work, and say it was just a reaction against the theological liberalism of his time? In fact, there are beliefs that have been held far longer that courtship that Mr. Croft would reject outright. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, for instance, can be found in the fourth century AD. Yet, I am sure that, Mr. Croft as a Protestant, would reject that teaching!
Now, what about the connections between courtship and Gnosticism? One is in their view of purity. Courtship teaches a concept called “direction of purity,” which teaches that physical bodies can actually cause you to sin. That is, if you kiss, cuddle, or hold hands, this can lead to sin. This is something Paul emphatically denies when he writes:
Colossians 2:20-23 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
The whole letter of Colossians is written against proto-Gnosticism. The Gnostics had the idea that the physical matter was evil, and the immaterial world was good. Hence, they would avoid touching many things because of this, and their desire was to escape the physical realm, and hence, be free of all sin. Paul specifically says that this kind of behavior, that is, not touching things which God has not forbidden you to touch, will have the appearance of wisdom [as courtship certainly does], but that it is of no value against fleshly indulgence. In essence, by the courtship advocate thinking that he can avoid sexual sin by not kissing, holding hands, etc., he is in essence going right back to a form of Gnosticism which states that purity comes by avoidance of material objects!
James clears this up when he writes:
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
The reason people do that which is evil is not because they were kissing, and they just couldn’t avoid it. There are already evil desires in them that desire to rebel against God. The touching has nothing whatsoever to do with it. We cannot blame kissing, and hence avoid it when the problem is with us ourselves. The only way sexual sin is to be avoided is by a change in heart, not a change in procedure.
Next, Mr. Croft goes through several statements, most of which are mere caricatures of the dating position. Here is an example of what I mean:
Modern dating philosophy assumes that there will be several intimate romantic relationships in a person's life before marriage. In fact, it advocates "playing the field" in order to determine "what one wants" in a mate. Biblical dating has as its goal to be emotionally and physically intimate with only one member of the opposite sex ... your spouse.
The first portion is a mere caricature of our position. We do not assume that there will be “several.” In fact, we would say that what is best is that a person finds the person they are going to marry early. We would say that every relationship must be worked out until it is impossible to work it out any longer. Secondly, Mr. Croft must first of all define what he means by “physically intimate,” [which is why calling this position “dating” makes it so confusing], and if he means kissing, holding hands, etc. he most show that this is forbidden in the Bible.
The next misrepresentation is found here:
Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional "wiring" or God-given roles). Biblical dating tends to be complimentarian (God has created men and women differently and has ordained each of these spiritual equals to play different and valuable roles in the church and in the family).
Which is, of course, another strawman. No one has ever said that.
Modern dating tends to assume that you need to get to know a person more deeply than anyone else in the world to figure out whether you should be with him or her. The biblical approach suggests that real commitment to the other person should precede such a high level of intimacy.
Which, of course, clouds the issue, as Mr. Croft must defend the idea that the only kind of “real” commitment that exists is marital commitment. If there are other kinds of authentic commitments, then it is obvious that the commitment Mr. Croft needs is right there. Of course, he does not bother to defend the idea that the only “real commitment” is marriage, and ends up, again, assuming something he has yet to prove.
Modern dating tends to assume that a good relationship will "meet all my needs and desires," and a bad one won't — it's essentially a self-centered approach. Biblical dating approaches relationships from a completely different perspective — one of ministry and service and bringing glory to God.
Again, another strawman has been erected. I have met some pretty selfish courtship advocates, and the reality is that I have had to dodge many projectiles being thrown my way. Does that mean that courtship is inherently selfish? In fact, it seems odd that I just said in the last paragraph that people should do everything they can to make a relationship work. How is that in any way selfish?
Modern Dating assumes that what I do and who I date as an adult is entirely up to me and is private (my family or the church has no formal or practical authority). Biblical dating assumes a context of spiritual accountability, as is true in every other area of the Christian life.
Which, of course, is another strawman. I really have to wonder how many books by dating authors Mr. Croft has read. In fact, I would like to challenge him to get out Jeremy Clarke’s work, Cloud and Townsend’s work, or any work by a Christian author on dating, and show that they say that one must assume there are going to be several relationships before marriage, tell us to be egalitarian, be selfish wanting your needs met first, and avoid all authority. I have honestly never read any of that in any dating work. I would ask that Courtship advocates please stop these caricatures of our position!
Mr. Croft continues:
Modern dating tends to assume that there will be a high level of emotional involvement in a dating relationship, and some level of physical involvement as well. Biblical dating assumes NO physical intimacy, and more limited emotional intimacy outside of marriage.
The reason why I reject courtship is because I believe it is a challenge to the sufficiency and ultimate authority of scripture. Mr. Croft himself admits here that there is more “limited emotional intimacy.” As I pointed out in my review of one of his previous articles, this is where the departure from scripture, and hence the arbitrariness begins. The next question we have to ask is how one knows what is “limited emotional intimacy,” and what is too high a level of emotional intimacy. The Bible simply does not address this, and hence, whatever the answer, it is going to be totally arbitrary. This is what happens when the sufficiency of scripture is abandoned for a system that is then forced upon the text of scripture to make it appear that it is biblical. You end up being totally arbitrary. In fact, this is the other element of courtship that has Gnostic roots. Mr. Croft writes the following:
The Bible speaks to every area of our faith and life at some level. Some things it talks about explicitly, like salvation, or sanctification, or marriage, or elders. The Bible guides us in some areas by broader, more general principles and ideas we can build on as we strive to live the Christian life in practical ways. In either case, no area of life falls totally outside of the guidance and authority of god's word.
I would say that Mr. Croft’s position ends up undermining [although unintentionally] the sufficiency of scripture. Keep in mind that he is later going to talk about the fact that our viewpoint is “sinful,” and “illicit,” and here he states that his basis for saying that is just general principles! What ever happened to the perspicuity of scripture? Apparently, the Bible defines some sin clearly, and other sins are defined on the basis of a mere principles which then have to be applied. Of course, now we have to ask how and when those principles are going to be applied, and that gets us right back to the arbitrariness that I was referring to before. If there are general principles, then those principles must be applied, and hence, we need someone [namely, courtship advocates] to tell us how we are to apply them. Unless the scriptures state clearly and explicitly what is sin and what is not sin, this becomes nothing more than the same kind of attack on the perspicuity of scripture [though unintentional] waged by Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I would argue that the scriptures are so clear that we do not need “general principles.” The scriptures define the limits of human behavior, and hence, if one cannot show that kissing, “emotional intimacy,” and holding hands are forbidden in scripture, then they are guilty of adding their commands to God’s word just like Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are guilty of adding their traditions to God’s word. Interestingly enough, this principle is first found, not in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, but from Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that they had some secret knowledge that one needed in order to understand the scriptures.
Most people do not realize how pious pagans were. Many rules were made up, and wisdom was sought after regularly. In fact, much of the problem of paganism is that they had the outward appearance of wisdom, but did not truly know the truth. I can only pray that courtship advocates will not fall into that trap.