Dating, Courtship, & Scriptural Betrothal

Richard Anthony

"Christian" Dating
Definition Temporary romantic relationship focused on current enjoyment/pleasure without future commitments; usually one of series of relationships Parentally authorized romantic relationship focused on serious contemplation and hope of future marriage; hopefully, but not necessarily, sole romantic relationship before marriage Romantic relationship following publicly announced, irrevocable commitment to marriage; allows couple to "fall in love" before marriage, but after commitment is made
Scriptural Terminology & Definition No; term "dating" never used in Scripture; best described by the scriptural term "defrauding" (1 Thessalonians 4:6) No; term "courtship" never used in Scripture; some scriptural principles consciously applied, particularly warning against "defrauding" (1 Thessalonians 4:6) Yes; term "betrothed" used frequently in both Old and New Testaments; God, in Deuteronomy 22:22-29, at least reinforces pattern by specifying punishments within three distinct marital states: single, betrothed, and married
Timing Sequence of Emotional Oneness Physical attraction, begin dating, romantic cultivation, emotional oneness (fall in love), assume Lord's will, engagement, irrevocable(?) commitment at marriage Attraction, parental authorization of courtship, seeking Lord's will, romantic cultivation, emotional oneness (fall in love), confirm Lord's will, parental authorization for marriage, engagement, irrevocable commitment at marriage The Lord's direction to one, confirmed by parents, then by all, publicly announced irrevocable commitment at betrothal, romantic cultivation, emotional oneness (fall in love), marriage authorizes full physical union
Termination Procedure Either party may terminate relationship any time, for any reason Either party may terminate relationship any time, for any reason Betrothal can only be terminated on the basis of infidelity; requires scriptural divorce
Purpose Current enjoyment; exploration of compatibility for possible future relationship Exploration of compatibility for possible future relationship Cultivation of romance in preparation for spiritual and emotional unity in marriage
Parental Involvement Generally considered irrelevant Parental authorization required throughout courtship; may be revoked at any time; authorization for marriage may or may not be included in courtship authorization Full parental blessing required before betrothal commitment; thereafter parental authorization is irrevocable except in the event of infidelity
Activities/Motivation Entertainment in groups or as couple alone; effort to impress and please other to retain or move forward in relationship; fear of being rejected (defrauded/broken-hearted) Entertainment in groups or as couple alone; compatibility for marriage explored seriously; effort to impress and please due partly to fear of being rejected (defrauded/broken-hearted) Following betrothal ceremony time of separation in preparation for marriage with full confidence; commitment eliminates fear of defrauding; direct communication controlled, focused on spiritual and emotional unity
Physical Affection Generally acceptable to some pre-determined point short of full physical union; opens the door to temptation Generally acceptable to some pre-determined point short of full physical union; parental involvement limits, but does not preclude temptation No physical contact whatsoever until the wedding; betrothal period is for spiritual and emotional preparation (falling in love), not physical affection
Possibility/Likelihood of DEFRAUDING (1 Thessalonians 4:6) Virtually inevitable; hearts are melded together romantically, then ripped apart repeatedly; flirtation (defrauding) is expected and institutionalized Unlikely if both parties court only each other; however, some court a series of prospective spouses before making commitment -- thus defrauding happens Virtually impossible given irrevocable nature of betrothal and avoidance of romantic cultivation prior to betrothal; emotionally as well as physically one-woman men and one-man women

The Betrothal Period

The word "troth" means a promise or covenant. And "betroth" is a promise to marry.

Betroth: To promise to marry. To promise in marriage. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, 1988, page 133.

Betrothal: Mutual pledge to marry; engagement. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, 1988, page 133.

The word "fiance" actually comes from the scriptural word betroth.

Betroth: To affiance. The Oxford Universal Dictionary, page 173.

Affiance: Plighting of faith; especially of troth on agreement of marriage. To promise; especially in marriage. The Oxford Universal Dictionary, page 31.

Fiance: Affiance. To take as one's betrothed. A betrothed person. The Oxford Universal Dictionary, page 693.

  1. Question: "In scripture, when a couple were betrothed, were they considered husband and wife?"

    Answer: Yes, when a couple were betrothed, they were considered husband and wife, and they needed a bill of divorcement in order to depart from one another. For example, let's look at Joseph and Mary's situation, when Christ Jesus was yet in her belly.

    Scripture plainly says that Mary was Joseph's wife (Matthew 1:20,24, Luke 2:5). But at the same time, she was betrothed to him:

    Matthew 1:18-19, "...Mary was betrothed to Joseph...Joseph...was minded to put her away."

    The Greek word for "put her away" is 'aphiemi,' and is used by Paul to describe divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:11 and Matthew 1:18-19. In other words, a divorce was required to break off a betrothal, because she was his wife! Joseph thought that Mary had slept with another man, and that's why he was thinking of divorcing her, but an angel showed Joseph that she was conceived by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:20).

    Lest anyone question whether a betrothed girl is a wife:

    Deuteronomy 20:7, "And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her."

    She was his wife, but he had not taken (lain with) her yet, he had not slept with her and become one flesh. Their marriage was not yet consummated. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 is another passage that defines a "betrothed virgin" (verse 23) as a "neighbour's wife" (verse 24).

    Deuteronomy 22:23-24, "If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife..."

    The above passage clearly shows that a betrothed virgin is considered a neighbor's wife. However, the marriage was not yet consumated.

  2. Question: "Does the betrothed man and wife live together? Or do they stay at home with their parents?"

    Answer: I would have to say they do not live together, but they stay with their respective parents during betrothal. The reason is because scripture says that the reason a man leaves his father and mother is to cleave to his wife and become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5-6, Mark 10:8, Ephesians 5:31). The term "one flesh," between a man and woman, means to have sex. Therefore, it would seem that the betrothed couple would not leave their parents until they are ready to consummate their marriage by becoming one flesh with each other. No sex between the couple was aloud during betrothal.

    It was customary among the Jews during betrothal to leave the husband and wife in the houses of their respective parents. When the bridegroom had made proper preparations (i.e. where will the husband and wife keep house, what will they do for work, etc.), then the bride was brought home to his house, and thus the marriage was consummated (Genesis 24:67, Judges 15:1).

    The provisions in Deuteronomy 20:7 refer to a case of this kind, because it was deemed an excessive hardship for a man to be obliged to go to battle, where there was a probability of his being slain, who had left a new house unfinished; a newly purchased heritage half tilled; or a wife with whom he had just contracted marriage. This is why soldiers were allowed to go home and consummate the marriage.

    Deuteronomy 20:7, "And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her."

    In addition, after the marriage was consummated, there was what could be called a "marriage sabbath." This is where the man was released from any kind of obligations (such as going to war, or having any other thing laid upon him) for one full year! He is to be free at home for the purpose of giving cheer and gladness to his wife whom he has taken.

    Deuteronomy 24:5, "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken."

    One of the main purposes of Deuteronomy 24:5 was to prevent the divorce mentioned in the previous four verses (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

  3. Question: "How long does betrothal last?"

    Answer: How long betrothal lasted was between the husband's family and the wife's family. The betrothal period itself would last for different periods of time, depending upon what the families agreed upon. Sometimes it was short, sometimes it was long. Sometimes they would get married immediately, like David did to Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Samuel 25:38-43). Sometimes it would last one month (Deuteronomy 21:11).

    For example, the agreement between Laban (the father of Rachel) and Jacob (who wanted to marry Rachel) was that they were to be betrothed for seven years, and Jacob had to work for him during this time. But, after seven years, Laban broke his agreement with him and gave Jacob his firstborn daughter, Leah, instead. However, Laban said he would give him Rachel if he worked for him another seven years. So, Jacob worked another seven years for Rachel, and after another seven years, he married the girl of his dreams. So, in essence, Jacob was betrothed to Rachel for a total of fourteen years (Genesis 29:16-30)! (This is the longest betrothal in scripture).

  4. Question: "Is giving jewelry and gifts to the bride scriptural, or is it from a heathen origin?"

    Answer: It is a scriptural principle. When Abraham's servant, Eliezar, went to get a wife for Isaac, he gave Rebekah Abraham's dowry gifts of a gold earring and two gold bracelets, clothing, and articles of silver and gold. He also gave other members of her family precious things (Genesis 24:10, 22, 30, 47, 53).

  5. Question: "When does scripture consider marriage consummated?"

    Answer: In several places, the Bible shows us that marriage was considered a matter between the groom (and his family) and the bride (and her family). In every case, the marriage was considered consummated when the groom took the bride to his (or his family's) home to live with him. After that, she belonged to him, and to him alone (Genesis 24:67, Judges 15:1). Sometimes a gift was required, and the groom giving a ring to the bride is the remaining manifestation of this custom when they have joined together to become one flesh; that is, when they have left father and mother in order to join with or cleave to (have sex with) their partner (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, Ephesians 5:31).

    A man and woman are considered one flesh when they first have sex (Genesis 29:23-25,28, Exodus 22:16-17, Deuteronomy 22:28), even to a prostitute (1 Corinthians 6:16). The woman at Samaria told Jesus that she had no husband, but Jesus told her she had 5 husbands, because that's how many men she had sex with (John 4:16-19). The biblical phrase "to have a woman" always means "to marry" (Matthew 14:4; 22:28, 1 Corinthians 5:1; 7:2,29).

    However, just because a man and woman have sex together, it does not necessarily mean they are married. For example, if a man has sex with an unbetrothed woman, they were commanded to marry each other (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). They were not considered married, but commanded to marry. But if the father refused to give his daughter to him, then they would not get married (Exodus 22:16-17). A man and woman cannot get married unless the parents of the woman give their permission. She was under the covering of her father, until he gives her away.

  6. Question: "How does dowry work?"

    Answer: Marriage normally was by dowry: the groom gave a dowry to the bride which constituted her protection and children's inheritance. In scripture, this is called "the dowry of virgins” (Exodus 22:16-17), which was “fifty shekels of silver,” (Deuteronomy 22:28). This was payed by the husband to the parents of the bride "...because he hath humbled her" (Deuteronomy 22:29). Any man who humbles a virgin, whether it be a man who marries her after going through the betrothal period, a man who marries her without going through betrothal, a man who marries her because he had sex with her first, or even a man who had sex with a virgin without marrying her, all men pay this dowry price to the father for the same reason; “Because he hath humbled her.” (Note: one shekel of silver was equivalent to 4 days wages. Therefore, 50 shekels of silver would be equivalent to 200 days wages).

    However, it is really up the to father of the bride what this dowry shall be.For example, Jacob worked seven years for Labon to earn a dowry for Rachel (Genesis 29:18). The pay for this belonged to the bride as her dowry, and Rachel and Leah could speak as having been "sold" by their father, because he had withheld from them their dowry (Genesis 31:14-15). It was the family's money; it represented the wife's security, in case of divorce where the husband was at fault. If she were at fault, she forfeited it. She could not alienate it from her children. The dowry thus represented money provided by the father of the groom, or by the groom through work, used to further the economic life of the new family. the dowry was thus the father's blessing on his son's marriage, or a test of the young man's character in working for it.

    An unusual dowry appears in Saul's demand of David, a hundred foreskins of the Phillistines (I Samuel 18:25-27). Saul offered a test he felt would be too difficult for David to meet, but which David met. So Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.

    It should be added that the family exercised considerable authority and often chose the wife. In the case of Isaac, his wife Rebekah was chosen by his parent, who provided the dowry; Isaac delighted in his chosen bride. In Jacob's case, Jacob chose Rachel and provided his own dowry. The element of parental choice was not absent in Jacob's case, in that both Rebekah and Isaac sent Jacob to Padanaram to marry (Genesis 27:46 - 28:9).

  7. Question: "How serious does God consider the betrothal contract when a virgin is involved?"

    Answer: In the Old Testament, and during Christ's earthly ministry, the wedding of a virgin was to be celebrated on the fourth day of the week, so that the husband could at once bring any complaint before the court sessions held on the fifth day of the week about his wife's not having been a virgin, although he had taken her to wife on this condition and paid the higher price that had to be paid to get a virgin (as opposed to paying no price to marry a non-virgin). A man was not considered to have acted justly if he did not bring forward any complaints he might have about his wife's not having been a virgin. He was not to overlook his wife's not having been a virgin but was to accuse her in court and divorce her, if he wished to be regarded a just man (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

    The betrothal meant that the marriage was legally valid. The betrothed girl is called wife and if the husband wishes to be free of her, he must give her a bill of divorce. A clause of the marriage contract has not been fulfilled, in that the girl was not a virgin, as the man was informed when the contract was drawn up and he paid for her the sum that had to be paid for a virgin (Exodus 22:16-17). The husband is the party who has right on his side. He has fulfilled his obligations. The party who has acted unjustly is the girl's father, if he knew that his daughter was not a virgin but nevertheless asserted that she was and accepted as high a price for her as that which had to be paid for a virgin. The girl had also committed a crime in playing "the whore in her father's house" (Deuteronomy 22:21).

    Joseph "being a just man" therefore, probably was only being consistent with his historical culture and practicing that which Mary's son, the Son of God, permitted later in Matthew's gospel (Matthew 5 &19).

arrow Return to Men And Women

Translation arrow

  Home     Greetings     Who We Are     Helpful Info     Rest Room     Search     Contact Us