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April 28, 2011


The Bondage of Betrothal

by Eric M. Pazdziora

One of the fundamental teachings of the Biblical Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements is the doctrine of “biblical courtship,” or “betrothal.” (My brother suggested the word “casuistries” instead of “teachings,” which is perfect except that I didn’t know it before, either.) This teaching has it that since a father is the head of the family, his children are completely under his authority—even for deciding whom they marry as adults.

Under this system, adult daughters or sons who presume to consider marrying somebody their patriocentric parents don’t approve of may be labeled rebellious against God and His plan for the family. It’s a classic case of bounded choice. Even though the doctrine purports to be motivated by turning fathers’ hearts toward their children, emotional trauma often ensues all around.

This isn’t about minors—I’ve heard this from men and women in their twenties or even older, still bound by parental authoritarianism. It’s a small step from “stay-at-home daughters” to “kept-at-home daughters.”

Let’s ask one simple question: Is that really what the Bible teaches?

The answer is this: God wants us to be free.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31–36, NIV)

If that seems like a non sequitur, just stay with me. Jesus came to set you free from all the things that try to enslave you, control your life, drag you into sin and bondage and slavery. It’s a paradox: When we give up control of our lives to Jesus, He makes us free.

Freedom is sometimes misconstrued as license to sin. Nothing could be further from the truth—Jesus gives us freedom from all the sinful things that used to control us. Freedom in Christ means that we no longer have to be controlled by temper, passion, greed, lust, envy, porn, legalism, works-righteousness, laziness, alcohol, drugs, pride, sex, career, vanity, ego, reputation, peer pressure, food, bitterness…

… or authoritarian religious leaders.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, NASB)

The only way to be free is to follow Christ. Following anyone else is the way back to slavery. So anybody who sets themselves up as an authority to control your life is going against what Jesus wants for your life. You should be Christ-controlled, not others-controlled.

Godly leaders follow Jesus’ example in refusing to lord it over others:

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:2–4 NKJV)

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. (2 Corinthians 1:24, NIV)

False leaders, on the other hand, try to compel people to follow them:

[This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. (Galatians 2:4, NIV)

One of the easiest ways to tell a controlling religious leader is that they’re ready to whip out the word “rebellious” right about this point. Right back at ya: Being concerned about people “rebelling” against you is a sign of pride and authoritarianism, and pride and authoritarianism are rebellion against God. People can’t rebel against their servants, only against their masters. But if you’re positioning yourself as anyone’s master, you’re trying to take the place of the Lord. You’re rebelling against His commandment to serve as He does.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28 NKJV)

What does any of this have to do with courtship, betrothal, marriage? Plenty. The modern doctrine of betrothal, at its core, is the idea that parents should act as authoritarian religious leaders, controlling their adult children’s lives and decisions about whom to marry. In other words, they don’t allow them to be free in Christ.

But doesn’t the Bible say “Children, obey your parents”? “Honor thy father and mother”? Of course it does, and I’m not diminishing that a bit. I am, however, pointing out that the Bible does not say “Parents, exercise total control over your children, even when they’re adults.” You can honor someone and still disagree with them. Sometimes “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The corresponding command for parents is “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). What causes bitterness and discouragement? Authoritarian control, for one thing.

You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:4, NIV)

Parents can certainly give their adult children advice and counsel and wisdom and guidance. But for them to manipulate and control their children’s lives is self-defeating. Godly parenting is the art of helping someone who’s completely dependent on you to not need you anymore. You’re like a mother bird who, as soon as the babies are big enough, pushes them out of the nest so they can fly. In fact, that’s exactly what the Bible says marriage is about:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

That’s the very first thing the Bible says about marriage—in the story of Adam and Eve, no less—and it’s the most widely quoted Old Testament verse on marriage in the New Testament (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7–8, 1 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 5:31, et cetera). Yet in my research, I found entire articles, entire websites even, on the subject of “betrothal” that neglect to mention that this verse exists.

Why would anybody trying to argue for a “biblical” doctrine of betrothal neglect the most significant verse in the Bible about marriage? Maybe because it undercuts their doctrine at the knees. “A man shall leave his father and mother,” not “a father and mother shall give a man permission.” “And be joined to his wife,” no mention of “provided her parents give consent.” And for that matter, “They shall become one flesh,” not “They shall become an authority and a subject.”

Does this really mean that a young man and a young woman have the God-given freedom to decide for themselves whom to marry? Well, believe it or not, that’s exactly what the Bible says.

One of the very few passages in the Old Testament that records what God said about people getting married (as opposed to the many that are historical records of what people did in the Ancient Near East, not commandments) is Numbers 36. If you think that God requires women to have “male coverings” or “parental authorities” to make decisions for them, you might have missed the story of Zelophehad’s daughters (as found in Numbers 27). See this article for a good overview.

Single women approaching God on their own without a father or any other male authority? Single women empowered to make their own decisions, get their own inheritance, have their own money, and work their own land? God taking their side and telling Moses and the elders that’s the right thing? In the Torah, even? Yep. It’s not modern feminism; it’s ancient Scripture.

Numbers 36 takes the story to the next level. The tribal elders brought Moses another question: who decides whom these single, fatherless women should marry? This was an issue because, since they were entitled to their own inheritance, marrying outside their tribe could have created economic instability. If ever there was a place in Scripture for God to set the record straight, to say “Well, ordinarily, parents ought to decide whether to give their daughters in marriage,” to tell them to find a male authority to guard their hearts and arrange their betrothal, here it is. And here’s what God said:

“This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father.’” (Numbers 36:6, ESV, emphasis added)

“Let them marry whom they think best.”

Not whom their parents think best. Not their grandfather. Not their father’s brother. Not their pastor or priest or rabbi. Not their fiancΓ©. Not even Yente the matchmaker.

“Let them marry whom they think best.”

The only stipulation (“within the clan”) was for economic purposes, to make sure the inheritance stayed in the tribe (Num. 36:7). We might compare the New Testament’s advice that Christians should marry other Christians (1 Cor. 7:39). That doesn’t mean that we’re not free to make our own decisions, just that we ought to make wise decisions.

“Let them marry whom they think best.”

It isn’t selfish to decide for yourself who is best to marry. It takes wisdom, intelligence, thoughtfulness, humility, trust. For believers, it takes prayer and reliance on God’s guidance. Nobody else can think for you. Nobody else can rely on God for you. Nobody else can decide who is best for you to marry.

The patriarchs themselves knew this. The story of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24) is often held up as an ideal of parentally arranged marriage, though as noted, it’s a historical account that nowhere suggests it’s a model for anyone else to follow, any more than the historical accounts of Hosea or David or Samson or the rapacious Benjaminites. Right in the middle of it, though, is this exchange:

And they said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” (Genesis 24:57–58, NASB)

If people wanted to live the way the biblical patriarchs did, they’d give their daughters the freedom to decide whom to marry. That’s what the Bible says, anyway.

The idea of freedom to choose a spouse carries over into the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 7, of all places. This chapter is often twisted to argue for the false doctrine of parental control over daughters’ marriages. You’d think the complete absence of the word “daughter” from the chapter in biblical Greek might tip people off that that’s a mistake. If you take the chapter as a whole, it is self-evidently an exhortation to embrace any situation you find yourself in—singleness, marriage, separation, whatever—as a chance to follow the Lord’s direction.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17, ESV).

You should follow the Lord’s direction if He wants you to be single. You should follow the Lord’s direction if He wants you to marry. The one thing you should never do is let anyone else set themselves up as the Lord:

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23, ESV)

In fact, that’s one of the advantages of singleness—it leaves you more free to follow the Lord’s direction on your own:

The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:34, NASB)

If the presuppositions of betrothal were true, then surely that verse should say, “The woman who is unmarried is concerned about the things of her father.” It doesn’t. An unmarried adult woman answers only to the Lord.

And according to this chapter, who decides whom a woman should marry? There’s only one verse in the whole chapter that addresses that question at all. (It’s about widows.) Here’s what it says:

she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39b, ESV, emphasis added).

That sure sounds familiar. Paul is directly applying God’s commandment from the Torah—“Let them marry whom they think best”—to New Testament believers. It was true then, and it’s true today.

So, what about the people who insist they should control this decision for others? The New Testament has severe words for them:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1–3, NIV, emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit foretells that certain false teachers will abandon the faith. They follow deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. They are hypocrites and liars. Their consciences are cauterized. You can tell these demonically deceived apostate hypocritical liars because they… forbid people to marry.

Yes, it really says that.

Notice the verbs “forbid” and “order.” These hypocritical apostate false teachers are setting themselves up as authorities over people. They order them around and decide what they can and can’t do. You see it in cults and high-control groups where the leaders insist on control over members’ marriages or force everyone to be celibate. You see it in patriocentric families where parents insist on control over their adult sons’ and daughters’ marriage.

The issue isn’t marriage or celibacy. It’s abuse of authority. It’s taking away the freedom we have in Christ.

They forbid people to marry.

It’s wrong. It’s sinful. It’s evil. It’s perverse. It’s apostate. It’s demonic.

That anybody presumes to set up as a “biblical” doctrine the idea that they have authority to control somebody else’s marriage—what God created to be pure and joyous and freeing and loving and a cause for thanksgiving—is nothing less than heresy and blasphemy. You cannot believe that doctrine and believe the words of Scripture. You cannot practice that doctrine and still have a clear conscience before God. You cannot follow that doctrine and follow the leading of the Spirit. You cannot trust that doctrine and still have faith in Christ. If you believe otherwise, repent.

Following Jesus is about living in freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV)

Sure, for parents, freedom can invoke the fear of the unknown—what will happen to my children if I don’t control them? What if they want to marry some serial murderer?—but that’s where faith comes in. You train up your children in the way they should go, and the way they should go is walking in freedom after Christ on their own, living in wisdom and liberty and self-control.

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5, NASB)

Sure, for young people, freedom can be daunting—what if I never meet anyone? How do I know he’s the one? What if God wants me to be single?—but again, it’s a chance to strengthen your faith. You wouldn’t need faith if everything was easy; you wouldn’t need God’s guidance if everything was clear. You learn it by doing it, and you get it by asking for it:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5, NASB)

That goes for parents and children and adults and everyone else. Follow Jesus, love your neighbors, have faith in God who will guide you and give you wisdom. That’s the truth, and that will set you free. You are free in Christ. You are free indeed.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
—Jesus (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)

Some Further Reading:

Daughters-in-Waiting: Adult Daughters at Home—Hillary’s deep wisdom for dealing with life in an authoritarian situation.

The Over-Controlled Adult Child—Ibid.

Zelophehad’s Daughters—Cynthia Kunsman gives a run-down of an Old Testament account that shows how “biblical patriarchy” isn’t all that biblical.

Betrothal: God’s Best for You?—Pastor James Thorpe argues passionately that the system of betrothal combined with bounded choice amounts to forced marriage, which isn’t just contrary to God’s will, it’s a human rights violation.

Betrothal and the Work of the Flesh—SisterLisa describes her experience helping her teenage daughter make wise decisions about relationships while rejecting the false teachings of betrothal taught by her former cult. (A response to this post.)

The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage—A fascinating exploration of how Hebrew interpreters have understood the OT passages about marriage, courtship, and betrothal. If you think it looks anything at all like the modern “biblical patriarchy” movement, you’re in for some big surprises. From “Under Much Grace.”

The Joke Was On Me—Lewis Wells’ gut-wrenching first-person account of what courting a P/QF betrothal-indoctrinated woman really looks like in practice. (Not pretty.)

Godly Authority: A Flighty to Topsyturvydom—In which Jesus says that having authority is about refusing to exercise authority.

How God Guides—R. A. Torrey provides a marvelously useful biblical theology of God’s guidance and how to get it. (I once recommended a certain young lady read this, and now we’re married, so there you go.)

Eric M. Pazdziora writes words and music. The music includes a brand-new album of hymns about grace entitled “New Creation,” featuring his wife Carrie on vocals. To hear the music or to read more writings, visit his website at www.ericpazdziora.com.


52 Reflections:

Lewis said…

I couldn't possibly say enough good things about this piece, Eric. Well done.

Jenna said…

Your writing is so clear and thorough, and I love how Scripture is woven throughout the entire piece. I echo Lewis–well done.

Hopewell said…

Thank you. Let them be the adults God made them to become. This is always at the heart of my writings on the Duggars and other such families. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Cara Coffey said…

Thanks for the insight.

Here's some additional thoughts I posted a month:

http://www.uncoverednomore.com/?q=node/16

~Cara

sarah said…

Eric – this is well done. Thank you for doing the research and writing it out. It truly helped me. I felt like scripture unlocked bondages, when scripture has been seen in my mind as a bondage.

von said…

Interesting article. Completely false from beginning to end, but much better done than most.

Interested in having a debate sometime on the subject? MIght as well go right to the source and find out what we really say about Scripture.

frogla said…

this is the best i've ever heard on this subject. thnx Eric! i will be chewing on much here!

Eric said…

Von — As per the website FAQs, this blog is not for debating or criticizing specific individuals. If you don't hold the particular false doctrines and misinterpretations of Scripture I discuss above, good for you, but there is no shortage of real-life false teachers and their victims who do. Thanks for your interest, though.

von said…

Ah. Didn't read the 'FAQ'. Don't, ususally.

I wouldn't have said I was 'criticizing an individual', altho I can see how you might take it that way.

As for the debate, it wouldn't need to happen here; any of my sites is fine. Normally when one is interested in trying to promote 'truth', one is interested in discussing with the other side.

But, if not, I'll just respond myself over on my blog…

Fluffy Pink Duck said…

Thank you for this Eric, Educational and refreshing.

Eric said…

Von– No, by "not criticizing an individual" I mean I'm not going to attack you. πŸ™‚ Our ministry is about bringing comfort and healing to those who have been abused by false doctrines, not about engaging individual doctrinaires. To quote the FAQ again:

We try to address the teaching itself, and may on occasion use specific names to illustrate ideology in question. But our goal is to remain focused on aching souls and feel that for us, it would be a distraction to 'go after' those with whom we disagree or who perpetuate errant philosophy.

Part of promoting truth is, as Titus 3:9 says, having the wisdom to "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." When I need to understand both "sides" of an issue, I can study primary sources in depth, as I did before writing this. Thanks anyway, though.

von said…

It would be interesting to know what 'primary sources' you looked at. I have read a lot of what is written on courtship (a process which is thoroughly unBiblical) and betrothal… a process which is very different, and, when done right, very Biblical. Indeed, one possibility for any debate would be on my own books.
As for whether betrothal is something that Christians need to avoid discussing ala Titus 3, it seems Paul disagrees with you, since he wrote on Betrothal in at least two places.

Benjamin Graber said…

The fact that Jesus came to set us free from the chains that enslave us is one of the most beautiful aspects to the gospel. Thank you for this excellent encouragement to live free!

Eric said…

Von — I think you're not taking my hint! πŸ™‚ Spend a few moments on Google and you'll easily find many false teachers who preach "betrothal" exactly the way I refute above. If you're not one of them, good, but that's not really to the point, is it? If you are, well, I've already said all I have to say in the article.

von said…

Benjamin,

If you have googled 'Betrothal' I'm a little surprised you haven't heard of me, since I am one of the most 'extreme' betrothal advocates.

Your article contains grains of accuracy about what the others teach, but they would certainly disagree with most of what you say about them… and nothing in their books or writings supports anything but the most general outline.

But what I was disagreeing with the most seriously, and what I will be discussing on my blog, was your biblical exegesis. 'Nuff said, I will reply there. Feel free to comment there as well.

Azure said…

Wow, I've never heard anyone say anything, even remotelys like what you are saying here. I come from a very abusive, controlling, patriarchal home and never realized that there were so many others who were raised like that. I really appreciate what you have to say, it is sooo refreshing!

Lewis said…

Von…Please do reply on your blog. We'll be here not reading it.

Debates are kinda like referees in professional wrestling…no real point.

Freedom is a beautiful thing. I don't think any escapees of legalism are gonna go willingly running back into legalism.

Curtis Family said…

Great post!

Retha said…

Wow, Eric. This is so significant, so really Biblical,(as opposed to take-whatever-Bible-story-matches your-idea Biblical) so much the complete opposite of what some women have been taught.

Suggestion: Put this under key articles.

Hillary said…

Retha, it's already done.

von said…

>>Von…Please do reply on your blog. We'll be here not reading it.

Done. Or started anyway. Feel free… either way πŸ˜‰

http://christianbetrothal.blogspot.com/search/label/qdaughters%20discussion

Darcy said…

Von, some of us have argued this for so long that we really just don't care anymore. We know what and why we believe and have absolutely no desire to prove anything to you and others like you. We will keep helping broken people, people hurt by these teachings and this bondage, regardless of how many articles you post saying we're wrong. Oh, did I mention we don't really care???

Sisterlisa said…

Eric, I posted my response and personal experience here: http://soullibertyfaith.com/?p=862

Eric said…

Sisterlisa— Thanks for your post! I'm glad to see mine inspired some wise thoughts. Everyone who's interested in a real-life example of what godly parenting can look like in this area should go check it out!

Retha, thank you. I was surprised myself while researching by uncovering several verses on the topic that most betrothal advocates seem to studiously ignore. "Biblical" is such a loaded word!

Azure, I'm glad to hear it. Knowing you're not alone can be a big step to healing.

Eric said…

Benjamin, yes indeed.

Sarah, fantastic! That reminds me of the scene in Pilgrim's Progress when they suddenly realize that all along they've had the key–God's Promise–that unlocks the dungeon of Giant Despair.

Cara, good thoughts at your blog there. Too often we treat the Bible as "God's Instruction Book" (what does it say about X?) when really it's the message of the Gospel and redemption in Jesus and what that means for us.

Lewis – Jenna – Hopewell – frogla – Fluffy Pink Duck – Curtis – Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm glad to hear that this piece was helpful for you. S.D.G.

Anonymous said…

Eric…thank you.

What would you say about the dividing effect that "marrying whom they think best" could have on a family?

My parents are strongly opposed to my significant other. They say that our marrying could not honor God because it was against their wishes. I disagree but would it not be better to honor their wishes even though I disagree with them?

(Really not sure my question makes sense, so if not…don't worry about it.)

Eric said…

Anonymous– That deserves a full-length post of its own to answer, but since my writing schedule is rather full these days, here are a few quick points to consider.

– Start by reading Hillary's fantastically good article Daughters in Waiting. These are words of deep wisdom and christlikeness for people in your exact situation. If you search around this site a bit you'll find other wise words along these lines as well.

– When your parents say that "your marrying could not honor God because it is against their wishes," that's wrong, unbiblical (see the post above), false, and extremely manipulative. Avoid resenting this, but do be firm (while respectful) in standing up against it.

– Jesus actually specifically says that an individual's choice to follow Him may put family members at odds with each other or even divide families altogether– see Matthew 10:34-37, Luke 12:51-53. These are "hard sayings," and not for everyone, but clearly it does not dishonor God if it comes to that. Sometimes it may even be an unavoidable (though tragic) consequence of honoring God.

– While you can appreciate and weigh your parents' advice, only you can decide whether to follow it or whether it's a time to say "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). The final decision whom to marry is between you and your sweetheart and God and nobody else. Your parents need to respect this boundary.

– God's guidance and wisdom is available directly to any individual who asks Him for it in faith. See James 1:5 and the R. A. Torrey sermon I linked above.

– Psalm 27:10 is one of the most precious promises in all of Scripture: "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me." Cling to that!

Thanks for your comment. I'll be praying, and possibly writing a fuller answer as I have time for it.

Eric

Abigail said…

I see a lot of wisdom in this article. Thank you, Eric. As always, you write with a lot of clarity. I see you recognizing that asking for parental advice is wisdom, while not giving up the freedom we have in Yeshua. Ultimately, it is Yeshua we must ask…just like with anything else. If HE says to marry against a parent's wishes…then do so. However, He just might say to wait…or not to marry. It is possible the parent sees something the son or daughter doesn't. But it is the son or daughter's responsibility to seek the L-rd in this.

The Cult Next Door said…

@Lewis and Darcy….snort! starting giggling when read your reply of "we'll be here not caring".
Perfect reply! "Answer a fool according to his folly".

Eric, stunning! When I try to explain the cult to outsiders I skip right past verbal and physical abuse to "The pastor controlled who married who and when they got married, if ever."

People "get" that statement right away. Chosing your mate is a God-given right.

Oh, and totally on and off subject…SQUEAL!!!!! A friend of mine escaped the cult!!! *dancing*

Guess how she got out? She eloped πŸ˜‰

Her boyfriend left a note in her bedroom saying something to the effect of "I'll always take care of her."

Thank God for sensible boyfriends and the God-sanctioned right to choose that wonderful guy!

Sara said…

Amazing post…loved it.

Floppyjoe said…

Remember Von 1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

Part a "Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord:"

and remember the account of Ruth in the old testament. Her mother asked her to go ask Boaz to marry her. She agreed to do this so it is not out of the question for a woman to show interest in a man to that end.

Eric said…

Abigail, very true. I'm glad that came across so well in the post!

The Cult Next Door, what wonderful news! That makes me very happy both as a Jesus-follower and as a hopeless romantic.

Sara, thanks!

Floppyjoe, excellent additions. The betrothal doctrine requires a very superficial and selective reading of Scripture; there's even more against it than I had space for!

Ali said…

Eric – great investigation and very insightful. Thank you!

Floppyjoe – great additional points using scripture I Cor. 7:25 – wow! Loved the example of Ruth pursing > so fun that God included that in scripture I had not ever considered how that scripture doesn't fit into their 'doctrine' but, there it is in God's word!

~ Ali

Anonymous said…

And those of us who have zero interest in getting married at all!

Miss. Pen and Paper said…

You know I discovered the concept of betrothal a couple of years ago, and actually like the idea of it, as I do think there are some major flaws with our current system of dating. Have you ever heard any positive accounts of betrothal or were they always involving controlling parents? I like the idea of betrothal as a means of guarding the hearts of singles, but I don't agree with parents forcing their teenage or adult children to marriage a particular person or forbidding them from marrying someone. Have you ever seen a version of betrothal that takes the good and leaves the bad?

Eric said…

Miss. Pen and Paper: No, I haven't at all, and I'm pretty skeptical of the possibility of seeing one. (Perhaps some other readers will chime in with their experiences?)

As I see it, the biggest problems with betrothal are inherent parts of the system–e.g., somebody else having "authority" to determine who you'll spend the rest of your life with. Take that away and you've also taken away "betrothal."

The verse in Proverbs you allude to is actually a point against betrothal: It says "Guard your heart," not "Let somebody else guard your heart for you." (Of course, "heart" in Hebrew covers a whole lot more than romance, so that's slightly flawed either way.)

Granted that "our current system of dating" has lots of potential problems of its own. But to think that this is an argument for betrothal is to commit what Sir Humphrey Appleby* called the Politician's Fallacy: "We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it."

The best way to go about finding a spouse, as I alluded at the end of the article, is not to follow a given method or technique but to learn to seek and trust God's wisdom and guidance for your life. Nobody else can have faith for you.

Hope that helps!

*(From Yes Prime Minister, if you're ever in the mood for some spectacular British comedy.)

von said…

It would be difficult for Eric to know of such a case since he, by definition, rejects that Betrothal can be good.

I, on the other hand, know of betrothals that went well, including a good friend of mine, expecting their first soon.

Vaughn Ohlman
Author: The Covenant of Betrothal

Hillary said…

Von, with respect, please do not use this site to promote your views and your book. For the most part, readers here are already familiar with conservative positions like yours and QD exists for those who have been hurt by them, who question them, and for encouragement. While we don't avoid dissenting comments or ideas, this is not the platform for debate or dismissive replies towards those who have taken time to answer your comments. We do take truth seriously and seek to be godly and balanced in all material presented here…but there will always be something others will disagree with and that's okay. What isn't okay is persistent trolling and unfortunately your comments are coming close to that. You have taken the initiative to address these things on your own site. We all have things we believe God has called us to do and seek to obey Him in this. Please refrain from promoting your counter-arguments here; unfortunately it comes across as disrespectful of those who have not experienced such success in this issue as you have.

Rachel said…

Oh, such power in these words! Such such mighty power! I will be passing this along through my Facebook and through my other networks…so much of what you say speaks to the parts of me that were raised in this way, and breaks me down to the point of intense sorrow and relief, all at once.

Bless you!

Steve Scott said…

Eric,

"They forbid people to marry"

I think this applies to those who hold false divorce and remarriage doctrines too. It's amazing the level people will stoop to in their treatment of somebody whose adulterous spouse divorced them before they even became a Christian.

Eric said…

Rachel, very few things could make my heart happier than reading that. Thank you so much for letting me know!

Scott, very interesting. I hadn't thought about it quite that way, but I think you're on to something. Certainly the oppressive view of authority and authoritarianism and control is at the root of a lot of religious abuses.

Revenwyn said…

I was almost to be forced into a betrothal even while I was engaged to someone else. Neither of us were really financially ready to marry (he didn't have a job and I of course wasn't allowed to work) but we became homeless to do so because marrying a man I didn't love was out of the question!

Anonymous said…

You're an idiot. This was poorly written and so many of the verses were taken out of context. You should be ashamed of yourself for twisting the holy scriputre to say what you want it to. That's pretty much all I have to say.

Eric said…

I'm sorry you feel that way, Anonymous. Your ungracious words and insults speak volumes. Scripture says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up." (Ephesians 4:29)

Anonymous said…

Eric, sadly I anticipated a response like that, and I don’t think you are taking your offense seriously. You just cannot make the Bible say anything you want it to, that’s wrong on many different levels. When you quote scripture, you have to take it in context. That means there is an overall message that is being portrayed that isn’t necessarily stated in just a verse or two (or even half a verse, which you did). You have to look at the big picture; otherwise we can literally make the Bible say anything we want. According to Peter, “As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:14) In case you don’t understand what that scripture is saying, it means that if you misuse scripture (referring to Paul’s writings first, then saying all other scriptures, as well) it will lead to your own demise.

I realize that you are trying to provide a service to the website, but there just is no sound Biblical proof for these arguments that you are constructing. I have, effectively, ripped apart your entire argument from the seams, and I will even give you a couple examples.

You try to show that the Bible “clearly” states that all females should have the choice of whom they marry. Unfortunately (for you), your first example (Numbers 27) is talking about what to do with inheritance of a father that only has daughters. This means that the father died, without his daughters getting married (which is the issue of Numbers 36:6). This goes directly against your argument because they let the daughters choose whom to marry because their father passed away. Otherwise they would not have had the option. They even went to Moses (an authority) to ask what they should do in this extreme situation. So you cannot just twist the scripture to make it work for everyone’s situation when it is a specific instance.

However, you did it twice. Another quote you misused was Corinthians 7:39b. I found it interesting you used only half of the verse, when looking up the other half of it, the reason you did so became clear. The whole verse is as follows:

“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (Corinthians 7:39)

Eric, this is talking about a widow. Read the whole verse! Not your everyday girl that is upset because her father doesn’t want her to date a guy. At this point it seems you are being deceptive. There is a passage from Acts of the Apostles that comes to mind; “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30) In case you cannot interpret that, it is saying that we should be aware of false teachers that twist words and try to draw us to their way of thinking. That accurately describes what you are doing by posting this to the public.

Those are just two examples of how your argument doesn’t work because you didn’t bother looking at the big picture of the verses. If you think your other “scripture based arguments” work, think again. I would put everything on here, but it would be too long, so do not bother coming back with, “What about this? What about that?” As long as it is from your original argument it has already be torn apart.

I would like to see you take that post off the Internet because you are misleading the flock, and presenting yourself as a false teacher. I know your intentions seem noble, but some of the worst things can happen with the best intentions. Take this as a message from someone trying to get you back on the right path. Stop misleading and be sure you know how to follow correctly before trying to lead again.

von said…

Some interesting points, Anon… altho I would agree with Eric that your original post was not exactly a Christian thesis.

You might also want to note that Eric's preferred version actually uses the word 'Betrothed' (which Eric calls 'Bondage') several times in the same passage:
1 Corinthians 7:25
[ The Unmarried and the Widowed ] Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 7:24-26 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
1 Corinthians 7:28
But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
1 Corinthians 7:27-29 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
1 Corinthians 7:34
and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
1 Corinthians 7:33-35 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
1 Corinthians 7:36
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.
1 Corinthians 7:35-37 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
1 Corinthians 7:37
But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
1 Corinthians 7:36-38 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 7 (Whole Chapter)
1 Corinthians 7:38
So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

Copy courtesy of Bible Gateway
(Interestingly for me, my own preferred version, the KJV, does not use the word 'betrothed' here, and I would disagree with many of the ways it is used… being interpretations not translations. But Eric chose to use this version, he really should explain the various uses of the word; or repudiate them.)

von said…

Hilary wrote:
For the most part, readers here are already familiar with conservative positions like yours

Actually, not, Hilary. Reading through this site the positions that readers here are familiar with are very, very different than mine.

Indeed I am reminded of Presbyterians who argue for infant baptism using the 'covenant' argument who have, apparently, never heard of reformed baptists.

Eric said…

Anonymous, if you anticipated a response like that, then you should not have used insulting language. "You're an idiot" does not constitute a rebuttal of any argument. In fact, Jesus specifically forbids such verbal abuse, in Matthew 5:22–"Anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

I completely agree with you that we should examine Scripture in context. That's why I explained the context of Numbers 27 and 36 in my article and provided reference links to more detailed studies. Your rebuke is rather tellingly misdirected.

For your argument to be valid, you would have to show an equivalent passage of Scripture that says, "Except for these specific cases as mentioned, the Lord says that an earthly father must always have control over his adult children's marriages." I'll save you some time: the Lord does not make any such directions. As I wrote above, the only Scriptures about arranged marriage are historical descriptions of cultural practices, unlike Numbers 27 and 36 which record what the Lord said directly on the subject.

The context of the passage in 1 Cor. 7 in fact shows the opposite. The verse about widows is the only place in the chapter that mentions anyone deciding who any unmarried person should marry. The context, which I outlined in the article, makes it clear that an unmarried Christian woman, widow or otherwise, is responsible directly to God, not to her father: "The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." (1 Cor. 7:32, KJV.) A married woman is concerned with pleasing her husband; an unmarried woman is concerned with pleasing the Lord. If the betrothal doctrine was true, the Scripture should have said, "The unmarried woman careth for the things of her father." It doesn't. Thus, the context of the verses you mention supports the fact that betrothal is an unbiblical doctrine, read into Scripture without any textual warrant.

I appreciate your desire to see Scripture handled correctly, which I share. But I submit that by trying to argue in favor of this false, perverse, and unbiblical doctrine of betrothal, you are guilty of putting words in God's mouth, "preaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

von said…

I'll save you some time: the Lord does not make any such directions.

Oh, now this is seriously funny. The Lord gives these directions all over the place. You ignore them, skip over them, attempt to explain them away… but they are all over Scripture.

Just one, small, partial, off the cuff example. If all the daughters of Israel were free to marry whoever they wished, then why would their fathers vow have mattered?
Jdg 21:7 How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the LORD that we will not give them of our daughters to wives?

Here we have the med of Israel bemoaning the fact that the Benjaminites could have no wives, because the other fathers had vowed that they would not 'give them of our daughters to wives.'

Oh, seriously. Scripture is clear on this issue, from beginning to end. It is very, very clear.

Eric said…

Von, I didn't quote any of those verses from the ESV because I agree with you that "betrothed" is a mistranslation on their part. The Greek word is parthenos, which simply means "virgin," or by extension any unmarried woman. If anything, your observation supports my position that "betrothed" is an eisegetical interpretation, not warranted by the text. If you think that's a problem with the ESV, take it up with the ESV translators, not me!

I'm astounded that you appealed to Judges 21, which is specifically presented as a record of sinful men who "did what was was right in their own eyes" (v. 25), not in any way a commandment of the Lord. In that chapter, the Benjaminites go on to massacre an entire village and kidnap innocent women to get wives for their sons. Do you seriously think this is meant to be something for Christians to follow? Out-of-context absurdities like that are exactly why I'm convinced that Scripture doesn't support your view of betrothal!

You've repeatedly made your positions quite clear, even in spite of warnings that you're violating this site's comment policy and disrespecting its readers. I see no reason that any of your interpretations should in any way alter the substance of my article. It's time for you to accept the fact that you simply don't have a receptive audience here. Please move on and leave us in peace.

von said…

So, first you say you are 'astounded' at something I say and then you wish me to just 'go away'? An interesting debating tactic, surely. And some of your readers (Anon, for example) seem more interested in others.

Assuming I am not responded to, I will sign off with this, then: Scripture is clear, from the beginning to the end (and all the parts in the middle) that the authority to 'take wives for sons' and 'give daughters in marriage' belongs to the parent, or authority, of the young, unmarried man or woman. From Adam to Christ and all the marriages in between, Scripture shows this clearly.

The current Greco Roman notion of pre-covenantal 'romance' is a violation of Scriptural injunction and has had its predictable result in our cultures.

Eric said…

Von, you're wrong, for the Scriptural reasons I've repeatedly shown. Further comments reiterating your unfounded views to an unsympathetic audience are neither necessary nor welcome.