This is a guest post by Mac
Well, as promised, I will look at Scott Croft’s principles for biblical dating and see just how “biblical” they really are, especially with a scholarly look at them. Here’s the link to the introduction to the Biblical Dating series for you to follow along.
So, after a few introductory comments about how important dating is in our culture, he then outlines the main questions that he will be dealing with. “So, is there such a thing as biblical dating? If so, what is it? How can Christians think differently about this pervasive issue in media and culture? How are we doing so far?” My answer to the first question is “no,” but we’ll get back to that later. Croft starts out by answering the last question, which is that we are not doing well. I would like to point out that I agree with him that divorce is a big problem, sex before marriage is probably something that should not happen and living together before marriage is probably not a good idea (although there are exceptions to that last one).
However, Croft’s big talking point here is the lament that Christians are adopting the patterns of the broader secular culture when it comes to dating and that therein lies the root of our problem. He believes that the biblical approach is to adopt a different practice of dating from the rest of the world. William Countryman would disagree with that statement. “The New Testament writers did not try to construct a new sexual ethic from the ground up. They took over the existing cultural patterns and refocused them, pushing some elements from the center to the periphery, altering the balance of powers allotted to various members of society, and, most important, relativising the familiar life of this world by subordinating it to the reign of God.” The biblical command to be separate from the world does not mean that we need to construct our own model of dating from the ground up, or even go back to the old betrothal model, but that the way we conduct our lives, including dating, ought to be subordinated to the Kingdom of God.
Nevertheless, Croft believes that the Bible gives clear guidelines as to how we are to conduct dating in the twenty-first century. This certainty is a result of his interpretation of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Now, I myself am a Protestant, and therefore believe in the sufficiency of the message of Scripture (i.e. that we are saved by grace) to make us wise unto salvation. I also believe in the power of Scripture to speak to us today. However, I do not believe that Scripture can talk about things that could not enter into the minds of its authors. For example, as the Scriptures were written in Roman occupied territory (i.e. in the context of Empire) it would be absurd to expect the Scriptures to give us instruction on how to vote in a democracy. The dating issue is similar in that dating did not exist in Biblical times. Marriages were arranged and often the couple would not see each other until their wedding day. Moreover, these marriages were not sparked by romantic love, but by a business transaction, usually between two men, as women and children were considered property.
The belief that the Bible must speak to dating in order to be “sufficient” leads Croft into some really messed up ideas when it comes to what Biblical dating should look like. He thinks that Christian dating should start with the man going through the woman’s father (although, he qualifies this with a maybe), be a relationship approved by the woman’s family and church (note the near absolute power of the pastor in this scheme), and have marriage as the goal (often ending in marriage within a year). To support this view of dating he marshals a few Scripture passages together as well as his own interpretation, most of these I agree with (although his interpretation of Song of Songs largely depends on whether or not you think Solomon was married to this chick or was having an affair with her) but fail to see how they support his version of dating (yes, I take sexual immorality seriously, but I don’t see how doing that demands this system). One thing that upsets me is his application of 1 Timothy 5:1-2 which says that we (men) are to treat all younger Christian women as our sisters and older women as our mothers. To apply that literally we would never date at all! We would be forced to either date non-believers (which I’m sure Croft is against) or have the marriages arranged which is what they did in biblical times because that’s what everyone else did, even the pagans!
He then defines (and mocks) modern dating as having beginning with the man or woman initiating with each other (you know, the people who will have to deal with the decision the most), outside the authority of the family or church (I probably would not go to my church if my minister had the nerve to tell me who I could and could not date), and that the goal is recreational or, at “best” (for him), educational. He mocks the fact that there is no Scripture supporting this view, but there is no Scripture supporting his model because dating did not exist back then. He goes on some more but my response to him is the same as above.
In summary, the way our culture goes about finding marriage partners largely leaves the process up to the individual. We meet said person, decide to get to know them through a series of activities known as dates, share our lives together, fall in love, decide to get married, and have kids. That was not the way that the people who lived in the time of the Bible went about it. The guy would see a girl he liked the looks of (i.e. looked like she could produce offspring for him), made a deal with her parents, acquired her as a wife, consummated the relationship, and had kids.
Age most people get married at today: around 22-30.
Age most people married back then: around 16 for boys and around 12 for girls.
Seriously, if you think that you can directly apply the real Biblical model today, you will have a lot of difficulties to overcome.