To Betroth or not to Betroth: A Response to Michael Pearl Part II

Mr. Pearl’s article against betrothal continues later in a more positive note. He says:

The modern concept of betrothal is a long overdue swing of the pendulum away from the licentious practice of recreational dating. The liberties taken by “Christian” couples in the modern dating game would have been viewed as philandering or immoral in former generations.

Most “Christian” young people are “damaged goods.” Church youth groups are hotbeds of immorality. And I am not limiting my evaluation just to those that have copulated. Would you buy a candy bar that had not been eaten, but the wrapper had been partially removed? What if it had not been handled, just displayed in a partially unwrapped condition? Would you buy the candy bar if it had not been eaten, but just licked? After all, licking by one or more persons would leave the proud, new owner plenty of candy bar to take home for his own.

Let me ask you another question. If you saw your preacher walking through the mall, holding hands and rubbing up against a lady that was not his wife, would you call it sin? Suppose they didn’t “go too far?” Suppose your preacher just needs companionship on the weekend, and likes to spend time with the opposite gender, but is careful to not “go all the way.” Does that make it OK? You say, “But my preacher is married.” What if his wife died, and he was lonely and needed a social life. Would you then approve of his “going out” with girlfriends? I have shocked you haven’t I?

Here he accepts the concept that is known elsewhere as ‘defrauding’, calling it ‘damaged goods’ (an excellent metaphor, lacking in Scriptural language but excellent in metaphoric force). It is inappropriate, before or after marriage, to treat anyone in a way that is only appropriate to treat ones wife. His example with the preacher is a vivid demonstration of this. Persons of my denomination will have to substitute the word ‘elder’ in their mind.

Image: By George Sheridan Knowles (1863-1921) (Bonhams) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However he does leave out the mental aspect. He does not enter into the question (so vital in distinguishing between betrothal and courtship) of whether this concept of ‘damaged goods’ applies to the mind as well as to the body. Is it appropriate for the elder to ‘think about’ someone not his wife as his wife? Even leaving aside Song of Solomon issues, is it appropriate for him to ‘wife swap’ in his head… to think about someone else cooking his meals, cleaning his clothes, training his children? Nothing physical is mentioned in Proverbs 31, would it be appropriate for our elder to think about other wives and how they might do… for him… in accomplishing Prov 31 tasks?

He does not answer this question. And yet, assuming he has read widely (as he says he has in the article) on betrothal, then surely he knows that this is a vital question in determining between the principles of betrothal and courtship (or dating). Surely he knows that one objection to courtship is that the couple is encouraged to think about/wonder about each other from a ‘spousal’ perspective *before* they are bound in covenantal committment.

Ironically, in an earlier passage he states, “Gabriel was, and remains, her first and only boy friend and lover. That is as it should be.” Yet in denying the covenential nature of betrothal, he denies the only structure (that I know of) that promotes this (besides being the structure given in Scripture, but we will get to that later).

Written by: Vaughn Ohlman

Approved by: Jeff Woodward

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