Who Leads the Courtship?

Dear Pastor Lawyer,

As Christ speaks to the disciples in John 14:1-4, we get the sense of the Jewish marriage tradition inferred throughout the “marriage parables” of the gospels—predominantly the unknown hour of the bridegroom’s return. Your definition of courtship was that the father of the young lady was actively and authoritatively engaged in the process. In fact, one could say the father of the bride really holds the majority vote.

Yet, in John 14:1-4, and building on the inferred Jewish tradition, such as Edersheim describes in Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, it is not the father of the bride, but the father of the groom who directs the major movements. He is the one who determines the house his son is completing is satisfactory for the son to go retrieve his bride—thus the “only the Father knows the hour…” passage (Matthew 24:36) found in the Olivet Discourse.

In many places in the Bible we see Christ speaking of the Father as directing the Son to get His bride, but in courtship nowadays we confer controlling authority to the father of the bride, do we have some of the authority apportionment in courtship misplaced?

Thanks, Bill

This is a good question Bill.

We see the patriarchal organization of the process of marriage all over the Bible just like you do. And thus we think there is nothing wrong with that system in a social context where that system is in place. So we see it as not being sinful to do it that way. But we do not see it as normative.

What we do see as normative is that “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife” (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5). We also see that the father is the head of his household as normative and this would include his daughter because she lives in his house and has his name. Since the father is the head of his household he has the responsibility for making sure his daughter marries a godly and good man.

We also don’t necessarily see these two positions as in conflict with each other. Genesis 24 recounts the story of how Isaac got his wife. Abram sent his servant to his home town and told him to get Isaac a wife. This fits with the pattern you are asking about from the patriarchal view. When the servant got to Haran he went through Rebeckah’s father to have Rebeckah go with him to marry Isaac. This fits what we see as the normative view.

There were lots of other ways people got hooked up in the Bible, but the woman is always her father’s daughter and the man is always the man. We don’t have any problem imagining that in a godly family the son would pay very careful attention to what his father says about marriage generally and specifically (e.g. setting up house, preparing a career, childraising, etc.), but when the Bible specifically says a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, that means that a father should probably be raising his son in such a way that he will be prepared to leave when he wants to get married. In a godly context I can’t imagine a wise son ignoring or not asking for his father’s input, but the view that the son needs to go through his father in the same way that a son needs to go through the woman’s father is not normative—simply allowed.

In a nutshell I would say that the father of the young man should be training his son to be a good husband and be a part of his choice of a wife, as wisdom will allow, and he should train the young man to be a man and prepare him to leave home when he is ready to find a wife. The young woman’s father should be training his daughter to be a good wife some day and should be intimately involved in the process of picking a husband for her. His activity in her marriage should be, in a Biblically normative way, something that she expects and loves. The two positions are not necessarily exclusive of one another and should work very well together.

I hope this helps.

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