Betrothal: An Ancient Custom in Modern America

Most people would agree that times are changing and they are changing fast. The world is spinning faster and faster as the technology gets faster and more incredible. Some people embrace the change and all that goes with it and others do not embrace quite as much. Some people in America see these changes as disappointing because we are moving away from a life that was slow and sacred. These people, primarily Conservative Christians, particularly want to protect the sanctity of marriage and all that leads up to it.

The modern construct of dating is viewed by these Conservative Christians as broken. It gives the people in the relationships permission to engage in sexual relations and emotional attachments that will back fire in the future. And then when it comes time to marry the right person there is baggage brought into the marriage from all the previous relationships. It is said that every time someone kisses (or more) or gives part of his/her heart in a dating relationship it stays there and you end up giving only what is left when you marry. For all these reasons, more and more Christians are running from the modern idea of dating.

Courtship has been taking the Conservative Christian church by storm. Many teens have read the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris or Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot and have relinquished more control over their relationships to their parents and God. In general, courtship is a more Conservative form of dating. It is often done under the guidance of both sets of parents as the families determine if the courting couple is right for marriage. It is a interim time between being friends and engagement. There is usually minimal physical contact so as to save the purity of each other for the marriage bed.

For many, courtship is the answer to the loose nature of dating. But, for some modern courtship is still not enough and has its own set of problems. At least in dating there are no major expectations and probably less emotional commitment. Courtship, however, has the intention of moving towards marriage. If something happens a trust has been broken and probably a heart as well.

Betrothal is the answer for these Christians who shun dating and courtships as means for finding future mates. What is betrothal? Betrothal is basically engagement to marry. There is no period of courtship. A young couple will know each other as friends and will then enter a betrothal agreement that will eventually lead to a marriage ceremony. Proponents of Betrothal do not agree on all the details but there are three key features to betrothal.

Parental Involvement

When a young man has prayerfully considered who he will marry and he finds a young girl he discerns to be the one God wants him to marry he will present the find to his parents. At which point the parents will proceed to prayerfully consider this girl as well. They will offer their wisdom in the process. If the young man’s parents agree that this girl is correct the man will present himself to the girl’s father in private. In betrothal he is basically asking for her hand in marriage. He is pledging his love and loyalty to the girl for as long as they live. If the girl’s father agrees they proceed with the betrothal process by presenting the idea to the girl. She has the right to accept or deny the request. If, however, the father rejects the young man’s request the young man is to leave and move on in his life. The young girl should never hear of the proposal. The parents are front and center throughout this process of two young people coming together for marriage. The parent’s wisdom is sought and trusted. The ultimate decision to marry, however, remains with the young people.

Timing of Romance and Emotional Involvement

Proponents of courtship and betrothal agree that there is be concern about emotional purity. The ideal situation is to never give yourself over emotionally to anyone other than your spouse. That way you can offer a heart that is ‘whole.’ The differences occur with when it is proper to allow your heart to be given to a prospective mate. People who espouse to betrothal believe that courtship is no better than dating because the couple are allowed to become emotionally involved before a real commitment is made. That allows for pain and disappointment if the relationship is broken off. Couples who seek betrothal do not allow for emotional involvement until the betrothal or engagement is done. This is done by the young man not seeking any romance with the young lady until an arrangement is made. It is then that the young man can work with the ladies father to “win her heart.” Once in the betrothal arrangement emotions are allowed to bond to the other.

Physical Contact

Everyone in the courtship and betrothal camps would agree on the concern about physical temptation. Betrothal adherents are the most strict in that most do not approve of any physical contact until the betrothal ceremony or marriage ceremony. Many people who were betrothed and married never touched or kissed until they met at the wedding altar. Some are allowed to hold hands once betrothed or engaged. Such a decision is usually made by the father of the girl and is based on his assessment of their maturity and ability to remain physically pure. Physical temptation is to be avoided at all costs and for some the best way to avoid it is to not touch at all.

Betrothal is a reaction to modern dating that is growing in modern America. It is an ancient custom that has been reinterpreted for our times now. More people are looking to the past for answers to their confusion and betrothal is just one of the answers they are finding.


Biblical Betrothal
Approaches to Courtship/Betrothal, Unless The Lord Magazine