As a pastor, over the years I had my fair share of people approach me to find out if we were a "courtship" church or a "dating" church. The people invariably would tell me that their approach was "the biblical way." I eventually become leery of such claims given that the Bible does not say much about how to find a wife, or does it? Perhaps you've seen this list floating around the world-wide-web, but it's worth reviewing because it makes a very important point. So here it is, 16 ways to find a wife according to the Bible:
1) Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. (Deut. 21:11-13)
2) “Lay hold on” a virgin who is not betrothed to another man, and "know" her, but afterwards pay her father a sum of money. Then she’s yours. (Deut. 22:28-29)
3) Find a prostitute and marry her. (Hosea 1:1-3)
4) Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock.--Moses (Ex. 2:16-21)
5) Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal.--Boaz (Ruth 4:5-10)
6) Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.--Benjaminites (Judges 21:19-25)
7) Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: this will cost you a rib.--Adam (Gen. 2:19-24)
8) Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That’s right. Fourteen years of toil for a wife.--Jacob (Gen. 29:15-30)
9) Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law’s enemies and get his daughter for a wife.--David (1 Sam. 18:27)
10) Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you’ll definitely find someone.--Cain (Gen. 4:16-17)
11) Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest.--Xerxes or Ahasuerus (Esther 2:3-4)
12) When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, “I have seen a woman; now get her for me.” If your parents question your decision, simply say, “Get her for me. She’s the one for me.”--Samson (Judges 14:1-3)
13) Kill any husband and take HIS wife. (Prepare to lose four sons though.)--David (2 Sam. 11)
14) Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!)--Onan and Boaz (Deut. or Lev., example in Ruth)
15) Don’t be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity.--Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3)
16) A wife?--Paul (1st Corinthians, chapter 7)
Obviously, this list was written with humor in mind, and some of these "ways," are not prescriptive but descriptive of the sinful ways that God's people have conducted themselves in the past--they are in no way exemplary. But this does demonstrate an important point--people often want the Bible to say certain things, such as how to find a spouse and marry, but they ignore portions of Scripture that don't fit their paradigm. The Bible has more to say about arranged marriages, for example, than it does "courtship" or dating. So then, how do we proceed?
We have to realize that the Bible does not speak to every issue we will face in life. Just ask Solomon, who had to use wisdom when the two prostitutes came to him claiming to both be the mother of one child. We must follow those things that God has given us. In all of our relationships we have the obligation to exercise the fruit of the Spirit and not mistreat anyone, that is especially true for a prospective spouse. We also have the clear biblical command that a Christian is free to marry whomever he or she chooses, so long as the prospective mate is "in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7.39). But in the end, choosing a spouse calls for wisdom.
The Bible does not give us a specific means by which we can find spouses. Some might be introduced by family or friends. Some might cultivate a letter-writing relationship (or as we might more commonly find it, e-mail, or some form of social media). In some cultures the thought of dating or courting is out of the question. I once walked in on one of my office mates in grad school--he was a Christian training for the ministry in Japan. He was intently reading a file; it looked like a personnel file. Out of curiousity I asked him what he was reading. He told me it was a file on a young woman that his father had sent him. His family, sight unseen (except for a few photos in the file) was arranging his marriage. I was stunned, but nevetheless made aware that godly Christians don't all do things the same way. I.e., just because it's American and Christians do it doesn't mean its biblical or the only way.
The greater doctrinal point here is that in the pursuit of finding a spouse, we must be mindful two things: (1) that we are mindful of God's revealed will in the moral law--we should not violate it in word, thought, or deed; and (2) Christian liberty--where God has spoken, we are bound, but where he has not spoken we are free. We are not bound by the commandments of men. This means that godly Christians may differ in how they live their lives, but it doesn't mean that one is holier than another because she dates and doesn't court.
We should also note that in its collective history, the church has never addressed the issue in its creeds or confessions about how to find a spouse. Perhaps this should tell us that it is a matter of Christian liberty and that in the end, we should rely on God's grace, wisdom, prayer, and godly counsel rather than make claims that the Bible has never made.