Parents today claim they face issues that earlier generations did not have to deal with. Consider the plight of parents who desire their daughters to dress in a modest, God-honoring fashion to preserve their virtue in preparation for covenantal marriage, only to be silenced because the children of pastors and elders sport tattoos, body piercings, and revealing and/or provocative clothing without comment or correction from their Christian parents. Or, the dilemma of a Christian homeschooling mom when she discovers that her preadolescent son has been exploring hard-core pornography websites, only to be told that, “Boys will be boys.”
Christians have been conditioned to make our message conform to Madison Avenue dogmas and doctrines. The modern church has taken its lead from advertising and marketing firms, believing this is the way to bring more people to Christ. By adopting the Madison Avenue approach to the Great Commission and evangelistic endeavors, the church has become more concerned with how it is viewed than the message it has been commissioned to preach.
The church cannot effectively address the important issues of our day because the law of God has been all but eradicated from Christian preaching. Instead of proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord,” we have focus groups, seeker surveys, psychological profiling, and a myriad of humanistic approaches to draw people in. Sad to say, modern congregations appear more like the studio audiences of an Oprah Winfrey or Dr. Phil program than a vibrant, God-honoring army.
We live in treacherous times. In the midst of this chaos, we have professing Christians who are more concerned about not offending the enemies of God than faithfully proclaiming the Word of God. The church has diluted the Great Commission by soft peddling the do’s and don’ts of a holy life because it no longer views God’s law as a light for the path and a lamp for the feet of the children of God.
But how can Christians preach the law if they have not embraced the law? How can they embrace it, if they have been taught that the law is no longer relevant? If the law is no longer relevant, why should anyone bother with going to church or paying for a Christian education for his or her children? Moreover, if the Word is not faithfully and completely preached on Sunday, or taught throughout the curriculum Monday through Friday, why should anyone be surprised by our current societal malaise? Illegitimacy, sexual promiscuity, and an ever-increasing population of sexual predators all stem from an abandonment of God’s laws concerning sexual purity.
As Rushdoony points out, the law of God is a line in the sand. On one side, you have that which is pleasing to God. On the other, that which He disdains:
Every biblical law is concerned with holiness. All law creates a line of division, a separation between law-abiding and the law-breaking peoples. Without law, there can be no separation. The modern antipathy to and open hatred of law is a hatred of holiness. It is an attempt to destroy the line of separation between good and evil by abolition of law. However, because God is holy, law is written into the structure of all being; law cannot be abolished: it can only be enforced, if not by man, surely by God.1
From the time my children were little (about seven to nine years old), I instructed them using the book of Proverbs as a commentary on God’s law. We would go through the book chapter by chapter, sometimes only dealing with a few verses at a time. (I used to joke to my husband that in the process I was giving a sex education class to the children.) In Proverbs, codes of sexual conduct consistent with Biblical law are praised and encouraged, and those antithetical are denounced. Subjects like sexual enticement, falling prey to adultery (treason against the family), the dire consequences to health and happiness for failure to listen to one’s parents (incorrigibility) are all laid out. Note that I instructed my children before they reached puberty and had hormonal issues and societal pressures to deal with. They were instructed that sexual activity was reserved for covenantal marriage and in that context was a great blessing of God. Because my husband and I were students of the Bible from a Reconstructionist perspective, we delivered our words with conviction and certainty.
Our children learned that on one side of the line you were an in-law and on the other you were an out-law. They knew that, in our household, we took God’s law as law and that we wanted our family to live as trees planted by rivers of waters (Psalm 1), rather than have our feet firmly planted in mid-air.2
I’ve talked with many Christian parents who are reluctant to “come down too hard” on their children’s dress or questionable viewing habits (magazines, video games, cable shows, etc.), afraid that they will alienate them if they do. However, they also complain that their children are already becoming alienated. Is it any wonder that the same “issues” that cause conflicts in a non-Christian home cause conflict in Christian families when Christians fail to know, apply, and teach God’s laws? Telling young people that they should be holy and avoid sexual temptation, without highlighting, teaching, modeling, and enforcing the law of God, leaves those desirous of pleasing God in neutral gear.
How are they to be righteous when the standard for righteousness is neglected? Young listeners are fed a feel-good morality message by adults who are feverishly attempting to convince them that church is cooler than sex. As a result, many churches are paralyzed when dealing with the issue of modesty among its young women. Not wanting to step on the toes of a “babe in Christ” or risk being considered offensive, uncool, or prudish, the church remains silent regarding indecent apparel. Because the law of God is neglected, Christians are subjected to contaminating barrages from the secular world without any defense while the church congratulates itself for being tolerant and forbearing. Is it any surprise that “good girls” of the church dress like their peers in the culture?
Sexual conduct of church members often parallels that of the culture because the Biblical perspective of marriage and family has vanished from the pulpit and the home. Most today would say the basis of marriage (should one decide to go beyond cohabitation) is romantic love and compatibility. We have lost understanding of the jurisdiction God gives to the Biblical trustee family3 as the primary institution established for godly dominion. Thus, factors that are prerequisites for covenantal marriage (virginity, dowry, parental approval) are downplayed or ignored as historical antiques.
When most consider the dowry, scenes from Fiddler on the Roof come to mind with a father selling his daughters in order to get them married. This model is a total opposite of the Biblical principle. Rushdoony comments:
The European dowry is a reversal of the Biblical principle: the girl’s father provides it as a gift to the groom. This had led to an unhealthy situation with respect of marriage and the family. Girls become, in such a system, a liability. In the 14th and 15th century Italy, “Fathers came to dread the birth of a girl-child, in view of the large dowry they would have to provide for her, and every year the prices in the marriage-market rose.” This led to a virtual destruction of the family, whereas the Biblical dowry strengthened the family. The groom wanted the highest price before accepting a girl, and the father shopped for someone who would not bankrupt him by his demands.4
By contrast, the Biblical dowry system elevated the status of a woman as one for whom a man would lay down his life. Again, Rushdoony’s comments are insightful:
The dowry was an important part of marriage. We meet it first in Jacob, who worked seven years for Laban to earn a dowry for Rachel (Gen. 29:18). The pay for this service belonged to the bride as her dowry, and Rachel and Leah could indignantly speak of themselves as having been “sold” by their father, because he had withheld from them their dowry (Gen. 31:14–15). It was the family capital; it represented the wife’s security, in case of divorce where the husband was at fault. If she were at fault, she forfeited it. She could not alienate it from her children. There are indications that the normal dowry was about three years’ wages. The dowry thus represented funds provided by the father of the groom, or by the groom through work, used to further the economic life of the new family. The dowry was thus the father’s blessing on his son’s marriage, or a test of the young man’s character.5
This system worked to include the family of the bride and the family of the groom. Rushdoony makes an interesting point:
The Hebrew word for bridegroom means “the circumcised,” the Hebrew word for father-in-law means he who performed the operation of circumcision, and the Hebrew word for mother-in-law is similar. This obviously had no reference to the actual physical rite, since Hebrew males were circumcised on the eighth day. What it meant was that the father-in-law ensured the fact of spiritual circumcision, as did the mother-in-law, by making sure of the covenantal status of the groom. It was their duty to prevent a mixed marriage. A man could only marry their daughter, and become a bridegroom, only when clearly a man under God.6
Since the woman’s parents were to secure a godly husband for her, they had to be equally certain that their daughter was a godly match. Ensuring that their daughter was pure was of utmost necessity in being able to negotiate a good match, for the Bible established a greater provision for a virgin than for a woman who was not.
With so much at stake, a father would be foolish to allow a daughter to do anything that would impugn her reputation or status as a virgin. Dressing with pronounced cleavage or with a bare midriff would be indicative of impurity or one heading in that direction. In today’s culture, fathers have abandoned their Biblical trustee role and allowed their daughters to look more like whores in training than pure, godly women.
However, reputation and outward appearance were not sufficient. God has placed within a woman’s body evidence of her sexual purity in the form of a membrane called the hymen. A woman’s first sexual encounter is accompanied by a flow of blood when this membrane is ruptured. Thus, a woman’s tokens of virginity7 would be the evidence that she was a virgin and rightly merited the dowry for a virgin. Biblical law outlines what recourse a man had if he discovered he had been misled on his wedding night and the recourse if a false accusation was rendered by the husband about his wife.
- If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
- And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
- Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
- And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
- And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
- And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
- And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
- But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
- Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you. (Deut. 22:13–21)
Rushdoony comments on this text:
This is not a popular text with feminists because it so clearly gives priority to the family and to the parents. The father in particular is seen as centrally important, and the matter of honor is stressed.
The seriousness of the matter is seen by the fine cited (v. 19) … This fine of 100 shekels of silver was virtual confiscation of an estate. (A shekel was a weight of silver, not a coin.) Obviously, the honor of a family and its daughter could not be lightly impugned. This was not the only penalty. The husband making a false accusation was also to be chastised or beaten (v. 18). To question the honor of a family and its daughter was not something done casually or frequently. The man making the false accusation was not killed because he had to support the wife whose honor he had questioned.8
Thus, the reputation of a woman was so highly valued that slandering her brought severe consequences to her husband. Rushdoony notes that the penalty was twice as severe as the fine for seduction in verses 28–29. How tragic it is that today women view themselves so cheaply that they slander themselves by their dress and demeanor.
Today the dating activities of most young people fly in the face of the Biblical safeguards for loss of virtue. Chaperoning and family-integrated activities are deemed remnants of an older, primitive era. Thus, accusations of rape are often difficult to prove when a woman has a history of fornication. However, most would be surprised to discover that Biblical law covers that subject as well.
- If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
- Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
- But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
- But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter:
- For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her. (Deut. 22:23–27)
Contrary to modern “wisdom,” a woman is directed by Scripture to resist vigorously the attacks of a rapist or risk being considered to have consented to the rape.9 This would do much to eradicate instances of women attempting to cover up their fornications with charges of rape, not to mention to encourage fathers to be more aware of the activities of their daughters.
Additionally, Exodus 22:16–17 covers the case of seduction:
- 1And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
- If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
Rushdoony explains that this case,
… has to do with the seduction of an unbetrothed virgin. In Deuteronomy 22:25–29, we have the law of rape, but in this instance the word used is “entice.” Although the girl participates in the act, the responsibility still rests primarily on the male. In Biblical law, the greater the responsibility the greater the culpability.
Without any qualification whatsoever, the guilty man must pay the virgin “the dowry of virgins.” The amount is not specified here, but in Deuteronomy 22:29 we are given the amount, fifty shekels of silver, a very large amount in those days.
This dowry is to be paid whether or not he marries the girl. Seduction was thus too costly to be commonplace in times when the law was kept.
Whether or not a marriage followed depended on the girl’s father. If he “utterly refused” the man as a son-in-law, the dowry still went to the girl. Since a subsequent suitor also paid some kind of dowry, the girl went into her marriage well endowed.
This law stresses the priority of the father over both his daughter and her possible husband. It was his duty to protect his daughter and to ensure a good marriage for her.10
Today, many young men explore the “realities” of sex by pornographic magazines or websites and through television and movies that are all-too-readily available. If discovered by parents, it is often the mother who is shocked and the father who is mildly concerned. After all, isn’t this just what boys do? If the law of God were preached and applied faithfully, there would be no such casual response. If a father truly understood that if his son were to violate a willing virgin that his son would owe the dowry (customarily in the neighborhood of three years’ wages) and might not even then be allowed to marry her, the father might be much less willing to see his son get sexually aroused at too early a stage.11
You will not find any teaching in the New Testament that overturns these laws regarding sexual relations. The answer to the promiscuity of young people, rampant illegitimacy, murders of thousands of unborn children, and prevalent sexual perversions is faithfulness to God’s law. It is high time Christian fathers reclaim their Biblically ordained jurisdiction and responsibility and once again embrace the trusteeship given them by God.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, “Holiness and the Law,” in Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 88.
2. This phrasing taken from the title of Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl’s book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.
3. Andrea Schwartz, “The Biblical Trustee Family,” Faith for All of Life, Nov.-Dec. 2007.
4. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 177.
5. Ibid., 176–177.
6. Ibid., 344.
7. The parents kept these tokens for the very purpose of being able to refute a false accusation against their daughter. The 1983 movie Yentl, although difficult to watch in almost every way, includes a scene where the main character (a woman pretending to be a man in order to learn the Talmud) somehow agrees to marry and intentionally drips wine on the bedsheets on the wedding night to produce tokens of virginity.
8. R. J. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008), 332.
9. Note that Roe v. Wade highlighted the circumstance of “Jane Roe” as the victim of rape resulting in pregnancy, when in actuality Norma McCorvey later admitted that she had not been raped, but was encouraged to say so in order to bring a test case to the Supreme Court. In addition, the case of the charges brought against students at Duke University also proved to be false, unsubstantiated rape charges.
10. R. J. Rushdoony, Exodus (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004), 315.
The subsequent suitor referred to in the second paragraph above would be advised that he was not marrying a virgin, and thus, the required dowry amount he would need to pay would be less, chastity being a valued trait in a prospective bride. Rather than a “damaged goods” mentality, it pointed to the fact that this person had failed to demonstrate good judgment in the past and that reality followed her into a marriage. Therefore, rather than being better endowed than a woman who remained pure until marriage, this sum of money was there to help the foolish girl. It was far from a reward.
11. Pornography has so many ramifications. In his book, Noble Savages: Exposing the Worldview of Pornographers and Their War Against Christian Civilization, R. J. Rushdoony demonstrates that in order for modern man to justify his perversion, he must reject the Biblical doctrine of the fall of man. If there is no fall, then it follows that all that man does is normative. This is the philosophy behind pornography.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].