Week 25 in the year of our Lord 2021

Young marriage, generally a bad idea

13 minutes to read

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)

Do you want to be bold?

Confess your sins to God the Father frequently. Nothing weakens a man like a bad conscience.

Young marriage isn’t the solution most people imagine it is. And neither is courtship.

If you think this, you still don’t realize how much things have changed.

Delayed maturity, current economic realities, and disastrously emaciated social structures make young marriage very difficult in most cases—plain reckless in others.

In terms of courtship, most advocates are willfully blind about simple pragmatic issues, like the dangers of trying to lock down a relationship too quickly, and the notable lack of mature and godly fathers—without whom the model simply fails.

We are not against young marriage via courtship, but it requires a certain societal situation. That situation is very rare in the world at the moment.

Moreover, even before the industrial age, marriage was not typically as young as some Christians seem to think. The idea of women being married off at 13 or 14 is largely a myth. For instance, here is some of the data for the median age of marriage, pulled from a few different books:

Date Demographic Men Women
Early 1600s New England 26 Teens
Late 1600s New England 25 20
1600s Pennsylvania Quakers 26 22
1700s Pennsylvania Quakers 26 23
1700s Rural South Carolina 22 19
1700s England 30 25-26

For comparison, here is the U.S. census data showing the median age of marriage for selected years in the more recent past (rounded for ease of reading):

Date Men Women
1900 26 22
1950 23 20
1975 24 21
2000 27 25

The idea that everyone in the past was getting married in their teens is unfounded. The age has varied a lot in various times and places, but in Christendom, for at least the past 500 years, it has seldom been younger than 20 for women.

It is true that in biblical times young marriage was not uncommon. Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament notes, for example, that “After the Exile…it was not expected that boys would marry before the age of eighteen or girls before twelve.” But this is indicating the lowest age range; not what was necessarily normal. There was significant diversity both in views on what was ideal, and in actual practice. Rabbis, in view of Genesis 1:28, typically held the time between puberty and 20 as ideal. Some said 18 was best, others closer to 14. Either way, it was customary to have a year-long betrothal period for virgins, in which the couple were technically married, but not yet consummated—so 15-19 was an accepted range during New Testament times.

However, let’s remember that when we talk about New Testament times we are not talking about anything that God actually mandated in the New Testament. The rabbis, in fact, are the same men that the New Testament refers to as the Scribes and Pharisees—so while it is helpful to understand their views, we should sample them with at least a couple of grains of salt.

In terms of God’s actual word, rather than rabbinical speculation about it, consider the striking counterexamples of the patriarchs. Isaac was 40 when he married. Jacob was somewhere around 80. Even taking the less extreme case here, are we to imagine that Rachel was 14, and that Scripture is thereby endorsing this sort of age disparity? Or was she closer to Isaac’s age, in which case, is Scripture giving us this as a model for delaying marriage?

Presumably neither. Presumably Scripture is illustrating to us that the age of marriage is not actually the most important thing at all, and that thinking in this way is setting up a lot of young people for failure of the most devastating type.

Let us leave behind magic numbers, and move onto wise principles for knowing whether a couple is ready for marriage. Here are five:

  1. Focus on developing the base level of maturity needed for a marriage. To take an analogy which we realize is slightly unfortunate, you are never really ready to go to war, and can only become truly competent by being thrown into it—yet you would not want to be thrown into it without first achieving a baseline of readiness and competence through a boot camp.

  2. Focus on raising debt free sons and daughters with strong minds and valuable skills. Going into marriage with debt is like jumping into the sea with a brick tied to your legs. And marriages are very hard if the couple lacks productive skills. All other things being equal, if you have to choose between excellence in balancing a budget and excellence in algebra, you should choose budgeting every time. The same goes for learning to fix cars or work wood or cook well vs. getting strong grades in pretty much anything. Don’t base your views on “good education” around state education.

  3. Focus on emphasizing parental and community involvement in the lead-up to engagement. This means having wise counselors to guide the couple—especially ones who have proved themselves in marriage, and are shrewd about people. The goal is not to meddle or micro-manage a young couple, but to provide feedback and help keep them out of the ditches.

  4. Focus on playing a part in building a network of godly churches and families, so you can help give your children some spousal options. If you are the kind of man who reads a newsletter like Notes on Manhood, you know that it’s easy to feel alone, and to self-isolate. But that is the opposite of what we need to succeed long-term. Find venues, online and off, where like-minded men are meeting, and start to establish some relationships. Be intentional about cultivating a network that yield a crop in the next generation.

  5. Focus on training your sons and daughters to harness their sexual energy towards productive ends. So much of the young marriage stuff is motivated by parents who think their children can’t overcome lust and stay chaste into their early 20s. But marrying young is not a solution for this. Sex does not cure lust; it merely channels sexual energy licitly. A man who has not learned to control his eyes before marriage, for instance, is not going to do any better after marriage, and is frankly not marriage material. Similarly, a woman who has not learned modesty before marriage will not be cured of her immodesty by marrying. Discipling your children in self-control, and teaching them that sex is an engine of productivity, not just pleasure or reproduction, is critical to long-term success in marriage. The alternative simply sets them up for sexual immorality and divorce. Look at where Josh Harris is now.

In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul says, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments…”

As usual, Calvin’s comments on the passage are helpful. He says Paul is addressing a “vice to which women are almost always prone. That vice is— excessive eagerness and desire to be richly dressed.” Matthew Henry agrees: “Women being more in danger of exceeding in their apparel, it was more necessary to caution them in this respect.”

Everyone knows this is true. Women care deeply about their appearance. That is because they are made to be beautiful. Their concern for beauty is fitting, provided it is regulated by modesty and sobriety. The problem is, as Calvin puts it, that it often gives way to “a desire to make a display either for the sake of pride or of departure from chastity.”

This sin is more pronounced in women. Hence, the Holy Spirit issues this warning directly to women in 1 Timothy 2:9 and in 1 Peter 3:3, calling them to modesty by giving them some example of immodest dress or appearance (braided hair, pearls, gold, expensive clothing). Note that according to the Holy Spirit, hair-styles, jewelry, and clothing can all be vain. His list is representative, not exhaustive. Calvin says, “And hence we ought to derive the rule of moderation; for, since dress is an indifferent matter, (as all outward matters are,) it is difficult to assign a fixed limit, how far we ought to go.”

In other words, determining modest or vain dress requires discernment.

Many modern people have trouble even understanding the concept of modesty. That’s how far gone we are as a society. They think it just means covering up completely. But modesty doesn’t involve hiding. A woman doesn’t have to conceal her feminine features to be modest; in fact, the opposite is true. The feminine form is God’s good design. Her dress should embrace her God-assigned sex, not repudiate it. This is why God says, "A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”

In short, modesty means that women should dress appropriate to their sex, without flaunting it.

But can’t men dress immodestly too?

Yes, men can definitely be guilty of immodesty. Historically, it is a less common embodiment of the sin of vanity in men, because it comes less naturally. When it becomes common, that is a clear sign of a society that has become effeminate. This effeminacy is further demonstrated by men dressing in a way only appropriate for women. For example, men and women have different shapes. That is why there are guys’ pants and girls’ pants. Girl pants accommodate the natural curves of most women. A guy wearing pants cut for women is dressing in an effeminate way.

Now, we know that everyone is going to want a definitive, inspired style-guide. But God clearly wants us to exercise discernment in determining modest and masculine dress.

One principle would be: Does it suit the masculine form and align with the duties assigned to men?

Another principle that could be applied to both sexes is: Does it make you the focus of attention in an inappropriate way?

In other words, you dress to the occasion and to the duties you have in it. Everyone is expected to dress more formally at a wedding; but not in a way that steals the focus from the bride. And there is nothing intrinsically immodest about a bride wearing an ornate dress given her role in the event.

Again, modest dress requires a good deal of discernment and training. Don’t get lost on particulars. Focus on principles. It is incumbent on parents to work these out with their kids as they mature.

New content this week: #

Michael’s sermon, “Christians Meditate” from Philippians 4:8-9 is available on Spotify, iTunes, Podcast Addict, and on this direct link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1564718/8695024. An excerpt:

Manton says, “Faith is lean and ready to starve unless it be fed with continual meditation on the promises.” Relative solitude or quiet is where we digest truth.

Spiritually speaking, you can starve while consuming.

And not just by consuming evils thing or stupid things, but even by over-consuming good things.

In most cases, we don’t even need more content.

We need more meditation. It doesn’t matter if you stuff yourself with tweets, blog posts, or long theological tomes. None of it will have any value without meditation.

Now the opposite is also true. Meditation can make much of little. It is in this spirit Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them…digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride comes from hasty reading. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. In reading let your motto be “much not many.”

We need to dwell on the things of God. We need to meditate.

Again, chew your own food.

Notable: #

  • The New Politics of Sex (with Stephen Baskerville) - YouTube. The title doesn’t do it justice; this is really about how the family courts constitute “judicial child kidnapping and extortion.” Money quote:

    What it does is, it criminalizes, it places huge numbers of parents, under the penal system…law-abiding citizens, citizens who have been convicted of no crime, charged with no crime, suspected of no crime, yet they are placed under the supervision of the penal apparatus, and they are basically semi-treated as criminals by these plain clothes “police officers”—and that’s what social workers are.

    I would say anybody who doesn’t believe in a personal devil should look at the child support system, because it is too evil to have been come up with by accident. Only an evil genius could have drawn it up. It gives the state an incentive to encourage as much divorce and single parenthood as possible, because only with fatherless children do they collect this child support, and only this way they get federal funds for the child support they collect. They get money, the more divorces, and a few years ago the California governor, Gray Davis, even vetoed a law against paternity fraud (so that fathers couldn’t be forced to pay for child support for children who were not theirs)…he supported forcing fathers to pay for children who are not theirs, and his rationalization for this, he openly admitted, was that California would lose tens of millions of dollars in federal funds. He said this quite openly. You can’t believe the evil that is going on here…

  • Removing Ticks from Engines | Manly-Man Skillz - YouTube. A 3-min clip of Jerry Reed, if he had been Canadian and went into mechanical poetry instead of country music.
  • Males that work in female dominant environments; what are some of the things that have happened where if the roles get reversed there would be uproar?). An enlightening Reddit thread with 4.2k replies. NSFW (obviously, it’s Reddit).
  • Why Are Christian Parents So Afraid? | Doug Wilson and Ben Merkle - YouTube. A 3-min clip with a single insightful idea.
  • A fascinating essay from Zero HP Lovecraft on how Chinese Communists were so successful in turning American POWs into collaborators who would inform on their comrades’ escape plans for nothing more than a bag of rice. Wisdom is pattern recognition. Let the reader understand.

Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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