Courtship:  Ethical Decisions
About Moral Conduct

As this study begins, someone might well ask, "How can the topic of courtship be considered a religious topic? By what right can any person say a study of courtship is a spiritual study which deserves a place in a Christian's private studies or a place in the church's education program?" That is more than a good question; it is a necessary question. The answer to the question is not as obvious as some might think. A study of marriage is unquestionably a religious or spiritual topic. The New Testament gives definite emphasis to Christian marriage and is specific about Christian men and women's responsibility in marriage. Yet, while marriage is discussed in Scripture, courtship is never once mentioned in the New Testament. How then can courtship be classified as a spiritual subject which deserves spiritual consideration by the Christian individual or by the church as a whole?

There are at least two valid reasons for classifying courtship as a subject for spiritual study. First, the New Testament teaches the Christian that existence envelops the entire life of the Christian individual. This spiritual reality is emphasized in many ways by Paul. Of himself he declared, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me:" (Galatians 2:20). Of Christians in general he said, "They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof" (Galatians 5:24). To the Corinthians he wrote ". . . ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body" (Corinthians 6:19, 20). To those at Colossae he admonished, "Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. . ." (Colossians 3:17). For generations Christians have divided all the affairs of their lives into secular matters and spiritual matters. Many of those secular-spiritual divisions and classifications are artificial divisions based on human distinctions rather than divine. The New Testament Christian is not a person who has made his life a huge set of pigeon holes in which every matter can be classified as secular or spiritual. The whole life of a Christian is spiritual, and everything he does which involves conduct, attitude or relationships has spiritual significance. All of a Christian's life in every aspect of human existence is subject to and governed by the Lord through Scripture's teachings and principles.

Second, courtship can validly be considered a spiritual subject because it is based on ethical-moral decisions and relationships. Courtship is basically, vitally concerned with such questions as, "How do I treat another person's feelings, emotions and body? Can I use another person in any manner I wish to fulfill my own selfish interest? What responsibility do I have to honesty, truthfulness and fairness in my relationships with others? What responsibility do I have to exert spiritual influence in all my relationships with others? Where do I stand on questions concerning drinking, drugs, eroticism and sexual stimulation? What is my position regarding sexual relationships outside of marriage?" All of these questions share one thing in common: each is a question concerning ethical decisions and moral responsibilities. That fact alone makes courtship a spiritual matter. The Christian life is founded on a code of ethical principles and moral responsibilities. This code was given by the Lord Jesus himself. Jesus' teachings and the Scriptures written by the Spirit-guided authors of the New Testament reveal the ethical and moral code of the child of God. Because of the nature of New Testament Christianity, any area of life which involves ethical or moral decisions is a spiritual subject. Because courtship from its beginning involves ethical and moral decisions, it is a subject of spiritual importance.

Courtship does not and cannot exist in an ethical or moral vacuum. It does not have a special "nonreligious" status nor an "innocence of youth" status which isolates it from Christian ethics and morals. Basic courtship decisions are spiritual decisions of far-reaching significance and consequence. This fact will be evident as this study continues. Thus courtship involves Christian responsibility.

A serious study of courtship is basically a study of Christian ethics. The words ethics and morality are common, familiar words everyone hears and many use. It is not uncommon to hear someone questioning if something is ethical or expressing the personal judgment that some action is not moral. Though they are common words, they are often words without meaning even to those people who use them. Too many people know how to use the words but do not really understand the concepts the words represent.

The word ethics comes from the Greek word ethike. The root from which ethike was derived is the Greek word athos (noun form) or eiotha (verb form). In its early usage athos meant a swelling or a stall referring to a place where an animal was kept. The verb, eiotha, meant to become accustomed to or be wont to. Later, the words began to acquire usage in regard to human conduct while retaining the basic concept of their early usage. In human conduct, they referred to principles of conduct which would permit a person to function in security and stability or safeguards of human conduct which would allow a person to function responsibly.<1>

The word morality comes from the translation of the Greek athos into the Latin word mos or mores.<2> The Latin meaning of the words was customs or manners.

What is the distinction to be made between ethics and morality? In the common usage of the words by the average individual of today, the words reflect the same idea and are used interchangeably. An early distinction made between the words was: ethics was the foundation of human behavior; morality was the actual behavior or practices based on those foundations. Later, ethics was conduct based on reason, and morality was conduct which agreed with the customs of a people. Today the more common distinction is: ethics is the study of that which is right or good, the study of right conduct or the good life; morality is the practice of what one believes to be right or good. Ethics is a study and is fundamentally a consideration of what is good or right in theory, or theoretical reflections. Morality is pragmatic and is concerned with practical applications involving the actual doing, acting or behaving. Ethics applied becomes morality; morality theorized or studied becomes ethics.

The following must be understood. A person can know and understand a system or systems of ethics and still not be a moral individual or a person can be a highly moral individual but be ignorant of the specifics of a system of ethics. A person might be an expert in the theories of ethics, yet live a life which is in no way governed by his knowledge. In the same way, a person might live a highly moral life as he consistently disciplines his life by that which he acknowledges to be right and good, and yet not be able to state or pass a test on the ethical theories which are reflected in his conduct. Both situations are often seen in the church. In every congregation there is the person who knows and understands precisely the principles which are to govern Christian conduct. He is an excellent student of the Word and loves to expound his knowledge in class. Yet, in daily life he makes no effort to live in accord with his knowledge, and he commonly acts in ways which are in opposition to the principles he knows, understands and discusses. Also, in every congregation there is the person who has a firm grasp of an understanding of what is right and what is good by New Testament definition. He is devout and conscientious in following his understanding, and he would not for any reason violate his conscience in his understanding. Yet he cannot define either the word ethics or morality, never uses either in his vocabulary, and could not begin to discuss the theory which lies behind the principles he accepts as right and good. There are also two other possibilities. It is quite possible for a person to profess Christianity while believing in ethical principles which are not Christian ethics, or while practicing a morality which is in no way Christian. Christians must be certain the ethics or morality they accept are Christian ethics and Christian morality.

While an in-depth discussion of the many systems of ethics is not possible here, consider a brief overview of the field of ethics. Ethics in its broadest description is simply the theory of human conduct. There are many such systems of theory,<3> and many of them have no basis in nor relationship to religious thought. The two broad divisions of ethics are systems of ethics which are nontheological or are unrelated to religious thought, and systems of ethics which are theological or are based in religious thought. A few examples of nontheological ethics are ethical pragmatism, ethical realism, ethical idealism and ethical subjectivism. There are also many forms of theological ethics. Virtually every religion has its own set of ethics which governs human conduct in that religion. For example, there are the ethics of Judaism, Islamic ethics and the ethics of Hinduism. These and other religious systems of ethics are theological ethics. One single branch of theological ethics is Christian ethics.

In the denominational world, Christian ethics is subdivided into three categories: Old Testament ethics (or the ethics of pre-Christian Judaism), New Testament ethics (the ethics of the actual writings of the New Testament), and Christian ethics (ethics declared by denominational churches as the proper interpretation of Scripture and of religious principles for the world of today). In the view of New Testament Christianity, there is no distinction to be made between Christian ethics and New Testament ethics. The New Testament Christian has the specific objective of reproducing New Testament Christianity and the New Testament church. He wants to know, to understand and to be governed by the same principles which existed in the New Testament. Therefore, he is dedicated to making his Christian ethics New Testament ethics.

How then can Christian ethics be defined in a simple manner? The simplest definition of New Testament-Christian ethics is best made by use of this question; "As an obedient believer in Jesus Christ and a member of His church, how am I to act, to behave, to live?"<4> For the first four centuries after the death of Jesus, only the ethics of the New Testament existed for all who claimed to be Christians. In this period there was an acute awareness that distinct differences in behavior existed between those who were Christians and those who were not. From the writings of the New Testament it is obvious there were deep concerns regarding how Christians were to live and regarding what principles were to govern their behavior and to serve as the basis of their decisions. The book of 1 Corinthians clearly reflects this concern as does the book of Galatians and the last section of Romans beginning with chapter 12. These same concerns need to be restored in the church of our Lord today. Every Christian needs to live with the awareness of the distinction between the behavior of the Christian and the sinner. He must concern himself with knowing and understanding the principles which are to govern his behavior and serve as the basis for his decisions.

It is our purpose in this study of courtship to examine these concerns carefully. We will seek an answer to the question, "What am I as a Christian to do in courtship?"


<1>Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, comps., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), new ed., Henry Stuart Hones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), col. 2, p. 766, gives the early use of athos as "an accustomed place, i.e., haunts and abodes of animals." Later usage meant "custom, usage: manners, customs; disposition, character, esp. moral character." Also Paul L. Lehmann, Ethics In A Christian Context (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), pp. 23,24, traces ethics to the Greek verb eiotha of the corresponding athos, a swelling or stall. The germinal idea is the stability or security provided for animals by a stall. Eiotha meant to become accustomed to or to wont to. Thus the concept of ethics was applied to human beings in providing security and stability through custom. Athos does not occur in the New Testament. Eiothein occurs in Matthew 27:15, Mark 10:1, and eiothos in Luke 4:16, Acts 17:2.

<2>The Philological Society, The Oxford English Dictionary, 7th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), col. 1, p.653, states moral is from the Latin mos formed by Cicero in De Fato II.i. as a rendering of the Greek athicos or ethic. mos referred to custom; mores to manners, morals, character.

<3>William S. Sahakian, Systems of Ethics and Value Theory (New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1968) is an introduction to systems of ethics.

<4>Lehman, op. cit., p. 25, states, "Christian ethics, as a theological discipline, is the reflection upon the question, and its answer: What am I, as a believer in Jesus Christ and as a member of his church, to do?"


1. Give one valid reason for studying courtship as a spiritual subject.

2. How did Paul emphasize the fact Christian existence envelops the entire life of the individual? Can you suggest other passages which emphasize this truth?

3. Give examples which illustrate ways in which people seek to evade spiritual responsibilities by declaring, "This is a secular matter."

4. Give another valid reason for studying courtship as a spiritual subject.

5. List as many moral decisions as possible which commonly are made by all engaged in courtship.

6. Give a brief explanation of the origin of the word ethics.

7. What is the origin of the word morality?

8. What distinction can be made between ethics and morality?

9. When does ethics become morality?

10. When does morality become ethics?

11. Explain how a person can know and understand a system of ethics and still not be moral.

12. Explain how a person can be moral and yet have no specific knowledge of ethics.

13. Would you rather be a person with a great knowledge of ethics or a person of consistent moral conduct? Why?

14. Why should a Christian seriously concern himself both with acquiring an accurate knowledge of Christian ethics and being a moral Christian?

15. In the broadest description, what is ethics?

16. What are the two major divisions of systems of ethics?

17. What is the basic distinction between those two divisions?

18. What are the three subdivisions of Christian ethics in the denominational world?

19. Explain why a New Testament Christian makes no distinction between Christian ethics and New Testament ethics.

20. Give a simple definition of Christian ethics.

21. Illustrate the fact that the New Testament was concerned about Christian behavior.

22. Discuss why it is important for Christians to have those same concerns today.

Class Project:

Assign members of the class paragraph sections of 1 Corinthians, Galatians or Romans 12-15 to examine. Let each person give a specific example of a principle of conduct discussed in his or her paragraph.

Part One

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