I have read your article in the Biblical Dating series about men initiating and women responding, and it really disturbed me. You seem to equate godliness and propriety in dating with a pretty narrow idea of how relationships can start.
I have always taken the story of Ruth and Boaz to be an example of a woman initiating and pursuing a relationship with a godly man, and I have found it to be very freeing as a woman seeking a husband in the Christian dating world. Don’t Ruth and Boaz blow your theory out of the water, and if not, how should I be thinking about this?
Thanks for your question. Even though I’ve written on the “Ruth/Boaz” question in a number of contexts, it’s still a question that comes up often. As you mention in your question, it can appear at first glance like Ruth provides an example of a woman initiating a romantic relationship with a man in a way that “liberates” godly women from the sometimes frustrating position of waiting on Christian men to show initiative and leadership in potential dating relationships. Alas, as tempting as it can be — for both women and men — to read Ruth in that way, it is simply incorrect to do so.
In seeking to apply Scripture to our lives, it’s obviously hugely important that we correctly consider the genre, context and authorial intent of the book or passage we’re reading. As a matter of scriptural interpretation, Ruth’s approach of Boaz on the threshing floor (Ruth 3:1-13) is not an example of romantic initiation by a woman toward a man. In fact, despite the frequent misinterpretation and misuse of the book, Ruth doesn’t really have anything to teach us about who should do what in a potential dating relationship.
Exegetically, the point of the book of Ruth is God’s sovereignty and goodness and loving care of His people, even when that care is not immediately visible to those people. It is an Old Testament historical narrative that ultimately points us to God’s provision for His people in Christ. The author is not meaning to teach us how to conduct any particular person-to-person relationship.
In the context of the book, Boaz is Ruth’s kinsmen redeemer. Without going into all the details about what that term means, the basic idea is that Boaz bore a familial relationship to the family of Ruth’s husband that triggered certain obligations to Ruth as her husband’s widow. Those obligations included “redemption” (thus, “redeemer”) of family lands, protection of the widow from poverty, and in certain appropriate contexts, marriage to a male relative’s widow. What Ruth is asking is for Boaz to bring her under the authority of his house, to redeem her from poverty, and to provide for and protect her because of that pre-existing family relationship.
Although marriage turns out to be part of the deal in Ruth, there is no proper analogy, culturally or exegetically, between the role Ruth plays on the threshing floor and a 21st-century woman initiating a date or romantic relationship with a guy. In fact, a much closer modern analogy would be a woman who asks her father (or another male Christian relative, or a pastor or couple in her church) to provide oversight and protection for her by vetting potential suitors, providing counsel during a dating relationship and helping see her through to marriage. Whatever you might think of that practice (you won’t be shocked to hear that I think it sounds like a great idea!), what Ruth is not doing on the threshing floor is asking Boaz out for coffee because she digs him and he won’t get off his duff and make a move.
Again, I totally understand the temptation to read Ruth in the way you described. Still, in love, I have to tell you that the book of Ruth neither provides an example of a woman romantically initiating with a man, nor stands for the proposition or teaching that such initiating in a modern dating context is commendable. That’s simply not what Ruth was doing.
Your other question was essentially, “If that’s true, now what?” Is it sin for a woman to ask a guy if he wants to grab coffee? Of course not. Having said that, I usually counsel single women that to be the initiator of dates or one-on-one time with men — and certainly of a dating relationship in the bigger picture — is unwise. As I’ve written before (including in the article you referenced) the Bible clearly teaches that men are to be — and in fact, are, whether they do it well or badly — the initiators and leaders within marriage (see Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5). It is good and wise to set patterns in dating that will serve you well in marriage, especially if you accept the idea, as I do, that the purpose of a dating relationship is to find and evaluate a potential husband or wife.
I’ve written more fully about this in the Biblical Dating series, but my advice to single Christian women, in a nutshell, is to pray that God would fulfill your good and godly desire for a husband, serve actively in a good church (which you should do regardless of any desire for a husband), and get to know guys in that setting and in other group contexts. Organize group dinners or activities and be as deliberate as you want about the guest list. And be yourself in those contexts. You don’t need to let guys initiate all the conversations or otherwise be a shrinking violet. Then trust the providence of our good and sovereign God about a relationship with any particular guy.
I will pray for the Lord to give you wisdom (and patience) as you continue to think through these things.
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.