Biblical Attitudes To Romantic Love -- By: John P. Baker

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 35:1 (NA 1984)
Article: Biblical Attitudes To Romantic Love
Author: John P. Baker


Biblical Attitudes To Romantic Love

John P. Baker

I. Introduction

Romantic Love

‘“When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less”.1 The word ‘love’ can be understood in a number of ways, according to the speaker and context in question. The term ‘romantic’ is perhaps even more liable to misunderstanding, especially when coupled with ‘love’. One dictionary, for example, defines ‘romance’ as a ‘mediaeval tale of chivalry’, or ‘a tale with scenes and incidents remote from ordinary life, this class of literature, an episode or love affair suggesting it . . . sympathetic imaginativeness; exaggeration or falsehood’.2 ‘Romantic’ has an even less encouraging set of definitions: ‘1) marked by, suggestive of, or given to, romance; imaginative, visionary, fantastic, impractical; 2) (in art and literature) preferring grandeur, and picturesqueness, or passion and irregular beauty to finish and proportion . . .’. To many people ‘romantic’ simply refers to a poetic world of fantasy, dream, escape and remoteness. Yet the expression ‘romantic love’ is often also used to refer to the love of two persons of the opposite sex for one another, understood and expressed in terms of attraction and devotion to each other, and delight and joy in appreciation of each other, including the sexual and physical dimension, but not confined to that alone. It is in the latter sense that this paper will understand the expression ‘romantic love’.

C. S. Lewis once wrote: ‘A romantic theologian does not mean one who is romantic about theology, but one who is theological about romance, one who considers the theological implications of those experiences which are called romantic.’3 A fresh look at the Bible’s understanding of romantic love, or love between the sexes, especially in relation to courtship and marriage, is made advisable by three historical and cultural trends. First, the mediaeval idea of courtly love, which entered with the Provencal poets of Languedoc, apparently as a total novelty, in the eleventh century and swept across Europe in the succeeding years with the troubadours, continues to reverberate through Western culture. It has left behind it a double legacy: the frequent identification of romance and sexual love with love outside marriage; and a tendency for romantic and sexual relationships to be anchored in fantasy rather than reality.4 Though a length...

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