Is Dating Biblical?
This question has been in front of the Church since the practice of dating became a part of American culture around the 1920s. You read that right…prior to the early 1900s, dating wasn’t even “a thing.” In fact, the word “dating” was coined in 1896, and was initially associated with prostitution. Elsewhere in the world, “dating” still isn’t even a thing:
- In India, seven-in-ten marriages are arranged between two families, with many couples not even meeting before the wedding.
- In North Africa, couples can only “court” under family supervision. No single dating.
- In Japan, many families enlist the services of hired matchmakers who compare photos and resumes to settle on a suitable match.
I’m by no means arguing that we should adopt any of these customs; nor am I arguing that the Bible clearly commands or condemns them. I’m only pointing out that the modern, western culture of dating is not universal and very new to history. I believe there’s a way to answer this question that is biblically consistent, while not reintroducing arranged or transactional marriages. My goal is to challenge parents and teenagers to consider whether or not their opinions on dating are primarily informed by the culture we live in or from biblical wisdom.
Our worldview as Christians should be grounded in and filtered through the Bible. Unfortunately, there aren’t any verses in Scripture that explicitly forbid nor prescribe dating in the modern sense. So, like any question that isn’t clearly answered in God’s Word, we must begin with some clearly defined guidelines, and build up our worldview from there. The Bible gives guidelines for male/female relationships in three main categories: familial relationships, relationships with our “neighbor,” and a relationship with our spouse. The Bible is clear that the first God-ordained male/female relationship is husband (Adam) and wife (Eve). In Genesis God gives that union a mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). There is only one male/female relationship in which God has ordained intimacy that leads to procreation– and that’s marriage. In all other male/female relationships described in the Bible, sex is forbidden. This means there are no God-ordained “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationships in Scripture; only betrothal and marriage.
With that in mind, here is what I plan to do for the remainder of the article:
- List and explain some “must” principles from Scripture.
- List and explain some “must not” principles from Scripture.
- Provide the conclusions my family has arrived at, based on those texts, and what I believe to be the wisest approach to dating.
Dating / Courtship “Musts”
For the Glory of God: In 1 Corinthians we read, “So, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Dating relationships fall into the category of “whatever” in this text, meaning any aspect of the dating relationship that doesn’t bring God the glory He is due, it’s out of bounds.
Only With Other Believers: Another helpful text is 2 Corinthians 6:14 where it reads, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” It’s commanded of the believer to marry another believer, therefore it would be implied that any dating relationship should follow that guideline as well.
- Mutually Edifying: In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we read, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just like you are doing.” This means that our relationships are to be characterized by the fact that they are spiritually edifying to both individuals.
Dating / Courtship “Must Nots”
Premarital Sex: First, the premarital dating relationship cannot include sex. Hebrews 13:4 reads, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.” Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 6:18 we see these words, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Paul is giving a mandate to run from sexual immorality. This is explicit. No gray area here.
- Cohabitation: Premarital relationships should not be carried out in cohabitation. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from the appearance of evil,” while Romans 13:14, reads, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” These two verses make it clear that to live with someone prior to being free to engage in a sexual relationship is out of bounds.
Our Family’s Application
My daughters will soon enter middle and high school, and my wife and I have been working to shape their worldview to focus on their walk with Christ as their number one priority. Then, when it’s wise and logical, to be very picky in seeking out a potential husband. There are other conclusions families can arrive at and be biblically faithful when it comes to courtship and dating, as long as they follow the “musts" and “must nots” explicitly defined in Scripture. Here is how my wife and I are shepherding our daughters through the teenage years in applying the biblical “Musts” and “Must Nots” of dating / courtship.
Men are given several commands for their role in the family: provide, protect, priestly representative, spiritual development, etc. I am currently tasked with those responsibilities for my daughters, meaning they don’t need a romantic relationship in their lives until they can act out on God’s specific commands for husbands and wives. Two hundred years ago, due to cultural norms and expectations, young people would get married much sooner, meaning Christans weren’t faced with these types of challenges. Modern culture has lengthened adolescence considerably, making it necessary for us to adjust our strategies for guiding and protecting them. I want my daughters to remain obedient to the “musts” and “must nots” of Scripture, while avoiding any unnecessary pain, drama, or baggage that teen relationships almost always cause. I want them both to marry a God-fearing young man who has maintained his purity just the same. They can be the wife God calls them to be without “practicing” as a girlfriend in high school. Stated plainly: The only God-ordained romantic relationship in Scripture is husband and wife. There are specific commands for married couples that unmarried couples are forbidden to engage in. These are the foundational reasons I believe it’s unwise and mostly illogical to allow (and sometimes even persuade) middle school and most high school kids to date.
Chances are, you rolled your eyes, or laughed out loud after reading that last sentence. If so, it may be true that you’ve allowed the culture to ground your worldview on this subject, rather than principles and wisdom in Scripture. During adolescent years, our children are biologically equipped and hormonally wired for procreation. To expect them to avoid disobeying the clear commands in the Bible when given freedom in dating relationships in which they express their affections physically is unwise and illogical. It’s like allowing them to douse their jeans in kerosene and jump over a bonfire, but telling them not to get burned. Is it possible? Probably. Is it likely? Nope. The sooner they begin to kiss, pet, make out, etc, the harder it will be to remain pure until marriage. As a former educator of 16 years, I can’t tell you how many students to whom I made these assertions that had the same eye-rolling response, only to bounce from one relationship to the next, carrying baggage into every sequential relationship; some unfortunately ending in teen pregnancy and a vastly different trajectory than they intended in high school. There’s enough drama and emotions to navigate adolescence alone; “playing house” in a dating relationship only serves to intensify those emotions, and a net negative to their sanctification in most cases. Additionally, more than half of all marriages in the U.S. (including within the Church) end in divorce. We’ve all heard the phrase, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but what if it is broken? While I don’t think modern dating is the only reason for this alarming stat, I do believe that it’s a contributing factor. Dating around in high school likely plays a role in conditioning one’s worldview to quit relationships when things get hard, or when the relationship progresses past the “butterfly” stage. If we fail to equip our children with a lifestyle that is immersed in a biblical worldview, they will be susceptible to falling prey to the worldview of a Godless culture. Will you receive pushback from your kids if you adopt this approach? Absolutely! But guiding your kids to what is biblical and best for them is worth that fight.
Whether I’ve convinced you of my family’s application of these principles or not, there is more to consider when applying God’s Word to the questions of dating and courtship. Be on the lookout for two more articles here at KJM that will have some biblical guidelines for when, who, and how to go about finding a spouse.
Find Part 2: Who Should I Consider Dating?
Phil Cudd currently serves as the "Director of For the City Ministries" at The Journey Church in Lebanon, Tn, where he also hosts a podcast sponsored by the church called "Reconstructing Theology." Prior to coming on staff at the church, he spent 16 years in Christian school education, serving in multiple roles including Director of Athletics, director of a student leadership program, classroom teacher, and basketball coach. Phil is happily married to Gloria, wife of 18 years, and daddy to daughters Lily and Bella.
- Persevering: Moving From Cultural Conformity To Being Rooted In The Timeless Truth Of Scripture