I have to start by explaining the theological doctrine that drives the approach I want to outline (and advocate). That doctrine is called the sufficiency of Scripture . Almost all professing evangelical Christians are familiar with and vigorously defend the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture (which states that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, it’s true, and it contains no falsity or error). I certainly agree with the inerrancy of Scripture, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture assumes inerrancy but then goes a step further. This doctrine simply holds that the Bible is sufficient to guide and instruct us authoritatively in all areas of our faith and life, and that there is no area of life about which the Bible has no guidance for us. The sufficiency of Scripture is taught explicitly and implicitly in many passages, but perhaps the most obvious is 2
Timothy 3:16-17 :
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So how does the sufficiency of Scripture apply to our coming discussions? Well, many evangelicals who otherwise believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and who might generally agree with the sufficiency of Scripture have nonetheless embraced the world’s ideas about dating. In doing so, some make the argument that Scripture doesn’t speak to this topic. I believe it does. The Bible speaks to every area of our faith and life at some level. Some things it talks about explicitly, like salvation or sanctification or marriage or elders. The Bible guides us in some areas by broader, more general principles and ideas we can build on as we strive to live the Christian life in practical ways. In either case, no area of life falls totally outside of the guidance and authority of God’s Word.
My point is that we cannot simply state that the Bible “doesn’t mention dating or courtship,” and then think we’re off the hook to pursue this area of our lives either on the world’s terms or however seems best to us without diligent, submissive reference to God’s Word. If the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is true, then God’s Word does have authoritative guidance for us about how we might best glorify God in this area of our lives.
That means our conversation has to be a biblical conversation. I mention the sufficiency of Scripture as part of the groundwork for this column because it’s one of those doctrines that touches every area of our lives, and it is at the heart of the approach to dating (and life) that we’ll talk about here.
Biblical Dating OK. Let’s take care of some basic definitions. We may define biblical dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman:
1. That begins (maybe) with the man approaching and
going through the woman’s father or family;
2. that is conducted under the authority of the woman’s father or family or church; and
3. that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal.
The Scriptural support for the idea of biblical dating is largely by example and implication. We will look at a number of passages over the course of our discussions that support various aspects of biblical dating, but for the moment, let me just give you some references to study:
1 Corinthians 6:9-7:19 (command to be pure, seriousness of sexual sin and instructions regarding marriage)
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (do not wrong or defraud one
another in relationships — by implying a relationship or commitment by your words or conduct that does not actually exist)
Song of Solomon 2:7 (“do not awaken love before it pleases” — i.e. before the proper time, meaning marriage)
Proverbs 6:20-7:27 (warning to avoid sexual sin and foolish relationships)
James 1:13-15 (temptation is to be taken very seriously)
Romans 13:8-14 (love others, work for their soul’s good; don’t look to please self)
Romans 14:1-15:7 (favor others, not self … value
what’s good to their souls)
1 Timothy 5:1-2 (treat single women as sisters in
Christ, with absolute purity)
Titus 2:1-8 (young men and women should focus on self-control/godliness)
John 14:15 (if you love Christ, you will obey His commands — read: above your own desires — and live biblically)
We’ll talk more about these and other passages as we deal with other topics in this series.
We may basically define modern dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman:
1. that begins with either the man or the woman initiating with the other;
2. that is conducted outside the formal oversight or authority of either person’s family or church; and
3. that may or may not have marriage as its goal and
is often purely “recreational” or “educational.”
Now, the biblical support for the modern approach to dating … (insert crickets, tumbleweeds, person whistling here)…. That was it. There isn’t any. The very idea of extended romantic or sexual involvement outside of marriage doesn’t even appear in Scripture unless it is described as illicit (sinful). Furthermore, it doesn’t even appear in any society, western or otherwise, in any systematic way until the 20th century. While the principles supporting biblical dating have their beginnings with the very structure of the family, modern dating hasits origins with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It is brand new, and yet, seemingly, it is all we know.
Differences Between Modern Dating and Biblical Dating
So what’s the real difference? Here are some fundamentals:
Modern dating philosophy assumes that there will
be several intimate romantic relationships in a person’s life before marriage. In fact, it advocates “playing the field” in order to determine “what one wants” in a mate. Biblical dating has as its goal to be emotionally and physically intimate with only one member of the opposite sex … your spouse.
Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional “wiring” or God-given roles). Biblical dating tends to be complementarian (God has created men and women differently and has ordained each of these spiritual equals to play different and valuable roles in the church and in the family).
Modern dating tends to assume that you will spend a great deal of time together (most of it alone).
Biblical dating tends to encourage time spent in group activities or with other people the couple knows well.
Modern dating tends to assume that you need to get to know a person more deeply than anyone else in the world to figure out whether you should be with him or her. The biblical approach suggests that real commitment to the other person should precede such a high level of intimacy.
Modern dating tends to assume that a good relationship will “meet all my needs and desires,” and a bad one won’t — it’s essentially a self- centered approach. Biblical dating approaches relationships from a completely different perspective — one of ministry and service and bringing glory to God.
Modern dating tends to assume that there will be a high level of emotional involvement in a dating
relationship, and some level of physical involvement as well. Biblical dating assumes no physical intimacy and more limited emotional intimacy outside of marriage.
Modern dating assumes that what I do and who I date as an adult is entirely up to me and is private (my family or the church has no formal or practical authority). Biblical dating assumes a context of spiritual accountability, as is true in every other area of the Christian life.
Basically, we can make three general statements about modern dating vs. biblical dating in terms of their respective philosophies:
1. Modern dating seems to be about “finding” the right
person for me (as my friend Michael Lawrence has
written on this site, ” Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend “); biblical dating is more about “being” the right person to serve my future spouse’s needs and be a God-glorifying husband or wife.
2. In modern dating, intimacy precedes commitment.
In biblical dating, commitment precedes intimacy
3. The modern dating approach tells us that the way to figure out whether I want to marry someone is to act like we are married. If we like it, we make it official. If we don’t, then we go through something emotionally — and probably physically — like a divorce. In biblical dating, Scripture guides us as to how to find a mate and marry, and the Bible teaches, among other things, that we should act in such a way so as not to imply a marriage-level commitment until that commitment exists before the
I’m supremely confident that as we go back and forth in the coming months, some — perhaps many— of you will disagree (if you don’t already) or be initially annoyed at some of my statements. Ask yourself why. What are you trying to hold onto that you think this approach will take from you (privacy,autonomy, a secular idea of freedom or of your own rights)?
I have a particular challenge for those of you whose main objection is that the practical details we’ll talk about here “are not explicitly biblical”: think about the details of how you conduct (or would like to conduct) your dating life. Can you find explicitbsupport for the modern approach in Scripture? Are there even broad principles in Scripture that justify
the modern vision of dating (or yours, whatever it may be)? The Bible simply doesn’t give us explicit instructions on some of what we’ll discuss. Fair enough. In such a situation, we should ask what gets us closest to clear biblical teaching. In other words, within the many gray areas here, what conduct in our dating lives will help us to best care for our brothers and sisters in Christ and bring honor to His name?
That’s it. That’s a basic framework for biblical dating as best I can discern it from the principles of God’s Word. Now, you’re on. No question is too broad or too specific, too theoretical, too theological,or too practical. Agree with what I’ve said, or challenge it. This is how iron sharpens iron.
Just remember one thing: we’re in this together —for His Glory.